The Five-Mile Perch
Cooking on the Cut
Recollections, Characters and Dead-Ends 1
The latest information I have on the progress of the construction of the Link is that the contractors are using the Ribble Link Centre as a temporary base until they erect site cabins and that they were due to begin more detailed site investigations - deeper bore-holes and test trenches - on Wednesday 13th December. Major constructional activity is not scheduled to begin until early March next year with the work due to take thirty-five weeks. A Grand Opening Cruise is being planned with a tentative date of the second week in May 2002 when the tides are very favourable.
Last Wednesday morning my daughter and I took my elder son and his partner to Manchester airport as they were off to the Canary Isles for a week's holiday. After leaving them in the departure lounge we drove back into the centre of Manchester as my daughter had arranged to meet a friend. After dropping her off near Piccadilly Gardens I decided, since it was a sunny morning, to have a walk along the Ashton Canal.
As usual I parked at the Central Retail Park on Great Ancoats Street and, as I was leaving on foot, I noticed parking was limited to two hours - so it was to be an hour out and an hour back. As I passed the first lock a team of British Waterways workmen were trying to clear some kind of obstruction at the top end. I carried on past the British Waterways yard and office and almost immediately plunged into a dingy canyon between derelict and semi-derelict factory buildings. After about a half-mile I emerged in sunlight and soon noticed a group of tower cranes off to my right. As I gained some height at the next lock I realised it must be the stadium being built for the Commonwealth Games. A new bridge was being built across the canal and a little further on was the Velodrome off to my left. All this in a landscape littered with the remains of past industrial activity - I tried to visualise what it will look like when it is all completed.
I was now nearing my time limit of an hour but decided to walk as far as the end of the locks I could see in front of me. On unusual feature I passed was a small swing-bridge carrying the towpath over the entrance to a short arm in which was moored a community narrowboat. I turned back at the Crabtree Lane bridge. As I was walking round the bend before, once again, going into the shadow of the mills I noticed the wall by the towpath didn't look right. Yes, all the concrete coping slabs were gone, just the cement left with ridges where the joints had been.
Now the point of telling you all this - if you take a boat along this stretch be aware that those concrete slabs are in the canal and a number of them are embedded vertically like saw-teeth.
Wishing you a Happy Christmas and all the best for the year 2001.
As reported in the last magazine the Link is finally underway - I still can't believe it - after so many false starts. On the 27th November Lancashire County Council organised an official launch of the project, which took place at Barton Grange Hotel, near Preston. Prior to the official launch we had a photographic session on Ken Hudson's boat, the champagne flowed and the BBC TV Look North cameras were on hand to film the event.
Then slightly later than planned it was back to the hotel to meet representatives of all the main sponsors over a buffet lunch and yet more photographs followed.
I have also enclosed a brochure, produced by British Waterways, which was handed out at the event and is intended as a general handout for the public. On Tuesday 5th December the first sod was cut at a ceremony organised by British Waterways and The Waterways Trust. The event took place at the point where the Link will join the Lancaster canal. The event was hurriedly arrange to enable The Waterways Trust to announce it at their AGM on 7th December. We are attempting to persuade British Waterways to arrange a larger event early next year so that we can invite all the members of the Trust to join in the celebrations.
This year's AGM was held on the 13th November at the Ribble Link Centre. We had a good number of members and several invited guests which included Roger Hanbury of the Waterways Trust, David Baldacchino from British Waterways, Andy Berrisford of Gleeson's, Richard Spalding & Steve Rogers from the Babtie group. After the meeting was officially closed Roger, David & Andy answered questions from the audience.
As things progress with the construction of the Link we will keep you up-dated in the Ripples and for those who have access to the Internet you will see the progress being made with pictures supplied by John Clegg.
The RLT web page can be found at http://www.clegg.fsnet.co.uk/rlthome.html
Hope you all have a Great Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The fifth mile lamp that some narrow boat skippers know as the three-legged lamp is about half way between Tarleton lock & Harry Mayor's boat yard and Preston Marina. It guides us round the end of the south training wall at the confluence of the rivers Ribble and Douglas. This is the lamp which Terry Tomlinson constantly tells us to give a wide berth, and so we should.
When round the lamp we know we are well on our way and, with the protection of the protection of the Ribble Link safety boats, all set for a safe and pleasant trip.
During the summer this important beacon was replaced by a team which maintains the lights on the river. Where would we be without them?
The base of each stay is fastened to a ten-hundredweight concrete block. A metal ladder gives access to a maintenance platform at the top. The light is solar powered and is visible for up to two miles.
The height of the training wall on which the perch stands is about seventeen feet above Ribble Datum.
The average height of the river bed in that area is about twelve feet above Ribble Datum.
Beef in Stout
A warming beef casserole with a rich stout gravy
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
3 tablespoons oil
2lb braising steak, cubed
1 onion and two carrots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 pint beef stock
half pint stout
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
9oz small, whole button mushrooms
2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
2 tablespoons pearl barley
Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4 / 350°F / 180°C.
In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil and quickly brown the beef in two or three batches. Place in an oven-proof casserole. Fry onion, carrots and garlic in remaining oil for 3-4 minutes or until beginning to colour. Add flour cook for a further minute then gradually stir in the stout, stock and seasoning. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring. Pour over the meat, stir well and cover. Bake for two hours, stirring once during cooking.
Frank decided to investigate the weed hatch, the cover wouldn't come out. A telephone call to Richard, the boat builder, elicited the reply 'Well yes, I think there is a bit of a knack to it, if you can't get it out we'll bring a big hammer to it'. Thankfully the big hammer wasn't necessary, a bit more perseverance - and a few curses - revealed 'the knack'. Only then did we venture up the Halifax Branch - all half mile of it - unwittingly setting a trend for the coming year. In the end we didn't have recourse to the weed hatch as the basin was cleaner than on a previous visit.
Back at Mirfield, too late to cruise all the way home, the boat was lifted out again and, on a very wet 5th November, craned back into the Leeds Liverpool Canal at Botany Bay. Overnight the rain gave way to a bright breezy day and the family joined us to cruise to our mooring at last.
Millennium Eve saw us tied up near Haigh Hall alternating between watching fireworks going off in all directions and watching the televised events at the Millennium Dome where our son was high above the arena operating lights. At last it was March, the winter stoppages were over, and we were off on our first long(ish) trip. Monday morning dawned dry and settled and we even had a choice of boats to accompany us up Blackburn locks. The euphoria wasn't to last long as, before we reached Eanam Wharf, a shopping trolley attached itself to the rudder. A heavy duty mooring pin, a rope and the assistance of another crew eventually removed it and we were again on our way.
Strong winds across the reservoir at Barrowford had us struggling to control the boat whilst glorious sunshine at Greenberfield saw me polishing the brasses. The following week snow at East Marton kept us by the fire but after eleven days we returned to Feniscowles on a lovely spring day.
By the end of April we were off again, stopping for a pump-out before we tackled Wigan locks. A routine procedure, we had done it many times before, but not this time! No sooner had the suction hose been put in place and the pump started than the hose jerked off the outlet spraying Frank, the man operating the equipment and the boat roof with some of the contents of our holding tank. Later that afternoon whilst I washed some very smelly clothing, the younger patrons of the local pub held an impromptu swimming party in Wigan top lock.
The Leigh Branch and the Bridgewater were new to us and as we rounded the bend approaching Barton Aqueduct we were slightly taken aback to see the barriers closing against us. Quickly tying up, we ran down the steps to the Ship Canal in time to see both aqueduct and viaduct swing to allow through the Walk the Plank theatre boat which we had see at Glasson some years ago.
The Runcorn Arm beckoned as we reached the end of the Bridgewater Canal and we turned right, not knowing quite what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised and the handful of gravel that a group of schoolboys threw at us missed. We tied up north of Wheelock on Saturday night congratulating ourselves on being ahead of the various fleets of hire-boats. Sunday morning's early start wasn't early enough and I still shudder at the memory of a boy of no more than three being coaxed across a lock gate by his grandfather. I asked if they had not been given a life jacket for him. Grandad replied 'Yes, but its alright he's staying on land with me for a while'. I'm glad to say there were no towpath tales of toddlers falling in during the next few days.
Sunday did have its compensations, we spent the night at Church Lawton. If you go there in May, follow a track from the towpath towards the church and at the wall bear left, this leads to a wooded hollow with a stream and the most beautiful display of bluebells you could wish for anywhere.
We had been warned not to be put off by the first few miles of the Caldon Canal and, briefly, as we took on water in the smart landscaped basin, with its statue of Brindley, we wondered if the warnings were justified. By the time we reached Planet Lock and had removed, amongst other things, a full height metal stable type door complete with frame, we knew they were. Next, a frantic dash along the roof to lower the chimney before a very low bridge did it for us - and so we progressed, with sharp bends and very low bridges. Decaying buildings eventually gave way to housing and then countryside until we reached Hazelhurst Junction, a fascinating spot where the canal loops under and over itself like a children's game.
We opted first for the Leek Arm, a short stretch of up-market back gardens, woodland and wide open views across the valley. Imagine our surprise then as, on the return journey, we passed a lone, uniformed policeman apparently walking his beat along the towpath. We exchanged a greeting with him and continued, wondering if the previous evening's wine had been stronger than we thought.
Back to Hazelhurst and on towards Froghall, stopping to explore Cheddleton Flint Mill on the way. At Froghall we declined to attempt the tunnel, we didn't fancy a new paint job just yet. It is a great pity that the tunnel is so low as the short stretch beyond it is much more attractive than the incredibly dreary area immediately before it.
After a spell of unsettled weather we pulled in one sunny Saturday lunch time for diesel and another pumpout. A man and a boy finished dealing with another boat then the man told the boy - Ben - to fill our diesel tank. The conversation went something like this:
Ben: 'He usually lets me do the big tanks. He gets bored, he just does the cans. I don't know whether I'll be allowed to do the pump out though.'
Frank: 'Do you rinse out when you pump out?'
Ben: 'I do when I do my dad's boat. Its good living on a boat, I don't have to go to school I have a home tutor, I'm way ahead of people my age, I'm taking G.C.S.E. next year.
Me: 'How old are you Ben?'
Ben: 'Eleven. I've just been to Whixall with my dad, well he's not my dad really, to bring a boat back. Its a butty, I'm going to fit it out and live in it. In another year or two I'm going to get a motor as well. The butty's up there, you'll see it when you go past.'
By this time the diesel tank was full, the man had long since disappeared, and Ben had very efficiently started the pump out. We, needless to say, were standing well clear.
Job done, we paid at the office whilst Ben ran off down a line of long term moorings in search of his lunch, and sure enough, along side his family's boat was a small unfinished butty.
Our return from this trip was uneventful except for the idiot who, two thirds of the way up Wigan, closed a lock gate after the lock keeper had very helpfully opened it for us, just to see how it worked! By the time I had let out the accumulated water and opened the gate again I think he realised I wasn't very pleased. This was no bored teenager but a grown man and his student son.
Frank & Irene Parker