David: All in order (well, nearly)

Published: Monday, 31 July 2017

HAVING  spent the last couple of months cruising from Great Haywood via Middlewich, Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester, Standedge Tunnel, Wakefield, Keadby, Newark, Shardlow and Fradley to Poleseworth I think I am in a fairly good position to comment on the state of the system, at least its northern parts.

I have to say that almost everything is in good condition—in that time we have had three paddles not working and only one seriously leaky gate; unfortunately this was one of the short ones on the Calder & Hebble, which gave us a few hairy moments.

Standedge Tunnel

Standedge Tunnel did have a problem: the radio link failed and we had to wait until the following morning for our passage, which had to be specially arranged as it was a non-passage day. The CaRT pilot was excellent, helping our steerer take the boat through without contact with the sides.

Otherwise the whole passage over the 'Narrow' was trouble free—not even the water shortages on the East side which have caused us problems in the past.

Trouble contacting CaRT

The only other problem we experienced was a system failure at Sykehouse lock, which is automated. I had some trouble contacting CaRT to ask for help; the emergency telephone box on the lock cabin contained only fresh air, while various notices gave different phone numbers to ring, including the Doncaster office, which closed some time ago.

Also on offer were the 0800 number, which I know from the past goes to the RAC and produces operators who do not know the canals. CaRT’s 030 number when answered begins with an invitation to make a donation, which is not what you want to hear when you need help; eventually I contacted the Leeds office using the number from a guidebook and once through was dealt with efficiently and a lock keeper was with us in 15 minutes and sorted the problem.

I noticed that the confusion over telephone numbers was repeated at other locks and bridges and I feel that CaRT really need to sort this out, displaying only one emergency number which actually works as such and is not just a general contact number.

The Trent

One other thing that needs sorting is the lock landing below Newark Nether Lock on the Trent. This has an overhanging concrete edge which is undercut enough and high enough to make contact with the boat’s side above gunwale level. We spotted it just in time to avoid more that a couple of minor scrapes, but came close to doing serious damage to paintwork and windows. I reported this to the CaRT office in Newark and the engineer assured me that he would check it out.

The Trent locks are now staffed almost exclusively by volunteers, all of whom were extremely friendly and efficient. Apparently they get 60 hours of training and are allowed to work on their own. Most of them give one or two days a week, but there are enough of them to cover all the locks and the system seems to work well.

Bit if a shock

Being back on the narrow canals now is a bit of a shock. Today between Fradley and Fazeley I passed 25 moving boats going north; in Lancashire and Yorkshire we did not pass that many in a week. This led to frequent stops where the offside vegetation was close to realising its ambition of meeting the towpath side bushes and preventing two boats from passing.

Up North the canals are wider so this is less of a problem, except where wide boats are moored, when the same problem can occur. It is long past time for CaRT to really bear down on the vegetation issue.

David Hymers