IT WAS about time someone pointed out the never ending stoppages on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, that are a disgrace, (Was the 'Narrow' opened too early?) writes Adrian Walker.
I too have travelled that most scenic of canals, not twice like your good selves but four times, being moored at the bottom of the Peak Forest, not just for the enjoyment of the scenery but for access as you mention to the northern canals.
Not too bad a condition
I find the western side of the tunnel is not in too bad a condition, though there is quite a bit of leakage with pounds needing water letting down before I could proceed, but the eastern side is another matter entirely.
But I must mention the tunnel and agree with you that even after four times I still find it awe inspiring, especially when you remember it was dug out with picks and shovels and cost 50 men their lives in its building. I wasn't at all sure about steering Lucky Jane through myself, but like you I was fortunate in having Fred as my chaperone, and he is a real education and a great asset to Canal & River Trust, telling how he came through in a little boat inspecting the tunnel before it was restored.
Finish up on the silt
But back to my complaint. The eastern side locks are really getting tatty, but what makes them worse, and all the boaters I talk to say the same, is the amount of silt in the many short pounds that means the pounds are so shallow that all too often there is not enough water to fill the lock when going down and you finish up on the silt.
Boaters in our moorings all know that a single hander has no chance, whereas with a crew, one can attempt to hold the boat in the centre to stop it being grounded as the pound goes down. Even when coming up the many locks the silt can get you with it piled up around the entrance.
Getting themselves in a mess
Woe betide if there is more than one boat and the other boaters do not know that they must hang right back and not fill or empty locks whilst another boat is in the vicinity. Twice I have been on my own, but a couple of times I have had to wait at the top at Marsden with other boats, finding when they set off in the morning they just rushed through getting themselves in a mess. I just found a decent pound to moor and let them get away.
Yet all this could easily be prevented if only one winter the Canal & River Trust would pull its finger out and have a good session of getting rid of the silt that I believe must have been building up for many years, way before it was opened after the restoration.
Opened too early
You stated that the canal had been opened too early after restoration, and this is something many of us believe as the endless stoppages caused by failing locks and crumbling walls testify, being the cause of the current stoppages. And not only this as parts of the canal are like a sieve, with some pounds I discovered always down through leakage. Some of the paddles too I believe have never had attention being extremely difficult to move. Rather than the rush to open, it would have been better if British Waterways had gone through the canal and fixed all its faults, it would certainly have prevented the many stoppages it now suffers.
Of course the brand new sections with their new locks are fine and are a pleasure to work, though I wish they would do something with that terrible guillotine lock that is a real bind.
Sunk in locks
To say that only a few boats are able to get through the tunnel it is surprising how many boats get sunk in the locks, with myself quickly winding down the paddles on the first lock at Ashton as the crew of the boat in front of me had not noticed the bow had been caught on the lock and the boat was sinking! I am told this was a regular occurrence. Perhaps with so many locks coming quickly one after the other boaters get too complacent, something you cannot be on the Huddersfield Narrow.
I seemed to have got carried away, for what I wanted to say was that of the four times I have cruised the canal, not once have I had a uneventful passage, but I will not bore you with the details, the above is enough. Just to say I will still cruise the canal for all its faults, as there is no other like it and I endorse your comment that others should try it too, with the rider that have at least one of the crew be fairly strong!