Plod On the Cut

The Maiden Voyage

Plod is about to take a spot of Summer Leave from Police matters and has been asked to divulge some of the secrets of his main hobby, which is navigating the Inland Waterways of Britain.

My interest in canals started almost thirty years ago and was sparked off by several incidents involving the canal, which ran through my Beat in Trentham, some of which appear elsewhere in this series of tales. But for the time being I will wax lyrical about my hobby which I took up shortly after my retirement from the Police Force.

After I retired my wife and I came up with the idea of buying our own boat and after a lot of deliberation we decided to make our purchase from a boatyard in Dewsbury in Yorkshire. “Why go so far afield?” was a regular question and the answer was quite simple – economics. We then had to decide how to get the boat from Dewsbury to its home mooring in the Potteries. There were two choices 1. Have it delivered by road or 2. Sail it. The decision was made to Sail it.

So, it came to pass that on a soggy damp Saturday at the start of the Potters Fortnight in 1995 the good ship “Cloward’s Way” set sail on her maiden voyage from Saville Town Wharf in Dewsbury. My Crew comprised my brother-in-law and my very good friend Tony. Unfortunately the ladies had to work so we were an all-male crew. Plod was the Captain, Tony was the Mate and brother-in-law Geoff was the Galley and Lock Slave.

As we set off we had no idea of the, (to say the least,) eventful trip we were embarking on. Our journey would take us through Leeds, Skipton, Blackburn, Wigan, Middlewich and then home. Our estimated time of arrival at home was approximately two weeks later. We almost met with disaster at the second lock that we encountered. There was a fault and the lock would not fill to allow us access, it was running out as fast as it was going in. We were so intent on trying to get the lock to work that we ignored the fact that the water was draining away behind us. There was only a short distance between the two locks and the water level dropped dramatically. I turned round to see the boat hanging over from its mooring rope (40 feet of boat weighing 12 tons) leaning at a crazy angle. It was on the bottom and if the rope snapped the boat would roll over on its side. The first rule of life on the cut is do not panic and rush. That rule went straight through the window! We got the boat floating again much to the relief of yours truly, and a man from British Waterways very kindly dragged himself from the Rugby match between England and South Africa that he was watching on T.V. and mended the lock. We were on our way again.

Things went pretty smoothly for a couple of days until we arrived in Bingley – as we approached “The Bingley Five” (which is a Staircase of five locks all linked to gather with no water in between) brother-in-law Geoff put on his lock slaves hat, grabbed a windlass and as I steered in towards the towpath he made a leap for the bank. He slipped – and then fell (not in the water), righted himself and hobbled into action on the locks. Shortly after the locks we moored for the night by a friendly looking hostelry that we were doomed not to visit other than to use the phone to ring for a Taxi to convey brother-in-law to the local Hospital. His foot had gone a funny shade of blue by the time we moored and he was diagnosed to have a broken bone in the top of his foot.

We waved him bye-bye, suitably plastered (the plaster of Paris type) at 11pm as he went home quicker than anticipated. His good Wife had invested £40 in a pair of non-slip boots for him to wear. Because the sun was shining he had been wearing his sandals!

The sun shone and shone, we got browner and browner and eventually we reached Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove. We ate strawberries and cream as we waited for our turn to enter the tunnel. Disaster struck again as we were leaving the tunnel. I managed to steer into a rail as we were coming out of the tunnel and the rear guard rail was completely torn off the boat and took with it the complete tiller arm. I stood stunned as the whole shooting match disappeared to the bottom of the canal. Joy of joys, with the aid of the Tunnel Keeper and a very conveniently placed auto repairer called Dave who had a nice welding kit, we were on the move again in less than an hour.

We were on the home straight now; nothing could stand between us and home now. We would be back in Trentham that evening. Everything went fine until we got to a lock in Shelton. We had travelled through the roughest parts of Leeds and Blackburn with no trouble at all. Shelton yielded a nice brand of individuals who decided it would be a good idea to throw stones at us while we were in the lock. Tony leaped in to action to chase them away – slipped and fell and- yes you’ve guessed it already I have no doubt – he broke his arm.

They say things go in threes a foot, stern rail and an arm made it three fractures in one trip. Fortunately we have done many miles since then with nothing more than the ‘odd bod’ falling in the water every now and then!! (Editor’s Note: “including me”)