Tuesday 30 June 2015


We'd not left enough time yesterday for a visit to the John Rylands Library, so that was our aim this morning before setting out. Of course, we're always open for distractions, and I indicated to my best beloved that we were in plenty of time, more or less as we passed the entrance to Castlefield Market.

Dark and gloomy and closed it was, but near the inner entrance was an open barber's shop. It seemed fortuitous in view of the state of my curls, and the price list suggested I wouldn't be paying all that much more than in our village. So in we went.

David did a great job, and charged me only £8 – whether that was due to my advanced years or the good crack or whether he just took pity on me I don't know, but I was well chuffed.

Then it was off up Deansgate to the John Rylands building – part of the Manchester University  Library.

My particular interest was in Papyrus \mathfrak{P}52, the earliest known surviving fragment of the New Testament, known as the St John's fragment, and containing just a few words from John's gospel.

In the library you're allowed to take photos of the rooms, but not to point your camera at the exhibits. So I took a  photo of the Rylands Gallery, and it just seems to have centre stage the case containing the fragment. Ah well, they do sell postcards with a picture of it, so a snap of one of those will have to serve.

It has writing on both sides, and so was obviously part of a "Codex" – a book. They have dated it to around AD125 on the basis of the handwriting style – it's incredible to be able to look at something from the New Testament penned that early.

The library building itself is a Gothic flourish.

It was also interesting to discover something of John Rylands the man, and his third (Cuban) wife who created the whole project after his death.

Well, after all that it was back to Erin Mae and time to pack up after our weekend in Manchester. On the way we passed this…

 Do you think it's the only bank to be blown up in Manchester?

So we said farewell to Castlefield basin – I backed out as the bottom end is notoriously difficult for winding.

On the way out we found the city centre cruise boat Emmeline Pankhurst obstructing the navigation, and found it was negotiating its way into the lock leading down to the Manchester Ship Canal. It's the first time we've seen the lock being used.

Down to Stratford Marine for water and a pump-out, then up to the swing bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal.

I discovered that the local boating fraternity call the bridge the "tank" because that's basically what it is.

Up through Worsley and past its surreal miniature lighthouse.

On to the junction where stands a fine house, and the tunnels from which emerged the boats carrying the Duke of Bridgewater's coal.

And what should we meet, as we turned left just there, but the only boat coming the other way all afternoon. And a hirer, at that.

Fortunately the helmsman seemed pretty experienced, and we negotiated the meeting so as not to meet.

As UK readers will know, it's been a hot day. We seem to have fitted a lot in. It's been nice to tie up, have a cool shower, and think about making something interesting to eat while we catch up with the tennis.

Monday 29 June 2015

Salford Quays

We'd set aside today to do a spot of sightseeing in Manchester – we were sure there must be more to this city than what you see from the canal. Even the MetroLink journey from Castlefield out to Salford Quays provided a new perspective, because it starts way up in the sky, part of a ribbon of rail and canal routes running out of the centre.

The station was the first surprise. In other places we've seen all sorts of horrible things sprayed around to keep vegetation away from track. Here it was being positively encouraged.

A few hundred yards away, the heart of the MetroLink system is undergoing renovation that will take several weeks, so our starting point is currently the terminus for one half of the network, and there were numbers of employees around to help confused passengers find their way on to the other half.

As we started out, we were able to look down on the basin when Erin Mae is tied up.

and on one or two other watery areas we had passed on the way in.

 Then we crossed the Manchester Ship Canal,

came down an incline and found we were in a tram on the streets rather than a railway in the sky. We'd arrived.

You don't get any sense at all of what they have done with Salford Quays from what you see as you approach Manchester along the Bridgewater Canal. Large expanses of water have been converted for leisure use, and the area all around completed re-developed.

There is residential property, office space, and two buildings opposite each other bear the name of the famous local painter – the Lowry is the Arts / Gallery / Theatre complex with a major exhibition of his works, and the Lowry Outlet is a shopping mall with "outlet" versions of many well-known shops offering considerable discounts.

The gallery was excellent, and we learned lots about both Lowry and Salford that we hadn't known before. Not having a notepad, I took a photo of one of the descriptive panels with a Lowry quote which matched my own reflections recorded in Friday's post: "All my people are lonely. Crowds are the most lonely thing of all. Everyone is a stranger to everyone else." Then I couldn't resist taking a photo of the painting the comment was about, though I wasn't sure it was permitted.

An attendant came over and assured me that it very definitely was not permitted, but kindly didn't insist on watching me delete the images already captured.

Eventually it was time to go and we walked back to the MetroLink by a different route that took us towards the MediaCity complex, including the BBC and ITV (Coronation Street!) studios, and the part of the docklands where swimming events are held.

Some of the Salford Quays area felt over-expanded and rather soul-less. What a project it was – and it presumably needed to match the scale of the docks that were its centre. Urban redevelopment and regeneration are great things for city people and councils to envisage and achieve. But how do you give them a heart?

Sunday 28 June 2015

Divine comedy

One of the fun things about the adventure is the range of boats and people you meet along the way.

Pirate ships and widebeams.

GRPs and wooden-hulled.

The everyday and the not-so-common. It seems to me it's not just the jokes in nature that reflect the Creator's sense of humour, it's also the huge range of people you come across. For boating Christians, it's something similar with the types of churches you get to join for worship. Middle of Manchester – where else would you go on a Sunday morning but the Comedy Store?

It sits on a balcony above one of the lower locks on the (in)famous Rochdale Nine.

There was a warm welcome and proper coffee in the bar area, and then we joined everyone downstairs in the theatre itself. This is Christ Central, a very young looking church with a band to suit.

It was a pattern typical for this type of church – an extended period based around singing worship songs, followed by a talk based on the Bible, relating a passage to some key contemporary issues.

Keith's talk was lively, warm and engaging, and unlikely to leave all feathers unruffled! We had a good chat with him afterwards as well, over more excellent coffee.

Next week it will probably be 11 o'clock morning prayer with robed choir at St Something's in the something. The words "rich" and "tapestry" come to mind!

Saturday 27 June 2015

Linotype for Sale

With my dad working for a publishing house, I grew up with some of the language of publish and print. I remember the early rounds of a public speaking event at school, at which I attempted to brief my class on Monotype, on the basis of a visit to a printing works and its manager the previous month. The talk was a complete failure, but the fact that Monotype and Linotype were two competing printing technologies has stuck. So, as we came up through Sale this morning, this caught my eye.

Today it would be an advertising pun, but I’m not sure that such a thing would have been in the culture in 1897. Nor am I sure how the paint has survived – unlike yesterday’s Co-operative Society building, the legend is not in relief with the letters standing proud of the brickface. I don’t imagine that members of the Linotype Preservation Society come and freshen it once a year. Whoever they are, they’ll be positively ancient by now.

Sale, like other parts of the Manchester conurbation, is no doubt trying to refresh more than a defunct factory or two. On the waterside a different sort of architecture was making a different point.

On the water we came across Trafford Rowing Club…

and the Sea Cadets…

which is to stretch a boundary no more than the charity narrowboat we came across, part of the “Open Locks” Project. The Bridgewater Canal has no locks at all!

So we came through again to Castlefield, a renovated part of central Manchester where the Bridgewater meets the Rochdale, where the yuppie meets the boater, and where the heavier washable items from our cruising meet the launderette in the YHA. Tonight we shall smell sweet.

Friday 26 June 2015


In general, people you meet along the way give you a cheery wave, especially if you wave first. Whether they are boaty sort of people…

or just folk out on the towpath…

or the man surveying a bridge for repair…

We've done most of our boating in the North-West Midlands so far, but I don't think it's an especially NWM thing, though no doubt some parts are better at it than others. On our way out of Runcorn this morning we met other evidence of people co-operating, from the context of the industrial revolution.

I couldn't work out, from the canal, exactly what this building was, but a few yards along it also had this legend set into the brickwork.

So perhaps it had been some sort of housing project. It was as we were exiting Runcorn that I was struck by the difference between the town and the country. Not one person, in the more populous parts, thought it might be appropriate to even nod a greeting. I got to wondering at what population density the transition occurs. How many people do you need to be encountering before it becomes too exhausting to greet each one, and the anonymous city mentality sets in? The people that cross your path are no longer really people.

As we moved onto the main section of the Bridgewater Canal we cruised past the Daresbury Science Park. It gives me the creeps! Daresbury was the birthplace of Lewis Carroll, but this place reminds me more of something out of C S Lewis' science fiction trilogy part 3 (That Hideous Strength). It has many buildings, including a water tower and its own power sub-station. It has multiple windows but nobody behind them. It has notices along the waterfront warning you to keep off, but nobody making use of the path or moorings.

For the first time ever, today we saw someone outside one of the buildings, having a quiet smoke. I slowed down and called across to him: "Are you the only who works there? We've never seen anyone else. Is it run by robots?" "Aliens", he replied.

And I thought that must be how the good citizens of the more densely populated parts we cruise through think of a boater who gives them a cheery greeting. Something from another planet!

Well, the Bridgewater canal has given me food for thought. One of its more homely characteristics is that the bridges are identified by their names, rather than just having a number attached.

But don't ask me what the lengths of rope were doing there. Perhaps they were left by an alien.

Thursday 25 June 2015


They look such an idyllic family group, don't they? So much a part of the canal scene that the Canal and River Trust used them as part of its logo.

But the swan family at our mooring as we were packing up to leave this morning decided I was a threat of some sort and moved into attack mode. All I was doing was standing on the gunnel tidying the pram cover that I had just collapsed ready for cruising. But old Cob, he began a-hissing and a-pecking until I decided he was a threat to me. I can honestly say that, pacifist-minded as I am, I have never kicked a swan before. And I don't think he can ever have been kicked before, because he looked most offended as he straightened his neck again. Given the urban myth about how many of your bones a swan can break I had no concerns that I was likely to do him any damage. But I did then get the boat hook off the roof and wave it in his direction, and he seemed to find that alarming enough for him to move his little family across the canal.

Compared to that, the Preston Brook tunnel was relatively benign.

Getting into the tunnel is actually the hardest part, as it's hard to pick up the line it's taking until you are properly shrouded in gloom yourself. Thereafter you have a headlamp, kitchen lights and a torch to guide you as, like yesterday's tunnels, it follows a more sinuous track than seems strictly necessary.

After the tunnel it wasn't far to the junction, where we turned left to go down to Runcorn. What's in a name? Some people probably hear "corn" and think of a pastoral idyll. I hear "rhinoceros horn" and think of danger. The initial approach down this arm of the canal is pleasant enough, with a stretch dominated by what I take to be a water tower.

I found it quite hard to get a photo, because the combination of distance, auto-focus and the camera's anti-shake system seems to mean it seizes on the first glimpse of the tower it can make sense of, and holds it instead of letting you frame the picture properly. This wouldn't be so bad if the photographer wasn't also the steerer, by now heading for the opposite bank. I took five shots of the tower, and most of them were a disaster – though I didn't hit the bank.

As you get further into the town, the need for a safe haven becomes more apparent and, fortunately, this is just what the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club provides.

They are a very friendly bunch, though quite relieved I only wanted to stay one night as there is some sort of Commodore's affair starting tomorrow and boats will be arriving. But our reason for coming to Runcorn this time (last autumn it was part of our plan to visit most of the north-west fringes) is to pick up some sound insulation panels we've ordered. Hopefully they'll be delivered in the morning and we'll be on our way. More about that another time.