Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Manchester - Oxford Road to Waters Meeting

Last weekend I went from Liverpool to York by train. On the way I saw a lot of canals, the Sankey Brook, the Bridgewater, Rochdale, Calder and Hebble, Huddersfield Narrow and Broad and the Leeds and Liverpool Canals. Passing through Manchester city centre I decided it was about time to visit our neighbour's canals. So this weekend I took the train to Manchester Oxford Road. I dont know Manchester; I only visit rarely for concerts, and last time I had a terrible time with transport that put me off returning for years.
The only time I have visited the canal was the IWA National rally in 1988 at Castlefield when I was 12.
The canal runs underneath Oxford Road so it only took a minute to get to the towpath from the station. The canal passes through the huge Victorian buildings like a river through a canyon.

Looking up to Oxford Road
This canal is the Rochdale Canal and is notable in Manchester for its locks. We passed a few as we walked towards Castlefield. The towpath was quiet, not many people and no bikes. There were a few ducks and some nice houses built for them.
Duck House

site of the hacienda
Approaching Castlefield the canal started to look more familiar. This is where we moored in 1988. The high railway bridges are particularly impressive. I really liked the use of the railway arches by lock 91, its a clever use of space and the industrial architecture works well with the modern bars and clubs.
Former Canal Tunnel
There is a short arm of the canal by one of the huge bridges, at the end of the arm is a low tunnel in the rock. This was once a canal tunnel built by Brindley. The water level was lower when it was in use.

Former Saw Mill Building with a more modern building behind

Lock 92 Dukes Lock

At Castlefield the Rochdale Canal meets the Bridgewater Canal. The area around Castlefield has changed a bit since 1988. There are lots of nice trendy bars by the canal and I can imagine the area is very popular on summers evenings.

Canal-side living
We carried on past Castlefield following the Bridgewater Canal. Manchester's large Victorian buildings are soon left behind and the area around the canal opens out. The new Metrolink tramway follows the canal heading to Salford Quays which you can see in the distance. The towpath got muddier on this stretch but wasn't too bad. The sun hadn't got to the towpath and the puddles were still frozen and the grass was covered in frost. This bit of canal is a bit boring.
We were reminded that it was match day as we got to the pleasingly named Throstles Nest bridge. Old Trafford, home of Manchester United is right next to the canal. In fact it is so close you can get a boat there from the city centre. People were inside the ground eating in the restaurants, prawn sandwiches no doubt. The streets and bridges were full of people making their way to the ground.
After Old Trafford the towpath's condition got much worse. It was very wet and muddy. I dont think I would have fancied it on a bike though the tyre tracks suggested it was a popular route. Still the danger of slipping or falling in the canal made up for the rather dull canal.
We reached Waters Meeting which is also pleasingly named. here the Bridgewater splits up and heads off to Leigh and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, or Lymm and Preston Brook or back to Manchester. There isn't much to look at here, three black canals meet under the bridges.
We had a Mars Bar and took some uninspiring photos and then headed back to Manchester.
Its funny how the walk back always seems much quicker than the outward trip. As we passed Old Trafford the team names were being read out, we couldn't hear the announcement but could tell when Wayne Rooney's name was called as the crowd cheered twice as loud as for the rest. The trip boats were disgorging the last of their boozed up football fans.
Back at Castlefield we had a look at the two Leeds and Liverpool Canal boats. One was the Irwell, a short/wide boat the other had no name but I have since found out it is a long boat originally called A37 and later became Isis.
The high railway bridges are very impressive. The railway engineers knew what they were doing and knew how to do it with style.
We stopped off at Dukes 92, one of the trendy bars. The fish and chips was very nice and even came with a small bucket of chips.
I enjoyed Manchester and I will be back to walk the other way and see its famous Canal Street...

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