Slide 01 – Introduction

After the ‘Southern Cruise’ last season to the lower part of the network, it is proposed for 2023 cruise to the northern reaches of the network.  Looking at the network map, ‘Northern’ waterways are the second most extensive after Midlands canals.  To the east is the North Sea and River Humber, in the west Liverpool Bay and Rivers Mersey and Deet and Pennine Hills in-between, where the canals rise up to approximately 650 foot above-sea-level.

Slide 02 – Leeds & Liverpool

Principal waterway of the northern network is the Leeds & Liverpool (L&L) canal – 127 miles long, 91 locks and rising to 487ft.  A ‘wide’ canal for boats up to 64’ long.  Notable flights of locks at Bingley, 5-Rise and 3-Rise staircases, plus the ‘infamous’ Wigan 21!!

Cities of Leeds and Liverpool at opposite ends.  In the middle is the charming town of Skipton – markets, retail, pubs, restaurants and pie-shops!!

Slide 03 – Mersey / Manchester Ship Canal / Weaver

From Liverpool looking at a combined route of River Mersey crossing / Manchester Ship Canal transit / River Weaver (M/MSC/W) and transit up the Anderton Boat Lift.  The MSC and W route saves 4/5 days on a passage via the Boat Museum to the canals.

Slide 04 – Huddersfield Canal

East of Manchester there are two alternative routes across the Pennines, with summits in the region of 600-650ft.

For this proposal the Huddersfield Canal is being put forward – described in many publications as a ‘Real Boater’ waterway, stunningly beautiful and worth all the effort.  Consists of ‘Narrow’ (HN) majority section and Broad (HB) section, a total of 26½ miles long, 83 locks and rising to 656ft.  The Narrow section, includes the Standedge Tunnel, is for boats up to 70’ long, 6’2” headroom, 2’5” draught east of tunnel.  The Broad section is a ‘wide’ canal for boats no more than 57’6” long (opinion is that boats up to 60’ can be accommodated in locks diagonally, removing bow and stern fenders?).

Standedge Tunnel – ‘Longest, Highest & Deepest’ on Network – 5698 yards long – approximately 3¼ miles, 1½ hours to pass through.  Self-drive passage with a chaperone, who gives informative guidance on passage and the history.  There is a ‘Cruising the Cut’ video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ETwZuu9yZ0 and his passage through the tunnel.  A few items I have noted from the video; five boats were booked for that day, there are 45-minute intervals between boats to avoid being too close together, four check-points to monitor passage and communicate with control.

Slide 05 – Cruising Ring

From the above it is proposed to create a cruising ring.  From Trent & Mersey, adding the Bridgewater, via Manchester, east to Huddersfield Narrow. Also, from Huddersfield Broad adding Calder & Hebble and Aire & Calder to Castleford and Leeds (C&H has same dimensions as HB).

It is proposed that the ring is cruised in an anti-clockwise direction.  Waters done previously by the 4Cs have been in a clockwise direction.  Also, the arrival into Liverpool by canal is considered a better experience – via Stanley Flight, through a series of docks taking in the redevelopments and the ‘Link’ across the Pier Head with the iconic ‘Three Graces’ buildings.

Slide 06 – Excursions

The cruising ring gives opportunities for several excursions off.  From the Aire & Calder there is York & Ripon.  At Burscough on the Leeds & Liverpool there is the Rufford Branch giving access to the Ribble Crossing and Lancaster canal (limited schedule of dates depending on tides).  From Wigan there is the Leigh Branch to Bridgewater at Worsley (birthplace of canals) and Manchester.  Off the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port is the Boat Museum, leading to the Shropshire Union and Llangollen canals.

Slide 07 – Cruising Ring Option

To avoid passage along the Bridgewater and through Manchester City Centre, an alternative is to use the Macclesfield (M) canal.  Off the Trent & Mersey, just north of the Harecastle Tunnel, this is a waterway that the 4Cs have looked to do several times previously.  At the top of ‘The Macc’ is the Peak Forest canal, with opportunity of an excursion to the historic Bugsworth Basin.  The PF then links to the HN near Portland Basin.

The proposal in total is a significant cruise, but it has the opportunity to be done in part and/or with excursions.

Slide 08 – Cruising Ring details

It has been assessed that the full ring, at a comfortable pace, will take eight weeks.

Where to start the ring ??  Alternatives, ‘East’ onto Aire & Calder at Castleford, via Trent and New Junction Canal, or ‘West’ onto Macclesfield Canal, via Staffsordshire & Worcester and Trent & Mersey.  What is being considered is to have two flotillas that join together for L&L and M/MSC/W.  To coincide at Castleford a three-week stagger of the starting dates would be required, with the ‘West’ flotilla setting-out first.

Provisional dates at present.  ‘West’ flotilla out 24-Apr and back 19-Jun.  ‘East’ flotilla out: 15-May and back; 03-Jul.  River Mersey crossing during week commencing 12-Jun.

Slides 09 & 10 – Issues / Details

It is well known that there have been issues, some which are ongoing situations, with the waterways proposed.

Water resources had a significant effect last summer, with closures on all Pennine crossings – as well as a dry summer, winter had not been wet enough to replenish reservoirs, especially as some had been lowered for maintenance.  Extracts from CRT’s latest ‘Reservoir Watch’;  L&L and HN have had good October, now at one-third and half capacity respectively (better than historical minimum for the month).  M has additional issue of Todbrook being out-of-action – dam repair works have commenced with a completion late 2024 – bonus (??) of M canal closure is planned-works to Bosley flight for water saving was brought forward with pre-winter start.  Reservoir water levels are improving, but a wet winter is need to improve levels further.

Structures – 200 year old playground !!  Unfortunately, issues / failures and sudden closures are inevitable and is a risk that will just have to be monitored and addressed as they occur.

Liverpool passage and moorings.  Stanley Flight off L&L is operated by volunteers, which eases the passage.  Salthouse Dock in city centre offers moorings (including free electric) for up to 7 days as part of a boats cruising licence.  Booking of passage and moorings required.

River Mersey crossing & Manchester Ship Canal.  Budget approximated at £225 per boat (dependant on number of boats to share the Pilot’s Fee.  Booking is essential and does involve several parties, plus co-ordination between them.

River Weaver passage.  Anderton Boat Lift broke-down in the summer and is not currently operating, but latest CRT advice is that it will reopen Mar-23 (??).  Booking is advised, but this can be at short-notice, or even turn-up and see if spaces available.

Standedge Tunnel passage.  Booking is required.  Passages are on selected days and there is a limit on number of boats.

Slide 11 – Questions / Interested Boats

Several questions were asked as part of the proposal presentation at the recent Social at Stafford Boat Club.   There were some minor queries, which will be addressed in further details.  Also, there was comment about the difficulty / issues of cruising the Huddersfield Narrow, which the proposal recognises will be a challenge that the 4Cs should be able to deal with together as a group.  There were also comments that the Standedge Tunnel is not as difficult as has been intimated over the years.

What is now required to begin to develop these proposals into an organised cruise is expressions of interests from boats.  Expressions can be made in reply to the notice on the Members communication ‘Guild’ or by emailing gedbird@gmail.com.  When submitting expressions, could you please advise preferences – ‘West’ or ‘East’ starting points, full or partial cruise, excursions from the cruising ring and alternative to suggested dates.  Events and get-togethers will be considered from the number of expressions received.

Feedback is necessary to develop these proposals forward and expressions of interest are requested at the earliest opportunity please.  There is adaptability in the proposals, but would reiterate the request for feedback to be able to assess.

Thanks, Gerard Bird