Bridgewater to Manchester

24 – 26 May 2018

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Three tunnels – Barnton, Saltersford and Preston Brook – mark the end of the Trent and Mersey and a stop lock the beginning of the Bridgewater.

The beauty of tree, may in blossom and wild flowers continues, including a bed of orchids just before the stop lock. There’s ragged robin, columbine, campion, buttercup galore, archangel, forget me not, Queen Anne’s lace, and speedwell, reflecting the sky.

So easy to be distracted.

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I went to help Jenny with one of the gates at the stop lock, and as I reached to step back on board, slipped and ended in the brink. Hey ho. A baptism in the Bridgewater.

Except my phone, there in my back pocket, after taking a picture of the last Trent and Mersey milestone, with Preston Brook one mile to show. This is a poor version, with the countdown:

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These milestones have been with us all the way along the Trent and Mersey. Shardlow one way, Preston Brook the other. Sometimes they have added up to the same amount of miles. It should be 93.5 miles. We travelled 67.25 of the length of the Trent and Mersey – and every so often the distances seemed to suggest some magical additions, or simple Midlands inconsistency.

But never mind that. My phone. Straight into rice, but it still wasn’t looking by bedtime. Or the next morning.

We enter the Bridgewater, and No more Locks ’til Wigan!

We will circle inland to Manchester, running alongside the great Ship Canal, and then outwards again, through old stamping ground. I served my curacy in Westhoughton.

All the boys were born there. Very happy four years. I learned a lot. As much from our dear friends Harry and Eth as anyone. You’ll see them in the next blog.

So as we chugged along towards Manchester, I persuaded Peter to leave his essay on Sacramental Theology (no easy task – the persuasion) to join us on Friday, so he is with Jenny and me as we do our last day together. Jenny leaves for London and Morocco on Monday and I return to Mirfield for the inside of the week, until the end of term.

The plan is to leave the boat at Wigan for the week or so it will take, then Peter can have a well-earned holiday as we do the final leg together, up the 21 one locks out of Wigan on onwards towards the Pennines.

Then the move to Workington.

The move has been rather complicated by the fact that the removals firm, which has all our stuff in storage in Thetford, has gone into liquidation. Peter has had to find another firm, and provide the paperwork to show what’s been paid already – by us, and by Carlisle Diocese. The move day is set for 13 June.

As we have come north, slowly and surely, it’s felt good. Lancashire then Cumbria beckons.

We’re still in Cheshire as we pass Warrington, and draw near to Lymm where we moor up to stay the night. It’s a pretty town, with a village centre. The pub is just above our mooring, and we hear laughter and good humour as we eat a pie (bought in Moore), broccoli cheese and lentils with tomatoes.

My old friend Harry used to say ‘What’s a balanced diet in Wigan?’

A pie in each hand.

Early on Friday morning we set off, travelling through wonderful country past Dunham Massey Hall (obscured by trees), after which we reach the outskirts of Greater Manchester, and into Sale.

Peter is arriving at Victoria Station at 2pm, so we moor up on the towpath at Sale Metrolink, and head into the city. The first destination, an EE shop, so I can replace my waterlogged handset, which hasn’t recovered, despite that night in rice.

Charlotte served us. She had a degree in Philosophy from Manchester University, and was returning there to do a PGCE this Autumn. She came from Wigan – and from a family of teachers. Now living in Didsbury, she was down on her birth town. I wanted Eth there to defend it.

The shop didn’t have WiFi – it was down – so she advised us to go to the Apple Store in the Arndale to update the settings.

There we talked with Lars (well, let’s call him that).

He was half Swedish, half American, and had done 10 years in the US army. He listed off all the places – ones you’d predict – he’d seen service. He told us he thought the UK was full of rage, and he was only staying six months, before heading back to Sweden.

He was proud to be a Hells Angel, he told us.

I guessed they’d been going since the 60s, but more than that, ‘we’re 62 years old,’ he said. He described the brotherhood, his Harley Davidson and showed us his tattoos. I wondered what initiation rites there were; what they did together. ‘Let’s just say, things’, he replied. I pushed in my usual fashion – ‘do you break the law?’

He commented that the law was much stricter here in the UK than in the US. He told us that a lot of ex-military become mercenaries. ‘What, like vigilante?’ ‘Yeah, that’s right. We take out paedophiles, that sort of thing.’

He was disarming, looking you straight in the eye. My phone finished uploading my touch, and I headed off to see if I could sell the old handset, leaving Jenny with her downloads and updates. She found out that he was adopted. She thought he was trustworthy. I wasn’t so sure. I wish I’d asked.

I wish I’d also asked the last time he sang out aloud; the last time he cried.

We wandered to St Ann’s Church – as beautiful as ever – and then to the Cathedral, which is so improved since I was ordained Deacon there on Advent Sunday in 1989. Now with a new marble floor, with a lightness and colour that lifts the building from the heavy and dark interior that used to pull the space in, and leave you with little air to breathe.

A stunning new organ fills the nave with glory. Shekinah.

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There was an interfaith day happening:

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and I took time to visit Mark Cazalet‘s triptych

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that was so controversial when installed, and to enjoy my favourite window, installed after the bomb damage of the 2WW.

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While we were there, the first anniversary of the Arena bomb had just been held.

The Cathedral had stepped up as the city remembered – coverage in the Church Times that Peter brought with him. IMG_0056

There were trees all around the Cathedral, with prayer requests and remembrances. The Arena is only a stone’s throw away.

Our daughter Matilda was a chorister at Manchester – a member of the mixed treble line that was introduced by Chris Stokes, who is still the organist there.

I remembered the other bomb in 1996. I was with the children at a swimming lesson in Bury – 10 or so miles to the north – and we felt the impact there. Pupils from Chetham’s Music School (where Tilda went as a chorister) remembered that day on a Radio 4 programme I caught by chance on Sunday.

We headed for Victoria Station. And Peter.

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Manchester is a city he knows well. When we moved to Bradford in 2006, he continued to commute back to his senior role in Manchester Paediatrics. He was glad to be back. But glad also to head for the boat. (That’s the Church Times under his arm).

Straight onto the Altringham metro, and back to Sale, and off we went, to Waters Meeting, where the Bridgewater Canal took us North West to Trafford Park and over the Ship Canal – which was magnificent.

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Here we are, entering The Barton Swing Aqueduct.

And this is what we saw – water upon water.

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At Parrin Lane Bridge there was a lighthouse.

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And shortly after, a reminder of the horses that worked these routes.

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After Worsley, with St Mark’s Church spire just there, parkland extended on both sides of the canal. Through Boothstown, and we moored up just past Astley Bridge. It’s a little used, little moored stretch of canal. The fewer boats, the less secure it seems.

It rained, off and on, all day. The first day of rain that Jenny has seen. Though once we had the woodburner hot, and the sausage stew eaten, the sky began to clear as it became darker. The birds sang loud and late.

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