The canal system has never had a great reputation, but parts of it, especially the Peak Forest canal in Hyde are looking very neglected compared to the last time I explored a few years ago. The ruts are bigger, the litter is worse and the boggy bits are boggier. British Waterways is to be changed into a Charitable Trust as part of the quango axing, which is apparently a good thing as it will give them more access to grants and funds, so hopefully some of that (probably pitiful) dosh can make its way towards Tamesides canal system and upgrade the paths to the quality found closer to the city centre.
If you put the parts of dereliction aside, the canal system is a fantastic resource that goes totally unappreciated in a country thats prepared to spend £3.1m on making congested motorways more dangerous for instance. It's the fastest route to get from Hyde to Ashton for example and involves no hills at all. It's the same on the otherside of Manchester where to get from the city centre to Trafford park would involve a steady climb whereas the Bridgewater canal is a flat, unhindered & quiet route to the same destination. And even on a nippy Janurary afternoon a ride around the canals makes for a really pleasant day out, it's even nicer on a summers day when the sun's out.
This spot is in a noticeably bad state, I've no idea how long its been like this but eventually the edging stones will collapse completely into the canal and become a much bigger problem to fix than if it had been seen to now. (near the Snipe retail park). There are a few other spots similar, but this is the biggest. The towpath has been collapsed in someway near Asda in Ashton for a long time, but I haven't been over there for about 10 years so haven't seen the state of it myself.
You then get to the Motorway bridge, which is the darkest and gloomiest part of the journey. The main problem here is the lighting is insufficient for any time of day & most of the bulbs have gone now anyway.
Just past here you get to the only 'posh' bit of the journey with a range of expensive looking canalside homes. The surface on this stretch is pretty good but I'm not a fan of this sandy gravel surface (whatever its proper name is). It's seen as being more 'countryside' and natural, when in reality canals are anything but natural and it would be a benefit to everyone if these towpaths were resurfaced with the wide tarmac like surface that can be found further on as you get towards the Sportscity.
The search for Alien life continues in Droylsden.....
A little further on you start to find the good old British tradition of 'Cyclist Dismount' signs. At least these ones are signed with British Waterways so you know who to blame for wasting money. From this point on there are quite a few shoulder gates, but there is no need to use any of them as some are off to the side for no reason and at others the gate next to it is permanently open.
From here onwards the surface is good and a decent uniform width. This is all part of when the Commonwealth games was held in Manchester and the whole stretch got a thorough refurb.
This bike rack caught my eye because it's a shining example of form over function. It's a fantastic piece of manufacturing and looks good, but it's quite obviously a useless piece of crap for locking bicycles to (the bent rusty front wheel illustrates this nicely!). Plus it's hidden out the way down the side of the building instead of outside the entrance & visible.....sigh.
This spot is obviously the favourite nicked bike dumping area. We counted at least 7 bikes and 2 shopping trolleys amongst other stuff.
Near Great Ancoats now and you start to find some big apartment buildings. The new metro line goes right past here as well and there is a fair bit of ground works going on. You can stay on the towpath here and come off somewhere near the BDP Architects building on Ducie St, but we chose to come off and zip down the roads to get under Picadilly train station and over to Canal Street where you can rejoin the towpath.
Canal St is one of nicest parts of the city centre. Infact such a good job has been done of creating a pleasant, relaxed, traffic free daytime environment on Canal St that I propose British Waterways should join forces with the LGF and embark on a pioneering revival of the Northwest's waterways.
Once you are back onto the towpath you are heading towards Castlefield with it's city centre living atmosphere, bridges, viaducts, bars & restaurants and.......hmmm what is it that makes this place so nice?...no cars blasting around.
Once you are outside of Castlefield the towpath reverts back to the thin sticky sand-gravel stuff.
Our journey on the canals ended at Throstle Nest Bridge where we used the excellent segregated facility (Pavement) to partially negotiate the Mega roundabout of death and begin to head towards the Fallowfield Loop.
On the Loop we met this little fella who I saw again the next morning, but this time at the complete other end of the Loop. So there you have it, the canals are good but the Loop is so good that stray kittens think its worth making Home. That's a seal of approval to be proud of :-)