David Adamson takes the famous waterway from Sale to Old Trafford and back again
When you take the tram down to Sale you shuttle along parallel with the Bridgewater Canal, that great undertaking that sparked that most industrial of crazes, ‘canal mania’.
While today it may not inspire quite the same frenzy among Mancunians, what I found as I paddled from Sale to Old Trafford was a modest but enriching addition to people’s lives.
Quick fact: The Bridgewater Canal is the earliest and fastest canal in the UK. It has no locks along its almost 40 mile length as the clever engineers, James Brindley and John Gilbert, working for the Duke of Bridgewater followed the contours of the landscape across flatish south Lancashire and north Cheshire. Locks slow boaters down, kayakers have to get out and walk round them. This makes the Bridgewater Canal ideal for this type of watersport.
The barges vary from moss-ridden and near-derelict to floating hotel suites, but the signwriting on each one speaks to the same outlook on life
I pitched up in Sale on a sarcastically sunny April afternoon and climbed down the steps of the Kings Ransom pub to Grip Adventures, the boat and canoe hire tucked under the bridge, where I was promptly strapped in and pushed out onto the water.
All along the canal-side people were out with either a dog or a toddler in tow, while joggers and cyclists barely broke their strides and anglers drowsily watched their lines on the water - the sort of scene brochures for new developments insist will spring up if only they were given the chance.
The red brick warehouse walls lining the towpaths still have the whiff of industry, but mostly the canal has become a place where people live.
The barges vary from moss-ridden and near-derelict to floating hotel suites, but the signwriting on each one speaks to the same outlook on life, whether it’s 'Sunny Afternoon', 'Juschillin', or 'The Phoenix' which carries the fine strapline of “rising from the hashish”.
As you approach the bridge near Stretford Mall what looms into view is an oblong steel structure with neat rounded curves, the skeleton of luxury living that at first may inspire a pang of very Northern suspicion, but ultimately should be a very nice place to live.
I think suburbs like this will see a sort of reconciling between the understandable urge to mimic the likes of Leiden and the feeling that these things come at a cost - what does it profit a man to gain a café-cum-co-working space but lose his soul?
I took the turn towards Old Trafford at Watersmeet ignoring the left turn to Worsley. That stretch from Worsley to Manchester was the original Bridgewater Canal bringing coal into Manchester. This dating from 1761 was designed by James Brindley and John Gilbert for the Duke of Bridgewater. Subsequently a long spur was built to link Manchester to the Mersey estuary which is the part I'd been kayacking up.
From Watersmeet you enter a land of shipping containers on the canal banks until the unmistakable shade of red showed through the tree branches. Much is said about United’s home and how it’s in need of extensive refurbishment, but rowing up to it from such a low level it makes for an impressive sight with the aura of an immovable moated castle (but with probably better toilet facilities).
By the time I arrived back in Sale I’d been out on the water for over two hours, and was soaked with the faint smell of algae. Whether it was faint to my fellow passengers on the tram back to town I couldn’t say, but I certainly got my own seat.
Passing through Pomona wharf towards Castlefield you can see why all those years ago the developers, councillors and prospective tenants got all excited about the area’s potential, and there’s every sign this enthusiasm is now spreading to Stretford.
The Bridgewater Canal kayacking experience may not have the frantic, shovel-wielding excitement of Canal Mania, but it's good to see Greater Manchester is continuing its re-engagement with all those miles and miles of waterways. It's overdue.
To book a kayak or boat trip down the Bridgewater Canal visit www.gripadventure.co.uk or call Glenn Rees on 07919 993 669
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