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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Just for fun...

The following story was originally published in Nicola Batty's Newsletter Raw Meat in October and November 2006 and guess what? Nothing's changed.

I went for a fifty five minute ride on my mountain bike this morning. I didn't plan it that way, it just evolved. I had been threatening to do some strenuous exercise since the summer break and nothing had really happened. Until we had to go to Nic's Doctors this morning at St Georges near the Dry Rot church. I suggested that we should go over to the Bridgewater Canal and have a look at the new St Georges Island development. But nobody else seemed interested and I knew how difficult this stretch of towpath can be for Ziggy as we have walked it many times. So, I got the old bike out of the shed and inflated the tyres and rode to my hairdressers instead.
My barber Artie was busy and told me to come back in an hour, so I decided to go for a little cycle ride. I started out from Artie's on Claremont Road and headed west towards Princess Road where I turned northwards towards the city centre. I crossed Great Western street and Moss Lane and rode on past the Hulme Asda, through the new Science Park and eventually turned left onto Stretford Road at the Hulme Arch. I continued westwards to the Zion Centre buildings where I turned right into the newly landscaped park and cycled northwards to the million pound plus footbridge that spans the Mancunian Way. The bridge was a steep climb for an unfit overeater but I managed it in first gear. Coming down on the other side of the busy highway was the fun part and I was glad that my brakes still worked. A little jiggle to the right and then to the left around an NCP car park and I was out on the busy Bridgewater Way at the bottom end of Deansgate. From here I could see St. Georges church.
I crossed both carriageways of the main Chester Road and freewheeled towards the Canal Basin at Castlefield Quays. I checked my watch as I spotted the dark green water of the Bridgewater Canal in front of me. I had been cycling for fifteen minutes. There were a few narrow boats tied up on the canal side but no traffic on the waterway. To my right in the near distance stood the Venetian church. Today, however, I turned left onto the towpath where I was joined by a dozen or so middle aged joggers. I soon lost most of them as we had to climb the many little hump backed bridges that span the little wharves and inlets off the main canal. It is quite possible to ride at a good pace along this Castlefield stretch of the Bridgewater Canal but the cobble style stones in places do make it quite difficult and I do remember it is a nightmare for anybody in Ziggy.
I cycled on past Hulme Lock and the still incomplete St. Georges Island development, which appears to tower out of the water. At this point the tow path got a bit hairy, the ground is a bit soft and it goes very narrow especially under the Hulme Hall Road bridge. The eighteenth century towpath continues to be a bit squashy for another hundred yards or so as you pass under the nineteenth century railway arches that carry the twentieth century trains and the twenty first century trams out of town. Once I got past Cornbrook Bridge the going was easier but still quite narrow. There was by now only one jogger in front of me and he turned back at Pomona lock (which allows boats from the Bridgewater canal to enter the Manchester Ship Canal.) The only obstacles in my way now were a couple of anglers and a few walkers. You could be forgiven for thinking you were out in the countryside at this point but the great mass of waste land is a giant brownfield site. I had heard that someone had gained planning permission to construct a number of apartment blocks, in the style of a ships sails, at one of the docks off Pomona Strand but I saw no evidence of this at all.
I cycled on towards Throstle Nest bridge. In a deep cutting to my left were a number of railway lines and on my immediate right of course was the thick dark green water of the Bridgewater Canal. Beyond the canal the Metrolink trams run on a newly constructed overhead track to Salford Quays and on to the place where the Eccles cakes come from. Just before you reach Throstle Nest Bridge at White City you have to go past the overhead tram stop at Pomona. The tow-path on the south side of the canal which I had been cycling on since Castlefield Quays runs out here and you have to cross the canal by an ancient horse bridge. A quick glance at my watch told me it had taken me twenty five minutes to reach this point. I crossed over but came off the canal here and then crossed the Manchester Ship Canal at Trafford Road swing bridge. (The swing bridge is now welded permanently shut, so big ships can no longer reach Pomona Docks even if they wanted to.)
cycled through the maze of offices on the Salford side of the Ship Canal, finding a passage to the north bank (Salford bank) near to the Colgate factory on Ordsall lane. From here on it was an easy ride back towards the city centre and away from Salford Quays as the Ship Canal bank is wide and concrete and firm. I road as far as the Woden Street footbridge which is just about where the Manchester, Salford and Trafford boundaries meet, and where I believe the Ship Canal ends and becomes the River Irwell. It was difficult to ride up this terraced bridge but not impossible. I chose to dismount and take a look at the ever changing view. I say ever changing in the sense that it had changed considerably since I was last there a few months ago.
It's a strange place, if you look eastwards from Woden Street footbridge up the Irwell you can see the Manchester skyline in the distance and in the foreground the many new apartment blocks of the St.Georges Island development come into view. Looking westwards down the Ship Canal you can see Salford Quays and the Old Trafford football ground in the distance. In the foreground to your left is the giant brownfield site of the former Pomona Docks. On your right hand side, which is the Salford bank, a number of tacky warehouses and small manufacturing units litter the space between the Ship Canal and Ordsall Lane. What a waste of space this whole area has become.
To give you an idea of the enormity of the size of the place it's roughly the same distance as looking up the River Liffy from O'Connell Street Bridge to Phoenix Park in Dublin or the whole length of The Grand Canal from The Rialto Bridge in Venice. The easiest way to check it out for yourself is to take the Metrolink Tram from G-Mex to Salford Quays on the Eccles Line and you'll pass right through this area. Pay particular attention to the waste land between Cornbrook Station and the next stop at Pomona. It's incredible to think that you could build a whole city centre on this almost forgotten vacant lot. What a missed opportunity for someone! Of course I haven't checked to see if anybody has plans submitted to redevelop this area and the powers that be certainly don't consult me. So, when I say that this is a missed opportunity, I may well be barking up the wrong drainpipe.
I remounted and rode the short distance across the rest of the bridge. I negotiated the dark and gloomy overhead railway arches and emerged into the relative daylight close to the St Georges Island development, which used to be the site of the North Western Bus Company's Depot. As I crossed the Bridgewater Canal on Hulme Hall Road I checked the time. I had been cycling for a full forty minutes now, it must be time to head back. I crossed the busy main Chester Road and took the quiet Barrack Street with its cute little houses. I cycled on past the Doctors Surgery on City Road and continued onto Royce Road crossing over the busier Chorlton Road so as to stay away from the bulk of the traffic.
On I rode, crossing Stretford Road and Greenheyes Lane onto the still unfinished Hulme High Street, past Hulme Market and Moss Side Leisure Centre to the junction of Moss Lane. Here I crossed over the busy highway onto the Alexandra Park Estate, following the road around Quinney Crescent to its junction with Great Western Street, where I turned left, managing to cross Princess Road on a green traffic light. Taking the first turn to my right I proceeded in a southerly direction towards Claremont Road and the famous Artie's Barbershop. Total journey time fifty five minutes.
Here are some facts and figures from my 
Fifty five minute ride…
The dry rot church is actually called St Georges.
Dry Rot is the title of one of Nicola Batty's novels.
The Bridgewater Canal is the oldest proper canal in Britain.
Saint Georges Island is built on a former bus depot.
Ziggy is the name of Nicola Batty's wheelchair.
Nic's Doctor is at City Road Surgery Hulme.
The main Chester Road is the A56.
The Hulme Arch spans Princess Road.
The Mancunian Way, A57(M) is the Manchester inner relief route.
Bridgewater Way is the new bit of the A56.
Castlefield Basin, originally Junction, is also known as Castlefield Quays.
The Venetian Church, was built as The Congregational chapel in 1853.
Hulme Lock, Bridgewater Canal - R. Medlock - R. Irwell.
Pomona Lock, Bridgewater Canal - Ship Canal.
The Manchester Ship Canal is Thirty five and a half miles long, two hundred and thirty feet wide and twenty eight feet deep. The fixed road and rail bridges that cross it are more than sixty feet high.
Pomona Strand is an abandoned road at Pomona Docks.
Pomona Docks, Originally (part of) Manchester Docks, now derelict, on the Manchester Ship Canal.
Cornbrook Bridge, stepped access to Bridgewater Canal from Cornbrook Rd.
Royce Road, where the first Rolls Royce car was built.
Salford Quays, formerly piers 6 - 9 in The Port of Manchester.
G-MEX, Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre, formerly Manchester's Central Railway Station.
Princess Road, A5103 - City centre - M56 motorway.
Artie's Barbershop is on Claremont Road, Moss Side.
Moss Lane, Is the home of Hydes Brewery, they now also brew Boddingtons Cask.
Dublin is the capital city of Eire.
Venice has nearly as many miles of canal as Birmingham.
Birmingham, unlike Manchester, doesn't have a Ship Canal, yet!
Throstle Nest Bridge. There used to be a pub on Seymour Grove      called The Throstles Nest.
Metrolink, Manchester's tram system.
Horse bridge. Bridge to allow barge-pulling horses, access to the opposite towpath.