I'm afraid BW have today managed to single handedly convert me from an ardent BW supporter into the biggest BW cynic ever! BW are more B&Q than BW in 2 ways: their approach to customer service and their approach to canal maintenance - read on to find out more!
I shall begin with the journey so far. A fascinating trip through locks whose walls are adorned with the marks of their stone-masons.
Every mark is a fascinating reminder of a day when people took pride in their work - a passion and skill long since lost - especially within the lower ranks of BW!
Kirklees Borough Council still have the view of us being long haired tree hugging 'bargees' clearly! Maybe I'm over sensitive but I found this sign quite offensive.
On through Slaithwaite - a very pretty little town but sadly with no visitor moorings again.
And that's where the journey stopped and the adventure started!
Several locks back my father had met a BW 'operative' - a large, hairy chap who goes by the name of 'Rik' who got out of his truck, raked some rubbish from the weir, (leaving the bottles and debris still floating around,)made no attempt at conversation, got back in his truck for a swig of coffee from his flask and drove off again. As my father approached lock 24E, a guillotine lock, the same 'operative' got out of his truck, walked up to the gates, padlocked them in my fathers face and started to walk off. Naturally my father enquired as to what was happening given that we were told to report to BW at lock 34 and all paperwork emailed to me from the bookings office clearly states this; the 'operative' simply jingled the keys and told him we had to stop here until tomorrow when we would be met at 10.00 and escorted through. My father then enquired what we were to do and where we were to moor; his reply was, "just back up down there". This is what and where he meant!
Now there are no mooring rings, (the only 2 are taken by a boat we have been told has been there for at least 3 days,) the bushes and trees prevent getting near to the bank, the mud means mooring 3 feet out, the adjacent wall is approximately 2 feet high, we are outside industrial factories whose concrete yard prevents the use of mooring stakes and the front of the factories is a main thoroughfare for screaming cars and vans as well as walkers, dogs and the innevitable result of irresponsible dog owners - apart from that it's a lovely spot! On walking up above the lock there is a lovely lock waiting area that must be a quarter of a mile long with bollards, good depth of water, (in fact one of their BW workboats is moored there,) and which is much more tranquil and peaceful.
I phoned BW to seek clarification and was told that due to 'water restrictions' a new rule had been introduced that boaters had to seek escorted passage from lock 24 instead of 34. They also said that a note had been made on my account to say that the customer had been advised of this since booking - I clearly had not since we were making our merry way on towards lock 34! I asked about the water restrictions as I could clearly see water gushing round the by-weir. I was told that the shortage was due to boaters who had left the paddles open. Oh really? I have photographic evidence to the contrary!
Firstly please explain this sign!
Secondly please explain this! An obvious attempt at sealing a leaking lock gate with spray foam!
Thirdly, please explain this!
This is not just some random farmers boggy field. It is, in fact, canal water leaking from the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at lock 27E into an adjacent field. How can I be so sure? Firstly, the ark of water was from one corner of the entrance to the lock wall right out in a perfect line into the field and secondly on closer inspection this could be found all over the wall level with the water ark.
More B&Q special - spray foam! Totally inneffective as the leak shows and the innevitable result is this.
Still - we got it lucky, a boat up ahead phoned when they got to the lock with the sign that says 'no passage beyond here without BW' and were told to carry on to lock 32. When they got into one lock, they got stuck and phoned BW who sent out an 'operative' and told them that they shouldn't have got that far and they had to reverse out and moor in the pound below until next Tuesday when they were booked to go through the tunnel. We walked up to see them as their boat is listing at an alarming angle and they have to pole vault, (literally) to get on or off the boat - their pound is still leaking and they are worried about the night ahead! No amount of explaining our predicament or requesting that we might be allowed through to moor just above the next lock would make them budge so BW now have 2 very unhappy 'customers' sitting at a location we did not choose to be in for a period of time we have not chosen with facilities that are non existent. Having got through to the PA of Robin Evans and the regional manager we were promised that a BW official would arrive this afternoon to see for themselves the dreadful conditions that they have 'dumped' their customers in but noone has arrived.
So BW - please STOP blaming the boaters until you get your own house in order.
Apparently BW were given £2M to rejuvinate this area and the money was spent on the Marsden Standedge visitors centre where there is, unsurprisingly, plenty of water and lovely mooring and waiting areas. I have attempted to phone BW and ask if it is at all possible to be let through the one lock above so that we can get some decent moorings for the night but to no avail. It seems if their customer service is as much akin to B&Q as their approach to maintenance!
The locals walking the towpath are as frustrated as we are and one suggested/asked if we could contact the local press and provided us with a number. We have done so and they are very interested and are sending a photographer out tomorrow morning to photograph all the boats listing on the mud and the lack of facilities for us.
My advice to anyone contemplating doing this canal and through Standedge is simple - Don't do it! I am convinced that BW only spend money on the mainline Midlands system and the extremes of canal system are ignored and neglected. In fact, my father and I have been thinking and we have not passed a single visiting boat who has come through here and said they would return; the unanimous comments have been 'it's nice to have done it but never again' - a sentiment I would certainly echo!
The crew secretary and archivist of the President steam narrowboat, Richard Thomas, who also happens to give many talks on the waterways circuit has now moored in with us on his Shire Cruisers hire boat. He was told that he could proceed to above lock 26 this evening and was told this by a BW 'operative' this morning. The Shire Cruisers hire boat and crew that is coming up behind us is expecting to go through, as we were, to lock 34 - who knows what is going on; BW certainly don't!