Story: Robert Carroll
Photos: Dave White
Dave White invites a group of young Mancunians to paddle across the city of Manchester using the regenerated canal system. From Manchester United’s world famous Old Trafford stadium they SUP over to their fierce rivals, Premier League Champions, Manchester City, at their Etihad Stadium. A journey that may be more rural than you think.
As SUP virgins, looking back, jeans and hoodies weren’t really the most suitable clothing for a day on the water but we thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless, and managed to travel the length and breadth of Manchester…
Due to having zero hours experience between all six of us, we began the day at Sale water park; a man-made lake and reserve just south of Manchester city centre connected by the River Mersey. I made the mistake of checking the history of the site the night prior to our session only to find that it’s a 40 year old, flooded gravel pit and is nearly 100ft deep in places! Needless to say my nerves weren’t eased so I decided against telling the others!
With credit to us we learned quickly, with the assistance of Dave White who provided constant support and advice throughout. The first half an hour was spent getting blown around the lake to Dave’s annoyance, who had to pace the perimeter trying to keep a track and get some humorous snaps. Luckily only two of us felt the wrath of the liquid all day and no spirits were dampened. It did manage to give us excuses for a short break though, which apart from these came few and far between. (Those inflatables are heavier than they look!)
After a short while we all became accustomed to the boards and to our surprise, muscle memory had already taken control. The feeling was mutual… we were all (just about) ready to split from the lake and take on the river itself. I had initial concerns about boarding on the river at all as our skill sets were virtually non-existent and over the years I’ve seen the river swell and travel at some pace. Not exactly idyllic learning conditions.
The rush of freedom
It was only a short walk from the lake though, so we slid down the steep embankment and climbed in. It was great, the rush of freedom you get when riding the board is unrivalled. When I got the courage to turn around to check everyone was getting on ok, there were grins from front to back. ‘’Why haven’t we done this before!?’’ someone shouted. We all live close by the location, so it’s a regular haunt but something wasn’t right. The perspective you get from the water is so different. Better in fact.
Once we learned how to balance and control the boards somewhat, we soon realised how steady and confidence inspiring they are. The gasps a couple of the group let out when Dave and I were blowing up the boards didn’t return once people understood how they differ from those orange rubber dinghies you use as a child.
They differ altogether, they’re relatively fast, especially when inflated to high pressures, and we newbies had no problem climbing, kneeling, sitting and standing on them throughout the day. I would highly recommend them to anyone searching for an alternative to the traditional sit down canoes and kayaks.
The van available only had room for four or five boards so we had to deflate a couple before continuing into Manchester itself. This was a simple task – I’d guess they take 10 minutes to deflate and inflate altogether, which is remarkable considering the size of their final dimensions and the fact their performance and specs follow closely behind their solid siblings.
The weather was beginning to get brighter, and warmer, to Amelia’s relief as she took an unplanned dip just prior to leaving the Mersey.
Second stop then was on to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, but more importantly the Bridgewater Canal, which was our next entry point and key to the city’s various waterways.
On arrival, we faced more novice challenges. ‘What if we meet a canal boat and can’t move in time?’ ‘We can’t fall in here, its filthy!’ – I can assure all those with similar concerns that these posed no issues whatsoever. We had learned enough to ensure we could escape the oncoming boat situation with ease and had memorised the limits of both the boards and ourselves to be fairly confident we wouldn’t fall in.
From this point on we met various different people using the canal or working close by and they were nothing but welcoming to our boards and us. Don’t get me wrong, you will get some strange stares and funny looks paddling a brightly coloured surf-board-looking-thing around the overgrown shipping canals that were once home to Manchester’s cotton and coal narrow boats but I’d be shocked to hear that it didn’t make their day.
The Bridgewater stretches all the way through the industrial district in the west of the city, past the three major train stations and onto the Rochdale/Ashton canal split. It was here that we decided to take the easterly route to the Etihad Stadium, the home of Premier League Champions, Manchester City. After all we had to please all supporters within the group!
In the days following our SUP adventure I searched for opportunities to continue and develop our new found love for the sport and was planning to enquire about SUP facilities with the local water sports centre (Sale Water Park) only to discover that Trafford Council announced its closure at the end of 2013. This saddened us all greatly as this was the prime water recreational centre in south Manchester and would have really aided us in furthering our skills.
I would love to promise that we would establish a network of our own in the area but unfortunately the lack of finance and other commitments has already put an end to this dream for now. So we remain hopeful that an established group of enthusiasts will read this and take action to ensure this reserve isn’t left to the wildlife alone.
The Bridgewater Canal was built in 1761 to transport the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal from his mine at Worsley, it has a special place in history as the first canal that cut across country rather than following an existing river course. The canal is part of the Cheshire Ring comprising seven canals totalling 100 miles of lock free boating and is a vital link for cruising between the southern and northern national canal networks. For more information see: www.bridgewatercanal.co.uk
The Ashton Canal was also built to supply coal from Oldham and Ashton under Lyne to Manchester in 1796. The canal is also part of the Cheshire Ring but unlike the lock free Bridgewater, the Ashton has 18 locks to portage.