As it happened, I was in the area anyway on other Trust business and it's always good for us to catch up with legends such as Frank and Lynda Lythgoe, Jimmy Ridley who chairs the group and not forgetting Angling Trust regional officer, Darren Birch.
That well known friendly angler from Salford, Mike Duddy, was also at the CAAG that evening. Mike had suggested we keep an eye out for an ‘interesting character' by the name of Eric Owen who was sitting in the audience. Eric had recently formed a new fishing club called Little Britain Anglers. Mike had hinted that Eric might just have a smidgeon of interest in his local Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal and maybe, with a bit of arm twisting, could be persuaded to get more actively involved.
So later that evening more in hope than in expectation and encouraged by one of our Trustees, John Dodwell, arrangements were made for me to meet Eric on a Saturday in March.
The delightfully named Nob End
Although I've had a national fisheries remit since 2009, I'd never previously visited most of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury. Aside for the section at the delightfully named Nob End, rented for many years by Bolton & District Angling Association, the fishing rights on the rest of this partly derelict canal were covered under our Waterway Wanderers scheme. Carl had forwarded some photos from a visit he'd made a few years previously. There was plenty of weed with precious little water. I was, to put it mildly, somewhat discouraged.
On arrival at Eric's Bury abode, located on the banks of the River Irwell, I was greeted by a handsome strapping fella with a wonderful Lancastrian accent, reminding me somewhat of Fred Dibnah. Barely getting a word in edgeways, we were quickly on the march along the towpath.
Once Eric got into full flow, it was as much as I could do to keep up with the listening, never mind the pace of walking. From the terminus above Elton Reservoir inlet we reached Radcliffe Bridge in no time. The water was gin clear and in most places shallow or totally overgrown with copious quantities of weed. Five anglers were spotted on route, all fishing for pike, which surprised and delighted us in equal measure. Maybe just maybe, Eric's ambitious optimism that the canal could be restored as a fishery was not entirely misplaced.
A quick five minute stroll
Against my better judgement, Eric persuaded me to take ‘a quick five minute stroll' further downstream towards Ladyshore, it's only a few hundred yards, he wrongly assured me. Three miles later, with my feet aching and blistered, we reached the site of the 1936 breach near Prestolee. Badly needing a sit down to rest weary limbs, the barbers shop in Radcliffe High Street on the return journey gave me the perfect excuse. With my hard earned reputation for frugality to defend, the chance of a haircut for a fiver was just too good an opportunity to miss!
April just flew by and Eric's emails for a call to action increased in frequency from one per week to one per day, sometimes it seemed like more. Now convinced Eric and his club colleagues really were committed to becoming serious volunteers on the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal, it was time to call in the internal volunteering experts, Steve O'Sullivan, Paul Bowerman and Terry Smith from the then Manchester & Pennines Waterway Team (now North West region) to get the ball rolling.
Volunteer work parties
As I write this, the club's volunteer work parties have begun in earnest. A real difference can already be seen on the ground. The local community are beginning to take note and some new members recruited, not all of whom are fishermen. Some of the canal has already been made fishable and so a symbolic match was held on Saturday 15 August at Ladyshore, the first on this stretch for at least 30 years. It was won by 14 year old Lewis Alberto who showed the senior anglers the way to do it. Over the next few months, three club members are to be trained up as qualified angling coaches. In short, significant progress is being made.
Just a few evenings ago, I was invited to Little Britain's Friday night club meeting to present my views on what could realistically be achieved by the club working in partnership with the various other interested parties.
We all want to see the full restoration of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal. It will not be an easy road, or a short one and will require some serious levels of funding. But with the enthusiasm and commitment of the likes of Little Britain Anglers, working in partnership with other like-minded bodies such as the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal Society to name but one, who knows what's possible?
As I wrapped up the question and answer session, about to depart for Manchester Piccadilly station in order to catch the 9.15pm train southwards to Milton Keynes, Paul Heywood presented me with a most unusual gift, a pack of Bury's finest black pudding.
Now the Trust quite rightly have very strict rules regarding the acceptance of gifts by employees from third parties. But the best I could recall, when I last studied the guidelines, they were silent on the subject of black puddings and so I delightfully accepted. It would have been rude of me not to.
National fisheries & angling manager