Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Erewash Canal 90 minute walk: Sandiacre to Towell

At the beginning of 2012 I promised myself that I would walk what remains of the Erewash Canal. This 'ambition' was partly prompted by the fact that Erewash Borough Council, a few years ago, created, with other bodies, an Erewash Canal Trail. Like so much else in my life, I have left this intent to the very last moment, so I only did the first section of the walk last Wednesday. It was a cold, grey, overcast day. The kind of day I actually like. What follows is little more than a collection of photographs and a map (the yellow line shows the course of the canal, which is the right of the line). The top of the map is north and the towpath runs along the east side of the canal.

 Not the best of maps, but for local folk who might be interested. Sandiacre is at the bottom and I got there on a Trent-Barton i4 bus, which runs every 10 minutes along the Derby Road from Nottingham Broadmarsh Bus Station and Friar Lane, in the city centre, via Lenton and the QMC Hospital, towards Stapleford, Sandiacre and Derby.

Trowell is at the top and Trent-Barton's 'two' bus and runs between Nottingham (from the Victoria Centre Bus Station) and Ilkeston / Cotmanhay, via Canning Circus, Ilkeston Road, Radford and Wollaton every twelve minutes, so it's an easy bus for Lenton residents to use.

I got off a stop early, so that I could walk over the long railway bridge towards Sandiacre and cross into Derbyshire on foot.

I also wanted to see what the River Erewash looked like at this point on its journey to the River Trent. A bit like the River Leen at Lenton in truth. Both were once 'working' rivers and played an important role in the early days of the industrial revolution, when they had a good few mills along much of their length.

And this is where Station Road, as you enter Sandiacre, goes over the Erewash Canal, looking north.

You get down onto the towpath on the south side of bridge and this is the view south towards Toton and Long Eaton. It was at this point that I decided to walk north to Trowell. Up to this moment I could have gone in either direction.

The canal towpath has lots of information boards like this.

I took this picture standing under the bridge looking north. The building on the left is The Red Lion pub and, on another day, might be a good place to visit.

An old factory which has been converted into apartments. The road they are on looks like Bridge Street

A little further along, on the canal's west bank, the gardens of some modern houses, which have been built on Mornington Close.

On the northern edge of Sandiacre, the canal runs straight and there was not a soul to be seen. To my right was the main London – Sheffield railway line and the long abandoned Stanton Gate New Sidings, hidden form view by thickets of Willow and Ash. On the west bank there are a good few modern factory and warehouse units, in front of which there are a few narrow boats moored. All appear to be lived in.

This footbridge runs from the east bank of the Erewash canal towards Stapleford and its length gives some idea of just how big the Stanton Gate sidings used to be. The trees in the distance have all grown up where the yards used to be. Now, only four railway tracks remain and these are just visible through the iron trellis work.  

The footbridge is in line with this canal bridge. This pic is looking south, towards Sandiacre, because I was able to catch a reflection of the town's parish church on its northern edge. It's location is a little puzzling, but I have since found out that the church dates back to 'Saxon times', so I'll try and find my way there on another day. I can only assume that, at some point, in history, Sandiacre has 'moved'.

If I remember correctly, this is 'Junction Lock', one of four along this stretch of the Erewash canal, which has a race to one side.

A view from Junction Lock north towards Trowell.

Most of the time I was on my own. These were the only cyclists I saw and of the eight or nine people I saw, probably five had a dog with them. Everyone exchanged greetings. In the background is the M1 motorway, amazingly free of traffic, given that this is at about 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

Another narrow canal bridge between Toton and Trowell, with a lock just beyond…

…which I took a picture of. During my walk the few narrow boats that I did were all moored. It will be interesting to see if I see any 'moving' boats when I walk other sections of the Erewash canal.

The view of the River Erewash with a London–Sheffield railway line bridge in the distance. The river is the county boundary along most of its length between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, so areas like Sandiacre and Long Eaton, which are very much part of the Greater Nottingham conurbation, are actually in Derbyshire.

Seeing this sign beside the canal, I knew I must be close to journey's end. In the distance you might just be able to make out the tower of Trowell parish church.

The only narrow boat I sawed moored at this end of my walk.

This section of the canal is obviously used by anglers for competitions. Every five yards or so, the canalside vegetation was cut back so that anglers could fish. Most had numbers like this in place. I believe that where an angler gets to fish in a competition is determined by which number they draw from a bag.  I have no idea whether '108' is a good spot or not.

The trees to the left hide housing and to the right are acres of football pitches and a large pavilion. Not that I could hear anything, except the sound of gulls and crows.

And around the next bend I came to Trowell and the Nottingham Road canal bridge…

…next to which there was another lock and The Gallows Inn public house. For many folk, this stretch of the Erewash Canal makes for a perfect walk. Ninety minutes long at an amble and with a pub at each end, plus regular bus services.

And as I turned from taking the picture of The Gallows Inn, what did I see speeding towards me, but a Trent-Barton 'two' bound for Nottingham and home. Luckily, I didn't have too long to wait for the next bus and then it was home for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit with Susan.

I won't pretend for one moment that my walk was through idyllic countryside. It wasn't, but history and post-industrial scrub surrounded me for much of my walk and there were plenty of clues as to why the Erewash Canal was constructed (it opened in 1779 according to Wikipedia) and, despite the fact that it was joined by the railway in 1848, it continued to carry cargo until 1952. 

The Erewash Canal is part of my urban England. I have spent my live living in places others spend much of their life trying to escape from. They do not see that, beneath what is no more than a veneer of greyness and drabness, there is a far richer landscape full of people, past and present, who have made us what we are today. We are all part of the same heritage.

I also found a website / blog about the Erewash Valley which might be of interest.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The danger of 'one issue' Party names

After fifty-two years in the Labour Party I am on the verge of leaving. I have been living a lie for years out of tribal loyalty, more worried about what my Auntie Nannie in Harlow and Keith, who I met when we were both Young Socialists in 1960, will say when I tell them I have left the Labour Party. Both have the ability to forgive the Labour leadership everything and I love them both, so what they think of me matters. With the exception of Susan, my wife, others have to take me as I am and I can live with the consequences. You cannot be active in politics or the community if you are going to worry about those who hold you in low regard because of your views / actions.

Politically, I have had more in common with 'Greens' than Labour for decades, in terms of policies. They are certainly to the left of the Labour Party these days, but that hasn't always been the case. As people, they are not as devious as Liberals. If anything, there are quite the opposite. They are probably too honest in an age when people do not want to hear the truth. Nor does calling themselves 'Green' help. Why? Because it creates an image in voters' minds that they are a single issue party.

A Green could well argue that the same is true of the Labour Party. When did the political party calling itself 'Labour' last have the interests of the poor, the vulnerable and dispossessed has a primary aim?  At best, since 1997, the Party has thrown a few breadcrumbs in the direction of those it should care most about, whilst brown-nosing corporate capitalism and caring for themselves first. Of course, there are notable exceptions to my generalisation, but all too few to make it invalid. There are too many Party members like my Auntie Nannie and Keith, and I have been one as well until now, who have accepted arguments as to why we can't abandon nuclear weapons, why we can't take back water, gas, electricity and railways into some form of public ownership, even those are things they believe in.

The sad truth is that 'Labour' has become a political 'brand' that career politicians use to trade their futures. 'We'll look after you now and, afterwards, you'll look after us, right? And so with a nod and a wink, the deal is done. Oh, they are good with the talk, but their actions tell us how they have, systematically, been betraying ordinary folk everywhere. The expenses scandal rumbles on: a few are punished, but most got reselected. I knew Dennis MacShane in his Birmingham days and agreed with much of what he said, but, as my Susan says, 'Something happens to far too many MPs when they enter Parliament. They seem to forget who they were before they got elected'.

The fact that the Tories have been able to run riot with the NHS is because Labour put many of the mechanisms in place to make this possible. To name just a few: they abolished community health councils, they actively embraced Tory  private finance initiative (PFI) programmes and allowed the private sector into the NHS big-time (and if you live in Nottingham, look no further than the QMC if you want to see evidence of this fact). They set up foundation hospitals and so the list goes on, and as for dentistry, that was cast adrift by Labour long ago.

But Labour's biggest failing of all between 1997 and 2010 was not the NHS or supporting American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was housing. In Lenton, we have lived with their failure and continue to pay a heavy price. Poorly regulated private landlords have grown in number, whilst council housing has become poorly funded 'social housing' and housing associations have become all but private in name — as have many national voluntary organisations — who take public money and donations whilst paying their senior managers and chief executives fat pay cheques. Many of these 'voluntary' organisations are anti-trade union and refuse to recognise them, yet still Labour has funded them.

The Tories love to lay the blame for the financial crisis at Labour's door and, in some respects they have an argument, but I am sure if they had been in power, there would have been even fewer 'controls' in place. The Labour leadership failed the Party and our country and we still allow ourselves to be led by these politicians — and these are the people we are expected to trust now.

After fifty-two years in the Labour Party, I write all these things with a heavy heart. There are many I respect in the Party for their commitment and enthusiasm, but loyalty can be misplaced. They are wrestling with problems not of their making and when some try to reason with Party elites, they are treated  with disdain. In Dunkirk and Lenton, the Labour elite running the City Council have little or no trust in local people. They set up their own ward 'forum' with their own staff, when the community-led Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, founded in 1996, could provide the same services and support, but the City Council has to control everything, everywhere, and thinks the occasional act of largesse will blind voters to what is really happening. 

For my part, I do believe there are alternative, viable, solutions to our problems as a nation and it is a time for change. I am going to give the new National Health Action Party (NHAP) a chance. They will not succeed, in the longer term, if they get trapped into being a single issue political party, but having read their aims and constitution, I think they understand this. They don't mention housing directly, but housing and health are inextricably linked. You cannot tackle health as an issue if you ignore housing and that, that, continues to be Labour's big failing. As far as I am concerned there is no place for the private sector in health or housing and where the voluntary sector is involved, then it has to be closely regulated. This will be the message I take to them.

As a local historian I have long believed that, in terms of Britain's 20th century achievements, council housing trumps the founding of the National Health Service. Without the former, the second would have failed a long time ago. And, if we continue the way we are going, what has happened to housing since the 1980s will happen to the NHS over the next 10–20 years, by which time I will almost certainly be dead (I hope to be lucky and still be here at 88, but I'm not banking on it!).

I also think the founders have been clever in giving themselves a 'brand name' which will sound familiar and a logo which voters in the polling booth will instantly recognise and many will identify with. They also talk of 'progressive taxation' and 'social care', so they are well on the way to being more than a narrow, one issue, party. They also talk of getting councillors elected, so there will be a local dimension to NHAP as well. To be credible, they will have to fight as many parliamentary and local council elections as possible and become a party for 'national health action' in the widest sense. For my part this will include the economic 'health' of our country, Nottingham, democracy and so much more.

Well, that's it!

I'll be back in a few days with pics of a wander I had along the Erewash Canal, between Sandiacre and Trowell, last Wednesday.

The Park footpath saga continues

Taken from Park Road in Lenton. Beyond the bollards is Lenton Road and its in The park Estate. I took the picture on the left in 1999 and the one on the right in 2009.

If you look opposite, you see under 'Pages' that I have added a page headed 'Park footpath evidence' which shows some of 'the evidence' I have passed to Nottingham City Council's Footpaths' Officer showing that the foot-route between Nottingham and Lenton can fairly be described as an 'historic right-of-way' and, however inconvenient The Park Estate may find this, no one should have the power to close it ay any time of day. It is a path along lit roads — not some narrow, unpaved, unlit passage running between houses — so there is no case whatsoever that the footpath needs to be blocked to stop anti-social behaviour or criminals. Those in The Park Estate who want to do this are, basically, snobs, who see people from Lenton as some kind of riff-raff.

Next summer (2013) there should finally be a public enquiry into whether or not The Park Estate have the right to close off this historic footpath. I may be called to give evidence. I first lodged a complaint in 1999 and wrote a lead story for News for the Forum, which appeared on its front page. It will probably be 2014 before any decision is announced, so it will only have taken fifteen years to get the dispute resolved, but, hey, let's look on the bright side. That's quick by Nottingham City Council standards!