This tale is set in the old industrial heartlands of Manchester known as the Castlefield Basin, where the Bridgewater Canal
finally reaches its destination with all its history and memories. The area is
also known for the first police station and railway station in Britain, not
forgetting the Roman fortress and the tallest skyscraper in Europe.
Unrecognisable now, this up-and-coming setting has brought back many native
inhabitants: blue tit, heron, swan, coal tit, kingfisher, migrating Canada geese,
robin, greenfinch plus the new Manchester Young Men’s Christian Association and
International Youth Hostel.
I was employed by the YMCA for two decades – main duty
outdoor pursuits, which was a sub-contract allowing myself to make good
contacts; one of which was consultant neurologist Peter Moore and his wife
Julie – highly skilled potholers.
It all started on a grey Tuesday morning when I received a
message from Peter at work about the Bridgewater Canal storm overflow – this is
an engineering feat allowing water to be decanted from a canal to stop
overflow; in this case, from the Bridgewater to the Irwell.
The storm overflow is quite impressive proportions, some 8 m
to the surface of the water with a diameter of 7 m. The boiling cauldron of
filth and debris has a strong current also.
The story unfolds when an exchange group from Australia,
staying at the YMCA, on a guided tour of local sites of interest, one of which
being the storm overflow, on peering down the gloomy pit they noticed a family
of migrating Canada geese, goose, gander and five goslings.
The next day some of the students returned to the scene, the
gander had gone and the gosling was missing. This was repeated for several
days, the family diminishing inside only; the goose and a single gosling left –
all the students distraught. What a welcome to England, all the way from the
southern hemisphere to watch this horror story unfold.
The gander was spotted on the canal nearby keeping a lonely
vigil on what was left of his family. I had just returned to work after a short
break when I received a phone call from Peter telling of the tale. The RSPCA
had been informed and said it was too dangerous a situation to help; the fire
brigade had also been informed, but after assessing the overflow, came up with
the same answer – not wanting to risk his men for the sake of two birds. The
students were horrified at their attitude, so Peter, Julie and myself sprang
into action equipped with a 10 m electron ladder, an inflatable dinghy, three
lengths of 10.5 mm static rope; all in wetsuit, mine being 8mm steamer, adding
more protection as I was the one swimming. Peter was to man the dinghy and
Julie to lifeline Peter with an electron ladder.
On kitting up at the overflow we attracted a small audience
along with the usual press. Peter and I fed the ladder centrally down the pit
using a steel RSJ which is part of the safety structure to prevent bodies
falling in the wire cage. Julie lifelined me down. On my descent I thought of
Mark Addy, famous for his daring rescues only 500 m away in the river Irwell.
Alas, all that is left now is a pub and bridge to his tribute. I was also
attached by two lengths of rope so as not to be sucked down once in the water.
I unattached the lifeline. Now suspended like a marionette with nobody to pull
my strings, I was instantly dashed against the side of the pit by the strong
current, just like the centrifugal force of the rotor at a fairground, except
Julie lifelined Peter down with the dinghy attached to his
harness. Keeping line on, he quickly set up. A comedy of errors followed.
Both savagely abused by the maelstrom of swirling debris,
unable to coordinate our tactics, minutes past; the goslings, now very weak,
became trapped in iron fencing. I seized the opportunity for capture. Gosling
in both hands, I finned to Peter with difficulty missing the dinghy twice in
going for an extra spin around the pit. Eventually making the connection with
Peter, he placed the gosling in a cave rucksack and ascended the ladder to
cheers from the crowd.
I lined up the dinghy attached and followed. Once out we
inspected the gosling – no apparent injuries, just weak and fatigued; the
gander waiting on the canal eager to be reunited, this achieved, they paddled
I slept well that night and in the knowledge the rescue had
been a success. Before work the next day I decided to look over the previous
day’s events. To my dismay I saw the familiar shape of the female Canada goose,
now extremely weakened by the ordeal, too tired to launch out of the pit with
its narrow constrictions, I phoned Peter and within an hour and a half we were
kitting up to repeat the rescue, minus the audience and press. The rescue was
more fluent, the goose offering no resistance; we used a sling to winch her out.
Due to her size and weight, this is where the fairytale comes in. The gander
and gosling popped out of the canal and, honking like crazy, waggled down the
towpath to be reunited with the goose. All three then flopped into the Bridgewater Canal and paddled off. It was like a
Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, seeing them disappear into the sunset of