By Natalie Bradbury
Location: The Ashton Canal, Ancoats
Castles in fairytales are usually magical, awe-inspiring fortresses surrounded by cruel rocks and wild seas, over which the hero and heroine have to make their escape from the clutches of a dastardly step-parent. The castle in this tale is rather less imposing. In fact, it’s not really a castle at all.
The castles of folklore conjure up images of rugged grey buildings, in which every flint brick is enchanted. This one is red brick and grubby, and actually looks more like a prosaic Victorian warehouse to the casual observer.
Instead of being protected by a moat or tumultuous sea, it stands amidst tall weeds and barbed wire on the bank of the Ashton Canal, a stretch of water that’s brown-green and impassive and breaks a ripple only in the windiest of weather. The only thing about the Ashton Canal that implies danger is the amount of rubbish floating in it, which suggests anyone who falls in will be struck down by some kind of horrible waterborne disease.
Those who choose to live their lives on the waterways have usually opted to live a slower pace of life, in the company of ducks and geese, and are the not the type of people whom excitement follows. It was a bargeman, however, making his leisurely way through the canals of north Manchester with plenty of time to develop an overactive imagination, who noticed the building’s intriguing resemblance to a castle (or at least the type of stereotypical toy castle a child would make out of Lego). The building was a solid, impenetrable-looking block flanked by strong towers topped with battlements in a sand-coloured stone.
As his houseboat cruised by, the bargeman noticed a flickering light in one of the towers and an open window high up one of the walls. Otherwise, the building seemed to be deserted, like the rows of boarded up houses nearby, awaiting demolition to make way for regeneration of the area. Like the shells of warehouses around it, it was crumbling and its cracked windows laid it open to the elements.
After deciding to moor for the night, the bargeman became more and more intrigued. Seeing as there isn’t much in the way of entertainment on a houseboat, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a look around. So, in the dead of night, he scrambled onto a muddy bank, strewn with rubble from warehouses that had already been knocked down. He could see no way to scale the smooth walls of the castle to reach the open window, but the rather more ordinary building next door had several smashed windows through which it was possible to climb, if he was careful not to cut himself.
It was pitch black when he dropped down inside, and he couldn’t see anything. His other senses overcompensated and he was overwhelmed by a cold mustiness that chilled him to the bone. When his eyes acclimatised, he started walking through huge rooms full of machinery, when he heard the distant strains of a female singing. He was surprised, thinking the building must be inhabited and he became afraid he would be caught trespassing.