Down Down, Deeper and Down

The foot tunnel at Salterhebble

It’s been quite a week.

Our first night’s mooring was in Elland (as in Elland Road, Leeds United’s home ground). I’m sorry to say we found it a sad little town, all hairdressers and takeaways, and boasting a church with the most melancholy cemetary ever. So many of the gravestones are from the mid 1800s, but they’re all flat in the grass and most have become completely overgrown. In a few years there will be no indication the past residents of Elland were laid to rest there. Elland used to have an old fashioned sweet shop called Dobsons. It closed down last year, only leaving a factory temptingly perfuming the air with the smell of boiled sugar. To cap it all, the most assertive swan ever patrols the water outside the visitor mooring demanding food. As I was trying to put the covers up at the time and wasn’t obliging, he was pecking my boot in disgust. Don’t think we’ll stop there again.

The moorings at Elland, complete with belligerent swan

At Salterhebble we came across our first ever guillotine lock; a sinister-looking bit of kit. It’s electronically operated and moves at the speed of a wounded snail, which somehow makes it look even more malevolent. See the ladder and gantry half way up the gate support? That’s the footbridge across the lock. I’m glad it’s Martyn’s job to do the locks, mine to stay on the boat. Oh, and he managed to bonk himself on the head with the handspike there too. The fun never stops.

The aptly-named guillotine lock

We took a little detour up the Salterhebble Arm, lured by the siren call of a McDonalds milkshake. The arm used to go to Halifax, but now terminates at an underpass under the very busy A629.

We reversed as far as we could go

For a few days we moored in Sowerby Bridge at the junction of the Calder and Hebble and the Rochdale Canal. It’s a nice town with everything we need, but I did wonder why the CRT have concreted over the mooring rings on the visitor moorings and tarmaced the towpath so you can’t hammer in a pin. It doesn’t seem very boater-friendly.

Leaky lock at Sowerby Bridge

While we were in Sowerby Bridge, we had a day off – or rather a busman’s holiday. On Sunday morning we were collected from the boat and driven to Marsden on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. We’d volunteered to help our friends Paul and Anthony move their boat Morning Star down some of the 43 locks to Huddersfield. We had a fabulous day, it was lovely to have a good catch up. They kept us fed and watered and we enjoyed a curry and rather a lot of wine before Paul took us home again (and it was past midnight!) If you don’t know about Paul and Anthony’s YouTube channel Narrowboat Life Unlocked, check it out and enjoy.

Oh look, another Bickerstaffe – the gorgeous Morning Star

After that we left Sowerby Bridge for Hebden Bridge. There was just one obstacle in our way; Tuel Lane Lock, the deepest in the country with a rise of 19’8.5” or 6 metres. I really wasn’t looking forward to it, but as it turns out the lock keepers made the whole thing an absolute breeze. We had a rope around a cable at the stern but in all honesty we didn’t need it. Even though the water roiled and boiled as it flooded in, we hardly moved on the boat.

Add on another 4 metres, and you have the height of an Olympic diving board
We got a certificate!

We’ve come as far as we can go in this direction now. We’re outside the Stubbing Wharf pub in Hebden Bridge. We’d rather like to go a little further over the Pennines on the Rochdale, but we can’t. Lock 13 is dewatered and undergoing repair, so now we have to turn around and go back the way we came.

Hebden Bridge is rather pleasant

Onward, then, ye people

I don’t often get this close to what we call “The Daily Heron”

Guess what? Nothing bad has happened to us this week – fingers crossed. In fact, we had a bit of good luck. The Calder and Hebble Navigation has some rather unusual lock paddle gear. You stick a piece of slightly shaped 3×2″ hardwood into a ratchet and use it as a lever to raise the paddles. The piece of wood is called a Calder and Hebble Handspike, and we didn’t have one. We’d been trying to get one since Leeds, but with no luck, and we really didn’t fancy lurking helplessly on lock landings waiting for another boat to come along and take pity on us. That would have made us very unpopular indeed.

Martyn playing with his new toy, sorry, handspike

The Canal and River Trust have a large workshop at Stanley Ferry. It’s one of the places where they make replacement lock gates. They also make handspikes. Martyn sauntered down to the workshop to see if they sold them, and they just gave him one. I don’t imagine we’ll travel the Calder and Hebble again, so when we find another boat in a similar predicament, we’ll pass it on. Pay it Forward and all that. As an aside, the locks on this navigation are fierce. It doesn’t seem to matter how Martyn opens the paddles; which side first; or whether I have a line looped around a bollard. Several times I’ve met the opposite lock wall at a speed faster than I would like, and once lost the rope completely. I’m sure the boater behind me, well out of the turbulence and surge, was highly amused by my antics.

If you ask me, not all canalside graffiti is ugly

After Stanley Ferry we did a short hop to Wakefield, really just for shopping. The Hepworth is there, but I just wasn’t feeling arty that day; far more interested in dodging the torrential rain.

We moored in Horbury Bridge, and this is its claim to fame.

Also in Horbury Bridge is the most awkward waterpoint. It’s just the other side of this bridge, which nose under very cautiously because it looks like you’re heading into a residential basin, even though the facilities are for everyone. Can you also see in the photo there’s a pair of redundant lock gates? I assume they once opened out onto the River Calder.

The guy that moors by the water point described himself as “the troll under the bridge”

Tonight we find ourselves at Cooper Bridge Junction. If we turned left we’d head towards Huddersfield. But we aren’t going that way. We continue straight ahead in the direction of Brighouse and Rastrick. Yes, we’re in Brass Band Country.

Beau Romer and Lady Anne Bridge

Round and Round We Go

Faster chaps, unless you want a shower when he shakes!

The pace of travel has slowed down a little, just as it should. We aren’t in a hurry. From Salterforth (not Salterford!) and a fine dinner at The Anchor, we made our way through Barnoldswick, Greenberfield and East Marton to the section of the canal we know as the Curly Wurlies.

Double Arched Bridge at East Marton. The bottom arch was a packhorse bridge, they added the second to carry the A59.

The Curly Wurlies mess with your head. The canal meanders backwards and forwards in a serpentine manner following the lie of the land. You literally don’t know whether you’re coming or going. One minute the Langber TV mast is ahead of you on the left, then it’s on the right. It all makes you rather dazed and confused.

We’re all going in the same direction, I think …

We stayed in the beautiful countryside at Trenet Laithe for two nights, and I managed my first decent walk since falling over and all the resulting drama. There are a lot of sheep in the fields along the Pennine Way – at least where we were. I’ve often wondered why lamb is so expensive when there seems to be so much of the stuff on the hoof? There was a great TV signal on our mooring for the England v. Ukraine football match. As it finished the most terrific storm started. Poor Ralf nearly jumped out of his skin on the towpath because of an enormous thunderclap right overhead. We later found out it had taken out all the electrics in East Marton.

I’d say hurry up Martyn, but the most important thing on a narrowboat is to be slow and steady.

Carrying on we descended the Bank Newton locks, so picturesque. I’d heard some horror stories about bricks jutting out of the wall ready to catch unwary boaters, we but didn’t see any and got down them just fine. They are a bit leaky though.

This is what you call a piddler. And it wasn’t the only shower I got that day!

On to Gargrave, where we are now. What a pretty village. Some nice new houses are being built on the banks of the canal, with a nice price tag to boot. Over £500,00 for a semi? I don’t think so!

Stepping Stones crossing the River Aire at Gargrave

Tomorrow we’re leaving the countryside for the hustle and bustle of Skipton. I’ve heard so much about it. Should be fun.

Spot the boats

Making Like Buttercup

Barrowford Top Lock

It isn’t true, as the Beatles will have us believe, that there are 4000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire. There are 4001. And the extra one is the tear in my right retina.

Don’t worry, there will be boating in this blog, and most people who read this know at least part of this story, but here’s the whole for the sake of completeness. If you don’t like talk of matters medical, skip a bit, Brother. (Not you, Jason, that’s a quote from Monty Python.)

The last time I updated the blog we were in Withnell Fold and I’d had a rather nasty fall because I’m clumsy. The next day we set off with our friends Trev and Jenny and the gorgeous Ralf. The plan was I’d drive the boat and Martyn would operate the locks. So there I am approaching the first lock of the six in Blackburn where Jenny on The Life of Reilly is waiting – and my right eye went black; like a wandering spider had crawled across it. I drove the boat in and clonked poor Jen in the process because I couldn’t see. When we got to the top, in full panic mode I called 111 and they told me to go to A&E straight away. They even offered an ambulance. I said no, I’d walk (it was only a mile) only to be told no; I wouldn’t, I’d be in a taxi.

They took a look at me at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and sent me to Burnley General (on the hospital bus!) to the emergency eye clinic. The doctor there diagnosed a posterior vitreous detachment, or PVD, probably due to being shortsighted since birth, possibly due to the fall. There was also a bleed, so I had to come back three days later, by which time they’d really be able to tell what was going on. Three days later was when they found the tear. I made the trip from Burnley to Blackburn this time and underwent laser treatment. We were cruising nowhere for a while. The worst part was being instructed to lie on my left side as much as I could for the next 2 weeks. After the novelty wears off it becomes uncomfortable, and there’s not much you can do perpendicular to the floor with a gammy eye.

Martyn cruised Beau Romer to the visitor moorings at Wheelton at the top of the Johnson’s Hillock Locks. We had friendly faces and all boater facilities there. As the Canal and River Trust kindly allowed us to sit tight on a 48-hour mooring we stayed there for 3 weeks while I healed up.

Now I’m left with a peripheral blind spot, and some really distracting floaters that I’m trying to learn to ignore, but the most important thing is I can see and I’ve been given the okay to move by the hospital. I’m just not allowed to do anything strenuous for another few weeks.

So we are on the go again and if you zoned out you can come back now.

We’re past the halfway point of the canal.

We’re not in Lancashire anymore,, but just over the border in Yorkshire. Trev and Jenny, who have been amazing throughout this whole sorry time, running me backwards and forwards and providing all sorts of help, have remarkably decided we’re doing exactly what we planned a month ago, cruising to Skipton together.

Ralf likes to be useful. Good boy!

We made it through Blackburn without incident this time. I quite enjoyed the mill towns we’ve seen so far, apart from all the debris in the water. Once upon a time the Blackburn skyline had over 200 chimneys, although thanks to Fred Dibnah and his ilk, few remain. We cruised through some beautiful countryside in Rishton and Church and on to Burnley. It takes us a lot longer by boat than it does whizzing up and down the M65, which is what we’d been getting used to. We’re extremely well acquainted with the motorway. We’ve been over it, under it many times and alongside it for miles. I keep waving at the drivers as they speed by but they don’t see us at 3mph while they’re doing 70.

Granada Television. Now that brings back memories.

We’ve now encountered another of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, (bonus points for anyone who can tell me the other six!) the Burnley Embankment, or the Straight Mile, which takes you through part of the town, past the back-to-back terraces and Turf Moor (Burnley Football Club’s home ground) at rooftop height.

Snooping as we glide along 18 metres up
Burnley Weavers Triangle

We’ve just come through the Foulridge Tunnel (the first I’ve driven through from end to end). It’s so nice we did it on the boat and not like the unfortunate Buttercup the cow in the title of this post. In 1912 poor Buttercup fell into the canal at the western end of the tunnel and swam all the way through. That’s no mean feat as it’s 1640 yards long. She had to be revived with brandy when they rescued her at the other end. Dumb bovine – what animal in its right mind would head towards a gaping black hole in the hill instead of staying in the light?

If you were a cow, would you swim into this?

Now we’re on the summit pound of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, moored up at Salterford and looking forward to a dinner in the pub tonight. From tomorrow I’m expecting to be enjoying the reputedly beautiful Yorkshire Countryside and more good times. Like Buttercup I’m just going to keep swimming and enjoying strong drink!

Hello Yorkshire. Spot the Daily Heron.

Wigan – and on, and on

Most people know George Orwell of 1984 fame wrote a book called the Road to Wigan Pier, but in 1946 he also wrote an essay in which he described his ideal pub – the Moon Under Water. In his honour, I hope, there is a Wetherspoons pub in Wigan called The Moon Under Water. Is it the ideal pub? Of course not. But we still had lunch and a couple of drinks there.

Definitely not the ideal pub

In the event we got very well acquainted with Wigan indeed. The plan was we would cruise into Wigan after another nice weekend at Parbold, and go up the 21 locks of the Wigan Flight with Sean on nb Eeyore on Tuesday. But you know what happens with plans? Things tend to happen to wreck them. We got a message just before we set off that there was a car in one of the lock pounds on the Wigan flight, which was closed to boats until it could be removed.

We entered Wigan a little nervously. We’d heard many tales of antisocial behaviour towards boats and boaters, and it wasn’t a place we were anxious to stay. I can only speak from our experience, but that proved to be completely false. We had a quiet mooring and no bother. It helped that there were two boats together. We had plenty of time to explore the town, which has a couple of nice parks and a decent shopping centre. It was perfectly pleasant. On Thursday we watched as the CRT pulled the car, stolen of course, out of the canal.

Probably someone-s pride and joy once.

On Saturday after the queue of boats had cleared on Friday, we tackled the Wigan flight and an extra lock at the bottom for good measure. We had lots of help from the Wigan Flight Crew, all hardy volunteers, and from Trev who got up at 6.30am just to come and help us. Thanks Trev! We got to the top in under 4 hours, where we said au revoir to Sean.

Wigan Flight – up the creek with 138 paddles since 1816!

The next day I got my reward for all those locks. We could have driven to Fredericks Ice Cream Parlour in 20 minutes from our home mooring in Rufford. Far more fun to wait until we could moor up outside on a sunny bank holiday Sunday.

I worked for it, I deserved it, and it totally met my expectations

Then it was on to Johnsons Hillock Locks. At the top we were meeting Trev and Jen to cruise to Skipton with them over the next couple of weeks. It was a good day, the sun was shining, the locks were benign, we had another boat and crew to share with – until I fell over my own feet, or a capstan depending on who tells the story – and literally faceplanted the towpath. Result one split lip, two knees like tennis balls and a badly bruised hand. There will be no photos of me on this blog or social media until I look a little less like someone who’s just done a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson. I have to thank Therese on nb Nauti Buoy who sacrificed the ice that was going into her G&T to my bruises.

So yesterday we went nowhere. Trev suggested a mooring at a lovely hamlet called Withnell Fold, and we had a day of leisure, and for me, recovery. We cleaned the boat and Martyn and I went exploring. It’s a peaceful and picturesque little place, basically a square with houses on three sides and a set of stocks completing it. The village grew up in 1834 to house the workers from a paper mill on the banks of the canal, now long closed, although reputed to have made the paper for our bank notes among other products. If it hadn’t been for my accident we never would have found it. There’s lots of information about it online.

A day off in Withnell Fold

Update on offererings to the Canal Gods:

  • Another side fender on the Wigan flight
Jenny and Ralf enjoying life on the towpath. What a treasure he is, and what a good boy at only 7 months old

Under Starter’s Orders

In 1770 work began on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, at Halsall, where I’m writing this post. We’re moored outside The Saracen’s Head, and full of the excellent meal we’ve just enjoyed there. Alongside the canal by Bridge 25 there’s a statue known as the Halsall Navvy. He stands there in commemoration, emerging from the ground, full of power and stoicism, and really makes you think about the navigation engineers who dug out the canals, cuttings, and tunnels; who constructed the locks and bridges with nothing more than picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and their own hard labour.

Sorry mate, you’re rather stuck there …

It’s time to think of beginnings and activity after months of loitering. We’ve been out of the marina for a couple of weeks now, embarking on at least 5 months of travel. We had to wait for the boat to come out of the water to have its cutlass bearing replaced (it’s part of the stern gear – we must have hit something underwater that dislodged it). That was a scary day. I didn’t stay on the boat as it was floated onto a dolly and hauled up a ramp behind a tractor. I saved the white knuckle ride and watching the stern go underwater from the stern itself for Martyn.

Martyn riding the bucking bronco

All’s good now, apart from an annoying whine we’re all scratching our heads trying to fix. We took a tentative cruise down to Tarleton but didn’t go through the sea lock on to the Ribble Link. We turned around and cruised familiar waters, to Parbold with friends from our marina, and then into Liverpool for a week.

Jim and Diana’s lovely narrowboat Bleasdale waiting for Beau Romer to join them in the lock. We’ve never gone up the Rufford Flight so efficiently!

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the cruising season. There were 4 Bickerstaffe boats and crews snuggled up in Salthouse Docks. A small rump of the Bickerstaffe Massive was in town.

One of our Bickerstaffes is missing …

We enjoyed the thrills of a ghost walk, visited the Museum of Liverpool on the day it re-opened post-lockdown, ate too much good food and drank too much good beer (outside!). We were joined by several friends while we were there, made new ones, took a cruise to the dock system’s far end and generally had a brilliant week.

Friends make good times fabulous

At this time of the year the canal is teeming with new life. We’ve seen ducklings, Canada goslings (sad the cute little yellow fluffy things must grow up into noisy antisocial Canada Geese), coots and moorhens on their floating nests with almost identical chicks, and tadpoles basking in the rare sunshine. Even the jellyfish in Salthouse Docks are about a quarter of the size of the ones we saw last year. There’s a feeling of new beginnings and optimism.

Who doesn’t like a cute baby?
I’m so relieved I didn’t hit that nest while mooring

On the way back from Liverpool we made a pitstop at Aintree Racecourse, site of the Grand National. I think I must have walked every inch of the 4 miles, 856 yards of the course itself, for that’s where I got my second Covid-19 vaccination and Google Maps let me down. Every gate to every footpath it tried to make me take was locked, so I took an extremely long route from the banks of the canal to the building where the vaccinations were taking place.

So close, yet so far

To finish this post off, we are known to be more than a little accident-prone. Here’s the list of offerings we have made to the Canal Gods so far since leaving our winter mooring:

  • One mooring chain
  • One handcuff key
  • One LED nightlight
  • One Jacksonville Jaguars baseball cap
  • One side fender

Oh dear!

David Foulkes took this photo. He’s one of the CRT volunteer lock keepers (fine people who we appreciate immensely) on the Stanley Flight that takes you down into the Liverpool Docks. The building on the left is the Tobacco Building, the largest brick-built building in the world. It’s being converted into appartments. I hope they don’t disturb the Peregrine Falcons we saw who nest there.

Homeward Bound

Last time I updated this blog in (ahem) October, we’d just left the River Weaver. Time for an update, at least to the end of the cruising season. And it’s nice to reminisce about being out, about and free in these days of winter and Lockdown.

We retraced our steps, back up the Trent and Mersey Canal and on to the Bridgwater, cruised through some marvellous autumn scenery, enjoyed some lovely moorings and had another tasty dinner at the Swan with Two Nicks in Dunham Massey.

Autumn’s splendour

At Wigan Junction we waved Trev and Jenny off in the rain. They turned right to go up the Wigan Flight and we turned left for the Rufford Branch and our home mooring. We’d had a wonderful late summer and autumn, and made the most of our first cruising season, but there were rumblings about another nationwide lockdown. We knew if we weren’t back in the marina before any lockdown started, we wouldn’t be allowed back in until it was over. It was definitely time to go home.

Waving goodbye

Back on home territory just past the deep lock at Appley Bridge, we hit a bit of a snag – pennywort. It’s a floating weed which clumps together and since we’d been off the Leeds and Liverpool it had taken hold. We got a huge raft of it caught around and under the bow of the boat and we were trailing it like some sort of green wedding veil. We couldn’t go forwards, and we couldn’t reverse – we were stuck. Thanks to some very kind passers-by we managed to get a line tied to a tree on the bank and got ashore. Martyn called the CRT for help. Someone turned up and looked at it, but there wasn’t really anything they could do. So we attacked the green carpet with our shovel, knife and boathook. Two hours later, tired, aching, with piles of weed hauled out and on the bank and covered in mud we’d got enough of it away from the front of the boat we could get going. I’ve worked out the way to tackle it is just head for the narrowest bit at full tilt – ramming speed in a narrowboat – and knock the Morse Control into neutral as you get to the weed, hoping the momentum is enough to carry the boat through and it won’t clog the propellor, necessitating a trip down the weed hatch.

Stuck fast – it was worse on the other side of the boat!

That delay cost us, and we couldn’t get home the next day, so we moored exactly where we started on our first night in the face of a dreadful weather forecast. We returned to the marina in the pouring rain the next day, like a pair of drowned rats. Martyn, who didn’t have the good sense to put on a pair of waterproof trousers, was literally wet to the skin and I’m not putting up a photo of that!

One last night out on the cut

Our big cruise to Llangollen and back, according to my records, and making allowance for any arithmetical mistakes, was 303 miles 4.75 furlongs, and 102 locks. It took 164.7 engine hours to complete it.

Our totals for the year are 390 miles, 1.25 furlongs, and 144 locks. Not bad, considering we launched our boat 3 months later than planned due to Covid-19.

I’ll write about what we’ve been up to since we got back next time.