Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The leaving of Liverpool

Sadly, like The Dubliners and The Pogues, we're leaving Liverpool in an hour's time and we'll be truly sorry to go. Fortunately there are enough places to visit and things to do here to make sure that it won't be long before we're back.
Now we start the long trip home - 4 hours by car; 4 weeks by boat!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Pierhead at night

The new Pierhead area looks at night with well orchestrated lighting on its blend of old and new architecture. (And the statue of Bill Fury.)

Just to prove we were here!

Star in Salthouse Dock with Albert Dock behind us.

View from the top

A visit to the stunning Anglican cathedral today - a building whose huge bulk still can't prepare you for the sheer volume of space inside. Apparently it's the fifth biggest cathedral in the world!
The trip to the tower, via two lifts and naerly 200 steps revealed impressive views of the city and its surroundings, despite the hazy weather. And there was more fun and games too when the top lift broke leaving us stranded up the tower. We had to be escorted down the stairs instead, passing normally unseen spots like the bell ringers chamber and the mounted bells themselves (the largest peal in the world - the biggest bell takes two men to rung).
More culture p.m. with a visit to the Walker Art Gallery, founded by the man who made his fortune from Walkers beer (not Walkers crisps!). A wonderful collection of paintings and sculpture including Titian, Rembrandt, Turner, Constable, a big selection of pre-Raphaelites and many more.
Tonight a farewell pint in the beautiful interior of the famous Philharmonic pub.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Liverpool - it's grand

We like it so much we've delayed our departure to see more of it. This is a fascinating city - and a friendly one too. The friendliness is everywhere - we were puzzling over an informati0n board and someone came up and asked if they could help. Not only that, they also suggested a park we could take the dog for a walk.
Even the bus drivers are friendly - now that is unusual! We got on one to go to Sefton Park (beautiful spot with a stunning Palm House) and he pointed us to a quicker one instead. That driver let us off some of the fare because we didn't have the change. Later on the run he stopped early before one stop, hopped out of his cab, opened the door, lifted a little Indian girl's suitcase onto the pavement for her "save you walking back up the hill, luv".
It's a compact city - we took an excellent walking tour with a great guide who showed us all the sights in a two trip. It's a city brimming with superb buildings, many of them sponsored by the wealthy businessmen of the 19th century who made their fortunes when Liverpool's thriving docks saw 70 per cent of Britain's wealth pass through them. Architectural 'firsts' are among them - the first multi-storey reinforced concrete building (the Liver Building); the first built on a steel frame (the Tower Building) in particular. These two were designed by architect Walter Aubrey Thomas who went on to work on skyscrapers in the USA. A pioneering figure in multi-storey building, he's a largely forgotten figure as he seemingly eschewed personal publicity.
Still on the 'must see' list is the cathedral - designed by Giles Gilbert Scott of red telephone box and Battersea Power Station fame.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Journey Stats

From Ramsey to Liverpool, including all our various diversions we have...

Travelled 508 miles
Through 427 locks
Under 77 moveable bridges
Through 17 tunnels
And it's taken us 2 months and 1 week

Thanks to Canalplan AC for enabling this and many other bits of route calculation

Friday, 25 September 2009

Liverpool at last

The start: the top of the four locks leading down to Stanley Dock - each prepared and worked for us by the BW team. From here the 'old' route was out through the dock and into the River Mersey.
Too big to capture in a single shot, the huge Tobacco Dock warehouse - Grade One listed and waiting for someone brave enough to tackle its redevelopment. When built in 1900 it was said to be the largest brick building in the world with 27 million bricks! A major issue for any redevelopment is that the internal ceilings are unusably low so every other ceiling would have to be removed.
The dockside Victoria Clock Tower positioned between the two river entrance gates at Collingwood Dock and built to give ships an accurate timing of their movements in and out of the tidal Mersey.
Old and new - so much of the dockside has been redeveloped but so much remains to be tackled. Here the Link runs in a temporary channel so it can be re-routed if necessary to accommodate future development in the area.
An iconic image of modern Liverpool - the elegant new footbridge across Princes Dock, new office blocks and the famous Liver Building. The footbridge was designed by Arup and floated down the Mersey to its destination.
Into Princes Dock with the Liver Building ahead.
The last of three short tunnels takes the new Link route under the starkly modern Liverpool Museum which opens next year. This remarkable structure has cost £72m and is the largest national museum built in Britain in the last 100 years. Danish architect 3XN designed the concept Manchester-based architect AEW did the detailed design.The exterior is clad in natural Jura stone on a complex 2000 tonne steel frame.
Mann Island lock takes us through into Canning Dock.
And from here we head left into the Albert Dock, the best known of the complex of Grade One listed docks and now home to the Maritime Museum, Tate Gallery and a bevy of coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
Built in 1846, the Albert Dock buildings were the first structures in Britain to be built without structural timber - using cast iron, brick and stone instead. That also made them the first non-combustible warehouses in the world. Another new feature was that goods went directly from to and from ships and warehouses.
Finally closed in 1972, they lay derelict for ten years until renovation began. Today they form the largest collection of Grade One listed buildings in Britain and are an integral part of Liverpool's designation as a World Heritage Mercantile Marine City.
Lastly, a turn into Salthouse Dock and we have to do a quick bit of maneouvring as the 'Yellow Duck-marine' amphibious tour bus comes out through the dock entrance.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Back in the Fens?

Nearly three months ago we left a landscape reclaimed by man from marshland; flat fields full of green crops, big skies and a biting wind. We were heading for the hills of the Pennines and beyond to Liverpool.
Now we are nearly at journey's end and once more find ourselves in a far reaching, flat, fertile landscape, once again reclaimed from marshland by 18th century man's efforts. The final miles of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are almost a mirror image of our first cruising miles on the trip.
Tonight we are moored at swingbridge 9 on the canal waiting to begin stage one of our trip on the Liverpool Link. Tomorrow night will be spent in Liverpool itself, in the Eldonian basin - the old canal terminus - and Friday will see the short but exciting trip through the link itself.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Wigan Pier

The rather sorry for itself Wigan pier

It does exist - just. A couple of stumps of rail track edging into the canal is the restored remains of the old coal staithe that gave it's name to George Orwell's literary institution.
I wonder what he'd make of the town around it? The canalside has been pleasantly restored with cobbled towpaths and converted warehouses but, sadly, one of these housing the major Orwellian attraction 'The Wigan Pier Complex' is boarded up and shows no sign of re-opening. Unlike the one next door that's now 'The Orwell' pub!
Impressions of Wigan were not unfavourable, though. The the canal is generally rubbish free, the two locks through the industrial town are tidy, and the BMX pedalling kids and beer can-carrying youths who watched us through were friendly and interested in the boat and our route. A far cry from Blackburn!
Not content with doing the 21 lock flight, though, we did another four and finished a long but fun day moored just beyond the last in the shadow of a huge M6 viaduct.

Footnote: I've often doubted the merits of turning Britain's industrial past into 'experiences' or 'themes' rather than finding a genuine new use for the buildings or accepting that the past is the past, demolishing and moving on. Wigan seems to demonstrate that, well meaning as it is, embalming your heritage into some sort of cosy experience just doesn't work. People visit once or twice then get bored with it and find the next 'experience'. There isn't enough there to draw a big enough audience of regular visitors to a modest couple of warehouses and some cobblestones.
Nor do these experiences - save for the really good ones like Ironbridge, Black Country Museum, Etruria - give any real feeling for what life was actually like in those days. Hard, grinding, filthy, smoke filled, unhealthy and usually short!

The man with the Whirling Windlass

Warning: be careful when you ask to visit a narrowboat. You don't know what you might be letting yourself in for.
More Starship Troopers joined the crew at Johnson's Hillock locks (or is it 'Johnson's Hill Locks; I never worked that out?) for a short overnight visit. Knowing son-in-law Nick's seemingly inexhaustible energy, I had something special in mind. The seven Hillock locks were just a taster. Next day the 21 lock Wigan flight lay in front. Was he willing to give it a go? Does a cat like to catch mice?
We hit the top of the locks at 9 am just as a Braidbar boat 'Shield Maiden' was about to go down – lucky them. The lock-keeper had primed the locks in our favour. Lucky us. Down we went together and Nick of the whirling windlass got to work; his arm spinning like a blur as he wound paddles up and down. I was, shall we say, pacing myself alongside, while Starwoman steered and heavily pregnant Star-daughter Lucy saw on the front deck, photographed the action and supplied squash and biscuits to the lockwheelers.
Alongside us, Mrs Shield Maiden kept up with the action while her husband leant contentedly on the tiller. (How many crews we must have seen like this - 'heavily built' hubby on the tiller and lean, fit wife battling with the locking! This one didn't even step off the stern to help his missus push the gate shut...)
Anyway, we were down that flight in exactly three hours thanks to the man with the whirling windlass.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Police, camera, action

The police helicopter hovered menacingly overhead, tracking our passage, then as we rounded the bend two squad cars were waiting at the canalside, their occupants on the closed swing bridge near Blackburn.
"It's a fair cop, officer, we probably were doing 4.5 mph," I was about to confess.
Then the 'copter swung away and the officers returned to their squad cars. Seemingly it wasn't us they were after but a "wanted person" who was "hiding out" in the area. Despite the helicopter and cars, it was a good old police dog that sniffed him out.
Wonder what he'd done? Perhaps we'll be on police, camera, action one day?

Nicholson's rose tinted guide

Handy as they are Nicholson's Canal Guides do take a sometimes rose-tinted view of the canalscape. Witness the description of Blackburn:

"...most of the passage through the town is now pleasant - there is little rubbish or graffiti and the views are excellent"

See previous post for the reality!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Blackburn - can anywhere be worse?

Burnley was bad but sad too. Blackburn was just bad. Canals do tend to enter towns through the back door but I can't imagine even Blackburn's front door would be much better.
Where Burnley had relics of a proud past, Blackburn's canalside just offered mile after mile of urban mess - semi-derelict buildings of all ages and types, totally derelict buildings and a canal that many in the town seemed to regard as a handy rubbish dump. In a couple of miles we came upon:
A sofa
A bed
Some fence panelling
A baby buggy
Various car parts
Numerous shopping trolleys
Street furniture
A car axle
And any amount of general cr*p! Every now and then Star would bump and sway as we passed over some half buried mystery piece of rubbish in the silt below.

The locks when we came to them were a horror story too - old fires, smashed bottles, cans, pill packets lined the top couple. Only in the middle (where the lock-keeper lived!) were they clean and tidy.

What a sorry place.

Out of curiosity I looked up who Blackburn's MP is - it's Jack Straw. Before that it was Barbara Castle. Both of them celebrated and highly successful members of Labour governments. But you can't help but wonder what they've actually done for the town that voted them into power.
Not bloody much by the look of it.

Paddles with a difference

'Star daughter', up for a couple of days' visit builds her biceps on on of the Leeds & Liverpool's antiquated and heavy (but effective) ground paddles.

Seven locks, two tunnels and desolation row

Mill ruins at Burnley
Looking down at chimneys from the embankment
After waiting patiently for the Foulridge Tunnel traffic lights to change we got the green light to leave the glories of the open Pennines behind return to the grim realities of decaying northern industrial townscapes.
Nelson, with its hollow, dead buildings is just a teaser but the real desolation row is Burnley. The entry to the town is surprisingly pleasant and then one reaches the huge, high mile long aqueduct that bisects Burnley and carries you straight through it. On one side are rows of terraced chimneys; on the other the bus depot and a giant Tesco lie laid out like toys way down below yu.
Burnley's sting is in its tail. We passed a quaint corner of renovated and restored mill buildings, weaver's cottages and a wharf "the Weavers' Triangle" before steering sadly between empty, derlict mill buildings, their windows smashed out, their interiors home only now to flocks of pigeons.
There's something utterly sad about these decaying shells. It's the fact that they were so carefully crafted in stone, with intricate details round door frames and windows. Stone gives off a unique sense of permanence - stone buildings like castles and churches should be there forever and we feel sad whenever we see the craftsmen's work faling to ruin. So, too, with these castles of commerce.
And let's not forget that each derelict mill or factory means jobs gone, people moved away or on the dole. A horrible reminder yet again of our changed industrial landscape.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Land of the giants

The Leeds & Liverpool is the land of the giants – home of those giant widebeam boats you see at Shows and wonder who could possibly buy. Well they buy them and keep them here on a canal which can take up to 14ft 6 in wide boats.
And went you meet one of these giants it's invariably at the wrong place for, like ocean liners, they aren't very keen to give way to 40ft narrowboats!

Stunning scenery – and a breakdown

Beyond Skipton the canal runs through stunning open countryside where the views of hills and fields all around give the lie to worries of ‘over-populated England’. What we see is just a small portion of the huge, beautiful and largely empty county of Yorkshire.
But boy was it windy and struggling to get away from the side after yet another swing bridge Star’s engine started misbehaving, missing and faltering. We coaxed it through seven locks but it broke down in the eighth.
It was the same problem as last year – dirt in the fuel line, which didn’t take long to clear but bleeding the system took an age and it was dark before the little Petter was running again so we stayed moored between the locks and kept fingers crossed that it would start again tomorrow...
...But it did! The stretch of canal above Bank Newton locks is the most beautiful we've been on as the canal winds a serpentine course, twisting and turning between dry stone walls with awesome views all around.
We had plenty of time to look at them for we took all day to get about four miles! We just couldn't solve Star's fuel problems -- all day long it would run a few hundred yards, die out and then need copious amounts of bleeding and blowing through fuel lines to clear blockages. I even walked two miles lugging a heavy can of diesel begged from a helpful local but that didn't help.
Finally, finally with dusk falling we got the engine running okay (fingers are still touching wood) went on through Greenberfield Locks and moored opposite the marina at Barnoldswick.
A quick wash-up and we headed down the canal to The Star for massive and much needed plates of steak and chips.
Ironic that after two months of perfect running Star should break down on the two days one of our daghters came to visit.
Still, at least it wasn't raining!

Narrowboating – more scary than the Iraq war!

We shared the first locks of the day with a hire boating couple. He’d spent years as a chief engineer on tankers and bulk carriers and now managed the maintenance of a cargo fleet – but this was his first time on a narrow boat.
“I was in the Iraq War in tankers getting rocketed and bombed and I’m finding this a whole lot more scary,” he confessed as we lined up for the first lock. They soon got the hang of it all with Starwoman’s patient instruction and we left them behind in Gargrave.
Shame, I could have done with a qualified ship’s engineer later in the day…

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A four layer day

Yesterday was a four layer day. Saturday and Sunday were both one layer days. On Star we measure the weather by the layers of clothing you need to wear and yesterday Starwoman was wearing a vest, tee shirt and two fleeces – later increased to four and a half with the additon of a woolly hat! Being a hardy bloke, I generally lag one or sometimes two layers behind.
Saturday and Sunday we were both wearing shorts but climbing ten odd locks and heading out into the exposed Yorkshire countryside has sent the temperature tumbling – even though the weather is still beautiful.
But we are clearly southern softies with all our winter woollies – while we’re wrapped up Yorkshire lasses can be seen walking around in tee shirts and short skirts!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Bingley Five Rise

Bingley is famous for two things -- the Bradford & Bingley Bankrupt Bank and the Bingley Five Rose staircase of locks.
I can't think of anything new to say about this masterpiece of canal architecture. Even the photograph has been seen a thousand times before. But the view from the top is stunning, the lock staircase is remarkable and the lockie who guided us up there was helpfulness personified.
We even met another Blogger Gypsy Rover.

Saltaire - one man's remarkable vision

The massive Salt's Mill
I can't commend the "model village" of Saltaire on the L&L Canal near Shipley highly enough. It makes a fascinating visit on so many different levels.
First and foremost, there's the history. It was devised and created by woollen mill entrepreneur Sit Titus Salt who was shocked by the appalling conditions of mill workers in nearby Bradford in the 1850s. The woollen milling boom meant that the town had over 40,000 inhabitants and nearly 150 mills - but no sewage system. Raw effluent ran in the streets, life was grim and short. The life expectancy of a mill worker's child was just 14 years.
So Salt relocated his mill to what we'd call a 'green field' site. There he built not just a huge new mill but decent housing (left) for 4500 people, schools, a hospital, a church,a hall...but no pub. He didn't approve of the demon drink! Instead he encouraged them into healthy pursuits.
His public buildings are remarkable for their architecture - all built in a flamboyant Italianate style while around them are neat, simple Victorian back-to-back houses. Today the houses are privately owned and there's a thriving artistic community.
Which brings us to the third element of a visit to Saltaire. Salts Mill, saved from ruin and near destruction in the 1980s, now houses a museum, up-market arty shops and restaurants plus a terrific collection of David Hockney art and opera sets (he being Bradford born).
The whole lot is a World Heritage Site and deservedly so. My only minor criticism is the lack of a coherent guide to the
place for visitors. Some signs, some map boards, some easily sourced literature would all help. So make sure you study the website before you visit.

Footnote: Old Sir Titus was probably up there going "I told you so" when we woke up to discover that a group of noisy lads who we thought had tried to climb on the boat late last night had untied one of our ropes and clearly tried to undo the other -- all while under the influence of The Demon Drink.
Ironic indeed that the only time this has happened in the trip should be at his once teetotal town.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Going with a swing

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is notorious for its numerous swing bridges and particularly for the fact that they work in frustratingly different ways - unlock with a Watermate (Yale type) key, or unlock with a special 'handcuff' key – or with both – or with a key and a windlass.
But none of them can beat the intricacies of Bridge 209 at Shipley which needs a Watermate key,a windlass – and the mind of Sherlock Holmes.
Here's the procedure -- and remember this is a bridge on a busy road. On a Saturday afternoon about ten cars went across while I was trying unsuccessfully to fathom out the instructions which.. (in brief) are:
"Unlock the road barriers with the Watermate key and lower [this means you do one barrier, twist the key out and run to the other end of the bridge before a car can beat you] then place windlass on left handle spindle and turn 18 turns clockwise to unlock bridge. Remove wedges to free bridge."
So where were the wedges? I couldn't find them; Starwoman couldn't find them -- because there weren't any! The queue of cars was building.
"Place windlass on right hand spindle and turn 36 times clockwiseto open bridge."
That was the fun bit - you stand on the bridge winding and swinging with it like you're on some old fairground ride.
Now came 36 turns counter-clockwise to close the bridge and then 36 turns anti-clockwise on the left spindle to lock it.
The game still wasn't over. "Raise and lock the barriers." Only after you've raised the first do you realise you had to put the key in before raising it to be able to work the lock!
Finally it's all done. Frustrated car drivers head off late for the kick-off or meeting the wife at Tesco. An exhausted bridge operator slumps back into the boat.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Idiots out of the woods

Until travelling through Leeds 'Kirkstall' was just a name on Test Match Special when Headingley bowlers came in from 'the Kirkstall Lane end'.
Now I know it's the spot where "all the idiots congregate" in the words of a BW lockie - one of the gang who ride shotgun to all who take the canal out of the city. There's a 40-minute lock-free stretch after the city centre locks which runs through delightful tree-lined scenery then opens up to reveal views of the ruined Kirkstall Abbey – but you're told that thought it looks lovely, danger lurks. "Keep the front doors shut and don't stop."
Is it really the wild west? I don't know. Tearaways don't get up much before lunch even on a sunny day so we saw just a few early risers at about 11.30 hurtling down the towpath on BMX bikes. Just as well; Starwoman's trained in dealing with hooligans (she used to work with them) but the bloke we were sharing the locks with looked like he could easily make a drama out of a minor crisis.

Leeds - city of flats

Boating through the centre of Leeds is an extraordinary experience. The whole place appears to be brand new. Of what was there before (and I have no idea what it was) nothing remains - it's like a lost civilisation.
The centre is now a series of extravagantly styled high rise blocks of flats. They look dramatic and exciting but there are just so many of them. Enough you'd think for virtually every inhabitant of Leeds to have one.
No wonder they've suffered some of the biggest nosedives in value in the recession. Didn't any of these developers stop to think that demand must surely be far exceeding supply?
Still at least lucky Leeds got its centre rebuilt before the recession - empty flats are better than half built ones.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Caption competition

9.15 a.m. in the British Waterways lock building workshops at Stanley Ferry and not a soul in sight. Why? "Perhaps they're on a tea break" I suggested. "Humph! Judging by BW employees we've seen in action elsewhere they're probably skiving off somewhere" was Starwoman's less charitable suggestion.
Or maybe they've just been made redundant in the latest round of BW cuts? What do you think?

Big rivers mean big locks

The first time you're shut inside an Aire & Calder lock you feel like a plastic duck in a giant's bath-tub. They're long, wide and, sometimes, deep too. After the initial shock wears off you realise that this is a gentle giant who empties and fills his bath-tubs with care and doesn't try to wash you down the plug hole.
The locks work electrically - push buttons to fill and empty; open and shut gates. Cleverly, however, they've been designed with utterly invisible warning lights to tell you when the lock is suitably full or empty. No matter; you just keep your finger on the button until something happens! After a day of standing around pressing buttons you do long for some windlass action, however strenuous.
After another long, hot day we're now sitting in the centre of Leeds just one lock short of leaving the Aire & Calder and joining the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Rivers or canals?

Following another boat on the Calder & Hebble

One of the back page Q&A questions in Canal Boat mag and a bit of a tough one to answer. After the grind of the lock-a-minute Huddersfield Narrow with its stiff paddles and shallow sides the sudden sense of space and freedom on the Calder & Hebble came as a huge and largely welcome change.
Alright so it's not as easy to moor up but you've got depth, width, big skies, scenery in exchange. It helped that the weather was warm and sunny just for a change.
The locks, though, were big, deep and heavy to match the waterway. We eventually teamed up with another narrowboat (one of only two boats we saw on these eerily empty navigations) and shared the burden. They were a couple heading for Castleford - or "Car-stleford" to us southerners. He steered; she worked the locks. He had a beer gut that was all bought and paid for; she was as fit as a butcher's dog. Surprise!
We left them and the Calder & Hebble behind just after the start of the Aire & Calder where we moored for the night at a vast stretch of moorings. Here was every sort of boat from tiny cruiser to vast converted commercial barge. Another reminder that these are big waterways for big boats.

Able seadog Brian

Gradually coming to terms with life afloat, Stardog Brian tops up his suntan on the rear hatch -- but note the chain as he is prone to moments of panic when he sees one of his crew disappear off the boat with windlass or rope.
So far he's only fallen in once -- but then he's only been on the boat three days!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Sorry Huddersfield

Soup of the day?
The canal takes you out of Huddersfield past the relics of old industry; decrepit mills, old factories, demolition sites and wasteland. It seems to symbolise the death of our traditional northern England industrial powerhouse. Sad.
We floated into the final lock on the Huddersfield Broad Canal on a sea of green sludge and old plastic bottles, collecting some plastic bag rubbish round our prop on the way.
Now we're heading west on the Calder & Hebble, armed and ready for its unique locks with our own handspike - a piece of 3x2 bought this morning from Huddersfield's Homebase.

PS The eagle eyed will spot the new addition to the crew – Stardog Brian complete with fetching canine lifejacket.

Train strain

The internet is supposed to make things easier but the railways don't seem to have caught on.
Trying to find the cheapest train fare to get from Huddersfield to the general direction of Cambridgeshire all but wore my Macbook out. And deep fried my brain.
If your after saving money, all you want a train travel website to tell you is the days and times of the cheapest fares. That takes multiple clicking around every site AND you need to discover that (for example) Huddersfield to Peterborough will probably cost you more than buying Huddersfield to Leeds and Leeds to Peterborough tickets -- even though you're on the same train. Crazy!
But we got there and back cheaply in the end, the journeys were fine, the booked seats were booked and, above all the house was still where we left it.
And now we're back!