Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Three days of cruising down the Trent & Mersey in glorious sunshine. What a change in the weather.
Now we have a new use for the emergency umbrella bought during a rainstorm in Manchester – sheltering the crew from the scorching sun!
This route south is a familiar one to us but there's always the opportunity to spot something new. Like the fact that restoration work has finally started on the Lion Salt Works at Marston with the aid of £8m in Heritage Lottery funding.
The knowledgeable landlord of the Salt Barge pub there filled us in on the history of salt mining in the area. Originally solid salt was extracted with the caverns propped up on pillars of salt left in place then in later years the workings flooded and as the water became salinated the brine was extracted and dried in pans at the likes of Lion to reveal the salt. Only snag was that as the brine was removed, fresh water entered the caverns, absorbed the salt from the pillars and, eventually, the whole lot caved in. Hence the number of water filled 'flashes' and collapsed buildings in the area.
One of the large flashes beside the canal
It's still a big centre for salt extraction but brine is no longer pumped from the caverns so no more collapses. We hope!
Brian enjoying the weather!
Another of the Stardaughters and her boyfriend joined us for the run from Lymm through the salt extracting '-wiches' to Middlewich. With three tunnels, some locks and a look at the Anderton boat lift, they sampled a pretty decent cross section of canalling.
After Middlewich the industrial landscape gradually gives way to agriculture and the whole scene looked splendidly English in the sunshine. Tonight we are moored on the edge of Stoke with just a couple of locks and the Harecastle Tunnel until we reach the city.
An evening stroll brought us into the nearby hamlet of Church Lawton where, much to our surprise we found a huge stately home – Lawton Hall – and its outbuildings all converted into very lavish looking homes in a gated estate. Walking round the edge we also came upon the beautiful Lawton Hall Pool, a sizeable artificial lake created for one of the past generation of Lawtons by damming a small river. Before its conversion the place had, like many old stately homes, slid into disrepair: being a wartime billet, a school, a failed hotel and then damaged by fire.

In the village churchyard we also chanced upon an early 19th century memorial to a Cornishman who died in the area while working for the Trent & Mersey Canal Company and erected in his mmeory by them.
These chance discoveries are what continue to make the canals so enjoyable to travel along.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Class conscious cruise

We left Manchester yesterday and headed back past the scrap yards and the Man U ground, now fully decked out in its 2012 banners, on a run further down the Bridgewater.
It was a route that started in rather grim looking Manchester extremities like Stretford, worked its way up through the smarter suburbs of Sale and finally, after a glimpse of green countryside saw us tie up in the pretty and decidedly posh little town of Lymm.
Along the way we passed lines of moored boats, many in moorings belonging to various cruising clubs and, like the quality of the surrounding houses, gradually turning from semi-sunken plastics to smartly turned out narrowboats.
Lymm is an understandably popular destination for visitors; it nestles in a small, rock-edged valley and abounds in pubs, restaurants and tempting shops. Every other local seems to drive a smart Mercedes or Audi and the houses are priced accordingly. But even here, the recession has pinched a bit - at least two shops are up for sale and others could be following according to local talk.

Boaters must be doing their bit for business: the moorings are plentiful and perpetually full. They also have a steady turnover of traffic thanks to some no-nonsense mooring rules - 48 hours with no return within three days - which are apparently firmly enforced. A lesson here for the C&RT perhaps?

PS Isn't boating a small world? In Manchester we met two boats we'd been in Liverpool with three years ago and now here in Lymm we've met friends who left  Streethay some months ago.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Two days in Manchester

And it's only rained on one of them! We've spent a relaxing couple of days in Castlefield Basin, right in the heart of the city. You couldn't pay to get a better location for a visit – and of course as boaters we don't have to. So I won't grumble too much about the slightly dishevelled look of the place compared to last time we were here. Some weeding and cleaning is badly needed.
Yesterday it was summer again and we spent the morning looking around the magnificent Museum of Science and Industry. Five halls converted in part from the world's oldest surviving railway station cover everything from the city's sewers to nuclear power to railways, aircraft and a whole hall of steam and beam engines, several of which were in glorious action. It all gives powerful evidence of what a might impact Manchester has had on our industrial history.
Only one thing was missing: the canal system (which of course originated on the edge of the city) was scarcely given a mention. Shame!
In the afternoon we strolled around the huge shopping centre, rebuilt after it was destroyed by an IRA bomb, admired some of the old Victorian buildings around its glass and stainless steel and walked down the River Irwell where we discovered a decaying lock to the long disused Manchester and Salford Junction Canal lost among yet more fancy new developments.
Today we walked to Salford Quays, Manchester's equivalent of London's dockland redevelopment, where the former basins of the Ship Canal are now surrounded by apartment blocks, offices, the huge Media City where the BBC has relocated much of its broadcasting, and the Lowry Centre where there's a gallery of the artist's unique work – as well as a "Lowry Outlet Mall" next door. Maybe the old boy would have seen the funny side of such a sacrilege and painted a picture of the matchstick legged  shoppers rushing in and out.

Across the canal by footbridge is the spectacular steel building by Daniel Libeskind that houses the Imperial War Museum North. Only time for a brief look around, sadly, before we headed back along the towpath to escape increasingly heavy (yes you've guessed it) rain.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

More second thoughts

I'm having a lot of these at the moment. First time around the Bridgewater was dismissed as 'boring' and merited only a couple of paragraphs of blog. Photos, too, were thin on the ground.
True, one can tire of the terrain; those endless miles of concrete lined canal passing between the scrubland that was once coalfields but is now being reclaimed by nature. Yet there are things to see.
For starters, the busy Plank Lane lift bridge is now worked by key and not keeper, who has gone the way of so many. And right by the bridge is a smart new basin which, though the signposting says it's a 40 boat marina is devoid of any pontoons or boats and is not expected to have any before next year. Maybe that's because 650 new houses are due to be built around it. It's all the site of the former Bickershaw Colliery.
Across on the towpath side, Pennington Flash, one of the many huge lagoons along this canal - again the results of mining subsidences - has had major nature reserve treatment with hides, walks, interpretation boards and a beautiful timber memorial/bench on the canalside. It also had what looked like a lock gate graveyard of decaying oak but turned out to be the building blocks for what will be a piece of public art called 'Unlocked'.
But you don't need to travel much further to glimpse the deprivation that the loss of collieries and other industry has caused. Leigh might have an Aldi and a Lidl for Starwoman but it's a sorry, shell of a town with empty shops, broken shop windows and that sign of unemployment - more men than women on the streets during the day, pushing pushchairs or just sitting around looking pale and glum.

Today we passed through Worsley where Britain's unique canal system began as a means to transport coal from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines. Last time, like most boaters, we took the obligatory picture of the handsome black and white house, where passengers stayed to wait for packet boats, on the junction with the Delph that once ran into the mines. This time we decided to stop and look around.
Walkways and interpretation boards guide you through what can be seen. And it's all being tidied up, not by the council "no money" but by volunteers from the local Civic Trust. Apparently the impetus is to smarten the place up because Olympic football teams are staying nearby.
Apparently there's also a £3.5m project to dredge and improve visitor access to the old canals and other parts of the local Bridgewater. All it needs is Heritage Lottery money!
After yet another thorough drenching we are now in Castlefield Basin, Manchester and the evening sun is shining.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Flight of fancy

4.30 p.m. and we reach the top of the infamous 21 lock Wigan Flight. What would sensible people do? Moor up, of course, and start down the next morning.
Not us. This barking mad pair on Star set off down the flight on their own with enthusiasm, a couple of bottles of water and some bananas for sustenance. Four hours later we had reached the bottom. The water and bananas had run out; the enthusiasm was stretching thin. We'd met two set of paddles that hadn't been properly lowered, several gates that were all but impossible to open or shut, a ground paddle that wouldn't close which we had to report to the BW (sorry C&RT) emergency number and help, encouragement and banter from passing locals. Fortunately no unpleasant encounters with scrotes, though.
But that wasn't the end of a day which started with the seven lock descent of the Johnson's Hillock flight in the company of our locking buddies on Nb Hallriff from days back just after Skipton. No, after Wigan we had to find somewhere to moor for the night in the gathering gloom so we pressed on through two more locks - stopping for some quick scrambled eggs on toast before one of them - before finally resting up for the night just outside the town.
Now we have a 40 mile stretch to Preston Brook with no locks at all - what will we do with ourselves?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Blackburn still a black spot

One of our daughters has a boyfriend who comes from Blackburn so I've tried to cast a kindlier look at the town than I did last time through when it really was as black as its name. As I said then:
"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."

Well things have improved. The canal has definitely been cleared of rubbish (though most of the plastic bottles have been piled up at the locks, presumably awaiting removal - or chucking back in.) This time around we only spotted two mattresses, a bed frame, a bath, two shopping trolleys and a vacuum cleaner. The locks, particularly the top lock, were still a sorry mess and the lock-keeper – as everywhere – seemed to have vanished. Even the locks themselves were tired and seriously leaky.
The trouble is that the canal takes three long miles to wind past a succession of grubby out of town sheds, scruffy factory sites and wasteland so there's time to grow increasingly depressed by the surroundings. There's none of the canalside history or green parks of neighbouring Burnley. What might be appealing about the town is always just a tantalising glimpse away in the distance. Including the smart football stadium.
We had no trouble at the locks, though, but a family of swans nearly did. The parents and two cygnets managed to get themselves trapped in the lock with us and another boat. Ma and pa hopped out but the littl'uns couldn't so Starwoman came to the rescue. She grabbed them by the necks and lifted them out onto the bank while the parents didn't know whether to be grateful or  grumpy. Fortunately they chose the former.
We moored the night before Blackburn in a remote piece of country and were enchanted by a solitary curlew circling around the hillside, his eerie call echoing across the sky all evening and again in the morning. We watched the sun go down in a technicolour blaze of reds and pinks and went to bed cheerfully remembering that old adage: 'Red sky at night, shepherd's delight'.
Ha! Wrong again. Today dawned drizzly, briefly improved then rained solidly all afternoon, driving us to an early mooring at Riley Green.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Second time around

We weren't meaning to but I'm glad we've made this second trip along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It's given us the chance to have another look, see some changes and revise some opinions.
Burnley regeneration under way
Before today, if you'd asked me what was the nastiest stretch of canal I would have unhesitatingly replied "Burnley and Blackburn". We've haven't got to Blackburn yet but what I'd quite forgotten that the ten miles between the two towns has some of the most stunning countryside we've yet seen, with distant views north into the heart of the Pennine hills.
On a sunny day (yes, it was sunny again!) it looked gorgeous. Sure there were some scrappy industrial townships in between but also some handsome old stone buildings, elegant canal bridges and sturdy stone walls. Starwoman even saw one old stone building she fancied as our own next renovation project. Ha! ha!
Looking across to the distant hills
As for Burnley, well the stretch I called 'desolation row' last time is showing heartening signs of improvement. True, some of the big old mill buildings in what is called 'The Weavers' Triangle' are still derelict but others are being restored with help, it seems of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Northwest Development and Prince Charles's charities. In fact the Prince has visited the area four times in six months. See details here.
It's not just tidying up old buildings for the sake of it - Burnley is a seriously deprived area with higher than average unemployment and this is all part of a programme to revitalise the whole town.
It will be good to return again and find more improvements, especially if they embrace the canal. The canal's entry into the town is already delightful, a tree-lined course twisting past a large park. Then comes the famous 3/4 mile long embankment that strides high across the centre of the town which looks like a giant model village way down below it. All we need now is the Weavers' Triangle to complete the scene.
Nice little project perhaps...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

All downhill from here

Today, at last, the sun shone and we began our long and relentlessly downhill passage back to Streethay.
Moored on the border by a canal feeder stream
Yesterday we completed the final three locks on the climb up through Yorkshire and moored for the night right on the boundary of the county and its neighbour Lancashire and close to where a canal feeder stream arrives from nearby Whitemoor Reservoir. (We walked up there and took a look: it's brimful so no sign of the water shortages that often bedevil this canal in the summers.)
Plenty of water here - unsurprisingly!
The whole atmosphere of the canal seems to change once you change county - like the locks it seems to go downhill: there are more long-term moored boats, more signs of industry and, gradually, more rubbish in the canal. But though one gradually moves away from the empty grandeur of the hills, the views are still spectacular and industry only intrudes sporadically.
And since we were last here three years ago things do seem to be slowly improving. Some of the old canalside warehouses have been renovated and when we moored on a sweet, old fashioned offside mooring in Nelson I walked off to find the local Lidl. My walk took me through Coronation Street style back-to-back terraced streets - the sort with alleyways between them - and they were in the middle of a major regeneration programme. On one side were old boarded up terraces, on the other the refurbed equivalents in gleaming, freshly cleaned and pointed stonework and smart new windows with the children playing football and cricket in the streets like we all did years ago. It was really good to see: not long ago these sort of homely streets would have been flattened and replaced with soulless blocks of flats.
Lancashire - land of the giant mills
Will the imrovement continue? We'll see over the next few days as we head through those grim blackspots of Burnley and Blackburn.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Official vandalism

This morning we enjoyed a delightful little walk along what must be one of the most beautiful stretches of towpath in the country. We watched bees foraging in the wild flowers, spotted rare wild orchids along the canal edge, laughed as our little grand-daughter scuffed delightedly through the long grass at the side of the path.
This afternoon it's all gone. The wild flowers, the orchids, the long grass. Gone. The mowers and strimmers of Fountains, offical contractors to British Waterways (and now one assumes the Canal and River Trust) have razed the lot. All that survives is an inch long stubble.
Walkers, cyclists, other boaters all bemoaned the folly and the sheer vandalism of wrecking this wonderful stretch of the natural world, destroying rarer species, making existence still harder for the bees and butterflies that have already suffered so badly this year. Even the contractors when we spoke to them thought it stupid. "It's not as if we are in a town," said one. "But we're just doing what we are told to do."
Since this photo they have returned and strimmed down the left hand verge too!
It was indeed an unspeakable, indefensible and ludicrous act of vandalism. Destroying wild orchids may even be a criminal offence. This is a country towpath; the blossoming verges are part of its beauty. Yes, keep the footway cut (though personally I'm not even much bothered by that - a rougher, more unkempt path might slow the mountain bike racers) but what suit wearing, office bound fool demanded the verges be flattened too.
I've already phoned to complain and will be putting my journalist's hat on to find out.
Meanwhile, my favourite stretch of towpath and the favourite of many others to judge by the memorial benches along its length has been desecrated and that sadness will linger.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Surprise, surprise

It's been a weekend of surprises. The first was that, after the miserable washout of Friday, Saturday was sunny, warm, cheerful and, in short, a peach of a summer's day. Then, as we wandered into the town to do some shopping we heard the sound of an accordion and the clip-clop of dancing feet: yes, Clogfest was still on.
But last, and of course, far from least, was a surprise visit from daughter Lucy, with Nick and little Ellen . (A surprise to Nanny - Grandpa being in on the secret - which shocked her so much she practically fell overboard with excitement.)
The darkening sky looms over the hills
They'd booked themselves into a hotel in the next canalside village, Gargrave, so we headed off into the countryside, unfolding now into glorious views to distant peaks as we eased our way higher into the hills. But even as the sun shone we could see black clouds rolling steadily in behind us. The further we went, the closer they came and the blacker they got. Would we get through the Gargrave locks before the blackening sky disgorged its inevitable cloudburst? Answer: no. We still had three locks to go and in that time the whole crew got as wet as if they'd simply jumped in and swum the canal.
Still, we had a car at our disposal so after drying off we could zoom back to Skipton (a mere ten minutes by road instead of the two hours by boat) and return with a substantial, and excellent, take-away from Skipton Balti.
Still sunshine as we leave Skipton and Clogfest dancers  behind
Another surprise came today when we managed a second successive day without rain. Cue cries for a hosepipe ban. We worked up through the closely stacked flight of six Bank Newton locks and emerged out of the trees onto a sublime section of the canal.
It's simply unbeatable. The canal twists and turns on itself over two of the most convoluted miles you could imagine in a panorama of rolling green hills and lush valleys with steeper Pennine peaks looming in the distance. Dotted here and there in the distance you can see across the valleys other boats working their way across the same sinuous path. It's a wonderful spot and we moored up for the afternoon right in the middle of it.
Aqueduct over the River Aire
Fine views from Bank Newton locks summit
Finally we rounded off a fine weekend with a half mile walk to the Cross Keys pub further along the towpath at East Marton for a top class Sunday meal in the village pub, the Cross Keys - our stuffed stomachs heartily recommend it to all!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Rain, rain, rain

Precisely as forecast, it was raining this morning and it rained all day long until, finally, at about 8pm the tap was turned off and a faint glimpse of blue appeared in the sky.
I can think of worse places than Skipton to endure such a miserable British summer day. It's a likeable town; full of solid stone buildings that look so rooted into the land that you expect they'll last forever. The stonework has an honest, ingrained blackness about it too, like the dirt ground into a working man's hands. Contrast, if you please, with the scrubbed clean yellowness of the middle-class Cotswold stone villages down south!
Skipton is clearly focused on the tripper trade but though you can count the tea rooms and cake shops, it still has the feel of a 'proper' working town and not one that falls asleep when the last tourists of the season depart.
That said, it's having a tough time at the moment thanks (or rather no thanks) to the grim weather. We stopped for a beer at The Good Shepherd by the canal basin and the still surprisingly cheerful landlord and his wife told us about it all: the Jubilee weekend had been a washout, the Sheep Fair had been a washout and now it seems that Clogfest will probably be called off...and all because of the weather. Last Friday the pub was rammed but tonight we were the only customers.
But the granny-trip trade still seems to be thriving, rain or no rain. We watched the coaches disgorge their complements of grans (and the occasional grandpa) who headed straight into Bizzie Lizzie's fish and chip shop, then over to the big Pennine Cruises trip boat for a run down the canal. We must have counted five boatfulls of grannies pass by during the day while we hid from the rain.
At least we're not still in Sheffield, the New Junction Canal or the River Aire – all places where we've been in the last week or two and where flood alerts are now in force.
And the weather forecast for tomorrow is better. A bit better.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

I'll swing for this

The view from the top at Bingley
This morning we went up the magnificent Bingley Five Rise staircase and with that crowning achievement said goodbye to the staircase locks that drive the canal up the Pennines from its Eastern side.
Not before time really - the day before had been a step too far for staircases when we climbed through three of them; including one with leaky gates and non-functioning paddles where locals gathered to observe "everyone has trouble at this one" while I poured sweat trying to work paddles and gates. But you still can't fail to be awed by the Five Rise which rises the canal up an incline so steep that you're out of breath just walking up alongside the locks.
Anyway, today no more staircases. Instead the L&L brought us swingbridges. We've had them before on this canal but on the stretch from Bingley to Skipton they're like a rash. Nineteen of them, I think, in a ten mile stretch. Most of them are manual - e.g. you unlock and push like **** to open - and generally they are there to let a few cows or the odd rambler across.

The familiar white railings and red sign come into view...again
Those across roads are generally electric and pretty foolproof - insert key, press button, barriers come down, bridge swings round. Press other button and it all reverses. I've done dozens. Poor Starwoman did her first today...and it broke! Jammed with the barriers down so traffic couldn't pass. We did traffic management (everyone was very polite) until a man from Bradford council came out to re-set it.
Starwoman battles with yet another bridge
The manual bridges were much nicer. The promised thunder held off and on a beautiful sunny day Starwoman walked the towpath along the edge of a glorious wooded hillside above Airedale with Stardog Brian, opening and closing while I pottered along. Until we reached the odd one that was too heavy to open or shut and we both heaved on it. After lunch we swapped jobs and I enjoyed the delights of scenery that was opening out towards distant peaks. Then we found another heavy one that needed both of us plus two passing walkers to get open.
All the while we were keeping an eye out for diesel but passed boatyard after yard that no longer sells it until, finally, we reached the friendly and super-helpful Snaygill Boats. And just as we left came the long awaited torrential downpour - soaking us before we could even get coats on. And stopping almost as quickly.
The promised thunderstorm finally arrives
We meandered on into Skipton, the enticing aroma of fish and chips getting ever more powerful from the town's famous canalside chippie, squeezed in to the last mooring spot, had tea and watched the skies explode again as a tumultuous thunder and lightening storm hit town.
Apparently it's Clogfest this weekend with town-wide displays of clog dancing. Can't wait. (I'm not being ironic, honest!)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The ascent has begun

Ten miles and thirteen locks, three of them in staircase flights. The climb up into the Pennines has begun. And pretty energetically too.
Fortunately, after the first couple of locks we got ourselves teamed up with another narrowboat for the rest of the day. Wide locks are done much more easily by two. (The work is shared and two boats don't bash about in the lock like a singleton does.)
But finding the right locking partner is just a matter of chance. A fumbling, bumbling newcomer can make life frustratingly slow; a macho team will have you struggling to keep up and leave you exhausted by day's end.
Luckily our boating buddies were spot on: father, student son and his friend in a hire boat but all of them highly experienced boaters. They were half way round the Pennine Ring and due back in Blackburn next Monday so they were keen to keep moving but not at the expense of making our life unpleasant. We mucked along happily together all day.
Unfortunately, locking can also bring out the worst in people. We found ourselves behind a Dutch barge crewed by a healthy looking gang of five blokes. They were waiting at the foot of a three lock staircase...and watching a single bloke work his way down while his wife steered. None of them helped and nor did any of them even head up to the top of the locks to begin re-setting them for their trip up. No, they were happy to dawdle their way up, uncaring of the queue of four boats built up behind. So we went up, helped the boat down, re-set the locks for the barge and then re-set them again for ourselves. Not a word of acknowledgement.
At the next three lock staircase the same thing happened so, to make life quicker for ourselves, we prepared the locks for them. And then for us. No thanks again. Maybe they thought the middle and top locks refilled themselves by some sort of magic.
Fortunately boaters like that are few and far between or canal boating would soon cease to be the pleasure it is.
Tonight our twosome is moored at the three lock Field staircase near Apperley Bridge. Soon after that will come the famous Bingley Five Rise and then we shall almost be at the summit.

And finally...can you read the sign below? It's a clever piece of mirror writing that the water reflects back the right way. In case you can't it says "The remains of a wooden icebreaker lie submerged"

Monday, 2 July 2012

Slow boat to Leeds

At the back of the queue for the lock

The canal out of Leeds is one of the legendary stretches of "bandit country". So much so that when we were last here you booked your way through and lock keepers supervised your progress through until you'd reached friendly territory.
 BW ground staff seem to be a disappearing breed (no lock-keepers in the big commercial locks these days for instance as there were in 2009) and there was no advice forthcoming on how to make our way through the enemy territory of Scroteland. So we set off early(ish) from our mooring south of Leeds and headed into the city, hoping that we might meet someone on the way to ride shotgun through the locks.
At the first lock we met two. Great - except that we got the lock ready; they went in first; they left first and we were back to third in line. By the Leeds locks two more had squeezed in and we found ourselves at the first of the canal locks back to fifth in a very, very slow moving queue. Damn.
An hour later (but now nearly three hours after we first un-moored) we were out of the lock. And met the BW lockies who said that because of staff cuts the bandit country locks ahead of us were shut at three p.m. and that we wouldn't get through. So, here we are moored in Leeds.
River Festival in Clarence Dock
It's not a problem; at least we won't be crawling in a queue. To be fair, today's line-up was the result of boats returning from the weekend's Leeds River Festival. We visited that yesterday - a bargain three quid return train ride from our Woodlesford mooring. It as a fun affair and had brought out a lot of visitors to the riverfront, though I have to say it didn't quite live up to the hyperbole of its publicity. Still, it was fun to see the U-boat narrowboat - I'm not sure what was funnier, the half-baked exterior conversion to U-boat look-alike or the extremely portly 'captain' in a British navy uniform. I'm told the interior of the U-boat is more convincing but I couldn't face joining the queue of small boys waiting to view it.
Some gourmet burgers and very indulgent cream cup cakes completed our visit.
The U-boat with its British captain
We also took a turn round the city centre – and what a marvellous place it is. Street after street of elegant buildings and the stunning the Victorian Quarter, thankfully unspoilt by their modern shopfronts, and some imposing classically proportioned municipal buildings like the Corn Exchange and Civic Hall.
Magnificent Civic Hall
Plenty of modern stuff, too. Any number of blocks of flats, some, pleasingly, in converted canalside warehouses, and striking commercial developments – nonre more eye catching than Bridgewater Place, nicknamed 'The Dalek' for obvious reasons.
And 'The Dalek' towering over the canal
Still, it will be nice to get free of the Sushi restaurants, wine bars, and fast striding young executives and see the hills and some country pubs.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Aire is clear - now!

The calm after the storm: Castleford flood lock
Just a week ago towns in this part of Yorkshire were devastated by massive floods after a  month's rainfall fell in just 24 hours. Castleford is where the rivers that had been overwhelmed by this deluge meet - the Calder and Hebble joining the River Aire to flow through the town.
Take a look at these photos of Allinson's Mill and the pedestrian bridge over the river weir (scroll down the page to Saturday 23rd to find them) and compare them to the ones I posted yesterday. And compare the flood lock then with the flood lock today.
A swept away ladder five feet up a post
All the way upstream we saw evidence of the flooding - the river had been five or six feet higher. We could only gasp at the sheer volume and ferocity of water that must have been flowing down there. And all this water heading straight out to sea - what a pity we can't capture more of it in low-level reservoirs to avoid our annual hosepipe ban panic.
We've travelled just a few miles toward Leeds today. There's a river festival in the city centre so no chance of mooring there. Instead we've pulled in at some pleasant moorings in the village of Woodlesford.
Of all the moorings in all the world....
We pulled in to a gap in the line of moored boats, tied up and then discovered that the boat in front was a tug we knew: Ebenezeer belonging to Tony whose Tollhouse Boat Sales is based back at our own Streethay Wharf. Small world.

Friday, 29 June 2012

What do you know about Castleford?

If you are anything like me you only know one thing - that it has a well known rugby league team. When Starwoman proposed a walk around the town I wasn't much inclined to tag along but I decided I might as well.
And we found a few surprises. This former mining town certainly isn't the prettiest  and there only seems to be one main shopping street plus a sizeable indoor market but as we walked into it over the big River Aire bridge we saw a startling feature - a striking, ultra-modern pedestrian bridge winding across the river above the weir.
So we had to come back that way and what a magnificent structure it is, snaking across immediately over the large, fierce weir. It starts at Castleford Mill where Allinson's pioneered wholemeal flour and where it was produced for over a hundred years until its closure last year. (How many times have we heard that tale?)
The bridge was opened in 2008 and Googling reveals it was centrepiece of a five year community led regeneration project filmed by Channel 4 for the series  Kevin McCloud & The Big Town Plan.
It's certainly a great feature and with other things under development for the town like the new library and museum, maybe the place really will be on the up after some tough years.
The concrete chute in the weir which you can see in the photo is a specially devised channel so that fish can get up over the weir for spawning.
So now you know more than one thing about Castleford. And here's another -- Burberry raincoats are made in Castleford!

Just like buses...

You wait ages for one to come along and then three more follow. We saw our first barge last night ... and three more gravel barges came through this morning before we had eaten our breakfast.
I expect we'll meet them on the way back which will be entertaining....

That's what I wrote this morning and, true enough we did. In fact we've spent our whole day in the company of barges of one sort and another. Most of the time we were in an informal convoy through the locks with a classic Humber Sloop, the Amy Howson. Built in 1914, has Lister diesel power as well as its sloop rig. Full details here . You wouldn't call the blunt nosed Keels elegant but they have a rugged charm and none more than this one.
The classic Keels were 61ft 6in so they could navigate the regional waterways but with the coming of bigger locks came bigger barges and we met two of them returning from the Lafarge gravel run on the river stretch of the Aire near Ferrybridge. Boy do they shift! I certainly wouldn't like to meet one on a blind corner or argue the toss about who should go through a narrow bridge. I don't expect they take prisoners.
The third we met at the last lock before Castleford. "Would we mind letting them through first?" asked the lockie. "Er, yes" I replied, noting that the 180ft boat was already nosing in.
Today's trip ran the full range of scenic variations. We started in the wide, flat agricultural prairies which then gave way to the industrial towers and chutes of Kellingley Coal Mine. Kellingley is one of the newest of our few surviving deep mine pits so there's none of the old-style spinning colliery head wheels here. "Tomorrow's energy standards today" boasts a large canalside sign. I can find no reference on Google to what these standards may be. The only stories are of a miner killed in a roof fall here last year.
After the inevitable mess of industry came a surprising interlude of rustic charm as we passed through Knottingley where the towpath was lined with flowers and limestone bridges abounded.
But the big cooling towers of Ferrybridge power station were looming ever closer and as we went through the flood lock and onto the River Aire we were right alongside it. It must be the country's best known power station: so many of us have driven past it on the A1. But the view from the road doesn't reveal the sheer scale of it; acres and acres of towers, plant, sidings where railway wagons inch along depositing coal and vast mountains of this coal waiting to fuel the fires. Everywhere you look in this area – as it was along the Trent – you can see more power stations. It makes you realise the enormity of our need for energy.
Beyond Ferrybridge the river winds past two abandoned collieries which have now been landscaped and taken over as wildlife reserves. Unless you knew the history, you'd assume this was natural countryside so fast has nature reclaimed the area.
Finally, after a windy but bright day (save for one severe but fortunately very short downpour) we reached Castleford where we've called a halt. A right turn at the flood lock here will take us up to Leeds tomorrow.