Friday, 29 June 2012

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.

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