Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Road to Wigan Pier

We have left the Pennines behind us now, having come down the 23 locks of the Wigan flight yesterday.  Apart from those labours we have been taking things pretty easily and the weather has finally decided to become mainly hot and mainly sunny: quite a change for this year. 

The Leeds and Liverpool is the longest canal in the country at 127¼ miles and coming away from Burnley we passed the half way point:

Half Way Marker

We are now even further along having passed a milepost today showing we are now more than 100 miles from Leeds.

For several days we have been criss-crossing the M65 Motorway, a couple of times by means of aqueducts crossing over the road, here is a photo of the last of these aqueducts:
M65 seen from Leo on Aqueduct crossing the Motorway
Obviously the towns round here were once full of textile mills.  Though many of these have been demolished, most of those that remain have been converted to offices or flats and some look very grand, like this one at Blackburn.
Mill at Blackburn
We came down the Blackburn Locks with Luisa, a beautifully painted Braidbar boat with Peter and Janet and two dogs, Barney and Rupert.  It really is much easier to manage the locks with two boat crews sharing the work.  Peter and Janet worked well with us and we enjoyed their company.  Barney just watched without comment and Rupert stayed down below.
Leo and Luisa sharing a lock

A very leaky lock - the fountain poured onto Luisa's back deck

Soon after clearing the suburbs of Blackburn we stopped for lunch and then took the Bromptons out for some exercise, climbing up a nearby hill to an old house called Hoghton Tower.  This house has been continuously occupied by the same family since 1109, but was extensively rebuilt in the 1500’s.  James 1 famously enjoyed a beef meal so much on a visit here that he knighted the remains, calling it “Sir Loin”, hence our name for the beef joint today.  Though we were too late to join a tour of the house, the gatekeepers were so impressed that we had climbed the hill on our little bikes that they told us all about the house for free.
Hoghton Tower
Burnley and Blackburn are the sort of places where litter in the Canal is common so trips down the weed hatch have been more frequent lately:
Ian investigating down the weed hatch
All the way along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal we have been anticipating and perhaps dreading the Wigan flight of 20 plus locks down to the lowlands of Lancashire.  We got to the top of the flight on Tuesday evening and found a boat we’ve seen a couple of times, Coventina, waiting to go down.  We readily agreed to go together and we tied the two boats together so that one person could drive both boats, as we have done previously with Pas Mèche.  So we had a lock crew of three down the flight and we all worked well as a team together.  Chris and Helen on Coventina have a lovely little dog called “Bisto” who sat calmly on the roof chewing a pretend bone and was not worried at all even when it was Ian, rather than Chris, driving both boats.  We had a great time with Chris and Helen who seem to share our sense of humour and we enjoyed a tea break part way down the flight with both boats sitting in a lock while the kettles boiled and we exchanged contact details.
Chris driving both boats between locks

Bisto chewing on her bone

Once down the flight we continued through Wigan and down a few more locks out into open countryside.  We searched for Wigan Pier but this was the nearest we came:
All that remains of Wigan Pier - a coal 'tippler'
 It appears that the “Pier” was in fact a coal ‘tippler’ (the remains of this appear on the photo) designed for tipping rail wagons into boats on the canal.  The title of this posting on the blog is the name of a book by George Orwell about life for the workers in the days of the textile mills.  There is now a pub in an old warehouse by the Canal called “Orwell at Wigan Pier”, so the marketing men have obviously been busy.

We called in at the CRT (Canals and Rivers Trust) Office in Wigan and were delighted that someone had cancelled their booking to go into Liverpool.  A very helpful lady called Lyn Delaney discussed dates with us and we have now confirmed bookings that will give us an extended stay in Liverpool, going in on Sunday next. 

Today we have cruised another ten miles or so closer to Liverpool, passing the junction with the Rufford branch of the Canal which leads to the River Ribble and forms a link to the Lancaster Canal.  Tomorrow we plan to cycle to the sea at Southport and on Saturday evening we will hopefully be in position for our cruise into Liverpool where we’ll be staying for 10 days or so.  It is likely that the next post on this blog will be from Liverpool.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Over the Pennines Again!

We are now safely back on Leo and exploring the canals again after a few days at home for a family reunion.  Helen’s brother, Graham, has been with us from Skipton last Monday until today when he left us near Colne to visit other relatives.  We’ve enjoyed cruising with Graham and he has learned how to operate the locks and the swing bridges and to appreciate this year’s ‘summer’ weather.

Having a hire car meant that we ‘cheated’ on Tuesday and drove from the marina where we’d left Leo to Malham for a walk in the splendid limestone country.  I believe that the walk from Malham up Gordale Scar, across Malham Moor and back down the dry valley to Malham Cove is the finest short walk in the UK.  Added to which Ian’s mother’s ashes were sprinkled on Malham Cove so we visited her too.  Here are a couple of pictures of our walk:
Helen and Graham climbing Gordale Scar

Malham Cove
We finished our walk with a drink in the Buck in Malham village just as the rain was starting again.

On Wednesday we returned the hire car and set off through Skipton:
Canal Junction with Springs Branch at Skipton 
We climbed the locks through Gargrave encountering some new paddle gear:
You pull the lever up and this opens the paddle.  This is quite hard at first but it becomes easier to move the lever as the difference in water levels reduces and the pressure eases. 

On Wednesday evening we moored by an aqueduct over the River Aire.
A Swollen River Aire seen from the Canal Aqueduct
As we had Graham as our guest, Ian made his signature dish of Fish Pie.
Ian's Fish Pie
On Thursday we climbed the final 6 locks to the summit level of the Leeds and Liverpool:
Sharing Locks with Portus
On the summit level you pass through a region known as “The Bends” where the canal zig-zags back and forth around little valleys and hillocks managing to cover a mile to get 300 yards from where it started.  You can see other boats coming on more distant zig-zags but it is difficult to predict when you will meet them.
The Bends - can you see the canal boat that is coming towards us?
At East Marton we passed under a double arched bridge:
Double Bridge at East Marton
The bridge has two arches because the road was changed to avoid such a steep hill, so that the bridge had to be increased in height above the canal.

After a night on the summit with lovely views we came through Foulridge Tunnel (almost a mile long) and came to the first downhill locks into Lancashire.
Barrowford Top Lock
We are now moored to the West of Burnley with the background noise (fortunately distant) of the M65 which we have now crossed six times, most notably on an aqueduct:
Canal Aqueduct over the M65 Motorway
All day today we have had the distant view of Pendle Hill (famous for its witch trial in 1612) to keep us company.
Pendle Hill in the distance
The next few days will see us working our way through town and country to Wigan where we begin a descent of 23 locks down to the edge of Manchester.  We have booked to go into Liverpool but have yet to hear whether this will be possible.  Watch this space.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sunny Skipton

Yes, it’s extraordinary but today has been mostly sunny and warm, though we did get wet briefly this morning.  We have reached Skipton where we have arranged to leave Leo for a few days while we go home, though we will be back early next week when Helen’s brother, Graham, will be joining us.

We have been taking things slowly since the Bingley Five Rise Locks and the scenery has improved day by day.  We have had no locks though there have been a great many swing bridges, like this one at Kildwick:

We visited East Riddleston Hall, a National Trust Property, on Monday.  This is a fine 16th and 17th century stone built house which curiously has two rose windows which are much more commonly seen in churches.
East Riddleston Hall - note the rose window over the door
We moored right out in the countryside between Keighley and Silsden for two nights with just sheep for company, no sounds of cars or people apart from the occasional mud covered cyclist passing on the towpath.
Moored near Silsden
The intention was to go for an all-day walk yesterday on the moors and down to Silsden, but it absolutely poured so the walk we did was curtailed and we returned to Leo for a late lunch, a good drying out and a lazy afternoon.

Today we cruised on to near Skipton where we are leaving Leo at a marina.  The views today over Airedale were lovely.
View from the canal over Sutton-in-Craven to Raven Stones Crags
 Even at the marina where we are now there are lovely views over the surrounding countryside:

Notice particularly the fluffy white clouds and the blue sky, something we've not seen a lot of lately.

This afternoon we cycled into Skipton for a wander around and a little shopping.  Helen now has new wellies the price of which was dramatically reduced in an outdoor equipment shop, Yeomans, in the town.  Her old ones had started leaking, no doubt from overuse this summer.  Here is a view of the canal as it passes through Skipton:
Canal in Skipton - junction with Springs Branch
Well that is it for a few days.  From what we have been told by other boaters the Leeds and Liverpool just gets better and better from here on as it climbs over the Pennines via Gargrave and East Marton.  We are really looking forward to this section and the mile long tunnel at Foulridge will be the longest we’ve yet done on Leo.  Perhaps the summer will start when we return?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Leo in the Yorkshire Dales

We’ve left the city of Leeds behind now and we are moving gradually towards the hills and beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales.  I say gradually because David and Victoria had to be in or around Leeds by 1 July and we are now free to take our time as the retired folk we are.

We were fortunate to leave Leeds on Thursday as the first part of the journey is along the River Aire.  With the heavy rain on Friday all the flood gates on the Aire are now closed again and we would have been stuck in Leeds if we had stayed another day.  As it was, the current on the river was pretty strong and it was difficult to come in to the bank to work the River Lock that gives access to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Cruising through Leeds on the River Aire
From Leeds the Canal climbs quite significantly following the valley of the River Aire, but often high up on the side of the valley.  We came upon our first staircase of this canal at Oddy Locks within the city:
Waterfalls over Oddy Lock Gates
A staircase lock is where there is no intervening pound between locks so that the top gate of one lock is also the bottom gate of the next.  This means that the canal can climb much more steeply up the hill.  There seem to be quite a few staircase locks on this canal but we have seen few elsewhere.  Another impediment to travel on this canal are frequent swing bridges.  In each case you have to stop the boat, get off and swing the bridge to let the boat through, then swing the bridge back again and finally get back on the boat.  That sounds fine but each bridge is different.  Some need your waterways key, some need the anti-vandal key, some need a windlass to operate the bridge.  Some are so stiff that you need to beg passers by for assistance, some move easily but then bounce back when they meet the end stop.  But there is quite a sense of power in stopping the traffic to let your boat through.

The first night above Leeds we moored with a fine view over the River Aire:
River Aire from L&L Canal near Newlay
By Friday evening with the pouring rain the River had risen considerably.  During the day we visited Kirkstall Abbey, the ruins of an extensive 12th century Cistercian abbey.  Like so many others It was sacked by Henry VIII.
Nave of Kirkstall Abbey
The nave of the ruins pictured here astonishingly was once the course of the main road from Leeds to Skipton (now the A65), but the road was diverted in Victorian times.  Walking back to the boat from Kirkstall we added to our tally of new wildlife with this fine chap:
Leech crossing the towpath
It is a leech and around 4 inches long.  I’d no idea they could get so large.  The water in the canal here is so clean that we have also seen freshwater mussels and freshwater sponges in the locks.

On Saturday we visited Saltaire.  This mill town was built by Titus Salt, a Victorian philanthropist who decided to improve the appalling living conditions of mill workers by building a mill and a town with shops, houses, hospital and church, but no pub because he had seen the effect of alcohol on the populace.  The village now has a pub called ‘Don’t tell Titus’.
Salt's Mill at Saltaire

Houses built for workers at Saltaire

Italianate Church at Saltaire

Today we have climbed the Bingley Three Rise and the Bingley Five Rise staircases.  The latter is the steepest climb on the canal system with 5 locks each climbing 12 feet in a staircase. 
Bingley Five Rise Locks

Looking down to Leo coming into lock

Tiny Leo in huge lock

The café at the top was fine for lunch and we had David, Victoria and Lucy with us, so much of the afternoon was spent in chatting and catching up with each other’s activities lately.  The view from the top of the locks is so good and conditions here are so peaceful that we have not moved on but are spending the night here.

In the next few days we are moving gradually on towards Skipton, Gargrave and the Dales.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Arrival in Leeds

Since the last post we’ve travelled the length of both the Calder and Hebble Navigation and the Aire and Calder Navigation and we are now moored right in the centre of Leeds at Clarence Dock.

The Navigations along the rivers Calder and Aire consist of stretches of canal and lengths of navigable river which are wide and obviously flowing which makes for some fast sections going downstream and slow ones going up.  On Friday morning the lock keeper at Sowerby Bridge let us down the very deep Tuel Lane Lock and even helped us down the two following locks which was very generous of him.  This took us off the Rochdale Canal, which we have followed from Manchester, down onto the Calder and Hebble.  This navigation had some interesting problems in store for us.  First it has some lock paddles which can only be operated by a spike.  A spike consists of a length of wood cut with a squared end which you insert into a wheel to turn it to open the lock paddles to let water in or out.  So it was a case of first fashion your spike and then use it.
Cutting the square end - or fettling as they say up here

Using the spike to operate the paddle

The next problem with this navigation was the size of the locks.  We had read that they would allow boats up to 57 feet long and there was some talk of taking longer boats.  Our two boats are both 57 feet long.  So we drove into the first lock with two boats side by side and let the water out to drop down.  We then found that it was impossible to open the lower gates:
Tight at the bow - David is trying to lift the fender, but that did not  resolve things

Tight at the stern too
The only answer is to put a single boat diagonally in the lock even though the lock is 14 foot wide and that usually means wide enough for two.  Many boats round here are 55 feet long and we now understand why.  Sorting out this lock and refilling one pound where the water was only knee deep delayed our journey, but after a while we moved onto the part of the navigation where river sections alternate with canal sections.  The key is to get off the river before you go over the weir!!  After our canal travelling it was novel to be on a big wide river again.  

Wide River Calder - crossing under the M1

Coming into Wakefield - note Pas Meche turning onto the next section of canal

It reminded us of our days on the Thames.  

We travelled through Wakefield and on to Stanley Ferry where the canal crosses the river Calder on an aqueduct built to the same design as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, albeit 100 years before the latter.
Stanley Ferry Aqueduct
We saw a wonderful rainbow here crossing the sky from one side to the other – giving access to two pots of gold.

From Stanley Ferry it was a short day to Lemonroyd to the South East of Leeds first going downstream on the Calder to Castleford and then turning upstream on the Aire for a few miles.  David and Victoria had arranged to finish their journey with us at Lemonroyd and Pas Meche now has a permanent place in the marina just above the huge lock there.
Lemonroyd Lock

Pas Meche in her new home
This lock, which is electrically operated with a key, is so large because giant barges full of oil come up here from Immingham on the Humber estuary to a storage depot for onward distribution by road around Leeds.  We had hoped to see one of these barges but it was not to be.  The advice around here is not to moor using mooring pins because the wash from these barges can pull them straight out.

After a day not boating yesterday we left Lemonroyd for the short cruise of around 6 miles into Leeds.  The last mile or so was against quite a strong flow of the river Aire and then up the final lock turning acutely into Clarence Dock where there are a few visitor moorings.
Manoeuvring in Clarence Dock
We’ll probably stay in Leeds a couple of days before we set off up the Leeds and Liverpool Canal into the Dales and ultimately back to the fringes of Manchester once more.