Saturday, May 10, 2008

Boating With The Big Boys

Boating on rivers is different from boating on canals – it's the flow that makes the difference. The bigger the flow, the greater the difference! So we have been on some rivers which have been very little different from canals, just with rather more water going over the weirs. Even these relatively placid rivers can change when there is a lot of rain, but happily in we avoided the areas which were badly affected in July 2007. All we experienced was 5 days' delay on the Thames when the water rose at the end of May. But now, having crossed the Pennines on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and then joined the Huddersfield Broad Canal, we joined the Calder and Hebble Navigation and found ourselves on a great big river – the River Calder! Our map book told us that we needed to keep our eyes open for turnings off the river which are the flood gates. These took us to 'canal' sections which took us down through locks (rather than over the weirs on the main river!). A different style of boating, but very enjoyable in its way. Clear contrasts between river and canal, and plenty of evidence of recent floods in the river sections – all sorts of debris quite high in the trees where the flood water left it! Another difference, too, as some of the locks on the Calder & Hebble have strange equipment. Instead of the 'paddles' (sluices) being operated by turning a windlass, these work by using a wooden handle (a so-called 'handspike') in a fairly crude ratcheted wheel arrangement. It works, and that's the main thing! Meanwhile, we were seeing parts of Yorkshire which we had never seen before; more rural, peaceful waterside scenes than we had expected, alongside graphic reminders of the force of the river in the recent floods! Yes, river boating is different – you are reminded quite often that the river is a more independent thing with a life of its own, not like the much more docile canals! At Wakefield, the Calder & Hebble turns into the Aire & Calder Navigation, and we knew that we were soon to meet larger boats. Before we met them, the size of the locks was a bit of a hint – here are three narrowboats (Zindagi at the back) with lots of room to spare in an Aire & Calder lock. Then we reached Castleford Junction, where the River Calder joins the Aire flowing down from Leeds. We nipped into the flood lock after crossing the stronger current of the Aire, and then found out that the locks downstream from Castleford were 'on red', meaning that there was too much water coming down the Aire for us to be able to proceed in safety. So, a couple of days waiting in a 'canal' section there while the levels went down, and without much rain to bring them up again. The extra water in the river was no deterrent to the 'big boys', though, and we started to see them coming past us – mainly 500 tonne sand barges, either fully laden and low in the water like this one or empty and riding high, but being very considerate to us 'little uns' and keeping their speed (and wash) reasonably low. After such a gentle introduction, the prospect of meeting one of these boats on the water was not quite so daunting. Just as well, as we soon met one coming the other way and needing all the available space under a bridge. A hasty stop and pull in to the side, and then waves of thanks to each other as we passed. Very shortly after that, we branched off the main line of the Navigation (which takes the big boats to Goole) and followed the sinuous route of the River Aire as far as West Haddlesey, where we branched off again into the Selby Canal – a real canal this time, linking the Aire to the River Ouse.

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