Saturday, May 17, 2008

To the Northernmost Point – Almost!

After our short stay in York, we set out again on Monday morning, heading up the Ouse and into much more remote countryside. We would not go under any more bridges for more than nine miles! Lovely as it is cruising up the river, mooring is much more limited than on the canals; we can't just 'stop anywhere'. Not only are the banks private, but they are also very difficult to get close to, so we are pretty much restricted to stopping at recognised moorings. This has not been a problem, as there are some great places to stay for a night or two. When we stayed just below Linton Lock, we found that we had terns and oystercatchers for neighbours – normally seabirds, but obviously attracted by the fish and aquatic invertebrates. Word is that a seal has been this far up the river, but we haven't seen it yet! Not far upstream from here, a tiny insignificant stream joins the river. This is the Ouse Gill Beck and amazingly it gives its name to the river, as downstream from here it is the Ouse and upstream it is the River Ure. A little further on, and we passed the first bridge since York – a wonderfully primitive toll bridge whose wooden planks rattled as cars drove over it! As you can also see from the picture, we had a little company from another boat. We continue to be surprised by how few boats we have met. Once again, we are enjoying some of the hidden gems of the waterways! We have enjoyed seeing swallows and martins wheeling around us as we chug upstream, and it is good to see the sand martin colonies in the sandy banks of the river, especially as this sort of habitat is becoming increasingly rare and is vulnerable to damage by river flooding. The old town of Boroughbridge made a pleasant overnight stop as we headed on. Just two miles before Ripon, the 'navigation' branches off the River Ure and we found ourselves back on canal again, leading us to this little city that feels much more like a country town. The canal basin seems empty and perhaps a little forlorn, with apparently only one small boat available for day hire and no other canal-based business here. Yet again, we have been the only boat visiting – hard to understand why. This is as far north as we can go on this part of the waterways and, until a few years ago, was the northernmost point on the 'joined-up' waterways system. Since the Millenium Ribble Link joined the Lancaster Canal back onto the system, it has has been possible to get a little further north than Ripon, but not by many miles! We aim to be there a little later in the year. After this weekend, we expect to start back downstream again, aiming to meet David and Mary just south of York, then turn around again and revisit some the highlights with them for a few days. Then back down to Selby, on to Leeds and over the Pennines again, this time on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grandson update!

We haven't seen him or Shireen for a few weeks now, but so many of the phone calls and e-mails we get ask about little Thor that we thought you would like to see some recent photos, courtesy of Shireen. He is certainly growing apace, and no doubt there will be lots more changes before we see them again, which will probably be in early July. We like these pics; they don't need any words, do they . . .
. . . except, perhaps to draw your attention to the title of his 'bedtime reading' !!!

Signs of Spring

About time too! Until the recent spell of bright, warm and sunny weather, it has seemed as though spring and summer have been holding off. Is it because we are a bit further north this year (and a lot further north than Devon!), or has everyone experienced a late spring this year? April 2007 was exceptional, though, more like June. Perhaps we have returned to slightly more normal weather now? Anyway, time to share with you a few images that seem to say that Spring is here and Summer is not far behind! We showed you our first duckling from mid-April, and we have seen more and a few goslings near Selby and here in York, but no cygnets as yet. Quite a few swans sitting on their nests, though, so it won't be long now. Then there was this young foal on the banks of the Aire as we came near Castleford a few days ago, and the hawthorn blossom is filling the hedgerows everywhere. While this warm spell lasts, it feels as though we are 'fast-forwarding' into summer! Not to be forgotten, here are some lambs that Val caught on camera back in early April!

Riding the Tide

After the excitements of the Aire and Calder, the Selby Canal was peaceful and almost deserted. If we had been in the Midlands or South at this time of year (near Bank Holiday weekend), we would have been meeting boats all the time. Seemed like no-one else knew that this canal was here! There are lovely stone bridges along this stretch, though sadly most have ugly pipes next to them. Here's one that doesn't! We knew that our passage through Selby Lock onto the Ouse would be governed by the state of the tide, but we also had to wait for a spare part for our central heating boiler to arrive at Selby Post Office. It was due to arrive on the Saturday but, thanks to the Bank Holiday and some confusion in the Post Office (at the sending end this time!), it didn't get to us until the following Wednesday. No problem; Selby is a nice town, the Basin was quite quiet, plus the tide times were getting slightly later each day. This meant that we could leave at about 8.30 a.m. on the Thursday instead of 6.30 a.m. on the Monday – much more civilised! The plan was to join the River Ouse as the tide was coming in and ride it all the way up to Naburn Locks, the upper tidal limit. Our only experience of tidal water so far had been the run down the Thames from Teddington to Brentford last July, and that was downstream. Now we were riding upstream on the rising tide – a new experience, but not much different from going downstream on any river, except for the speed of travel relative to the land! We went from Selby Lock to Naburn Locks (14¾ miles) in 2½ hours, which means we travelled at just under the 6mph river speed limit! We spent a lazy rest of the day at Naburn; a pleasant quiet spot, not far from York, and an easy place to meet visitors – where they can park their car as well. And then on towards York, passing Bishopsthorpe Palace. We didn't see Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, but that is apparently where he is based. And so to York, where we are now. We arrived on Friday and will probably leave on Monday morning, after we have sampled the fellowship in one of York's many churches. A rare (but very welcome) thing happened on Friday evening: a local Christian saw the 'fish sign' and the Alpha and Omega on the side of Zindagi and started into conversation, inviting us to visit them at 'St. Mike's'. So that's the plan for this evening!

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.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Pennine Journey – Up, Through and Down!

As you know from last time, we were already booked to go through Standedge Tunnel on Friday 18th April, so we turned around in Stalybridge after David & Julie left us and started back up the locks again. When we have done this sort of thing before, we have been amazed how the canal feels like really familar territory after just one earlier trip. But, before we left, we had a welcome phone call from the Post Office in Ashton-under-Lyne. Our redirected mail had been found! The story was that there was insufficient postage on the envelope, but that hardly explains the delay of nearly a week. Good that we had come back to Stalybridge, only a fairly easy cycle ride from Ashton, and had not already disappeared east of the Pennines! Many of the towns on the way back up the Tame Valley show the same mix as Mossley in this picture: hillside towns, old mills and modern housing, either in converted mill buildings or on old mill sites. Just a little further north, we met this sentinel on a lock gate, then on through more locks in lovely hilly country before reaching the dramatic Saddleworth railway viaduct spanning across the valley with road, river and canal below it. This was as far as we had come with David and Julie, but now we were booked to climb up the remaining nine locks to the mouth of Standedge Tunnel at Diggle. We arrived there in good time, to form up as a convoy of just two private boats to be towed 3¼ miles through the Pennines. We could go on about this tunnel – it is truly one of a kind! You'll just have to visit the Standedge website to get all the information you want, but the trip through it was enough to keep Val interested – and she normally leaves me (Dave) to enjoy tunnels on my own while she stays 'below decks'! Here we are waiting to go in, last in line, before the crew did what they could to protect the boats by covering them with heavy-duty rubber sheets. The inside of the tunnel varies from being plain rock-faced, stone-lined and brick-lined, some parts wide enough for two boats to pass but mostly pretty tight. We knew there would be some paint damage to our boat in spite of the protectve sheets, and there were a few nasty-sounding crunches from behind as we rode in the electric tug in the front. The whole journey took about 2½ hours before we came out into daylight on the Yorkshire side. The arrangement was that we would stay at the tunnel mouth until early the next morning, when British Waterways staff would help us down the first eleven locks. Although that was helpful, we would probably have preferred to have come down a little more slowly and seen more of the locks and their surroundings. As soon as we could find a mooring, we stopped and enjoyed the Pennine scenery which was a little different from the western side. Before long, we were in Slaithwaite (pronounced 'Slough-it', with 'Slough' as in Berkshire) where we needed to stay over the weekend as some more post was due to come there. In the meantime, we found a small Christian fellowship and enjoyed a time of worship and study with them on Sunday morning. We were even invited to stay for lunch! Thanks, Erroll and Sheila! Slaithwaite is another place like Stalybridge, where the canal had been covered over and forgotten. Another 'resurrection' project completed with Millenium Commission funding, on a slightly smaller scale, perhaps, as this picture shows. Having collected the post on the Monday morning (21st April), we were just getting ready to move on when Dave slipped on the front of the boat and landed heavily, badly bruising his ribs but somehow avoiding falling in the canal. Perhaps we should really have stopped there for a few days, but we moved on anyway, and Dave was glad of the long-handled windlass, giving a little more leverage on some stiff lock paddles as we made our way down to Huddersfield. By the time we arrived there, it seemed like a good idea to take a few days' rest. Apart from giving Dave's ribs a chance to recover a bit, we also got some shopping done, had an Indian meal, sorted out the computer printer and bought a new vacuum cleaner. The paintwork scrapes from Standedge Tunnel started to get repaired, and Dave bought a piece of 3" x 2" wood to make a 'handspike' to operate some of the lockgear that we were going to face on the Calder & Hebble Navigation. And so we moved on, passing under an unusual relic of Victorian engineering, the 'Turnbridge Loco Lift Bridge'. Unlike most lift bridges, this one is lifted straight up. It used to be wound up and down with a handle but fortunately now it has been electrified. Now we were on the Huddersfield Broad Canal, winding its way pleasantly out of Huddersfield towards two river 'navigations', the Calder and Hebble and the Aire and Calder. These are basically rivers with locks in them, so there is much more flow than on a normal canal, and big weirs past the locks.