Sunday, June 29, 2008

Up to the Summit – and Back Down Again!

Last time Colin and Jan joined us afloat, it was back in October 2005 and we had a week together on our 'shared ownership' boat on the Grand Union and Oxford Canals. Despite Colin's bad knees, he worked the locks with gusto – the photo shows him waiting for one to empty. Nearly 3 years later, complete with new knee joints, he has been back in action!

We travelled up the canal towards Gargrave, hoping to get into the wilds above Bank Newton again. The weather and lock breakdown seemed to have other ideas, though! It looked like rain as we pulled out of Skipton, but nothing much came of it. As we approached Gargrave, we were that one of the paddles on the next lock was damaged. We stopped and had lunch a little early while British Waterways drained the level above so that they could get to the paddle and fix it. They did it quicker than expected, so we didn't get a picture!

Meanwhile, it had started to rain and it was getting much heavier. The visitor moorings at Gargrave began to look attractive! The next day, Sunday, was windy rather wet, so still not very inviting boating weather – we decided to stay put, and discovered the tiny Methodist Church meeting in the Community Room and later, the Mason's Arms for lunch.

Monday morning saw several boats setting out after the bad weather, and we teamed up with the crew on 'Isla's Drum' as we worked our way up the remaining three Gargrave locks and the six at Bank Newton. Not only did it save water but also time, as one crew member could go ahead and prepare the next lock, so we made good progress and got to know each other a little as well.

We stopped for lunch at 'our' remote mooring again, this time finding a 'Common Spotted Orchid' growing right next to the canal. Then on, to the Greenberfield locks on the outskirts of Barnoldswick, which took us onto the 'summit level' and as far as the eastern portal of Foulridge tunnel. We shall be going on that way later, but this time we needed to turn around again. Here's the simple beauty of Salterforth Bridge in the late morning sunshine.

In 2005, Jan was recovering from a broken pelvis and could do very little. This time, she has had a go at working locks – but look at the concentration as she tackles steering the boat!

We came back through the unusual double-arched bridge at East Marton. Apparently the upper arch was added when the road level was raised. You can just see a dark blue boat at the bottom right of the picture – imagine our surprise to find that it was completely adrift and was starting to follow us towards the bridge! We hastily pulled in to the side and went back to secure it, without too much difficulty as it still had all its mooring spikes. We were told that we were the third to try to re-secure it, but it seems that we were successful, as we received a grateful phone call a few days later. Just as well; it was a wide-beam boat and would easily have blocked the bridge!

And so, back to Skipton on Thursday afternoon, ready for Colin and Jan to drive away on Friday morning. A very enjoyable week, despite the fact that the weather had been better in October three years ago than it was this year in June!

Later that morning, Dave was able to collect his tools consignment from Switzerland, which had very conveniently arrived the day before, so the rest of the day was spent sorting that out and getting a few orders off to customers who had been waiting for tools. Here's a shot of Skipton Castle from the little canal branch below and behind it.

Into the Yorkshire Dales

After coming up the enormous 'steps' of the 3-Rise and 5-Rise locks at Bingley (about 90 feet, 8 locks in less than half a mile), we were amazed that our canal map book showed no more locks until Gargrave, 16 miles later and well after Skipton. Weren't we heading up into wild North Yorkshire, full of hills and dales?

As we chugged on and looked at the countryside and the map, we saw a little of how ingenious the canal builders had been. The Bingley locks had lifted us up the side of the Aire valley, so now we were on a really high contour. As the canal wound along that same contour line, the valley floor gradually rose to meet it, the hills rose above it, and we found ourselves in Airedale. Immediately below the Gargrave locks, the River Aire is level with the canal!

The scenery is certainly no disappointment! We have come through some lovely villages, almost all built in the warm local stone that reminds us of the Cotswolds – and the hills continue to climb above us.
And the wildlife? Again, we have seen oystercatchers and blackheaded gulls, far away from the coast, but the sound that seems to typify the countryside round here is the haunting, bubbling cry of the curlew, sometimes seen, sometimes apparently impossible to locate. We have seen swifts, house martins and sand martins, along with many swallows, which have already raised their first broods of young.

We arrived in Skipton on 13th June and spent a couple of days there, with a few things to sort out. At long last, Dave had just heard from his tools supplier in Switzerland, and so needed to find a delivery address as soon as possible. We also needed to find somewhere for Colin and Jan to park their car when they came to join us a week later, plus make arrangements to have the bottom of the boat 're-blacked' with bitumen, as we have been increasingly aware that the original coat is showing signs of wear. Pennine Cruisers came to our help on all three points, and we were able to fill up with diesel at a slightly less ridiculous price than some we have seen recently! We also took the opportunity to visit Skipton Baptist Church, recommended to us by Geoff and Andrea.

Before our visitors were due to come, we had time for a brief trip up the canal above Gargrave and, on the way, encountered yet another type of lock gear. With this type, the handle is lifted (as shown!) and the 'paddle' below the waterline pivots to open the sluice. Simple and ingenious!

We found a lovely mooring in 'the wilds' above Bank Newton and stayed there for nearly a day, visited occasionally by a family of swans. Some interesting plants there, too, including this stonecrop. Then back to Gargrave and Skipton to pick up Colin and Jan.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Through Leeds – Up To The Hills Again!

Last time we were in Selby, we had been waiting (over a Bank Holiday) for delivery of a spare part for our boiler. Now we found ourselves waiting there again. Dave's tool supplier in Switzerland had expected to send the latest order in the second or third week of May, but it was the end of May and there had been no news, despite several e-mails. We waited another 5 days but decided that we needed to move on, still without any news. In the meantime, there was a swan family just a little way along the Selby Canal, so Dave got some pictures . . . interesting that one of the cygnets is creamy white, not grey.

With rain 'on and off' for the last few days, we were concerned that the River Aire might have risen enough to be difficult, but boaters coming to Selby told us it was OK, so we set off along the Selby Canal to join the Aire at West Haddlesey and were pleased to find that, although the level had evidently risen, it had fallen back again, lower than it had been when we came. Useful, because now we were travelling upstream!

We thought we would probably stop for the night when we reached Castleford but made such good progress that we decided to chug on towards Leeds. We were into new waters for us, and back with the 'big boys' again, though we only met one large sand barge near Castleford. The locks up to Leeds are BIG, though – here's Zindagi looking like a matchstick in Lemonroyd Lock!

One advantage of these enormous locks is that they are totally mechanised. All you have to do is turn a key and press buttons, so Val's dodgy knees were no bar to her operating the lock for a change, like here at Woodlesford.

Then on up the Aire towards Leeds. Once again, coming in by canal felt like using the tradesman's entrance as we passed remnants of former canalside industry but soon we could see that transformation is well under way, with a new footbridge over river and canal as they divide for Leeds Lock, the last lock on the Aire and Calder Navigation. (The lock leads off to the left, the right side leads up to the weir).

We had some useful Leeds mooring information via Cutweb, an internet-based Cruising Club which we recently joined. They told us that Clarence Dock moorings, just after Leeds Lock and next to the Royal Armouries Museum, had very recently re-opened, so we took the opportunity to see for ourselves – excellent timing!

We were not disappointed. The floating pontoons were almost empty, the mooring was quiet and secure, we picked up a reasonable TV signal despite the tall buildings, and we even found some credit in one of the electricity prepaid meters! The shops were a little further than from the other moorings at Granary Wharf, but then we found out that the Granary Wharf moorings were closed by more development work. We needed very little shopping, anyway, and the superb covered City Market was not too far away.

The next morning, we left Clarence Dock, chugged half a mile up the river and joined the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at River Lock. Here we saw some unfamiliar lock paddle gear, and took photos – little realising that we would see plenty more of the same types as we went on, as these are typical of this canal, it seems!

A little further along, as the canal took its pleasant route out through the suburbs, we passed an apparently indecipherable notice . . . see if you can read it!

The next day, we finally succeeded in meeting up with old friends Geoff and Andrea, who live near Bradford. Although they could only manage a short day visit, we went for a little trip together and had some good chats, but they only just had time for a 'cuppa' and some of Val's home-made cakes before they had to go. We had a good time together and hope that they will be able to find some time to come for a few days' cruising with us sometime in the next few weeks.

We always like getting back on the canals again, and have now started discovering some characteristics of the 'L & L'. As well as having some different lock gear, it seems to love swing bridges and tries to put locks into staircases wherever possible, enabling boats to climb short steep gradients. Probably the most famous staircase locks are the 'Bingley Five Rise', the first to be built in the UK (in 1774) and raising the canal level by 60 feet in just five locks. We came up them today, and the depth of the lock chambers and steep gradient of the hill are just amazing – the photo cannot do it justice, but hopefully it will give you some idea! You can see more of that characteristic 'L & L' lock gear, too.

Farewell to the Ouse

As planned, we returned downstream from Ripon to York on the way back down to Naburn to meet David and Mary. We took the opportunity to be tourists for a change and went on the York tour bus and had a little walk along part of the ancient city walls. After the lack of boat traffic and a sense of solitude and isolation further up the Ouse and on the Ure and the Ripon Canal, it was odd to be in the centre of a city with the river full of trip boats, small day hire boats and rowing club teams busy practising, as well as busy streets and railway lines within earshot. A fascinating old city, none the less!

As we passed under the disused railway bridge at Naburn, we got a better glimpse of the unusual 'statue' at one end of it. A close examination reveals that the fisherman has caught a steam engine!

Naburn was windy, as before, and the weather forecast was a bit gloomier for the next few days – and David and Mary were only staying two! Undaunted, we set off upstream again with them the next morning and, sure enough, the weather became steadily wetter! A brief stop in York, then on up the Ouse to Linton Lock – a very different journey from our trip up the Llangollen Canal together last year: hardly any other boats, very isolated countryside and only one lock to work. Here are D & M at the high top gates of Linton Lock, looking down at us on 'Zindagi' as the lock filled up.

The next morning, we turned around and headed back to York and Naburn again. David and Mary had to drive down to Devon the next day, and we were heading back down to Selby on the ebb tide, exactly 3 weeks after we had come up.

As we spent the evening on the moorings above the lock, more and more boats arrived: narrowboats like ours, small cruisers and larger ones like those we saw on the Thames last year. Looked like a busy day coming up!

Tide times meant that we needed to wait until the afternoon to go downstream, so there was ample time to see our visitors off before getting ready. All the usual daily engine checks, etc., plus the need to make sure the anchor was securely attached and to get our lifejackets ready to wear again – and the lock was certainly full of boats!

The lock-keeper let us four narrowboats down first, together with the smaller cruisers, as we didn't need so much depth of water and could only travel rather more slowly than the large cruisers. At least one more lock-full of boats followed us, maybe more. Rather different from 3 weeks before, when we were one of only two narrowboats making the trip up from Selby!
Of course the cruisers gradually overtook us, but our bonus was that we could look back and see the road bridge at Cawood swing open for them. We had simply sailed under with lots of room to spare!

And so, back to Selby, but not without some more interest. Selby lock is much smaller than Naburn, so the lock-keeper had already been busy with getting all the cruisers up it and the first two narrowboats were just about to go in as we arrived. They had been 'holding' on the river while they waited, and now it was our turn. Having turned to face upstream against the current, it was quite fun to judge the engine speed just right to stay in the same place. Moving the tiller allowed us to move from side to side, and a little acceleration or deceleration moved us slowly forwards or backwards. A bit like holding a car on a hill by using the clutch! Before the lock was ready for us to go in, the fourth narrowboat arrived and we could 'lock up' together – excellent timing.