Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Heading Further North

Back in May, we were up in Ripon, which is nearly the northernmost point of the English canal system. In fact, since it was built it was the furthest north that anyone could get on the connected canals and rivers of England and Wales – until 2002! The Lancaster Canal was built from Preston up to Kendal on the edge of the Lake District in the late 1700s, but the 'temporary' tramway that linked Preston to Chorley was never replaced with the intended canal, and was itself eventually abandoned. So the Lancaster Canal remained landlocked all its life until the Ribble Link was built in 2002. By this time, the very northern section from Tewitfield to Kendal had been closed to navigation and culverted under the M6 in several places, but Tewitfield is still slightly further north than Ripon!

Heading north, we began to see some distant hills, but these were the Forest of Bowland, part of the Pennine range, which we had last seen from a different angle near Clayton-le-Moors. The countryside round here is slightly more 'rolling' than south of the Ribble, but generally flattish with hills in the distance. The canal seems to follow the coast fairly closely, and there is even a 2¾ mile arm down to the little port of Glasson on the Lune estuary.

After skirting Lancaster, we crossed the Lune on the impressive stone aqueduct and soon found ourselves almost on the edge of Morecambe Bay with its vast expanse of sand and mud, famous for its shellfish and sadly remembered for the tragedy there in February 2004, when 18 cockle pickers were trapped by the fast rising tide and lost their lives.

We caught a misty glimpse of the Lake District hills in the distance, but the weather closed down and we have had to enjoy the sunny spells whenever they pop up.

A few more miles of chugging and we passed Carnforth and reached the real northernmost point at Tewitfield. There are plans to re-open the canal from Tewitfield up to Kendal, but opinion seems to be divided as to whether it is really likely to happen 'any time soon'. No doubt funding is the major hurdle! The locks at Tewitfield are still in remarkably good order and don't look as though they would take much to get back into use, but there are several places where the canal disappears into pipes under the M6, and those would certainly be very expensive to restore!

Despite the weather, we decided to take advantage of our bus passes and our closeness to the Lake District, and hopped on a bus for a trip into Kendal and Windermere. If the weather had been better earlier in the day, we would have probably have gone on to Keswick. As it was, we enjoyed the ride and (just for a change!) took a trip on a boat on Lake Windermere. The picture gives you some idea of the weather conditions. On the 'outward' journey from Bowness to Ambleside, we sat in the open seats on top of the boat but were glad to be under cover for the return trip!

Needless to say, after the northernmost point, the only way was to head south, back towards the Ribble Link again, but there was an interesting diversion to take down the Glasson Arm, through 6 locks, the only currently functional ones on the Lancaster Canal.

Enjoyable as lock-free cruising can be, it was good to be operating some locks again, working our way down fairly flat countryside to the tiny port of Glasson, which was originally built as a port for Lancaster and still has enough coastal traffic to keep it running. We moored in the enormous (12 acre) basin opposite rows of sea-going yachts and had a little wander around the tiny village. That did not take very long so, after filling up with water and diesel, we made our way back up the locks the following day. An enjoyable little excursion!

On our way up the locks, the sun was shining a little more, enough for this Red Admiral butterfly to pause on the ragwort. We were now really on the 'home run' back to the Ribble Link but were in no hurry as we had allowed ourselves more time than we really needed.
As I write this now, we are moored up in the basin at the top of the Ribble Link, ready to start the return crossing tomorrow morning at about 9:45. We have heard a rumour that today's crossing was cancelled due to high winds, but it seems OK at the moment. We shall just have to see what the British Waterways guys say in the morning!
P.S. We have heard over the last few weeks that the Rochdale Canal has been closed due to a serious pollution incident. News today that it may be re-opened on a trial basis to see whether the pollution has been effectively contained. We have been wondering whether to go that way after all, as there are lots of locks which will not help Val's knees and wrist. We shall need to make a decision in the next few days!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tide Travelling – The Ribble Link

We arrived in Tarleton in the late morning of 1st August, in plenty of time for crossing the Ribble Link the next day. There were a few boats on the moorings, but we didn't know whether any of them were due to cross with us. After wandering into the town and having some lunch, Dave went to see Harry the lock-keeper to tell him we were there and get any necessary information. After a very helpful briefing, Harry said we should come down to the tidal lock at about 11 a.m.

Later in the day, we met Peter and Avril on 'Four Winds', who had also been to see Harry and been given 11 o'clock. As the lock takes two boats at a time, we imagined that 'Four Winds' and 'Zindagi' would be the first two in and that the other boats would be given staggered times after that. Gradually the moorings filled up as five of the six boats in our 'convoy' arrived.

Come the morning, we found that ALL of us had been told 11 o'clock! About 10.30 or so, the sixth boat came past us all, heading for the lock. When we told them that Harry had said 11 a.m., they didn't want to know! Result: at 11, all of us were waiting around at the lock, and those who had arrived first had to wait!
'Four Winds' and 'Zindagi' were the second pair of boat through the lock, and we were warned to give the engine high throttle as we faced the tide racing up the Douglas. It seemed as though we were almost standing still (relative to the ground) as we battled the oncoming current at 2000 r.p.m. engine speed – we normally cruise at between 1200 - 1600 r.p.m. !

The snail's pace (with racing engine) continued for quite a while until the river channel widened out a bit, but we could see that Peter and Avril ahead of us were going at about the same speed, and the next pair of boats were not yet in view behind us.

As the River Douglas widened out into an estuary, we were starting to catch up with 'Four Winds' and the warning light and bleeper told us that our engine was overheating a little, so we ran off some hot water from the taps and slowed down to about 1800 r.p.m. The bleeping soon stopped!

As instructed, we were aiming for the buildings across the other side of the Ribble, but it was still quite a surprise when we saw that the first couple of boats were turning right to go up the estuary – we hadn't seen the channel over the mudflats! Then 'Four Winds' turned round the marker lamp and we were next.

Coming to the 'Astland Lamp', we looked left and realised that we were looking right out to sea – could we see the curvature of the earth? It certainly seemed that way. No doubt that this was Zindagi's first taste of salt water! Turning right, we could see the distant skyline of Preston, but we were definitely on the widest body of water of our travels so far.

High tide was roughly at the time we rounded the lamp, so now we began to face the ebb tide down the Ribble but it was nothing like the tide we had faced coming down the Douglas, so our progress to the mouth of the Savick Brook was fairly quick and uneventful. We turned left and north into this little river which has been turned into the actual 'Millennium Ribble Link' from the Ribble to the Lancaster Canal and soon came to the Sea Lock, where the British Waterways guys waved us through. This is more like one of the Thames Barrier gates than a lock, as it rises out of the bed of the river as a flood defence.

One of the problems of using the Savick Brook for the link is that there are existing obstacles along its route. One of these is the road bridge above the Sea Lock, and all six boats had to wait there for nearly an hour until the tide had fallen enough for us to get under the bridge!

After that, we found ourselves threading through a narrow, reed-lined channel – good job that boat traffic on the Link is only one way at a time! Then through five fairly ordinary locks until we came to the 'staircase' flight of three at the top.

In a 'staircase' flight, the top gate of one lock is the bottom gate of the next one up, so you really do change levels fast. The British Waterways guys were there to take us up the staircase, but one interesting quirk was that we had to enter the locks backwards, as the turning basin at the bottom was not very big and had apparently silted up a lot anyway. Harry at Tarleton had told us that the staircase locks were originally intended to be each 60 feet long, but the design had been changed later to make them 70 feet long. Harry's story was that no-one had thought of moving the top lock 30 feet further back to accommodate the extra length, and that is why the bottom basin is so small. Tall story or the truth? Who knows?

Since our wait at the bridge, we had been travelling up the locks with Dave and Dot on 'Olan Pendragon', and here they are, edging in cautiously backwards next to 'Zindagi' in the bottom lock of the staircase. You can see the height of the lock and the rather basic finish to its walls. All the 'Link' locks were constructed the same way.
Finally, then, we reached the top basin and came out onto the Lancaster Canal just after 5.30 p.m., 6½ hours after we met at the lock at Tarleton. Quite an adventure, to be repeated in the other direction on the 20th of August!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dawdling Down The Douglas Valley

As we made our way out of Wigan, we were aware of the little River Douglas running parallel with the canal, looking like little more than a wide ditch. Hard to believe that boats once used to navigate it right up to Wigan! We soon found ourselves in a delightful wooded valley, with the Douglas still alongside. By now it looked like a proper little country river, though it was still difficult to see how boats could ever have used it. Here we are, moored next to Otters Croft Wood near Gathurst.

Contrasts here as well, though, as the M6 soared overhead above the otherwise picturesque paired Dean Locks.

By now, we could see that we had plenty of time in hand before we needed to be in Tarleton to make our crossing of the Ribble Link on 2nd August, so we could simply dawdle along this section of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. We have certainly seen a wide variety of scenery since we joined this canal in Leeds back in early June, but this was Lancashire in unfamiliar guise.

After we went down one more deep lock near Appley Bridge, the countryside started to open out into flat fenland, more like Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire, and with the same patchwork of market gardens and arable crops. Enormous fields of grass, manicured like bowling greens – what could they be? All was clear when we saw the machinery and lorries of companies selling turf!

The stump of Parbold's 1794 windmill continued the fenland impression as we continued westwards, temporarily leaving the Douglas as the canal followed its winding route. We decided to overshoot the turning down the Rufford Arm and travel some of the way towards Liverpool, though not all the way – we had been advised that the canal got weedier further on, and we didn't really have a great appetite to explore a weedy canal as it went deeper into built-up areas!

So, back to the junction, under the towpath bridge and past the old dry dock to start our descent through seven more locks to Tarleton, practically at sea level. In the process, the canal and the Douglas come close again, and the last stretch of the canal into Tarleton is actually the old course of the river.

Meanwhile, the weather (and especially the wind) began to occupy our interest, as we came closer to our Ribble crossing date. Too much westerly wind and the crossing could be cancelled. Just a bit less than that, and we would have choppy water to navigate in the estuary!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Back Down Into Lancashire

So, freshly 'black-bottomed', Zindagi set out over what had become a familiar route from Skipton, up through Gargrave and the Bank Newton locks, through the lovely wild bit there and on up the Greenberfield locks to the 'summit level' and Foulridge Tunnel. We have really loved our time on the stretch of canal from south of Silsden up to this top section, and our visitors seem to have appreciated it too.

We first came up this way on 12th June, and so have spent about 5 weeks or so just coming and going – great! But now it was time to move on; not stopping and turning around this time, but heading through Foulridge and down into industrial Lancashire the other side! We had already been welcomed into Lancashire on the top section, but now we started our gradual descent through the former mill towns on the western side of the Pennines.

Not so much 'loitering' now – we had an appointment to keep as we had booked our passage up the Ribble Link for the 2nd of August and had a few miles to cover in the meantime. Some new territory, including some great views looking north-west to the Forest of Bowland from near Clayton-le-Moors. Again, the character of the canal had changed; here the countryside was bleaker, in a windswept 'moorish' way. Certainly not so many holiday hire boats along this section – perhaps the proximity of the mill towns puts off hire firms from opening bases in this area? We made our way through Burnley, passed the halfway point of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, exactly 63⅝ miles from both Leeds and Liverpool, and came to Blackburn.
You may remember that we ventured up here from Wheelton on 25th March 2007, mainly to turn the boat round, and succeeded in getting stuck as we tried to turn the boat. Coming back through this time, we checked – yes, we HAD tried to turn in the wrong place, so no wonder!

And so we came back, 'full circle' to Wheelton, where Zindagi was fitted out all those months ago. It was good to say hello to some of the team at Classic Narrowboats again; they were so busy that we couldn't moor alongside their yard, so here is Zindagi just across the canal, where we stopped to fill up with water.

Strange to come this way again, down the locks at Wheelton (the first locks we had come through on Zindagi) and on down towards the flight of 23 locks at Wigan. We had been to so many different places and met so many different people since we set out almost exactly 16 months earlier. Our life afloat had been all new to us then – now it feels normal!

Last time we came down the Wigan flight, it had been cold and raining. Now it was bright and sunny, most of the time anyway, and Val seemed to get mild sunstroke! When we reached the bottom, several hours later, we turned right (towards Liverpool) instead of left (towards Leigh and Manchester, as we did last time), and so were on 'new ground' again.

After a day off to recover from the long haul down the locks (and the sunstroke!), our journey took us on past Wigan Pier, where coal used to be unloaded to be taken on the canal to Liverpool for export – how times change! All the old coal staithes are long gone and even some of the modern visitor attractions which replaced them have also closed!