Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Liking Leeds (but nothing permanent)

So we finally made it into the centre of Leeds last Friday, after a 128-mile cruise from the canals start in Liverpool Docks to its conclusion when it meets the Aire & Calder Navigation in Leeds city centre.
Pat really has warmed to the Leeds & Liverpool, and it is certainly very diverse, but I really only enjoyed the Yorkshire stretch to be quite honest, though there were some highlights along the way in Lancashire. One positive aspect has to have been the weather. If it had been wet and rainy going through the Dales, I might be reporting a very different journey.
The last blog stopped at the top of the Bingley Five-Rise. This is a famous set of locks, and one of the several sets of staircase locks on the stretch from Bingley into Leeds. The five-rise is the highest. In simple terms, rather than have individual pounds between the locks, these staircases fill each other. To avoid accidents lock keepers generally patrol. Joining us on our journey into Leeds was Dave and Carolyn from Gloucester who have joined us several times on TCW. They certainly earned their passage. It was a demanding journey in very hot conditions.
Top of the Bingley Five-Rise. Dave is on lock duty.
Pulling away after our journey down the five-rise
Being a bit longer than most boats on this canal I have had to push the stern of the boat right back to the rear gates when descending, to allow the gates at the front to open, and boy did I get wet on the five-rise, much to the crews amusement. Several of these gates are only 2-3 years old, but leaked like sieves.

Standing by to get another soaking as I reverse the boat back to clear the front gates

We stopped in Saltaire, on the outskirts of Shipley. This garden village, designed by industrialist Joseph Salt for his workforce is now a “World Heritage Site”. It was a whirlwind visit, and with no-where to moor we pressed on but the girls found time to get an ice cream in, and I did find a nice pub for a swifty.
The girls inspect the Argie Bargie Ice Cream boat at Saltaire
Our on-board guests finally persuaded me to sign up to a Facebook account which I have now duly done. It’s to keep in touch with my boating and ukulele contacts primarily, so don’t be too surprised if I don’t invite you on. It’s nothing personal.
With Dave and Carolyn sporting "Cat's Whiskers" corporate wear
Leeds City Centre has really smartened itself up, since I was last there. Clarence Dock, now re-named New Dock, is going through a re-generation project, with the anchor building being the Royal Armouries next door. The mooring was free and we had the added attraction of a mains hook-up and a water point. It’s an attractive waterfront, and a few cities who could learn a thing or two from Leeds. Dave & Carolyn took us out to a “Jamie’s Italian” on Friday evening as a thank you. We had not been to any of his restaurants before and were very impressed.
Our mooring in "New Dock" in Leeds City Centre. We are breasted up on the left.
So for the next few days before we get to Sowerby Bridge, we are on rivers and navigations. Big massive locks and little or no boats for miles. We had expected some commercial craft but that all finished last November. We made for Castleford on Monday night where we met up with John and Karen from “Kind Of Blue”. There were in Hertford with us last summer, and we also met them in Rickmansworth and Burton. We had a good old chin wag and John, who is a big blues fan, brought his six string on board for a bit of a soiree.
Today we met a boater whose craft is fully remote controlled. He cruises single-handed and is disabled. He moors up, gets off the boat with his walking stick and his remote control around his neck. Attends to the lock gates, then presses the appropriate button and steers the boat into the lock. He also has a “butty” on the front of his boat, which until recently housed a Vespa scooter and a sidecar, that he used to take his mum out in. Quite a character. The boat is called “Victoria Plum”.
Positioning his boat in the lock beside me, via his remote control
And using it to leave. Note the disable scooter on the back

Victoria Plum (with owner on board)  with the unusual "butty" on the front.
We were going into Wakefield today but stopped a couple of miles short at a place called Stanley Ferry. Now, I’ve had my fair share of carrier bags and other assorted clothes and string wrapped around my propeller, but as we chugged across the aquaduct there, the engine stopped dead. We had picked up a very large quilt cover and the next hour or so was spent cutting it away from the prop while I swore and complained of back ache. God it stunk, and even now, after a long shower I can still smell it. There are feathers everywhere in the engine bay so that’s a job for the morning, before we set off again. I think we will use some disinfectant as well. 
God it stinks down here. Got most of it out when Pat took this.

Wrapped around my propellor today.

Ah, the romance of life afloat.
Toodaloo chums.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

“Off The Rails”

Ask most blokes what their all-time favourite film is and it’s likely to be something in the “Die Hard”, “Star Wars”, “Godfather”, “Goodfellas” style. I don’t think many would choose the 1970 British family film “The Railway Children”, but it’s by far my all-time favourite and I have been quite besotted by it for years. Before the movie there was a series on Children’s TV in 1968 and I must have read the book around then as well.
 I am sure you know the story of the three middle-class Edwardian children, who, with their mother, move from London to a Yorkshire cottage after their father is accused of spying.  At the bottom of their garden is the railway and that’s when their adventures begin. I also brought the soundtrack album, went to see the film the day after its premiere in London’s Leicester Square, and could probably quote most of the films dialogue.
It's all right kids, Iv'e been CPC'd
Now I know this is a boating blog, but stick with me, for a little longer. “The Railway Children” was made in around Haworth in North Yorkshire and featured the Keighley and Worth preserved railway. Ten years ago Pat and I first visited the area and Pat indulged me as we walked “The Railway Children” trail, around Hawarth and Oakworth station, where Bernard Cribbins  played “Perks”, the station porter, and where a lot of the story takes  place.
Well, we are here again. Well, about a mile away, as the Leeds and Liverpool canal runs very close to Keighley, the terminus for the railway and our boating buddies on “Lady Esther”, Dave and Ang’ had not experienced the railway, even though Dave is a bit of steam enthusiast.
About to enter "Jim's" tunnel, where the train had to be flagged down by the children
Just add Jenny Agutter and a lot of steam
All in all, it’s been a railway sort of week. On our last day in Skipton, Dave and I jumped on a train and did the classic railway journey from Settle-Carlisle. I was expecting it to be picturesque, but the scenery in the July sunshine was spectacular, with crowds waving as we crossed the famous viaduct north of Settle. We actually spent more time in various pubs waiting around for trains than we did on the train, but that’s the timetables fault, not ours.
Waiting around for trains is thirsty work
Sporting my new NZ boating hat at Settle station
The famous viaduct
Meanwhile Pat was at the local swimming pool having a sauna and then got me some more pork pies to stash in the freezer. That night I shot along to the Skipton Ukulele Club. A great bunch, who were very funny. It was a playlist from the past, that hovered between 1956-1966, and I really enjoyed meeting and playing with them.
We said goodbye to Skipton on Friday morning and got quite buffeted around by high winds so  stopped short of our planned destination and arrived at the outskirts of Keighley on Saturday afternoon. It was a very wet day on Saturday with overnight storms and thunder and lightning, however Pat slept through it all oblivious to what was going on. On the way I went aground and Dave had to pull me off.
"Lady Esther" races to the rescue when "The Cat's Whiskers" goes aground
Ang and Pat laugh at the rain while on Swingbridge duty

We went on the Keighley and Worth with another couple of boaters from “Daydream”, who pulled up as we were getting ready to leave. Bob and Ang’ are pals of Dave and Ang, so we all went off together. It was a great, sunny day, and we went back and forth on the train and on the open-top bus, that took us “Out on the wiley, windy moors”.
On the old "Southdown" open-top bus
Evidently Wuthering Heights is the clump of trees on the horizon at the centre of the picture (above Bob's head)
Because we are meeting our next guests just two miles down the canal in Bingley, on Wednesday morning, we just enjoyed the sunshine on Monday. I did a bit of touching up on the boat and Pat cleaned from stem to stern. And this morning we made the short journey, stopping at the top of this famous flight of locks. It’s been another scorcher in Yorkshire – about 25 outside and 29 inside the boat, with all the doors open.
This is where we say goodbye to “Lady Esther”, who have just “winded” (turned around) and are heading back towards Wigan. I am sure we will see them soon. Before they left they presented me with this stick, which we will need on the Calder & Hebble canal next week. Evidently you need a wooden implement like this to open the ground paddles on some of the locks! 
Ang presents me with the ceremonial "handspike" before we parted company
And we will begin the blog from Bingley next week as we chronicle our descent into Leeds with another Dave and his good lady Carolyn.

Toodaloo Chums

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Sunny in Skipton

It is often said that travel “broadens the mind”, but doing a lot can make you a bit lethargic. Over the years we’ve done more “far-away places with strange sounding names” than I could throw a boomerang or even a llama at, and I still wake up in the middle of the night remembering the night we were chased through the bush in Zambia by a huge black snake.
So it takes a fair bit to impress us these days, but impressed we certainly are with the bit of North Yorkshire we currently find ourselves in, and in particular with the town of Skipton, which has been our base over the last few days.
Skipton's Canal Basin
Skipton is still getting over its brush with fame, after being one of the towns the recent Tour De France hurtled through and there is still an awful lot of yellow in evidence in shops, hanging from buildings, and fences along with dozens of yellow bikes scattered around the town.

The Tour may have left, but the bikes remain
The journey to Skipton from Barnoldswick on the Lancs/Yorkshire border has to be one of the most attractive sections of any canal in the country. A boat we moored behind in Foulridge told us they were going to stock up with provisions, find a suitable spot en-route, and commune with nature until their grub ran out. We passed them the next day “dreaming the dream” and who could blame them.
It’s been wall-to-wall sunshine up here in Yorkshire, over the last week, though today and yesterday have been a bit cloudy. We have been enjoying temperatures of around 24 degrees, though it looks like the south-east are about to get a dose of 30 degrees plus. Good luck with that.
Skipton is, more or less, the complete package. Good, secure seven-day moorings, lots of excellent pubs, a Spiritualist Church for Pat, a castle and a thriving Ukulele Club for me. It’s a bustling place, with an attractive canal basin, driven by its tourist population. It also seems to be the home of champion pork pies (ummmm) and spam-driven cuisine if the poster in the window I saw today can be believed. I’ve even caught Pat once or twice looking in estate agents windows!
The best pork pie I have ever had. I went back and bought another.

A bit disappointed there was no, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Eggs & Spam
Prior to our arrival we had a few days in the delightful village of Gargrave, about four miles north of Skipton. The plan was to chill out there for the weekend and welcome our guest Caroline, who was over from California, and was coming up for the day on Friday. Unfortunately she was not very well, and as she was flying home the following day, we missed her.
I had been looking forward to visiting Gargrave again as it is a bit special for us. It was here we first met our boating pals Jan and Dai. They owned the boat that Kingfisher Narrowboats built prior to “The Cat’s Whiskers” and we drove all the way up to North Yorkshire to visit them when we were deciding on a boat builder. That was four years ago now. Gosh, don’t time fly.
Our mooring at Gargrave. We are the first boat, you can just see
You can get on the Pennine Way at Gargrave, so there are lots of walkers and cyclists about. It’s a cracking little village, though the butchers and fish shop have closed since we were last here. It still has a post office though, and I finally got around to using the “Poste Resante” system, where you can get packages sent to a nominated Post Office, and pick it up free of charge. Getting things delivered is a bit of an issue when you are continually on the move but this worked really well. I’ll definitely use it again.
The River Aire at Gargrave. We will be joining it in Leeds where it will hopefully be a lot deeper.
I had mentioned a couple of blogs ago that we were both a bit concerned how we would get on being a bit longer than the locks specify on this stretch of the canal. It was fine going up but now its downhill all the way into Leeds. I have to reverse the boat right into the back of the lock, almost touching the gate, and watch out for the overhanging cill. I’ve have had several impromptu showers with leaky gates, which I must admit have been quite refreshing in the summer heat.
I asked a hire boat, who pulled behind me the other day, if he would mind if I went through the first of these descending locks on my own, as I was a bit nervous how the boat would react. His boat was also 60ft long and he told me he had been up and down that flight of locks without any problems. What he failed to understand is that with two 60ft boats in the chamber, side by side, we might not be able to open the gates when we got to the bottom. He then really went into one with Pat and a chap who was helping us.  We were penalising him as he was a hirer etc. It was the first time that we had experienced “Lock Rage”. Pat then swore at him, which didn’t ease the situation. Evidently he is going to report us to the Canal & River Trust for wasting water. “Am I Bovered?”
Our pals from our stay in Liverpool and Lymm on “Lady Esther” pulled up behind us yesterday. Dave and Angela have become good boating buddies, and we get along very well. They left Liverpool a week after us, so have done well to catch us up. I predict lots of drinkies and socialising over the next couple of days as well as musical interludes with Dave on his 12-string and me on my uke. He did suggest we did some busking on the towpath, but insisted that as his instrument has 12 strings and mine only has four, he should be proportionality renumerated! Cheeky bugger.
We are staying here until Friday and then will chug on through Silden and Keighley to Bingley where we are picking up my old neighbours and good friends of TCW, Dave and Carolyn on Wednesday. They are staying on until we cruise into Leeds next weekend. The Bingley Five-Rise staircase beckons. Another feature of the waterways to tick off the list.

Toodaloo Chums

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Bonny Blackburn!

An old boy we met at a rural water point the other day was curious as to my impressions of the Lancashire part of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, when he discovered it was our first time cruising it. “We don’t get that many “foreign” boats up here,” he said.
I fudged a bit, for at the moment this is far from being one of my favourite waterways. “It’s very diverse, isn’t it”, he continued, and his pal, holding a Jack Russell on a lead chimed in. “Ay, it’s right bonny in places”.
Well it’s certainly diverse, and bonny?... well, yes it is, but I would say the best word to describe this waterway is as a canal of “extremes”.
The vista begins to open up as we head from Blackburn to Burnley, last Sunday morning
Like so many of the nation’s canals, the L&L was built to move bulk items to ports and market. This one linked both coasts. Hull in the East and Liverpool in the West. With the canals came the Industrial Revolution, with Lancashire becoming “Cotton Country”, home to the nation’s spinners and weavers and with the Industrial Revolution came the “Dark Satanic Mills”
What remains of that legacy has largely been flattened, with many derelict sites. These sites are protected by razor and barbed wire, leaving you with the impression that you are passing a succession of prison camps or something similar. Some have been turned into retail parks, but how many B&Q’s and Dunhelm Mills can you build? Some buildings were lucky though: they have been restored to their former glory and now operate as housing, or offices or both.
Barbed wire becomes a feature along the towpath as you cruise into Blackburn
This last week has seen us cruise through two of Lancashire’s heavyweights: Blackburn and Burnley. Only 15 miles separates these two titans but they are totally different in their relationship with the canals and their past. While Blackburn seems to have effectively ignored the canal and its heritage, apart from a small wharf (more of that later), Burnley has embraced its past, cleaned up a big stretch of the canal in the town centre, and created “The Weavers Triangle”, with a tourist office and interpretive trails celebrating its links with the cotton trade.
The old tollh ouse, now the offices for the Weavers Triangle, a celebration of Burnley's canal and cotton past
We were not going to stop in Blackburn at all to start with. The word on the cut, and in various boating forums, was of a vandalism problem there and some of the winos who hang around the flight of six locks on the approach to the city, could be confrontational.
The locks were no problem and we soon despatched them. There were a few gents, clutching cans of lager at 9.30am, but they were charming and welcoming. Chugging around a corner we came across Eanam Wharf, complete with its impressive wrought iron canopy, and a boat was just slipping out, so we slipped in. It was quite a find and we got an evening of free power as well. The wharf is mainly offices, but at one end sits a Caribbean bar/restaurant which was very welcoming and said we could use their wi fi signal. Unfortunately they didn’t sell any real ale. Our excursion from there into the city centre left us uninspired. Quite a dull, drab city. Well, that was our impression.
Safely tucked under the canopy at Eanam Wharf, Blackburn
We were also going to give neighboring Burnley a miss as well, but a wide-beam boat that had followed us from Wigan was very complimentary about the place. And as we approached the town centre, there was a similar wharf to Eanam with good mooring, so we stopped there and had our Sunday lunch at Wetherspoons in the town centre. Both of us were impressed at how the town has embraced its older buildings which sit cheek and jowl beside its new ones. The council buildings were impressive and clean, as was the town itself, and the new housing, built alongside the canal, complements the Victorian sheds, mills and warehouses that still line the canal and bring “The Weavers Triangle” to life. We liked Burnley a lot.
Burnley Town Hall, a stone's throw from the canal
There are still very few boats about, considering it is high season now. We are passing one or two a day. On the Grand Union or Trent & Mersey, it would be one or two and hour! There are very few boats moored alongside the towpath and only a handful of marinas.
The summit of the Leeds and Liverpool is at Foulridge, where there is a mile-long tunnel. From here it is all downhill to Leeds, around 30 miles away. Pat and I felt that as soon as we emerged from the tunnel the whole feel of the canal changed. We were still in Lancashire, just, but now the rolling scenery of the Dales stretches out on both sides of the canal - a patchwork of fields, farms and villages, broken up by dry-stone walls and forty shades of green. Sheep and cows graze by the waters edge and as we chug through this pastoral scene, swallows swoop above and around us.
We walk back to the boat from the pub. It's moored below the trees on the left
It may be picturesque round here but it’s a right bugger to get any sort of TV reception in this rolling terrain. We got absolutely nothing when we re-tuned last night and had to listen to the Germany Brazil match on the radio. Frustrating we couldn’t see any of those seven goals Germany tucked away.
This morning we crossed into North Yorkshire and will be in Gargrave tomorrow, a delightful small market town and our base for the next few days for a rest. We are expecting a guest on Friday, arriving by train from London just for the day. We told her she was mad, but she is still coming. Although Carolyn is a Brit, she lives in California and we will be staying with her when we make the road trip from Vancouver to LA next January, so it will be good to see her again.
So this is the farthest north we have ever been and ever likely to be on the boat. From here is south and west again and we are looking forward to our time in “God’s Own Country” over the next few weeks.
Toodaloo chums

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Leaving Of Liverpool

24 done. Only 102 to go
It’s 127 miles from Liverpool to Leeds on the waterways and there are 91 locks along the way. It’s not the longest British canal, but not far off it. We did nearly a quarter of those 91 locks in one day on Monday when we climbed the 21 locks leaving Wigan which sent us soaring 230 feet above the city and off in the direction of Blackburn and Burnley. We had already done another four, on the way there.
But I get a little ahead of myself. On our last day in Liverpool some of our boating pals arrived in the docks and we quickly got our instruments out for a late afternoon soiree. Dave from “Lady Esther” broke out his super 12-string guitar and I added the syncopation with my trusty uke. Our repertoire did not stray much beyond 1975 but we did the city proud by featuring prominently the “Mersey Sound” in our recital. In fact I think we did the whole of the Beatles first album. The wine flowed and we ended up repairing to the local Wetherspoons for a bite to eat in the evening, along with half the pontoon.
Pontoon party in Salthouse Docks

Night time view from the stern of the boat
It took us ages to get out of the city the following morning. We were right at the back of the queue of eight boats making the return passage and it just seemed to drag. It took two hours longer to make the return journey than the passage in. Much of this was to do with the debris everyone was picking up on their props. We fared fairly well and I only had to venture down the weed hatch once. The boat we were teamed with, “Netty Pig”, had to clear there prop six or seven times.
Since then, we have not hung about. I write this from Riley Green, on the outskirts of Blackburn.  Since leaving Liverpool last Thursday we have covered around 60 miles, which, at an average speed of just under 2mph, is not bad going.
The village of Halsall is where they started digging the Leeds & Liverpool canal, and this sculpture recalls the event.
From Wigan to Leeds the locks sizes are shorter. Normally 70 feet long, these ones are 60 feet and with “The Cat’s Whiskers” being 60 feet long it makes for a snug fit I can tell you. It’s not too bad going up. You can stick the stern into the back of the lock and there is a couple of feet spare at the front. I think though, I am going to get very wet when we reach the summit and start coming down in a couple of days. A lot of the gates are leaking, so it’s full waterproofs, whatever the weather.
And talking of the weather, rather amazingly, it’s been very good over the last few days. Better than down south it appears, for we were watching Wimbledon, when it was rained off the other day, while we basked in sunshine in Lancashire.
"Les" helps Pat lock us up the infamous Wigan flight
We had a helper on the Wigan flight. “Les”, a local, has recently retired and is getting his own boat next year when his wife retires. He spends his days helping boats up and down the flight. We certainly needed him. There are some heavy old gates and a lot of winding mechanism is either not working or difficult to operate. If we had gone up with another boat beside us, it would have been much easier, but there seems to be very few boats on the move around here. We could have waited all day for a day to appear. Yesterday was a lock-free day. We travelled around 10 miles and saw two boats on the move all day. Today there are a few more around and we came up a flight of seven locks with a local boat, “Bertie”, without a hitch.
One we did see was this, if you can call it a boat. It’s more of a floating house. Made from old drawers and featuring a piano at the stern, it sits on top of two canoes. The owner drags it along the canal, though he can move it with a paddle, if needed. I am not sure if it’s licensed, but it’s very innovative.
A novel way of taking to the water
This warm weather has brought out the horse flies, and we have both been bitten, but overall we remain in good health. I’ve had a tummy bug, brought on by a duff pint of beer the weekend before last, but I am over that now and thankfully, drinking again.
We cross into Yorkshire in a few days. Ey By Gum.
Toodaloo chums