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.