Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Robin & Rhubarb

Pat tries out her new "Hebble Stick". Shame it's upside down.
I think it’s fair to say that the last few days have not only been very demanding, but quite stressful for us both. From the day we slipped out of Mercia Marina at the end of April, we have both been worried about The Calder & Hebble Waterway, a mixture of river and canal navigation that has 27 locks, 57ft 6in long. The ones on the Leeds and Liverpool were a bit of faff, but here we are really “pushing the envelope” with a boat that is an inch short of 60ft.  We also soon found out that some of these locks are shorter than others and our fear still is that we will get to the end of the waterway and find we cannot get any further and have to turn around and backtrack on the Leeds and Liverpool, a distance around 90 miles. Also coming back down the locks would  be more hazardous than going up. There is only one other usuable route over the Penines, that we can take. The Huddersfield is too short at its northern end, so we would have to go back to Leeds.
To cruise this waterway you need a “Hebble Stick”, see picture. Our boating pals Dave and Ang on “Lady Esther” donated a bit of wood they insisted would do the job for opening the paddles on some of the locks, but Pat splashed out £14 and bought a proper one, when she saw one for sale in Leeds.
Ahhh. Not that's better
Everyone we have met along the way that has cruised this waterway, has had a different opinion of how we should cope with it. Most of them have had boats shorter than ours, and most said we would have no problem. Well they were partly right and partly wrong We have squeezed into some pretty tight spaces over the last few days, and along the way I have had to take my rear fender off or we would have never got in one of them. On some there is ample room to shut the gates behind us, on some there is about a fingertip in it. OK, enough self-pity. We knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we planned our northern excursion.
This waterway takes us meandering in and around the “Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle”. I knew something about this, but its real big business in West Yorkshire - a nine-mile triangle, stretching between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, that has international recognition and standing. The early forced rhubarb is grown indoors, and when I was having a drink in a pub near Wakefield, a chap leaning on the bar told me that the rhubarb liked to be picked in candlelight. “Yeah, all right”, I thought, but I checked with Wikipedia and they confirmed it’s true. So its sort of right.
Rhubarb statue in Wakefield
You don’t see much evidence of this rhubarb mountain from the waterways, but we came across this statue in Wakefield and they make a big noise about it in the spring with Rhubarb festivals and the like in all the towns.
Growing by candlelight
We have also discovered why there are so many pubs called “The Robin Hood” around here. Just down the road at Kirklees Priory is supposed to be where Robin is buried along with his mate Little John. You can just about see it from the waterway through the trees. Records show that Robin of Huntingdon was bled to death by the Abbess there. Some welcome! The graves date from the late 12 hundreds. I always thought Robin was a made-up character, part Richard Green, part Errol Flynn and a little bit Kevin Cosner - now I’m not so sure.
Robin Hood's grave down the road
We spent the weekend in the little town of Mirfield, a few miles from Huddersfield. It’s the birthplace of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and three people thought I should know this fact as we shopped and went about our business there.
On Saturday we caught a bus into Huddersfield and met up with Ian and Irene, on “Free Spririt”, who had come up the Huddersfield Canal (their boat is only 57 feet) and were moored in the basin there. Good to see them again and Ian looking so well. We had a good old catch-up in one of the Wetherspoons in the city centre and went back to the boat later for tea. I suspect we will cruise with them for a while when we get on the Rochdale Canal towards the end of this week.

Another day, another Wetherspoons
Mirfield was a nice little place but we had big problems getting a wi-fi signal there, so I could not research any of the pubs in the area to see how they fared in offering Sunday lunches. We took a punt and really came up trumps. The White Stag on the High Street did us proud. Here’s a shot of our deserts.

Pat's creme brule
Every night, since we have had the boat, I have put up a traditional TV aerial. Up goes two poles and the top bit. I then get the compass out, and find the local transmitter. It’s a lot of messing around. I’ve seen the squat digital ones but heard they were not that good. In a lock last week the boat we were sharing with was raving about his little roof top aerial and leant it to us. Blow me down we got a fabulous reception. So we found the nearest Maplins and bought one. Fourteen quid well spent, and so far it has been far better than our traditional aerial, and it doesn’t blow around.
Our new TV aerial
Our next overnight stop was Brighouse, pronounced round her Brigass. Nice town, though I was half expecting brass band music to be pumping out of the pub jukeboxes, such is the fame of their town band. Remember “The Floral Dance”. At Elland on Tuesday night we moored outside “The Barge & Barrel”, which has its own brewery. Possibly the best beer I have had since in Yorkshire. It was superb.
All being well (fingers crossed) we will be off this waterway by Thursday and enter the Rochdale Canal at Sowerby Bridge. Before then we have a flight of locks, close to Halifax, which we know are going to be very tight. Might have to get a tub of margarine out. Somebody even suggested we made the journey first thing in the morning as the boat might expand by a few centimetres in the summer sun. What we can expect is a lot of rain over the next few days, which would be far more typical of Yorkshire than the warm, sunny days we have mostly had over the past few weeks.
I may be glad when we get off the C& H, but it's still very attractive. This is just past Brighouse.

Toodaloo chums

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