Wednesday, 28 August 2013

River Ouse, Selby Canal, River Aire, Aire & Calder Navigation. York to Woodlesford

It’s been a bit of a dash across Yorkshire for the last few days. After passing the amazing array of weird and wonderful watercraft moored downstreamfrom York , we arrived at Naburn the day before our tidal crossing was booked. We were joined later by Shambles and Mandakini, plus Chris & Jan on Squeezebox who were all going to be on the tideway with us. The gates were due to be opened at quarter to three in the afternoon, so just like Selby on the way up, we had the morning waiting around, checking and re-checking everything and drinking far more tea than was good for us. This time of course it was a lot more sociable; our little gang had been together for a week or so and we’d all become quite friendly.

By three o’clock a little line of five narrowboats and a  plastic cruiser were out on the river.

For the first hour or so we were pushing the tide, (The lock-keeper lets you out before high tide so that there’s still enough water in the river when you get to Selby to get you over the lock cill.) but after it turned – which happened over a period of about 5 minutes – we started picking up speed. Legend and Shambles were the last two boats in our flotilla,
and as there is only room for two boats at a time through Selby lock we backed off and let the others get well out of sight, that way there’d be time to get it set for us. The GPS was reading 5.9mph as we passed under the swing bridge at Cawood; we’ve never been that fast, ever! 45 minutes later we passing the Hovis flour mills and rounding the final turn before the lock
Doing a right angle turn into a lock from a flowing river is a test of nerves. The theory works like this: you are travelling downstream on the opposite side of the river to the lock. Just before you get there you turn the boat 180 degrees so you are facing upstream. You adjust your speed to that of the water so you are stationary with the back of the boat level with the upstream lock wall. You steer in the flow so that you are about a boat length from the bank, then stay like that till the lock-keeper opens the gates. In our case that was about 10 minutes. When the gates are open you slow down a fraction and turn towards the lock. The current turns the nose and when it just clears the upstream wall you put the power on and go in, watching out for the area of dead water just at the entrance which makes almost everyone bump the wall. Dave had been rehearsing the whole thing in his head ever since we’d left Selby, and it’s fair to say he was a bit hyped up about it. We had slight concerns about Legend’s power capabilities; could she stem the tide enough to hold our position? In the event it was fine. In fact it was bob-on perfect, and we’re very proud of our efforts. As far as power was concerned we were surprised how little we needed to stay still; the 10 minutes we spent stationary were very educational, and stopped us using too many revs when we went for the lock. Arthur went for the alternative method, turned below the lock, then pushed upstream into it and came alongside. It all looked incredibly professional.
Of course there are things you can’t plan for, like a tree coming down the river, or a sudden gust of wind, but we’d be more than happy to do that again and it’s made Salters Lode, a similar set-up between the Bedfordshire Ouse and the Middle Level, a lot less scary.

As we were all moored in Selby basin for the night, Gordon and Helena invited the intrepid gang members aboard Mandakini for Celebratory Drinks & Nibbles. We had a smashing evening swapping stories and laughing a lot. In the morning we all said very emotional goodbyes and we chugged off through the swing bridge and down the still very weedy Selby canal.

We had another night at Beal and in the morning felt an irresistible urge to re-visit the tea room. Just as we got back to the boat Shambles came through the lock so we did the last bit up the River Aire to Knottingly with Arthur behind us. He was turning left down the Knottingly and Goole Canal while we were turning right back on the Aire & Calder Navigation towards Woodlesford, so we had yet more goodbyes, which is when Mandakini turned up. Gordon and Helena were going the same way as us, which turned out to be a wet, windy and choppy voyage through Ferrybridge flood lock and on to Castleford.
On one of the wilder stretches by Ferrybridge Power Station, a big gust took the Chinese Hat off the chimney, and the little lantern off the top of the cratch cover, and dumped them both in the river. Neither of them were physically attached to the boat, which of course they should have been – once again hindsight is the greatest teacher of all; their replacements will be – and it just goes to show that although we might have looked good getting into Selby, we’re not really all that river savvy. Yet.

After such a windy crossing it was nice to get a sheltered mooring at Castleford and we had a very peaceful evening. The next day we were off and back through the big bent Castleford flood lock and up the last bit of open river to Lemoroyd and Woodlesford. Chugging our little boat up the majestic Aire and Calder Navigation is lovely but at the same time a little sad. You go past Alerton Bywater where the National Coal Board HQ was, past the open cast mines and coal wharves, once a hive of heavy mining industry, now nature reserves and bird sanctuaries. Giant coal barges used to make sense of this water way – now little pleasure boats bob about on it like Pooh-sticks. Boating on England’s inland waterways is a glorious thing to do and we love it to bits, but we are careful to remember the heritage of these cuts and navigations. They weren’t built for us.             

River Ouse, River Ure, Ripon Canal. York to Ripon and Back.

It took about 3 hours pushing against the river to get to Linton. When we got there we found a plastic boat tied up to the far end of the rather short lock jetty, its G&T swilling occupants blithely ignoring the “For Lock Operation Only” sign. Due to the strong current sweeping round the bend from the weir we had to come in at a fair lick and we were only going to get one stab at it. As our big steel boat came rather rapidly towards their small fiberglass one, they began to appreciate just how vulnerable their position was, and that not spending £6 for a day on a proper mooring might be about become a rather large false economy. For some reason they all got off. We got it bang on perfect; we kissed the jetty, Ann-Marie stepped daintily off and demurely swung the front rope around a cleat while Dave gave a blast of reverse thrust and we stopped about 4 feet from their very expensive looking stern, parallel to the jetty and with a quarter of our boat still out in the river. They all stood around pretending they hadn't been at all worried and laughing much too loudly. We casually got the hose pipe out, then wandered off to set the lock with the smug air of salty old sea dogs who always land on jetties perfectly.
If they knew the truth they wouldn't have been laughing at all.

Above the lock were some 24hr moorings so we stopped for a while to have lunch and empty the loo then, as it was a nice day, pushed on to Boroughbridge.
Just above the mouth of the River Swale we were caught up by Gordon and Helena on Nb Mandakini so at Milby lock we decided to see if we could get both boats in together. As it’s a river navigation there’s no saving to be made as far as water is concerned; it’s all going that way anyway, but it’s worth the saving in time and effort. Our only concern was length; the official length on the Ure (which is what the Ouse becomes above Linton) is 57’6” although with a beam of 15’ you can get a 60’ narrowboat in easily on the diagonal. Legend is 57’ plus fenders and Mandakini’s a bit longer, so we thought it might be a bit of a squeeze but as it turned out we were fine, we just had to lift our rear fender to get the bottom gate shut.
At the Boroughbridge visitor moorings at the end of Milby cut we were re-united with Evolution. We also met Arthur on Nb Shambles. (For the next week or so Legend, Evolution, Shambles and Mandakini leap-frogged each other all the way up to Ripon and back down to Selby.)
There was heavy rain forecast for the following day, so we decided to stay put. We put our macs on and went for a walk, learning all about the 1322 Battle of Boroughbridge, the Roman town that is now Aldborough and the Devils Arrows along the way.
Before it was bypassed, first by the A1 trunk road then again by the A1M, the bridge at Boroughbridge carried the Great North Road over the Ure. It’s strange to think that a fairly quiet urban B-road was once the main artery of the country, although we suspect there is more traffic on it now than there was in its glory days. For the most-part the rain that was forecast didn’t materialise, at least not where we were, and we came home relatively dry clutching a curd tart from the baker’s in the town. In the afternoon we pushed the boat across the canal to the conveniently placed Canal Garage to fill up with diesel. We put 150 litres in; the last fill up was in Preston in October so the answer to FAQ No.4 is “Not Much.” 

Martin and Yvonne had set off for the Ripon Canal first thing that morning; they rang later on to say they’d got a bit damp boating, but they were safely on the cut when all the accumulated rainfall made its way down the catchment area and sent the river up again. Kim and Luke found us again that evening and came aboard while we watched the weir go from this
to this
and the water rise up to the mooring rings. We looked at the live updates on river levels on the Environment Agency website, and during the night we were monitoring the situation. In the morning it had gone down a bit, but one look at the flow on the river put us off moving till after lunch when it had calmed down somewhat. At about 1pm when we ventured out into the stream we were pushing hard but making headway; 2.2 mph according to the GPS, with some more umph left in the Lister if we really needed it. At Westwick Lock we wondered if it might have been wiser to leave it another couple of hours. Just before we turned the bend into the quarter-mile straight before the lock someone emptied it. The extra water, plus the increased current in a narrow stretch turned the bend into a swirling, foaming cauldron into which we ploughed headlong, sending up a series of spectacular bow waves and reducing our forward momentum to about zero. Dave pushed the Morse all the way and with as much of our 26 horse-power as we could muster, we stalwartly plodded on upstream to the landing stage. Half the landing stage was paddling-pool depth,
but that was pretty good; Mandakini, who’d set off a couple of hours before us, told us that when they got there it had been waist deep, and they were fortunate that there was another boat coming down so they didn’t have to get off. Two miles further on and we were through Oxclose Lock and onto the safe waters of the Ripon Canal.
It’s only a couple of miles long and a dead end to boot, but it’s lovely and before the Millennium Link was made up to the Lancaster Canal, it was the most northerly point you could get to on the system, so it’s a kind of mecca. There are only a handful of moorings, but Martin & Yvonne were already moored up in Ripon and had offered to return the favour and let us go alongside so we knew we’d be ok.
Ripon is lovely. We knew it would be our kind of place; we have this love affair with little cities. Truro and Ely especially, and Ripon didn’t disappoint.
The highlight, as everyone who we met told us, is going along to the cobbled market square at 9pm to hear the Wakeman sound his horn; a tradition that has happened every night for 1100 years.
It’s worth going to see, he does a little routine afterwards and asks everyone where they’re from and tells them all about the tradition, why it started and what it means. As he said, it’s not the same bloke, and not even the same horn - although they do still have the original - but the same place and time. Every night without fail. We found that rather awe inspiring.
We also went to the Spa, now a good old fashioned swimming baths, but with the original Victorian tiling on the exterior and in the entrance hall.
It only took a few lengths and a bit of messing about to remind us just how long it is since we’ve been for a swim – on purpose anyway – and we’ve vowed to try and do that instead whenever we get the urge for a cream tea. It’s not going to happen, we know, but it made us feel better.
After our allotted 48 hours we cast off, turned round in the nicely restored Ripon Canal Basin and headed back towards the river. Our return tidal trip from Naburn to Selby was booked for a the neap tide on the following Thursday, so we had a bit of time to kill meaning short hops and two night stops. The first was just above the well-tended Oxclose Lock before dropping back onto the Ure which, after a few dry days in the Pennines, was now at its lowest level and a whole different ball game.
Calm and gentle with a slight following breeze it gently eased us on our way back to Westwick Lock where the landing stage was now about 2’ out of the water.
Westwick to Boroughbridge was just as uneventful and Legend, along with Mandakini and Shambles, had two nights moored below the towpath rather than above it. It’s amazing how different a river can be from one week to the next or, as we found out at Linton, one moment to the next if you’re not paying attention. Gently drifting down the river towards Linton, Dave got lulled into a false sense of security and distracted by all the other boats and he missed the turning into the lock channel, sending us towards the weir. He had a go at turning round but that was the moment the wind picked up and with plastic boats moored on both sides we didn’t really have enough room. With the weir barrage approaching at an alarming rate he suddenly remembered something he’d read once, straightened up and reversed directly into the wind. Thankfully the theory worked, the wind kept us in a straight line as we backed out of danger, and with slightly elevated heart rates and another chapter in our book of stories to amuse friends in pubs, we turned into the calm waters of the lock channel.  We had a little wander around, looked at the village, looked at the jetty below the lock and got rained on; usual boaty stuff. Later on Arthur turned up and as there was no more spaces on the moorings we pulled Shambles alongside for the night.

The next morning we left the boats breasted up; Ann-Marie and Arthur worked the lock while Dave brought the pair through together, then we set off to York, Shambles leading with Legend behind. With a bit of shuffling there was just enough room for both boats at the Museum Gardens. It felt like being back home.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

River Aire, Selby Canal, River Ouse. Beal Lock to York.

Although we didn’t realise it at the time, our trip from Beal Lock to West Haddlesey was particularly uneventful. We casually cruised down the river with no commotion whatsoever,
turned into the open flood lock at the start of the Selby Canal,
gently moored up on the floating pontoon and naively presumed it was always thus.
Martin and Yvonne on NB Evolution, who we met at Castleford and who have considerably more boating experience, did the same journey the following morning and arrived at West Haddlesey shortly after we left. We met them again at Selby and their journey had been the exact opposite. They told an alarming tale of rising water, strong currents and wind pinning them to lock moorings. We’re rapidly learning about the unpredictable nature of rivers and it’s certainly making life exciting, if a little tricky to organise.

We, dear reader, also have a tale of the riverbank. We went for a walk back to Beal to recover our car. The footpath marked on the map alongside the Aire beckoned, and for a fair way - despite being overgrown and unused - it was quite delightful, offering views of several power stations and some very entertaining water-skiing.
It was all going very well right up until we met the bull. Not just any bull. No, this one had a bevy of lady-cows to show off to and all his offspring to be a role model for. We saw him just as he saw us. He got up. He had a ring through his nose. He had horns. And he was swinging things that wouldn’t have fitted in a builder’s bucket. As we made a hasty retreat he was nudging his heirs and mistresses out of the way, no doubt to spare them the sight of the bloody mayhem he had in mind. After about 200 yards it was apparent that he’d decided, on this occasion, not to gore us to death so we slowed to a rapid, panicky walk and started breathing again. Retracing our steps and taking the long way round involved passing - or more accurately, not passing - a lovely tea room.
We think we ought to write to the farmer and, rather than complain about a bull on a footpath, thank him for a delicious cream tea.

So far our boating plans have more or less held up. Karen and Andrew duly arrived at West Haddlesey and moved aboard for a week. The following afternoon we boated the entire length of the Selby Canal - all five duck-weed filled miles of it
went through the swing bridge and moored up in Selby Basin ready for our booking through the tidal lock, onto the rather scary looking River Ouse. We arrived just in time to watch a narrowboat leave the lock and head upstream which, as the tide was coming in, was with the current. It looked fast. Karen introduced us to Geocaching, which seemed like fun; poking around under bushes and frisking a telephone kiosk certainly took our minds off the whole tidal malarkey for a bit. We did find two tiny ones and were suitably pleased with ourselves.

The following day our booking was at 11:30. We had a fidgety morning getting ourselves and the boat ready, only to be told that due to flooding upstream it would be unadvisable for us to go. We had a swift pow-wow, then abandoned ship and went to York via the park and ride. Trains, beer, a look at the moorings (which really were underwater)
and into ‘Spoons for dinner. Decent enough afternoon.

It was the same story the next day; the moorings at Naburn were still under water, but tomorrow looked hopeful. Being apprehensive and fidgety had worn off; we were now bored and restless. Selby Canal Basin, for all its charm, does not appear on anyone’s top ten holiday destinations. Karen and Andrew went off to spend some time with a friend in Malton, while we vegged out in front of a film. After that Dave went to Anne’s for post and a prescription while Ann-Marie spent the evening aboard Evolution, making friends with Martin and Yvonne.

By 1:30 on Wednesday there was a little reception committee to meet the lock keeper when he came on duty. By now there were nine boats in the basin waiting to go through and we’d all had a butchers at the river which, compared to recent days was now on a neap tide and looked like a mill-pond. After a phone call to Naburn, and to a hearty cheer, he gave us the thumbs up. We went in first with Coramanda, with Evolution and Juliana penning down behind us. Leaving a trail of duckweed in our wake and all up the sides of the lock we finally ventured forth onto the Tidal Yorkshire Ouse. After our exciting but brief departure from Selby the rest of the journey was a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. With our little Lister plodding away Coramanda was soon out of sight and apart from the odd land mark we couldn’t see much but muddy banks and trees, which after 3 hours became a bit samey. The weir and lock at Naburn were a welcome sight and in no time we were through and on our way, mooring in York at about 6:30. Just in time for tea. Even in the rain, arriving in York by boat is spectacular;
indeed, a waterborne arrival in any city built around its river gives you a first class front row seat in an architectural showcase. Sometimes you have to look beyond the abandoned wharves and warehousing to see the splendour that once was, but not here. York is splendid and the visitor moorings outside the Museum Gardens are perfectly placed to take full advantage of it.

We slotted into a perfect Legend sized gap among the cruisers and the café boat; in the morning when Martin and Yvonne arrived they brought Evolution alongside.
Evolution is a reverse layout and none of our windows overlap, so it was ideal. With our tourist hats on we wandered into York and walked around the City Walls,
then came back to the boat to meet Karen and Andrew, who’d come back from Malton. In the afternoon we set off again, this time armed with a fabulous book called “The Snickleways of York”, which beautifully leads the reader along a three and-a-half mile wiggly windy walk through all the little secret alleyways that criss-cross the city.
Due to stopping every ten minutes to read something, we only got half of it done before it was time to go back to the boat for a barbeque. In the evening we sat around on the river bank watching the water level get gradually higher up the brick-work, as big bits if tree came past us. We finished the Snickleways walk the next morning then, after an afternoon spent mostly avoiding showers, interspaced with slackening the mooring ropes as the river rose still further, went to Ye Olde Starre Innee for dinner. Kim and Luke, who were on holiday in a cottage nearby, came and joined us later in the evening and we all went on a guided Ghost Walk. It was quite historically informative, which was good, but not particularly scary. The Guy Fawkes-a-like guide had to cut the walk short due to a rather abrupt thunderstorm, but Dave got a good heckle in, so that made up for it.

The next day was Saturday, Martin and Yvonne left in the morning, which turned out to be a wise move; York on a Saturday night is a bit lively and the river was still going up. We had a choreographed succession of guests; Karen and Andrew left, then ten minutes later John and Gill turned up and took us out for a delicious lunch in a converted church. No sooner had they departed than Kim and Luke returned. They accepted an invitation to stay for tea and Ann-Marie casually produced an impromptu roast dinner for four, which, it has to be said, is quite a feat in our tiny galley.

During the night the water level receded, so with the forecast for rain later we set off for Linton and Boroughbridge first thing on Sunday morning.

Gloucester and Sharpness. River Severn. Saul Junction to Stourbridge.

Bake Off is back on the telly! We haven ’t go a telly, but we do like to keep one or two things downloaded on the ipad. We also like to hav...