Tuesday 5 October 2021

Chesterfield Canal. West Stockwith to Shireoaks.

    As soon as a space became available we pulled off the pontoon at West Stockwith and tied Legend to the visitor mooring rings in the basin. 

   For one thing, it’s easier to get to all our roof –tat when we’re moored side on but, more importantly, climbing in and out of the boat through Dave’s ridiculously cluttered engine ‘ole is always a risky endeavour and best avoided where possible.

   After that we walked back along the riverbank to Gainsborough to collect our car. Even with a stop to pick hazelnuts on the way, it still took far less time on foot than punching the tide had done the previous day.

Gainsborough riverbank from the bridge.

The high wharves and the empty wharehouses are the only reminders that this used to be a busy inland port.

   We were quite taken with Gainsborough, the Old Hall is very impressive...

 ...and we had coffee in the really friendly All Saint's Parish church café before driving back to Legend for lunch. In the afternoon we took the car forward to Gringley-on-the-hill and came back along the towpath, mixing our walk with some running. We’ve decided to have a go at Couch to 5K and we reckon if we do it together we’ll be able get somewhere. Ann-Marie hasn’t run since she left school, so she’s got a huge hill to climb. Dave used to run when he was in the RAF, and did a bit more a few years ago after Chloe ran the London Marathon, but he probably did too much too soon (really? Who’d have thought?) and had to stop when his knee started hurting. Couch to 5k starts off very gently with alternate 60 second runs and 90 second walks in week one, gradually building over 9 weeks. We’re feeling better already and we’re rather proud of ourselves. Time will tell, but it’s going ok so far.

   Next day we left the basin and set off towards the other end of the canal.

Leaving West Stockwith Basin.

   Of course in its heyday, the other end used to be Chesterfield, but after the collapse of the Norwood Tunnel in 1907 boats have only been able to get to the eastern portal. The very busy and very enthusiastic Chesterfield Canal Trust have made great progress in reconnecting the two parts of the canal, and plans are in place to get round the collapsed tunnel, so maybe at some point boats will be able to get all the way to Chesterfield again, but for now the navigable limit is Kiveton. Except for us it isn’t. Unfortunately for us the navigable limit is the Shireoaks Marina entrance; the last place we can turn round before a broken lock at Turnerwood. Sadly CRT aren’t going to do a temporary repair because that particular lock is due for replacement during this year’s winter works programme so it’s going to stay shut until December, by which time we’ll be long gone. It's perfectly understandable but we’re really disappointed; the flight of locks up through Turnerwood and Thorpe is one of the prettiest on the network and we’ve really been looking forward to taking Legend up there. Also, five years ago, our first taste of volunteering with WRG was the Bonfire Bash at the eastern tunnel approach. We’d promised ourselves at the time that one day we’d bring our boat up there and reverse up to the portal, so it’s a bit gutting to get so tantalisingly close.

   Never mind, it still leaves a decent amount of canal to chug along for our visit this time, and we’ll just have to come back again at some point to get up to the end.

   ‘The Chezzy’, as it’s fondly referred to, is notorious for being shallow, narrow and weedy, so we were prepared for some slow boating.

The first of many weed clearance jobs.

 Finding that a top ground paddle had been left open all night on the second lock we came to at Misterton didn’t help matters...

Misterton Lock
...we were a good eight inches down and ploughing the muddy bottom for about two and a half miles towards the next lock.

We gave up when it started raining and moored on some handy bollards at Wooden Beck culvert. After lunch the sun came out and we decided to stay put for the night in the hope that the pound would fill up again by the morning. It was such a lovely mooring that we stayed for two nights. While we were there, Dave got some of our accumulated firewood cut up and stashed in the log box, ready for when we start lighting the fire, and we took our Kia for and MOT, which it failed. We need new brake discs and pads, which Dave can sort out, and also new lower suspension arms, which he can’t, so Halfords are going to get the job. The MOT was in Chesterfield, (we got it free, but had to book it months ago and Chesterfield was central-ish to where we thought we might be at the time.) so while it was being done we walked across the town to Tapton Lock at the beginning of the canal where it leaves the River Rother.

One of the spill wiers where the Chesterfield Canal leaves the River Rother.

The flood lock at the start of the navigation.

A quick coffee at Tapton lock café and visitor centre.

Unmistakeably Chesterfield.

 Before we left Chesterfield, we picked up the discs and pads so that Dave could get on with them as soon as we found somewhere suitable.

The next morning we drove out to Ollerton for our flu jabs, then to the beautiful Clumber Park for a picnic. We walked through the grounds of the long demolished stately home, and were stunned by the amazing walled garden...

Clumner Park lake.

The entrance to the Walled Garden.

Cordoned apples and 130 varietiesof rhubarb. Crumble anyone?

...with its vast glasshouse and its fabulous National Rhubarb Collection, with no fewer than 130 different varieties. We’d always thought rhubarb was rhubarb. Who knew? 

There was a little produce stall with a donations tin, so we came home with some Raspberries, some apples, and a huge 2 foot long yellow courgette, which we then had to carry 2 miles back to the car.

What a Whopper!

Back at the boat, we had a late lunch then set off for some lovely early evening boating to Drakeholes where there’s a layby right next to the moorings so it’s perfect for mechanicing.

Lockgate cobwebs in the sunshine.

The well looked after and very conveinient Drakeholes Mooring.

   The little Drakeholes tunnel is only a couple of hundred yards long, the lower parts of the walls are sandstone, while the roof is very tidy brickwork and it’s really dry in there, making it an ideal environment for bats. As we boated thorough we were thrilled to be joined by a little bat flying along with the boat, at one point it was flitting about between us at the back.

In the morning Dave was out early working on the car while Ann-Marie had a clean through the boat.

The first of four brake disc and pad replacements.

Before. Still plenty of thicknes, but the test machine recorded too much fluctuation.
After. New disc, new pads and cleaned up caliper. Dave managed to resist spraying it red and writing "Brembo" on it.

   We had our lunch out on the picnic tables taking advantage of the Indian summer sunshine. The weather at the end of September in 2021 was really warm and sunny; we knew it wouldn’t last for long, so we were having our meals outside as often as we could. In the afternoon we drove to Hayton Low Bridge where we left the car, before walking back through Clayworth with a visit to St Peter’s church to see the Traquair Murals.

   When we parked up we noticed that one of the new pads was binding, so that’s got to be looked at before we take it back in for a retest next week.

That evening Dave made a stash of Ash and Hawthorn at the next bridge ready for collection when we went through in the morning. The wind picked up as we set off and it was quite a breezy day in the end. We collected the firewood stash and carried on towards Hayton, trying to juggle between going slow enough to not dig the back end into the mud, and keeping enough forward motion to not be blown sideways. It didn’t help when we met Nb Green Man on a bend...

Nb Green Man. The first moving boat we'd seen for days.

...but with a bit of reversing from both boats and a good deal of arm waving, we managed to pass each other without touching. At Clayworth a big gust came between the houses and blew our little propagator off the roof into the water...

...but happily Ann-Marie went back with a boat hook and managed to retrieve it while we were stopped at Clayworth services.
The former pub at Clayworth, now the Retford and Worksop Baot Club HQ and mooring site.

   It was put back on the roof and strapped down to prevent any more bids for freedom then, after filling up and emptying out, we carried on to Hayton.
A family of swans. Spot the stowaway Canada Goose.

   The pretty little visitor mooring at Hayton is only big enough for one boat, but we were fairly sure that having passed Nb Green Man, there were now only two moving boats ahead of us, so it was a safe bet that the mooring would be empty. And indeed it was.
Hayton Low Bridge. Another beautifully looked after visitor mooring.

   As soon as we tied up Dave had the offending brake in bits and freed off the seized calliper, then we drove off to the other side of Retford and parked at the top of Forest Locks before walking back through the River Idle Nature Reserve. There was a slight detour when we found (not for the first time) that the two ends of the footpath we were following weren’t joined together with a footbridge over the river. It’s often the case that what is not printed on a map is just
 as, if not more, important than what is.

After an active morning with wood chopping and running before breakfast, we had a lovely time boating through Retford, pausing under an overhanging willow to do a bit of trimming. Most of the time, if a tree is reducing visibility or threatening to swipe stuff off our roof, we just snap off a couple of twigs or little branches as we pass. This one was a bit more serious so we stopped the boat under it while we deployed the big loppers and emerged from the other side with a big pile of foliage on the back deck.

   The last wide lock on the Chezzy is the beautifully named Whitsunday Pie lock in Retford. From there all the way to Chesterfield the locks are all narrow gauge. We haven’t been able to find a definitive reason for this; there are only six locks on the wide gauge section and fifty-nine plus a couple of tunnels from there to the end, so cost must have been top of the list, but why build the first six to a wide gauge? Cargoes of coal, bricks and limestone from the hills above Worksop and Chesterfield, were carried in double ended narrowboats known as Cuckoos, (which remained horse drawn right up until the closure of the canal in 1961) and transhipped into Humber Keels at West Stockwith basin. THIS is a wonderful history of life on a Humber Keel and makes fascinating reading.

Talking of Limestone, it wasn't all used in the blast furnaces. After the Houses of Parliament burnt down in 1834, a national survey of quarries was carried out to find a suitable stone for rebuilding, and the sand coloured limestone found at Anston quarry, about a mile north of the canal's summit, was chosen for the job. It’s interesting to think that the Palace of Westminster started off as 500,000 cubic feet of bedrock in Yorkshire. The vacant space now contains a very nice private housing development.

We stopped briefly by the park in Retford for a run ashore...

...then carried on up the narrow locks following a little river cruiser on their first trip. 

West Retford lock. they're all narroow from here on. 

Coming up to Forest Bottom lock

   We stopped at Forest top lock for the services then found a spot on the Armco where the water was just deep enough to float our boat. It was a bit late for a car move, so we just did a quick reccé of possible mooring spots before parking back at Forest Lock.

Our next hop took us to Osberton Park, a huge, very horsey, private estate.

A lovely setting for a lock near Scofton on the very posh Osberton Estate.

A floating reed island full of dabbling ducks.

   On the way we went through Ranby by the side of the A1 and passed under another of Dave’s often driven-over bridges. He still gets a secret thrill every time that happens. We had thought we’d find somewhere to park the car in Scofton, a little village on the estate, but all the access roads had big, severe looking key-coded security gates, so we had to be content with just boating through there instead. We found a very nice bit of Armco to tie up to...

...then walked back to Ranby where we’d left the car. We drove it forward, parked in Shireoaks and walked back to Worksop where
Dave’s nephew Richard and his lovely family had just moved into their new house. They’d invited us for tea and had a new Labrador puppy called Artemis to see, and we were really honoured to be their first guests. New house, new bedrooms, new puppy, new school; it was all terribly exciting. We had a really lovely evening; the kids had grown so much since we last saw them. Dusk was falling when we left, but we’d remembered to bring torches so the evening walk back to Legend was quite pleasant.

Next morning we had an early start boating into Worksop.

 Just outside Worksop is this railway bridge, apparently held up with chewing gum and string.

 We arrived with a batches of freshly baked goodies just in time for Richard, Kathryn and their kids to climb aboard for a trip up the locks. They’d had to leave Artemis at home as she wasn’t old enough to go outside yet, so they couldn’t stop for long, but we managed to get a few locks done before stopping to make quick work of Ann-Marie’s splendid lunch. We waved them off with a promise to see them again on our way back, then carried on up the last of the locks (passing under the A57, another of Dave’s bridges) before mooring up just after the marina entrance at Shireoaks. We decided to have a week there; there were lots of places to explore and we wanted to go over the tunnel and have a wander down the remains of the canal on the other side, so for the first time for ages we made ourselves at home and even put our little bird table up.


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