Monday 17 July 2023

Aire and Calder Navigation. Wakefield to Goole.

A couple of years ago, much like the rest of the population, we’d not really thought of Goole as a destination, yet here we were heading that way for the second time. The reason we were returning was that we wanted somewhere to leave the boat while we went to France for a fortnight and Goole ticked all our boxes. As it turned out, one or two of those boxes shouldn’t have been ticked at all, but more about that later.

From Wakefield we had a lovely sunny trip on the big, wide Aire & Calder Navigation to Castleford, passing the wonderful aqueducts and lock gate workshops at Stanley Ferry, and loving the huge push button locks on this modern commercial waterway.







Sadly, as far as we can tell, the only vessel still plying these waters
 for profit is the Exol Pride, a rapeseed oil tanker that does regular runs from Goole to Doncaster. The last time we were up here a fleet of gravel barges were still working between dredging sites in the Humber estuary and Leeds, but we spotted two of them looking quite smart and restored on a private mooring near Pollington...

...and the other one, (looking decidedly not very smart), was for sale in Goole.

In a way it is sad that freight is no longer transported by water, but what a different world it would be if it was. The A&C is indeed a magnificent, easy route to navigate, but a quick glance up at one of the M62 bridges gives you some idea of just how inadequate it would be for transporting the sheer mind boggling volume of everything that trucks move around every day. If it hadn’t been for the move from canals to rail and road at the precise time that it happened - freezing the network in time - English canals, with all their unique, fascinating gorgeousness, would all have been widened, straightened and modernised. Narrowboats, and everything associated with them, would have no place in that world.

After two nights at Castleford, we’d moved the car to Ferrybridge and walked back through Fairburn Ings, which not that long ago was a huge open cast colliery, and is now maturing into a lovely Nature Reserve.

Moored on the old loading wharf by the coal shute in Castleford.

Dawn in Castleford

Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve


We’d also cycled out to Junction 32 Shopping Outlet, not our usual habitat, but it had a Grapetree shop and we’re hooked on their muesli base.

From there we went down Bulholme lock onto the big river section, passing the disused colliery loading basins and the massive Ferrybridge power station site.



All the iconic cooling towers have now been demolished, along with the Tom Pudding unloading gantry. Time does indeed move on.

At Ferrybridge we moored just after the open flood lock, opposite some industrial units, one of which had a very loud extractor fan whining away, but by the time we’d moved the car to Whitely lock, cycled back along a very overgrown towpath and been into Knottingley for supplies, it was nearly teatime and they thankfully switched it off. That evening Dave set up our automatic plant watering system for when we’re away and we had our first barbecue of the year.

In the morning the whining extractor fan (there’s a joke in there somewhere) started up again at 6am. We left.

Just after Knottingley, with breakfast on the back deck, we turned right onto the Knottingley and Goole Canal...

The junction in Knottingley, to the left is the river Aire to Selby, York and Ripon.

...and spent a lovely morning boating to Pollington, where we moored up just below the lock.


From there we had one night at Rawcliffe Bridge, before the final leg into Goole.

We’d booked the car into a garage in Goole the next morning for 2 new tyres and wheel alignment, so before we left Rawcliffe Bridge we drove in and dropped it off. While we were walking back, the garage phoned to say that the track rod ends were seized and would need replacing. £130 but they could do it that day. Ho hum.

There was a big barge on the water tap at Goole when we got there, so we pulled up on the pub moorings where we could get to the elsan and the bins, and then made our way over to the other side to the unrestricted moorings. The garage rang again with more bad news; they’d fitted the tyres and replaced one track rod end, but they couldn’t finish it that day because they still couldn’t budge the other side and need to get hold of another part for it. We needed it to go to the airport the next day, so we took it as it was and arranged to bring it back when we returned from France in two weeks. Compared to some of our dealings with garages over the past few years, Wilco in Goole were excellent. They kept us informed at every step and were polite, friendly and professional.

That afternoon we went through our usual routine of packing up a month’s worth of stuff for two weeks away, then eating an “interesting” dinner of everything left in the fridge. Yummy.

In the morning we packed the car, and then drove into Goole for parkrun.


Ann-Marie was volunteering which meant staying till the end, so as soon as Dave finished, (26:00. New PB!) he zipped back to the boat for a shower, then locked it all up and went to pick Ann-Marie up, before we headed off to Birmingham airport.

On the way we stopped at Hatton Locks Café for lunch with Mum and Dad who were at a car club rally nearby.



It was really busy there and they created quite a stir arriving in their red Lomax kit car. It was great to see them, and so good that they're still getting out and about in it.

With airport parking costing an arm and a cliché, we decided on an alternative approach and drove to Marston Green which is one train station away from the airport and where we found an ideal parking spot on the road. Over the years we’ve become quite good at finding places where an unremarkable hatchback can go un-noticed for a couple of weeks. The gold standard in our book is a not too quiet street in leafy suburbia, not right outside or opposite anyone’s house, but overlooked by several, with street lighting, but not directly under a lamp-post. And if we can combine all that with a church, then so much the better.  Dave was very happy with Marston Green, however Ann-Marie was slightly hesitant because of the notices on the lamp posts, proclaiming the closure of the road we were parked on for a couple of hours the following weekend for a Scout and Guide parade, and she had visions of our car being run over by a carnival float. However, £4 each for an open return to BHX rather than £150 for two weeks with APH swung the deal, and we waved goodbye to our long suffering Picasso before we trundled our equally long suffering suitcase off to the train station.  

We make no bones about it – we’re not fans of Ryanair. We do very much get budget airlines. We get the stringent baggage policies and we get the no pampering attitudes. However, purposefully splitting couples up on a half empty plane in order to make them pay extra to sit next to each other we think is immoral and we’ve boycotted them since they started doing it. Sometimes though, principals get compromised, (we are - after all – suckers for a yellow sticker) and so we flew to Bordeaux at opposite ends of the plane, wearing all our holiday clothes, with our (very) small cabin bags between our feet, reading our (thin) books and trying to convince ourselves that we usually spend more time together than is strictly necessary.

We should have watched this.

We landed about 9pm and had a fairly slick exit out to a rainy Bordeaux, where Frankie scooped us up and whisked us back to Jussas.

We had a fabulous fortnight away. The Brookes/Griffiths household was as accommodating as ever and the weather was glorious. There were afternoons in the pool, days out to Bordeaux and Blaye, and a market and coffee day in Montendre. We had long, drawn out family meals outside, Sunday breakfast pastries from the local boulangerie that we collected in Harry’s 2cv, and lots of time with Thibault and Axelle, who are growing up so fast!




It wasn’t all lounging around and eating though, we mucked in with the jobs as well; the vegetable garden fence and gate got pulled up, re-located and improved, making the kid’s play area bigger, some grass cutting and veg weeding took place and Dave spent a h
ot afternoon spraying the vines. We also helped in a combined effort to extract and replace a big beam under the swimming pool deck.

Half way through our stay, Thibault had his School Spectacle; a sort of gala performance by all the local schools, followed by outdoor games and lunch under the trees. He was very nervous about getting up on stage, but he did it anyway - several times - which we thought was incredibly brave.




At the picnic afterwards it was lovely to see him chatting away in perfect French to all his school friends.

Jacqui and Ali drove down to join us for a couple of days in the second week, staying in their little VW Caddy micro camper, and James, another friend from our 2cv days, popped in with a clutch problem in his motorhome, so there was lots of catching up to do round the dinner table and Dave managed to get mucky in the garage, helping with the gearbox removal.

A day out in Blaye with Jacqui and Al.

The boys in the workshop.

And then it was all over. We had another late flight back, which was then delayed, which meant we got back to Birmingham after midnight and the last train was long gone. We were well aware that that was a possibility, and although the train would have been preferable, the car was only a 25 minute trundle away. On the way, we found a passport lying on the pavement and a quick look through it revealed an ICE address nearby. Happily there was no evidence of any carnival float/Picasso interaction, so we dropped the passport off, and then with our good deed done we drove back to the boat.

We arrived back in Goole at 3am. There were a couple of other boats moored up nearby and at first we thought everything was fine, but then we noticed that our big solar panel had been cut from the roof and stolen, and further investigation revealed that one of our gas bottles had gone as well, along with the regulator, leaving us with an empty bottle and a severed hose. Clearly, Dave’s hasty locking up procedure hadn’t been as thorough as it should have been.

We also discovered that our boat keys were missing, and although we think that is possibly unrelated and we’ve just misplaced them, it still made us feel very uneasy.

When you’re confronted with the actions of horrible people it can easily make you hate humanity - and for a while it did - but over the next 24 hours our faith was restored. Brian very kindly offered to bring us a couple of partial gas bottles and a regulator, so we met him in Holmfirth where we did a swift tranship in the carpark, bought him dinner in the pub, and had the gas back on that evening. Dave found an ex solar-farm panel dealer in Bolton, so after taking the car back in for the other track rod and moving the boat back out to Rawcliffe Bridge, we drove over there and picked up a perfect replacement.

We’ve learned a few things; “Don’t be complacent” being the biggest one. We had hasps and staples on the solar panels, but the padlocks had been put to use elsewhere and never replaced. We’d also got a bicycle lock for securing the gas bottles together in the front locker, but that had been commandeered for locking the paddleboards to the roof - and again - never put back. Yes, it would have been fairly easy for the thieves to defeat both of those with bolt croppers, but stuff that was locked up wasn’t touched, leading us to believe that it was an opportunist attack which could have been defeated by a few simple measures on our part - measures that we’d already put in place, but had got out of the habit of using.

On the plus side, we’ve learned that with the big one gone, our smaller solar panel wasn’t contributing anything. A bit of investigation found a faulty isolator, so we’ve changed that and we’re now running at full power again.

The missing keys are annoying as we’ve now got to change all our padlocks, most of which haven’t got spare keys and will need attacking with the angle grinder.

It’s been a horrible few days and a big wake-up call. It won’t stop us leaving the boat on the towpath in the future, but it will make us more careful, more vigilant, and more aware.     

 

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