Wednesday 27 October 2021

South Yorkshire Navigation. Keadby to Sheffield.

   The South Yorkshire Navigation comprises of several individual canals and rivers which were amalgamated and improved in 1888 after years of decline. The principal navigations are the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, the New Junction Canal, the Sheffield
 and Tinsley Canal, and the River Don Navigation. The improvements included widening and straightening the whole of this network and, in 1905, cutting the New Junction canal to give Sheffield access to Goole and the northern coalfields. One wonders, without this historic foresight, whether the vast steel works in Sheffield that supplied us with arms and munitions during two world wars would have a) existed, or b) been capable of the task. Did the navvies, with their wheelbarrows and steam shovels of the 19th century, not only bring about the industrial revolution, but also save Europe from an unthinkable future? Food for thought.

   Unlike the rest of the network, freight traffic on these waters survived the coming of the railways and investment and improvement continued. By 1983 the route from the Humber to Rotherham and Castleford had been upgraded to the 700 tonne Eurobarge standard with 200’ x 20’ locks and 8’2” draught. Sadly, the huge explosion in global container shipping also happened around the same time, the Eurobarge project was abandoned, and nowadays there is only one big barge still plying the route from Goole to Rotherham, the oil tanker “Exol Pride”. You can read about it here.

   The first thing you encounter after leaving Keadby is very curious Vazon sliding railway bridge. The line crosses the canal on the skew and the whole bridge section is on tracks so that it can retract at 45˚. You can see it on Google Earth. When we were there it was being worked on so instead of being operational 24/7 it was only available for passage on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30, which is why we’d picked a tidal passage down to Keadby on a Wednesday. We did our morning run up the towpath and spoke to the bridge keeper on the way back, who said he’d get us through at 11:30. We told the crew of Nb Living the Dream, and both boats were breasted up at the bridge at 11:15, only to be then told - by the same bridge keeper - that he wouldn’t be opening it till 12:45. By that time another narrowboat was breasted up as well and the wind had picked up.

    Ann-Marie went over to the little swing bridge on the other side so that she was ready to open that when the rail bridge opened. After all the waiting, the actual event was quite swift; an alarm sounded, all the Railtrack workmen dispersed and the bridge disappeared into its recess. Ann-Marie swung the little bridge on the far side and all three boats were through in no time.




...and the bridge is closed again.

   Dave pulled over on the landing on the other side to pick Ann-Marie up...

 ...and we set off behind the other two along the wide, straight Stainforth and Keadby canal.

   We stopped at Godnow bridge an tried to find out why our new washing machine wasn’t playing nicely. Dave had the back off it and discovered that the drive belt had come off; a result, we assumed, of it being shaken around on its side in the back of our car. That might well have been the case, but once the belt was back on and aligned properly it was still struggling to turn the drum once there was more than a certain amount of water in it. We tried it with the genny supplying the power and it was fine, so it doesn’t like our cheap Chinese inverter. For the time being we can cope with that. From October to March we run the genny to charge the batteries about three or four times a week, but we’d rather be able to do a wash while we’re going along, so a better inverter is on the list.

   Our next stop was at Thorne. There are some interesting buildings and what was once a lovely park with a miniature railway but sadly, like so many ex-mining towns, it feels tired and run-down.  In the morning a very nice volunteer lock keeper helped us through the lock/swing  bridge combo...

...then we stopped at Staniland marina for some much needed diesel.

   Unfortunately they didn’t have any Calor gas, a situation which was becoming all too common in 2021. Since the lockdowns, Calor supplies have been virtually non-existent. Boat yards, fuel boats, builder’s merchants, nowhere we usually get our gas from have anything in stock. We’ve got about six weeks left in the bottle that we’re using, so we’re being as frugal as we can be - cooking on the fire and using CRT showers rather than our own whenever we can - but if the situation doesn’t improve soon we’re going to be stuffed. We can boil a kettle on electric, and we won’t freeze, but not being able to buy any gas is something we really didn’t factor into our off grid survival plan.

   We stopped at Stainforth and took the car forward to Barnby Dun, which was a much nicer place to spend the night, so when we got back we had some lovely early evening boating past Branwith Junction...

Branwith Junction. We’ll go straight on onto the New Junction canal when we come back this way. 

...then moored up just off the 48hr bollards at Barnby Dun. This pleasant  village used to be called Barnby upon Dun, and the cutting here is called the Dun Navigation, but the reason it’s “Dun” and not “Don”, apart from “the Don is sometimes called Dun” seems to have been lost in the mists of time.

   However, it’s a fabulous mooring; there’s a very nice service block with a lovely hot shower, there’s a car park just over the bridge, and there’s a handy Co-op too. Everything an itinerant boater could wish for.

   The next day we took the car to Sprotbrough on the other side of Doncaster. We’d been to Sprotbrough when Laura & Alison where there on Nb Large Marge, so we knew there were good moorings, and the walk back along the river bank and through Doncaster town centre was very enjoyable. It was a Sunday and we’d been promising ourselves a Sunday roast for weeks, so we kept our eyes peeled for somewhere suitable. In the end we walked all the way to Kirk Sandal before we found somewhere, but with hindsight it was just as well that we got most of the way back, because we were so full when we left the pub that the two mile hop from there to the boat was about all we could manage.

   In the morning, after pulling forward to fill and empty everything, we nipped through the busy lift bridge as efficiently as we could. It was after the school rush, but it’s a busy road and there was still a fair amount of traffic about. We try to not keep people waiting and Ann-Marie always has a smile and a wave for the drivers we hold up, but once in a while we can tell we’ve ruined someone’s day. We feel sorry for the any single handers at a busy lift bridge; they have to open the bridge, then go back to the boat, untie it, take it through, moor up and then go back and drop the bridge. At least we can work as a team and have the boat through the bridge as it’s going up.  

   From Keadby to Barnby Dun the navigation had been wide and straight, but the locks had still been the original 60’ x 14’ Humber Keel size. After we’d passed the end of the New Junction canal, we were on the uprated Eurobarge section. Long Sandal, Doncaster Town and Sprotbrough locks leave you with no disillusions that this is where the big boys live.

Long Sandal lock. 

Approaching Doncaster with it's Minster

You need to mind your head at Doncaster lock!

Doncaster lock is even bigger.

However, daunting as they may be, they are a doddle to operate; fully hydraulic with push buttons for everything, and quite gentle as long as you stay away from the sluices. Easy enough when the other end is about half a mile away.

Playing 'spot the narrowboat'

Everything about this river is huge. This is the A1 bridge.

Sprotbrough Moorings. Very nice.   

   After a couple of nights at Sprotbrough we moved on to Mexborough Low lock.

The Ancient Mariner in his happy place.

Beautiful Autumnal Boating on the River Don.

The magestic Conisbrough viaduct.

It gets bigger as you get closer

How many bricks?

   We set off early and had planned to go further, but the rain that was forecast for the afternoon came early, so we called it a day and tied up just above the lock on some big concrete bollards on the off side.

    Later that day the Exol Pride came up the lock on its twice weekly trip, carrying 500 tonnes of oil from Hull to Rotherham. Built specifically for these waters and formerly called the Humber Pride, this barge makes sense of the huge locks and has a hydraulic lowering wheelhouse so it can get under the bridges. Coming out of the lock it seemed to go on forever.

As instructed by various signs along the way, we had phoned CRT and booked our passage up the Tinsley flight into Sheffield. Lou, one of the volunteers, had told us that the best plan was to moor overnight above Ickles lock so we could be at Holme lock, the first of the flight, by 9:30 the next morning.

We had a lovely trip down the last bit of the Don from Mexborough along the Kilnhurst cut and the beautiful secluded valley into Rotherham, apart from  Mexborough Top lock where it all got a bit too exciting for our liking. Having seen Exol Pride go past us the day before, we were quite prepared to meet her on her way back. The lock keepers move from lock to lock to assist the Pride on her journey so it came as no surprise to find a red light at the lock, meaning it was manned and set against us. We could see the top gates were open, so we pulled over onto the 48hr moorings expecting to wait until the Pride had penned down. However, no sooner had we stopped, than the top gates shut and the light went green, so we set off towards the lock landing on the other side, assuming that the Pride must be a fair way off and there was plenty of time for us to penn up. Before we had time to tie up on the lock landing, the lockeeper opened the bottom sluices, which made life interesting for a while, then the gates opened and we motored in. Before we’d got our ropes round the sliders, the top sluices were opened and we had the quickest rise up a lock of our lives. The locky poked her head out of the cabin and told us that we’d have to be quick as the Pride was on her way. Dave informed her that we would have been perfectly happy to wait and was about to complain about Legend being thrown about, but further conversation was curtailed by the appearance of the Pride bearing down on the lock.

OMG!!! Get the hell out of here!

 The top gates opened and Dave put our faithful Lister in full ahead, while above the lock the Pride was in full astern, her skipper trying to keep her in a straight line while no doubt uttering expletives into the radio.  We shot out of the lock like a scared rabbit and kept ourselves as far to the right as we could as we nipped past...

 ...while 700 tonnes of huge blue tanker straightened up and slotted herself into the lock.


No harm done, but someone is going to get their ear chewed off.

Eastwood lock was the last big one, shortly after that, on the Rotherham Cut, we passed Exol’s depot, where the Pride unloads her oil, then immediately afterwards the navigation reverted to much smaller dimensions. From Rotherham Town lock up the Tinsley flight into Sheffield it was back to The Humber Keel size and fully manual. When we got there, Rotherham Town lock was in the middle of a huge town centre redevelopment scheme, there was Herras fencing all over the place, the proper lock landing looked like it had been bombed and the temporary pontoon lock landing was fenced off from the lock, so it was a bit a kerfuffle getting off the boat. However, Ann-Marie managed to clamber up a wall and went to set the lock. One of the workmen noticed her and came over to find out why she was in the middle of his building site.

“I’m setting the lock for my boat.”

“What boat?”

[Points to Legend, less than 20’ away] “That boat.”

She was holding a windlass and had a hat with “First Mate” written on it so goodness knows what else he thought she might be up to.

They very kindly stopped the piling machine while we went past them and we carried on to Ickles lock, just the other side of the town centre where we’d been told to moor before going up the flight. There was a bit of a hoohah there as well because some contractors who were erecting scaffolding under the next bridge were using the lock landing to moor their floating pontoon overnight, so when they came back we were in their way. However, we managed to shuffle forward and it all ended peacefully. We made sure we were gone before they started in the morning and were tied up at Holme lock in enough time to go for a run before our CRT chaperone arrived. With Nigel unlocking and setting the bottom gates for us and a couple of volunteers doing all the winding and gate pushing we were up the flight in about three hours.

   At the top of the flight we thanked our team of helpers and chugged our way along the last mile and a half of the Sheffield and Tinsley canal towards its limit of navigation. As we got further into the city the trees lining the canal gave way to urban jungle...

... and then suddenly it all opened up and we found ourselves in the centre of Sheffield in the beautifully restored Victoria Quays.

Victoria Quays visitor moorings.

The Straddle Wharehouse at the end of the navigation.

The old Graving Dock.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Chesterfield Canal. River Trent. Stainforth and Keadby Canal. Shireoaks to Keadby

    Autumn arrived quite suddenly while we were at Shireoaks. We were there for a week and had the fire lit most evenings, such a contrast to a couple of weeks ago. One of our jobs that week was to take the car back to Chesterfield for its repair work and retest. It passed, but the bill, including the work that we did ourselves, was just short of £500. Every year (around MOT time funnily enough) we question the financial justification of owning a car while continuously cruising, and every year (even this one) we come to the same conclusion. Car ownership, the way we do it, is cheaper. And even if it wasn’t, the freedom and flexibility that having a car gives us over public transport or car-hire would be worth it. We appreciate that there is an environmental impact of owning a car, but the alternatives aren’t much better, in fact the double running around involved in taxis and car hire is probably more damaging, and walking back for the car every time we move gives our travels an added dimension. It means we stay fitter and see all the places we’ve been from a different perspective, often away from the towpath.

   As we couldn’t take Legend up the locks to the tunnel, we walked up there instead.

The broken and chained up gate stopping Legend getting to the top of the flight.

CRT were taking advantage of the closure to get some maitainance done.

   The tunnel portal was the site of our first work party with WRG, and it was interesting to see how much Mother Nature had reclaimed since we were there. It was a bit overgrown, but not as much as we’d expected.

The eastern tunnel portal just visible through the weeds.

After the WRG Bonfire Bash in 2016...

...and 5 years of growth later.

   With our boat not going anywhere for a week, it was a perfect opportunity for an engine de-coke. We still had a smoky exhaust despite Dave’s best efforts to cure it, but just recently he’d had a eureka moment when he found that although our inlet manifold has a cap over the intake rather than an air filter, the cap support was on upside-down so that instead of having a gap for the air to get in, the cap was right down on the top of the intake which would have the same effect as a blocked air filter. With that rectified, the hope is that a de-coke will have it running smoke free.

   We had a walk into Worksop to see Mr Straw’s House (NT), a house that had hardly changed since the 1930s. The trust acquired it in the 1980s and has left it as a snapshot in time, preserved but not restored, making it a really fascinating place to look round. It’s a complete contrast to all the old stately homes and reminded us both of our grandparent’s houses.

    With the ink barely dry on our shiny new MOT certificate, we drove up to the top of the tunnel and walked down the cuckoo way to Killamarsh, following the line of the derelict canal on its way down towards Chesterfield. 

The western tunnel portal.

The cuckoo way is well signed.

Most of the original canal is still very visible, some even has water in it...

...some doesn't.

Quite by chance, our path brought us out at the sports centre, which we recognised as the place we stayed in for our first WRG weekend. After a very nice coffee in Café Bella we made our way back up to the car through the Rother Valley Country Park.

 The best thing to happen when we were at Shireoaks was that Frankie and Harry facetimed us to tell us that she is pregnant again! Grandbaby number four is on its way and we couldn’t be more excited. Of course we were sworn to secrecy for a while, so this won’t be published until we’re allowed to tell everyone.

At the end of our week we turned round in the Marina entrance and set off back down the Shireoaks flight.

Back down the Shireoaks flight.

   There was rain due in that afternoon, but we reckoned we’d get back to Osberton Park before it turned up. Doefield Dun lock gave us a bit of a problem because the top gate wouldn’t go back into the recess and Dave got the bow jammed in between the gate and the other side. 

Stuck in the lock entrance.

After some levering with a crowbar and a lot of reverse thrust we eventually managed to free ourselves, then had a rake around at the bottom of the gate recess with the boat hook to see if there was anything obviously fouling the gate. We must have moved something because it opened a bit further and we managed to get the boat in.
Half an hour later.

 That cost us quite a bit of time though, and weed clearance around the locks through Worksop didn’t help...
Worksop town lock wins the "most Awkward to Open" prize. 

A worksop resident waiting to be kissed.

 ... so the rain arrived before we got to Osberton Park and we had to stop at Manton instead.

   The next day, we set off early to make the most of the sunshine and avoid the worst of the wind.

    After dragging reeds out of every lock on the way...

Our little boat hook became a victim of weed clearing.

...we finally tied up back at Forest Locks, mostly on the visitor moorings. We reasoned that as it was a 48 hour mooring and we were only there for 24 hrs, half-on was enough. And by then it was blowing a hoolie, so further progress would have been foolhardy. There. That should cover it.

   After lunch we walked back through Osberton Park where the horse trials were just coming to a close.

   That evening we went mining under the bed and brought out the winter clothes and the big duvet; it really is Autumn now.

   Before we set off in the morning we had a quick walk round Babworth woods; a private woodland that until 1950 was agricultural land. It is now open to the public from dawn to dusk, with permissive paths and information boards telling you about the history of the woodland and the varieties of trees that have been planted there.

Newly planted saplings in Babworth wood.

On the way to Retford our washing machine sadly expired. Closer examination showed it had ripped one of its drum stabilisers off the chassis, so it’s fairly terminal.

   We pulled the soggy, unrinsed washing out and wrung it out as best we could before hanging it on the line, then had a walk through Retford. It’s a lovely little town, lots of beautiful big old buildings, and a couple of supermarkets right by the canal. Our kind of town.

  Our next stop was at Clarborough...

Between Retford and Clarborough is the wonderfully named Whitsunday Pie Lock.

Clarborough Moorings.

...then back to Drakeholes.
The family of swans and their orphan goose was just where we'd left them.

By the time we got there we’d sourced a new (to us) machine and figured out what to do with the old one. A quick phone round revealed a scrap yard just the other side of Retford, so we wrestled the old washer out of the boat, trundled it across the picnic area and into the car, added the old brake discs, and then weighed the lot in for the princely sum of £13.40. Nice.

From Drakeholes we had a beautiful sunny trip back through Gringley Locks to the lovely remote mooring at Wooden Beck...

The lovely Grindley Lock flight.

...stopping firstly at the eastern tunnel portal to pick up one of Dave’s wood stashes, then again at Shaw’s Lock where we’d moved the car to, to tranship our weekend luggage. After we got moored up we got the chairs out on the towpath and had lunch in the sunshine; maybe summer wasn’t quite over after all.

   In the afternoon Ann-Marie made a chocolate cake and some scones (both vegan) ready for our meticulously planned weekend campaign. We’d been invited to a party at Lesley & Pete’s in Henley along with Anne and her tribe, we had one tank of diesel and it was the middle of the phoney, media-hyped fuel crisis. We didn’t know when we’d be able to get some more so we had to make every drop count. Over the next four days our grand tour of friends, relations and a new-to-us washing machine was planned down to the last minute. Are you sitting comfortably? Ok, try and keep up.

On Saturday morning we were awake before dawn and on the road by 8:30. Our first stop was Wonderful Wallingford to see Colin & Julia aboard Smith’s Lady, the beautiful replica Dutch barge that we were moored next to for six months. They are two of our dearest friends and we try to make time to drop in to see them whenever we’re on our way south. After all that’s been going on over the past two years it was so lovely to just be able to go visiting again. Hugs and happy chatting with the people we love is the single most important part of our lives and we’ve missed it terribly. We were there for a few hours before we had to get going, but it seemed far too soon. With our bellies full of Colin’s delicious BLTs we said many fond farewells and were on our way again.

With a quick stop at Crowmarsh household waste recycling centre to drop of a bundle of cardboard and some broken electrical stuff, we headed for Henley. Taking stuff to the tip is getting increasingly hard for Continuous Cruisers. Most local councils insist on you, or your car being registered before they’ll let you in a recycling centre. Crowmarsh is one of the few that is still accessible to all-comers.  

At Henley there was considerable concern for the integrity of the floor under Lesley & Pete’s fridge, which was in serious danger of giving way under the weight of food. However after a concerted, wine fuelled effort from the gathered throng, catastrophe was happily avoided.

   Next morning after a fabulous 3-course breakfast and with lots of hugs and goodbyes, we thinned out and headed over to Karen’s in Mytchett to pick up our post and spend a very pleasant afternoon catching up with all her news. After that it was over to Fleet for dinner and a happy, chatty evening with Ken & Annie who had just sold their boat and were settling back into house life.

Ken & Annie have a multifuel stove in their lounge and buy smokeless fuel by the tonne. They very kindly let us have it at cost, which is far cheaper than we can buy it by the bag from boat yards, so the next morning, after more hugs and goodbyes, we set off to Mum & Dad’s on the next stage of our grand tour with three bags of it in the boot.

Mum & Dad are having a new shed delivered in January, so we spent the morning talking over the logistics of making a new base, and planning when we could come down for a weekend to help with the concreting. After lunch we were on our way again, this time to Nottingham to pick up a second-hand washing machine. That went like clockwork and we arrived at Holme Pierrepont bang on schedule for another wonderful evening with Steve and Les. After a very quiet night in their camper we all went into Ruddington for brunch. In the afternoon we drove back up to West Stockwith and parked in the basin while we ran and walked back to Wooden Beck where we’d left the boat. We untied and brought Legend down the two mile stretch to the two Misterton locks which, with eight inches more water in the canal, was a much more pleasant and easier trip than when we did it the other way.

Back in the basin at West Stockwith.

 As soon as we got tied up in the basin we humped the washing machine from the car into the boa
t, got the coal on the roof and then drove back over to Misterton for a chippy tea. Mission Accomplished and Our Grand Tour sadly over, but what a fabulous, fun and friend filled four days we’d had.

A washing machine, three bags of coal and some new shoes. Signs of a great weekend.
It's a bit of a squeeze...
...but it fits.

   Our tidal booking from West Stockwith to Keadby was originally for 2pm, but the day before we were due out the lock keeper from Keadby phoned us to say that he finished his shift at 4pm and we’d be too late getting there, so he changed it to 7:30 in the morning. Apart from having to move the cycle back and car move to the afternoon that didn’t mess our schedule up too much, so we got an early night, set the alarm and were up and ready to go first thing.

Ready for the off just after dawn.

   Ian, the West Stockwith lock keeper, came round at 7:15 and told us the lock was ready, so we let go at the front and pushed off, using the back rope to spring us out into the basin. Just as we were about to let go at the back, the phone rang. It was Ian telling us to stand down; there wasn’t enough water over the cill to get us out onto the river, so we’d have to revert back to the original 2pm time. We pulled back to the bank, shut the Lister down and reverted to plan A again. In a way, moving the car first was easier as it gave us a sneak peek at Keadby lock and the visitor moorings. It was a hard slog cycling back to West Stockwith into a headwind...

Having a breather on the way back

 ...but we were soon revived with a sausage and egg butty. At 2 pm we were in the lock ready to go again...

...but the tide had other ideas and was still coming in.

At about 2:25 it finally began to slow down, Ian let us down and we were back out once again on the mighty River Trent with an estimated arrival time of 5pm.

   Ian assured us that Kirsty, the lock keeper who was covering at Keadby, wouldn’t go home till we were safely penned up. We were sharing the trip with Mark on NB Living the Dream, a nearly-new very smart looking boat. We both settled into a steady plod, first pushing the last of the flood, then picking up speed as the tide turned and swept us downstream towards Keadby.

Picking up speed as the tide turns.

Pigeons on the tideway.

The M180 bridge in the distance. That's where you call up the lock keeper on the radio.
Backing off as we approach the Bascule bridge at Keadby to give Nb Living the Dream room to manouver. 

Proper ships make us look very small.

 Happily, that trip - our last leg on tidal water for a good while – was quite uneventful. Both boats did a very neat entry into Keadby lock; you turn as you pass the lock...

...push back upstream then back off the power till you’re hovering with your nose level with the entrance...

....then power on and turn in. The turbulence tries to push you to the upstream wall, but it’s easy enough to manage.

Kirsty soon had us up, out of the lock and through the swing bridge onto the Stainforth and Keadby Canal...

...the first section of the wide, straight South Yorkshire Navigations (which is weird, because it doesn’t seem that long since we were in Leicester).  Our little Kia was sitting in the carpark by the visitor moorings, and we tied up next to it happy and relieved that we can put a huge tick against the Mighty Trent. The top end of the Chesterfield is still unchartered water for Legend so we have vague plans for coming back and going upstream to do that again, but for now we can relax on the canals. It’s been a fabulous trip and it’s a stunningly beautiful river, but it also has a dark side; it’s big and powerful and it has teeth. It demands respect and concentration, and woe betides anyone who should forget it.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...