Wednesday 5 January 2022

Castleford to Rodley. Aire & Calder Navigation. Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Just as we set off from Castleford it started snowing, so that by the time we’d got through the big, slow and oddly banana-shaped Castleford lock, Legend looked very festive.

Castleford lock goes round a corner.

As we went up the river towards Leeds we huddled under the brolly on the back deck with our lunch. If, Dear Reader, you should ever find yourself eating soup and toast in a snowstorm, be sure to eat the toast first, before it gets snowed on. Trust us on this.

By the time we got to Lemonroyd lock the snow had abated somewhat...

Approaching the very deep Lemonroyd lock.

The two original locks at Lemonroyd were incorporated into one huge one.

...and by Woodlesford it had stopped altogether. 

Sunrise at Woodlesford.

By happy coincidence we moored up just ahead of Nb Borderline, a boat we’d last seen on the Gloucester & Sharpness canal about six years ago. It was really good to catch up with John; he told us he’d just completed the entire navigable network, which we were quite jealous about as that is our ultimate goal. We’re actually almost there, the Trent and all its tributaries was the last big uncharted territory for us; we’ve now just got a few bits to tidy up. Being stuck on the Basingstoke for six months meant we never got to do the full length of the River Wey, or the lower Thames from Weybridge to Brentford. A broken lock stopped us getting to the end of the Chesterfield canal, and getting our friends back to where we’d picked them up meant we’ve not been to the end of the Llangollen in Legend. There are sections of both the T&M and the Shroppy that we haven’t been on, and we turned off onto the Ashton at the bottom of the Rochdale, so we missed the Nasty Nine going into Manchester. We’ve not yet done the Montgomery in Wales or the Wyrley & Essington in Birmingham, and of course there are the scariest bits like the Tidal Thames from Brentford through London to Limehouse, and the trip down the tidal Yorkshire Ouse, then up the River Derwent and the Pocklington Canal that we might never do. Having said that, the more adventures we have and the more adversity we overcome, the less scary those bits seem in comparison, so maybe one day….

The next morning we had a long drive down to Karen’s for Dave’s annual service and MOT at the doctors. We stayed over and Mum and Dad came round in the evening for Dave’s birthday tea, which was nice, he felt very spoilt with all the attention. It seemed even further coming back home, but it was good to see everyone. We came back with a bag of Christmas and birthday pressies for us, and lots of mail-order goodies for the boat.

Legend’s new bits included a Bubble Tester for the gas system, some extra fuses and uprated cabling for the battery department, and some cable identification tags for everything from USB leads to solar panel supply cables. We had our four-yearly Boat Safety Scheme examination booked while we were at Woodlesford, and although Dave was fairly sure Legend would pass without any extra additions, being over and above the bare minimum is always a good idea.  Also, things like the bubble tester and the cable tags make the examiners job, (and our monthly maintenance checks) much easier.

Over the next few days we got all the new bits fitted and generally tidied up ready for Richard, our chosen BSS examiner this year. It was our third examination since we’ve been on board so we're getting used to the routine now, but it’s always an anxious time as quite a lot of the test is subjective, and each examiner has his or her own foibles and specialist areas. Richard picked up on the gas pipes that feed our oven and hob, which are braided stainless steel with a rubber core. The rules are that if there are no signs of heat damage to the braiding then they are a pass, so he pulled our oven out of its cabinet to have a look at them. No-one has done that before. They looked fine, no staining or blueing, so he passed them, but as he pointed out, Legend is 30 years old, they might well have been there since it was built and there is no way of telling what condition the inner rubber core is in. We’re fairly sure that the kitchen was re-fitted not that long before we bought it, but we’ve had it for nearly 11 years now, so changing the hoses would be a wise move. Richard’s recommendation was to get fixed copper pipework installed to the oven and hob and do away with the flexible hoses altogether, so we might have a word with Jim and see about doing that next time we’re in his neck of the woods.

He also advised Dave to fit a support bracket to one of the fuel filters on the engine, but apart from that he seemed fairly impressed with our little home and gave us a pass, so we’re good for another four years.

That afternoon Storm Barra was forecast, but as it hadn’t arrived yet we thought it would be a good idea to make a dash for it and get as close to Leeds as we could.

We got as far as Knostrop lock on the outskirts of the city before the wind got rough so, as we’d not seen another moving boat all day and it was now getting stormy and dark, we moored up on the bottom lock landing.

Knostrop weir in full flow.

We were off first thing in the morning; the warning board above the lock was on amber and although we hadn’t had that much rain the previous night, we knew that it had been really heavy in the River Aire’s catchment area, so we went flat out upstream to Leeds, well aware that we only had a short time window of time to get off the river.

 It was really lovely coming into the city with all the fabulous bridges and buildings along the riverbank but we were well aware we were pushing hard into the flow.

Going into Leeds Lock.

Coming out of Leeds lock and going past the Armouries.

As we approached the end of the Navigation we had a very tricky manoeuvre into River lock from the fast flowing water that was coming round the corner under the railway station. Dave managed to slot Legend very neatly into the dead water just before the lock without crashing into the wall, and Ann-Marie hopped off onto the shortest lock landing in the world. It was only then that we noticed the warning board was verging on red.

 Half an hour later it would have been a very different story. We worked Legend up the lock onto the safe and relatively calm waters of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

 It came as a bit of a shock to actually have to use a windlass to raise the paddles, and to actually have to push a gate beam; Ann-Marie had only had buttons to push since we’d left the Tinsley flight out of Sheffield. We knew we’d have to get used to it though, ahead of us lay 127 miles of wide canal with 91 locks and countless swing bridges. Just as we tied up in front of the Hilton the heavens opened and it threw it down for over an hour. 
We disappeared inside with our brunch and thanked our lucky stars that we weren’t still out on the rapidly rising river.

As soon as it stopped raining we were out exploring the city.

 When we were here seven years ago we’d been impressed by the indoor market and the old corn exchange and all the other fantastic buildings that adorn the streets of Leeds, and this time was no different. It really is a magnificent city and seeing it decorated and lit up for Christmas was beautiful. It was lovely to be back.

On its way out of Leeds the canal swiftly climbs up the Aire Valley through a series of single and staircase locks. Kirkstall lock, along with the triple staircases at Forge and Newlay, are kept locked by CRT and, during the winter months, have to be booked in advance. We’d made a booking for 9am on the Friday, and had thought we’d be able to get up first thing and be at Kirkstall in time. However, a run up the towpath on Thursday morning made us realise that we actually had quite a way to go so, after a serendipitous meeting with our old friend David, who had come into Leeds to meet his mum off the train, we set off that afternoon and got Legend out of the city and up through Spring Garden lock just as dusk descended.

In the morning we were up at dawn and along the next mile to meet our lock keeper. We got to Kirkstall bottom lock with about 15 minutes to spare, so we were glad we’d moved the previous day.

The top gate paddles were locked shut, but the gates themselves weren’t, so we were able to get Legend into the lock, and then had breakfast while the leaky top gates slowly filled it.

Mick the lock keeper rang us while we were there, so we told him we’d meet him at Forge staircase.

L&L locks are short; you can just squeeze a 60’ boat into them if you go diagonally, so at 58’ Legend doesn’t have a lot of room to play with and the opportunities to make a complete pig’s ear of it are many fold.

Keeping the well-deck cover shut is quite important when you're going up L&L short locks.

Too much or too little water can flood or ground the boat, but Mick knew his stuff and clearly knew these locks well, balancing the water levels perfectly.

Our Lockie, Mick hard at work with a keb.

 Under his expert care we were soon through both the triples without a hitch and off, through the first of the many and varied swing bridges that this canal has to offer...

... and on our way to Rodley where we moored up for a few days. Rodley swing bridge was on the winter closure list, so if we were to do as we planned and navigate the L&L in 2022 we had to be beyond it before the beginning of January.  So far so good, one box ticked. Ahead of us were two more subjects of the winter maintainance program. First, the famous Bingley Five Rise, which was having some gates replaced, and just beyond that Micklethwaite swing bridge, which was being replaced with a whole new bridge. Bingley 5 was about 11 miles and 11 locks ahead of us, and scheduled for closure on the 4th of January. It was the 11
th of December so even if we got iced in for a fortnight we'd still be able to get there. Unless the canal broke. Or Legend broke. Or there was another lockdown. Or we got Covid.  Or….

Did we do it? Find out next time.

Happy Christmas Dear Reader. We hope you have a safe and joyful time and may 2022 bring you happiness and peace. D&AM

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