A Tall Story

Sheffield is known for its creativity and in the 60s the University built the iconic Arts Tower, which is still the tallest academic building in the UK. I’d have loved to have gone to the top to look down but we joined the students in Weston gardens looking up.

It seems like Sheffield has a love of tall art, we came across this wall mural called “The Snog” by Pete McKee

The Snog

And even more impressive was the “Steelworker” by Paul Waplington. It uses 18 different types of brick 30000 in total and 5 different mortars.

The steelworker

Sheffield is rightly proud of its Steel industry although sadly it’s on its last legs now. Regardless of my political leanings I feel quite strongly about this, as I expect these sheffield women of steel would also.

The women of steel and friend.

But they do have some funny ideas of what we like to see in our public art. This is known as the spiders web bridge, crossing the River Don under one of the Wicker Arches

It’s actually a very clever suspension bridge that takes it’s inspiration from nature and the cables are attached to the sides of the old brick archway

Walk across if you dare

I made if safely across in both directions so I could go and explore some more.

Peeking into the Peaks

One of the things that Sheffield does incredibly well is public transport. There are buses and trams everywhere you look.

So we bought a weeks rover ticket for £17 and hopped on and off exploring north south east and west. We had to pay a little extra to get to Castleton, because that’s in Derbyshire. But it was worth it. We sat like excited children on the top deck in the scenic seats at the front. It would ha’ve been worth it just to do a round trip, the views were amazing, so much better than when we’ve done it by car, even whilst we were still in the city

Once we got to Castleton, walked up to past Windy Knoll to Mam Tor

Windy gap

We stopped at the Blue John Mine cafe for a piece of Blue John cake, they even let us eat our own sandwiches at their cafe

Blue John cake

And what a view, looking down the valley. If you watch channel 4, this is where they filmed one of their “indents” with the big steel walking man.

Looking back towards Castleton

Refreshed we continued our walk upwards but as it was very windy and we were reliant on the hourly bus we opted to follow the summit. Mam Tor is also known as the shivering mountain because of its frequent land slips. The road to Chapel en le Frith notoriously fell victim to this and in the mid 70s the powers that be realised their lack of power and gave up trying to save it.

The abandoned road

We scrambled across the tarmac islands and continues on our way. There’s so many opportunities to walk around here, we came out into the Peak District a couple of times. And I’m sure we’ll be back.

Spoilt for choice.

Exploring down memory lane

Eric and I both studied in Sheffield back in the 80s. But at opposite ends of the city, our memories are somewhat different. I remember landing in a multicultural sprawl at the height of the miners strike, and decline of the steel industry. Eric was cloistered in one of the countries finest red brick universities on the edge of the Peak District.

Sheffield University

We both have a lot of fond memories and we were keen to explore, although I couldn’t quite bring myself to get on the bus that used to cost me 6p a journey and venture back up Spittal Hill, under the Wicker Arches to Fir Vale because I knew that old Victorian workhouse cum hospital had grown even larger and and entered the 21 century. I loved nursing on a nightingale ward where the recuperating patients took the tea trolley around in the early morning whilst I as a second year nurse took responsibility for the whole ward overnight.

Wicker Arches

The Maplin building that nurtured Eric’s engineering skills was undergoing refurbishment and shrouded in scaffolding which was a disappointment. And the tower block accommodation had been demolished years ago to be replaced by more modern student digs. In fact Sheffield has become the place to be now for students. The old poly has become the Hallam university, and the whole city was awash with developement for the student population. Some buildings were striking in their contemporary design, but we did wonder how the mish mash of old and modern would weather the years and if all that glass and steel cladding would need replacing long before the red brick.

Sheffield centre has a vibrant open feel, There’s plenty of space to sit and people watch, the children are actively encouraged to play in the dancing fountain of the Peace Garden. There’s green planting all over the city and the Winter garden is a haven for those needing somewhere sheltered to eat their lunch.

Peace Gardena

Sadly we couldn’t avoid seeing the less fortunate than ourselves, the area around Victoria Quays is still being redeveloped and although the basin itself felt safe, we knew we weren’t far from the homeless, jobless and the addicts. And I wonder if the redevelopements do anything to help this segment of society, or does it just reduce the amount of dark corners that they can take some shelter in.

through the windows of dereliction

Sprotbrough to Sheffield

Looking back to Sprotbrough

Sprotbrough lies on the River Don in both a natural valley and one impacted by mining. There are nature reserves and woodland walks all around, it’s very pretty despite South Yorkshire’s industrial heritage. The golden archangel or dead nettle has taken over from the bluebells and wild garlic andstarted to bloom

Golden archangel

The most impressive bridge of our journey south has to be the Conisbrough Viaduct. A rail bridge completed in 1909, it looms over 200feet above us and is nearly a mile long and has 21 arches. The rail line was abandoned in 1965 and one of the reasons the bridge wasnt pulled down is because they reckoned disposing of the 15 million bricks would have bankrupted the demolishion company. Nowadays it is listed as an official rail path and is part of the Trans Peninne Trail. Believe it or not it is not a listed structure.

Conisbrough Viaduct

And on to Mexborough, which has some very nice houses fronting the river, but sadly the rest of Mexborough had a very run down atmosphere, and whilst the rest of South Yorkshire was friendly and welcoming, I would give Mexborough a miss on our return journey.

The nice side of Mexbrough

But we did sleep soundly as we were guarded by a friendly Dragon.

The Mexborough Dragon house

The locks along this section are huge to cope with the commercial traffic. Swintons Lock was renamed Waddingtons lock in 1983 after Victor Waddington campaigned to maintain and update this waterway. There are still several of the Sheffield hulls laid up here. I can’t help but think what an amazing home they would make if converted, enough space for several families, of course, I’m imagining luxury living, not emergency storage for those in less fortunate circumstances. I did a bit of googling to find out more about Resilience- it got stuck for several days under the bridge at Newark…

Dwarfed by Resilience

Looking down on Eric from Eastwood lock tower, the last of the big hydrolic locks, before the Tinsley flight.

It’s a long way down

The Tinsley flight starts at Rotherham, a quickly little lock that confused me because it’s paddles are kept up to ensure the water flow, I hadn’t realised and consequently couldn’t open the gate. Not a good start to the day, we also picked up an urban jellyfish, which meant that Eric had to lift the weed hatch and go fishing to untangle a manky plastic bag. Yuck. But we got ourselves sorted out and soon reached Holmes lock. We were met here by Derek one of the CRT lockies who would see us up the flight. This section of the canal is pump fed so to manage the water the gates are kept locked unless you have booked passage.

David the Tinsley lockie took over for the final 8 locks and between us we’d got through 15 locks by lunch time. And into Sheffield Quays by mid afternoon

Home for a few days

And here we tied up for our “city break”

South to Sprotbrough

I had to write a post about Sprotbrough because I just love the sound of it. I mean who wouldn’t want to live in a place called Sprotbrough. Lots of people have over the years, it was mentioned in the doomsday book, where it was known as Sprot’s Borough. Try as I might I couldn’t find out who Sprot was. However I digress. We left the sunshine in Barnby Dunn, stopping the traffic as we lifted the bridge, and continued south.

Barnby Dun lift bridge signal box

It wasn’t time to stop as we came through Doncaster although the catherdral looked impressive and if we can locate a decent mooring we might explore on the way back.

Doncaster cathedral

The canal mingles with the River Don but remains wide and easy with signs of its industrial heritage along the way. Old dilapidated warehouses

Old warehouse

And some beautiful old bridges spanning the gorges.

This remains a commercial canal and the locks along this section are hydrolically operated, if you’re lucky and time it right, CRT are on hand to see you through but most of the time the amber light indicates we have to operate them ourselves. Eric had to trust me because we were too far away to see each others hand signals in Sprotbrough Lock

Sprotford Lock

Sprotbrough is a desirable village with some lovely old impressive houses and an expensive gastro pub. The visitor mooring is above the lock opposite the pub. The Wyre Lady runs it’s trips from here. It’s a heritage boat built in 1938 as a railway passenger ferry for the Caledonian Steam Packet company

Wyre Lady

We’re not sure what the original builders Danny’s of Dumbarton would have thought of the local wildlife waiting for their evening cruise, but we enjoyed watching them.

Waiting for the Wyre Lady cruise

During the day the sheep who live next to the mooring caught my eye

Happy Sprotbrough Sheep

And we came across a plaque remembering one of Sprotbrough’s more remarkable inhabitants

The Leviathon Looms

We were sitting, having morning coffee, enjoying the glorious sunshine, when Eric gave me a funny look, “stop rocking the boat” he said. “I’m not” I replied, but we’d started to sway too and fro quite dramatically. Huh, must be another speeding boat with no regard for other boaters and bank conservation. We hadn’t seen anything go past but the lift bridge was open. Then we saw “it” approach, a good 10-15 minutes after we first felt the water move.

Oh my goodness it’s a Leviathon. And we decided the safest place would be on dry land .

Then we remembered the warning that Cherryl and Ian had given us at Thorne, watch out for the Exol Pride.

The Exol Pride

This is the commercial oil tanker delivering fuel from Goole on the Humber estuary, to Rotherham now on its return journey with lubrication oil. It does the trip once or twice a week depending on the tides at Goole. It is 60m, yes that’s 60 metres long and 6m wide. Firecrest is 60 feet long and 6.10 feet wide. (18 m but no-one really used metric for a narrowboat) the Exol Pride gross tonnage is 380 and deadweight 650t. we weight about 18t No wonder we felt like a minnow next to a blue whale.

We’re glad we got out of the boat because even though it seemed to glide past quite gracefully, it certainly wasnt hanging around and created quite a wash. And we hung on to our centre rope for a bit of extra stability.

Once it had passed and we’d started to breathe again, Eric re-pinned us more securely again. What an experience, we’re very glad that we were moored as the Pride came past us. We’ve since found out that the lock keepers are usually up to date with her travelling times and we will be able to adjust our return trip taking this into consideration.

Walking back to ‘re pin the boat

There’s a chance we will see the Pride on our return journey. We could use our VHF radio to listen in to its progress, but the lockies are a fount of information so we could just ask them. CRT work with the oil company to ensure the Pride’s safe passage. Obviously a ship that size can’t just moor up and let the crew off to work the locks, for a start it would have to slow down before it set off, so 2 lock keepers play leap frog and drive ahead to each lock or bridge to prepare it. We benefit from this because there are more lock keepers around to help us. And the canal and locks are well maintained.

Barnby Dun

Having cruised every day for a week, when we moored up at Barnby Dun just before the lift bridge, we decided to take advantage of this little rural beauty spot by staying put for a few days.

Barnby Dun lift bridge

It had everything we needed, the butcher, baker and candlestick seller. For boaters it has a very clean facilities block, but sadly no village pub. However that didn’t stop us enjoying some pretty walks around the village and in the afternoon I sat on a very convenient towpath bench next to our mooring and did some drop spindling.

drop spindling at Barnby Dun
Drop spindling on the towpath

And in the evenings we watched the glorious sunsets.

sunset at Barnby Dun

Stainforth and Keadby canal

Not as I previously called it, the Keadby and Stainforth, apologies to any perfectionists reading this. It is the first/last section of the South Yorkshire Navigation.

We woke refreshed after our Keadby lock conquering experience. The sun was shining and we had a whole new region to explore. Unfortunately looking out of our portholes all we could see was this very dilapidated old building and my heart sank, I knew of the industrial decline but we had nearly 50miles to travel into the centre of Sheffield and I hadn’t expected the dereliction to start quite so soon.

The old barge inn.

Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, we were soon travelling along a straight wide canal in flat open countryside. No locks but plenty of swing bridges and lift bridges to negotiate. But the first was the sliding, retractable rail bridge, manned automatically by the operator in the signal box. My photo doesn’t do justice to the engineering as I had to watch the whole operation from behind locked gates. The track is diagonally across the canal so the bridge is winched sideways until it is clear of the channel.

Vazon sliding rail bridge

This canal is deep and wide as it was built for heavy commercial traffic. Completed in 1802 it joined the River Trent to the River Don and the mining and industrial communities of South Yorkshire, although this section is still in Lincolnshire. The landscape is flat so whilst this section is lock free, it’s also idea for trains and a track runs along side for quite some distance.

Canal and railway joining company

The swing and lift bridges are all key operated now but this one at Wykewell, on the outskirts of Thorne, is faulty so you have to book CRT in advance to come and open it for you.

Wykewell lift bridge

At Thorne we had the pleasure of meeting up with our friends Cherryl and Ian, the couple we met last year on our way to Lincoln. A coffee turned into a picnic lunch, then drinks and a take away in the evening. Lots of laughter and storytelling as we encouraged each other on with our cruising plans.

Ian and Eric putting the world to rights

We only stayed one night in Thorne, in case we started to feel like a fish out of water.

A Plaice to rest in Thorne

Day two was leisurely and relaxed. Bramwith lock marks the end/beginning of this canal.

Bramwith lock

This is where the canal runs parallel with the river Don. The river is still tidal and prone to flooding hence it being hidden from our sight by high levees, the cows seem happy enough.

Cows on the Don

We moored up shortly after leaving the S&K

Keadby lock manouvers

We’d heard a few scare stories about getting into Keadby Lock. But we listened to the advice from the lock keepers and set forth. Our first problem was locating the lock entrance as we were looking directly into the evening sun and it was really hard to see the green light.

Spot the lock

Once we had it in our sights we slowed right down, But as expected we kept moving with the flow,

We then began a 180′ pivot, to realign ourselves facing upstream. At least we weren’t in any danger of grounding as we turned.

We had been warned about a shifting sandbank on the north side of the lock entrance but the tide was still high enough to be in our favour.

Once we were facing upstream Eric held the boat stationary, treading water until he matched the speed of Firecrest to the flow of water.

Quite an achievement considering the flow of water was considerable we travelled down around 4mph and the current was also 4mph therefore our speed was roughly 8mph.

It gave Eric time to gain is composure/nerves before putting on hard throttle to turn sharp right into the lock.

However he hadn’t taken into consideration the speed of flow being slower in the leigh of the bank than the centre channel of the river, meaning he was expecting to be pulled downstream faster than he actually was.

My nerves and composure failed as we both held our breath wondering if we’d make it before being bashed against all that solid metal piling and swept away to sea. At this point I decided holding on to the boat was more important than photos Most boats bear battle scars from the lock wall, and I’m not going to reveal how close Eric got to making it in unscaithed, needless to say he wants to do it again, with a bit less throttle.

Once inside the lock the keeper took my bow rope up to secure us. There are several ways to tie off in a lock, most of the deep river locks have an inset poleor chain that ropes can be looped around which just slide up or down as the water levels change. West Stockwith threw a secure rope down for us us to hold on to, keadby passed down a rope with a carabiner clip on the end and it took me a moment to realise we had to attach our own ropes which he raised up to wrap round the bollards. The torrent of water coming in through the top gates made it feel like I was at the base of Niagara Falls. Glad I had a secured rope to hold onto.

Once we were raised to canal level and gates were opened, we realised we couldn’t go any further because there was a swing bridge in front of us. Luckily the lock keeper operated that one automatically for us.

swing bridge at Keadby lock

It was nearly 8pm by the time we were through the swing bridge, all the other mooring had been taken, (not that there was a lot) so we took the anguished decision to overnight on the waterpoint, something we’d usually be vehemently against, but there was a second water point available. And we’d move straight after breakfast. All we could do now was enjoy the sunset.

Sunset on the Keadby and Stainforth canal

I’m not surprised most narrowboaters are anxious about Keadby and West Stockwith Locks. We did both in near perfect conditions and the photos don’t do justice to the power involved, both of nature and narrowboat. Part of the problem is, is that there’s no easy way to practice these locks and the next time you get to do

Back on the water.

After a glorious week in the Lake District we were itching to get cruising again. Our plan, is to spend some time in Sheffield. This meant leaving the tiny narrow Chesterfield canal with its one way traffic

Drakeholes tunnel

And the May bush and overhanging greenery that lined our way.


We had an overnight stay in Stockwith Basin and had been advised by several people as far away as Retford that we ought to visit the microbrewery, The White Hart, as both the beer and food were excellent. Frustratingly they don’t serve food on a Sunday evening but the land lady was lovely and really concerned that we’d not eaten. So much so that she offered to order in a takeaway for us to eat in the pub. Now that’s what I call service. We’d got food on the boat so after Eric had confirmed that the beer was well worth the visit. We returned to Firecrest to make her river ready.

West Stockwith Basin

The lock keeper advised us to leave on the turn of the tide at 4pm so we’d be travelling with the flow. The weather was balmy and with the sun on our backs we set off on our 2 1/2 hour journey. It was another advent calender moments when the lock gates opened and revealed the River beyond.

Leaving West Stockwith Lock

We only saw 2 other boats travelling upstream on this aquatic super highway. So as always we couldn’t resist a chuckle as we cruised underneath another motorway, this time the M180, which to my embarrassment I didn’t even realise existed, carrying traffic to and from Grimsby.

And then we came to Keadby Bridge (also known as King George V bridge. I was fascinated by the structure and a bit of research revealed that it was one of the first Scherzer Rolling Lift bridges, and had been the largest in Europe when it was completed in 1916.

Keadby Bridge

We expected something this huge needed a lot of muscle to move it so it was a nice surprise to find it was an ‘all electric bridge just like Firecrest.

Keadby Bridge looking upstream

For the final mile or two there was a lot of industry along the River, we wondered if this crane was really a rocket launcher in disguise.

We’d been warned that the lock was hard to spot but to watch for the round lookout tower and the light. They weren’t wrong

Looking for Keadby lock