Arriving in Leeds

We like to think of ourselves as country bumpkins at heart, we love mooring in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wildlife and the incessant birdsong. But oh boy do we get a buzz when we enter a big city, and Leeds was to prove no different. Canals by their nature, being part of the industrial transit system, tend to occupy the backwaters of most locations. There’s always dereliction, but sometimes  regeneration and always graffiti. But not all graffiti is offensive. And this was our welcome into Leeds.

Colourful welcome into Leeds

Leeds has its fair share of victorian factory warehouse buildings. It’s a tall city, but we quickly saw some highly desirable waterfront properties as we approached the centre.

Looks a nice place to live

Our aim was to moor in “Leeds dock” a regenerated wharf surrounded by trendy eateries and in our case pylon moorings with electrics. But alas, despite the potential for a lot more  visitor moorings CRT and the local management team only provide space for 3 or 4 visiting boats and we weren’t one of the lucky ones. So we had 24 hours outside on the island high wall.  (At this point we are still on the River Aire with weirs and flood locks) but this gave us a brilliant view of the Royal Armouries Museum. A pity the weather had turned everything dark and grey

Looking towards the Armouries

The following day we were on the ball waiting for spaces in the dock and were able to reach our destination.

Entering Leeds dock

And get one of the prized pontoon places

With 48 hours to go exploring our first stop had to be our overshadowing neighbour the Armouries. Especially as it was now pouring with rain. I was a bit sceptical at first, thinking that this huge purpose built building might just be full of guns, not my idea of a fun day out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a fascinating venue, so much so that after a few hours we got museum overload and left before we’d seen it all. The impressive glass tower housed a display of historical weaponry, and whilst you could say that once you’ve seen one sword and spear do you need to see more, the impressiveness was in the way in which they were displayed. Symmetrically and artistically, as they would have been in castles and kingdoms of old. And of course with the view through the round window of Firecrest moored below.

And the view through the round window is firecrest

The displays weren’t only of weapons of war, but went way back to early mans esential hunting tools, and modern man’s non essential, but visually more impressive  hunting tools.

It didn’t stop at what we know now, there were futuristic film weapons for zapping aliens, just in case. And the beautiful swords from the Lord of Rings trilogy. We were treated to guides in costume giving talks and actual displays of sword fights. All in all it was a very impressive and well done museum, and the best bit is that it is free admission and we got a good view through the rain streaked windows of Firecrest.

Mooring with Henry

So near yet still so far, only another 15 miles to get us to the start of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, but we aren’t rushing, and after passing under the A1, (significant to us because of the countless times we have driven this way to visit family)

Under the A1

The River Aire is wide and interesting and we found a pleasant spot to moor in Castleford. I hadn’t realised but it is the home of sculptor and artist Henry Moore, Castleford is a bit of a scruffy town, and the reclining figure had to be removed from the main street and displayed in the library.

Henry Moore’s reclining figure

It was 48 hour mooring so we moved on the to Aire and Calder Navigation, and found a nice cool spot under the trees near Lemonroyd. Of course I had to get my spinning wheel out and make the most of the space and shade.

Another perfect spot

 The locks here are still huge and automated to accommodate the commercial vessels so I was able to enjoy the view

Woodlesford lock
Woodlesford lock

whilst Eric got tossed around in the turbulence.

Who needs to go white water rafting when you have open lock gates

With out batteries recharged we were ready to hit Leeds. But not before another glorious rural sunset

Getting back to Plan A

Having detoured from Plan A – ie to do the Leeds and Liverpool over the summer, before CRT imposed any closures due to water shortages- meant that we had to backtrack on our route for the next 30 miles. We waved goodbye to York and headed downstream to Naburn to await our booked passage along the tidal section to Selby. We’d spotted this giant wire creation on our way into York so we were prepared to take a closer look this time. The fisherman is sitting on a disused rail bridge, and that’s a train he’s caught not a fish. But we loved his doggy companion, cocking his leg against his bike. And it’s not just any old train, it’s the flying Scotsman, which used to use this line in it’s heyday.  I’m sure there’s more detail that we failed to notice, but I do like art with a sense of humour.

The fisherman and the flying scotsman

Naburn is a haven of peace and tranquillity after the bustle of York and before the race along the Ouse. The warm and balmy evening was another opportunity to sit with my spinning wheel outside.

Spinning a yarn in Naburn shade

The imposing building by The lock landing isn’t a house, it was the banqueting hall built in 1823 for the wealthy businessmen who took advantage of river transport.

The banqueting hall in the moonlight

It’s in the process of being transformed into a cafe serving cream teas and other delicacies but at the moment to garden is home to a flock of obliging free range chickens. This one is BBQ ready.

Roast chicken, anyone?

Our given time for leaving Naburn Lock, meant we would be pushing against the tide for an hour.  Although we had been warned about the speed of the River and the amount of debris, we hadnt encountered either on our way up so it took us quite by surprise, seeing 20foot logs hurtling towards us.

Is it a lot of a crocodile

It was a challenging journey and we both had to be on full alert not wanting to suffer the same fate as the Titanic. The green duck weed had been pushed out of Selby, in an attempt to clear the canal. But the intrepid cruisers told us they were banned from entering Selby lock as the quantity of weed would block their cooling system and overheat their engines before they’d gone 100yards. They had to run the gauntlet of floating logs and giant crocodiles all the way to Goole.

Selby basin in the green

It wasn’t nice and was so thick we had to manually push it out of our way so we could moor.
It didn’t stop us enjoying another day walking around Selby though, I even got to enjoy an organ recital in the Abbey, (and just to confirm that is grass around the Abbey not duck weed. )

Selby Abbey

We didn’t linger though, as we had an offer from nb Albion to share the locks and swing bridges.  Our companions suggested we went first, I wonder why….

Not sure we’ll beat the land speed record

Selby canal is a short canal, and we were welcomed back into Knottingley on the River Aire that afternoon by the locals

Knottingley has one of the prettiest towpaths I have come across. It is known as Freda’s garden. Freda lived in one of the cottages adjacent to the canal but didn’t have any garden of her own, so she adopted the land she walked along everyday, scattering seed and planting shrubs. Although she is no longer with us, the community embraced her love of nature and colour and maintain this half mile stretch for everyone to enjoy.

Freda’s garden

Knottingley is in the heart of the Yorkshire coal mine fields so suffered appalling deprivation when the mines closed down, but we’ve seen many towns and villages that were also affected by this policy, and some have gone on to thrive and although its obviously not a wealthy area, there was a  sense of community pride here. I hope these places survive the closure of the power stations. Fennybridge dominates the Knottingley sky line.

Fennybridge power station

A few more days in York

We never intended to spend more than a few days on the Ouse, but York just grabbed my attention and we never tired of wandering around those crowded streets. Packed full to overflowing, with tourists and locals, culture and history, with independent expensive eateries and shopping opportunities, and places for tranquillity and bustle alike. Mooring by the riverside museum gardens was empty during tnhe week

but came alive at the weekends when it felt like the huge cruisers emerged from the nearby marinas to show off their finery, we felt like a minnow along side them. There is a craft and art street fayre held on summer Saturday’s, and we were lucky enough to be moored directly opposite “dexdigits” a “yarny” who is a spinner and a dyer, of course we made friends and I took my wheel out to spin along side her.

Spinning in York

York is undoubtedly a very expensive city. I find it hard to comprehend how families can afford to do it all. We decided to find our usual starting point for an interesting place-the guided walking tour. And surprisingly it was free. Unsurprisingly, York’s history covers such a long period, there was too much information to take in. With hindsight we realised just being in the centre and absorbing what was around us was fascinating. I guess the buildings were what grabbed my attention. Obviously the grandeur of the Minster was the most startling.

The South window

But there was such a diversity from the old riverside warehouses to the ancient ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, and the new offices built to complement it’s surroundings.

The old new and ancient

Not all museums charge an entrance fee, ironically, the railway museum is one we’d have been happy to pay to visit, and it didn’t disappoint us. Old locomotives are generally the most photogenic, but stepping inside the Japanese bullet train and seeing how modern carriages had evolved over our own lifetime was and interesting.

York railway museum

I took myself off to see the only NT property in York, the Treasurers house. Originally it was built to manage the churches assets in the 10th century but has undergone many transformations since. Its last private owner used it to house various art works and furnishings that appealed to his family until he bequeathed it to the NT

The treasurers house

Fascinating as the centre was, being boaters it was the River that provided us with the most entertainment. Their were a number of interesting vessels showing off besides the fancy cruisers.

Pirates ahoy

But of course my favourite was the ice cream boat.

Ice cream in style

And on our final day we got prime viewing for the annual Dragon boat races.

The York Dragon boat Races

This little selection barely scratches the surface of what we enjoyed in York. We attended concerts, ate out, made friends, had visitors, walked the wall, saw firework displays, attended a service with archbishop John Sentanu, the and generally felt like we’d been on holiday. The detour was well worth it.

Boroughbridge to Ripon

The question we kept getting asked in York was had we been to Ripon. The answer was No, the maps say the maximum boat length for the Ure and Ripon canal is 57 foot. But for some reason the boaters thought better, although non of them had actually done the trip in a 60 foot boat. So undeterred by the printed word we threw caution to the wind and set off. Actually we’d studied the map pretty carefully and knew where all our turning back points were if we couldn’t do it. It was a beautiful tranquil river cruise blue sky, kingfishers and herons at every turn. I kept looking out for places we could wild moor, amongst all this nature, but nothing looked viable.

We cruised onto Linton for an overnight stop on the floating pontoons, and then upto Boroughbridge. So far the locks were just about long enough for us to squeeze in. However my wish to moor amongst the trees came true when there was barely 20foot of mooring space left and with much balancing and rope throwing we managed to tie off the stern around an old oak tree.

Only just room for Firecrest

Boroughbridge is a pretty market town with some history going back to Roman times. I couldn’t find any dates for the town’s water pump in the centre of the square, I suspect it is Georgian.

Now on the River Ure, we debated some more about the last 7 miles into Ripon. We made easy enjoyable progress to Westwick lock, but this was to be our undoing. We nudged in cautiously, but even though Eric angled the boat diagonally I couldnt quite close the lock gates behind him. We suspect if we had removed the fenders we’d have been ok, but not knowing our ability to wind up ahead we played safe and reversed out. Going up a lock is less risky than coming down, because you are already below the cill. Therefore you know by the time the lock is filled there will be more length of waters , where as coming down, because the cill is below water level if you haven’t left enough room it could have catastrophic consequences if the boat gets caught up on the cill.

Westwick lock, as far as we could get.

Moored safely back in Boroughbridge, we caught the bus into Ripon. Its a lovely place full of character, and twisty streets,

Looking towards Ripon cathedral

and on the day we went, also full of Morris dancers.

Morris dancing Inn the square

If we come this way again, or should I say when we come this way again, we’ll probably give it another go at getting into Ripon. We like a challenge.