We’re always excited by how much there is to see in an area, and saddened by how blinkered we were when we were land based. Usually we don’t feel the need to go beyond walking distance of Firecrest, but Burscough has a train station so I took the opportunity to visit Southport, where my Aunty and cousins lived during my teenage years. Then I’d been interested in cheap fashion and exploring my “new romantic” image, it’s where I saw the first Star wars film and had a crush on Mark Hamill. Now I saw the beautiful Victorian buildings and the covered walkway and arcades along Lord Street. Sadly Southport looked tired and run down, which is such a shame, it’s a high street worth celebrating even though I am no longer a fashionista, (was I ever) Red Rum still stands proudly in Wayfayrers Arcade.
Burscough also is home to Emma Maye, The Wool Boat, yes a whole narrowboat dedicated to selling wool,
Although they were cruising in Cheshire they had returned by road to attend the knit and Natter at the Slipway Pub, and I was able to catch up with them and a super group of knitters, who made me very welcome when I joined them.
There are some gorgeous cottages along the cut
And some “Interesting” homes between here and Liverpool
Now that Firecrest has passed through Wigan, we have reached the area I grew up in. For despite my numerous addresses, I’m a Lancashire girl-or was until they redrew the county lines and it became Merseyside. I have fond memories of place names, places we drove through before the motorways made escaping north to the Lake District a more sanitised journey. I still have aunties, uncles and cousins in this area, all wanting to see Firecrest and our alternative lifestyle. So when we got to Parbold, Aunty Avril, Mum and Mike joined us as we cruised from Parbold to Burscough
It was a good day to have company, showing off all the lovely aspects of narrowboating, pretty bridges
And colourful countryside
And me hopping on and off, showing just how capable I am at hauling the boat in and working locks and swing bridges.
We cruised past the Rufford Arm, that’ll be next years route, and moored up in Burscough just in time to enjoy a perfect sunset
Cousin Lynne and her children Reubin and Freya joined us a few days later,
They were keen to join in and help with the swing bridges, and they made a good crew.
There are a lot of locks on the 127 miles of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, 91 to be precise, and the next 12 miles of our journey was to include 30 of them. We started our week at Johnson’s Locks visitor mooring where the Top Lock pub serves pizza and charges you the time on clock face. So at ten past three we were ready for a very late lunch/early tea and had an acceptable pizza for £3.10
We were well fuelled and geared up for what lay ahead but when Heather and Anthony said they’d like to visit us, we made sure we “just happened” to be at the top of the Wigan flight when they arrived. Knowing I’d have a crew and hopefully some volunteers to feed I made cake and cookies.
But it was the bacon butties that tempted Tim to hop on a train and join us for the day.
The Wigan flight descends 200feet through 21 locks. Sadly these locks are old and leaky and prone to vandalism so they are kept locked and passage is restricted to certain times of the day. We made it to the top lock just in time, before they were fastened shut for the day.
It’s the first time Anthony has been narrowboating but he took to locking like a pro.
It’s always a debate about who has drawn the short straw, the helmsman or the lock labourers, but I knew the Wigan locks are short and leaky and it would be Eric that had to dodge the deluge. I’ll take the dry land any day.
We made it through the bottom lock in 3 hours 2 minutes. And we were all still smiling. We even had enough energy left to walk further along to find the famous Wigan Pier.
It’s thought that Wigan pier became an icon when a train excursion to Southport was delayed and to keep the passengers amused this little coal loading jetty was given an elevated status. That particular “pier” was demolished in the early 1900s, so various protrusions in the location claim the historic title now, this one being the most like the original.
Tim could only stay for the day but Heather and Anthony enjoyed another night on board, if only so they could have a proper boaters breakfast.
And as a final reward for all their efforts, Ant got to prove that he doesn’t just like fast cars but slow boats also have a certain appeal.
We’d better watch out he’s a natural. But we had to say goodbye to our helpers as they had to be at work the day.
Whilst we were travelling through the abandoned industrial heritage of the Lancashire mills, we came across a National Trust Property within walking distance of the canal. Gawthorpe Hall at Hapton.
Never one to miss an opportunity I set off to indulge in a bit of house fantasy. The Hall’s origins were in the 14th century when the pele tower was build to fend off the marauding Scots. As with most old buildings like this, it’s been added to to and renovated many times over as fortunes waxed and wained. What we see now is basically a 16th century Elizabethan country house that’s had a Victorian makeover. The guides were keen to point out that a lot of the internal structure was designed by Pugin, who had a hand in the Houses of Parliament. It was intended to be, and is, all very grand and ornate. My house fantasy prefers something with a few less nooks and crannies that need dusting.
I was however bowled over by the Rachel Shuttleworth textile collection. Rachel was the last of the “family” to live in the hall, she was a great needlewoman, educator and philanthropist. In fact my Aunty spent a lot of time studying lace making in the hall. It was all very inspirational.
The other artifact inside the Hall that caught my eye was the Davy Automatic Fire escape.
It’s gears and braking system ensure a controlled descent. And it reassuringly says “do not hesitate, it is perfectly safe” and that these mechanisms are still for sale today.
I always like to look out of the window and the Gawthorpe Hall garden is bordered by the Lancashire River Calder. The course of this river has been altered several times to enhance to view and to allow opencast coal mining in the fields behind the tree line. There are several Calder Rivers in the UK. The word Calder derives from celtic origins, meaning hard rapid water.
On the other side of the hall, in a drought year, you can look down onto a ghost garden. As the outlines of the old Elizabethan garden emerge through the grass. I’m not sure whether to say luckily or unluckily I didn’t get to see this phenomenon, suffice to say that the Leeds and Liverpool canal has not suffered from water shortages this summer.
We didn’t linger long, as we’d got a break in the weather and set off cruising south towards Blackburn with the Forest of Bowland to our north west.
The next few days took us through some Lancashire mill towns. These places grew and thrived during the industrial revolution, when 1.5 million bales of cotton were imported through Liverpool Docks. Sadly as with so many areas like this, modern technology and cheap labour closer to where cotton is grown has left a lot of derelict buildings which didn’t encourage us to linger
but when the sun shone we certainly had something to reflect upon.
We were very glad when we cruised through Nelson and saw this facility. Eric had just done a service on our generator so we had a few litres of dirty oil looking for a home, a dedicated Canal Users Recycling Point and oil bank made us very excited and between bridges 141b and c has been marked on our map.
We made another stop shortly after this, as the huge Burnley Tesco is conveniently right next to the canal. Although I prefered the view opposite. And as the benches were inhabited by several drunks, not somewhere we wanted to stay overnight.
And the canal kept traversing the M65 motorway, which always makes us smile as we enjoy our snails pace.
And it’s here, by bridge 112, in a small village called Church, near Accrington, we realised that we had reached exactly half way inbetween Leeds and Liverpool. 63 5/8 miles each way. It had taken us 38 days to get this far.
As we were busy looking at the fancy art work we noticed a fire engine parked up and 3 officers throwing a rescue line into the canal.
Thankfully they were just practicing, so we stopped to watch and learn as we have also chosen to have one of these life savers on board in preference to a traditional bulky ring.
Hopefully we’ll never have to use it, but as it lives on the coat hooks at the stern, it’s easily accessible should one of us ever go for an unintentional swim.
Resuming our journey Apologies for quite a lengthy absence, we had a significant family health issue to deal with, which is now fully resolved and not expected to cause any further problem. However the account of our journey to Liverpool is now very behind schedule as we actually reached the big city a month ago now. (You’ll have to wait for photos) When I last wrote, we were in East Marton with its double bridge,
and it had started to rain. To be honest, it’s felt like it’s rained most of the past six weeks and as we were leaving the intense beauty of the Dales a grey drabness enveloped us.
Being true codiwomplers we do have the luxury of time and are able to stay put inside if it rains. But undeterred we dodged the showers and continued up the last few locks at Greenberfield.
And shortly after crossed the border from Yorkshire into Lancashire at bridge 149.
Then came the one way Fouldridge tunnel with its traffic lights. Because of number of widebeams using this canal it’s inappropriate for CRT to ask them to restrict passage to 8am as they do for other one way tunnels. So each direction has an allocated 10 minute time slot per hour in which to enter the tunnel and make it’s minute journey into the darkness. Can you imagine car drivers waiting 50 minutes for the lights to change.
We were now descending the Pennines and our first series of locks at Barrowford didn’t disappoint.
In one sense going down is easier because I can open the paddles fully to empty the lock but on the shorter locks it’s harder to open the gates without the helm getting soaked under the deluge from leaky gates.
This is true Yorkshire Dales country. We’re high up and it feels like the canal is still climbing although this is an optical illusion as we haven’t seen a lock since Bingley. It’s because we’re reaching the top of the valleys.
But we still had a few hundred feet to climb before we reached the summit of the canal and locking up began again at Gargrave.
We were a bit disappointed that the footpath closures meant the mooring in Gargrave was restricted and limited, which is a pity because it’s a pretty village, one that we have driven through many times. But the generous side of my nature says it’ll be a fantastic asset to the walkers and cyclists once it’s finished.
We moored one night but then took advantage of a fellow traveller to share the locks
People aren’t wrong when they say this is the prettiest section of the canal, and I think the Gargrave flight definatelty makes it into my top 10 for views. We were lucky that our dramatic cloudy backdrop held onto the rain until after we had cruised.
We were able to stretch our legs with some bracing walks
Thankful that we didn’t have too strenuous a climb to reach the top.
Sadly the weather didn’t play fair and we had to dodge some heavy downpours before reaching East Marton, though without rain you dont get rainbows and I was able to take advantage of a sunny break to show off my Towpath spinning.
It would have been easy to slip through the tiny village of East Marton if we hadn’t been on the lookout for the water point. And the lock keeper had told us that the Cross Keys pub did a good Sunday carvery.
We could just about see Firecrest nestled below us, in the far left, as we ate the best roast beef and Yorkshire pudding we’d had since I last cooked it in Boroughbridge.
Mum decided to take advantage of the scenic drive over from the Lakes to visit us in Skipton. So we decided to take advantage of their wheels and asked for a trip out to visit Bolton Abbey. I’d not been before and thought it was just the ruins of an old monastery .
Well I guess to some extent it is, but there’s oh so much more. Bolton Abbey is really the whole estate village, owned, run, and cashed in on, by the Duke of Devonshire and his family.
There is an active church known as the priory still attached to the ruins which is a place of beauty in its own right, with stunning stained glass
And the most unusual painted alter wall, depicting Madonna Lilies and other symbolic plants.
We could have sat and absorbed the peace that flowed through this building despite its turbulent past, being partially destroyed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, but the outside was calling us
And as we sat to enjoy the view
We had to have a family photo
Those grey clouds were getting ominously closer so we decided to take a drive through the estate where we were able to stand in the ancient oak woodland and look down onto the River Wharfe and over to the Priests house in the distance
The whole area of Wharfdale is stunning, and I was so lucky to be taken for a drive through it. Even though its so close, its quite different from the views we get from the canal.
Oh good, I thought as we left Bingley, “No more locks for a while.” What I hadn’t realised was that by following the contours through farm land, was just how many manual swing bridges I’d have to open and close. Some were pretty and pleasant but a lot were simply fiddly hard work, needing a CRT anti-vandal handcuff key and help from passers by to get the heavy compressed mechanisms shifting.
But leaving the awkwardness aside we were travelling through some of the prettiest countryside.
And I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of stone bridges
Or houses that come straight down onto the canal
Even the mills across the fields were lovely
We had to chuckle to ourselves that we used to drive this way to and from the Lake District not knowing there was a canal on the other side. Although we could say the same about our cruise, who’d have thought there was a main road just over that wall.
We were looking forward to coming into Silsden because it’s one of the places we visited, if only because it was on our Lakeland route, when we were designing Firecrest.
But we’d never explored beyond the canal. So it was a pleasant afternoon walking around this lovely little town, watching the dogs watching the river ducks
And finding out about the nail trade that arrived in 1776 in Silsden from the Midlands.
We also found out that in the 1830s 3 Silsden men were some of the first to be transported to Austrailia rather than being hung for burglary. So we thought it was time to move swiftly on.
After a few more nights in the countryside
We moored up underneath the Victoria mill chimney in Skipton
We rushed off to have fish and chips from Bizzie Lizzies, another tradition from our 4 wheeled travels. Skipton is overflowing with fine foods, and is the home of several award winning pie shops.
We sampled as many as our bellies would allow. So we burnt off a few of the extra calories doing a bit of walking, and discovered the Skipton woods by the castle, guarded by the Huntress of Skipton.
Our journey westwards continued through some of the loveliest countryside, with the canal following the contours of the land. Land which rolled into hills, farms and valleys with woodland and views in abundance.
And on the whole, we were lucky enough to be traversing this section in good weather. We took advantage of some shady towpath mooring.
We found ourselves next to Low Wood Nature Reserve, which although next to a beautifully manicured golf course to the south,
took us ruggedly upwards through scrambling rocks just begging to be climbed.
Forget the golf course, this was our sort of playground.
And we found plenty of nature around the reserve.
Of course being surrounded by ancient oaks, is an ideal place to build a business if you love wood. Eric was beyond excited when he realised one of the companies he buys furniture grade wood from was within walking distance of our mooring.
And while he oohed and arred throughout the vast selection, okay admittedly I was also very impressed, he was very restrained and only bought a small piece to do some tweaks to Firecrest.
When we downsized to move onto Firecrest, it was Eric’s woodworkshop that was the hardest to leave behind. Fortunately for me, wool is much more squashable and I was able to sneak a lot more into the hidden corners of Firecrest. So when the weather is as good as it was this week I was able to indulge my hobby and sit on the bank spinning.
While we were relaxing and enjoying the world go by we realised every now and then a sweaty runner with a number shuffled past. I just had to ask about their race as they were so spaced out. It turns out they were competing a mega marathon, one of three CanalSlams, which entailed running from Liverpool along the towpath, all the way to Leeds. Oh my goodness that’s 117 miles. Not only is the distance mega, they were doing it non stop. After I’d picked myself up off the floor, I had a look at the website. 59 runners started the race, 36 completed it. There were checkpoints every 10-15 miles and they were allowed buddy runners for encouragement, although the buddies were not permitted to run ahead In case that made them pacers. They were allowed to sit in a support vehicle for up to 40 minutes break provided it didn’t move. They left Liverpool at 6am and the winner arrived 22 hours later. The last – I refuse to say looser- took 39 hours. According to AC canal planner it takes 66 hours for a narrowboat to do the same journey, I guess the runners didn’t have any locks or swing bridges to negotiate. I could have taken photos but I decided I would stand up and cheer as each one went past, I even topped up a couple of water bottles for them. I forgot to ask how they were getting back to the car park in Liverpool.
While we were in this area, we were lucky to meet fellow Braidbar Boaters on Mr Blue Sky. We took it as a great complement that they had designed their boat with a similar style bow as ours and had followed the continuing innovations in using an electric motor.