Saying Goodbye to Sheffield

Up early with Bacon butties on the go, we waved goodbye to Sheffield. Nice to be leaving a place knowing there’s lots still to see. We will definitely come back. We cruised out past Jonathon Wilson’s boat yard and, and Finesse, the Tyler Wilson fit out partnership. And while the boat yard from canal angle doesn’t look much, Eric was impressed with Richards attitude.

Jonathon Wilson’s and Finesse boatyard

Grateful as we we for blue skies and fluffy cloud, we weren’t so sure about the great white shark seeing us off.

Watch out fishermen theres a shark in the water

We cruised quickly past Meadowhall, catherdral of commercialism and the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey arena,- this one is for our family who love the game, and I suspect if I had lived close enough to get to a match I would also have caught the bug.

FlyDSA from the canal

Being surrounded by hills means lots of bridges and the journey to and from Sheffield is filled with things to look at

And slowly under the M1

Under the M1

We met David our lock keeper at Tinsley. We didn’t think he was supposed to be on duty but he’s a man who loves his job and loves to help. He gave us some very useful advice descending a short wide lock and taught us a new move “The Yorkshire Bow Thruster” -wonder if we’ll get see that one on stricktly. I got lots of practice, Eric put the boat along one edge. And I take the bow line up onto the bank. Drop the water level, walk the line across to the other side, open the gate then pull the boat over so we can exit lock on opposite side. Not sure if that explanation makes sense but it worked when we did it for real. Once we got to the last three locks the second lockie took over, I laid my rope out as instructed but he laughed at what we were doing and before we knew what was happening, Eric had such s deluge of water coming in the back of the boat, he had to mop the galley floor before we could move in. Needless to say he was livid. And I was helpless, do I obey the captain or the lockie? we did not get soaked doing the last two locks so guess who gets my vote. Holme lock was the last of our assisted locks so I had chance to look at the mural.

Holme lock

Our least favourite lockie said the Exol Pride was due in Rotherham after the weekend so it took us by surprise when we heard a horn coming from the blind bridge

Not what you want to meet under a bridge.

Luckily we were able to keep out of the way. we called it a day at Eastwood lock visitor mooring.

Victoria Quays

CRT has missed a trick by not creating more visitor mooring in Sheffield. There’s only room for 2 or 3 boats with a 48 hour restriction. Not much incentive when you have to book lock passage 24 hours in advance and then spend the best part of a day working through 15 heavy locks to find you might not be able to moor. But the fees in the basin are reasonable so we booked ourselves a berth to give us time to explore.

Visitor mooring next to Sheaf Quay

‘Back in the day’ circa 1819 the Sheffeild Canal Basin was completed at the end of the Sheffield Canal. It must have been an amazing sight as coal and grain were brought here. The buildings are impressive which implies a good profit was being made. It stopped being used commercially in the 1970s but was regenerated in the 1990s. We were given a spot right next to “The Straddle” which as the name implies, straddles the basin.

The Straddle

And although fishing inset allowed in the actual basin, it’s a favourite spot for the resident heron. Usually we see herons standing in the shallows and piercing the water with their long necks to catch fish. Not this one, it launched its self of the ledge in an undignified bellyflop and huge splash. I suspect it only caught anything cause the fish were immobilized with laughter rather than stealth and surprise. Never the less we did see it make several catches.

Hungry Heron

At night the Straddle is lit up in glorious Technicolor, each light rotating through a sequence. Quite impressive for the guests overlooking the basin from the neighbouring Hilton hotel.

The Straddle by night

In order to leave the basin we needed to use the winding space reached by cruising under the Straddle, to the Terminal Wharf, this end is where the grain was stored. It’s now known as the Ovo building.

The Terminal building

I wonder what the people in the offices now think when a boat cruises below them

Remerging

Some of the arches have been turned into commercial units, the best two being the cafe whose cooked breakfast aroma stirred us from our slumber at 7 am and The Dorothy Pax, a bar/social venue that took over the late shift and kept our evenings entertaining. The whole area was vibrant and friendly although the other side of the arches was less salubrious

We were quite sad when it was time for us to move on through the swing bridge. Sheffield has been a great place to visit. Made even better being able to meet up with family, and there’s still loads that we havent seen I am sure we will be back to explore more in the future

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