Pollington to Wakefield
6th August 2011
28 miles - 11 locks - 10 hours
The start of the day was a blast. Well actually the day started with a blast from the horn from a huge bulk carrier which was making its way down the New Junction Canal and on to Goole. It certainly made us jump and had me out of our bunk and scrabbling for my camera. Who says there and no large commercial craft left?
The 9 miles of the Aire and Calder to Knottingley are pretty uninteresting, broad, deep, with high steel piled banks which stretch on for mile after mile. A true motorway of canals, fast, efficient and dull.
What few locks you encounter are huge, long chambers stretching away into the distance. Fortunately, the locks are sub divided and leisure boats can use a short section at the bottom end with the gates and paddles controlled by hydraulics. You get a feeling of power pressing that button and seeing the giant indicators rise and the ground paddles wind up in their hidden recesses.
There is relief from all this lowland flatness after the M62 when you approach your first hill since Nottingham, but closer inspection reveals that this 300ft rise is not part of the Pennines . In fact its the reclaimed tailings from the local coal mines now forested over. Then its past Kellingley Colliery, one of the few remaining deep mines in the country. Not that the coat is being moved by water, that finished years ago. Now all the coal is moved on an endless chain of Heavy Haul railway waggons.
Knottingley brings some relief from all this industry with its corn mills its canal side ampitheatre, its gypsy camp at the junction and then, at the far end, there is the vast bulk of Ferrybridge Power Station with its huge cooling towers standing tall, sending clouds of steam high into the sky.
Travellers at Castleford
This power station used to be supplied by 24 local pits, with at least 25% of its coal delivered by water.
Ferrybridge Power Station
There follows four miles of winding river, quite pretty but spoilt by the the very visible tailings which line its route. There are several old colliery loading basins along this section which are navigable and would make an interesting overnight mooring. I'm glad to say that the scars of mining are healing and within a few years the ravages left behind will have largely disappeared.
From Castleford the land starts to roll, the first indications of the Pennines up ahead. Beyond this lies Stanley Ferry with its pair of aqueducts, our planned destination. However, the stony cill would have made for a bumpy night so we pressed on through Fall Ing Lock, the start of the Calder and Hebble and an end to the electrically operated gates. But before we got there we hit a snag at old Fairies Lock where we ran ourselves hard aground on a shingle bank opposite Lefarge's winding hole. No sooner had we got stuck than nb Magrathea appeared and snatched us off - we barely had time to say thanks before they were off round a bend in the river.
We passed Wakefield and found the place rather underwhelming. The town sits back away from canal and whilst there are some good warehouses there was little to make us stay. The Calder and Hebble comes as a refreshing change after the massive Aire and Calder - a navigation on a human scale. Its locks reduce to sub 60ft and are about 16ft wide, many replacing smaller earlier versions which still stand to one side, themselves lengthened at some point in the Navigation's history.
We re watered at Broad Cut Low Lock and moored in the cut above Broad Cut Top Lock, away from the roar of the motorway but still close to a branch railway which crossed the valley on a viaduct high above us.
This is a very peaceful area with the once navigable River Calder winding away behind us, the intimacy of the canals is gathering us once more into is embrace.
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