Saturday 30 June 2018

Groundhog day

West Stockwith to Torksey
June 2018

Another day and another blast out on the Tidal Trent. 

Gates open and ready to go

Our enforced stay in West Stockwith proved to be very pleasant. After lunch at The Waterfront Inn, we spent a slobby afternoon dozing on the boat and bringing the blog up to date. Come 6.00pm we decided to visit The White Heart, home of the Idle Brewery where good food was available. 

Bye West Stockwith

In spite of a satisfactory first day on the Tideway, fears and concerns returned in the dark hours of the night. I find this habit massively frustrating and I had another less than great nights sleep, waking at 5.00am. Logic says all will be well, but still all the disaster options fill my mind. I guess the problem is that I know enough about the river to recognise the dangers, but not enough experience to put them in perspective!

Departure from West Stockwith is, as you would expect, determined by the tide. This isnt so much a matter of timing as observation. A single narrowboat entered the lock first and waited till the depth reached 3ft over the cill. Then the gates opened and he was off in a blast of blue diesel smoke. Then it was refilled for us and by the time we made a level with the river the water had risen to 5ft over the cill, and we left at about 8.30am.

Gainsborough Visitor Moorings

Paul Balmer had warned me about this exit, where the lock is angled downstream. The tip given to him was to exit like a rocket, but faster. I guess that because we have a shorter boat the advice was not as applicable, but we still gave it a good blast from the back of the lock and burst forth when given the thumbs up by the lock keeper. With a four mph current sweeping up the river, the bows swung round before the stern was fully out and the boat heeled over a bit, and then we were off up the river again at a steady 1500 rpm.

A salutary reminder that things can go wrong

For the most part the trip was uneventful, with us sticking to the middle of the channel and being swept south at an overall speed of about 6 mph. There is less grot in the water this far up and I suspect it is now entirely fresh. 

Gainsborough Bridge

The first notable landmark was Gainsborough where the visitor moorings sat uninvitingly empty - still somewhere I would use only if desperate. Then it was Gainsborough Road Bridge where swirls and eddies south of the cut waters caused the boats to buck and kick till smoother water was reached on the other side. 

Fast moving cruisers

It was between Gainsborough and Stoney Bight that we had our moments of greatest excitement. A number of tree trunks occupied the centre of the river and as we manouvered around them three large plastics came blatting along, punching the flood tide for all they were worth. With no ability to turn to meet the huge washes bows on, we had to take then at 30 degrees and oh my did we kick and buck. Of  course the pitch and roll of the motor became out of sync with the shorter butty. The bows of the motor were up as the butty went down and the connecting ropes were alternately taught and slack. All in all it was a thoroughly uncomfortable five minutes and the words "bloody plastics" were heard to come from my lips (with all respect to my friends on Naughty-Cal).

Turbulance at Stoney Bight

No sooner were we through the wake than we were into Stoney Bight where the river turns 180 degrees in an impossibly tight bend. This squeeze on the channel throws the current into a frenzy and provides another five minutes of excitement.

Then things settled down and we ticked off the landmarks as we passed them. A power station here, a pumping station there and of course, we started to count down the kilometer marker posts which started at 88 just south of Gainsbourough.

The flood tide continues to push us along, boosting our speed from 3 mph to over 5. At one point the Lancaster of the RAF Memorial Flight flew over us which gave Helen something to point the camera at. Up till then she has been focusing on sheep!


From our previous trips down river I knew that any slow canal boats making for Keadby would spend an hour or so punching the tide and it was likely we would meet them somewhere around Marton Rack. Sure enough, just as we approached Marton Corner and large broadbeam emerged, making slow progress.

Marton Corner

From there the skyline was dominated by the Cottam Power Station, which sits opposite Torksey. My main fear was that we would run out of flood tide, which was visibly slowing. It was with relief that we went under Torksey Railway Bridge and finally the entrance to Torksey cut came into view. In the event after three hours of travel we had maybe 20 or 30 minutes before the top of the tide - but you don't know that till you have done it.

Helen could see my stress increase as the flood tide came to an end and provided a non stop rendition of every river song she could think of. She also asked if, having completed most of the tideway, would I consider doing it with the butty again. Right now the jury is out. Lets get the last leg to Cromwell under our belt and I will give a balanced reply. I guess that this diversion has pushed us beyond our comfort zone for the paired boats, but has also provided an enhanced appreciation of what is possible. I certainly am happy to go to Gloucester at some point.

Torksey Cut

So here we sit beneath Torksey Lock, waiting for tomorrows flood tide, which starts at 10.00 am should help us to reach Cromwell three hours later. Maybe I will get a better nights sleep tonight.

Torksey Visitor mooring

Friday 29 June 2018

Time and Tide

Tideway to West Stockwith
June 2018

Phew, stage one done and  dusted!

Well, they do say that time and tide waits for no man, and this was very true today. 

Goodbye Keadby

Having discussed the passage from Keadby to West Stockwith carefully with the lock keeper we were told to be ready to enter Keadby at 7.45am, ready to catch the flood tide which would push us up to West Stockwith. Alarms were set but in the event this proved unnecessary as I was awake by 5.00am with, if I am absolutely honest, a knot of fear in my stomach.

Out onto the tideway

Now this short cut up the Trent is great in theory but given our lack of speed (3.0 mph max at 1500 revs) out ability to punch a flood tide is very limited to say the least. Therefore it is important that we exit Keadby at just the right time and then maintain a very steady speed along the river to ensure we reach our exit point close to high tide. Go too slow and we will fail to reach the lock before the ebb starts to drag us back. Go too fast and we will overshoot and be unable to hold position till the magic moment is reached.

We made all the usual preparations for the trip including life jackets and VHF and on the eve of our departure we decided to update our copy of the Waterways Routes on line maps on both my laptop and more crucially on my i-phone. I don't get on too well with technology beyond plug and play, so Paul Balmer himself undertook to do the upgrade. Of course, the course of true technology never runs smoothly and it took the combined efforts of Paul and Helen to get everything working again. That's my problem with technology - fantastic when it works, but so often tempremental just when you need it most! Maybe doing an upgrade at 10.00pm on the night before our departure wasn't the greatest idea.

Anyway, we were travelling with another narrowboat which, I knew from experience a few days ago, was very able to show us a clean pair or heels. I was more than a bit relieved when the skipper idly said in the lock, don't worry - I will keep you in sight. At least there was another narrowboat out on the river.

I am used to being locked up into Keadby so it was a bit strange to find myself being locked up onto the river, which the night before was so far beneath us. The gates opened and there was the chocolate brown waters of the Tidal Trent streaming past the entrance. The other boat went first and no sooner was he out than he was whisked away on the current. We gave the engine a bit of welly and pressed out hard on his heels.

As we left the lock the keeper called - take it gently. As if we had any choice. We got out into the stream, very aware that for a breasted pair we were under powered, and settled the engine to a steady 1500 revs. This takes our movement on still flat water to 3.00 mph and is a rate we can maintain without overheating the engine. The issue is that we don't often do this for hour after hour and this isn't somewhere for things to go wrong.

Our thin line of connection with the outside world

Paul Balmer was there to wave us goodbye and we were immediately monitoring progress via the GPS function on his map app. Our little red dot was scudding up the river, peaking out at 7.58 mph near the motorway bridge. This told us that the underlying current was 4.58 mph and simple maths told us there was no way back.

With about 13 miles to cover we watched for each landmark, breathing a sigh of relief as we crossed the half way point after 50 minutes. The twist is that as the flood tide reaches its peak its flow decreased, so the tidal assist declines. This tideway malarkey leaves you very dependent of the expertise of the lock keepers. Whilst the other narrowboat was probably a mile ahead, we saw it in the distance on each of the long straight racks and each time it appeared we breathed a little easier.

Reflections in a teapot

However, all was not without incident. The river is awash with debris and you spend a lot of times weaving around the larger bits of floating rubbish. What you cant account for is the submerged crap and at one point what was probably a bundle of sticks caught in the prop and we lost all power. It took two or three blasts of astern before the obstruction cleared and we were starting to visualise an emergency weed hatch visit. Not something I would wish on my worst enemy at that point in time.

His nibs out on the tideway

The miles clicked off, three, two and one and which point we tried to reach West Stockwith on the VHF to see if we were going too fast or too slow for the tide. Our calls went unanswered and we soon saw that the other boat, which had been a mile ahead, was marking time outside the lock waiting for high water. At this point the VHF burst into life and it became apparent that he wasn't expecting a breasted pair. We would have to wait for 10 to 15 minutes while the first boat locked in.

Stemming the flow outside West Stockwith Lock

We did a big 180 degree turn opposite the lock and figured we would soon find out just how fast the current was flowing. The moment spent of drifting sideways along the river was a bit worrying, but we got the boats around and powered into the flow. The flood had started to abate so we managed to punch the tide at 1400rpm and edged closer and closer to the wall outside the lock. It isn't immediately apparent but there is an eddy by the wall and the closer in we went the less throttle we had to use till suddenly we found ourselves in idle with water surging past the outside of the butty. We hooked a mid rope on and waited.

One safely gathered in

After about 20 mins the lock keeper drained the lock and we were cleared to enter. A good bit of throttle was suggested, but we knew the boats best to it was up to us. Fast is usually a bad idea with the butty so we slid out across the lock and pushed the bows against the far side. With everything stable and the flood tide almost finished and we a short blast of power and we slid into the safety of the lock with barely a rattle. Phew, the relief was plapable. 


We chatted with the seasonal lock keeper and before we had completed locking up a pot of Blackcurrant and Sloe Gig Jam was sold.

Relaxing at the Waterfront Inn

And that was that for the boating day. 10.30 saw us tied up on the visitor mooring and within an hour or so we were supping a pint in the shade at the Waterfront Inn. Regarding the wisdom of the trip, it was just announced that the quick fix to the Marple flight have not been successful (now thats a surprise) and some rebuilding will be needed with the resultant extended closure. So, had we opted for the Huddersfield Narrow option we would have found ourselves back in Manchester this weekend with a very long trek ahead of us instead of which we will be in Nottingham and a direct route to the south via the Leicester Line.

However, before I settle into a Mr Smug routine there are two more hops on the tideway and then the plod up the river. I will keep you posted.

Unto the ends of the earth (Keadby)

Sykehouse Junction to Keadby
June 2018

By the time you read this post we should (hopefully) have completed the first third of our tideway passage and be safely tucked away in Stockwith Basin, waiting for the next tide to push us up to Torksey. But more about that another day.

New Junction Canal

The New Junction Canal may only be about five miles long but don't assume you will crack through it in an hour. 

This is one of the last UK canals to be built and it is fitting that (MSC apart) it is one of the last to carry regular commercial traffic. The big boys have a land based driver who sprints from bridge to bridge preparing the way for the tanker, but for the rest of us progress is constantly interrupted by lift /swing bridges or the massive Sykehouse Lock. 

Sykehouse Lock

The canal isn't without its charm and the moveable bridges are among the largest we have come across. The lock sits midway along the canal and in an ideal world you would have bike to commute from end to end. The whole shindig is released by a key in the middle, which lets you swing a bridge out of the way. Then its up and down to the control podiums at both ends. I hate to think how much water the lock contains.

Feeling small!

The canal finishes with a flourish in the form of the Don Aqueduct. Here an iron trough was built about 100 years ago, with side low enough to spill surplus water into the Don just below. Its sides are also open to allow flood water to pass over the canal, held out of the canal by guillotine gates. This arrangement is, to the best of my knowledge, unique.

Don Aqueduct

Then it is hard left into the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, and the link into the River Trent. Bramwith Lock can be used  in long format, but for most boats the short end section is enough, dropping you down to the pound into Thorn.

This is a quiet waterway and you rarely see many boats. Thorn is the main event of the canal, sporting a number of boatyards and a useful town centre and Sainsburys. The Thorn Lock is short and prevents full length boats using this sheltered inland route. They have to face the perils of Trent Falls. The moorings at the service point were all taken so we stopped just beyond the temperamental footbridge. I remember this bridge from last time but it didn't stop me struggling to get the barrier gates in place and release the brakes on the swivel motor.

Its grim up north

Thursday was spent covering the final 12 miles to Keadby. This really is a waterway to the end of the world. You chug along for mile after mile with just the odd swing bridge to negotiate. The busy railway line is alongside the canal, its drivers offering cheery waves to the occasional boater. Most unusually, there are a number of manned level crossings beside canal bridges, where boaters are able to pass the time of day with the lonely holders of the railway posts.

This as also an area of windmills, their slender masts towering over the fields and their sails casting twirling shadows on the crops beneath. We saw these wind farms being built last time we were in the area and now they are such a fixture.

The end of the canal includes the unusual Vazon sliding railway bridge where the rail deck half swivels and half slides out of the way - all controlled by an adjacent signal box.

Vazon Sliding Raiway Bridge

No sooner were we through the bridge than the river lock opened and there were the Balmers and Waterways Routes coming up. We had been tracking each others progress so this came as no surprise, it was just a shame not to get a photo of them coming in from the river.

Keadby Lock

So here we sit, at the end of the world with 44 miles of tideway between us and the safety of Cromwell Lock at Newark. I have to admit to a few concerns as our maximum speed over still flat water is a mere 3mph. We are therefore taking the tideway in three jumps, overnighting in Stockwith (13 miles), Torksey (15 miles) and then Cromwell / Newark (16 miles). 


The plan is to join the flood tide at 7.45am on Friday and reach Stockwith on the top of the tide just over two hours later. We have to trust the experience of the lock keepers because there really isnt a fall back option on this first leg, other than a return to Keadby. 

Did I say that I would never take the butty on the tideway?

Thursday 28 June 2018

On to the New Junction Canal

Leeds to Sykehouse Junction
June 2018

Here we are again, playing catch up with the blog posts having spent four days on the move.

Reflecting on Leeds mooring

We left a very cosmopolitan Leeds Waterfront behind us and immediately were out onto the Aire and Calder Navigation with its broad waterways and mechanised locks. This is a waterway on a completely different scale and it wasn't long ago that it was used commercially to bring oil to a depot in Leeds. The storage tanks remain in service but the tankers are long gone.

 Leeds bridge and Lemonroyd Lock

Leeds waterfront

The navigation also carried huge quantities of coal and the entire landscape is sculpted by reclaimed spoil tips and the canal fringes dotted with silted wharfs and reedy inlets.
As with most of these northern canals, we pretty much had the place to ourselves all the way through to Castleford, our destination for Monday night. Here we restocked at a supermarket but the endless days of wall to wall sunshine make dragging a shopping trolley anything but a pleasure. 

Tuesday was a day to clock off the miles, nearly 18 all told which is a long day for us. We refilled the diesel tank at Supreme Marine, putting in 120 litres which was the first refill since the outskirts of Liverpool three weeks ago. The diesel was pricey but we really needed it before the Trent so the took the cost on the chin.

Silting on the Aire and Calder

If the navigation to Leeds was big, the waterway now reaches incredible proportions, built to accommodate the trains of Tom Puddings which moved coal from the many pits to Castleford Power Station and Goole. Today the power station unloading machinery stands idle and a forgotten relic, covering beneath the huge cooling towers. 

Industrial relics at Castleford

Not far beyond Knottingley stands the site of Kellingley Colliery, the last UK deep pit to close. Last time we came past, maybe 5 or 6 years ago the colliery was still working but today the pit head gear stands forlornly among the heaps of spoil, which are gradually being landscaped. One odd twist is that the site of the colliery is now home to an enormous solar array, which must be kicking a lot of power into the grid on sunny days like these. Old school meets green renewables.

The past and the future in the same image

Then it is out onto the flat lands where the ultra wide canals stretch on for mile after mile without the slightest deviation. Fast and effective but just a tad boring!

Signals looking very steam punk

By now we are in the land on mega locks where even the short version of the chambers would hold 20 narrowboats and is used to their maximum extent the number would rise to 100 or more. Our little pair look a bit absurd bobbing around in a cavernous chamber.

Sharing the space with the big boys at Sykehouse Junction

We moored in a patch of shade at Skyehouse Junction and before long a huge tanker bound for Rotherham rumbled its way past, built to fit the dimension of the locks. Its great to see real life commercial activity on the South Yourkshire Waterways, but I suspect its keel wasn't far off  the canal bed. Its passing stirred up the silt leaving a pungent aroma in its wake.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Leeds Waterfront Festival 2018

Leeds Waterfront Festival 2018
June 2018

This festival was never on our schedule but finding ourselves in Leeds with a few days on our hands, why not?

 Messing about on Kennet

 Views from thre Sky Bar at the Hilton

We contacted Joy at CRT who orgainises the Granary Wharf element of the event, and asked if we could tale part. After an hour or so we were told that a historic boat wasn't coming and we would be welcome to use its mooring just behind the Hilton Hotel. This is not an event which is generally attended by traders so we would be on our own, but in the company of Ribble and Kennet, two historic Leeds Liverpool short boats.

The basin around Granary Wharf was playing host to the activities which the public could take part in, notably canoeing, paddle boarding and fishing with live music and a BBQ in the central area around the graving dock.

CRT arrived in force and set up a number of gazebos in their snazzy new green and blue liveries, offering different activities and information designed to encourage circulation around the whole basin.

Its hard to comment on the wider attendance because we only saw our corner. There is lots more to see and do at Brewery Wharf and Leeds Dock a mile down the river. Our pitch seemed to be veritable wind trap, with a howling breeze running over the butty even when 50 ft away fishermen were in tee shirts and shorts.  Our corner of the basin had a lowish footfall and sales were not exactly fast, but we sold a lot more than we would expect on a general pop up site and with no fee we are not grumbling.

Its surprising who you meet at these events, far from home. Over the course of the last couple of days a number of people have wandered up and admitted to being blog readers, and have been following our progress over the Pennines. This is always a bit of a surreal experience where they have a lot of background information about us while I am left wracking my brains about where I may have met them before. Its really good to meet regular readers so thanks for making yourselves known.