Thursday, 22 June 2017


Today's Canal - South Yorkshire Navigations

Later last evening Christine took a walk up to the bridge just behind where we moored and took a photo looking down. She also discovered that since we came here five years ago, a fish and eel pass has been built alongside the weir. However, the amount of traffic on the road meant that it was difficult to get a good view.

This morning, Mike also went for a walk and found just one spot where there was a possible view.

He also walked around to the bank opposite our mooring - on the corner of the road is the splendid former Toll House.

We set off at our usual time around 9:30. The way ahead was around a bend and almost as soon as we had pushed off we suddenly saw bearing down upon us the huge oil tanker Exol Pride. This barge makes a weekly trip from Rotherham down to Goole and then back again - we had been warned that it was on the move today but so soon after leaving was a but of a surprise! Fortunately we managed to get out of its way in time. It takes just over 10 hours to make the trip one way.

Our pace from then was a little more laid back! At times the River Don is as attractive as any river.

We passed under a number of high level railway viaducts, most of which seem to be disused, including the very large Conisborough Viaduct. Unfortunately it does not seem to have been possible to convert this one to a cycle and footpath. It was clearly blocked at the end.

A large group of paddlers from an adventure centre alongside the canal was our next obstacle but their minders made a good job of rounding them up and safely to one side before we reached them. (Being a bit cautious about such photos, this one is hopefully sufficiently anonymous)

The two Mexborough Locks came and went and just afterwards we passed this building. Good to see that it was able to find a new use, even as a pub, after it ceased to be a market hall.

We paused below Swinton Lock for the elsan - it does have water now but would have required a very long hosepipe! The buildings are now an activity centre which includes trips out on the river. The boarding point has been adapted for wheelchair access - but it is a bit of a push for the assistant! When we set off again into the lock, several young people came to watch and enjoyed being shown by Christine how to operate the sluices and gates.

Above the locks, just before the bridge at Kilnhurst, we stopped for lunch on a long stretch of moorings. We came in between two fishermen - Christine gave Mike strict instructions not to upset them! It looks from old maps that this was once a loading area and the road alongside is called Wharf Road. Kilnhurst at one time had a chemical works, an iron and steel works,  a pottery, brickworks and a colliery - at least. All of these have now disappeared and one further large site is under preparation - complete with Sales Office - for yet another swathe of housing. Will it be so-called affordable?

Off again and we came through the one area with some heavy industry alongside the river but only rarely does it break through the thick line of trees.

Aldwarke Lock requires additional manoeuvring as the lock landing is a pontoon just up the weir stream. Having dropped off crew, when the lock is ready the boat has to be reversed back downstream in order to head for the lock entrance. (sorry but we failed to get a good photo to explain the above!)

Unexpectedly, Kilnhurst Flood Lock was shut but only needed about 100mm of water to fill it!

Finally we came though Eastwood Lock, knowing that we would need to find a mooring above - as instructed by the Tinsley Lock keeper. We also have to make an early start - off by 8 am from here in order to meet up with him the other side of Rotherham at Holmes Lock.

As it happened there was no other boat on the mooring at all! This is a reasonably secure mooring as the lock area is fenced off for the benefit of the residential boats. On the side where the mooring is there is a large dredging disposal site which is also well fenced.

Lat afternoon, with pleasant warm sunshine having at last returned, we decided to walk to the adjacent retail park if only for a paper if nothing else. Despite only being a couple of hundred metres away as a the crow flies, an extensive detour is need as a busy railway line passes in between.

We not only found Morrisons and a paper, but also filled Mike's rucksack to the brim with various items. Christine took a look in a discount outdoor shop - supposedly closing down but actually re-inventing itself. She did in fact find the lightweight fleecy top that she wanted, in a pleasant bright blue.

Late evening Christine spotted this 18 strong swan armada passing outside.

10 Miles - 6 Locks

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Today's Canals -  Stainforth and Keadby, South Yorkshire Navigation

A return of the warm weather was promised but for most of the day it turned out very muggy and often overcast - but still much hotter than yesterday. During the afternoon there was a threat of rain but we just missed it.

We were not fast away today as we wanted to check with Blue Water Marina that we had parked our car in an acceptable position. With some marinas it is necessary to be quite careful not to occupy the wrong space!

Mike walked into town for a paper - not in stock at the small paper shops - so he had to resort to Sainsbury but at least that meant he could re-stock on thickening granules, something not easily found on a canal trip.

We also had a visit from Angie with her two dogs - the place where we moored was very popular with dog walkers, locals even more than visitors.

The first challenge was to negotiate the infamous footbridge which no-one, even those who moor locally, can manage without some sort of problem. Since it has been well known like this for many years (we first encountered it five years ago and it was well known even then!) it really must be a design fault. However, Christine was told later that it is not a CaRT asset but a bridge provided by the town council who see no reason to spend further money on it.

Christine went to Thorne Marine to investigate the possibility of a slightly longer tiller arm for when she is steering on longer stretches, especially rivers. They did not have any in chrome but allowed her to try out one in brass and if it was OK they could get one in for our return. In the end, she decided to think bout it a bit more!

As we set off we suddenly saw the water point and other services - we had forgotten that they were that close. However, the tap was rather slow so we were there for a little while! In addition, Mike took out the shorter hose and it only just stretched but did need someone to hold it in place throughout the filling operation. That will teach him not to use the right tool for the job as we do have a much longer one as well.

We could then set off - but Thorne Lock is only just round the corner and this too has its quirks to trip the unwary. The lock is mechanised but there is also a swing bridge immediately above the lock and its gates are interlocked with the lock operation. When we arrived a boat was just finishing ascending and a widebeam was waiting below.  These operations took some time with crews not always understanding the right way to operate the system. Eventually it was our turn, together with another narrowboat that arrived just before we did. By this time a CaRT person had arrived, summoned by one of the other boats, to check out the operation. Of course, with him in supervision everything went according to plan!

The canal is wide and deep and we made speedy progress with even low engine revs.

Next stop was the last swing bridge before the junction and a boat ahead had already opened it and readily let us through. They stopped at the service block but caught us up at the next lock.

Bramwith Lock was constructed in two parts with a middle set of gates that make a lock the same size as Thorne Lock, just long enough for 60ft boats. The bottom gates are not normally used. Unfortunately, concentrating on the lock operation led to us forgetting to take photos to show the operation more clearly. The above photo is whilst waiting in the lower part of the lock for the other part to empty.

There were a few boats moored below the lock that might need the extra length but they will not get any further towards the Trent. The longer length matches the size that the adjoining navigations expanded to at one stage in their development. These canals were the ones that really survived the longest with commercial carrying.

Above the lock we moored for lunch, just before Bramwith Junction. Setting off again we turned left at the junction to head towards Sheffield. Anyone who thought that we were aiming for north of York on this trip might be surprised but the great thing this year is that we have the luxury of changing plans, until, that is, we know where we will be able to moor this winter.

Just after the junction is where Thorpe Marsh power station once stood - now the only indication of the former use of this place is a large electricity sub station. Readers who wish to refer back to our blog from five years ago may find out why we had a surprise, here.

A busy road crosses the canal at Barnby Dun where there is a suitably impressive lift bridge, wide enough for vehicles in both directions at the same time. Most are only one way at a time. We tend to rate opening bridges on the number of vehicles that join the queue. We counted between 32 and 40 which just shows how busy it is. Alas there is now no permanent bridge keeper so opening takes longer with self-operation.

A small church stands close to the canal at Kirk Sandall - we do not know much about it but have made a note to stop and investigate if we have time on our return.

Much of the former industry that once lined the banks of the navigation has now disappeared and at times the canal is a green and good looking as many rivers such as the Severn.

We were surprised on arrival at Long Sandall Lock to see the lights indicating that it was manned - as we arrived they turned green and we sailed straight in. It seems from the keeper that it is more frequently manned now that a few years ago when the only time someone was in attendance was when a large commercial boat was scheduled. He did tell us that thew oil barge is still operating and can be expected somewhere coming down from Rotherham tomorrow.

Doncaster College heralds the arrival at the town centre.

The Minster stands proudly above the surroundings - although from the boat the moored barge does its best to get in the picture!

Doncaster Lock - not what anyone could claim a thing of beauty - was yet again to provide us with an incident. We could see that a narrowboat had just come out of the lo ck but was tied alongside the entrance. They were unable to remove their key from the control stand and had phoned CaRT who sent the keeper down from Long Sandall. Meanwhile, Mike set about preparing the Shepherds Pie for tonight, just in case there was a long delay. The lock landing was not, however, where one would want to spend a night as it is right underneath the busy East Coast Main Line!

Fortunately the keeper soon arrived and quickly resolved the problem. As we had suspected, rubbish in the water was preventing the gates from closing and simply by opening them again cleared the problem. However, the other boat had been a bit reluctant to try this option!

We then had a good run up to Sprotborough, passing under two high rail viaducts as well as a motorway. One of the rail bridges is now part of a cycle and walking route. This section is now the River Don.

This brought us finally to the vast Sprotborough Lock but this one, for a change, worked according to plan! We were aiming to moor at the Visitor Moorings just above the lock - as this is a river, mooring needs to be planned in advance. Despite several boats mooring in the least efficiently possible way, there was still room for us to find a space.

14./4 Miles - 5 Locks

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Thorne and Car Shuffle

Today's Canal - Stainforth and Keadby

Just before 8 o'clock the bridge keeper came and made it clear that he really wanted us to move on! He opened up the bridge and both ourselves and nb Rumboogie moved about 100m onto the Visitor Moorings the other side. Angie was waiting for a visitor and Mike wanted to pop to the shop for a newspaper.

It will be apparent from today's photos that the weather had changed dramatically from yesterday - very grey and quite chilly at times.

Although we had been told that the shop was only five minutes away, it was more like ten. There are two small shops, one also a Post Office and at least Mike returned with a paper but other items were out of their scope.

Alongside Keadby Lock is a large pumping station which marks the end of several drainage systems - called on the map Three Rivers. A picture of all three was not possible so here are just two.

The main development of the village of Keadby appears to have been brought about by the freight river and canal traffic, very much an old industrial ribbon development along the main road which has now expanded away from the river with more recent housing. The 15C parish church of Althorpe is over a mile south of Keadby but as a sign of how, in the past, the social needs of the workers were met, on one side of the road was built a church hall, opposite to a Working Men's Club (and chip shop!)

A little before 9, both boats were ready to move on - Angie was keen to keep us company as she was a bit unsure of doing the swing bridges. A couple of moored converted barges were a reminder of the traffic that once led to Keadby developing as one of the inland ports on the lower tidal Trent.

 A short distance along we came to the first - actually a sliding rather than swing bridge. Vazon Rail Bridge carries the busy track just above the level of the canal. Although it actually moves straight at a right angle to the canal, because the rail line is at an acute angle it looks much more complicated.

Although the crossing keeper told us that we would have to wait five minutes for a suitable gap in the trains (we had already waited more that anyway) but his five minutes was obviously out of the same system as the lock keeper's walk to the shops! eventually the train arrived and the bridge started to move out of our way.

We were wondering why the box is labelled Keadby Canal Junction as there is no junction in the railway at that point. However, a look at old OS maps shows that at one time a short branch from here ran down alongside the canal, on the site now occupied by the power station.

Ahead lay a number of swing bridges and finally a lift bridge. Each one is different, some mechanised and others purely manual, largely depending on the amount of road traffic. In general, a Watermate key is needed to unlock the gates which then have to be closed to road users - in the case of one, the rail crossing keeper  - the track follows the canal quite closely into Thorne - also has to come out and close his gates as well (if not already closed for trains) Then a latch has to be lifted up so that the bridge deck can rotate, either by mechanism or by human power. once the boats have passed thorough the process is reversed and only then can the key be removed from the lock.

This area is making a substantial contribution to the National Grid - in addition to the power station at Keadby there are several large wind farms - almost in every direction one looks.

According to the crossing keeper at Medge Hall, the long freight trains like this one that carry biomass material, imported from the US into Immingham! (Naughty thought: if President Trump succeeds in re-starting coal mining will this mean that the biomass will be cheaper for us?)

The bridge with a difference is Wykewell Lift Bridge which carries quite a bit of traffic. This is necessarily electric powered and Christine took the usual delight in seeing how many cars we could catch - only six this time. (Retaliation would come later)

A little beyond the lift bridge we arrived at Thorne where both boats moored. Mike had by now decided to do the car shuffle as Thorne South station is only a few minutes walk away. There was enough time for a quick lunch before setting out. It took only an hour by two trains, changing at Doncaster, to get to Retford. There was then almost an hour to kill before the bus to Clayworth so Ike took Christine's recommendation from a couple of days ago, and wandered through the shopping town centre and thence to the bus station.

There was still nearly 40 minutes to while away and by chance Mike happened upon a small museum in a former grand home called Amcott House, seemingly owned by several well off families, some closely related to the owners of the various Dukeries for which the region is well known.

Opposite is a rather splendid Wesleyan Chapel.

Meanwhile, Christine assisted Rumboogie through Thorne Lifting Pedestrian Bridge, notoriously temperamental to operate. Afterwards she visited the local shops - pork pie and a block of local haslet from a pie shop (they also had some unusual looking 'scotch eggs' but Christine declined these on the basis of their looks!) - finally returning to the boat for a bout of cleaning before Mike returned just after five having left the car at Blue Water Marina.

9.8 Miles - 0 Locks