Let’s get going again.
After our first night aboard the next morning came and we were all up pretty early despite the previous night’s carousing. We had not planned it as such and I do not think anyone had set an alarm but I reckon we were all just excited about where we were and eager to explore some more and so, after a simple but tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast it was time to slip the moorings but not before I have had another literary excursion here. Sorry, I just cannot help myself.
I had offered to help in the galley and whilst I would never consider myself a good cook I have not, to my knowledge, killed anyone yet and I do make scrambled eggs a lot. I think I have mentioned this elsewhere on other sets of blogs but here are a couple of tips. Whilst scrambled eggs are gorgeous “as is” I like to liven mine up a bit as I love spicy food and I am very fond of using sweet chilli sauce as a condiment for them. Don’t turn your noses up now and tell me I am a weirdo which is a pointless exercise anyway as I already know, just give it a try. The other one is to fire a few drops of tabasco or similarly very hot sauce in. OK, it slightly detracts from the perfect yellow appearance if presentation is your gig as it takes on a very slightest pinkish hue. OK, the amount I use it goes fairly pink but that is for hardcore chilli people.
Anyway, after breakfast, accompanied for the others by tea or coffee and for this idiot by a can of cider, it was time to slip moorings and get underway as we didn’t have too long and we wanted to see things. OK, cider for breakfast, I know it is not normal behaviour for most people (who defines normal anyway?) so don’t preach at me but I just like to start the day as I mean to go on. We got off in good order, bidding a fond farewell to the old Barge and Barrel of the previous evening and took off into what was a chilly but thankfully clear morning.
The next port of call was to be Brighouse which was an easy morning run as it is not too far. I know I am bound to fail now when I attempt to describe how utterly wonderful that morning turned out. Yes, I am verbose beyond belief but without resorting to cliche it is hard to tell you, dear reader, how completely beautiful and serene it was. There we were, not ten miles I suppose, from some major conurbations and yet we might as well have been on another planet. I do hope the images do justice where my meagre words fail.
It was early September so the schools were back and I was not expecting the manic hordes of holiday boaters you get in July and August but I was surprised at how few craft there were and we had the place more or less all to ourselves. Again, I was conscious of not trying to run the whole show because I had a little (very little) experience and was encouraging the others to take the tiller all the time. OK, they asked me to do one slightly tricky lock (it was a pig of a thing) but otherwise I was just lurking about. Let me tell you now about picking blackberries!
I am not sure where this fits into the story chronologically but Gilly had devised, totally unwittingly for sure, a means of blackberry picking that I had certainly never seen before. Dave and Aly had got the steering of the craft fairly well down but Gilly was having bother with the “reverse steering” concept and we sailed perilously close to the edge (nice reference there for fans of the prog rock band Yes) several times. With the Calder and Hebble being partially canal and partially river, there is nothing really hard to hit on the bank for long stretches and so I let her carry on until I had to grab the tiller. Worst case scenario was that we would be grounded (there was not a lot of water after the summer) but we could always pole off.
Anyway, dear Gilly managed to scythe through quite a few blackberry bushes on the way. This would have been grand had we just stopped and picked them. Local foragers could not have had them as the were only accessible from the water. This would have been great as both Gilly and Aly are excellent cooks and Dave and I can both hold our end up (if you’ll pardon the expression) over a stove, and could have rustled up something (I was thinking duck in blackberry sauce) but this was carnage. We threw the foliage overboard but we had been tramping about in berries and half the craft was now bright purple. Mop and bucket secured we scrubbed the whole thing down. I think we did manage a few to eat though. As I say, Gilly managed to do this all weekend and it became something of a standing joke so I just thought I’d post it up here.
The British waterway system is in something of a state of flux at present. By the 1960’s it was in apparently terminal decline but a lot of enthusiastic volunteers got together and literally stood up to their backsides in stinking, freezing cold water to dig out, clear weed from and re-open lost portions of the cut . The Kennet and Avon (K&A) is a classic case of this.
Today, the old canals are regarded as a wonderful leisure resource which they undoubtedly are. Joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, long-distance walkers (count me in this group) and many others use them not to mention those actually using the cut. There is a thriving holiday boat industry on just about every canal and there are more private leisure craft registered than ever before.
I know of a brilliant charity who have managed to adapt a narrowboat so that it is fully accessible for the mobility impaired. How brilliant is that? I know of another charity in London that takes disadvantaged kids up and down the Grand Union on a right big beast (68′, I believe) that is not designed for comfort but probably berths about 16. As I have mentioned, the cut is no longer serious contender as a transport option although friends of mine still make a living from it but this, to me, is what it is about now. Times move on and the canals have re-invented themselves to an extent without losing too much of what they were. Yes, there are purists that lament that they are just a leisure facility now but better that than lying disused and derelict which was the fate of the Newry Canal that runs close to my home place in Northern Ireland and which will feature in a future blog here.
We got to Brighouse about lunchtime, moored up and went ashore. The others had decided they wanted to do something although the passage of time has dimmed what is left of my memory and I cannot remember what it was although something tells me it was a notable church. That was a fine idea but I had another notion and anyone who has waded through any of my several pages of drivel here will know what it was. That’s right, I wanted to find a pub to get a bit of “local atmosphere” not to mention a pint or three. I know it sounds ludicrous, and probably is, but I genuinely believe that you can get a real feel for a place by finding a decent pub and having a chat with the locals. It is a great way to get feel for a place and the number of wonderful tips for quirky local things to see that I have had over the years from doing just this are innumerable, things you will never find in a guidebook or online.
I’ll tell you a little about Brighouse first and where I went and yet again these are edited tips form a former website which have been edited appropriately.
Brighouse lies on the River Calder and also the Calder and Hebble Navigation (canal) about five miles Southeast of Halifax. I had heard of the place before and probably first because of the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band who had a novelty hit record many years ago with a tune called “The Floral Dance”. I know this shows a distinct lack of knowledge on my part and I should be ashamed of myself.
I have now researched a little and found out that Brighouse / Rastrick stood on an ancient Roman road between Wakefield and Manchester but it only came to prominence many centuries later with the coming of the mills as with so many other places in this area. The mills are now long closed with many of them being converted into luxury accommodation and it is now effectively a dormitory town for the larger towns and cities nearby.
Despite it’s loss of status from a couple of centuries back it is still a pleasant place for a wander round although there are little in the way of “attractions” but it is fairly typical of towns in the area and is definitely worth a stop off.
Having arranged to meet the others back at the boat at a certain time, I wandered off in what I thought was the direction of the centre and so it proved to be, Brighouse really isn’t a huge place. My pub radar was fully locked in and directly me unerringly to the George. I swear I do not make this up, in a town with ten pubs I’ll always find a good one. Again, my edited review from the time will serve here.
I came upon was the pleasant looking sandstone building you see pictured which sits at the junction of Commercial Street and Bradford Road. The premises in question is called The George and it bills itself as a “traditional town centre inn which is indeed a pretty apt description. Whilst it is called an inn it is also known as the George Hotel but I am unsure of the differentiation. Apparently in days past it was a coaching inn although I saw no evidence of accommodation on offer when I visited. It does, however, retain travelling links by being a very short distance from both bus and train stations.
It also has a musical slant with discos on Friday and Sunday and live rock bands on Saturday. The main draw here, however, seems to be the sport which is shown on a number of large screens around the place and they have satellite which increases the range available. On the day I was there I watched a bit of cricket with my pint of cider which is my idea of a decent afternoon really.
There is nothing remarkable about the George, it is just a clean and tidy town centre pub (although the gents “facilities” could do with a bit of a refurb) and I was quite happy to have a drink in there. It is open 9-11 Mon-Thu; 10-1 Fri & Sat. and 10-11 Sun” You see how I used to write!
By way of trying to keep this blog current I have done a bit of research and changed the opening hours accordingly. They seem to be even longer now I am glad to say. You see the lengths I go to for all of my 19 readers! Who knows, it may be useful to someone some day.
Much as I could have sat there all day I was conscious of time so I thought I would start to make my way back to the boat. I knew there were a couple of other pubs on the way so I was never going to die of thirst. There was, however, one thing to do first. Almost directly opposite the pub I had spied a butchers shop, a proper old-fashioned one and again I shall revert to my original tip.
“The advent of supermarkets, mostly “out of town” in the UK has led to the very regrettable demise of proper butchers, bakers, fishmongers, greengrocers and all the rest. I find this lamentable and it is always with great delight that I find proper old-fashioned tradesmen plying their craft. Such was the case when I stumbled upon S & L. Custance Family Butchers on my very short visit to Brighouse. I had a notion to get something for an afternoon snack and when I saw the sign declaring “home-made pies and sausages” it seemed ideal. I wasn’t too bothered about the sausages but some proper Yorkshire artisan pies with a few chutnies, pickles or whatever sounded perfect.
As the image shows, the place is not exactly huge but it did boast an excellent selection of meats and the savouries I was looking for. Admittedly, in mid afternoon on a Saturday, some lines were sold out which probably attests to the popularity of the place but I managed to find some lovely looking meat pies which were served to me by a lady who was as friendly as you like and even explained some of the items which I had never even heard of before. I should add that the entire premises was completely spotless.
Regrettably, I was taken ill that afternoon (before I had sampled the pies, I hasten to add) and so did not get to try them myself but I am told they were very good. I’ll get onto that in a moment. Even if I did not get to sample my purchases, I just loved the whole experience of shopping here and the warmth of the Yorkshire welcome and I would have no hesitation in recommending this establishment.
With my little bag of goodies secured, I headed back towards the boat as I really did not want to keep the others waiting but for once in my life I was ahead of time and so another pint was called for.
Suprisingly, I had walked past the Calder on my way uptown, probably because I was with my mates but it was time to check it out. Again, my original tip, properly edited, will stand here.
A glance at the exterior suggested that it had not always been a pub and a few steps into the absolutely vast interior confirmed this view, it really is a big bar. My initial impression was that this place was following the Wetherspoon business model although I knew it was not one of them.
As I say, the Calder is not Wetherspoons but when I went out the back for a smoke I noted that it is directly across the road from the Wetherspoons outlet so they must be in direct competition for the same market. They are owned by the Stonegate pub company which is another large outfit with well over 600 outlets as well as being owned by the same people who run the Slug and Lettuce chain which I really do not like.
The thing about these places is that, to use a pretty hackneyed phrase, they are what they are. They are not hugely atmospheric and charming “olde worlde” English country taverns but I was in a perfectly clean, welcoming and comfortable environment, I was served by friendly and courteous staff and had a couple of pints of obviously well-kept and served pints of cider. All this at an extremely decent price even by the local standards which are so much cheaper than my home city of London anyway.
Although I did not dine there my natural curiosity forced me to have a look at the menu which seemed to offer the usual suspects for pub grub and at very reasonable prices. The fact that I got to watch a bit more cricket on one of the many large screens was a bonus as I do like my sport!
One thing that got me slightly was that they were advertising Christmas menus and functions (see image). I do not blame the Calder or Stonegate for this as it seems to be a disease that has afflicted my entire country of late. I have seen Christmas decorations in shops and supermarkets before the Hallowe’en kiddies costumes are even on the shelves and it grates on me. I suppose we shall have Easter eggs on sale before Christmas this year.
The Calder offers a quiz night on Thursday, DJ’s on Friday and Saturday nights and a funk and soul club on the first Sunday of the month. It is open 10am-11 Mon-Wed; 10am-Midnight Thu; 9am-0130 Fri and Sat; 10-11 Sun and there is free wifi. Although I did not specifically check on toilet facilities, the bar appears to be easily accesssible from the street for the mobility impaired.
Aside from the arguments about large chains of pubs and early marketing, if you are in Brighouse and not wishing to spend a whole lot of money in a flash place then this may well be the place for you. I recommend it. As always I have checked the opening hours which are current now as of November 2018. You see the work I put in here for you lovely people!
It was really time to get back to the boat now which must have been all of 300 yards away. Actually, I got back shortly ahead of the others so that was good.
I had stowed the meat pies in the fridge and we had a very light snack which featured some of Gilly’s home-mate foccacia (is that foccacia, I can never tell these Italian breads apart) which you can see in the image and then it was time for the off again. Man, that woman can bake as well as cook! Hell, we only had the boat for effectively three and a bit days so we wanted to see as much as we could. Off we went and got to Brighouse top lock where there was a water station. Now I knew that if nobody was taking hour long showers that a craft this size would have had a water tank more than sufficient for four of us which was about half the normal complement but the others insisted and so in we went and filled up before heading off again.
This is where it goes pear-shaped.
Fully watered up we cruised a further idyllic stretch and then disaster struck. We were all in the well when out of a clear blue sky, both literally and metaphorically, I projectile vomited over the gunwale. I apologise if you are reading this over your meal and I do not wish to be indelicate but I have never been assailed by illness so quickly in my life. I literally did not have time to make it the six or eight feet to the heads (toilet) at the stern. I was absolutely fine one moment and then I was reminded, as I am now recalling it, of the superb line uttered by the late Sir John Gielgud in the film, “Arthur” where he plays a crusty old English butler opposite Dudley Moore’s character of a pampered and dissolute heir to a fortune. Geilgud wakes up Moore in a morning scene, the latter obviously seriously the worse for wear and says in his wonderfully upper class voice, “Sir, if they ever make projectile vomiting an Olympic sport, I am sure you will do your country proud” Classic.
In truth I felt more embarrassed than ill, still felt fine and then it happened a second time and that was when the pain started. I felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach with a hot knife, I swear I have never felt pain like it. I said I was going to lie down for a while and grabbed the nearest bunk to the stern as it was just opposite the heads (toilet) and laid down and there began probably the most painful night of my life. I literally could not move, I was deliberately taking shallow breaths as normal ones hurt too much. I don’t want to bore you too much with this but it was awful. The rest of the guys were brilliant and kept coming to bring me drinks of water, offering cups of tea etc. and checking on me all the time. That is what friends are for.
To this day, some years later, I still do not know what caused my illness but it is something I would not wish on my worst enemy and I certainly do not want to suffer it again. I can only think acute food poisoning but I do not know what might have done it and I am not going to ascribe it to any particular thing. I don’t think it was a bad pint as everything I had drunk had tasted fine (I have a nose for these things) and I know food poisoning takes up to 24 hours to show but I was not a well bunny. I do not even know where we moored up that night and the guys were great, offering for one of them to stay with me but I told them to go ashore and enjoy themselves. Hell, I did not want to stop their fun. We must have been near a pub, which is not hard to do on the cut, as there were occasional visits to check on my welfare.
After the night from one of the inner circles of Hell, I awoke from a fitful sleep early but that is a story for another entry so stay tuned and spread the word.
I know I say this all the time but really, do please spread the word. If you like what you read and see here, please do share the link with your friends and family. I do not need the readers financially as this has never been a commercial venture but it would be nice to know that somebody actually sees it. If you think it is complete garbage then I can live with that but again please tell me and I’ll pack it up.