Cruising ends and exploring begins.

I do hope the reader has come upon this page by way of those previous and, if not, I would recommend they have a look back a few entries on this site as this will all make a bit more sense.

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The final stretch to home.

My friends Gilly and Aly and I had awoken very early on the “good ship Westmorelend” i.e. the canal boat we had hired for a weekend in the little backwater called Salterhebble. I use the word backwater advisedly as it is, being a now closed off section of what was formerly the Halifax canal but is now really the “road to nowhere” being probably a mile or a little more to a basin and a decent enough bar / restaurant (see previous entry) but we had to be on the move early. The boat needed to be back by 0900 and I expect most folk on a short hire probably moor up “back at base” but I was very glad that we had not as we were treated to a simply beautiful early autumnal morning which was probably the most aesthetically pleasing of the trip.

I fully appreciate how boatyards work but it seems to me that a supposed four day weekend hire is really about two and a half days. I am not knocking the firm we went with as they were great and they all do the same thing but it always seems to me like short-changing the customer a bit.

We took off after a cup of tea / coffee each (I am a coffee man myself) and I was quite happy to let the ladies crack on at the tiller. OK, and I remember it well, even at this early hour, Gilly did a bit more blackberry gathering although not too serious. If this sounds crazy to you, again please read the previous entries, it will all make sense. It made little sense at the time but it does now!

With the ladies navigating us nicely I was in a position to take a reasonably comprehensive if brief video on the features of a narrowboat for those of you that don’t know them. Now, to load it up on this site is going to cost me a lot of money as they are obviously a commercial site and need to turn a bob or two so I am tempted to use my Youtube channel which I really need to attend to urgently. I’ll let you know. I am never going to make money out of this site, nor is that the intention so why spend more than I need to when I can do it elsewhere for free? Here is a link if I have done it correctly!

I have also uploaded a short video of the beautiful canal that day.  A video of the Cut on this gorgeous early morning.

If memory serves, we slipped moorings about 0700 and it was a very gentle amble back to the yard where we arrived well in time and another cut and paste from a now sadly deceased website will hopefully explain our RTB (Return to base in Forces speak).

“On the way back, after a brilliant weekend I was at the helm and pulling up slowly to the wharf, not entirely sure of where they wanted me to moor. A young lad beckoned from the quay and was obviously looking to refuel the craft as he was standing beside a pump. The only problem was that he was indicating a space about eight feet wide and the craft I was supposedly piloting was about seven and a half wide not to mention about 58′ long! Not a problem. With shouted instructions from the wharf he backed me in perfectly and started his job of refilling. That finished, he asked me to draw up and “parallel park” alongside another boat already moored. Well, a tricky job but he offered to come on board and walk me in which meant him giving me commands to basically ram the adjoining boat extremely slowly at which point he fended us off with his feet and brought us to a perfect stop stern onto the quay. He had obviously done this many times before. I love working with pros!

So that was that then. Backed in with the help of the lad and we were back safe with just a couple of scuffs on the strakes but they expect that. Being people of a certain age, we had not trashed the boat although I know it regrettably happens and so they asked us very politely if they could check it out. Sure, we have nothing to hide although I suspect they knew that by the look of us not to mention the ludicrously large grins on all our faces. I know some young crews go for a week in summer and just trash the boat, which is why many firms will not accept single sex crews under a certain age and rightly so. In our case, apart from a few dishevelled bedclothes (which had been neatly stowed) and perhaps a crumb or two there was nothing to find fault with and we were invited inside the boathouse for Gilly to sign off a couple of legal documents or whatever they might have been. I just stood outside and had a smoke! With everything apparently deemed OK, it was time to head off albeit very regretfully.

Again, I shall go back to my original writings here. Dave had left to go back to work and Gilly and Aly were both catching buses home but I still had a few days holiday to go and so I asked the same delightful lady (she of the slightly terrified safety briefing before we had set out) if I could leave my kitbag in the office and that was no problem at all. I was thinking perhaps they would have a storeroom as boatyards always do but I was told to just dump it in the corner of the main office and she would look after it. That was great, and much appreciated. OK, I was travelling light but it is so much easier to wander when you are not humping a suitcase, no matter how small.

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HQ for our little jaunt.

The ladies and I headed the short distance up to town and decided upon the Commercial Inn again as it had been too early for breakfast aboard but never to early for a pint. I still was not feeling on top form physically although mentally and, dare I say it, spritually, I was flying. Despite the slight gastro-intestinal mishap, and again folks I apologise for not pulling my weight all the way, it had been an utterly magical time in a beautiful place with great friends doing something that I love so dearly, it was literally like a dream come true. Again, I do not want to sound melodramatic about it but it really had been that good and I thank you all if you ever manage to stumble across this blog and appreciate the sentiments involved.

That was another thing that was murdered (I use the word advisedly) when VT was killed off.  I have lost contact with so many friends as I refuse to sacrifice my privacy on the altar of so-called social media, which is probably the most anti-social thing in the history of mankind. Therefore I have lost touch with all but a handful (a literal handful) of my many friends from that great site.

The ladies left within about half an hour for their respective buses but I only had to get a few miles back down the road to Halifax where I had my room booked for the night and so, after another couple of pints, I took myself for a look round the delights of Sowerby Bridge and it is indeed a delightful place. I still wasn’t feeling on top form although a lot better than I had been and I took myself into a chemist’s (pharmacist’s) shop and spoke to the young female South Asian pharmacist on duty who listened carefully to my symptoms and concluded it was probably severe indigestion. Severe? I’ll say it was and I have never been laid up like that before even after the heaviest of mess dinners and too much port and brandy with the cheeseboard!

I have always thought that pharmacists get a bit of a raw deal as they are generally perceived as being the “poor relations” of Doctors. As far as I am aware, a pharmacy degree takes five years in my country which is the same as a Doctor but without the hospital add-ons. Considering you can get a degree in “media studies” (whatever in blazes that might be and not worth the paper it is written on) in three years, I think they deserve much more respect. Anyway the charming young lady produced some non-prescription medication which I paid for and duly pocketed and which turned out to be most efficacious although my method of administration was probably little obscure as will be seen. I honestly think that if more people went to their local pharmacist for minor ailments instead of clogging up the creaking General Practitioner system which is just about to collapse now then the whole NHS would be in a far better place.

Yet another little off-topic ramble of mine and no, I shall not apologise for it. I am getting used to this idea of editorial control and quite liking it.

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I really liked this statue.

The first thing which I stopped to look at was a statue I had passed earlier but not had time to stop and examine properly and as always I hope my suitably edited writing from the time will serve by way of explanation.

“It is no secret that I do not like modern so-called art and this extends to statuary. I have seen far too many rusting heaps of metal in public spaces masquerading as art and looking like somebody just dumped a load of rubbish from the local tip to be impressed by them, much less be happy that I am probably paying for them out of my taxes. This is why I was so delighted to come upon the wonderful piece you see in the image here.

The statue stands at the entrance to the old wharf in the middle of town and is beautifully rendered by the sculptor, Roger Burnett. It depicts a man, assisted by a small boy, opening a lock gate on the canal and as a confirmed narrowboat fan it instantly resonated with me as I have worked a few lock gates myself.

The statue per se was delightful but it became even better later on when I was having a refreshing pint in the nearby Commercial Inn (please see my review elsewhere in this entry regarding that). A framed photo of the statue on the wall added the information that the statue was of Mr. Richard Tiffany who was for many years the town lock-keeper before they shut the Rochdale Canal as a commercial entity. To make the piece completely perfect for me, the young boy in the statue was modelled on the late Mr. Tiffany’s real great grandson.

You may call me old-fashioned, a Philistine or indeed anything else you want but I will always consider Tracy Emin (incidentally the apparently “sainted” Ms. Emin is from Margate which is near Broadstairs which I know well, and I have heard some stories!), Damian Hirst et al as no more than commercial chancers whilst this for me is a piece of art both aesthetically pleasing and exactly in and of it’s place. Given a choice of a pickled sheep, a condom strewn unmade bed or this I know which one I would rather look at.” Here endeth the lesson from the art critic of Fergy’s Rambles, which is me like every other job here. I love it.

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The next thing I can across was the rather impressive Christchurch Anglican church which had been pointed out to me on the Friday as being one of the stops on the rushbearing procession. If you do not know what the archaic practice of rushbearing is and have come upon this page randomly then please go back three entries where I explain it. In ecclesiastical terms the church is relatively young as it dates only to 1821 but there is a history of worship here dating to 1526, again not terribly old by UK standards but at that time Sowerby Bridge was nothing more than a bridge, a mill and a few scattered dwellings. Prior to that the locals would have had to gone to Halifax and visited the Minster (then still merely the parish church) which I mentioned a couple of entries ago. I’ll bet it would have taken a lot longer than the seven minute train journey that had brought me here! Regrettably the Church did not seem to be open which is a sad indictment of our modern times although sensible I suppose and so I continued on my way.

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River Calder from Sowerby Bridge.

I managed a few images and I do not propose to bore you with them all here but I rather liked the one above of the Calder taken from the bridge albeit it would have been a lot more pleasant had there been a bit of sun! Onward, ever onward and by now it was opening time in normal pubs so that sounded like a plan notwithstanding that it was a crazy one given the state I had been in gastro-intestinally so recently but I have always had a bit of a mad streak in me so when I saw the Roxy, I was in like a shot. As the image suggests it was formerly the Electric Cinema, opened in the middle of the First World War and showed it’s last film in 1963 when it became a bingo hall for many years and eventually the “venue and bistro” it describes itself as now.

The Oxford English Dictionary which I consider to be the sole arbiter in matters of my language defines a bistro as “a small, inexpensive restaurant”. Inexpensive it certainly is but it is like being in an aircraft hangar or, well, an old converted cinema so don’t know where they got that appellation from. I should stress that I have no complaints about the Roxy, the service was efficient, the pint was fine, the “facilities” were clean as was the bar area but it all just seemed to be a bit soulless to me. They are obviously in direct competition with the nearby Wetherspoons as described above by offering all sorts of deals on food and drink and evidently working on economies of scale. It is just that Wetherspoons do it so much better.

I do realise that washing down medication for an upset stomach with acidic cider is probably not the medically prescribed method but we are back to my mad streak again. I am also conscious that members of my family occasionally have a look here if they are very bored but they already know I am a headcase so no harm done there although my cousin Liz, a qualified nurse, would probably have given me an ear-bashing for it. Whether it be my lunacy, natural healing or the efficacy of the medicine given me by the fine young pharmacist I could not possibly say but I was feeling a lot easier by the time I left the Roxy. Having looked it up online to write this piece, I know it gets slated badly but I am a great believer in writing as I find and I have no complaints. Trust me (don’t they all say that, but this time it is true) everything I write here is the truth. It is the only way I can write. That might not count for a lot in this increasingly degenerating world (now, I really am in old man mode!) but it is the best I’ve got.

Enough of me sitting here at 0544 on a December morning in 2018 writing this up as my sleep disorder, or the “sleep fairy” as I rather disaffectionally call her, has obviously been put on overtime recently and I must say that doing this now and formerly on other sites has been somewhat of a therapy for me. It gives me something to do when I cannot sleep and hopefully it is of some sort of interest / benefit to my tiny readership. Yes, I still read  books (does anyone remember them?) and love doing so but this gives me another interest.  No, I do not have one of those book reading machines you see people using on the Tube in London. I like a book to feel like a book and, yes, I am sounding older by the paragraph here. That is OK, I have no illusions and I get my pensioner buspass next year!

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“If I only had a brain”. I know how you feel, mate.

Let’s get back to Sowerby Bridge then and have another look round. The next thing of interest I came across was the rather charming scarecrow you see pictured here. Now, when the church was first built here in 1526 there may have been farming usage of the local land but I certainly found no evidence of arable cultivation here nor even of avian scavangers so I can only presume it was a remnant of the Rushbearing (as described above) and damned interesting I found it.

For those of us of a certain generation a scarecrow will always conjure up images of the “Wizard of Oz! film starring Judy Garland long before even I was born. As I walked past and took the obligatory image, I actually found myself humming the “theme tune” from his character which is, “If I only had a brain”. After my recent performance with the stomach medication washed down with cider I could not resist a somewhat wry smile. Maybe in a former life I was the “strawman”. I literally tipped my hat to him and carried on. If I only had a brain. Enough of this Hollywood nonsense and it was time for another pint. Yes, I was feeling whole lot better.

I knew of the Moorings pub /restaurant near where I had to go and pick up my kit from the lovely young lady at the boathouse but I still had time on my side (just!). Let’s be honest I no longer have time on my side and how Mick Jagger still sings that at 75 years old is a mystery to me. Still, he sings it well and I’ll never make that age so fair play to him. It is Keith Richard I worry about, he has obviously done a Robert Johnson. Go on, look it up as I am not going to do all the work for you here!

As usual the original writing will, I trust, suffice but I shall edit a bit more to include the peas. Yes, you read that right.

” On our way down to pick up the boat on the Friday we had passed the Moorings “pub and kitchen” which was situated in one of the old wharf buildings and I had almost instantly dismissed it as a place I would go albeit that we didn’t have time anyway. When I see the term “pub and kitchen” I automatically think of over-priced food and drink in an atmosphere of people just wanting to be seen. By all means call me dyed in the wool (a very apposite term in this area) but I like a pub to be a pub.

My initial impression was that it was not really my kind of place and was trying too hard. I also noticed that it was totally empty but that was perhaps not surprising on a September Monday in a dormitory town during working hours. I ordered a pint of cider from a very chatty and friendly young barmaid and planted myself on a rather comfortable leather Chesterfield sofa by the window where I could overlook the wharf. Indeed, I could see the boat we had vacated that morning which was a delightful view if slightly poignant.

Although I had no intention of dining there, I did take a quick glance at the menu which seemed to be of the “gastropub” variety and priced accordingly.

I went to the toilet (bathroom / CR / washroom or whatever) which was up the stairs and spotlessly clean. This did raise an issue with me regarding accessible toilets and I didn’t see one although I was not particularly looking. I cannot find any information on the attached website but I cannot believe that a place so apparently recently refurbished would not have such a facility.”

There you go for the original writing from the time and I am slightly ashamed of myself that I did not mention the peas! At one point there was a guy came in with a huge bag of peas taken that afternoon from his allotment / greenhouse / cloche or whatever an destined for the kitchen. I love locally sourced and fresh food. The barmaid grabbed a handful before taking them upstairs to the kitchen and slapped them on the bar, telling me they are “bloody lovely”.

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They don’t come much fresher and they don’t last long!

I just have to post an image here, well at least of the remnants. I like peas, especially freshly shelled, but I swear I have never tasted anything like these. Literally they were mouth-watering, never had peas like them.

I do really like that and, no, I am not an “eco-warrior” in the modern sense. It certainly boosted up my appreciation of a “poncy” place considerably and maybe, just maybe, I should start to believe when they say on their chalkboards “all local produce”. How do you source a kumquat locally in the UK for your duck sauce in the middle of February? Sorry, did I mention I am arguably the most cynical man on the planet? OK, Rick Wakeman, Ian Hislop, Jeremy Clarkson and a few others might be up there but they have all sought fame and fortune (and done bloody well out of it) whereas I just carried a grudge against an ever-worsening world. Maybe they were right and I am now wondering if there is a website where I can sign up to be professionally grumpy.

Let’s be honest, no wedding is complete without the obnoxious old uncle / aunt / long lost cousin that nobody really wanted to invite but had to be invited to avoid family tensions. If someone was lucky enough to have a wonderful loving extended family with no such embarrassing encumbrances then perhaps I could fill that void. I think I may have found a market nice there as my marketing friend would say.

Right, enough digression for the moment although it will undoubtedly rear it’s ugly head again soon enough. I spent longer than I expected in the Moorings. Despite my initial misgivings, and I maintain my original stance that it is an upmarket place as evidenced by the “after work” crowd coming in and drinking bottles of Rioja or whatever, it is not at all a bad place for a drink even for a scruffy passerby like me and I was certainly not looked down upon as I had half expected. OK, it is difficult to physically look down on me at 6’5″ but you get the idea.

I was aware that time was no longer my friend as the office with my entire worldly good and possessions would be closing shortly. I bade farewell to the friendly staff who had changed shifts whilst I was there and so obtained a view of several employees who were all exemplary. I took the short walk back along the wharf, pausing for a wistful glance at the lovely Westmoreland which had served us so well, and back into the office to collect my kit. It was the same young lady on the desk and I did have to ask her if she worked all day every day which raised a smile. I normally do not buy souvenirs but I felt vaguely obliged due to the extreme helpfulness of this young lady. Would that all those in “service” industries were like her. Having secured a few bits and pieces, I thanked her most sincerely and trundled off back along the wharf to let her lock up. I have to say that if she was the “face” of Shire Cruisers, she was perfect for the task. Isn’t it funny how some people just make an impression on you?

With the kit secured it was about time to think about heading back to Halifax where my berth for the night was. I had not checked the bus times but I need not have worried as they run pretty late. I have to say that public transport here far outstrips my native Northern Ireland where the last bus to my village goes at 1750 from the large town nearby. I swear I once briefly lived in a village in Northern Ireland where the bus ran once a week (market day)! I kid you not.

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Back to base. Check out the furniture arrangement!

Back then to Halifax and re-ensconced (think how much that word would score in Scrabble on a triple word score if it is even a proper word) in the Old Post Office. Again, for some reason they had put me in the other accessible room on the ground floor which suited me nicely. The wall of my bedroom would have been the back wall of the bar, which is close enough for me and so, with the kit stowed, it was straight back in there for a quick one before sallying off to sample the delights of a weekday evening in this fine town.

It had been an early start and a longish but hugely enjoyable day wandering around so I did not want to get adventurous and I decided on the local Wetherspoons, in this case the Percy Shaw which was literally five minutes walk away from my digs through the bus station. As always I knew I could get a decent pint, a tasty meal that was not going to break the bank and internet that works more often than it doesn’t! So, who was Percy Shaw I hear you ask. Actually I do not but do hope you did which will prove you have as enquiring a mind as mine! This was exactly the title I picked for my tip on VT when I wrote it what seems like an age ago now, “So who was Percy Shaw?” and again I shall let it stand on it’s own here as he is an interesting man.

I went into what looked like a fairly modern building both externally and internally before opting for my usual Strongbow cider from the very good selection of beers and ciders on offer. Part of the Wetherspoon business model seems to involve never apparently having enough staff on which I suppose keeps overheads down but can be frustrating when you are waiting for service. In fairness, service here was always pretty good.

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I just love spare ribs.

I’ll tell you about the excellent breakfast next day in due course but that evening I just wanted a small plate and the half rack of ribs offered with coleslaw and chips (fries) was just what was required. Again, if memory serves it was only £4 (2015 price). At a time of slightly greater hunger the chilli dog served with chips and onion rings proved very filling. As previously mentioned, portions in Wetherspoon generally tend to be generous and the full rack of ribs really is a challenge although one I attempt from time to time. I would not even attempt the mixed grill!

The Percy Shaw is in a large modern building as I said and is clean and bright with spotless toilet facilities. The walls are adorned, as usual in the chain, with items of local interest and I did find out the interesting piece of information that the telegraphic address of Halifax was “Toffee Town” back in the days of telegrams and so on. This was due to the fact that it was where the very popular brand of sweets known as Quality Street were made (and still are for all I know). The main draw of the decorations, however, brings me back nicely to the Mr. Percy Shaw. You may not have heard of him but I will guarantee you have seen his best known invention which is the cat’s eyes which you see in the middle of the road. I do wonder how many of them there are in the world now. So now you know.

I did year a story once, undoubtedly apocryphal about him being interviewed about the invention of the cat’s eye device and he explained that it was when he saw a cat eye reflecting in the dark, as they do, that he hit on the plan. In a slightly risque comment thereafter he allegedly stated that if the cat had been walking away from him he would probably have invented the pencil sharpener but enough of this.

The pub named for the good Percy is yet another safe bet for a meal and a drink and should you wish to visit then they are open Mon – Thu: 8am to 12am, Fri – Sat: 8am to 1am and Sun: 8am to 12am. Suitably refreshed it was off for another great night’s sleep in yet another comfy bed in my hotel.

I shall go for another excursion in the next chapter of this little series so stay tuned and spread the word.

Turn round and come back again.

I do hope you have come upon this page by way of the previous entries in this series regarding a wonderful canal trip I took in 2015 with three great friends who I had met through a now sadly demised and brilliant travel website called Virtual Tourist which was killed off in the interest of corporate greed.

If you have happened upon this site looking for Salterhebble or whatever, here is a quick precis. My friends and I were having a weekend excursion on the Calder and Hebble canal / river system in Yorkshire and, for some inexplicable reason, I had been attacked savagely by some sort of severe stomach disorder which had left me in my bunk and so incapacitated that I genuinely cannot tell you where we had moored the previous night as I was suffering so much (not even my own bunk, just the one nearest the heads) and was still not feeling great that morning although thankfully better than the Hell of the night I had had before. I really do not ever want to go through that again.

Wherever it was that we were, I let the others get on with it, politely refused offers of breakfast as there was not a chance of that happening without accident, and got foetal again in the bunk to let the pain subside which it had thankfully done enough to allow me to get up about lunchtime.

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How beautiful is this?

Again, apologies to those who have read the previous pages but this for those who have not. None of my friends had run a narrowboat before and it is a bit of a trick although fairly easy once you get the hang of it. Off they went from wherever we had been and I had not even set foot in and managed to lock back down without mishap. Dammit, I’ll make bargees out of them yet! The stabbing pain in my guts had subsided to manageable levels so I rolled out of the bunk, brushed my teeth and headed out to the well where it was another crisp but thankfully clear day. I still was not feeling anything like 100% so I just let the others get on with it although I did a bit of easy locking as I wasn’t going to be merely a passenger.

I did navigate the one tricky lock which took me a couple of attempts as the sidewash from an outflow made it bloody difficult, even moreso than on the outward trip. I reckon it is the most difficult lock I have ever negotiated and I have done a few. The others, standing on the top of the lock must have wondered what the Hell was going on as they had opened it and I was holding steady in the fairly sizeable basin downstream when the sidewash hit me. I know one section of the Grand Union near Rickmansworth (West London) where there is an evil sidewash but I can ride that as my friends showed me which course to steer but I have never had one as bad as this and I had no option but to do a 360 degree pirouette and thankfully there was plenty of leeway. I waved to show that all was under control although it was far from it and had another go. Same result and another 360. It must have looked comical from up there and, in my defence, making a governed 58′ lump of steel with no keel to speak of perform a 360 on it’s own axis is not an easy feat. Third attempt and it was full bore on the throttle which, combined with my hard-won knowledge of the opposing current, enabled me to scrape the poor old Westmoreland into the lock whereupon it was quickly shut behind me amidst a bit of wry applause and a few shouted questions as to what the Hell I had been playing at.

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Dave doing a fine job on the tiller.

After that I didn’t do much except a bit more easy locking as the others really had got the hang of it. Except for things like the dodgy lock described above (these are extremely rare) and single manning which is bloody difficult, it is not too hard to move one of these things about, even with their great size, weight and lack of power on governed leisure boats. I am being completely genuine about this, it is not difficult, your boatyard will probably guide you up the first couple of miles or at least give you a good idea of how to to it. It is just to get you used to the thing and it really is the greatest fun. Give it a try. Honestly, before you know it you’ll be riding tunnels and three different kinds of locks and having the time of your life.

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We dropped Dave off back in Elland at the Barge and Barrel where we had a farewell drink as he had to collect his car and get back for work on the Monday morning.

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It’s amazing the things you see.

I just could not resist including the image above and I have to say that if I could not have a narrowboat which is probably impractical with my back then I would love to live beside a canal but even the most modest and rundown cottages are now going for silly money.  Seems like everybody has the same idea.

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Fergy faces the guillotine yet again.

My friends wanted me to take Westmoreland back through the Salterhebble guillotine lock which I described on out first day out. It is not particularly tricky but perhaps not one for the novice which is why the young guy had ridden up on his bike to help us before. Very shortly after that lock we came back to the main cut and had an option. We could go back to the yard and sleep there, giving ourselves a lie-in in the morning (I think the boat had to be back by 0900 to get cleaned and ready for the next hire) or there was a small cut up to the delightfully named Salterhebble which was perhaps a mile or a little more going the other way.

It is now a cul-de-sac having once been a viable canal to Halifax but it is long blocked off. Perhaps one day the enthusiasts will take it on and re-open it. It really is a backwater, both literally and metaphorically and it was strange to discover that it is considered a suburb of Halifax, where this whole little adventure had started. OK, I was in the Forces, I can do an early start and, frankly, I do like the early morning as there is something so fresh and clean about it. Salterhebble, here we come!

I have to say that I was still not feeling great and so, having got us moored securely, I retired to a random bunk again for a lie down. Again my tip, written shortly after the event will suffice here for what turned out to be a very pleasant evening.
Through the miracle of modern technology (smartphones and the like) the ladies had ascertained that there was a restaurant in Salterhebble called the Watermill. We had moored up opposite a fairly sizeable Premier Inn (one of the no frills chains in the UK and definitely recommended if you are on a budget) but I had not immediately associated the restaurant with the hotel until I saw the “Brewer’s Fayre” logo displayed. I know that they and Premier Inn are both part of the Whitbread group and they use that name for the restaurants in which I have had some great meals.
The premises really are quite sizeable and with separate bar and eating areas. Although it was Sunday evening I was surprised to see how empty the place was, perhaps we just got there a bit late. The menu is fairly extensive with all the usual “pub grub” suspects on offer like grills, steaks, burgers and hot dogs as well as some Tex-Mex stuff like nachos and burritos. There is also a selection of five curries offered and a good range of both starters and sweets.

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A very tasty fish pie.

Given the condition of my stomach anything rich or spicy was out of the question. I decided on the fish pie which I had previously eaten in a different Brewer’s Fayre and really enjoyed. It is a generous portion served with garlic bread and a dressed side salad and I think it is very good value at £8:99 (prices will have changed). You would expect a “freezer to table” place to perhaps skimp on the fish but there really are good big pieces of various types in the dish. Tasty as it was I did not manage to do it full justice but I really didn’t want to push my luck by over-eating.
Service was prompt and friendly at both the bar and by the food server. The Watermill is one of those places where you have to go to the bar and order your meal which is then brought to your table. Whilst ordering I even remembered a long forgotten loyalty card which was duly pressed into service thereby saving a few pennies. I must redeem it some day.

The Watermill is certainly not haute cuisine but it does serve up decent food at reasonable prices in a pleasant atmosphere which is all I require of it.
The ladies had a couple of drinks although, strange as this may sound to those that know me, I think I had one pint all night! Unreal, I know but I was not going to risk it as I still didn’t feel great. After that we wandered down the short distance on the side of the basin for our last night onboard and an early start.

Up very early the next morning which will form the basis of the next entry on this little series.

If you want to see if we made it home in one piece, stay tuned and spread the word. I mean it, I am dying on my feet here with this website (done that onstage once or twice) so please do feel free to distribute these aged ramblings to anyone you know and think might be vaguely interested. I thank you.

It all went horribly wrong.

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.

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Fit for a King, thanks ladies.

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.

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View from a mooring.

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.

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Aly and Dave locking hard.

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.

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Another decent pub.

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.

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A proper old butchers.

“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.

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Another big chain pub.

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!

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In the first week of September? Give me a break!

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.

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This was gorgeous.

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.

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Fill her up, guys.

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.

Let’s get on the Cut.

My second day in Yorkshire arrived and I was up at some unholy hour although it must be said that my night’s sleep had been completely undisturbed even though I was facing the road but there was precious little traffic about by the time I wandered home. I could probably have slept in the road fairly well undisturbed.

As I mentioned in the last piece here, I had had very good “Indian” meal the evening before and breakfast is a meal I rarely take as my stomach does not really get going until a couple of hours after I rise. The number of very decent hotel breakfasts I have passed up is appalling.

Against all logic which is my totally disorganised state of being with technology (I swear I only learnt to answer my so-called “smartphone” in the last month and I am writing this two years after having bought it) I am amazed that I even managed to save this stuff. I shall attempt to edit it appropriately as it was designed for a “review” site and I do not wish to bore all of my now 19 readers (thanks, Niki) with the same preamble all over the place.

The first order of business was to get myself to Sowerby Bridge and that should not have been a problem. As I found out subsequently cabs (taxis) here are very inexpensive but I had my thick travelling head on and I was damned if I was going to cop out that way so I was back to the station to get a train for the short journey over, a singularly uneventful one of about seven minutes but which deposited me at the train station which, frankly, is nowhere near the centre of town. Not a problem as I am not quite decrepit yet but it reminded me of a lovely story.

The railways, like the canals before them and which they killed off, were built by private enterprise with lots of skullduggery going on. They were effectively doing everything on the cheap and the easiest topographical route was the way to go, literally and metaphorically. No need to build tunnels and viaducts if you can just meander another way (a bit like my writing really). Paying public be damned, they could walk to the station. Strange how history repeats itself and now, almost two centuries later, the now re-privatised rail companies still show the same disregard for those who pay their obscene salaries and shareholder’s dividends. Back to my story.

One of the most scenic railways in the UK, if not the world, is the Settle – Carlisle line running between the former Cumberland County (now part of Cumbria) and Yorkshire where I currently was. The story, probably apocryphal, goes like this. A foreign tourist alights at one of the minor (unstaffed) halts to find only a man resting on the station bench after walking his dog. Having asked directions to the village, which is about a mile away and being told where it was and how far it might be, he asked the old guy, “Why did they build the station so far from the village?” The old guy allegedly replied with typical Yorkshire taciturnity (if that is even a proper word), “Well lad, I reckon they wanted it to be near the railway line”. I love that story, true or not.

Back to my own story which I swear to you is true. Come on, I am even providing photographic evidence (which thankfully I do not feature in any of) so I suppose I could have just lifted them off the net but I didn’t, trust me.

I eventually dragged my weary old bones to the  Commercial Inn, another of the Wetherspoons chain I have spoken about often elsewhere on my various pages. I quickly found Gilly who told me that Aly was running late due to the vagaries of public transport in the area (she did not have too far to travel) but that was OK as it gave me time for a catch up as we hadn’t seen each other for a while. There was no immediate rush as the boatyard was literally five minutes walk away and we could not take possession of the craft until a certain time after it had been cleaned and checked over. Well that was fine and so, as Gilly settled over a coffee and bite to eat, I contented myself with another couple of pints of brunch. I shall get my travel review head on later in this small series as we returned there at the end of our journey.

I had no worries about possibly helming a craft worth probably getting on for a quarter of million pounds with a few drinks on me as a) I knew I could do it and b) I know a rather interesting legal fact. Whilst a couple of drinks and getting behind the wheel of a car can quite rightly get you banned, fined or even imprisoned in extreme cases, and rightly so, it is not actually illegal to be over what would be the legal limit for a motor vehicle and propel 70 feet of heavy steel along a canal. That is as long as a lorry. I should stress here that I detest drink driving as I think it is so bloody dangerous and has such appalling consequences. I suppose the thinking is that there just never was a law in place because canal boats long preceeded motor vehicles and indeed, in many parts of the country, even the police and so it just never happened. Added to this, you are restricted by waterways regulations to 4 mph and hire boats are generally governed to about his limit although I know private craft that can go faster and some of the commercial lads will if they are under pressure but they generally don’t as the impact of “speeding” in a boat this big is huge as I shall explain later in the piece and they appreciate that “the cut” is their livelihood.

Our short walk took us thought the old wharf are which, like so many others of it’s type has been beautifully and sympathetically restored from the previous grimy functionality of what was basically a commercial transport system and we easily found the boatyard. Again, I am going to rely on an original review written at the time and hopefully suitable edited so you do not get inundated with the same information over and over.

I had absolute faith in Gilly as I knew she had organised many VT meets before, including her now legendary Manchester Christmas Market meets, so that was not a problem. I knew she would have done her homework, she always does. She had chosen (after much deliberation I am sure) a company called Shire Cruisers working out of Sowerby Bridge and it is that company to which this portion of the blog refers.

As mentioned above, our hire was a long weekend which is basically Friday afternoon to early Monday morning and we started off with three “shipmates” although we were to be joined by “Davesut” (his VT username, real name Dave obviously), a lovely bloke who I had met before but whose job meant we could only hook up with him on the Friday evening. Hence it was then that Gilly and I headed down to the old wharf by the Calder and Hebble navigation (canal). We were soon joined by Aly, another VT member I had had the pleasure of meeting before.

Gilly headed into the office of our hire company which is situated in a gorgeous old wharf and we were directed to the good ship “Westmoreland”. For those not aware, a word of explanation may be in order here. The term “shire” in the UK refers to an old county but has now fallen somewhat into disuse. All the craft in this yard are named after present or previous “shires”. In the case of our particular craft, Westmoreland has not existed for many years having been subsumed into the supposedly more financially robust or politically expedient area of “Cumbria” as mentioned in my railway story above, but enough of this.

I learn of an interesting ancient custom.

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Sowerby Bridge rushbearing cart.

We were invited to stow our kit inside and assisted by one of what appeared to be a small army of workers there. With the kit suitably stowed we went for a wander round the yard where they just happened to be housing the “rush-bearing cart” which was lovely to see. Rush-bearing is a very ancient tradition in these parts and whilst we were not going to be there to see it, the cart was still lovely to see.

I’ll give you quick rundown on rush-bearing here as the vehicle looks odd and you may not have heard of it. Neither had I until I heard about these old VT meets.

Rush-bearing is a tradition that goes back to medieval times when the floors of most Churches were merely compacted earth and which used to get fairly insanitary in the wet and blowy winters. It is entirely a Northern English tradition. Once a year, before the onset of winter, a large cart of rushes was collected and distributed to local churches to be used as a renewable and easily obtained floor-covering. They were “going green” about a millennium before it became trendy!

When the Christian church had increased it’s wealth, as it does, the floors of the churches were flagged out and the rush-bearing festival more or less fell into disuse but it continues in a few places and Sowerby Bridge is undoubtedly the main one. Nowadays, it is a huge festival, attracting thousands to the town and helping to boost the tourist economy which is increasingly important to places like this where the traditional industries have all gone.

You can see the cart in the image and what they do first is perch a young lady on top of it, a pageant Queen, if you like. Presumably she is picked not only for her looks but also for having a head for heights as there is no way I’d get up there, especially when I tell you the means of propulsion. Forget horses, donkeys, oxen or anything else. This contraption is powered by a gang of burly young men. There are a group at the front hauling ropes to provide forward momentum and then, even more importantly, another group at the back on more ropes to provide the braking system. I have seen some of the hills they go up and down and they must be big, fit lads. This thing, full laden, must weight literally a ton and has no brakes so the thought of it going out of control with thousands of onlookers really does not bear thinking about. I dread to think what the insurance premium must be and the Health and Safety risk assessment must read like War and Peace.

Over the course of the weekend they drag this juggernaut (I use the term properly, look up where the word comes from, that is your homework for today!) round and about the town and surrounding villages. Obviously it an excuse for much drinking, dancing and general revelry. If you are vaguely interested I have included a link here.

We were then asked to attend a safety briefing in the office. There were several crews including a fairly sizeable one from the boat moored alongside who appeared to be young guys out for a weekend f carousing and who we did bump into (not literally, thankfully) several times on our cruise. The fairly small office which also houses the very decently stocked gift shop was fairly full with all the weekend sailors there.

Actually, the fun started there as the young lady giving the briefing quite disarmingly told us that she had never done one before and but for the fact that the owners were off for the weekend then she would not be doing it at all. In the way of workplace pranks a couple of the (obviously experienced) “hands” from the yard came in to stand at the back. The poor girl was terrified but came through brilliantly, mixing her obviously book driven briefing with a few very humorous anecdotes. I really wish I could remember the young lady’s name to acknowledge her personally but sadly I cannot. Petrified as she obviously was, she gave the briefing excellently and I could not fault it. The look of relief on her face at the end was an absolute picture.

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The good ship Westmoreland.

Time for the off then and one of the young lads from the yard lent us a hand. He told us that he would meet us at the Salterhebble guillotine lock, a little way up the cut. What? I had never heard of a guillotine lock before as they don’t exist where I normally crew. About a mile up the cut, we were just settling into the 4 mph life of the canal when we saw him flying past us on his bicycle on the towpath. Needless to say, he was at the lock long before we were and gave us the necessary knowledge as to how to use these electronic beasts. Just as well really as we had to come back through it on the way home.

To re-iterate briefly then, I know there are many excellent hire boat companies operating in the UK but if your fancy takes you towards West Yorkshire then you could do very much worse than to use Shire Cruisers. Right, end of review and back to the story.

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This is what I came for.

We got underway with me at the helm. On the old Forces principle of “volunteer for nothing” I was quite happy to let the ladies crack on but they insisted. I had had a chat with the very friendly guy from the boatyard about my previous crewing and he was obviously happy to let me take her out of the mooring although he did offer to take us up to the first lock. I said I reckoned I could handle it and he was standing watching. It was like the time I teed off at Royal Portstewart Golf Club with the club steward on the tee watching me. I am no golfer and, if you really scuffed your first shot, you would be thrown off the course and no refund! Obviously, I took her out OK and he acknowledged me with a wave as I took her into the cut and he went back about his business. Whew, got through that one then although I am sure he had seen a lot worse.

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The first one I had ever seen.

Once we had been cast off on our own, I immediately offered the ladies the chance to take the helm as it was a straight run with no obvious hazards and I had determined myself I was not going to hog the tiller. Nothing until this guillotine lock as mentioned but they were still a little reticent. OK, I can do this, I love doing this, it is one of the greatest joys in my life. Up to the lock, successfully negotiated with the young biking boatyard guy and we were off and running.

OK, clear water now and nothing in the way so time to get the ladies to work. OK, I am no expert but I gave them both a crash course (thankfully there were no crashes just yet) into how to propel half a ton or whatever of heavy steel along a bit of water.

The problem with narrowboats is that steering them is effectively counter-intuitive. With a car, if you want to go right you turn the steering wheel to the right and so on but on a narrowboat it is the opposite way round so if you want to go right, you effectively “steer” to the left. Of course, the problem is compounded when you have the engine in reverse when everything is back to front twice! Trust me, don’t panic if you are considering this as you can get it easily enough.  Please do not be put off, it really is great fun.

There we were then on the beautiful Calder and Hebble Canal although it is properly a canal and river system combined, which sometimes happens on the cut. I won’t go into a whole dissertation about it here, look it up if you are interested as there is plenty online. Whether river, canal or some amalgam thereof, I can tell you that it is a beautiful place as hopefully some of the rather amateur images will show.

I got Gilly on the tiller first. Gilly is a dear friend, a very intelligent woman who commands a very responsible job but, with the greatest respect, she struggled with the concept of the “opposite tiller” and there were a few close calls until I grabbed it but we were never going to come to grief as there was nothing solid and the worst that could have happened was that we could have gone aground and had to pole off (poles are provided for just such circumstances!).

Aly seemed to get the idea better but her problem was that, and again I am not being unkind here, she will never play basketball for her country as she is not exactly the tallest lady in the world. Standing in the well of a narrowboat you have to look out over up to 70′ of roof / canvas and anticipate where the front is going to be. I stand 6’5″ and so have a good view but it took me some time to master it. To use the car analogy again, it is like looking over a 60 or 70 foot bonnet (hood) because you drive from the back, probably unlike any other form of locomotion. Poor Aly could barely see over the roof! Still, she made a good fist of it and everything was going well.

I say it was going well, how bad could it possibly be? I was doing one of the things I love most in the world in the company of two dear friends and heading to meet another that evening. I was on a cut I had never even walked before never mind worked. How bad could it be? Not at all is the answer to that. Without any hyperbole, canal life is the ultimate stress reliever.
Yes, we had a TV on the boat, as they do these days, but we never turned it on. We only used our mobile ‘phones to keep in contact when ashore (well, the others did, I still struggle to work mine), a computer was not seen and you are forced to move at a walking pace through beautiful countryside.
Even when you get into the built up areas, there is so much to see that you would never see from landside. It really is like entering another world and I love it. As soon as I step on a narrowboat and throw my kit onboard it it like the weight of the world lifts off my shoulders. There is only you, your mates, the need to keep the damn boat off the cills in the locks, the physical exertion of locking, the canalside pubs, the cooking in a galley and eating the results beside a wood-burning stove. It is beyond belief and I really do recommend you try it if only for a short break. Trust me, you will not regret it.

Have I gone on enough yet about the joys of narrowboats? Probably, so I’ll get back to the narrative.

Because we didn’t really want to go too far on such a short hire (we had to get back again) the ladies had decided we would spend the first night in the village / town of Elland which was where Dave was meeting us. We arrived without major incident (OK one or two close calls but nothing serious) and the ladies had by then been introduced to the joys of locking. I’ll go into the intricacies of that later, it is an art form, believe me.

We were looking for a mooring and, as it was not high season, we should have been OK and so it proved. Oh dear, what a stroke of luck, we managed to moor right outside the back door of the Barge and Barrel pub. How awful.

Time for  quick one.

The ladies had reckoned we needed supplies and that sounded about right so they found the local supermarket on their phones. It was over a charming bridge, then turn left and up a hill (there are so many hills in Yorkshire) to the Asda / Sainsburys / Tesco or whatever. I really cannot remember as they all look the bloody same to me. On the way up the hill, I had taken the precaution of noting a pub called the Malt Shovel and so, on the return journey and laden like the pack ponies that probably plied this street a century ago, I tentatively suggested a pint. I have no idea what all we bought but it seemed like we were feeding a regiment for a month rather than four people for three days! I am willing to concede that a large portion of the load was my cider ration. I know that drinking spirits is lot easier logistically but I don’t want to go back to that nonsense.

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Another great little Yorkshire pub.

The ladies agreed and so we hit the Malt Shovel and again I am going to regress to my original writing on the place, suitably edited.

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A proper locals place.

“It is pleasant enough inside with a few prints of the surrounding countryside and other nick-nacks around the walls and whilst it is apparently a locals pub there were not too many of them in when we visited on a Friday evening. The couple that were there were friendly enough, mind you, and I soon struck up a conversation with one of them, a fascinating chap who was seriously into music and it transpired we had a couple of mutual friends in the music game.

One of the things he did tell me was that the Malt Shovel keeps pretty strange hours which I subsequently discovered are as follows – 3-9 Mon; Closed Tue; 3-9 Wed-Sat; 12-6 Sun. I must confess I had never heard of such a limited regime in a pub before.

My only problem with the Malt Shovel is that is is a Sam Smith’s (brewery) pub. This is fine if you like their beer and the prices are extremely competitive but I am a cider drinker and I just cannot get on with the Sam Smith’s draught cider which tastes like battery acid to me. This particular brewery are almost obsessive about only serving their own products to the point that none of them even serve Coke or Pepsi and offer Sam Smith’s cola instead, at least that used to be the case.  I don’t know about nowadays as I don’t drink the stuff.  Aly did rave about her Tadcaster (Taddy) lager though and I believe Sam Smith’s bitter is very good if that is your thing.

There is no food available and it’s position on quite a steep hill with a fairly narrow pavement and a step up to the front door may render it difficult for the mobility impaired. Certainly it is a welcoming pub and full of character but, for reasons as outlined above, I don’t think I’ll be back there. Still, it was a welcome stop off and we humped our purchases back to the boat stowed them and headed to our next destination, the pub we had moored beside!

What a very strange menu.

Again, we are back to my old writing but at least it has the advantage of being contemporary.

“Making the long trek of at least 50 yards from the mooring to the front door and through the pleasant beer garden I was confronted with a sandstone (I believe) building so typical of the area which looked well tended and certainly very welcoming. I noticed a sign stating something along the lines of “full menu” or something similar which looked good as I did not want to wander too far to eat that evening. More of the “full menu” later! We all made selections (Dave had joined us by then) from the extensive and apparently regularly changing beer menu and sat down for a pleasant evening of catching up.

The bar was quite large and obviously very much a locals place although not in an exclusive way and we were made to feel most welcome. After a pint or three we decided it was time to eat and it is here that the “full menu” mentioned above comes into play. I don’t know if it was a temporary kitchen thing or the sign was merely a remnant from a previous owner but the menu consisted entirely of hot pork pie and mushy peas. Perhaps the fullness of the menu referred to the choice of five different types of pork pie you could have. I must confess that I had never had a hot pork pie before and had always associated it with picnics and ploughman’s lunches but when in Rome and all that and so I opted for the black pudding variety as I am rather partial to that particular delicacy. It was explained to me by my “shipmates” that this particular combination is a dish that is peculiar to West Yorkshire and I did find it rather pleasant especially when doused with industrial quantities of mint sauce from a huge catering bottle. This was not a problem as it is one of my favourite condiments although it did sound a bit strange at first. It is amazing what you eat on a VT meet!
After a very pleasant evening we retired to the boat although we did return here on the Sunday to drop Dave off and had another pleasant hour before and after saying our fond farewells. This is a great pub and I do recommend it. It has a pool table, dartboard and pinball as well as regular live music at weekends and a weekly quiz night on Thursday. It is wheelchair accessible and dog and family friendly with free wifi access.

There you go, another one in the eye of the abysmal TripAdvisor. A real review written by a real person who has actually been there and not some worker bee in Minnesota who has never travelled out of their country and probably doesn’t even have a passport. That is what they do. Again, sue me if you think I lie, kaufer (CEO of that reviled site). I know I go on about this but I cannot believe their wanton destruction of any constructive travel writing in favour of their crass commercialism. In the very proper sense of the word they are terrorists, commercial rather than political, using any means to ensure global internet supremacy in much the same way jihadis wish for a Caliphate and I do not think that is too much of a stretch of the inagination.

Wow, how did I get from being so happy on my boat to being so angry in just a single paragraph? Sorry, folks, you get it as it is here. I have taken the gloves off and this site is going to be real.

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Captain’s cabin and very comfy too!

Anyway, few pints of good stuff later and it was a short stumble of at least 50 yards through the beer garden to my berth for the night which I think you will agree from the attached image, looks pretty comfy and indeed it was.

Much more of the cut to come so stay tuned and spread the word.

I get to the other Halifax.

A word of explanation.

For those of you who may have stumbled upon this page accidentally, perhaps searching for information about leisure activities in Yorkshire, specifically in respect of canals, I offer a quick word of explanation here.

Virtually all of the content on the following pages was saved against the best efforts of an evil corporate entity who bought over a great website that I wrote for for 12 years and who are Hell-bent on being the only travel site online and will stop at nothing to do it. As this is my site and the content is meant to be in a more narrative style I shall attempt to edit as appropriate but I make no apologies for the fact that some paragraphs may read like reviews which is what they were originally written as. Certainly, at time of re-writing this here in November 2018 I am sure much of the information is out of date. I have attempted to verify if places mentioned are still functioning and will indicate where not but this is mostly a personal remembrance of a wonderful trip undertaken with great friends in the early Autumn of 2015.

There may be an occasional reference to VT which slips through the net and which refers to Virtual Tourist, undoubtedly the most genuine travel review site that has ever existed on the net (I have written for a few, believe me and it is that I referred to above) which was so awfully butchered by a criminal (yes, I can prove that) website who I shall not even name here.

Now we have the explanation out of the way, let’s get down to the trip. On the aforementioned VT we used to have all sorts of “meets” including a huge annual Euromeet somewhere in Europe (obviously) and which, whilst supported strongly by the tiny staff of VT, although they did not have the resources to actually arrange it, was always undertaken by the members themselves. At least one of the staff would always fly from the States to attend, it really was that kind of site and I would think it is a fairly rare thing when you can have a drink with the CEO of your favourite website and speak to them quite frankly about the site.

In another series of travelogues here I have written about the 2017 meet in Germany even after they had killed the actual website. You can kill the site but you cannot kill what we were about. I know there was a 2018 meet in Iceland, organised by another personal friend of mine, which I unfortunately could not make and there is one planned for 2019. Criminally convicted big business may kill off a website but it cannot kill off the will of travellers worldwide. We were travellers, we are still travellers and VT is not going to go away in spirit any time in the near future.

So, I was going to go to Yorkshire to meet dear friends for a weekend of fun and frolics on a hired canal boat. Suits me. I know I have mentioned on other pages my love for canals and canal boats and I have been deemed competent enough to crew by friends who actually run them commercially. As always I’ll try to go through this chronologically as it is the only way I can even attempt to recover all this content without getting totally lost. OK, let’s be honest, I have been totally lost mentally and occasionally physically for years. I always manage to find my way home eventually physically but mentally……………..?

Given the large UK membership of Virtual Tourist I was slightly surprised at the fairly small group who had signed up. There was Gilly, who organised the whole thing (brilliantly I might add, cheers mate), Aly, Dave who could not join us until Saturday as his teaching duties did not allow for a Friday off and your humble narrator. That was no problem, I had met them all before another VT events and got on really well with them, they are all lovely people. As I have mentioned elsewhere here on my pages, Yorkshire is a part of the UK I have visited far too infrequently. Yes, I walked an LDP (Long Distance Path) many years ago with my then fiancee and I had been there once or twice on other occasions but I knew damn little about it and so when I jumped on my train in London I was actually quite looking forward to it.

Again, a quick piece of travel advice if you may be reading this overseas and thinking of using the trains in UK when you visit. Always, always book ahead as “walk-up” fares are out the far side of ridiculous. Generally speaking, the further ahead you book the better as you get the best deals and, if you are not confined to a particular time, then travel after 0930 as it is considerably cheaper, it is called “off-peak”. Certainly, the very best fares require you to commit to specific trains but I have never had a problem with that.

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I got there in one piece.

I am now going back into review mode as explained above to describe the journey although I shall attempt to make it as readable as possible. Sorry, I just cannot break the habit, I reckon I was born to write travel reviews if I ever find a site I can trust and I probably won’t so I bought my own! Again it is culled from something I wrote at the time on VT.

Let the train take the strain.

Whilst it is undoubtedly more expensive than the bus (coach) I much prefer travelling in the UK by train as it is considerably quicker and certainly more comfortable and this is the mode of transport I used to and from Halifax.

Trains leave Kings Cross and take a little over two hours and most involve a change at Leeds although I did manage to get one of the few direct trains which take just a shade over two hours on a pleasant service run by Grand Central.

The station was clean and tidy and it offers the following services as outlined in the attached website. The station code is HFX and the ticket office is open Monday – Friday 05:50 – 20:00, Saturday 05:50 – 20:00 and Sunday 08:15 – 19:00. There are ticket machines outside these hours including accessible machines.

The full postal address is Horton Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX1 1QE and there are always appear to be taxis waiting outside when the station is open. Refreshments are provided in the cafe opposite the booking hall which is open Monday to Saturday 06:00 – 18:00 and Sunday 09:00 – 18:00.

Access to all platforms is by stairs or lift and there is an accessibility helpline available for information on 0808 156 1606. It is available Monday to Saturday 0800 – 2000 and Sunday 0900 – 1700. There do not appear to be accessible toilets available.

I’m glad I did that. Sod it, it is my site and I basically started writing online to help other travellers so I see no reason to stop now.

It perhaps seems strange that as a UK citizen I had visited the city of Halifax in Canada in 2014 but had never visited the place in England for which it was named. This was a four day affair starting Friday lunchtime and finishing Monday morning although I had decided to make a bit of a trip out of it and arrive on the Thursday to avoid a very early start and also added three additional days at the end to explore an area I know lamentably little about.

Our start and finish point for the boat was Sowerby Bridge although I could not find any accommodation there in my price range but a bit of internet searching showed up a few places in nearby Halifax which is a mere seven minutes by train or not much more on a fairly inexpensive taxi ride. That was decided then and Halifax was duly chosen as my base.

So what did I know about this town of about 100,000 souls? To my shame the answer is just about nothing. I knew it had a history of textile production, was home to one of the largest building societies in the UK, had a close association with Rugby League and a football (soccer) team who are languishing somewhat at present having gone bankrupt in 2007 after more than 100 years in the top flights of the English game.

I know a little bit more now although there is undoubtedly much more I can learn. I found a fairly typical Yorkshire mill town on the banks of the River Calder albeit that the mills are long closed with many of them now converted to office and other use. Easily the largest of these is the massive Dean Clough Mill I will write of later and which stretches for over half a mile. It was once one of the largest textile factories in the world specialising in carpets and it really is rather impressive.

Other medium and heavy industries have gone the way of the mills and it is hard to know whether the place is in decline or making a resurgence. There are many closed down industrial units apparently not earmarked for anything and I noticed a disproportionate number of restaurants shut down. In contrast, many other buildings seem to be thriving in their new guises.

Halifax has very good public transport connections and makes an excellent base for exploring the delightful nearby Calderdale as well as being close enough to major cities like Leeds, Bradford, Rochdale and Burnley.
It shall be interesting to see what the future holds for this friendly and pleasant town.

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My home from home in Halifax.

Out of the Station and I knew it was walkable to the place I had booked to stay in so I swerved the taxis as mentioned above and took off in what I hoped was the right direction. Fortunately, I am of a generation that does not rely on GPS technology which is just as well as I cannot operate it and I quickly came to the Old Post Office in good order.

I had left booking quite late and they did not have any single rooms left but offered single occupancy of a double room for a very reasonable £30 per night. Purely coincidentally both the rooms I stayed in were the fully accessible rooms situated on the ground floor up a ramp to right of the pub with the other rooms being on the upper floor. I had Room 1 on the first night and Room 2 on the later nights when I returned and so had an opportunity to check both of them out.

Location and price are important to me and the latter was excellent with the former not much behind it. The walk from the Station was fairly flat and I managed it easily even with luggage. Should the traveller be arriving by bus then the bus station is a mere 200 yards in the other direction. I was slightly concerned initially at the location on Winding Road which appears to be a fairly main thoroughfare with the rooms facing it but I need not have worried as it is really quiet at night and road noise was not a problem at all.

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As comfy as you like.

I went into the bar and spoke to the friendly young barmaid who booked me in quickly and courteously. I explained that I would be returning later and enquired if I could settle my bill for both stays on the one card transaction and that was no problem. After a quick pint in the pleasant bar, I went up the gentle wheelchair ramp and let myself into the room which was certainly not palatial but perfectly adequate and spotlessly clean. The double bed proved to be very comfortable and more than enough for my 6’5″ frame. There was a wall-mounted TV and the bathroom was of the wetroom type with all the usual handrails etc. associated with accessibility for the mobility impaired. When I later used the shower it had plenty of piping hot water at a very decent pressure so no complaints there.

The second room I stayed in was much of the same although it did have a rather incongruous easy chair in it which was positioned in such a way that it would have been impossible to sit in unless you put your legs up on the bed as there was about three inches clearance between the two pieces of furniture. This, however, is a very minor quibble.

Accommodation is offered on a room only basis as the pub does not open for breakfasts but there are numerous places within a few minutes walk where you can get a bite to eat. The local Wetherspoons pub, the Percy Shaw, which I shall speak of later, provides breakfast from 0800 and is only a few minutes walk.

When I travel I merely require a clean and comfortable bed and enough hot water for a shower and the Old Post Office certainly provides all that at a price that undercuts even the no-frills chains locally by some distance. If you are on a budget I certainly recommend it.

In the almost OCD way I have of checking my information I have recently (November 2018) checked the information regarding this establishment and I find that the accessible room is still a remarkably reasonable £38 whilst, if you are on a serious budget, a single with shared facilities is a ludicrously cheap £29. I really enjoyed it there.

A mini-Minster.

With the kit duly stowed it was time for a look around, the weather was typically Yorkshire but not horribly so and off I went. I had seen an obviously Christian church to my right as I had walked to the hotel so I thought I might as well start there as it was only a very short walk back and it turned out to be not merely a Church but a Minster.

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Halifax Minster on a dull Yorkshire day.

People tend to have an image of Minsters being huge and grand edifices and, certainly in the case of somewhere like York, this is true but the term Minster merely refers to a missionary church, a fact I only learned whilst I was there. As I often say, every day is a schoolday on the road. Indeed, the Minster was originally merely called Halifax Parish Church. If the reader is interested then there are another two Minsters in West Yorkshire at Dewsbury and Leeds.

Another thing I mention often here is that I am of no religious faith and yet I find places of worship endlessly fascinating and was very flattered to have a couple of my reviews on them included in certain VT press pieces, one of which was actually published internationally when I was on this trip. Get me pretending to be a travel writer!

On a midweek September afternoon the place was naturally very quiet and I was greeted by a very friendly old chap who gave me a self-guide tour leaflet although that proved not to be necessary as he basically wandered about with me pointing out things of interest. I suppose he was glad of the company.

The history of Halifax Minster may be as long as 900 years but early records are extremely sparse. There may have been a hermitage hereabouts as far back as the seventh century but the first vaguely solid evidence is for a vicar being appointed in 1274 although an 1150 gravestone has been found nearby. Interestingly, it features a pair of shears thereby providing the first evidence of a textile industry in Calderdale.

Various eminent clerics have presided here including Dr. Thomas Brent, chaplain to King Henry VII and William Rokeby who baptised Mary Tudor in 1516. Rather grotesquely his heart and bowels are interred in the Minster although I am not sure where the rest of him is. During the Reformation, Halifax became increasingly Protestant although Dr. Holdsworth, the incumbent at the time seems to have gone whichever way the wind was blowing at the time. The area and church experienced further upheaval during the Civil War and subsequent Reformation with the local populace being overwhelmingly Puritan.

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Poor old cemented Tristram.

Times were hard then as evidenced by the effigy of Old Tristam, a local licensed beggar (really) with his alms box which now serves to hold donations from visitors. There is no admission charge but donations are obviously welcome and there is a £3 charge for photography. Remarkably, they have had to cement poor old Tristram into the ground as he has been stolen on more than one occasion. It defeats my fairly fertile imagination what kind of person would steal a donation box from a place of worship but there you are.

Halifax boomed during the Industrial Revolution although remarkably the Church, as it still was, did not undergo a full refurbishment until 1878 – 1879 under the supervision of the famous architect George Gilbert Scott. He is a fascinating man and I have written about him many times in various places. He is known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the stunning hotel that still graces St. Pancras railway station in that city. The £20,000 refit included several structural alterations and, somewhat puzzlingly, the lowering of most of the pews. This is effectively the building you see today although minor alterations have taken place since.

Another favourite subject of mine is military history and many old colours of the Duke of Wellington’s Royal Regiment are laid up here. The Regiment has a long association with the town and the excellent Regimental Museum will be dealt with in a future entry in this little series.

Another feature of interest is the organ which was originally built in 1763 by John Snetzler and is regarded as being of great interest albeit that only a little of the original work remains, having been subsumed in various enlargements.

Halifax Minster is definitely worth a visit and, should you wish to do so, here are the logistics taken from the attached website. Again I am back into travel review mode and again I make no apology. I do hope it may assist someone some time.

There is accessible ramp to the accessible toilet at the West End of church and accessible entry from the surrounding area. Please ask the volunteer about this. Assistance dogs are allowed in the building.

There is no parking on site. There are pay and display parking bays in the streets around Halifax Minster and several council pay and display car parks close by. Pay and display is Monday – Saturday 0800 – 1600. Please check the parking meters for further information on the day of your visit.

Lest we forget.

Readers of my other pages will know that I have a great interest in military history and also in war graves and memorials and there are many tips included here about them for which I make no apology. Like any right-thinking person I hate war but the tragic fact is that wars happen and people are required to pay the ultimate price when they do. It has happened since the dawn of time and shows no signs of going away any time soon, more’s the pity.

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Lest we forget.

The main memorial in Halifax stands in the gardens just North of the Minster Church of St. John in the open space that is variously known as Duffy Park or Cripplegate Park. It is 25 feet tall and was designed by H. Scott Davis. It was unveiled on the 15th of October 1922 by Sir George Fisher-Smith but it was not here at the time. It was originally in Bellevue Park and was moved to the present location some years later.

If you are passing, you may wish to pause for a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by previous generations.

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Isn’t she a beauty?

As I was walking out from the Minster, having inspected and paid respects at the war memorial as described, I was treated to the sight of an immaculately preserved old Morris motor car, which I can tell from the number plate pre-dates 1962, being driven into the carpark in a manner that would not have disgraced the Monte Carlo rally. Out jumps the vicar in full ecclesiastical kit and takes off at the trot into the Minster. He must have been late for a meeting of the Parish Council or something and it was just totally surreal. I had to take an image of the motor though, which was an absolute beauty.

There was still time for a good wander as it was only early September and I had plenty of daylight left so I took off for what I thought was the direction of the centre of town. Obviously a pint was called for and there certainly appeared to be no shortage of options as the town is well served for what were to turn out to be uniformly decent pubs.

The first of a few.

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A very fine pub.

The first on that caught my eye was the Gundog. What a find. It looked great from the outside and I believe it had had a bit of a refurbishment on the inside. Again, another review from my VT writing.

I do like old-fashioned pubs and I knew the minute I walked into the Gundog pub in Crown Street that I had stumbled upon a beauty. In fairness, the exterior had hinted at it but the interior was a delight with various little side rooms and so on. I got my pint which was well-kept and served promptly by a very friendly barmaid and retired to the room which is on your right as you come in the door and faces the street. Although I was drinking cider I noticed that they had a good selection of real ales and they can offer this selection as they are a freehouse which means they are not tied to the products of a particular brewery as many establishments are. Prices were very reasonable.

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A beautiful place for a pint.

Having settled myself on the comfy bench seat I took in the fine wood-panelled walls, lovely old-fashioned fireplace and even noted the old bell pushes which were used to summon the bar staff in days past. What really took my eye, however, were the simply stunning leaded windows you can see in one of the images here. One featured a stained glass panel of an old rugby match and the other a game of cricket. It was really cosy in there so I had to have another pint and was served by a barman this time, the staff having changed over. He was as charming as his colleague and it only added to a very pleasant visit although regrettably I had to move on after a couple as I had other places still to visit.

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Check out the windows, they are stunning.

If I am back in Halifax I shall definitely return here and I strongly suggest the reader does as well if they are in town.

It is what it is.

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Old Cock and Oak Bar.

Back on the completely unplanned ramble and I happened upon another place which proved to be a completely different entity although decent enough in it’s own way. I came upon the Old Cock and Oak Bar which was down a bit of a back street but I do have a knack of finding slightly out of the way pubs. I also have a fairly well-defined ability to be able to gauge what kind of pub I am in within a few seconds of walking through the door and so it was here.

Firstly, the place is huge and on an early midweek evening it was very predominantly males in there although there were one or two females. There were several large screen TVs showing a variety of sporting events and I chose the back bar as I had seen cricket on the screen there. I believe this is the Oak Lounge mentioned in the full name of the premises, presumably due to the rather pleasant panelling there. I went to the bar and was served by a pleasant and chatty young lady who provided a pint of well-kept cider very promptly.

As well as the TV screens the rear room also boasted a couple of pool tables which seemed to be getting plenty of use. I was told by a local that this place can become, shall we say, a little lively on a Friday and Saturday night but it was perfectly well ordered when I was there so I can only speak as I find. This may be something to do with the fact that they have live music on those nights but the couple of locals I exchanged a few words with all seemed friendly enough.

There is not really much more I can tell you about this place. Certainly there are more atmospheric pubs in the town but I can find no fault with this place, as they say “it is what it is”.

Yet another gem.

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What a great place.

It undoubtedly “was what it was” and none the worse for it but I was on a bit of a mission. A city I had never been in so there had to be plenty more to explore and I set about it with a will. I came to a road junction where there was a sign advertising an Italian restaurant and indicating to use the other door down the side street. I was also looking for somewhere to eat that evening and I wandered down to where I thought the door was to check out the menu. Instead of a menu I saw a sign stating that this was the local current CAMRA Pub of the Season. This intrigued me as there was nothing else to suggest it was a pub and it would be unusual for a restaurant to be designated thus. For readers not aware of CAMRA it is an acronym standing for the CAMpaign for Real Ale which is a consumer pressure group that concerns itself with the preservation of real ales, ciders and the British pub which are all subjects dear to my heart!

Obviously I walked straight in and was greeted by the slightly unusual but very welcome sight which you can see in one of the images. It was immediately obvious that the premises had not been designed as a pub which was all to be explained to me later. It was fairly quiet in there and I chatted to the very friendly barman whilst perusing the extensive beer and cider menu before deciding on a pint of one particular cider which turned out to be rather good. Please don’t ask me what it was as I rally cannot recall.

The story is that the premises had indeed been an Italian restaurant for some time before going out of business, then lay empty for four or five years when the current management bought it over, gave it a lick of paint and opened it as is now under the rather grand name of the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in November 2014. Most of the original decor has been retained which gives it more a cafe-bar feel than a pub but it does not suffer for that.

I particularly liked the wood ceiling and the shelving which was presumably designed for wine bottles initially but now serve to display some of the huge range of available bottled beers. I know many pubs use this device as a decorative tool but in here it is the genuine current stock as I found out when one of the staff produced a small step and reached up to take some bottles down to resupply the chiller. If none of the bottles appeal then you may want to try one of the eight real ales from the pump or twelve beers from the keg which are offered. These change regularly. They also have a spirits licence if that is your thing but it really is a beer / cider place.

If there are all sorts of beers here then it is the same with the patrons and the VCBC, as it seems to be called locally, certainly attracts a very varied clientele. On the evening I visited there was a poetry session in the small upstairs area which attracted a number of “alternative” types and became quite raucous. I was cordially invited to join in but declined although I sort of regretted that due to the amount of fun they were apparently having.

Downstairs there were guys in work gear mixing quite happily with “suits”, a young couple having what appeared to be a romantic tryst in the quieter little area to the left whilst an older chap got on with his crossword nearby and then, of course, there was your humble narrator! It does not get much more eclectic than that but it was all extremely friendly.

I tried a couple of the beers (the saison was good) but I eventually settled on the grapefruit beer and you did read that correctly. I do like fruit beers and ciders and I am particularly fond of grapefruit so this was an obvious choice. It was slightly more expensive than most of the other brews on offer but I still found all the prices to be very reasonable as I am used to London and I have to say that it was worth every penny as it was utterly delicious.

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Beards are not obligatory!

Should you wish to combine your love of beer with your love of matters internet (hopefully reading my blog) then there is free wifi available. Regrettably, I am not sure how accessible it would be here as I only saw one entrance and that has two steps up to it. It is extremely dog friendly here and also extremely beard friendly. At one point early on there were nine men and two ladies present and all but one of the men had face furniture of one sort or another. I felt right at home although I do stress that it is not mandatory! It is open 1100 – 2300 every day except Friday and Saturday when it stays open an extra hour.

All in all this is another great venue in a town where I seemed to have been ricocheting round quite a few, I do recommend it highly and herein ends another travel review written for such a site but it does not end there.

It had to be a curry.

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A fine curry house.

Yorkshire is famous for many things like tea, cricket, the Dales and so on but in more recent times it is known as a county with a huge South Asian immigrant population and renowned for it’s contributions to the curry cuisine of the world. Well, I had a bellyful of very decent beer and cider in me so a plate of something spicy seemed right in order as I do love a curry and am lucky enough to live in an area with something like nine curry houses within a 500 yard radius of my front door.

As I mentioned above, where I live in the East End of London there is certainly no shortage of “Indian” restaurants although the fact of the matter is that they are no such thing and are almost exclusively owned and staffed by Bangladeshis. In West Yorkshire, however, the situation is somewhat different as the majority of the Asian population there are of Pakistani descent and so it was no surprise to me when I saw a restaurant called Kashmiri Aroma which is on the first floor of a modern looking building right in the centre of town.

When I went in I noticed that it was a large establishment although it was fairly well empty which may have been due to it approaching closing time on a weekday night. There were only two other tables occupied which is normally not a great sign but I need not have worried as I shall explain now. The decor is modern and bright and the staff were well turned out. I was greeted in a very friendly manner, shown to a table and the obligatory beer and poppadums were duly produced. I am not sure if it was just natural Yorkshire friendliness or they were merely bored but I had conversations with no less than three of the waiters whilst waiting for my meal to arrive. These conversations confirmed my earlier surmise that the place was, indeed, Pakistani run (I am not going to get into the Indian / Pakistani dispute over the Kashmir region here, they told me they were Pakistanis). Maybe the respective Governments of those two nuclear enabled countries should just sit down, listen to the wonderful Led Zeppelin song named for the region and chill out. I suppose that is just the old hippy in me talking.

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An unusual starter.

My starter of chicken liver tikka (£3:70) duly arrived and was delightful. Described as “Spring chicken liver marinated in selected herbs and spices and cooked over charcoal”, I had selected it mostly on the basis that it was a dish I had never had before. Yes, I do take my travel writing seriously and took images of the menu for use as notes later! I do like to try new things and it certainly did not disappoint, being fairly delicately spiced and cooked to perfection. I am a big fan of offal anyway as I think it is much underused and can be absolutely beautiful. I’ll take a plate of devilled kidneys for breakfast any time but I’m damned if I know where to find such a dish now.

For my main course I had opted for chicken Kashmir which is not as hot a dish as I would normally choose but I had been having a little bit of stomach trouble for a few days and so I thought discretion was the better part of valour. Add in the name of the restaurant and it’s probable provenance and it was an obvious choice. It was delightfully spiced although not overly hot and the lychees added a nice note of sweetness. Lychees are one of my favourite exotic fruits so this was perfect for me. Strangely, I rarely eat rice in Asian restaurants as it just bloats me but I do love Asian breads and a couple of nice warm chapati complemented the meal nicely.

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Every bit as tasty as it looks.

I hadn’t really considered what time it was as the Asian restaurants near me stay open pretty late every night but when I checked the opening times to write this piece originally I discovered that I had been there a bit beyond closing time. I was not rushed in the slightest and was asked if I wanted dessert or coffee which I thought in retrospect was a nice touch.

Later on in my trip I was talking to an Asian taxi driver who mentioned that he thought the place was expensive. Perhaps it is just that I am used to London prices but I found it very reasonable given the quality of the surroundings, service and, most importantly, the food. I have no hesitation in highly recommending Kashmiri Aroma which is open for a la carte and on Sunday there is also a buffet which starts at 1630.

It was a completely satisfied Fergy (in every sense of the word) that returned to his comfy bed nearby. I was going on a canal boat trip, one of the great loves of my life, I hadn’t even seen a canal at that point and yet it had been a brilliant day out.

I’ll get “on the cut” (canal talk for being on the canal) in the next entry so stay tuned and spread the word.

This really was the end.

I woke well rested on the 21st to a lovely Devonian July morning. I skipped breakfast as I did in those days, said goodbye to the lovely landlady and took off into town. I had been sad to leave Lundy but had delayed the “end of trip downer” by my very pleasant day in Ilfracombe and had even planned a lateish train to eke another few hours out of it. These days, I would probably just have kept on moving but I didn’t travel like that then (well, only occasionally).

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I am conscious that I have not told you much about the town. My general impression was that it was a very pleasant little North Devon seaside town with a bit of a bias towards tourism. It is a small place of some 11,000 souls and has survived over the centuries as a maritime staging post and fishing port. Like most of the fishing fleet in the UK it is diminished now to the point of extinction, more or less destroyed by EU regulation. I only hope there is enough will and money to restore the UK fleet when we get out of that appalling farrago of self-seeking, unelected, bloated Eurocrats and can again fish our own waters properly and sustainably.

As a staging post it’s major function is as the departure point for the wonderful M.S. Oldenburg (as mentioned in previous entries), the non- aerial route to Lundy which is still very popular and rightly so. It no longer serves as a place to embark British troops to go and quell the “rebellious Irish” as it has been in the past.

Times move on and for whatever reason the “modern artist” Damien Hirst seems intent on buying up the whole town even though he is not from there. He has several properties already and when I visited in July 2013 I was informed he was in negotiation to buy even more. His totally incongruous and massive statue dominates and somewhat demeans the harbour area. Still, if he can earn a reported £10 million plus for a dead animal pickled in formaldehyde he can probably afford it!  Leaving the ludicrous Mr. Hirst aside (and I would), on my brief acquaintance with it Ilfracombe seems to be a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of days so what interesting things could I find?

Literally a couple of minutes down the hill from my hotel was the rather lovely Church of the Holy Trinity. It is no secret from my writings that I find cemeteries / graveyards / churchyards (call them what you will) endlessly fascinating and never pass up an opportunity to visit one if I can.

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The church was originally built in the 12th century and modifications began in 1321 on the orders of Bishop Stapledon when the nave was lengthened and aisles added. This was the first of numerous alterations over the centuries resulting in the rather pleasant building you see today. Regrettably, it did not appear to be open so I had to content myself with a wander round the fairly extensive churchyard which was, after all, my primary purpose. I did, however, spot a fine example of a sundial on the exterior of the building (pictured).

It was a fascinating place and I had it all to myself, spending quite a bit of time there. I noticed an interesting thing I have only rarely seen in UK graveyards, namely the fairly anonymous gravestones with only initials and year of death given. I am guessing these must be paupers graves when there was insufficient money or family to erect a more ornate memorial. One example is given here.

With the possibilities of the graveyard exhausted another very short walk of about the distance Usain Bolt covers in less than ten seconds took me to the War Memorial and Garden of Remembrance.

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Lest we forget.

I have written elsewhere about my interest in these memorials and even contribute to the excellent Imperial War Museum Inventory of War Memorials. I never pass up a chance to pause at one, take a few images for the website and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the many millions who have given their lives, and continue to do so, in defence of my country. In fact, and purely coincidentally, I originally composed this report on Remembrance Sunday 2013.

The memorial itself is of a not uncommon design, a column surmounted by a bronze statue of “Victory” which was sculpted by Courtenay E.M. Pollock (1877 – 1943) and was unveiled on 11th November 1924. The names of the dead of both World Wars and more recent conflicts are commemorated here.

Omward, ever onward, and the time to go was approaching but not before time for another pub visit. Again time has dimmed the memory and my inexplicable failure to take an identifiable image means that I cannot remember the name of the pub where I spent a few hours. What the images do suggest is that the establishment boasted a skittle alley, which you rarely see any more, and a rather incongruous chopped motorcycle.

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My images also remind me that there were not one but three varieties of Thatchers cider on draught and I have no doubt I sampled them all. I don’t recall ever having seen the Cheddar Valley before or since.

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Time waits for no man and all too soon it was time to make the slow walk to the bus and onward to the very pleasantly preserved Barnstaple railway station for the beginning of the long but uneventful trip back to London where I arrived fairly late in the evening so it was off to my own bed, leaving the pile of mail on my mat to be dealt with on the morrow.

So ends the tale of my trip to the West Country and Lundy Island. It was a wonderful week away in glorious weather with as much history, mystery, scenery, flora and fauna as you could wish for in one of the most beautiful regions of my country. Whilst all this was wonderful I always maintain that my travelling is not so much about places but about people and I had made some new friendships not to mention spending my time in the company of dear friends, some of whom I had not seen for a while or only known online hitherto.

As always and as I conclude this piece, I would most sincerely ask for any feedback on what I m trying to do here.  Do I write too much?  Are there too many (or too few) images?  Is my writing style rubbish? Would you like more links and practical information or less on the principle you can find them for yourselves?  Honestly, any and all constructive criticism is more than welcomed.  I want to try to make this site as interesting as I can and I am only able to do that if I know what you like and dislike.  Don’t pull your punches, I rarely do!

I do hope you have enjoyed my efforts here and I am already planning my next travelogue so stay tuned and spread the word.

I finally had to leave.

I awoke on the morning of the 20th July which promised to be another lovely day and so it proved. I was a little sad as this was my last day although the positive was that the boat does not leave until the afternoon so I had a few more hours before I had to go.

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I packed in no time flat (I always travel light) and had a quick tidy up. John had been such a wonderful host I didn’t want to leave the place in gash order. A final slightly wistful look back at the quarters and quick image (shown here) and I was off towards the Black Shed of which I have spoken before. They say you should never look back, they may be right.

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I cannot tell you how at home I felt here.

I knew the drill by now, and again it is interesting how quickly you can adapt to the pace and procedures of island life here.

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Back to the Black Shed (mentioned previously) and I dumped my kitbag in the big wooden box on the back of the tractor. There was nobody about to tell me to do it, I just knew what the score was. I am not saying I am particularly smart as I am not but you just sort of know these things, it is difficult to explain really. Naturally, I kept the guitar with me as no baggage handler is ever getting that and I stowed it in John’s kitchen store so I could go for a final walk round the island which I knew pretty well by now.

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I passed the sole postbox on the island and I would like to tell you something about the history of the postal system here which I think is interesting.

It might sound like a pretty obvious thing to suggest that you send a postcard or two to friends and relatives back home but on Lundy even this simple act takes on an added dimension. As I mentioned earlier there is only one of most things on the island and so you buy your postcard from THE shop and eventually post it in THE postbox (pictured) so what else is required? Well, a stamp obviously and here is where the interesting part comes.

The General Post Office, as it was, ceased operations on the island in 1927 due to lack of business but now Lundy stamps are one of the mainstays of the economy here. The Harman family started issuing stamps and these are accepted by the Royal Mail, as it is now called, for delivering your postcard or letter from Bideford to anywhere in the world in the same way as a normal UK stamp bearing the Queen’s head. However, there is one important thing to remember. It is customary in the UK to affix your stamp to the top right hand corner of your postcard but that is reserved strictly for Her Majesty so you must stick your special Lundy stamp to the top left corner. I believe I am right in saying that if it is a letter rather than a postcard you affix it to the bottom left. The very nice chap in the shop will steer you in the right direction as to the ins and outs of the system.

Lundy stamps, especially the older ones, have become much sought after by philatelists and fetch good prices so it really might even be worth sending yourself a postcard or two as a commercial venture. Perhaps they’ll be worth a bit in a year or two.

Speaking of letterboxes there is another pastime on the island vaguely related to that although it has nothing to do with the item pictured above.

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Lundy is a place of incredible natural beauty with many excellent images online although mine are somewhat marred by equipment failure. Why then would I choose to include an image of a slightly grubby Tupperware box scribbled on in felt tip pen? Allow me to explain.

I am not sure whether to refer to it as a game, challenge or whatever else. Perhaps it is all things to all people and it is known as Lundy letterboxing. Basically, you buy a clue book from the shop and it guides you to various locations where the boxes are. You use a little rubber stamp in the box to endorse your book and prove you have been there. As well as the static clues, there are one or more “roving” letterboxes, which are known as Lundy Bunnies. As I was with a local resident for a lot of my walking, I didn’t think it would be fair to do the letterboxing as he knows where everything is but for other visitors it seems like great fun.

Speaking of the shop I suppose I should tell you a little about it here although shopping tips are not generally my forte but it is really rather easy on Lundy as you have a simple choice. You can either go to THE shop or go without! Like so much else on the island, there is only one although in fairness it is rather good. If any of you have ever seen the old British TV sitcom “Open All Hours” starring the late Ronnie Barker and David Jason you will get the idea, although Lundy Shop is bigger and carries a far wider selection. You can literally buy just about anything here from food and drink (there seems to be plenty of drink), hardware, souvenirs and, of course, Lundy postage stamps to put on your Lundy postcards also available here (see above).

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The place is run by Nigel, a charming bloke who is always willing to pass the time of day and will even explain the protocol of the Lundy “puffin” stamps to you. If you are visiting the island for more than a day-trip, you can pre-order supplies from the shop and they will make up your order and even deliver it to your place of temporary residence. Fortunately, I can eat and drink just about anything but if you have any dietary needs for whatever reason then I am told that the shop can source just about anything for you from the mainland if they are given enough notice. Please do give them sufficient time though as obviously everything has to be shipped to the island either by boat or helicopter and the logistics do take time.

As you might imagine, there is a good selection of local produce here and I can tell you that the it is very good as well as being all the thing foodies love like organic, free-range, low food mileage and so on. Even if you are only day-tripping, why not take home some local foodstuffs as well as the more traditional souvenirs?

Incidentally, I am told that the sign pictured is the only directional sign on the whole island although it is pretty irrelevant as you will not miss the shop, believe me.

I went to the bar, paid my tab and said fond farewells to those of the many new friends I had made who were there, and then set off for the walk back to the boat. I had decided that I was going to wander down the pathway rather than the main “road” that the tractor would take. I knew it to be scenic and I wanted another look and an image of the magnificent Millcombe House, which you can see here. Millcombe was originally called the villa and renamed by Martin Harman when he bought the island in 1925.

Should you wish to, this wonderful structure is available for rent as a holiday let and can accommodate up to 12 people. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the view from the front of it. Should you be interested here is a link.

I must have cut a slightly unusual figure scrambling down a fairly steep slope with a guitar case slung over my shoulders but I am no stranger to cutting an unusual figure, I have spent half my life doing it! On and down, picking up a pretty decent track and heading towards the jetty where I spied the Oldenburg waiting to carry me back to the mainland. I did try for a slightly “arty” shot of it, despite the camera problems I was having, and this is about the best I could manage.

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I also passed the marker stone pictured and which I had inexplicably missed before which commemorates the landing place of T.H., so who exactly was that?  One of the Harman family perhaps who are synonymous with the island.  Well no, as they did not get here until years later.  It commemorates the 1819 arrival of Trinity House who are the body that administer all lighthouses and lightships in the United Kingdom.  Conincidentally the actual Trinity House, which is a very fine old building, is within easy walking distance of my home and will feature in a future blog entry here if I ever manage to get them all published.

I continued on down the track, had a quick cigarette on the quay, and embarked on the Oldenburg.  As soon as I was on board I was greeted warmly by Glyn the purser, who I had met on the island, bought a pint and seated myself. I sat with a very pleasant couple I had met in the Tavern the night before and we continued our conversation from the previous evening. Embarrassingly, they were very complimentary about my performance and tried to get me to strike up another session on the boat but I managed to talk my way out of it. Lundy seems to have a knack of making friends out of strangers. In truth, Lundy has a knack of doing many things.

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As we pulled away from the jetty, I excused myself and wandered up on deck for a last look at the place I had just had such a wonderful time. I watched with a fairly heavy heart as the island receded. Now, I have no doubt that it was either the wind, which was blowing a little, or perhaps a smut from the smokestack of the old boat but I can tell you that my eyes seemed to be watering a little.

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Returning to the for’ard saloon and my delightful company, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours in conversation with a pint in front of me and soon enough, we were pulling into Ilfracombe harbour.

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Back on the mainland or terra firma or the real world or whatever you wish to call it I bade a warm farewell to a couple of the crew that I had been chatting to and also my charming travelling companions before going down the gangplank and back to “the world”. Although my kitbag was promptly delivered in perfect condition, I couldn’t help but feel that I had left something behind. I had, it was a part of me.

After this fairly long travelogue how can I now summarise Lundy for those of you who have been good enough to read through it? The truth is, for a man with usually far too much to say for himself, I really don’t know.

Lundy is unlike anywhere else in so many ways. It is a place of stunning natural beauty, a huge history including some fairly mystical things, a place of extremely friendly local residents, partially driven undoubtedly by the fact that it is entirely dependent on the tourist trade for survival. It is a small, peaceful corner of the UK without many of the trappings of modern life and is in so many ways a step back in time.

I would suggest that only a miniscule proportion of the population of the UK have visited Lundy. When I was talking to people about going there, only a small number of my friends had even heard of the place and yet it is one of the most fascinating portions of our nation. I have no doubt that there are places in the Scottish islands for example that would rival Lundy for natural beauty, interesting flora and fauna and a small, friendly community. However, I do not know of one that exists under the circumstances that Lundy does, maintaining a tourist industry to self-sustain, making a modest profit from recycling (Lundy is extremely “green”) and with the unique conditions that it has.

I know I was in a priveledged position insofar as I was hosted by one of the excellent people that live there full-time but something that was said to me several times over my short visit there was, “You either get Lundy or you don’t”. Believe me, I get it, I get it more than you can perhaps understand and I really do urge readers to go to Lundy if they ever get the chance and see if they can “get it” for themselves. Trust me, you will not regret it.

It was still early afternoon so I could not check into my digs and so I set off for a wander as I had not seen much of the town on the way out.

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Av very fine pub but it looks different now.

It was undoubtedly just fortune (those travel Gods again) that guided my steps and I certainly had no real prior knowledge of the town but I found myself outside the Ship and Pilot pub in Broad Street not far from the ferry landing point. In the words of an old Irish song that I still sing occasionally in my set, “I thought a quiet pint wouldn’t do me no harm” and so in I wandered. At that point I had genuinely not heard of the place nor read John’s glowing report on the old Virtual Tourist website obviously as he didn’t write it until two months later.  Without consultation, we had both decided it was a great pub.

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Walking in, I was presented with a great atmospheric old-fashioned “proper” boozer. I was greeted in friendly manner by a young man and enquired as to what ciders were on offer. He duly recited the list, indicating them in turn. OK, it is the West Country, where they pride themselves on cider you could run internal combustion engines on, but this was ridiculous. There were ciders there that would undoubtedly have stripped paint. I plumped for what appeared to be the least suicidal, well it was not even two in the afternoon at this point, I was humping a guitar case and a kitbag and hadn’t even found my digs yet. I have made that mistake before!

For the beer drinkers amongst you, there was a large selection, mostly apparently from local breweries and, as pictured, the premises had been awarded a very high CAMRA award recently (2013). For readers who may not know, CAMRA is the  Campaign for Real Ale which champions proper beer as opposed to chemical keg rubbish and also real ciders.

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Exactly what was needed just then.

Having declined John’s very kind offer of a professionally cooked breakfast (was I mad?), I reckoned that eating might be a good idea even though I rarely eat in the hours of daylight and I had spotted a tray of excellent looking rolls behind the bar. I opted for the roast beef and horseradish (pictured) which can never be designated at haute cuisine but that is to miss the point. This is a pub and the food offerings are merely there to soak up the drink. Not Michel Roux for sure but a damned good filled pub roll all the same. Indeed, I am sure M. Roux would have approved.  Nice fresh roll, a generous portion of very tasty roast beef and a good dollop of horseradish ensured that it was devoured in fairly rapid order.

I had noticed a TV screen in the rear of the bar showing cricket. Now the sound was not loud or obtrusive, it is not that kind of place, but I fancied watching it as I like a bit of the old leather on willow. I found a spare seat and settled myself down. I have subsequently found out that this place used to have a reputation as a bit of a “rough house” but this was certainly not the case when I visited. I was engaged in very friendly and interesting conversation by a number of people as the overs mounted up and the wickets tumbled.

After several hours, I decided I had better make a move to get to my digs and bade a fond farewell to my new best friends, delightful people all. I am not worried about what this place used to be like, I speak as I find and I had found this to be a delightful place with an excellent selection of drink, nice atmosphere, friendly locals, professional staff and…… well that’s about all you need, isn’t it? Oh, not quite, the toilets were spotless as well!

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A sight that never fails to sadden me.

I had a mental map of where I was going (no smartphones for me in those days and even now I cannot operate one) and so started heading in that direction when I came upon the sight pictured above. In stark contrast to the excellent pub I had just been in, here was the Bunch of Grapes, closed and up for sale or rent. I took the image for the Lost Pubs website which is excellent if somewhat depressing. A little research now in 2018 would suggest that it has thankfully re-opened unlike so many others.

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I did not want to be too late checking in so I moved on and found the Lamb which had not suffered the ignominious fate of the Grapes and so it was in there for a quick pint as I knew I was close to my hotel.  A decent little pub and very friendly (they seem to be terribly sociable in Devon) and, in the way of trying to keep this rather old experience fresh and keeping myself from getting lazy in my old age, a bit of research indicates that in 2018 it underwent a makeover when it was re-opened as a fine dining restaurant.  It is run by a Michelin starred chef and his mate who holds the record for running round the world in the fastest time (I swear I am not making this up).  Look here if you do not believe me.   Not only that but the whole enterprise was bankrolled by crowdfunding which I have but a small idea about.  This really is the 21st century and I am getting too bloody old for it.  Still, if they retain at least a portion of what this place was like then they will have made a very good start.

Not wanting to be too late I completed the final leg to Wentworth House.  I would include a link here but it appears they do not have their own site and I really do not want to promote any of the numerous booking sites that are apparently taking over the world  and strangling decent little businesses on the way.

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I arrived at a fine looking old building and rang the bell, to be greeted by a charming lady. I should make a small point here. For many years, seaside landladies were the butt of some pretty unflattering humour, specifically by stand up comedians, and from memory it was not all totally undeserved. I can remember having had some right old harridans to deal with in years past. I must say, however, that this group of people appear to have embraced whole-heartedly the concept that they are in the “hospitality” business and things are much changed now. On this particular trip I stayed in two establishments in Ilfracombe and one in Torquay and was greeted with the utmost civility in all of them. I submit this for the information of overseas readers who may still have the notion that British seaside B&B’s are intrinsically unfriendly, this really has not been the case for years.

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OK, so I wasn’t going to “die with my boots on”, suits me.  I loved those boots.

I was shown to my room on the first floor and facing the main road. This did not prove to be any sort of problem as it was extremely quiet at night. About the first thing I noticed was a sort of tray affair just inside the door with a label asking you to deposit your footwear there. I do not know if this indicates that it is hiker friendly (there is some lovely walking hereabouts) or just a general thing but it was certainly no hardship to get the boots off and wander barefoot on a very decent carpet.

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OK, wandering minstrel on the road.  Guitar, decent bed and all is right with the world.

The rest of the room was furnished to a very good standard and I have to say the bed subsequently proved to be extremely comfortable. The en-suite was spotless and I was to find out that there was an abundant supply of hot water. The other usual facilities were in evidence, TV, tea and coffee making facilities etc. and I was very pleased with my choice.

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Very tidy.

I did notice that the establishment offers evening meals in addition to the breakfast and apparently prides itself on serving traditional British cuisine. I was heading out for the night so did not avail myself of that and indeed had told the proprietress that I would not be troubling her for breakfast as it is a meal I rarely take. I cannot, therefore, report on the quality of the food. Obviously I was travelling solo as usual and had been given this double room as single occupancy for £32 per night, which I thought was very competitive in high season (July). A check of the website shows that now (2018) it would run a bit more.

If I had one minor, and it is minor, criticism of the Wentworth it would be that it is a little way out of the main area of town and up a bit of a hill (important if you are carrying luggage and on foot) but perfectly walkable if you are not i.e. when you have checked in. Obviously this has the advantage of making it very peaceful and I was really pleased with my “blind” choice.

After a quick wash and brush up it was time to hit the town and this is where things become a bit vague. I obviously sampled a few more of the local hostelries and ended up somewhere the name and location of which are long lost to me. There was a band playing and they must have been OK or else I would not have stayed until the hour indicated on my images. I don’t tend to hang around if the band is rubbish.  Almost inevitably, I got up and did a couple of numbers with them but do not even ask me what they might have been as my recollection is vague to say the least.

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Leaving the mystery pub at closing time I went in search of a bite to eat as it was a long time since the roast beef roll but there was a bit of a problem.

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Oh dear, 30 years too old.  Really?  I don’t think so.

Before I found a takeaway I managed to find another watering hole with an even later licence. At least I think they had but either way they were still open and busy. Well, it would have been rude to walk by and so that was another pint or two and by the time they threw me out of there it was very late.

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Cue tumbleweed.

The streets were more or less deserted as you can see from the image and I was not too hopeful of finding anything to eat but the travel gods were on my side again and I found Chick’n’Land in the High Street still going at 0200. Job done. Quick order of Southern fried chicken, back home to scoff the lot and a great night’s sleep in the very comfy bed.  Yet again, I am sure the cleaners hated me but it was bloody tasty!

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Damn tasty at that time of night.

I’ll be having a wander round Ilfracombe in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.