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.