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