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.

Let’s get on the Cut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I learn of an interesting ancient custom.

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Sowerby Bridge rushbearing cart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The good ship Westmoreland.

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

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

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This is what I came for.

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

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The first one I had ever seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for  quick one.

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

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Another great little Yorkshire pub.

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

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A proper locals place.

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

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

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

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

What a very strange menu.

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain’s cabin and very comfy too!

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

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