Sunday, 17 August 2014

Selby - gateway to the river

The striking frontage of Selby Abbey
After our long day on Friday, Saturday started with a pleasant walk from our mooring at Gateforth Landing on the canal a mile inland to the village of the same name. Walking along the wide, stone trackway it was easy to imagine villagers of 150 years ago making the trek to pick up a boat for Selby at the Landing to take their produce to market and enjoy a day out in the town.
How different the little village is today: around the pretty village green have sprung up clusters of large 'executive style' homes which now outnumber the old workers cottages. They're handsomely built homes but the village is now a dormitory for Leeds and York and I doubt gardens grow anything but half inch long grass these days.
After lunch we pottered the four miles up the canal toward Selby ourselves and moored in the canal basin looking at the tidal lock which guards the Ouse.
Selby is a town which has had to come to terms with dramatic changes in recent years. Its two key industries, mining and shipbuilding, have gone and things are still struggling to fill their place. And yes, I did say shipbuilding. Though Selby looks well inland, the tidal connection to the Humber estuary made it a shipping centre for many years and the cranes of Cochranes Shipbuilders were a landmark of the town. Ships – including the famous Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior – were launched sideways into the Ouse from the bankside yard but the last one hit the water in 1998.
Mining was even more important to the town. The vast 110 square miles of the Selby coalfields were the biggest in Britain at their peak and employed 3000 miners when they shut in 2004, less than 30 years after mining was begun. Deteriorating geological conditions and the falling price of coal were given as the reasons.
Selby today is understandably a mixed bag, ranging from the glorious Abbey to derelict industrial sites, smart new shops to scrappy back streets. It does appear to be on the up though with new house building and a new edge of town shopping centre. A shame, though, that the riverside has been allowed to become so overgrown that anyone using the riverside benches can see only willow branches and that invasive Himalayan Balsam.
Selby railway swingbridge gets a £14m facelift
There's also an impressive £14m restoration underway on the Selby railway swingbridge across the river; the first serious work since the bridge was built in 1889. Selby is famous – or should that be notorious – for its swingbridges. Until the by-pass was built in 2001 the main A19 road to York ran through the town – and across a toll swingbridge. It was, as you can imagine, a massive bottleneck for traffic. The road bridge and neighbouring rail bridge don't need to swing much these days with the decline in commercial river craft. Still, situated as they are right after a tight bend on the fierce running tidal river they are still a test for the us. That's on the way back, though. Tomorrow we're off up-river toward York.

River bridge barely visible through the overgrown bankside

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