Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The end of the line

End of the line – Ripon's attractive canal basin
Well, here we are. As far northwards as you can reach on the connected inland waterways of Britain*. We have reached Ripon, just a handful of miles beyond Boroughbridge but through four of the heaviest, hard-core locks I've come across and finishing on the less than two miles long Ripon Canal that connects the river to the canal basin in the centre of the city.
After all this journeying it was a little disappointing to discover that boat mooring is relegated to the edge of the basin which is left empty save for a small trip boat. It could easily hold 2-3 more boats without interfering with the houses around its edge.
Anyway, we squeezed into half a space on the end of the moorings, with our bows tied to a tree and later when other boats shuffled along we managed to make that 3/4 of a space and went exploring.
The solid, chunky looking cathedral sits above the river
What an appealling little city Ripon is. It has the classy feel of all cathedral towns, with cobbled streets housing arty shops and smart coffee bars, elegant houses and a very large market square dominated by a huge obelisk – the tallest in the country when it was built in 1704.
But what makes the place truly delightful is the river that runs through it. The Skel is crossed by no less than a dozen bridges, road and pedestrian and even a ford. When we were there it was running wide and shallow, burbling prettily over weirs and rocks but it can come up high enough to flood nearby roads and houses.
Fabulous arts & crafts altar is one of its star features
The picturesque River Skel runs through the city
It certainly is a compact place. We picked up a tourist guide and followed its circular walk through places of interest in a couple of hours. But there's plenty to see in that time, from the house lived in by Wilfred Owen the WWI poet, to the old workhouse (now a museum) to the various connections with Lewis Carroll.
Market square with obelisk and cabmen's rest cabin
Cobbled street of stylish shops links cathedral to the market square
Ripon Cathedral lacks some of the grandeur of its more famous counterparts but is a handsome building all the same with some striking stained glass, fabulous wood carving and a striking arts & crafts style pulpit.
But you can't go to Ripon without visiting the market square at 9 p.m. There you will find the Wakeman (or more precisely his successor, the Hornblower) carrying on the tradition of 'setting the watch' that has has been carried out every evening without fail for a staggering 1128 years. The Wakeman would blow his horn to all four corners of the city to let people know that the watch was set and they could retire for the night knowing the Wakeman would be patrolling the streets to keep them safe.
The Hornblower blows his nightly signal
And then captivates his audience with an entertaining chat
Since the 1600s the role has been ceremonial and now is probably Ripon's best known tourist attraction. That's in no small part due to the entertaining George Pickles who has been Hornblower for the past eleven years and has turned his evening's task into a hugely enjoyable show as he tells the story of The Wakeman and treats his audience to plenty of witty repartee.
That was last night and today, with our 48 hours up, we have turned round and begun retracing our route southwards. Tonight it's Boroughbridge and tomorrow York.
*Actually the Lancaster Canal goes further north but involves a short estuary trip so it's not quite 'connected' to the inland system.


  1. On my map Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal looks further north than Ripon (but your asterix suggests that you might have been about to add a rider ...)

  2. We did a boat test there some years ago if you recall.....I would also suggest you get a move on and move out. Last time just after the test the canal froze and remained frozen for several weeks. But then again if Ripon is so appealing may be you will not mind being 'trapped' Enjoy

  3. Rider suitably added; thanks Halfie. And, yes, I remember that test David - didn't see the boat this time though. I think we'll be watching for rain rather than ice at the moment, to judge by the scale of the flood defences round here.