Thursday, 4 September 2014

A short history lesson

Ferrybridge cooling towers rise out of the morning mist
We have only travelled half a dozen miles today from last night's mooring near Bank Dole lock up the Aire & Calder to our stop at Castleford. But those miles have given us a short sharp lesson in industrial history.
Soon after starting off the huge cooling towers of the Ferrybridge power station loomed hazily ahead in the morning mist and once we were through the massive flood lock we were soon passing the sprawling site – a site which until not too long ago was supplied with a million tons of coal a year by barge from north east England's mines, as the long lines of mooring bollards stand rusting testament to.
Of course the mines have now gone and in less than ten years the coal fired power station will go too as it fails pollution standards. It's the third generation station on the site and has passed through numerous hands since being privatised in 1989. New biomass and wood multi-fuel power stations are in the pipeline to replace the coal station.
The Aire & Calder is part canal, part river and all of it a grandly proportioned commercial waterway. Evidence of its working past is all around, from huge bollards to derelict coal chutes to part overgrown steps and jetties.
The sprawling Ferrybridge power station
The rural charms of the river hide old coal workings
Beyond Ferrybridge flood lock we are back in the river, wide, richly tree lined and slow flowing. It is astonishingly rural and quite delightful once we are past the power station. The rural bliss is deceptive: beyond the trees are derelict coal workings, spoil tips and subsided ground now become lakes. These days it is all a wildlife sanctuary and only a glimpse of a couple of disused coal loading wharves through the trees reminds us of its past.
The pedestrian bridge and Castleford's famous flour mill
At Bulholme Lock – where, surprisingly, a keeper was on duty to operate things – the Castleford cut leaves the river as it winds through the centre of the town and provides moorings and facilities for the likes of us. Dereliction is all about us still – we cruise past a huge wasteland of demolished factory works with a now abandoned river bridge that joined it to something of equal scale on the other bank. Whatever will replace it? The ubiquitous warehousing and out of town Ben & Jerry/Kentucky Fried/Homebase maybe?
At the edge of the huge weir is this fish ladder - even salmon are here now
Moored up, we walked down into Castleford and over the pedestrian river bridge, newly built when we were last here as part of a regeneration project. To judge by the rest of the town, that seems to have stalled. This is not a well-off place. Cheap food stores, pound stretching, cash converting shops fill the high street and the shoppers look grim-faced with the struggle to keep going. Sad.

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