Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bohemians and boaters - that's Hebden Bridge

Moored up, well sort of, in Hebden Bridge
The Industrial Revolution turned the tiny hamlet of Hebden Bridge from little more than a packhorse crossing point on the river to a thriving hub of textile manufacturing. At the junction of two rivers it had water in plenty to drive the waterwheels of the newly mechanised mills. And when those mills became steam powered no less than 30 chimneys belched smoke into the air.
The picture postcard pretty centre of Hebden  - and its Bridge
All's so different now, the little town is still thriving but these days its picture-postcard-pretty stone buildings, river bridges and canalside attract thousands of visitors and have made the town a sought after spot to live, especially for what the guides coyly call a 'bohemian community'. You sense what they mean by walking the streets past the craft shops, wholefood cafes, ethical trading outlets and psychic therapy centres. Stir in a canalside that is full of boats, long term moored or visiting and you have a rich mix.
Distant hills as we pass through pretty Luddenden Foot
We arrived this afternoon after a gentle introduction to the Rochdale Canal, with just four locks in our six mile trip: further up we will be doing six locks a mile! Immediately out of Sowerby Bridge the canal disappears into the country as it winds a tree-lined route through the Calder Valley, with high hills starting to appear in the distance. The river, the canal, the railway and the road all weave together through this steep sided valley, though the canal traveller is suprisingly oblivious to the others.
The tree lined route out of Sowerby and one of several other boats on the move
The canal breaks out of the trees at the pretty village of Luddenden Foot and not long afterwards reaches the first pair of locks. They are certainly heavy, these Rochdale locks and slow, too, with 'scrote keys' locking every paddle. Water is a scarce resource on this canal and we don't want a bored youth emptying a week's worth by lifting a paddle, do we! The locks also fill fiercely and throw a single boat about unless you're careful; after the first couple we had honed a technique that got them filled reasonably fast without throwing the china around inside the cupboards.
There's a brief skirmish with industry after this as we pass the impossibly named Mytholmroyd. It looks like it ought to sound like someone gargling but is actually pronounced myth-em-royd (I think). More southern chuckling came at Broadbottom Lock. Actually broad bottoms would be handy to push most of these hefty lock beams and rather less chuckling when we encountered what looked like a road bridge but turned out to be a 25 yard tunnel with a 30 degree bend in it. You have to go in blind hoping that no-one's coming. Only when you're in do you see a glimpse of daylight from the other end. And no use sounding the horn; the traffic noise drowns it out.
But the twisted tunnel brings one into the edge of Hebden Bridge and just one more lock saw us reach the fine stone buildings of the town.
Mooring up was trickier: the canal sides are shallow and we are not so we ended up a good three feet out from the edge. Jumping on and off with Brian the dog for his late night toiletries will be fun.
It's a day off from boating tomorrow so we can explore the town and surroundings.

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