Monday, 18 July 2016

The Trueman show and elsewhere in Skipton

Which visitor to Skipton hasn't eaten at Bizzie Lizzie's?
We've spent a thoroughly enjoyable weekend meandering around Skipton. It's a delightful market town and right on the southern brim of the Yorkshire Dales so undeniably popular with visitors.
You can spot the serious hikers with their knobbly knees, time-worn boots, Nordic poles and ancient rucksacks. The loud laughs and local accents of the burly ruddy faced off-duty young farmers fill the air in front of Wetherspoons on Friday night. Locals wander among the market stalls either side of the High Street. Young families stroll the towpath. The day boats ply back and forth, laden with happy trippers and their booze.
Magnificent statue to Fiery Fred
And we wander about, doing nothing in particular but everything: looking in charity shops, observing the fine bronze of local resident 'Fiery Fred' Trueman by the canalside – a test match hero in my youth and afterwards an acerbic commentator whose gruff, Yorkshire style is echoed these days by his fellow Yorkie, 'Sir' Geoffrey Boycott – strolling the side streets and answering endless questions about our boat. "What's under the deck?", "Isn't it cold in winter?" and always my favourite scene: man to wife/girlfriend 'eeh, that's a lovely engine isn't it?', receives vague note in reply, gazes trance-like for a few more moments, then wanders off. And, if that sounds sexist, sorry - but I am still waiting for the reverse scenario to play out.
We haven't done the obvious tourist-y stuff like visit the castle though we have had the de rigeur fish & chips from Bizzie Lizzie's on the bridge, a place that seems to get bigger and busier every time we visit. Like all these must-go destinations, its quality seems to be edging down as its popularity edges up.
The dead-end Springs Branch leads toward the castle
Skipton inevitably has enough eating spots to give the Jolly Green Giant indigestion: 138 of them according to Trip Advisor. We randomly picked one: the Narrow Boat (I wonder why?), a back-alley boozer with a modern twist - hipster beards, Irish folk band and real gins as well as real ales.
Fortunately, this being Yorkshire not Hoxton, it had a complement of hikers, tourists and oldies like us too. And a decent pub-grub style menu (with a few hipster additions) which translated into plates of very appetising food.
As well as eating, we walked. Close by us the small Springs Branch tees into the main canal. It used to ferry rock from the local quarry but now has a few moorings and a towpath that evolves into a lovely walk round the back of the castle and into the castle woods.
The green canopy and streams of the woods
These woods, which apparently go back a thousand years, are a beautiful green canopy over various man made water diversions and pools designed to manage supplies to the nearby saw mills. It made a fine, and not too demanding, circular walk.
Wonderful views and one of those snap-it photo locations
Another stroll saw us strike away from the main streets and follow our noses up one of many steep streets toward a park – Middletown Recreation Ground – where we were rewarded with more of those breathtaking scenic views from an atmospheric greensward where a lonely stone monolith and a copse of trees must have been the subject of many an amateur photographer before I had a go too.
Fine renovated mill buildings in the town

The last couple of days we've been moored outside one of Skipton's fine renovated mills: it's been in turn textile mill, paper mill, bed factory, burnt out shell and now 31 apartments. In one of them lives a pleasant gentleman who told me he follows my blog. Thank you!
It was a marked contrast to our first night's stop here when we were slowly asphyxiated by someone next door who persisted in running his self-confessedly smokey engine until nearly ten pm, despite my (polite but firm) reminder that engines off at eight is the canal rule.
Today we are are Skipton Boat Club where we will be leaving the boat for a few days to return to Suffolk for domestic chores. Leaving, dammit, just as the weather forecast is for a phew, what a scorcher week.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Nothing lasts forever

Leaving the scenery – and the sunny, blue skies
No, nothing lasts forever; not mooring high amid the rolling Dales and certainly not the sunshine!
Over the past two days we have made our way down twelve locks to the Aire valley below and to the castle town of Skipton. We've also made our way from sunshine, through a day of sun and showers to today when it just pee-ed down all day long. But we are here now and will be for a long weekend.
Bank Newton locks are prone to leakages
We had a last look at the beautiful rolling hills as we weaved through the snake-like twists of the canal that lead to the six Bank Newton locks. After being so quiet for so long, the canal has woken up now we are in Yorkshire and the locks were busy with boats. It was the briefest of breaks after these before the Gargrave locks, though we only tackled three before mooring, amid the first of several rain showers, in the village.
Where the chip shop now has a sign. Either they read my earlier blog entry – very unlikely – or had one on order but, anyway, you can't miss the place (or is it 'plaice'?) now because there's even a board on the pavement outside. Incidentally, when I went there a couple of days ago I asked for cod – I should have known better: northern chippies sell only haddock which, I now know, is a far superior fish.
A Leeds-Liverpool short boat passes us at Gargrave
Today the weather forecast promised only rain but, lured by the apparent absence of the wet stuff, we set off anyway. And, of course, it rained. Heavily. All day.
At Gargrave the canal goes over the fledgling River Aire
Skipton is only four miles from Gargrave but there were three locks to dispatch and then four swingbridges. To add to the work we managed to run aground twice; once because the pound was low leading into the day's first lock and the second time while landing me off to work a swingbridge. Not what you want in wet weather. Or dry, come to that.
The final swingbridge was an absolute bar-steward to move – it took the combined efforts of Mrs B and me. Seemingly it's renowned for being stiff. If that's the case how about someone sorting it out!
All in all, we were pleased to get to Skipton which is the first town we have moored in since, since I don't know when. It's a handsome place and, if the rain holds off, there should be plenty to keep us occupied.
And finally...

Meet she sheep-pig. Sorry ram, but you're not a looker

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Lots of miles but no boating

A spectacular panorama that seems to roll endlessly into the distance all around
We've done plenty of miles today but none of them by boat. Who would be in a hurry to cast off with this inspiring scenery all around?
Instead we tackled another stretch of the Pennine Way, southwards to Thornton-in-Craven, and on the way met a father and son duo who were tackling the whole route and camping every night too. Hardcore! Perhaps we can do it in easy bite-size morsels like today's three miles?
Hotel boat Lady Teal with guests on the roof terrace
We also saw this big beast coming through a bridge hole – just as well we were walking on the towpath rather than boating towards them. It's the luxury hotel boat Lady Teal which I last saw back in 2010 when it was newly built and one of the exhibits at the Crick Show I was reporting for Canal Boat. As I recall, owners Nick and Gina, had staked everything on the venture - they'd sold their house to finance the build.
It was great then to see them still enjoying their floating luxury hotel business six years on. It's been quite a success story for them, too: this year is pretty much booked, so is much of next year and there are even enquiries for the year after that.
It's a spectacular craft that offers 5-star accommodation – five en-suite berths, a rooftop sundeck for days like today, a big lounge and fine dining every night. It was designed for the dimensions of the Leeds&Liverpool Canal but has encompassed Manchester and Goole on its cruising routes.
Fine views from the Mike Clarke Lock
This evening we went for another towpath-cum-Pennine Way circuit, passing the Bank Newton Locks - one of which was recently re-name the Mike Clarke Lock after the celebrate canal historian who is also President of the L&L Canal Society. "Some of the finest canal scenery can be found along its banks but perhaps this is the one I think of most often, the view from Bank Newton towards the Aire Valley and Flasby Fell."
Impressive it is but walk up the hill from there to the Pennine Way and there is a 360 degree panorama of breathtaking views that roll on and on into the distance all around. I think we could moor here forever.
I think we could moor here forever...

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

After the rain – the sun

Sunshine and scenery: what more do you need
A weekend's boating with our 'northern daughter' turned into a weekend sitting on her sofa watching the rain hammer down outside and every sort of sport on the tv - British GP, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the Euro 2016 final.
Well, at least that's what I did while the rest of the household dodged the rainstorms and gardened, shopped and cooked.
Yesterday we got back to the boat at Foulridge moorings, just north of the tunnel, still in the rain but this morning at last we woke up to sunshine and headed on towards that glorious stretch of canal that winds its way round the lumpy hillsides of the Pennines.
Volunteers at work tidying the first of the locks
When you're on it, the far reaching views make this feel like the summit of the canal but in fact we've already dropped down three locks. We'e also passed through the small town of Barnoldswick – it's something of an oddity is this place: a relatively remote country town that's home to a Rolls-Royce Aero Engines factory, the Silentnight Bed factory and the Esse Stoves factory. The RR plant was originally a former mill bought by Rover cars to produce Whittle gas turbine engines (yes, there really was a plan for a gas turbine powered Rover!) and sold on to RR.
At the top of the locks volunteers from 'Barnoldswick in Bloom' were doing fine job sprucing up the place. At the bottom of the locks was something that looked rather less tidy. More like a floating wood pile than a boat but as we came past it turned out to be an eccentric masterpiece in creation. Every piece of the exterior was a piece of reclaimed or re-purposed old wooden furniture. There was even a piano in mid-dissection on the back deck.
It ain't exactly pretty but it's certainly ingenious
Beyond the town and the locks, the trees gradually give way to open, rolling hills and beyond those the high moors. The climax is a tortuously routed two miles, twisted up on itself like a python with indigestion.
We are properly in the Pennines here; so much so that the Pennine Way trail uses the towpath for a brief stretch.
This afternoon we followed the trail a couple of glorious miles acros country to Gargrave, the next small town on the canal and then nearly twice the distance back along the twisting towpath. Fortunately we were fortified by some very excellent haddock & chips at Gargrave!
We had to sniff them out. It's a bit posh is Gargrave: the fish & chipper isn't allowed a sign outside – you have to be guided by your nose to the door.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

And I thought it had rained

I thought it had been raining? Not in this reservoir
We are at the highest point of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. We've just climbed the seven Barrowford locks to reach the summit where a cluster of reservoirs feed the canal the huge quantities of water it needs.
No problem there; it seems to have been raining for weeks now. But look, Barrowford Reservoir over there, seems very low. And it is; according to lockie Andy there was very little rain during May and June, but not to worry because the bigger reservoirs are still well stocked.
Summertime lockie Andy is author A R Lowe in the winter
And yes, we have a lock-keeper to help us on this flight – shame there were none on the Wigan 21 way back. Andy is a seasonal keeper: in the winter he's an author with a successful string of e-books on Amazon under the name A.R. Lowe. His speciality, apparently, is comic novels set in Spain where he lived for many years.
Another empty mill, this monolith at Nelson
To reach Barrowford we churned our way through some fairly unpleasant stuff as we wound through Nelson, passing ever more redundant old canalside buildings and one particularly massive empty mill.
We also passed a canal users' recycling point thoughtfully set up by Pendle Council (ironically in the most filth filled stretch of the canal we've been through).
Council provided recyling mooring for boaters
The Barrowford locks, by contrast, are out in pleasing countryside and very well kept. We are moored tonight above the top lock and tomorrow we'll take a stroll into the town – seemingly a chic little place with an assortment of expensive designer shops. Seemingly David Beckham has shopped there and tomorrow so will we. We need a bottle of milk.

Weaving our way

Moored under the canopy of the huge canal warehouse
Not much more than a hundred years ago Burnley was the largest producer of cotton cloth in the world. Yes, in the world. In 1910 there were nearly a hundred thousand power weaving looms in the town.
The legacy of that is the ‘Weavers’ Triangle’, a close packed collection of sturdy stone mills, warehouses and associated industrial buildings along the edges of the canal – which was of course a major transport highway for their supplies and produce in the mid 19th century.
But the cotton weaving industry collapsed and so, too, did many of these once proud buildings. Now, though, they are the centre of a major regeneration process, supported in part by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust.

Seadog Brian admires the new bridge and public space
As we came into the area , it was clear that some work has been done – a school incorporates part of an old warehouse, there’s a stylish new canal bridge (isn't there always a bridge in these schemes!) and a new canalside seating area – but it’s clear that there’s much to be done too.
We moored up under the canopy of the fine canal warehouse to visit the Weavers’ Trust Museum. Which was shut: it only opens Saturday through to Tuesday afternoons. It was Wednesday. I really struggle with the lack of visitor information about some of these schemes: beyond Wikipedia, there’s little even on the internet.

Rose Grove – home of rubbish dredged from the canal
The cruise into Burnley had hardly been inspiring; the water black and our prop churning endless rubbish off the bottom. We filled up with drinking water at Rose Grove services (was ever a spot less appropriately named!) where CRT collects the many shopping trollies and junk it excavates from the canal.
The Exbury Egg energy efficient workspace
After the Weavers’ Triangle, the canal swings hard left by the old Finsley Wharf where a large wooden egg stands canalside. It’s the Exbury Egg , an ‘energy efficient, self sustaining work space’ that’s there for the summer as part of a national tour.

Looking down on the town centre from the embankment
And then we were on the famous straight mile; the massive embankment that drives the canal high along the edge of the town, with the centre on one side and lines of Coronation Street style terraced houses on the other. Another astounding feat of 18-19th century engineering.

Oops! A back garden collapsed into the canal
Glad to be back in the countryside again after these urban miles, we moored last night opposite Reedley Marina where our only reminders of the 21st century were the distant thrum of the M65 and a couple of scrotes who screamed up the towpath on their mini-moto bikes. Fortunately it soon rained so they scuttled back home to their mum
and left us to listen – and watch on a hiccoughing, sketchy live stream – to Wales sadly losing to Portgual.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Into the hills at last

Pendle Hill – the view from our mooring tonight
You couldn't wish for a lovelier spot than our mooring tonight. We are gazing out at the mighty bulk of Pendle Hill and all around it the unfolding Pennines. It's open country with just the sheep and cows and a few walkers for company. As well as a towpath cyclist heading for Wigan and beyond and bivouacing tonight in a tiny tent on the edge of the path.
Clayton-le-Moors is behind us and the only villages in sight are huddled into the protection of the distant hillsides. It's been a beautiful day, too. Windy but bright and sunny with none of the sudden fierce rain showers of yesterday.
The day started with a Lidl shop - it's been a while since we've done one of those. It was a 15 minute walk and a 20 minute walk back from our mooring in Church, on the edge of Accrington (of Stanley fame).
Church is the halfway point between Leeds and Liverpool
Church actually marks the official halfway point of the canal between Leeds and Liverpool – it's 63.5 miles each way from here.
The town sprung up around the calico printing industry but today the canalside area is as derelict and forlorn as any we've seen on this trip, with numerous once fine stone buildings that now lie ruinous.
Sadly derelict industrial buildings line the canal
It seems somehow apposite that even the church in Church is boarded up and its graveyard of fine Victorian monuments overgrown. Apparently it only closed a couple of months ago - declining numbers, ageing congregation and too many repairs needed.
Even Church church is boarded up
And beyond the decaying graveyard, a decaying factory

The town still has its criss-cross streets of Victorian terraced houses (many in fine nick) and, away from the derelict past, a reasonably lively present. If you can call Lidl and KFC lively. But we did actually see a Bugatti Veyron supercar driving through the town.
After Church, we came to our first swingbridges. There are plenty on this canal but only these three on our run up to the summit level. And then we see the Pennines in their full glory.
Through Fosters swingbridge with the hills ahead

Monday, 4 July 2016

Something old, something new

The mystery bridge hidden in the trees at Withnell
Last night we were moored in Withnell Fold, a spot as tranquil as its name suggests. Tonight we are moored in a chemical accident alert zone, looking out at the M65 in the distance and within earshot of the railway.
Nothing is quite what it seems when boating, though. The thickly wooded canalscape around Withnell Fold hides almost entirely from view the evidence of a paper making mill which operated from 1843 until 1967.
Down in the valley below the canal, the filter beds, lagoons and pathways for the mill have largely returned to nature and are now a wildlife reserve. The mill chimney remains and bits of the works that now house various car repairers.
Cobbled steps lead up the hill - to nowhere
All that's left are these huge stone pump mounts

But it's the village itself that fascinates. The mill was built by Thomas Blinkhorn Parke and he built the model village to house its workers. The whole village is pretty as a picture and, to judge by the cars, houses executives rather than workers these days. The sturdy stone terraces are set round three sides of a square (with a village stocks on the fourth!). There's a reading room cum billiard hall cum dance floor - now a large private house - methodist chapel and primary school.
Village stocks look out at the square of cottages
The former 'lodge' or reservoir to supply water to the mill is now a war memorial garden, one of those remembered being Pte James Miller who was awarded a posthumous VC in WWI.
Just before reaching the village we'd spotted a mysterious high arched bridge in among the trees by the canal so we decided to explore. It wasn't exactly a quiet country ramble. On the way we had to negotiate a field of rather overly interested cows and on the way back discovered that the entry to another footpath was guarded by a savage alsatian on a dodgy looking chain. Avoiding him, we then ran the gauntlet of some spitting llamas and finally a field of hefty cob horses who took a particular aversion to Seadog Brian. One even galloped after us down the steep slope towards the canal.
Evading Alsatians, horses, cows and llamas, we near our goal
After all that the walk told us nothing more about the mystery bridge other than how impressive a piece of work it was. Mr Google did, though: it's part of the truly remarkable Thirlmere Aqueduct. This is another of those truly phenomenal Victorian achievements; a 96 mile long aqueduct, part open and part tunnel, that opened in 1897 to bring up to 55m gallons of water a day from Thirlmere Reservoir in the Lake District to Manchester. It is still doing it today.
The once mighty Imperial Mill, now empty and forlorn
Of course not everything from the Victorian age has survived – Blackburn is evidence of that. The canalside is littered with the decaying remains of old mills and industry. None is sadder than the huge, forlorn Imperial Mill - even the name is redolent of past glories - just one of the many cotton mills in a town which had an astonishing 2.5m spinning spindles in the 1870s. But none now.
The good news is that the canal in Blackburn is now far from the rubbish tip we've seen on previous visits. Litter is no worse than in any other urban canal and we didn't see a single floating item of furniture for a change.
You slide smoothly out of the town into the rolling moors of the Pennines and even the M65 in a cutting far below and the distant view of William Blythe Chemicals factory can spoil the peace or the view. Ironically, the chemical works is a Victorian survivor and now a world leader in specialist chemical manufacturing. 'Shut all window and doors if you hear a siren' warns a canalside sign. Don't worry, we will.
A distant view of the Pennines from tonight's mooring

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The man in the white suit

The Temple is unmissable presence on the skyline
Looming out of the distance as we passed the unremarkable town of Chorley was the very remarkable sight of what looked like a 21st century cathedral. The huge spire and massive nave were unmistakeable.
A visit to Mr Google revealed that this was the 'Preston England' Temple of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. I didn't even know there were Mormons in the UK – aside from those politely spoken Americans who occasionally knock on your door – but apparently Preston is a major centre and the Temple one of only two in England.
The exterior is entirely clad in marble
A noisy walk beyond the M61 and the edge of a Chorley industrial estate took us to a spectacular, if slightly intimidating building set in huge grounds more immaculately groomed than Beyonce. The exterior is entirely clad in marble (and, unlike a traditional cathedral, largely devoid of windows). Extremely polite people smile and say hello as we walk around the grounds – and one driver even paused his car for several minutes so I could take a photo.
Atop the spire is the Mormon angel Moroni
I decided to venture in, though a little worried that I might re-appear through the automatic sliding glass doors an hour later wearing a beatific smile and a lapel badge.
Everyone wears white in the Temple
I found myself in something like the foyer of a very luxurious hotel - yet more marble and plenty of walnut too. Behind the desk sat an elderly man entirely dressed in white - suit, shirt, tie. Could I look around? 'No'. Not unless I was a church member. It was a temple, he explained, not a church; a place where people were baptised and families were 'sealed' - tracing families and 'sealing' them is central to Mormonism. He patiently answered in that same patient, mellow, gentle style all the questions I had even though he clearly read the cynicism on my face.
Behind him, people walked quietly about their business – all wearing white – with faintly lobotomised expressions. The atmosphere was eerie, like an episode of The Prisoner.
To be honest, the whole place was creepy. Astonishingly expensive to build, quite obviously, but with all the appeal of a crematorium. It could easily have been the mausoleum of a tyrannical dictator from some unheard of central Asian republic. I was happy to escape without a lapel badge.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Talking Tripe. And pies

All the pies you could wish for and no Greggs in sight
The pie eaters. That's what they call folk from Wigan. Apparently it dates back to the 1920s Wigan and Leigh miners' strike; the Wigan miners broke the strike and returned to work - thereafter having to eat humble pie when confronted by their Leigh comrades.
That's the legend. The fact is that the town abounds in quality independent pie shops. You don't need to buy a greasy Greggs offering here.
We took a day off from boating after coming up the flight and went back into the town by bus. Wigan is a rough and ready northern industrial town that has struggled back from losing its historical employment props of mining and milling. Today it still doesn't look a wealthy place but major employers like HJ Heinz and Girobank in the town. And plenty of pies.
Wigan is also known for its traditional sweets
We found a pretty decent selection at the town's indoor market. A good job Mrs B was with me or I'd have come home with a bagful. Instead I had to settle for a cuppa in Lou's Diner and a very fine pork pie. Unusually, its pie crust was topped with a layer of jelly outside as well as the usual inner jelly. Yum.
And you can get a decent range of traditional bangers too
In case you don't fancy a pie – or a sausage (40 different flavours of 'healthy, low calorie' sizzlers) – Wigan market does a good line in locally made traditional sweets too, including 'Kurly Aniseed'. I was tempted.
I did steer well clear of another market delicacy - tripe. Cow's stomach linings (apparently green before being cooked pre-sale into a watery white) don't really appeal to my stomach linings. Apparently it's the stall's best seller to those with stronger stomachs than mine.
Or tripe, if your stomach can handle stomach linings

Away from foodstuffs we found a remarkable charity bookshop in one of the shopping arcades. Wigan Book-Cycle lets customers choose up to three books a day and pay whatever they wish to donate for them. Funds raised have allowed them to send over 350,000 free books to schools and orphanages round the world and help plant trees in the local area. It's a local charity, devised by one person and run entirely by volunteers, but is slowly spreading out with mini book cycles bookshelves in bars and shops as well as bigger shops.
Book-Cycle: a terrific local charity venture
We bought a few from the huge stock and came away thoroughly cheered by the thought that one individual's good idea really can make a difference to the world.

So that's cheers to Wigan from me

PS I didn't take The Road to Wigan Pier: the area surrounding the long vanished coal loading staithe of George Orwell's book is being redeveloped.