Well now – there is nothing like a few days on the Leeds Liverpool Canal to de-stress a person, lots of fresh air, hard physical labour and quite good food. We have been in England for over a week now and our tale is very different to the time we had in Holland. We met with our German friends Brigitte and Peter in Rotterdam, and had a few hours to spare before catching the overnight ferry to Hull (my home town). An opportunity to see another town in Holland led us to the historic , ceramic town of Delft. Lots of tourists, so prices were high, but we just had a lunch and a walkabout. Funny thing happen when we passed a Gouda Cheese shop with life sized model of a calf outside – Kerry began barking and backing away from the model. It took quite a few minutes before she settled down and could understand the lack of smell. This was a sign of things to come but more about that later.
The overnight P & O ferry crossing was uneventful, when we arrived in Hull about 8:00 am, I was a little concerned about crossing the UK border with a dog. She had been wormed, as required by the UK regulations, a day before the trip so was ready for the Border authorities. It turned out well – the immigration officer thought Kerry was a really cute dog and we drove through, back on to British soil without a hitch. My mum of course was so pleased to see us all, although she was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of four visitors for a few days. She quickly got the picture that Brigitte and I would take care of everything, she could just sit back and enjoy the company. She had done a vast amount of grocery shopping which is no small feat of an 85 year old. Weatherwise we were enjoying brilliant sunshine and about 21C. After a British breakfast of bacon sausage, black pudding, fried bread, mushrooms and eggs we went to the ancient market town of Beverley for a walkabout and a visit to the local mobile phone shop so everyone could get connected!
On Monday we set off for a canal trip on the Leeds Liverpool canal. This was a history, geography and culture lesson rolled into one, over four days, which also included some very hard physical labour. The Leeds-Liverpool canal was built between 1771 and 1816 and it cost a million pounds in those days. It stretches 124.5 miles meandering through some of the loveliest , and at times the bleakest countryside in England. Our trip began in Silsden, a small town west of Bradford. We four hardy souls plus Kerry set out on a wide barge (about 11 ft) which is a contrast to the narrow boats common to British Canals. Barges have very little maneuverability going forward and absolutely none going back which is a little daunting when you are looking down the barrel of a 60 by 11 foot large piece of steel floating down a 6 meter wide channel of water.
The beginning of our journey was a gentle meander through the fields and wooded glades of the Yorkshire Dales. We were able negotiate the bridges by pulling into the side of the canal, jumping off (which was quite easy as the back deck of the barge was the same height as the canal bank), taking our special key, unlocking the swing bridge, and pushing the bridge to one side. We then drove the boat through and repeated the procedure, tying up the barge, pushing the bridge back and relocking it, and jumping back on the barge. Sounds easy until the bridge was a small road rather than a footpath bridge. We literally had to put our backs into pushing the bridges open as some of them were not very well maintained and needed an extra shove to make them move. The barges travel at maximum of 4 miles per hour, which may not sound like much until you are the helm of these boats with a tiller that is slow to respond. We did bounce off the side of the canal on a regular basis – luckily we did not bounce of the side of the many other narrow boats parked on the side of the canal. The picturesque beauty of the farmland with the rock walls, flower meadows and cheerful birdsong was really worth the visit. We could see the high hills and wonder about the Bronte sisters – who were born about 12 miles from our starting point in the village Haworth. You could almost see the ill-fated lovers of Wuthering Heights and the stark stone buildings of Jane Eyre in the spring green hills.
Our first stop was in Skipton – famous for a lovely old castle that was started in 1090 and still standing when the Roundheads tried to storm the castle walls in 1630. Skipton has also a dedicated a statue of the famous cricketer: Freddie Truman, aka Fiery Fred, who was one of England’s top spin bowlers. (Check Wikkipedia for the cricketing terms). Kerry fell in the canal in Skipton, she jumped off the barge to follow Martin and missed. Martin thought it quite amusing as he watched Kerry’e front paws and head slip slowly down the bank into the water. We got her out in a split second, but she was a very sorry-looking soggy dog. After that little adventure we were onto the locks, which were more physical will than adventure.
The Leeds – Liverpool canal was an important commercial artery for 60 years taking limestone, coal, wool and textiles across the Pennines. Yorkshire and Lancashire have had their differences over the years as the War of the Roses will attest, but after 1487 and the battle of Bosworth Field they united under Henry VII to become a major economic force. Enough history – back to the canal.
The lock system is the universal method of going and down hills via canal. There are about 300 locks on this canal – some of them are in flights like a set of stairs. We climbed a set of five locks at Bank Newton (you can check this out on Google Earth) . A lock is essentially a chamber of water with doors at each end, there are shutters on the doors that open and close to let the water in and keep it in if you are going up or let it out on the far side if you going down. Locks on all canals from the Panama to the Erie to the Canal du Midi all work on the same principles. Unlike France or Holland there are almost no lock keepers here so, as bargees you get to fill and empty the locks, push the massive wooden gates open and closed on each end then move the boat forward. The mechanisms were often tight or jammed or just plain heavy to use so again we had to put our backs into the work. I now have much strong arms from winding mechanisms and stronger legs and back from pushing the gates. One day three of our trip we took our large barge up a flight of 5 locks along a lovely meandering course to a tiny village called Abbots Harbour where we had a brilliant lunch, turned the barge around (which is no mean feat on a narrow canal with a 60 ft boat) and came down the same flight of locks and then and other three further down stream . After 13 locks I was absolutely knackered (as they say in Yorkshire), my body ached – it is not hurt just ached all night.
Our last day was miserable though – it was raining and cold unlike the previous two weeks where we had enjoyed glorious warm weather. We all felt very bedraggled, soggy and cold. Luckily our barge was equipped with a woodstove that could crank out a lot of heat and so we could warm up quickly. At this point Martin and I made a note that we needed to add wet weather gear to our list of boat requirements. We meandered back along the canal but the miserable weather dampened (excuse the pun) our spirits. We were in a hurry, which is difficult by barge ( at less than 4 mph) as we had to be back in Silsden the next morning at 9:00.
By the afternoon it had ‘faired-up’ (another bit of Yorkshire vernacular), and stopped raining. We continued along the winding canal when Kerry suddenly jumped off the barge and into a field with six young cows in it. She barked and barked at the cows, so they began chase her. She ran barking furiously obviously very scared, away from the pursuing cows, followed by Martin who was trying to catch her. The dog jumped onto a stone wall and over into the road, so the six cows turned their attention to Martin. Needless to say Martin also jumped the rock wall, narrowly missing an electric fence on the top of the rock wall. Martin and Kerry made it to the road – the cows were obviously a bit perplexed by this crazy dog and crazy master running across the fields. Kerry was absolutely filthy, so Martin walked her along the towpath before she had an outdoor bath, and opened the last three bridges as we floated back into Silsden.
We drove back to Hull via Haworth village nestled in the Yorkshire Dales. Haworth is the home of the Bronte sisters so we were able to add a little literature and history to our visit to Yorkshire.
We have a couple more days of sight seeing in the rain and celebrating the Queens Jubilee in the rain before our German pals go home and another phase of our trip begins. Talking of the Diamond Jubilee – you should see this place it is festooned in Union Jacks, red, white and blue bunting and all sorts of memorabilia for this historic occasion. Our Betty (QE II) is having a grand old time over the next few days – lets hope HRH enjoys its and doesn’t get too wet or tired (she is 86) after all.
Brigitte and Peter headed south and back to Germany today after a few days of sight seeing including lighting the local beacon – a messaging system used from Roman times.
A few quiet days in Hull and then we are off again down south and Martin will be heading back to Holland in a week or so.
I feel we have been ages already – being so far away and so busy but we love hearing for you either on the blog, via email or facebook ( when it is working ). Ta rah for now (as they say in Yorkshire)!