Big River Locks and Short Canal Locks!

  We left Leeds Dock on Friday, 10th September, leaving with another boat in order to share the (huge!) locks. This was the River Aire section of the Aire and Calder Navigation. The locks are all electrically operated and can take very large commercial craft so they dwarf the narrowboats within them. We went through three locks with the other boat and cruised for 4½ miles to Woodlesford, which was lovely and very quiet. The local businesses sponsor planters and the maintenance of the lock area, so it was very attractive. We did consider moving on after lunch but it was such a nice spot so decided to stay put.

On Saturday, 11th Sept, we continued on down the river, cruising 5 miles and working another two locks. We turned at the junction at Castleford and moored on the visitor moorings. It was very busy with moored boats as boats coming from the three directions needed to moor there. We bumped into Bill and Brenda from NB Bridge Street, who we’d first met at the beginning of our adventures on the K & A. It was lovely to catch up with them and compare our travels. There were some lovely walks in that area, too! The town of Castleford itself is quite some distance from the mooring, so we ordered an Amazon/Morrisons shop and had it delivered to the road near the moorings – that really does work very well! We stayed at Castleford for Sunday, 12th Sept, too.

On Monday, we turned the boat and left the junction, this time heading towards Wakefield, still on the Aire and Calder Navigation – some parts river and some parts canalised river. The locks were still huge and we went through three, although we waited for another boat at the third one as they were coming up behind us. We arrived at Stanley Ferry, crossing the new aqueduct that runs alongside the old one, and moored at the end of a long line of long-term moorers. We stayed there for the next day, too, Tuesday, 14th, Sept, as the weather was a little rainy.

On Wednesday, 15th, we only travelled a short distance of just under 2 miles, working one lock on the way, and moored in Wakefield. We followed another boat down this section, so they got to the lock first and set it, allowing us to go straight in. Tony climbed the lock ladder to help operate it as this one, and subsequent ones along this stretch, were no longer electrically operated. It was still a big lock, though, and the gates were huge! We moored up with the other boat just round the corner. At first, the moorings looked a bit dodgy and certainly not very scenic, but it turned out that they were very quiet – there was a big 4 lane A road that ran alongside the moorings but the industrial units between us and the road deadened the noise very effectively. The towpath was very quiet, too, as it really didn’t go anywhere, so we only saw a couple of dog walkers and a couple of other people. The dog walks in Wakefield were dire, though! I enjoyed neither of them, even though Sal and I walked back along the river for one of them. It was very unkempt, lots of rubbish and I didn’t feel particularly safe. I came across a trio of lads in their 20s, I was a bit daunted to walk past them but they were pleasant enough and even apologised for the smell of the weed they were smoking!

I can’t really say that I had enjoyed the last section, since we left Leeds. The locks are SO big and, consequently, are quite intimidating plus the river sections are quite wide. I don’t know what it is, though – I normally love river cruising and the width doesn’t bother me, but there was something about this trip that made me a little anxious at times. It may be that there are so few other boats moving, so if you were to get into trouble, you may not see another boat for ages? I don’t really know, but I was keen to get back onto a normal canal.

On Thursday, we managed to get a vet’s appointment for Sally in the morning. Although she was fine in herself, she had been suffering with a bad tummy on and off for about ten days, so we thought we ought to get her checked out. The vet prescribed a short course of antibiotics to kill off any lurking bugs, but also gave her a bit of a once over, including a blood test to check her kidney and liver functions, which happily came back as completely normal. She was right as rain once the antibiotics worked their magic! The vet was also right next door to a hairdresser, so I popped in to ask if they had any appointments available and I was delighted when she said she could fit me in later that morning. It had been 19 months since it had last been cut, so well overdue!! Sal and I walked to a pet superstore in the afternoon to buy her a new harness – her old one had been looking very tatty for a long while but was now starting to show wear on the straps, so time for a new one. Again, the walk was not the most pleasant, walking along busy inner city roads and all the noise that goes with them – we were both pleased to get back to the boat! Three things achieved in one day, though – can’t be bad! 

On Friday, 17th September, we left Wakefield and cruised for 3 miles and worked two locks and moored on the Broad Cut visitor moorings. It was very quiet other than the occasional passing train, but a lovely spot. At Wakefield, the Aire and Calder Navigation meets the Calder and Hebble Navigation, so we came across the first locks after Wakefield  that required a “hand spike”. This is a length of wood which is used to turn the lock mechanism – we bought ours from the YouTube vloggers “Dozy and Dim” when we met them at a lock in Blackburn!

The next section on the Calder and Hebble Navigation was due to be a little tricky, too – the length of the locks are advertised at only taking a 57′ 6″ boat, but as they are wide locks, a 60′ boat such as ours can fit in diagonally. Great care has to be taken in the locks to make sure nothing catches the boat, but we were going up in the locks so there was no danger of catching the cill – we just needed to make sure we positioned the boat correctly. 

So, we left Broad Cut on Saturday, 18th September, setting off early to try to avoid meeting any  boats. We went through Broad Cut top lock, which presented no problem but then the Scout boat moored on the other side of the lock set off and followed us, so when we got to the next lock landing, Tony set the lock and let them go through – we didn’t want to either hold them up or feel we had to rush because they were following. They were lovely and emptied the lock for us as they left, which helped. We worked two more locks and then came across Mill Bank Lock, which I had read was the shortest, on the section up to Cooper Bridge, anyhow. Whether that is true, I don’t know, we had no luck in finding anything very recent which detailed individual lock dimensions. Having now done the whole Navigation, it was certainly one of the shorter ones, but not the shortest. We managed to squeeze in, stern fender still attached, although we had removed the front fender at the start of the short locks. We were encouraged by this – had we struggled here, I think we probably would’ve turned round but, on our daily log, I wrote “Mill Bank Lock – easy peasy” 😂 We moored up soon after at the junction with the Dewsbury Arm. Sal and I walked up the Arm to scope out whether there were better moorings up there but there was nothing much to recommend it from a cruising, mooring or scenic perspective, so we stayed put! There was a pub at the end but it was absolutely heaving  – we had thought that we could maybe get a Sunday Roast the next day but it was a bit too busy and noisy for our liking. Obviously the place to go for families on a sunny Saturday afternoon! The forecast for Sunday wasn’t good so we stayed on our mooring at the junction. 

On Monday, 20th, we set off, working 4 locks and cruising for 4 miles, Tony walking with Sal for the first part. Sal hadn’t been enjoying the short locks as there was a bit of bumping going on, so Tony had her on the side as he worked the locks, plus I liked to have my attention fully on what I was doing whilst in the short locks! This section was a mix of river and canalised stretches, unlike the day before which was much more canal-like, and we came across a river section during their walk. I carried on, out through the flood lock (open when river levels are normal) and Tony and Sal walked. The trouble is, the towpaths on the river sections are often “adventurous” and I was nearing the next lock and couldn’t see them so I phoned Tony – he had missed the footpath to take him over the bridge and was walking on the wrong side of the river! They had to retrace their steps (otherwise they were both swimming 🤣) so I got to the lock landing and tied up to wait for them. I thought, at one point, I might have to turn the boat and go and pick them up from the flood lock! The lock landings for these river-to-canal locks are often very tiny, with difficult access – this particular one was only about 6′ long so I made no attempt to get off, I practised my lassoing skills and managed to rope a bollard! The fun didn’t stop there, though, as this was one of the shortest four locks, so we had some jiggery pokery to get the boat in and to shut the lock gates. We built up a fair viewing crowd whilst doing it, too! You have to get the bow of the boat into the centre of the lock at the apex, swing the back of the boat round and past one closed gate, then close the other gate. We only just fitted with the button fender intact; Tony was pulling on the stern rope and just managed to squeeze past the closed gate – phew! We cruised on and moored outside a lovely big new Lidl in the small town of Mirfield. Whilst looking at Google Maps to see what was about in the area, I spotted a silicone hose manufacturer – we needed a replacement hose for the boat and had been researching where to get one from, and this was the very manufacturer! That saved us a few bob in postage, plus cut out the hassle of finding a collection point! 👍

On Tuesday, after a good stock up from the Lidl (nearly the closest supermarket to the canal we’d come across, the only closer one was in Warwick), we continued on and cruised for only 2½ miles, working 3 locks, and moored at Cooper Bridge, the junction of the Calder and Hebble with the Huddersfield Broad Canal. We nearly had an incident at Battyeford Lock, coming off a river section. We had pulled into the lock landing and Tony had got off, just looping our centre line round a bollard and handing it back to me on the boat, and had gone to empty the lock. I was holding the rope, but the pressure of the water rushing out of the lock was pushing the bow of the boat out and I was finding it difficult to hold, so I got off the boat onto the lock landing. Tony then opened the other paddle, which increased the water flow making the bow swing out even more, so I was hanging on for dear life, and with all my strength, and only just managed to hold the boat. I had no time to tie it off, either, and it was also drifting back so Sal, standing on her normal spot on the back deck, disappeared into the undergrowth beyond the back of the lock landing, also meaning that I could no longer jump on at the back to let the rope go and steer the boat back into the side. Fortunately, Tony saw me struggling and ran to help pull the boat in! Lesson learned – at each subsequent river lock, we tied the bow off, too! The mooring at Cooper Bridge was rather noisy, with a four lane A road bridge crossing about 50 metres away. Sal and I went off for our walk, crossing said busy road and walked a little way along the Huddersfield Broad Canal. We saw something unusual – there was a squirrel running towards us along the towpath – Sal spotted it a lot sooner than the squirrel spotted Sal, so she was straining to get to it – it then did a double-take, `a la Disney cartoon, hightailed it off in the opposite direction – and jumped in a lock and swam across!! I have seen numerous squirrels running across lock beams, but never one swimming across in the water! It got out on the other side, shook itself and ran off into the undergrowth, much to Sal’s disappointment! 

From here, we had a choice. We could’ve continued on the Calder and Hebble Navigation and then onto the Rochdale Canal, or turned onto the Huddersfield Broad Canal leading to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, going through the Standedge Tunnel. The only thing, though, is that you have to have a CRT chaperone through the Tunnel and, at the moment, due to Covid and the social distancing required, they are steering the boat through for you, if you have a traditional stern boat such as ours, at least. Tony would obviously rather steer the boat himself, so we preferred the Rochdale route. There had been lock closures and stoppages due to water shortages, though – but we had recently had a notification that the locks were open, so we decided to go on the Rochdale Canal route and hope the water shortage was short lived, leaving the Tunnel experience for when things, hopefully, return to a bit more near normal. 

So, on Wednesday, 22nd September, we set off and only cruised for one mile, but worked two locks, the bottom one taking us from a river section onto Kirklees Cut. Our canal guide warned of the overhanging platform on the lock gates in this lock, but it was no more of a problem than in any other. We moored in a lovely spot, but the M62 was quite near so, again, we had some road noise. It was a lovely day, but quite blustery, so a good drying day, of which we took good advantage. 

On Thursday, we cruised for three miles, working 5 locks, stopping in the town of Brighouse for lunch on the way, where the last of the river sections give way to the canalised last stretch of the Calder and Hebble. We were relieved that we no longer had to play the lifejackets on/off game! (We always wear our lifejackets on river sections). We moored in the lovely area of Cromwell Bottom, near to nature reserves and woods.

On Friday, 24th September, we set off late as Tony walked up to an oil supplier nearby to purchase some diesel. He had been told of this supplier by another boater. Tony went off and returned with two 25 litre drums on a little cart – but the supplier will even bring it to the boat and fill your tank for you – a great (and very cost effective) service! We set off after an early lunch with the intention of mooring in the Salterhebble area, about 2 ½ miles away, working 4 locks en route. One of the locks was a bit tight but we found afterwards, whilst shutting the second gate, that the first gate wasn’t quite fully closed which is why we struggled to get in! We reached the bottom of the Salterhebble locks and Sal and I walked through the tiny tunnel under the road to operate the lock and to scope out the mooring situation. There are 48hr moorings between the bottom and the second lock. However, there was a CRT workboat moored there (makes you “right cross” – they shouldn’t moor workboats on popular and scarce visitor moorings) and another boat which looked like it had been there for 48 months, never mind 48 hours! To make matters worse, there should be room for 3 boats to moor, but between them, they had moored to leave half a boat length free at each end – known by boaters as “git gapping”!  😤😤 Nothing to do but carry on to the top! The bottom lock had a guillotine gate, so I emptied it and raised the gate, then went back through the tunnel to let Tony know to come through. We moored on one of the half boat lengths as there were two hire boats coming down the two other locks, fresh out of the hire base. We watched as the person from the hire base gave instructions on lock operation to the boat crews – slowly! He demonstrated why you shouldn’t open gate paddles too quickly when going up (even though they were going down) and, unfortunately, something got stuck in the paddle and it wouldn’t seal again – and we were going in next with a now leaking paddle and a torrent of water coming out! Cheers, mate! The poor woman steering the hire boat had to reverse back into the torrent of water in order for the gate to be opened so she could leave the lock and then the bloke shouted at her for some reason – she wasn’t happy, and rightly so! I walked to open the top gates of the guillotine lock for them so they could go straight in and got told by a hirer from the other boat to not do so as they were under instruction. I said that you don’t need a lot of instruction to swing open a gate but not to worry, I’d keep my nose out and not help!! Once the hire boats were out and clear of the second lock, we were able to go and get in – these two locks are supposed to be the smallest on the whole Navigation, so we had removed both front and rear fenders in readiness. We fitted in a treat! Just as we were about to exit the lock, another boat was coming down the top lock – a single hander in a 58′ boat! Tony went to help, and also helped him through the second lock.  At last, we went into the top lock – the last one! Again, we fitted in without problem and, finally, we reached the top and exited the lock – we’d done it!! A high five to celebrate and we cruised up the Halifax Branch, turned the boat at the end and moored for the night, relieved to have got through all the short locks safely. We were both pretty tired and a big, illuminated, yellow “M” beckoned  nearby – a Maccy D’s for dinner it was! 

On Saturday, 25th September, we had a relaxed start; Tony refitted the fenders to the boat and then we set off and cruised to Sowerby Bridge, about 2 ½ miles – but no locks! This is where the Calder and Hebble Navigation meets the Rochdale Canal. We moored at the start of the Rochdale Canal, having scoped out moorings in the basin – mostly long term and the hire base, with just a couple of visitor moorings – we decided the towpath was nicer. We stayed there for a few days as, sadly, I had a family funeral to attend, so I went south on the train, returning on Wednesday, 29th. It was  a lovely spot for Tony and Sal to spend a few days, though, with plenty of lovely walks to do!