Sunday 14th June
Sowerby Bridge to Ledgard
We woke up strangely early, disturbed by the sound of the rain drumming on the roof – curses! We persuaded ourselves that there was no rush, but we did need to be up and dressed by 9am as that’s the time we’d told our new dalmatian friends to turn up. We pottered around and I moved the car to the space allocated by Shire Cruisers – the hounds came with me, though having been driven around the wharf, they weren’t too impressed at having to walk back to the boat!
As we walked back, a little car stopped in the middle of the road – the driver leapt out to cuddle the greyhounds. She’d lost her old greyhound girl a while back and now had a complicated home life which meant she couldn’t have another. She takes every opportunity to cuddle other people’s hounds. It can’t be helped, greyhounds are addictive! The hounds accepted the fuss with aplomb – they are so very used to being adored :-)
By 9.45am we accepted that our new friends were not going to turn up – I can hardly blame them – we were total strangers, it was an early start for a Sunday and it was raining! It’s a shame though, they would have been very welcome.
Some locals that we spoke to last night were really surprised that the canal was navigable to the East of Sowerby Bridge. We assured them that there was a whole network available to the East, but only to some boats….
At 60′, Indigo Dream is at the very limit of the size of narrowboat that can traverse the Calder and Hebble, as many of the locks are only 57′ 6″, though they are doubles, so Indigo Dream could get through very carefully at a diagonal. There is a good write up of what to do here.
The two top locks at Salterhebble are the shortest of the lot, and research suggested that the way to get a 60 footer through was to go down backwards on the diagonal. This was the first of the heavy “handspike” operated locks. Earlier in the week my spellchecker had been a bit prophetic, changing “Salterhebble” to “unalterable”, so I was a bit underwhelmed at the prospect of being jammed at the bottom of a deep hole, but it made much more sense for Richard to do the grunt work.
We moored at Salterhebble top and went to investigate the lock layout and mechanisms. I was sufficiently worried about the boat to offload the hounds and tether them at the lockside (with their sheepies, of course) – if the boat were to get jammed then I didn’t want the job of hoicking them out of a deep lock. At this point, if we’d had any regular readers on board they’d have been running for the hills – people who’ve been on tideway adventures with us have commented “I knew I’d be safe because the dogs were on board and you’d never risk them”!
When we felt sufficiently acquainted with the layout, I brought Indigo Dream in. Richard had commented “I’m not sure how you’re going to reverse her in” but I had a surreal moment of peace when I knew exactly what I was doing, could see the line and Indigo Dream obliged me by handling beautifully (she’s a pig to reverse normally). We spent some time getting properly positioned on the diagonal, even so it was a tight fit! Richard took the front rope – he was in charge of making sure that the bow didn’t catch on the cill on the way down. As we were getting ready, the heavens opened, I couldn’t leave the dogs to get soaked on shore so on board they came – now I HAD to make the descent work!
I needn’t have worried – we descended very slowly and with great vigilance, but she didn’t get caught on the cill – first challenge negotiated. The next challenge is getting out – with the stern firmly wedged against one bottom gate, the only way out is to open the opposite gate and tug her across, having calculated (to the millimetre) that we’d have just enough length get round and out. The benefit of reversing down the lock is firstly that you can poke your front into the middle of the cill and also that it’s your front deck that get a wash if the top gates are leaky! Indigo Dream came round nicely and I reversed her into the lock jaws while Richard set the next lock.
This time I needed to reverse a dog leg turn. As I turned, my wash closed one of the two top gates that Richard had obligingly opened for me. But I was in that surreal place again where I could see the turn and Indigo Dream supplied it – a clean lock entry through one gate in reverse round a dog-leg turn. I was euphoric – maybe I could do the whole canal in reverse! Again, we descended the second of the Salterhebble locks with great vigilance and it was all fine.
There’s a pleasant basin below the second lock with some permanent moorings – there’s plenty of room to turn here and I was a little disappointed to be going down the last Salterhebble lock facing front! The third lock is no longer than that first, so we still needed to be careful to avoid the cill, but it does have a flat guillotine bottom gate which made it a bit easier to use the space available and to get out.
With the three Salterhebble locks safely negotiated, we knew that we’d get through the rest of the navigation, though we needed great concentration at each one. In a “normal” lock I’d have 10 – 12 FEET to spare and never get much close to the cill than 6 feet. In these locks, I was positioning Indigo Dream diagonally, once water had dropped a bit Richard could pull my front under the gate walkway which gave a few precious inches. The stern then virtually sliding down the cill often with barely an inch to spare! Once the lock was empty Richard could throw the front rope over to the other side, open that gate and pull my front across whilst I wiggled the boat around at the back to find that bit of extra space so that the front would get round the closed gate. It all sounds complicated but we dropped down on one paddle and it all just worked smoothly.
But canal builders are as inconsistent as the weather – while the skies regaled us with every sort of sullen cloud and degrees of rain, with the odd burst of sunshine, the locks surprised us with their variability – some were as tight as could be, some gave me six inches to spare and a couple were full length 70′ plus!
So why take the trouble to cruise the Calder and Hebble? Partly because it’s there, partly because it’s a great transit to the waterways of the north-east, but mainly because it’s beautiful, particularly in the lush river sections. Although we didn’t see a single boater on the move, itself an attractive feature of the navigation, the towpaths were busy with walkers and cyclists, despite the weather. It’s possible that this is the busiest towpath I’ve seen since leaving London. Now, a busy towpath isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it shows that the waterway is appreciated and has a clear purpose which may keep it alive for years to come :-)
Because we’d anticipated taking our time in the locks, we’d planned a short day’s cruising. But we got into the groove and carried on to Ledgard, with its views the Pennines behind, giving us a poignant reminder of the epic Rochdale Canal which took us over the top.
There are useful visitor moorings next to Lidl in Ledgard – there is a pub, the Navigation Inn, opposite, but we didn’t fancy it. Instead we continued our exploration of the North’s Chinese takeaways – this time Kowloon. It was excellent with the usual Yorkshire portions – we watched totally brainless Marvel franchise film on DVD to finish a very satisfying day’s cruising.