Monday, August 31, 2009

Onto fresh waters.

After spending yesterday tied to the bank and watching the boats go past, today was our first day on The Don.

Thorpe Marsh Power Station

It’s been a rather good day in fact. Our first potential obstacle was the lift bridge at Barnby Dun, carrying a fairly busy B road.
Cruising slowly up to look for the landing, we saw someone waving from the bank. It turned out to be “Bob the Gas”, who we met at Torksey, and who we followed on the Trent to Keadby. He cruises with his Mum, during the summer, on their boat “Leet Gi’in II” , and had moored just short of the bridge last night.

He was kind enough to open the bridge for us, and waved us through.

“Bob the Gas” stopping the traffic.
Through Barmby Dun Lift Bridge.
We followed the broad, deep navigation for a couple of miles, past Sandall Grove, and arrived at the first of the barge locks heading up to Rotherham.

Long Sandall Lock.

I was delighted to see that the traffic lights on the lock were on red and green, indicating that the lock was manned but empty. As we approached the red went out and the gates opened. We were in and the gates shut behind us, and the lockie peered out of his control tower over head. “ Orl Reet?” “Aye” I replied. Well, we are in Yorkshire now, aren't we.

While we were rising the 3’ in a lock that’s 230 feet long by 20 feet wide, I asked him why the lock was manned, when we were expecting ‘Boater Operation’. “Bank Holiday” was the reply, “Gonna be busy…”

At this point we’d not seen a boat moving, but we did see 2 cruisers coming the other way before we reached Doncaster. That’d keep him going for another 10 minutes…..

We pulled onto the pontoon moorings below Doncaster Town Lock so I could get some groceries from the Tesco just a couple of minutes away, had a spot of lunch, then were into the lock, after waiting for a boat to come out. Another one!

On the Visitor Moorings at Doncaster. A handy spot in the middle of town, but not pooch friendly.
Didn’t have a chance to pass the time of day with this lock keeper, he was too busy putting the world to rights with a colleague. Just pushed the appropriate buttons and gave us a wave as we pulled away 5 minutes later.

Doncaster Town Lock, hiding under road and rail bridges.
Leaving the lock
From this point on we were off the artificial cut and onto the River Don.

3 Bridges over the Don – railway, dismantled railway and the A1.
We saw another narrowboat, then a rather larger vessel came into view.

Trip Boat Wyre Lady.
I’d been disappointed not to see any commercial boats at all yet, so had to make do with this. Registered at Fleetwood, she’s a long way from home. Built in 1938 on the Clyde, she acted as a tender during the trials of the 2 Cunard "Queens", then as a ferry at Fleetwood and is rumoured to have been at Dunkirk! She now does Bank Holiday and Sunday trips from Sprotborough to Doncaster and the other way to Conisborough in graceful semi-retirement.

Through Sprotborough Lock with no less than 3 narrowboats waiting to go down river, then we moored on the Visitor Moorings a couple of hundred yards along.

Sprotborough VM

This is a pleasant spot, actually on the lock island. It’s popular with the locals, with some walks and a nature reserve and pub on the opposite bank. A lot quieter this side, though.

The Wyre Lady is based here, and embarks passengers just opposite.

Another batch of passengers for a cruise.
I guess with the Bank Holiday over and traffic back to normal levels!! we'll have to do our own locks tomorrow. Ah well.

Locks 3, Miles 9

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A blowey trip to Bramwith

We topped up the tanks before leaving Keadby this morning at around 09:45. It was a cloudy, windswept day, and we were in 2 minds whether to stay or to go. But I’d rather be ahead than behind schedule, and though windy, at least it was forecast to be dry.

The first obstacle was Vazon Sliding Swing Bridge. This area must have had an inventive civil engineer, like Keadby Bridge this is another ingenious solution to a problem. The railway crosses the canal at an angle, so the bridge deck, complete with the lines, was designed to slide at 90° to the track, to clear the navigation. More info here.

Waiting for Vazon Sliding Rail Bridge
It took a trip up onto the line to let the bridge keeper know we were there, then a few minutes to wind the bridge back into it’s recess, before we could go through.

The bridge closing behind us.

Immediately after this is the first of the boater operated swing or lift bridges on the stretch.

This is a proper commercial navigation, broad, deep, and straight. The South Yorkshire area is well suited to canal transport, on the one hand having a need for bulk transport of material like coal, steel and grain, on the other being blessed with several natural watercourses which had been used for transport for centuries and lent themselves well to development. This particular navigation, the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, was built in 1802 and will only accommodate 61’ x 17’ vessels. The New Junction Canal, however, built in 1905 and upgraded in 1983 is able to take 700 ton boats, with locks of 200’ x 20’. The section we’re to cruise next, the River Dun Navigation, can take vessels 230’ long! Them’s big locks!

Cruising on the Stainforth and Keadby.
Wykehouse Lift Bridge is the last before the canal starts to bend around a bit through Thorne.

Wykehouse Lift Bridge

Through Thorne and a pedestrian swing bridge, built 5 years ago and according to a local lady often breaking down, and the first lock of the day is reached.

Thorne Lock and Swing Bridge.

Of course, being in the land of unusual canal structures, they had to go and complicate things by putting a swing bridge across the head of the lock.

You have to fill the lock, open the top gates, then the swing bridge, exit the lock, close the gates, then the bridge.

Out of the lock and through the bridge.

Through Stainforth, avoiding the anglers, and Bramwith Lock is the second and last of the day. A bit of a shock to the system – I had to use a windlass! (This is the wrench used to wind up the paddles to fill and empty locks). It’s been languishing in the locker since Ratcliffe Lock on The Soar.

It can go away again now for a bit. The huge barge locks to Rotherham are all push-button.
Just a quarter of a mile further on and we pulled in on a quiet bit of towpath right on Bramwith Junction.

Moored at Bramwith Junction

We’ll be turning left here, heading for Doncaster, Rotherham and finally Sheffield for Friday. But we’ll be coming back this way, going past the junction and onto the Aire and Calder, destination Leeds and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

It's always quiet on these canals, but being a Bank Holiday weekend we expected there to be more traffic. We've only seen half a dozen boats moving all day.

My face is glowing tonight. We’ve motored into the fresh breeze all day, heading west. It’s given Mags a few problems waiting for me to open and close the bridges. But we’ve only had a few spots of rain.

Locks 2, miles 14½.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Tidal Trent – Day 2

It was pitch black when my alarm went off at 5 o’clock this morning. Even Meg, who’s always ready for a walk, looked at me a little strangely when I suggested that we go out.
There was a lightening in the sky to the east as we got back, revealing a cloudless morning.

We had a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee to kickstart the circulation, then prepared to move out. We had to wait for our breasted-up neighbour to go before we could reverse back to the junction and out onto the river.

Reversing out of Torksey Cut at sparrow f**t.
Waiting for the neighbours, then carefully reversing without waking too many people up took a little time, and by the time we’d got going downriver, there were none of our fellow travellers to be seen.

Lonely out on the river.
It was quite cold, with a brisk wind from the south-west, but the sun slowly rose to the right and made things seem warmer. I didn’t take my jacket off for the whole trip though. A good job, I needed it’s waterproof properties later.

Once again, the river is of limited interest from the low deck of a narrowboat. Only things at the water’s edge are visible.

There’s not a lot to see of the Roman ford at Littleborough.
This is where King Harold led his ill-fated army across the river, after trouncing the Danes at Stamford Bridge. Unfortunately he was not so lucky at Hastings….
In his defense, he’d already marched an army 200 miles north, defeated a Viking army, and now had to march south again to meet the threat of a Norman invasion. Amazingly he was back in London in 4 days, consolidated his forces and arrived at Hastings just 18 days after Stamford Bridge. The following day, on October 14th 1066, battle commenced. The rest, as they say, is History.
There’s an excellent website describing events before, during and after The Battle here.

Back to the present, and the next major landmark is the power station at West Burton. There’s a new gas powered facility being built here.

West Burton

We overhauled the wide-beam shortly after. At a comfortable 1100 RPM we were covering the ground at an average of 7 MPH. Not bad, hey.

Not much of Gainsborough can be seen from the river. The town is protected by high wharves, now of course disused.

Gainsborough Arches
The only mooring in Gainsborough for our sized boats.
West Stockwith Lock is the entrance to the Chesterfield Canal, which we had a look at last year with Carol on NB Corbierre.

West Stockwith Lock. Several of the overnighters at Torksey are heading here later.
At this point we’d covered 14½ miles since Torksey, and were just over half-way to Keadby.

We were overtaken in our turn by the cruiser Penrose, who’d also left Torksey this morning. With more horses under his counter, he’d had a bit of a lie in before leaving.

Penrose showing off.
The open flat countryside is ideally suited to wind power. There are several ex-windmills on the banks, some converted….
And some not.
Only one windfarm yet, though.

The approach to Keadby is heralded by the sight of the unusual road and rail bridge.

Keadby Bridge. Black clouds gathering.
The structure on the right hand end is a tank which is filled with river water to counterbalance the bridge deck and lift it for large vessels. It's been fixed in a closed position since 1955.
There are some excellent old photos here.

Then we arrived at the lock. I’d rung the lockie, and he’d told me that the tide was slack and I’d be able to come straight in. So I did, completely disregarding the red light glaring at me from the lockside.

Heading for Keadby Lock, Penrose is waiting on the high wall.

Into the entrance, and of course the gates were shut! There were three narrowboats in already, rising up onto the canal.

No entry.
We backed out into the river, and did a couple of gentle circuits while waiting for the lock to be emptied again, before being invited to come in by the lock-keeper.
By this time it was absolutely slinging it down, the first of the very heavy showers we’ve had this afternoon.

In Keadby Lock, second time of trying. The cruiser,
Penrose, is on the right.
Up to the level of the canal, waiting for the swing bridge to open.
There was a queue of cruisers waiting to go into the lock, to catch the flood back upstream. So we hung around till the moorings were free and we could get in.

And that’s it for the day. 26 miles in 4½ hours. It’s been OK coming down, but Mags is glad to be off the river. And Meg was desperate for a pee by the time we’d tied up.

Locks 1, miles 26

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Tidal Trent – Day 1

We had a quiet night on the pontoons, that is after the screeching woman up on the wharf above us had cleared off. It started as an argument, and finished with the local constabulary getting involved.

We were ready to go at 08:00, so gently moved off, down to Newark Nether Lock. But we were not the first, a couple of narrowboats had already set off from further down the mooring, and a cruiser had passed us as well. I shouted goodbyes to David and Dorothy on Blackbird, moored opposite. They’d decided to stop in Newark another day.

I expected the lock to be clear by the time we arrived, but the preceeding boats were still going in and there was space for us, so we joined them.

In Newark Nether Lock
We were last out and I closed up the lock, then we followed the convoy onward to Cromwell Lock.

Impressive Church at North Muskham
Approaching Cromwell Lock
The gates were open invitingly and the green light was on, so we motored straight in, to the front of the large chamber. I don’t think the boats who’d been waiting overnight were that impressed, but there was room for all in the end, thanks to the lock-keeper.
All slotted in.
And leaving onto the tidal section.
I’m afraid to confess to being a little bored over the next 2¾ hours. The river winds it’s way generally northwards across the flat flood plain, with little to see over the high banks. Occasional glimpses of civilisation occur.
Converted mill at Carlton on Trent
Gravel Loading Staithe
And another, with rotting hulks used as bank protection.
This is power station country, with the Trent supplying the water for steam, and the Midlands coalfields providing the fuel. At least, for those not converted to gas. A considerable proportion of the national supply is generated in the Trent Valley.

High Marnham

The crane is waiting for the arrival of a huge generator, coming by water from Hull.

We turned the corner into Torksey Cut, and were met by the sight of full pontoons.

Busy at Torksey.

Luckily most were preparing to leave, to catch the rising tide back to Cromwell. We’d come down on the ebb, averaging 6 mph and arriving as it turned.

Even so, the arriving boats have still had to breast up to ensure moorings for all. We’ve got a boat alongside who are heading for Keadby as well, so we’ll be off at the same time, around 06:00, to catch the ebb again.
The generator arrived on schedule, passing in the distance across the end of the cut.

Cottam’s new generator

We had a pleasant surprise, Mo and ‘Ness arrived. Balmaha is moored above the lock, and I was going to have a walk up to see them, but they beat me to it. They’re heading for Boston, on the way back from Sheffield, so were able to provide useful info regarding moorings and stuff for our trip.
Mo and ‘Ness.
Before tea I took Meg for a walk back along the river to Cottam, but the barge had been unloaded and had gone. Still it was good for her to stretch her legs after being cooped up on board.

Typical Trent Path gate, Cottam Power Station behind.
There are 2 gates, hinged in opposite directions to ensure that livestock can’t push through. The angled shape makes them self-closing.

An early night tonight I guess. Up at 05:00 tomorrow. Ooh ‘eck.

For the first time in ages I’ve not got a 3G internet connection. The GPRS I have got is nothing to write home about, either. Could take a while to upload the pics….

Locks 2, miles 20.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

And so to Newark

It’s all very well saying that we’ll move in bad weather, but the reality when you open the curtains and look out upon a windy, rainswept lock cut is somewhat different. We’d pretty much decided to stay put today and wait for better conditions tomorrow. I went for a short 40 minute run to let the weather settle down a bit, and then took Meg for a walk. By this time the sky had brightened and the rain had eased, so we made the decision to go for it after all.

Holme Lock is the first of the large barge locks encountered heading downstream, and 3 narrowboats and 1 cruiser in the 165’ x 18’ chamber looked a bit lost.

Into Holme Lock. The workboat is moored in the lock cut, outside the lock.
Today’s cruise has been one of wide open expanses of water, interspersed with locks. There are very few bridges crossing the river, in fact there’s only one road bridge between Nottingham and Newark.
At Radcliffe on Trent (not to be confused with Ratcliffe on Soar), the river is forced through a 90° left turn by the outcrop of the Trent Hills, which disuade the river from any ambitions it has to head west.

Hard left at Radcliffe on Trent
We lost the cruiser above Stoke Lock, and, there being no lock keeper on, worked the 3 narrowboats through ourselves. The controls are pretty much idiot proof, anyway.

Gunthorpe Bridge (the one bridge) carries the A6097 over the river, and prompts you to wake up. The lock is just around the corner.

Gunthorpe Bridge….
And lock.
Even though these locks are big, there’re not difficult, as you’re generally invited in by a green traffic light on arrival, and then met by a friendly lock-keeper. They keep in touch with each other up and down the waterway, and can judge arrival times of boats quite accurately.

Ready to Leave Gunthorpe Lock.
Looking back, the lock on the right, and the huge weir on the left.
Hazelford Lock is the next on the list, where we got stuck for a few days eighteen months ago when the river rose 4 feet in a matter of hours. No problem today though. In fact we’d seen no rain since we’d left Holme, but the showers started soon after, accompanied by an increase in the wind.

Leaving the constraining hills behind, the river feels obliged to loop backwards and forwards, past Fiskerton and Farndon.

The Bromley Arms at Fiskerton
The winding course through most points of the compass meant that we caught the rising wind from the side, bow and stern.

Following wind
With the wind beam-on, the boat took on quite an alarming list, and stern on the prop rattled industriously as a trough passed under the counter.

The showers turned to persistent rain as we approached Newark, past the very long Averham Weir which carries the river around the north of the town.

Averham Weir
The waterway through Newark is mainly artificial, known as the Newark Branch, or Dyke.

Just past the old Trent Navigation Company Warehouse, now a popular pub and museum, is Newark Town Lock.

We hung on to a BW dredger moored outside the maintenance depot while a trip boat, Sonning, came up.

Waiting for Town Lock
Into Newark Town Lock, Newark Castle in the background.
Passing under the castle walls.
We moored for the night on the pontoon moorings below the BW offices at The Kiln. We secured the last gap, David and Dorothy on NB Blackbird, who we’ve shared today’s trip with as well, have moored on the wall opposite. And just a bit further along there’s a familiar boat – Granny Buttons. Andrew must have come out onto the river from Lincoln at Torksey, after his excursion across The Wash.
The wind and rain have eased again now, and the forecast is OK for tomorrow. Apparently today’s gales were the tail end of Hurricane Bill. I’m glad we only caught the tail end!

Locks 5, miles 20