I have discovered this week that there is something very special about a mode of transport which forces you to live life at a significantly slower pace than usual!
We live our lives at such a hectic pace, needing to be in a certain place at a certain time, bound by the convention of 9-5 and an expectation that everything runs to time, so when an opportunity to throw off the shackles of convention presents itself, seize it with both hands, it is an extremely welcome distraction indeed.
Sitting on a narrow-boat pootling along at no more than 4 miles per hour (2mph if you are passing moored craft) makes time stretch out like you wouldn’t believe, and I was astounded at how quickly I found myself relaxing.
Together with Perryn, my sister-in law Louise, her partner Mark and of course, Dave the dog, we travelled to Reedley Marina near Burnley to pick up Portus which was to be our home for a week. After a quick crash course on the technical aspects of the boat for the boys, we slowly made our way up the Leeds-Liverpool canal to the first set of locks, where we were met by John who showed us how to tackle the ground paddles and lock gates. Thankfully, it’s all down to physics, a case of increasing or decreasing the volume of water depending on whether you are going up or down, a bit like filling the bath, you do however discover muscles you never knew you possessed! We did however quickly learn that there is no point in trying to open the lock gates until the water is absolutely equal on both sides of the gate. The trick is to lean your weight on the gate, then, when the water is level, the gates will move of their own accord and you can use your weight to open or close them fully. As a certain meerkat might say ‘simples’!
As you leave the marina, you are on a stretch of water which passes through an industrial landscape, however, once through the seven locks at Barrowford, the industry gives way to a peaceful rural idyll, no traffic noise save the puttering of the engine, the sound of the water lapping the banks of the canal and birdsong. Unless you are steering or leaping off the boat to open a lock, there’s very little to do than sit back and enjoy the ride. Less than two days in I felt as though I had been on holiday for a week and I had already lost track of time. Of course it helped enormously that we were blessed with the most lovely Spring weather, warm sunny days and cosy evenings.
Having mastered the lock setting, the next part of our adventure took us through the Foulridge Tunnel – at 1640 yards long, just short of a mile, it works on a traffic light system to ensure no snarl-ups. It is an eerie 15 minutes or so, but thankfully the little spotlight on the front of Portus lit the way and we could see the limestone deposits which formed amazing patterns on the roof and the walls. This section of our journey was punctuated with the odd grumble from the back of the boat as Perryn and Mark got dripped upon a number of times.
Once through the tunnel we stopped at the little berth alongside the village and stretched our legs a bit and to have a well-earned cup of tea before pushing on to our first evening stop at Barnoldswick. We bumped into another boat here (literally and gently I might add), and the people aboard kindly allowed us to share their mooring chains so we could attach the boat to the quay.
The Anchor Inn at Salterforth is dog friendly, so we decided we’d have our meal at the pub and a couple of drinks and round off our first day in style. The Anchor Inn is well worth a visit, good food, real ales and an interesting history – the current building was built on top of the original one, and the cellar which once housed the front door is now home to an amazing display of limestone stalactites which we were permitted to see.
Our first night on board was peaceful until around 4.30am when a certain black Labrador decided he needed a little more comfort, and he crept onto and up the bed, finally snuggling between Perryn and me…despite several attempts to put him back on his own bed, we were unsuccessful, and so it was a fitful few hours until the sun rose as we competed with Dave for the bed!
The following morning, our neighbours on the Sorceress suggested that they would wait for us at the next set of locks at Greenberfield, explaining that it is considered boating etiquette, shares the effort and a more conscientious use of water if two boats share a lock if they are travelling the same way, it also has the benefit of stopping the boats from bobbing around in the lock when you open the paddles! That was the start of a beautiful friendship with Phillip, Lyn, Barbara, Teal the aging flat-coat retriever and the even more elderly border terrier Peanut, and we shared the trip up through countless locks including Greenberfield, Scarland, Stegneck and Bank Newton, finally arriving at Gargrave at around 4.00pm.
Gargrave is a pretty village, full of limestone cottages, the River Aire runs through it and there is a lovely Victorian church, and of course it has a dog-friendly pub…it was only a matter of time before we found ourselves basking in late afternoon sunshine, nibbling on some sharing platters and enjoying a drink before returning to the boat for a leisurely evening.
It was here that one of the local swans decided he had a thing for Louise…he was persistent in his attention seeking, but thankfully the window was shut, we think he was used to be fed and had picked on our boat this particular evening,
Wednesday morning arrived and I was woken up by a wet nose in my right ear, followed by a slap with a paw…Dave was on the bed again! I checked my watch 6.32am, thanks Dave! However all was not lost, Perryn slid back the hatch and called me up on deck, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Ribbons of mist danced along the canal backlit by the early morning sun – I dragged my clothes on over my pyjamas and set off down the towpath armed with my camera, I only took a few images, I found myself content to just be and enjoy the moment, it didn’t last long and the mist disappeared revealing a sparklingly bright blue sky and the promise of another beautiful day.
After breakfast we headed for Skipton, sharing the locks and swing bridges with our friends on Sorceress, passing through rolling dales and picturesque countryside, with curlews, peewits and buzzards calling as we went. It was on this stretch we had a minor incident, Dave saw Perryn point out a hare in a field alongside us, there was a resounding splash and off he went on a retrieve, thankfully he came back on Perryn’s command, however he had to swim back to the boat and was hauled unceremoniously out of the canal by his scruff, cue one very sheepish dog who hid behind Mark’s legs for a while at the back of the boat!
As we arrived at Skipton and tied up, we said our goodbyes to Phillip, Lyn, Barbara, Teal and Peanut, they were great companions along the way and helped us get to grips with canal life much more quickly than if we had been cruising alone. One thing I noticed all the way along cruise was the warmth of the people we met, whether it was a jogger or dog-walker on the towpath, or another boat, almost everyone called out a greeting and wished us a good trip, making it a very sociable experience.
Skipton is called the ‘gateway to the Dales’ and it’s easy to see why, it’s a pretty little market town with alleyways and courtyards around each corner, and off course there is a record shop…no prizes for guessing who paid a visit there! After a good wander around and a bite to eat, we jumped back on board and made our way back to Gargrave for another evening. We were old hands at the locks by now, however some of the swing bridges do call for some brute strength as Lou and I found out!
Wednesday evening comprised of some rather complex card games before an early night as we had an early start on Thursday if we were to get within striking distance of the marina for Friday.
Thursday dawned as beautiful as the day before, more mist played along the canal and after a good breakfast we set off calling in on Foulridge and the Anchor Inn one last time before we moored up above Barrowford Locks and enjoyed another quiet evening, with more card games, albeit slightly easier than those shared with us the previous evening, along with a couple of glasses of wine and a natter. We captured the best sunset of the week – only on my phone, but you get the gist.
On Friday morning, after a bowl of porridge, we set sail at 8.00am and thanks to the three lock-keepers on duty all of whom joined in and helped with the seven locks, we were able to arrive back at 10.00am on the dot and hand Portus back to the marina staff before we tootled across to Hebden Bridge before coming home.
So the million dollar questions…
Would we recommend it as a great way to spend a week? Absolutely, it is an incredibly relaxing way to travel, although it is an active experience dealing with the locks and steering 15 tonnes of narrow-boat.
Did we enjoy it? It’s a resounding yes, although the weather played a large part in that, it might not have been so much fun had it poured with rain.
Would we do it again? Yes, undoubtedly, and we might even take a boat out just for a day in the future.
However, don’t take my word for it, experience it for yourself, it is a brilliant way to kick back and relax.
Until next time
P.S. All but a handful of these images were taken on my Fuji XT-1 and 16-55mm lens, a perfect combination in my book!