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From Skipton to Wigan, October 1999

Sue Butler and Neil Bell


Day 1 - Saturday October 2nd 1999

Skipton in the rain

We arrived in Skipton to find Jemima moored near bridge 176. We move her nearer the car, and find ourselves in the midst of a wet and muddy cross country race, which includes a canalside section. Fortunately they do not cross the swingbridge, so we are able to open it without really upsetting things.

The weather is wet and uninviting, so once we have decanted our belongings, and have lit the appropriate appliances we head off into Skipton for beer and sustenance. A mediocre meal in the Woolly Sheep, and a wander back to Jemima in the rain makes us feel that we are truly on holiday.

Day 2 - Sunday October 3rd 1999

Skipton in the rain [2]

8.5 miles, 3 locks, squillions of swing bridges

We negotiated a parking space for the car in the car park of Herriots Hotel, which seemed safe, with the added advantage of being canalside and opposite the station. They charged us a quid a day, but did take my mobile number. This is the first time we have ever paid to leave the car, but it was so very convenient, and parking in Skipton is always difficult.

We need a few 'bits' from a boatyard, and head into Skipton, only to find Pennine Cruisers closed, so we head further back to Snaygill Boats, but we were not overly impresses with their helpfulness. I think they were having a bad day!

Returning to Skipton we met a flotilla of canoeists, and resisted the temptation of Springs Branch. (We took Jemima along it in the spring, and enjoyed it immensely - it is well worth the trip, especially if you are under 35ft and can turn at the end as we did).

Once beyond Skipton we were in 'new waters' for us, and much enjoyed our trip to Gargrave. Here the occasional showers of rain decided to turn to a hailstorm, and we were soon both wet and beaten to a pulp by the large and painful stones. So once we had come up Higherland lock we moored just beyond the handy sanni station, and called it a day! We dined aboard (bread, cheese and soup) and then went to explore Gargrave.

There are two pubs in the village. We went to the Old Swan, which had a roaring fire, but was not particularly busy. It was also the watering hole for a rather obnoxious local who seemed to be hell bent on making us feel unwelcome. We moved into the pool room, which was empty, and began to play pool. He followed us and wanted to play for money. His pals at the bar found this all very amusing, but all we wanted was a quiet night, so we left to find the Mason's - over the main road, across the river and opposite the church.

This was full (perhaps the locals knew about the pain-in-the-bum in the Swan!) and we had a congenial evening, I just wish we had gone there first. It is certainly worth the extra walk.

Climbing back up the hill to the cut, we felt a change in the air, perhaps the weather was on the turn?

Day 3 - Monday October 4th 1999

Gargrave to Salterforth

12 locks, 8.5 miles

It is Monday morning, I am not at work, I am on Jemima D - and the sun is shining! What more could I wish for?

Now, Jackie has been on Jemima D before us, and has left us a little gift, a bicycle. No ordinary bicycle this, it is a very special bicycle, it has small wheels, and is not quite adult sized. It is bright pink, and down the bar it says 'Miss Jackie' in bright letters. It is a bicycle completely devoid of street (or towpath) cred. It has one redeeming feature, in that there is no need to lock it up, as no lout would be seen dead touching it.

Neil, although a regular cyclist at home, has been a bit dubious about 'Miss Jackie', but now, in holiday mood, he takes to two wheels and disappears along the tow path. I am in stitches, as he rides his knees hit the handle bars, and he looks very uncomfortable. But he disappears down the hill into Gargrave, and returns with paper, milk and other boating necessities. I too braved the village - my first time on a bicycle for about 20 years I think! I even managed to cycle up the hill.

We rise up through the rest of the Gargrave locks, and are soon at Bank Newton. Here we find we have left a windlass behind, and Miss Jackie once more proves her worth! The ground paddles are a clever design here, and work by lever, difficult to lift, but fortunately quick and easy to shut.

Halfway up Bank Newton Locks, I am distracted while in a lock and Jemima D catches on an overhanging stone. Neil drops the paddles, and all is soon well.

We now traverse the most wonderful stretch of canal, as we snake around the contours. We can see where we are going to be in ten minutes time, and it appears to be just a stones throw away, but meanwhile we follow the contour to the head of the valley, negotiate a hairpin bend and return on a parallel course.

The scenery is wonderful, the sun is out, and it is a most perfect crisp autumn day. I think to myself that if it rains for the rest of the week I won't care, this one day is worth a whole week!

We are soon at East Marton, where we stop at the Cross Keys (over the bridge and up the hill) where there is a warm welcome, despite the fact that they are having trouble getting the open fire going. The food looked good, but we had bought our lunch in Gargrave, so we stuck with the beer.

The walk along the road was a little alarming, with speeding trucks and no pavement, not the thing we wanted after such a tranquil morning.

At Greenberfield locks we come across a fisherman who has made an incredible catch - two enormous fish. But he has no camera, so we take a photo and promise to send it on, so that he can prove to his mates that he was not exaggerating.

We have visited Barnoldswick once before, on a brief weekend trip last autumn, and wisely pass by the opportunity to visit again. Instead we head for the pleasant, welcoming Anchor at Saltersforth. Good mooring, wholesome food, and a pub with plenty of history and stalactites in the cellar.

Neil swaps Rugby tales with the landlord, and we listen to the enthusiasm of two first time hirers as they tell all the locals who will listen of the wonders of the canals. They have come from Chorley, and are obviously becoming seriously addicted to the cut.

Day 4 - Tuesday October 5th 1999

Salterforth to Burnley

1 tunnel, 7 locks, 10.5 miles

It is Tuesday morning, I am not at work, I am on Jemima D - and the sun is shining! What more could I wish for? We leave late and travel from Salterforth to Foulridge, arriving in time to go into the tunnel at 12. However, we decide to moor up and visit the famous 'Hole in the Wall', only so that we can see the picture of the famous (infamous) cow that swam through Foulridge tunnel (nothing to do with the beer, you must understand   ;-)

The Hole in the Wall was shut, so was the New Inn and the Hare and Hounds!

In fact Foulridge was shut, even the Café by the wharf was shut!

We wandered back to Jemima D and checked the headlight was working. Neil got on Miss Jackie and headed off across the top, while I waited for the bank of lights to change to green (it was a bit like the start of a Grand Prix, rather than a canal tunnel entrance!) and took Jemima through. I enjoyed my trip through, although I'm glad I was the only boat as the fumes were quite bad, but the stalactites were worth it! I don't know why they have so many lights - the tunnel is 14ft wide - and you can see all the way through, so it would be easy at this time of year to just take a visual check and go for it! I can see that in the busier months, it would be different, but as we didn't meet another boat for miles it hardly seemed necessary to have timed entrance. No namby pamby tunnel this, I only saw 2 arrows telling you the quickest way out, I suppose poor Buttercup had the same problem!

At the other end, Neil was waiting, and we soon left the summit pound via Barrowford Locks. These were a lovely set of locks, sadly ruined by the Motorway that roars overhead. We pottered through Nelson and then found ourselves above the rooftops of Burnley, a strange and spectacular place to be!

The BW yard at Rose Hill was shut and sadly decayed, but it did look as though they may be about to start renovating it. We headed on past, to bridge 130 where we were welcomed by a family of Swans. The wharf here has been nicely renovated, and there is a museum (only open weekends at this time of year). The Inn on the Wharf provides good moorings right beside the entrance, and soon found ourselves pondering their excellent menu. The meal was top quality - and not too expensive - plenty to eat, beautifully presented and very delicious. I had salmon and broccoli fishcakes and Neil had pan-fried duck with plum sauce. All very yummy.

Later we headed off into Burnley to find cashpoints and post boxes, and then visited The Mechanics for a lovely pint of 'Dorothy Goodbody', a beer I have never seen before, but liked very much. Indeed we liked it so much we had some more! We returned to the Wharf after closing time, and instead of taking the short route through the bar had to find our way onto the towpath from the bridge.

Day 5 - Wednesday October 6th 1999

Burnley to Blackburn

1 tunnel, 0 locks, 15 miles

It is Wednesday morning, I am not at work, I am on Jemima D - and the sun is shining!

It is Bric-a-brac day at Burnley market, so Neil and I decide to go and explore. I manage to buy a bread-bin for Jemima D and Neil buys some clippers for his beard!

We decide we like Burnley. It is well worth the visit, and is very welcoming.

We leave Burnley, via Gannow Tunnel, stopping at Rose Grove to use the temporary sanni-station, dump rubbish and take on water. We ring our friend Paul, and arrange to meet him at Clayton-le moors, and head off into the countryside. Once again we are coming across swing bridges - but fortunately only 3, and we meet the only other moving boat of the day at the first, so were able to go straight through. The canal is on an exposed hillside here, and the views are spectacular.

The motorway is never far away, and at one point we spectacularly cross above it, but it never really intrudes. At Clayton-le-moors we moor up at the wrong bridge 114B, and then move on to 114A.

The pub we chose to meet Paul at (The Hare and Hounds) is closed, (possibly permanently) but we eventually meet up, and visit another (The Vaults I think it was called - by bridge 114B!) The beer here is good, so we end up buying a 4 pint take-away in a plastic jug. Paul will need this before the day is out, as he is about to be initiated into the delights of steering a narrowboat.

We set off, and soon Paul is at the tiller, and thoroughly enjoying himself, as he soon gets the hang of it. Indeed, it is hard to get him off the tiller for the rest of the afternoon. I knew he had to go to a meeting in the evening, so had planned his visit so that we could drop him off in Rishton where he would be only a couple of miles from his car. But Paul was enjoying himself too much, and eventually stayed with us til the outskirts of Blackburn. We dropped him off in near darkness by a motorway bridge and retail park - now almost deserted - and hoped that he would get home safely! We also arranged to meet him the following day.

We cruised the last two miles into Blackburn in the dark. Not too difficult as there were plenty of lights, and we were soon at Eanam Wharf. Our beer supplies were now exhausted, so we headed into Blackburn for food and drink.

Food was a bit difficult, although we eventually found an Italian restaurant near the town hall (Tiggi's) and had a pleasant meal. We did a lot of walking that night, and managed to get lost on our way back out of Blackburn, but we were soon back near Eanam Wharf, which has a good landmark in the shape of the Thwaites Brewery. We called in at the Brewery Tap, where we are the only customers, but the Landlord is friendly and chatty, and deserves more business. I think this is probably a busy pub by day, but it is a bit out on a limb for evening trade.

We make friends with the pub cat, and then climb back up the hill to a warm and cosy Jemima D.

Day 6 - Thursday October 7th 1999

Blackburn to Johnson's Hill

6 locks, 8.5 miles

It is Thursday morning, I am not at work, I am on Jemima D - and the sun is NOT shining! But it isn't raining.

A trip to the supermarket this morning, and then Paul arrives in time for (late) Breakfast - toasted teacakes (well, burnt teacakes). We are soon on our way, and begin the Blackburn locks; Paul is very impressed with my tiller skills as I slip into the first lock effortlessly. I even manage to repeat the trick at the second, but at the third I rather blot my copy book as the wind catches me at the wrong moment, and I bash into the closed gate, much maneuvering is required before I am safely in, so my reputation is shot.

By now Paul has a windlass in hand, and is being tutored in the arts of lock working by Neil.

We stop half way down for the dunny dump, the facilities here are neat and clean, and they have showers. I wish these were marked in Nicholsons, as I would have walked down for a shower this morning if I had known they were there. (Does anyone know whether there is a list of showers anywhere? Perhaps it is something Syd could add to his planner?) [Editor's Note: Canal Planner for Windows, an excellent piece of software, see the Canal Planner website]

At bridge 99 there is one more lock to go, but there is also a pub - The Moorings - with good views of the cut. The sun has come out and we spend a pleasant hour or so enjoying a bite of lunch, a few pints and a game of pool (which I lost). Paul has to go back to work now, but we are soon locking down and are soon back out into open countryside.

A quiet, pleasant run through to Johnson Hillock, although we are overtaken by another boat about a mile from the locks, the only other moving boat we have seen all day. He is single handed, and has booked a passage down the Wigan flight for Friday noon, so can't hang around.

We moor up at the top of the locks, we are lucky to find a mooring here, as it is usually busy, but there is just a little 35ft gap for Jemima on the visitor moorings. We visit the very nice Top Lock pub, friendly and pleasant, (food served all evening).

We meet our friends Annette and Neville (who live near Chorley) and have a good evening catching up on each others news. We manage to convince them that they would love to come for a boat trip on Saturday, only gently hinting at the fact that we will be descending the Wigan flight that day!

Day 7 - Friday October 8th 1999

Johnson's Hill to Red Rock

7 locks, 8 miles

It is Friday morning, I am not at work, I am on Jemima D - and the sun is NOT shining! But it isn't raining.

We are running short of coal, and Neil has been told there is a coal yard nearby, so he sets off on Miss Jackie to see what he can find. He manages to find the coal yard, but there is no sign of anyone to buy any coal from. (I refrain from suggesting that they may be in an office somewhere helpless with mirth at the sight of a grown man on a pink bicycle!) In any case there is no way of transporting the coal from yard to boat, unless we fetch it by the bucketful. So we move on, down this beautiful set of locks.

It is a pity the weather isn't so good today, but at least the rain is holding off. We look longingly at the Walton Summit Branch (Jemima D watchers will know that we like to explore arms and branches). However, it looks completely unnavigable, and there are too many fishermen around to even make a token gesture of interest, which is probably just as well as it looks very silted up.

At Botany Bay we moor up and visit the Railway (not marked in Nicholsons). This is a pleasant pub, with very nice black and white canal drawings on the walls (marked up with prices). I was tempted, but decided against buying one there and then. (I frequently travel this way for work, and may call in nearer Christmas!) We don't stop long as we still need to find coal, and don't want to be too late when we reach the next two boatyards.

We travel round the back of Chorley, and moor up at L&L cruisers, where we buy two bags of coal and a fistful of postcards (we have only managed to write two so far, and need to get cracking). We are soon on our way again and arrive at Red Rock where there is plenty of room on the visitor moorings. We visit the Crawford Arms, to write postcards and study the menu. After a while I went back to Jemima - the stove was lit as usual, and she would be warm and cosy, despite the cold and rain that had descended on us. I wasn't the only one to think so, as I stepped aboard I heard a miaow and a cat leapt out of the darkness, and was waiting, purring, on the bottom step for the door to open. She was in before me, and was soon curled up on my knee by the stove. When Neil returned he gave her some milk, and then we threw her out into the cold and wet while we went for a meal. Neil saved some of his gammon for her, but we fed her on the towpath when we got home, as we didn't want her to settle in too much. Apparently she lives on the towpath and begs her food from passing boats. She seemed very fit and healthy on it, I had assumed she was from one of the cottages as she didn't seem feral. I guess she must have been lost off a boat at some time, and she seems to be waiting for her home to return. Of course, at the end of the summer she is likely to be at her best, I hope the winter isn't too hard on her. If we lived aboard we might have made more of a fuss of her, but I'm not sure that she would have fitted in with all Jemima's owners (e.g. Baggins!).

Day 8 - Saturday October 9th 1999

Johnson's Hill to Red Rock

23 locks, 5 miles

We awoke this morning, flexing our muscles and limbering up for the Wigan Flight. But help was at hand. Annette and Neville arrived, and we were soon underway. By 12 noon we had fed them breakfast, and we turned into the top of the flight. They were issued with windlass and anti-vandal keys, and began to work the top lock under Neil's guidance.

Then, out of nowhere, a cleric on a bicycle appeared. After brief introductions David told us that there was a boat coming up, about 10 locks ahead of us, and then went ahead to set locks. Neil disappeared into Kirklees Hall to replenish our 4 pint container to fortify us down the flight. He was gone a long time. (I later found out that they were unwilling to accept his word that the container held 4 pints, and decided to fill it with water and measure it!)

Meanwhile I was instructing Annette and Neville in lock working from the boat. They were trying hard, but I had to make sure that every paddle was down and locked before the next was opened!

I think David wondered what we were up to, as our progress was slow and inefficient until Neil reappeared! However, there was something satisfying about our progress after that. As we emerged from each lock, the next gate was open and I was able to go straight in. At the same time, I would catch the flash of colour, a bit like an orange spectre up ahead, as the gate to the lock below was opened, and David leapt onto his bicycle to cycle to the next.

Annette and Neville left us at 1 o'clock, as they had a prior appointment with Bristol City who were playing Preston that afternoon! (I never did find out who won). We eventually met the boat coming up, and they seemed to be making a pigs ear of things. Our progress may have been slow, but they had only come up through a couple of locks while we had come down 8! I think they were planning to take a full week to come up. Although their BW escort obviously had other ideas.

By now Neil was listening to the Rugby on the radio Wales v Japan. Locking was interspersed with cries of encouragement, as the game ebbed and flowed. However, I was not going to voluntarily give up the tiller. I was extracting fair compensation for this time last year when we came up through the flight while Neil had his arm in a sling and Mike and I worked all the locks. However, with only three locks to go, we did swap, and I got to flex my muscles. We broke into the flagon of beer, to see us through the last two locks, and then having moored by Trencherfield Mill, the three of us moved to The Orwell. It was nice to be able to thank David properly for his invaluable assistance.

A pleasant evening out in Wigan followed - we went into the pub across from the Railway Station, which was very much a 'rugby' pub, and were made welcome. We watched The Life of Brian on the telly, and then wandered back to spend our last night on Jemima D.

Day 9 - Sunday October 10th 1999


2 locks

It is our last day, and Paul has kindly offered to take me back to my car in Skipton. We drive back across the Pennines, stopping for a lunchtime pint in Foulridge, which is now open! We manage to visit the Hole in the Wall - and see the pictures of Buttercup, the cow that swam through the tunnel.

We are soon in Skipton, and it takes me 65minutes to drive back the route that has just taken us a week!

We move our belongings from Jemima to the car, and then move up two locks to leave Jemima D at the Junction of the LL and Leigh branch, where David can keep an eye on her for us. We sadly leave Jemima, and set off for home.

Another lovely trip. We have enjoyed Pennine waters, and will find it hard to adjust to life on the busier routes. We thought it a busy day when we met more than two boats moving. We liked the wide open spaces and the glorious backdrop of the Pennines; the proud industrial heritage and friendly welcome that we received.

Only one trip down the weed hatch all holiday, lots of friends (old and new), plenty of good beer and food. Jemima D as ever behaved herself like a real lady, and was very forgiving of our little errors. And a special thank you to Paul and David for their help.

We are sad to be leaving.

Until next time...


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