On the day after we had our lovely walk around Haworth I heard that there’s definitely a job for me this winter on the IT support desk at the Royal Stoke Hospital. All I need to do is get there ASAP. The simplest way to Stoke from the Leeds & Liverpool is via the Bridgewater and the Trent & Mersey. We MUST make it up ‘Heartbreak Hill’ on the T & M before 2nd November as the top lock is shutting for winter maintenance. As a result we’ve been on a mission, boating at hire boaters’ pace, starting early and doing long days.
This is what 7.30am looked like at the top of Barrowford locks.
Since the clocks went back on Sunday we’ve been starting out at 6.30am so were up early enough to catch a glimpse of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter before the sun rose and they disappeared.
The section through the swing bridges between Skipton and Gargrave was, to say the least, challenging. It was blowing a hooley and the boat was pinned to the bank more than once. Our final views of the Pennines were stunning, going some way towards making up for the difficult cruising conditions.
We’ve had loads of help from CRT staff, volunteers and enthusiastic bystanders along the way. Arriving late at Bank Newton Locks, we were surprised to find the most famous lock-keeper in the country, Barry Whitelock, still on duty after 5pm. I suspect we weren’t a welcome sight, but he saw us up most of the flight with the level of skill and speed you’d expect from someone who, for years, operated the locks on the Bingley Five Rise. He’s the longest serving lock-keeper in the country and was awarded the MBE in 2006 for services to the northern inland waterways.
At the other end of the age spectrum, we were helped through the locks in Blackburn by Hayley.
The lower pounds had been emptied and she was part of the crew sent to rectify the problem. She’s been employed by CRT for a couple of years now and it was good to see that there is some enthusiastic ‘young blood’ coming along to learn the ropes from older hands like Barry before they all retire, taking their invaluable knowledge with them.
Yesterday we found ourselves to be the only boat tackling the Wigan flight of 21 locks, most of which were set against us.
We did manage to recruit some child labour near the top. Isaac and his sister were enthusiastic helpers while their mother, who was minding Isaac’s teddy, watched on.
Nearer the bottom of the flight, we were assisted by a volunteer lock-keeper who said he’d have been there sooner if he’d realised that there was a boat on the flight. Still, we were flagging by then and his help through the last seven or so locks was much appreciated.
In six days we’ve travelled seventy five miles and operated fifty eight locks as well as more swing bridges than I care to think about. From now on life gets a lot easier as all but two of the remaining thirty six locks are narrow and ever so much easier to work. Our goal of getting to Stoke by Sunday is looking very achievable.