David decided to celebrate the beginning of his 70th year in style by booking a four-day cruise on a narrow boat from Skipton to Saltaire and back. We warned our friends, Jim and Sue, that it would be a working holiday and they rose to the occasion magnificently. Sue took care of most of the catering while Jim thoroughly enjoyed himself working locks and swing bridges. (Photo – David, on left, and Jim being briefed at Skipton on how to operate the narrow boat. For full gallery of photos click on this picture.)
Starting from Skipton meant we could do the basic shopping at a supermarket and also buy some great pork pies in the town. Both Sue and Jim had been on narrow boat cruises before and voted the Skipton to Saltaire route as the best they have ever been on, not just for the famous five- and three-rise locks at Bingley, but because of the mixture of natural scenic beauty and industrial architecture.
Jim very aptly compared living on a narrow boat to a game of chess where each move had to be carefully planned. Our first problem was finding a safe place for Raq, David’s blind elderly dog, especially when we were loading the Pennine Cruiser boat Leyburn. David was initially shocked that I had made Raq cosy in the heads (toilets) but at least his cocker spaniel was safe from our trampling feet. Later we made a bed for him in a corner of the fore cabin.
Unlike Sue and Jim’s Monty Raq wasn’t up to walking for hours along the towpaths. But he did enjoy getting out for a while each day to sniff all those interesting smells left by other dogs. Sadly many owners hadn’t cleared up after them so one of the problems along the towpaths was dog mess. (Right – Jim, Sue and Monty at Hirst lock.)
At Silsden where we moored on the first night we found another problem – an over officious guard in the shape of a white duck. At regular intervals throughout the night it and its feathered platoon loudly quacked their way up and down that stretch of the canal. And when guard duties were over it led its followers onto the patio of a house and made sure the poor owner had plenty to clean up when she came home from work.
When Sue and Jim took Monty for a walk early that morning at Silsden they came back dripping as it was raining so hard. So Jim put his full waterproofs on ready for opening and shutting all those swing bridges. Thankfully the weather improved and for most of our journey to and from Saltaire the sun shone and we could enjoy all the brilliant autumn colours.
On our second day we made a successful and memorable descent of the locks at Bingley thanks to the lock keepers – Barry at the five-rise and John at the three-rise. That night we moored at Shipley and then went back to Saltaire the following morning. What a fascinating place! David and I will definitely return to visit the 1853 Gallery at Salts Mill and to study Titus Salt’s model village. And we did find a bakery which sold curd tarts. As Sue said – how could they visit Yorkshire and not buy some of those.
By the time we left Saltaire Raq had become quite demanding about his morning sniffawalk. He wasn’t that interested in keeping up with the boat – there were far more important things to do!
On our way back we were grateful for the help of Nick the lock keeper at the two-rise lock at Dowley Gate. It took longer to go up the three-rise and five-rise locks with this operation being carefully co-ordinated by Barry and John as there were three other boats besides ours. By late afternoon we had reached Riddlesden which meant that the following morning Jim, Sue and Monty had a delightful walk in the grounds of East Riddlesden Hall.
On our last full day of gentle cruising Sue made sure she was back on board with Monty before we reached “cow shit bridge”. This swing bridge near Skipton allows a farmer to move his cows from his fields to the milking parlour (see photos below). For Jim it was not an easy task moving that bridge! There was a sense of power, however, at the road bridges that had flashing lights and barriers!
Those road bridges reminded us, along with the roar of traffic along the main road to Bradford, that even if we were cruising along at two- to four-miles an hour we were not so far away from the hurly burly of the modern world. But it was nice for a while to live in a slower universe more like that when these remarkable canals were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Long may they continue to exist and be available to those like us who want to escape for a while. (Copy and photographs copyright of Pip Land).
Jim tried to close the bridges quickly so that he caused as little trouble for motorists and other road users. Below – What a lovely sight the cows made when crossing the bridge – but the view was not so great for Jim!
Monty may have been sad to leave the boat after all those great long walks. But Raq was delighted to get back to his home comforts!