Friday, 31 July 2015


We were sneaky this morning – stole off our mooring very early to fill up at the water point and reverse back to the same place – we want to be tied up there over the weekend. I was pleased that both the new sound insulation and doing everything at tickover meant I could hardly hear Erin Mae myself, so I don't think anyone else could.

Staying put for a few more days is part of the lead up to the Norwegian grandchildren coming shortly. And today, with the Met Office saying it wasn't going to rain, we decided to check out what we think we'll do with them during the couple of days we intend to spend in Gargrave. So it was onto the bus again and then, of course, we needed to check the quality of the coffee at the Dalesman tea rooms.

Took a while to do that.

Then we walked past the memorial in the square, and up to St Michael's church. Two things struck me there. The first was the decorations on the organ pipes.

The second was an A4 booklet detailing all the stained glass windows of the building, linking them to Bible passages, and inviting the reader to think about their response. It was very well done and I've never seen anything presented in quite this way before. I thought it deserved a clap, but since we were in church, I confined myself to leaving a long piece of applause in the visitors' book comments section.

In Gargrave there is a fine expanse of recreation ground alongside the River Aire, and I'm sure we'll be doing some paddling in a couple of weeks, between bouts of French cricket. But today it was time to find the Pennine Way out of the village southwards (i.e. in the opposite direction from the field where our feet got saturated with liquid manure last week). We found ourselves climbing to where there are some grand views across the valleys.

The route turned out to be exactly what we had wanted for the children – it should stretch them without exhausting them, and give them an experience of something very different from what they're used to. We found a good lunch spot, but ate our own lunch at the 5th lock of the Bank Newton flight, before turning down the towpath back towards Gargrave.

It was between the first and second of the Gargrave locks that, much to our surprise, we encountered CRT's chief executive Richard Parry, walking along the towpath in the company of Canal Boat magazine columnist Steve Haywood. Later on we passed Steve's boat NB Justice moored up.

Now Steve's column suggests he's not afraid of offering his own critique of waterway matters, so I imagine they've been having a very interesting afternoon (or longer). Be that as it may, we stopped to say hello and have a brief chat. From the distance at which we sit, it seems that Richard has so far been making a very good fist of an extremely complicated role. Really enjoyed running into you both, gentlemen, and I hope you enjoyed your walk.

I also hope the route we've established will have the same soporific effect on the children in a couple of weeks as it seems to have had on us today!

Thursday, 30 July 2015


The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, a volunteer-run, steam engine-pulled, step-back-in-time project like others of its ilk, is known particularly for its part in The Railway Children (1970 version). It also runs through Haworth, of Brontë sisters fame.

We expect to take a ride on a different steam railway in a couple of weeks, and didn't want to wait 30 minutes in the station for the next arrival here. We were, after all, well acquainted with this mode of transport in our youth! But we enjoyed seeing what this group are doing, and the way it is integrated with the wider railway network.

Keighley is a bit of a walk from the canal as you pass, but we'd decided to pay a visit by bus while moored up in Skipton.

The town is another product, I suppose, of the way the industrial revolution and its aftermath impacted Yorkshire. The canopies standing out from this row of shops reminded me of somewhere else, but I can't think where.

The stonework down the row has these carvings at regular intervals. They must surely have marked the owner's, designer's or builder's pride in what they were doing – in the same way as the function of a particular stone building (Library, Secondary School, Technical Institute or some such) was often carved into the facia by the benefactor(s) who built it.

The construction of most of the workers' houses, of course, was of a somewhat different quality. The backdrop to them, however, was often stunning.

One of the features of this part of Airedale is the way small or larger groups of houses nestle beneath the hills…

or the trees.

There are also some more recent additions to the skyline.

We didn't spend long in Keighley, and it no doubt has certain worthy aspects that escaped our attention, quite apart from the people who were all very friendly. Nicholson's guide has some kind comments about the town, but ends by suggesting that the main attraction of the "large Perpendicular" parish church building is "its shady churchyard." We didn't feel the need to go and inspect it.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Parked up

"Operation Stack" is apparently responsible for 3600 lorries currently queueing on the M20, as various authorities try to cope with what's going on around the Chunnel. Some of those drivers must be dying of boredom.

I wondered how we'd cope with our plans for parking up and spending a while in Skipton and its environs, while waiting for the Norwegians to come over in August. On other journeys in Erin Mae, we've seldom stopped for more than a day, so this period is unusual. However, I'd been thinking in terms of sunny, lazy days on the borders of the Yorkshire Dales, punctuated with barbecues on the towpath and regular episodes of developing competence and confidence in respect of boat painting. I'd forgotten that in Yorkshire the rain usually has a hand in events.

So here we are, moored up in Skipton still, with the rain streaming down, no desire to go anywhere and certainly no possibility of painting. Today's gloomy afternoon reminds me a little of those days in Edinburgh when Saturday afternoon's hockey match got cancelled because of the weather, and I was left in a frustrated and unusually depressed state with seemingly nothing to do and unsatisfied adrenalin wreaking havoc with my mood.

Well now, my soul, why so sad? There's good food in the kitchen and the prospect of some great savoury flavours tonight, the Met Office is promising sunshine for tomorrow as we think about exploring towards Keighley and, after the shambles of Lords, England are doing rather well in the Test Match. There are many people in the world who don't have it half so good!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Horseless carriage

Edit: Of all the silly things I put "Horse carriage" instead of "Horseless Carriage" in both title and text. Now corrected.

That's what it said at the top of our bus tickets to Grassington today: "Horseless Carriage services".

It was "Pride of the Dales" service 72, free to us bus pass users. Friendly pilot Joe's style matched his smile.

We'd travelled up from Skipton in lieu of (a) cruising in the wet, or (b) sitting in Erin Mae all day, or (c) something better that we couldn't think of.

A couple of decades ago we'd had a very nice caravan holiday near Grassington, and wanted to pay our respects. It's a picture postcard place, even in the wet.

The village depends a good deal on Yorkshire Dales tourism, but it was nice to find evidence of a thriving local community, as we visited the "hub" and library.

CoffeEco, especially the upstairs room, was a great place for a Mocha while watching the rain through the windows.

 Then we bought a couple of rolls for our lunch from Walkers.

They were so good and such value that I went back afterwards to thank the lady who'd made them.

The National Park Centre just a short way from the centre was well worth a visit – with the benefit of having a place where you could eat sandwiches under cover. Then we wandered back up to the Folk museum, stashed full of mining memorabilia, the odd fossil and things your grandparents might have used in their youth.

I was intrigued to see a 1969 slide-rule, something we'd been discussing a few weeks ago with someone under 40, whose incredulity was a pleasure to watch.

By the time we'd finished in the museum we felt we'd done what we came to do, but there was the best part of an hour before the bus home. We decided to patronise the other café on the main street as a good alternative to getting soaked on the seat by the bus-stop.

A less successful visit, I'm afraid. The tables were so close together that anyone carrying a bit more ballast than ourselves wouldn't have stood a chance, and I didn't have the nerve to ask what it was about the Earl Grey teabag that made it worth 30p more than the one containing Yorkshire Tea. Win some, lose some. It kept us dry and warm for 40 minutes until the horseless carriage arrived.

Not out of place in the Folk museum would have been the trio who were the main item at Skipton Folk Club last night.

INPO (stands for "in no particular order", but we didn't learn why they're called that) are an a cappella group who sing a range of songs from the folk tradition, music hall, and giddy nonsense they've set to music. They were very good fun, and everyone joined in the joining-in parts with enthusiasm.

I think we've been coping with the Yorkshire wet pretty well.

Monday, 27 July 2015


One of the things about being our sort of age is that we rely on regularly ingesting certain chemicals to keep us functioning as we should. No, I don't mean ethanol or noxious substances obtained down a dark alleyway. I mean what the GP has decided is in our best interests, and supplied by the most reputable pharmaceutical companies.

Equally, one of the things about being our sort of boater is that we are away from home longer than our doctors' practice is prepared to issue prescriptions for. Inevitably, we run out and have to make arrangements. Up until now, that's worked pretty well – they fax a prescription through to a pharmacy where we can pick up the goodies. However, for the pharmacy to claim from the NHS they need the original prescription, which therefore has to be sent in the post. Our practice has realised that this costs them the price of a stamp and an envelope, so they are now asking us to provide an SAE. We, of course, have had to post that to them, and this costs us the price of two envelopes and two stamps!

Ah well, I don't suppose it will break the bank, and it got us into the Post Office which shares its space with a Subway. The pillar box was very bright and cheerful, and completely unnecessary as there is a gold pillar box just across the road celebrating Danielle Brown, who won a Paralympics Archery gold at the last Olympics.

As well as to our prescriptions, an update is required to to the Tolkien-themed boat names list. After posting the most recent version yesterday, I realised I'd omitted two names collected last autumn. So the list is now:

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Earls of Rohan
Lord of the Rings
Many Meetings
There and Back Again

There. Up to date.

Sunday, 26 July 2015


I reckon it starts around Manchester as you move north on the west side of the network. The huge increase, that is, in the frequency with which police or ambulance sirens clamour for your attention. I'd wondered whether, as we moved across among the peaceable people of Yorkshire and the "Gateway to the Dales", the incidence might decrease, but it doesn't seem to have done so. Nor, I have to say, is Skipton the quietest place I've been in at 2 a.m. It seems to have its own population of party-goers, clubbers and boy racers, released from their evening's entertainment at that point and determined to continue it at high volume in the vicinity of the canal. Loud, raucous singers they were – beguiling sirens they most certainly were not! I suppose it's possible we're on a particularly vulnerable mooring.

The enthusiasm of the singing in the church we joined for Sunday worship this morning easily matched that of the revellers last night, but the style was invigorating rather than depressing, and the welcome was very friendly. Afterwards the promised rain arrived as we walked up to the High Street to find somewhere for a Sunday roast. The rain wasn't heavy but the gloom certainly didn't encourage photography. Undeterred, I decided to snap the cheeriest sight we saw along the way.

Only a holiday cottage, but the baskets and the climbing rose looked pretty against the Yorkshire stonework. And, for a moment, there were no sirens or racing engines to be heard.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Lord of the Rings

When we first started travelling on Erin Mae, we quickly realised that boat names can reflect many different personalities, senses of humour, ways of thinking. You get plays on words (like "Narrow Escape"), you get boats named after somebody's mother, you get Irish, Scottish and Australian allusions, and references to historical figures. I've seen Greek words and Welsh words. The list is endless.

Among them all we've spotted Tolkien-themed names, and I began to draw up a list. It seemed to dry up last autumn, but coming into Skipton we saw a new one: Lord of the Rings.

Now that seemed to be a splendid name for a boat that had cruised the Four Counties, and the Cheshire Ring, and others old or new. Unfortunately, the way this particular boat was encrusted with floating fenders, not to mention the pristine state of its blacking, suggested that it seldom goes anywhere, let alone down the Rochdale Nine, which made me rather sad. Perhaps I'm being unkind, and the owners just had a paint-job done.

Be that as it may, the list now reads:

Arwen Evenstar
Bilbo Baggins
Earls of Rohan
Lord of the Rings
Many Meetings
There and Back Again

No one else has ever made any contributions to the list, so perhaps it's of interest only to myself. Ah me! But I sometimes wonder what Tolkien name I myself might choose. Treebeard, perhaps, might suit my hirsuteness and the pace of life. But Tom Bombadil rode the river, and yet seems to have a rather unusual connection with the world at large, as do many boaters. Those who have only seen the films and not read the books, of course, won't have any idea what I'm talking about.

Friday, 24 July 2015


Skipton canal basin is pretty busy. On our return from Gargrave the first place we came to was past the junction, opposite the CRT service point. Although it's not the most attractive, the moorings are OK and provide very easy access to the town, but where we're tied up it's like Piccadilly Circus as everyone stops for water and widebeams squeeze by. There's quite a lot of hire-boat business, with several yards in the vicinity offering day-trips and day-boats as well as weekly hire.

The day had come for our friend Margaret to return to Edinburgh, but there was time this morning for a quick walk up to visit the Craven Museum. Its material on local history and archaeology was interesting without, to my mind, being stunning. By far the most interesting exhibit is a Shakespeare First Folio, opened to his play about King John in recognition of the Magna Carta celebrations in Skipton (and the rest of the country) this year. I didn't even know Shakespeare had written a play about King John!

Then it was off to "Forage" at the top of the High Street where Margaret treated us to coffee. There's a pleasant garden with tables overlooking the Springs Branch of the canal.

We didn't really need a menu, but they came anyway and turned out to be very unusual. They were The Observer's Book of Music and The Observer's Book of Birds, both from the 1950s. Over several of the pages inside had been glued sections from the menu. I'm not sure who had decided that this page or that was sufficiently unworthy and could be obliterated by a menu section. But we had fun, reading through the entry for (e.g.) the flute, reminding ourselves how educationalists in the 1950s imagined that young people imbibed knowledge. The descriptions were excellent, but rather wordy (a bit like this blog). However, we were also able to confirm that the bird we'd seen in the fields on Wednesday really had been an oystercatcher, even though there was no recognition in the book that it could live anywhere but round the coast.

Well, we duly delivered Margaret to the railway station and saw her off on an over-crowded train. On the platform we met three other travellers. They weren't going to Edinburgh, just down the track a few stations to Baildon. Pat, Joan and Janet are three sisters who had been in Skipton buying brushes and some kitchenware for making lemon curd.

We had a great natter. Nice to chat, ladies!

Wonder who'll we'll meet tomorrow.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Taking a turn

Pete Seeger (from Ecclesiastes): To everything there is a season – Turn! Turn! Turn! Today was the season for turning, and returning to Skipton after our brief sojourn in Gargrave. These two ladies were for turning, and turn they did.

Wind-lasses they were – windlasses in hand, paddles up and paddles down, but only the three Gargrave locks to do.

In the third we joined a hiring family having a great few days. When asked, Junior said he liked the driving best of all the boating bits, and duly piloted his boat out of the lock once we'd dropped.

Moored up in Skipton again, we went for an afternoon stroll. If you walk up the Springs branch of the canal you can climb up to a walkway behind the castle that overlooks this dead-end.

It leads past a 14th century corn mill complete with rotting water-wheel, now housing a number of shops, and up to an 18th century sawmill, now converted into residence and holiday cottages.

The old mill races are not easy to trace, though you occasionally find water cascading down a cliff from what is presumably a leak in one.

This all leads on to some woodland walks.

There are some steep ups and downs, including some impressive gorges which must have played a defensive role for the castle in the past. There are views out across the Yorkshire landscape.

And there are some views of Eller Beck, which always look best in the sunshine.

We actually walked this route in reverse order. We'd gone up to Skipton tourist information centre as it was about to close, and decided to walk up the road alongside the castle. Finding ourselves in the car-park at the top we debated whether to walk back down or see if there was a way from there to the paths at the back. So we asked Jo, the car-park attendant, who was having a very sleepy late afternoon. He was good fun to chat with, gave us a map and showed us how to access the woods from that end. Serendipity!

So in the end we had a great walk, taking a turn around these wood, as an alternative to falling asleep in our chairs after yesterday's exertions. Margaret from Edinburgh and myself are hoping we can stay awake long enough to enjoy the sweet and sour turkey meatballs that my best beloved is preparing.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Walking day today. Well, in one direction at least. We caught the bus from Gargrave up to Malham, and walked the mile further to Malham Cove.

My best beloved and I had been here many years ago, and climbed to the top to walk on the extraordinary limestone pavement, which shelters many unusual plants.

This time, however, we contented ourselves with walking to the cove at the base of the cliff, where the River Aire emerges. We're going to meet this river again in a few weeks time, I fancy, under very different conditions.

We sat down to drink our coffee…

and while we were there, Jack and Rachel came up the path.

Rachel is Access Warden for the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Jack had suffered a spinal injury seven years ago, and together they were exploring access issues for the Park Authority.

Jack's vehicle was a "Mountain Trike". I had never seen one before, and neither had our friend Margaret, though she specialised in spinal injuries when working as an occupation therapist. Great to meet you, guys! It was a fascinating conversation.

Our task was now to walk back to Gargrave along the Pennine Way. The signpost at Gargrave had suggested it was just over 5 miles to Malham. It was actually nearer 7, according to other signposts and my GPS device. That made for a total of over 9 miles for the day – rather more than we'd planned. Overnight the Met Office had removed the final raindrop from the website forecast for the day, but this is Yorkshire, and it drizzled for about half the time. Even so, it was a stunning piece of countryside to walk through.

Across the fields a couple of oystercatchers were playing games in the rain.

Up hill and down dale we walked, and then we found ourselves in a field which a farmer was dosing with large amounts of smelly slurry. We couldn't avoid picking it up on shoes and socks and trousers, and by the time we got back to Erin Mae we were smelling very ripe. We've rinsed out socks and trousers, but even 10 minutes under the tap couldn't eradicate the stink from my trainers. I think we'll leave them out overnight. If the smell's gone in the morning, all to the good. I doubt whether anyone is going to nick them!