Tuesday, 31 July 2012


We awoke to rain! Well, at least it was a very gentle drizzle which stayed with us off and on for most of the morning - after that the afternoon was grey but dry. We made a prompt start just after eight o'clock to give us more flexibility over arrangements for looking at the tiller arm.

River Don Navigation
Cadeby Quarry Wharf
Phone calls dominated the day as we coordinated arrangements with RCR. It seemed that the nearest option was Tulley's Marine Services in Rotherham and we estimated that we could be there for 2 pm.
We were still on a river section and the trees lining the banks softened - almost hid - any remaining signs of the industrial past of the area. The occasional remnant of a loading wharf gave brief glimpses of how the waterway was once used.

Conisborough Viaduct

Conisborough Viaduct
 The huge high level former Conisborough Viaduct gradually came into view as it strides across the valley. Passing underneath it is amazing to think just how many bricks had to be laid by hand, one at a time, to construct the pillars and arches.

Conisborough Viaduct
Conisborough Castle
Conisborough Castle - sad to say we had not heard of it before today - stands in the centre of the town some way above the river level so we only caught a glimpse of its 12th century keep through the trees.

The locks are huge! They were re-built and extended as recently as the 1980's in an attempt to revive water-borne freight and make few concessions to leisure users in 'tiny' narrowboats. Often the only place where it is possible to land below the lock is quite a walk from the first set of gates. (Lock landings are much closer above the locks).

Mexborough Low Lock
It is usually only possible to restrain the boat in the lock using riser lines. Mike found that, despite it looking as if the boat was close to the side, it could easily be just out of reach. By the time the day was over, he had developed his technique and was much more comfortable locking through.

Mexborough Top Lock
Leaving these locks, the other end seems a long way off. After all, they are more than one and half times the length of an Olympic swimming pool.

Mexborough New Cut
From Mexborough, the next five miles are a canal section and the outlook is very different, as the canal was constructed on flat land.

Waddington Lock
We stopped at Waddington Lock long enough to use the sani station  - but then had to manoeuvre around the Waddingtongs barges moored just below the lock. Their main base is above the lock in what was the end of the former Dearne and Dove canal, closed in the 1940's as a result of mining subsidence.

Kilnhurst Flood Lock
Kilnhurst Flood Lock was shut - we had hoped that as it is a flood lock it would be open but it protects the canal section from the river which we now re-joined. A former lock can be seen alongside. The rise was perhaps 300mm!

We now passed through the Parkgate Works - once a major iron and steel works but now substantially demolished although some parts are still operated as part of the Indian Tata company - formerly Corus and before that British Steel, but with a long history of important projects. Only some buildings are a reminder of how important the navigation one was including a large loading wharf.

Goole Princess in Aldwarke Lock
We arrived at Aldwarke Lock with a red light showing, which should indicate that a keeper is in attendance. However, nothing seemed to be happening so we pulled into the landing stage to investigate. The boater-operated panels were disabled with the top gates open. We called the emergency line and were soon called back by Dave the Lockie who promised to send someone out to help. Just then the keeper arrived soon followed by the reason: a large oil barge on its way to Goole. The keeper had set the lock before going off to meet the barge at another lock (a keeper has to shadow the barge all the way as none of the locks are now permanently manned). This one is scheduled to arrive at Goole by 8pm today!

Oil Barge Below Aldwarke Lock
Meanwhile, Christine had made a trip to the adjacent Asda and returned with some very tasty bread  - however it had to wait as we needed to press on to Tulley's.

Eastwood Lock
The last lock today was Eastwood - just above is another former Waddington's yard in what was the start of the former Greasbrough Canal, built to serve local mines but superseded by new fangled railways in the 1840's.

A little further and we reached Tulley's Marine Services - a line of moored boats obscured the tiny gate to the office in a small portacabin that had seen better days. The man who runs the site took a look at our tiller but concluded that he did not know how to fix it so it was back to RCR for Plan B.

Christine walked into the centre of Rotherham for some milk (which she missed at Asda). By the time she returned we had a call from Thorne marina who had been contacted by RCR. They cannot come to us until tomorrow morning. rather than stay where we were, moored doubled up, we opted reverse a short distance to a wide turning area and from there back to the proper visitor mooring above Eastwood Lock.

10.8 miles - 6 locks

Monday, 30 July 2012


We had travelled up from Wadebridge yesterday but arrived just before six o'clock after a remarkably smooth journey. We did not plan on moving today anyway, but the boat keys and safety certificate had not been left on board for us so we wanted to see about those in the morning. We were also relieved that we had brought our dinner already prepared (shepherds pie).

This morning, Mike went into Thorne for a paper whilst we waited for the marina office to open. When he returned he spoke to one of the local boaters and discovered that the marina office does not open on Monday or Tuesday!

We were just setting off when another local boater called the marina owner on our behalf and he apologised for the mistake - we agreed to arrange for them to deliver to us on our return trip from Sheffield. We do at least have a spare set of keys.

Thorne Footbridge
Once we were on our way - getting out of the marina took some time not helped by a strong cross wind but with positive help from the locals - we continued through Thorne which we passed through on the last trip. The awkward mechanised footbridge was not an obstacle this time as another boat was just ahead and opened it, letting us through as well. They were stopping at the marina just through the bridge so did not follow us to the next lock.

Thorne Lock
A large boat had just penned up but managed to set the controls into a confused state. There were several boats waiting to come down and lost of people giving advice. The lady from that boat eventually managed to get her key out of the controls (they are retained until everything is closed down properly) but then, with two boats now in the lock to pen down, the bottom sluices would not open. Eventually - ignoring all the 'helpful' advice - Mike managed eventually to persuade the controls to sequence correctly and we passed through without further incident.

Providence House
We continued as on the last trip - the burnt out car remains had been removed - this quirky scene caught Mike's eye (the house is called Providence House! the smaller boat is a seat) At Bramwith Swing bridge we were joined by a small cruiser who had been having lunch at the moorings. They too were going through Bramwith Lock.

Bramwith Lock Bottom Gates
This lock has an extra set of gates and we realised that the bottom gates were shut because the large boat had just penned through. When we came through last time we only used the shorter form of the lock but in the meantime these middle gates had failed and were chained up and marked 'Out of order' so we had to fill the whole lock anyway!
Bramwith Lock
Above the lock, just before Bramwith Junction, we stopped for lunch.

Bramwith Junction
Thorpe Marsh Cooling Towers
When we set off we were almost immediately on new territory as we turned down towards Sheffield at the junction. Ahead were the cooling towers of the now closed Thorpe Marsh power station - this is not the first we have passed where the generating station has been demolished but the cooling towers left standing. No doubt there is a reason and perhaps one day we will find out!
Barnby Dun Lift Bridge
We soon arrived at Barnby Dun Lift Bridge which is much larger than almost any other we have operated but, as it is fully mechanised, it was very simple to pass through. However, there was a most satisfying queue of traffic that built up in the few minutes that it took us to cycle through the opening and closing.

St Oswald's Church
Although the surrounding area was once very industrial, nature is rapidly reclaiming the immediate banks. At Sandall Grove a 12th century church is close to the canal. Sadly, the church is now redundant but a developer's web site says, "The ambitious £30 million plans to rebuild the lost village of Long Sandall on a redundant brownfield site on the edge of Kirk Sandall near Doncaster will once again place the historic St Oswald’s Church at the heart of the community."

Long Sandall Lock
Long Sandall lock is quite shallow but still very long and took a while to fill.

Doncaster Minster
We gradually approached Doncaster with the Minster impressively towering over the town centre. Underneath a railway and a road bridge is Doncaster Town Lock.

Doncaster Town Lock
The lock chamber is built from large scale sheet piling, meaning that the sides are not flat. manoeuvring the boat to exit through the gates which are much narrower than the lock chamber, Mike managed to catch the tiller arm in one of the indentations with the result that the arm is askew relative to the rudder. Steering is possible but not easy.

A1(M) Bridge
We carried on, passing HM Prison which is surrounded buy two arms of the River Don, and passed into a very different section, typical river setting with trees either side. Under two railway bridges and then the A1(M) high above us, we arrived at Sprotborough Lock our destination for today. Just above the lock are the last designated moorings for some distance so we were rather please that they were entirely empty - although another narrow boat did join us later.

Sprotborough Lock
Sprotborough Lock
Christine then set about phoning RCR and making arrangements to have the tiller looked at. Any action will have to wait until the morning but we were advised that it should be covered by our insurance policy and that it may be best to carry on into Rotherham where there is a boatyard. However, RCR should make all the arrangements on our behalf - let's see!

14.9 miles - 5 locks

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Back to Thorne

It was a lovely bright morning as we awoke.

Before setting off We had agreed that Mike would make tonight's chilli con carne so that we could better cater for variations in this afternoon's schedule - our car was now at Keadby and had to be collected.

Just as he was finishing the preparation, Christine called from the front and was already taking photos of a burning car on the edge of the canal. She had seen a couple of young lads revving up the car in a mud patch and then running off. Immediately afterwards it was apparent that the car was alight. It very quickly became a full blaze.

As luck would have it, Mike's mobile had failed overnight and Christine's was only just picking up a signal. Eventually we managed a 999 call to to fire service. Not easy to give the location as we were really rather out in the wilds and devoid of landmarks but we did our best based on where we thought we were on the canal and map!

We waited some while but nothing arrived and the car was now almost completely burned away so we set off.

The canal is home to some larger boats and more cruisers than narrowboats. Meeting a sea-going cruiser coming round a bend at speed is not for the faint hearted - especially when they take time to react.

Bramwith Swing Bridge

Only one more swing bridge before Bramwith Junction where we were to turn around. This one was fully mechanised - it was also possible to see the wedges that secure the bridge in place and which have to be moved (by automated hydraulic power) to along the bridge to swing.

Bramwith Lock

The main part of Bramwith Lock only takes 60 foot boats so we just fitted lengthways - but it also has an extra set of gates at one time to allow longer boats to pass.

Bramwith Junction

From here it was only a few minutes to Bramwith Junction where we turned around and re-traced our steps. We paused at Bramwith Swing Bridge to dispose of rubbish and empty elsan and chat to a local broad beam boat owner who told us about the advantages (to his wife anyway) of the greater capacity, including a daily bath, even though he misses the opportunity to cruise further afield.

Just before we reached the spot where the car had been torched we spotted a PCSO on the towpath and we pulled in to see if we could give any useful information. He used the photos which Christine had taken and, after zooming in, could see the number plate. He radioed this in and soon heard that it had been reported stolen earlier this morning. (He and his PCSO colleague had no difficulty in finding the spot from our description although he had had to walk from the nearest road, the track down being very rough - no doubt what had attracted the joy riders. The fire service never made it!) After we set off we passed the car, still slightly smouldering.

We called at Staniland Marina as we had heard that they had a chandlery - we were able, after much debate, to select a rope suitable to replace our worn mooring rope. Of course, we picked the most expensive material, but we made the mistake in the past of opting for a lower quality and the handling is not pleasant. The man in the shop agreed to splice the ends for us but we would have to come back later.

We shared Thorne Lock with another narrow boat and a small motor boat which helped as this is the lock with attached swing bridge that takes a number of different operations to work through.
They arrived first at the pedestrian swing bridge and had much the same problem as Christine yesterday but, perhaps being local, they knew how to persuade it to open!

Shortly afterwards we realised that we were at a good spot for the railway station and quickly pulled in to moor. Mike set off at a fast pace but - alas - he was just one minute too late. Hence he had just under an hour to sit quietly in the sunshine and recover before the next train arrived. Several freight rains passed as he waited.

After that, the trip to fetch the car went according to plan. After alighting at Althorpe station, it was a ten minute walk back to Keadby. On the way Mike was able to pick up a newspaper and some rolls for our journey home tomorrow. Before returning to the boat, he went back to the marina to collect the rope. Meanwhile, Christine had been completing the usual end-of-trip clean through (she had managed most of the packing earlier) But she was able to snap a tiny duckling and its mother.

Christine was impressed by the sunset and so shot this picture.

7.8 miles - 3 locks

Friday, 13 July 2012


Since we had the car at hand, we began the day by driving the short distance to the large Tesco store on the outskirts of Scunthorpe, only a few minutes away. We bought some items for the weekend as well as replenishing the store cupboard.

Keadby Power Station

After returning to the boat we set off, passing the gas fired power station which had been our landmark for the past few days.

Sliding Railway Bridge
  Immediately afterwards we approached the Sliding Railway Bridge, a rare design which involves sliding the tracks at an angle so that boats can pass through - the railway line itself is only just a little higher than the canal and follows its line very closely to Thorne.

Just a few metres on came the first swing bridge, a frequent feature of the canals in this area. On the Stainforth and Keadby this is because the land is very flat and roads pass across on the level. Each bridge has a variant of design, both as a bridge but more especially in terms of the operating mechanism. Some are manual and some are mechanised but each has an interlock so that the bridge cannot be opened unless the protective road barriers are in position.

Vazon Swing Bridge

When moving, we made good speed as this is a wide and deep canal, expanded late in the history of canals so that it could allow larger barges to bring goods to and from Keadby and hence down the river. Today it is very quiet and we saw four boats moving all day, although a couple did arrive at Keadby for the tide before we left.

Stainforth and Keadby Canal
Godnow Swing Bridge
Godnow Swing Bridge is a bit different - the Network Rail crossing keeper has to shut the level crossing gates before the bridge can be opened, presumably because there is insufficient space to fit in a separate protective gate and also to prevent vehicles stopping on the railway line.

Two of the boats we met today were at bridges - the first one was a larger sea-going vessel.

We took turns at operating the bridges - most of the manual ones are reasonably easy to work but Christine recruited a couple of rail workers with one that was a bit reluctant to move!

Wykewell Lift Bridge
Wykewell Bridge is a rather different lift bridge - more like those on the Welsh and Oxford canals. Fortunately - given its size - it is fully mechanised, including the road barriers, warning sirens and flashing lights.

We called at Blue Water Marina where we have booked a mooring for the next couple of weeks. We filled the fuel tank and replaced the gas bottle which ran out just before lunch. Two very pleasant lasses run the marina (actually for their dad!) and were very helpful, especially when Mike took an extremely long time to manoeuvre the boat to the right place for the fuel pump!

Thorne Pedestrian Swing Bridge

Thorne pedestrian bridge proved resistant to opening - several local onlookers came to give advice and eventually it opened. Then came the problem of persuading it to close - Christine had to open it again and go through the complete closing cycle.

Thorne Lock
Only one lock today, at Thorne, but the added complication here is a swing bridge immediately above the lock. An interlock means that the key used to operate the mechanised lock cannot be removed until the bridge and gates are fully closed.

Once we cleared Thorne we looked for somewhere to moor - not so simple today as, although the landscape before Thorne was very open and from the canal it is possible to see a long distance, the next stretch is very different. Not only is it much less straight both sides are enclosed by low trees and we wanted to stop where we could find a satellite signal.

11.0 miles - 1 lock