From beginner to expert in 7 days?

Day 6 was the day we had to tackle lock 13 again. After warming up on lock 14, which went smoothly, we were soon at 13. I opened the top paddles to let the water into the lock, then opened the top gates for John to drive the boat in. I then opened the paddles in the bottom gates to let the water out and drop the boat down to the level of the canal below… so far, so good.

I knew it was too good to be true! Once I came to open the bottom gates to let John drive out, I couldn’t budge them. There was nobody else around and I needed his help. We tied the boat to the mooring posts so it didn’t move around in the lock too much. Then John had to climb a steep metal ladder from the bottom of the empty lock to the top where I was waiting. Even then, we couldn’t open the gates fully but, between us, we managed to open them the width of the boat. Now a test for John. He climbed back down the ladder into the boat and carefully eased the boat through the partially open gates and out of the lock. Brilliant driving! I wish I’d had my camera with me on the lock side to get a photo!

I got the gates moving and thought I was going to manage to close them by myself but, unfortunately, they jammed again. John had to moor the boat at the side of the canal and come and help me a second time. So annoying! It looks as though I need to do more strength training! Or put some weight on! 😆

We then floated on past the community living below lock 13… the community responsible for taking water from the canal above for their own purposes, without considering others’ needs (allegedly!). One lady shouted ‘bit fast!’ as we passed, despite John having slowed the engine so it was just ticking over. I usually find such ‘alternative lifestyle’ people are kind and friendly, but that wasn’t our experience of this lot! They didn’t seem to like people on hired boats, despite us contributing to the economy of the canal!

We moored by the pub at Stubbing Wharf because we’d planned a walk to Gibson Mill and Hardcastle Crags. The path climbed steeply and we could soon see Hebden Bridge far below, and our boat parked on the canal. The route then went through Heptonstall where we looked around an old church that had been storm damaged. Rather than repairing it, a new one had been built next door. Fascinating!

As we left Heptonstall, it started to rain on and off so we put our waterproof jackets on. We followed Hebden Water through beautiful woodland until we reached Gibson Mill. The rain was really heavy now so we popped into the cafe for a cream tea, which we ate in the exhibition room. Then we did the last section of the walk up to Hardcastle Crags before turning and heading back. I bet the views from the top are extensive on a fine day but we couldn’t see very far in the drizzle!

We followed different paths back, which were all beautiful, through woods and along rivers. By now thunder was rumbling overhead and, just as we reached Hebden Bridge, the rain became torrential, bouncing on the streets and canal! We were drenched by the time we got back to the boat! We showered, changed and made ourselves cosy.

The next day (day 7) it was time to travel back to Sowerby Bridge where Shire Cruises is based. We wanted to get as far as possible because the boat has to be back by 9.30 the following day. This meant we had 7 locks to do. It was rainy and windy and waterproofs were required.

We immediately passed through the Stubbing upper and lower locks (10 and 11). At the following lock 9, two boats that people had hired for the day were coming towards us up the canal and we had to wait for them. This took some time because two men from the hire company were showing the crews what to do. The two boats were just about to leave the lock when one of the men from the hire company had a message on his radio and shouted to the other ‘We’ll have to turn round. One of the locks is out!’.

I asked which lock it was, worried I’d damaged a lock somehow as we were one of the last boats to come through the locks above. ‘Lock 13 has been vandalised’ the man said. Our favourite lock! I’m not sure if it had been vandalised or not, but it certainly wasn’t working properly when we used it, and we weren’t surprised it was this lock that was now out of action.

We waited again as the boat crews emptied the lock to lower their boats. Then we had to fill it and empty it again to lower our boat. Afterwards, John parked at the sanitary station to fill the water tank, while I closed the lock gates and paddles, then emptied our rubbish bins.

We caught up with one of the day hire boats at lock 8 and asked to share it with them. This saves water in the upper canal, as well as sharing the workload and saving time. I showed the crew of the other boat what to do and gave them some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the week. It’s odd feeling like an expert when only a week ago I was a very apprehensive complete beginner!

Fallingroyd tunnel came next, which is quite long and has a bend in the middle so you can’t immediately see the way out. I switched the lights on and John tooted the horn before we went through. Then it was time for lock 7. There was another day hire boat just in front of us but this lock only takes one boat at a time. Therefore, I helped them with the lock and showed them what to do, before refilling it and emptying it again for our boat to travel through.

By now it was lunch time so we moored up in Mytholmroyd. We had a beer in the pub (alcohol free for me) and watched a bit of Olympic gymnastics, then went to a vegetarian cafe. The food was delicious! As we pulled off from our mooring, we were just behind another boat, also from Shire Cruises. Great timing! This meant we could share lock 6.

By the time we got to lock 5, there was a queue of 4 boats from Shire Cruises, all returning to base for changeover day. This lock only takes a single boat so patience was once again required. I was on one side of the lock and a guy from the boat in front of us was on the other side. Using teamwork and the benefit of experience, we soon got the first two boats down the canal. I then told him to go, thinking the crew from the boat behind would help me.

It didn’t quite happen like that. Because so many boats were going down the canal, the water level above the lock was getting low and the boat behind ran aground. This was the first time it had happened to them and I think they were a bit panicked by it, despite soon getting afloat again. Anyway, I ended up doing the lock on my own without their help. No problem… I’m an expert now! 😉

That was our last lock of the day so I made a cup of tea while John drove the boat down an easy but long section of canal. We moored up for the night just outside Sowerby Bridge, which is where we are now. We can’t go any further because the Tuel Lane lock (the deepest lock in Britain) is operated by a lock keeper and only opens from Friday to Monday unless it’s booked in advance. It opens at 8.30 tomorrow and after that we just have Tuel Tunnel (long, curved and only to be used with the lock keeper’s permission) and two more locks to do before we’re back at Shire Cruises to hand the boat back.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our first narrowboat holiday, learning how to drive the boat and operate the locks, hiking though beautiful scenery and meeting lots of kind and friendly people.

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