Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Black-winged harpy

I was somewhat disconcerted to see this creature standing on a branch above the river, though I shouldn't have been. Closer inspection revealed it to be the young cormorant that I first spotted fishing a few days ago. It was drying its wings after a spell of diving. It is a very efficient fishing machine, diving underwater for long periods and surfacing some way from where it first disappeared from view, always with a beak full of fish that it swallowed as it broke the surface of the water. 

So... not a black-winged harpy then... 'that fierce, sudden black-winged harpy, with its talons and its beak all cold and hard...' as Virginia Woolf put it in 'To the Lighthouse'. Phew. (That might, however, be the Loch Ness monster, rising from the water beneath!)

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Open day at Dowley Gap locks

Having seen the new lock gates being delivered (see yesterday) I was keen to enjoy the Open Day they had on Sunday at Dowley Gap locks. It was an event designed to educate people about our canal network and to enable the public to view the almost finished repairs. You can see the new top gates in the photo above (pulled back into the walls at either side). You can also see the wooden dam that is holding back the water of the canal beyond and, mounted on a barge, the crane that was used to lift the heavy gates into place. I'd hoped to see that take place during the week but the day arrived stormy, with rain and wind. Since my eyesight isn't fully recovered after surgery, I judged it ill-advised to walk up there. (I'm hoping these photos are not really as blurred as they currently look to me!!)

The photo below shows the old gates loaded onto the barge. I think the new gates were made at the Stanley Ferry workshops near Wakefield so maybe the old wood will be taken back there. I was looking back in my files and I realised the other two sets of gates at Dowley Gap were replaced in 2013, at the same time as they drained and repaired the aqueduct. That was a much bigger job and I documented it HERE. I was told that a set of lock gates lasts about 25 years before they need to be replaced, so it must be an endless programme of repair work for the Canal and River Trust. There are apparently 1569 locks in England and Wales, so that's a lot of gates!

There were many Canal and River Trust volunteers giving up their Sunday to show people round and chat. They do such good work.

They also had a few activities for children. I watched as they built a model of the nearby aqueduct, carefully balancing stones over a mould to form the arches. The actual Dowley Gap aqueduct has seven arches. The model had three. They were also teaching children to carve stone. Actually, I'd have liked a go but it was rather busy around the table.

(Rather amused to see the two women in my picture above, apparently posing for a photo! In fact they were pictured on a large information hoarding so it wasn't me they were smiling at but another photographer in a previous incarnation!)

Monday, 20 January 2020

A delivery

I've been doing quite well with my New Year resolution to have a walk every day, if I possibly can, even after the cataract surgery. There's always something of interest to see on my perambulations (albeit things are currently a little blurred). One day I happened to be on the canal towpath when a barge passed slowly by, carrying the new lock gates that have since been installed at the Dowley Gap locks. It was preceded by a pair of swans, so that it looked a little like a stately parade! There was some banter from the boatmen as they passed and they both gave me wide smiles for the photograph. The gates are huge, heavy things. It seems something of a wonder that the relatively shallow water of the canal can support such a weight, but it has been doing so since the 1770s, being originally built for carrying heavy freight between Liverpool docks and the mills and factories of Yorkshire.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Summer Sunday stroll 5

Bingley Five Rise Locks
[The end point of my walk from Saltaire to Bingley along the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal - although I did walk all the way back home again.] 

And so, we arrive at the famous Five Rise Locks just in time to see a wide beam boat being lifted in stages up the staircase. Two traditional narrowboats can fit in a lock side by side, but the wide beam boats take up a lot more room. Some of the longest boats don't fit either. Lock sizes are not standardised across the waterways network. The locks on the Leeds-Liverpool canal are about 19m long and some locks in the Yorkshire network are even shorter than that. 

Some of my readers may recall the time (seven years ago, yikes!) when I went walking in these locks, when they were drained for restoration of the lock gates (see HERE). The chamber walls look so high when you're at the bottom.

Looking back towards Bingley, the locks drop away so steeply that you can't really see them all. 

The Five Rise Locks are permanently staffed by a lock-keeper, often with several volunteers assisting too. It's such a complicated obstacle to navigate and things can go badly wrong if you don't know what you're doing. There's a lovely tribute to Barry Whitelock (HERE), the country's longest serving lock-keeper, who worked here in Bingley from the age of 19 until he retired in 2017. I don't know who has taken over from him, but there must be some satisfaction in carrying out such an historic role.

When the locks are not busy (rare in summer), the lock-keeper hangs out in his office at the top of the locks. I expect there's a kettle in there but, if not, he can always nip over to the café across the road.

The Five Rise Locks café is a very popular spot with walkers and cyclists. There's usually plenty to watch, if you choose a table on the canal side. Next to it is a service facility for boaters, with toilets, showers and sewage disposal. This stretch of the canal from the locks towards Crossflatts also operates as a marina, with some permanent mooring for boats.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Summer Sunday stroll 4

Bingley to the Five Rise Locks
[Continuing my walk from Saltaire to Bingley along the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal] 

In the centre of Bingley, the canal towpath feels rather separate from the town. There are a few places where you can move between the two but, because the canal was moved sideways when the relief road was built, there are high walls between the canal, the roads and the railway. There are swans gliding along by the reed beds and the canal feels like an oasis of peace amid the bustle. 

A little further along, commerce intrudes as you pass the old mill that is home to Damart, maker of thermal underwear and now a large catalogue and mail order business. The canal is wider here - another winding hole and mooring spot before the long haul of the Three and Five Rise Locks. 

Snuggled against the wall of the mill, the canal is again lifted, 30ft (9m) this time, by the Three Rise Locks. This is a popular spot with fishermen. The fish must like to congregate in the pool at the base of the locks. 

Beyond the Three Rise, the towpath enters another leafy stretch, sweeping round a couple of bends, hugging the hillside, and offering lovely glimpses of wide-ranging views up the Aire valley. 

Then finally, you round a bend and see the full glory of the astonishing Five Rise Locks, one of the wonders of our waterways: the steepest staircase on the longest canal in the UK.  Built in 1774, they carry the canal another 60ft (18 m) higher, with five lock chambers to navigate. Because of their complexity and the amount of traffic they carry, a full time lock-keeper is employed here, who with the help of volunteers ensures the safety of both boaters and the gongoozling public. (A gongoozler is an affectionate term for people who enjoy watching the activity of boats and people along our canals. Me, I suppose!)

Friday, 17 January 2020

Summer Sunday stroll 3

Dowley Gap Lock to Bingley
[Continuing my walk from Saltaire to Bingley along the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal] 

Just beyond the locks at Dowley Gap there's a road bridge which carries the prettily named Primrose Lane over the canal. Just beside the bridge is a pub called The Fisherman's Inn, and there are a few tables on the canalside, so it's a nice spot to stop for a drink. It overlooks a winding hole, which is the term for a wider bit of canal where narrowboats can turn around if they need to. You can imagine that such long boats have to do quite a lot of forward and reverse to turn round. I once saw one try it in Saltaire, where a winding hole is marked on the map, but they had such a lot of trouble, getting virtually wedged across the canal! 

A little further along the towpath is a curious bridge, part stone and part metal, that carries a water pipe across the canal. It is part of the 32 mile long Nidd Aqueduct, which, since 1899, has brought water all the way from Scar House Reservoir in Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales to the water treatment works at Chellow Heights, to supply Bradford and the surrounding areas. 

The canal skirts round Bingley South Bog on its left, and enters the outskirts of the little market town of Bingley.

At this point, we are about 15 miles from Leeds and 112 miles from Liverpool - still a long way to go if you were a horse hauling a narrowboat to the docks. It's probably a good thing they couldn't read or they might just have sat down on the job!

These days our transport is so much faster and you can get a good idea of this in Bingley, where the canal, the Bingley relief road (a so-called by-pass that goes right through the middle of the town!) and the railway line all run alongside one another. In fact the canal had to be shifted sideways to make room for the bypass when it was built in 2003.

Old mills alongside the canal have been converted to apartments with some new blocks added too. They tend to leave the mill chimneys in place, as a reminder of the past.

Here there is a rather sculptural pedestrian footbridge over the canal.

A few older industrial units, garages and suchlike have been left, among newer builds like these townhouses that back on to the canal right in the centre of Bingley. I'm not sure that mill chimney will survive much longer, given the amount of foliage that has taken root in its brickwork!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Summer Sunday stroll 2

Hirst Lock to Dowley Gap Lock
[Continuing my walk from Saltaire to Bingley along the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal] 

Beyond Hirst Lock, the path passes through Hirst Wood itself, a shady and rather mysterious stretch of the canal with trees lining both sides. Views open out when you reach the aqueduct (above) that carries the canal over the River Aire. It is such a broad bridge that you don't really feel as though you're on a bridge (unlike, say, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the Welsh Borders, which is rather hair-raising to cross). 

My brisk walking pace was almost keeping up with the cabin cruisers that had set off just before me when I passed Hirst Lock. 

There is an old mill on the left here, now converted into dwellings. It would be such a nice place to live... were it not for the sewage works just over the fence, with its distinctive aroma! The foliage along the canalside now more or less obscures the view of the changeline bridge, where the towpath passes from one side of the canal to the other. It's a pity as it's quite an attractive bridge. I suppose, sooner or later, someone will come along and trim the bushes back as part of the waterway maintenance. 

It's from this spot that you can see my two favourite trees, up the hillside. Some trees were beginning to look a little autumnal at this stage of the summer, but not these two. 

Here, I did catch up with the two cabin cruisers, as they had to stop to get clearance to negotiate the locks at Dowley Gap. The scene from the bridge looks much more interesting when there are boats moored.

There were a lot of other people about, enjoying the beautiful late summer weather. I have to be careful as I never hear cyclists coming up behind me, and some of them ride rather too fast.

As I reached the top of the locks, a narrowboat had just finished its journey up the 20 foot (6 m) rise. The cabin cruisers lower down faced a bit of a wait, until the water levels in the two lock chambers were regulated to allow them to enter the bottom lock. It's a fascinatingly complicated enterprise. You have to know what you're doing, so you don't waste a lot of water. Some of the locks have lock-keepers to operate them and there is a lock house at Dowley Gap, but I'm not sure if these locks are manned or not. This particular boat looked to be doing a good job of negotiating the locks. Narrowboats can often fit through if just one gate is opened, but the advice is to open both gates to avoid damage to the gates. (Not everyone heeds the advice!)

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Summer Sunday stroll 1

(Continuing my series from last summer, whilst my eye settles down after the surgery)

Saltaire to Hirst Lock
It was such a lovely, late summer's morning that I decided to walk from Saltaire to Bingley's Five Rise Locks and back, a good six miles round trip. It's a very familiar walk and I've shown photos of the area before on this blog. I thought it'd be fun to string some together in order this time, to illustrate the whole route.

Once out of Saltaire, through the short stretch of shady trees (see yesterday) the view opens out across the area of playing fields that belongs to Salts Sports Club. Sunday morning meant football matches were underway, the juniors at one end and a senior game at the other.

There were fishermen on the canal bank, having a real Sunday morning treat - able to watch their rods, watch football and cook a fry-up of bacon and eggs on a camp stove, all at the same time. (Breakfast smelled delicious!)   
I did take a photo... but I don't think you'd want to see the bum-crack the cook was displaying as he leaned over - ha!

Perhaps it was because the season was drawing to a close, or perhaps just the weekend effect, but there seemed to be more boats on the canal than I've ever seen. Some were moored, like the narrowboats I passed, still having a lie-in, perhaps? The towpath passes the lock at Hirst Wood. Just beyond the lock there were two cabin cruisers, a type of boat we rarely see on this canal. (They made so much more noise than a narrowboat!)

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

We're going on a Saltaire hunt (4)

Continuing down to the bottom of Victoria Road in Saltaire, we arrive at the bridge over the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and this iconic view along the waterway between Salts Mill and the New Mill. The mills are still connected by the remaining one of three original walkways over the canal.

Looking from the bridge in the opposite direction, we see one of the most popular spots in the village, where people can access the canal towpath or walk down to the right and over the River Aire into Roberts Park. It's a good place for people to stop for a breather, perhaps indulge in an ice-cream from the ice-cream boat, feed the ducks and generally watch the world go by. Most weekends, there is a volunteer from the Canal and River Trust, the charitable body that looks after the UK's waterways. They seek to educate and encourage people to enjoy all that our waterways have to offer, as well as to recruit volunteers to do some of the many tasks needed to maintain the network.

Looking back up the slope that leads down to the canal level, you get a beautiful view of the amazing Italianate chimney of the New Mill, a copy of a Venetian church tower.

Then down on to the canal towpath - and immediately we are transported into a cool, green, peaceful world that seems far away from the bustle of the village and its industrial heritage. Deceptive though... as it was partly because of the canal that the mills were built here, with a crucial transportation route for goods and materials to the docks in Liverpool, 100 or so miles away to the west.  At one time, it would have been busy with boats and horses - and even these days you have to keep a watch in front and behind for cyclists, as the towpath is a cycleway too.

Monday, 13 January 2020

We're going on a Saltaire hunt (3)

Arriving at the railway bridge on Victoria Road in Saltaire, we get our first glimpse of the church tower, behind the old Dining Hall where meals used to be provided for the workforce at Salts Mill. The Dining Hall is now part of Shipley College. If we shift our view a little to the right (below), down Victoria Road, we can see Salts Mill on the right and the trees of Shipley Glen in front of us, leading up to Hope Hill on the horizon.

A few steps down the road from the Dining Hall building, we arrive in front of Saltaire's grade 1 listed Victorian church, with its distinctive round tower and cupola:

From the same spot as the photo above, looking in the opposite direction, we can see a matching stone post at the entrance to Salts Mill. This area retains the original stone setts that used to surface most of the streets in the village when it was built in the 1850s. (I'm rather alarmed to see that the metal railing has come loose from the post. I hope that gets repaired before it becomes impossible to deal with. These small features are such a distinctive part of the village's design.)

Sunday, 12 January 2020

We're going on a Saltaire hunt (2)

At the cross roads in the centre of Saltaire (see yesterday), if you turn up the hill along Victoria Road you quickly arrive at the imposing bulk of Victoria Hall, opened in 1871 as the Saltaire Club and Institute. It was provided by Sir Titus Salt as a place of recreation and education for his mill workers. It housed a reading room, a library, laboratory, chess and draughts rooms, a smoking room, a billiard hall, a lecture hall seating 800, classrooms, a gym and a rifle drill-room. Even today, it functions as a social hub for the village with space for events and exhibitions, concerts, meetings and weddings. Since the large trees on Victoria Road were felled, you can appreciate the building as Salt intended, as a centrepiece of his model village. It has a small garden in front and the square made by the Hall and the Schools opposite is guarded by our four famous stone lions. You can see 'Peace' silhouetted in my photo. 

If you turn down the hill from the cross roads, along Victoria Road towards the railway station, you pass the shops shown yesterday. Opposite them, there is a view of the south elevation of Salts Mill, its chimney prominent beyond the allotments that border the railway line. As the trees grow bigger, it gets harder to see the mill. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

We're going on a Saltaire hunt (1)

(Whilst I recover from eye surgery, with the consequent 'clipping of my wings' - no driving, nothing too strenuous - I'm going to post some local photos I took in the late summer last year (2019). It is nice in winter to look back at brighter days. It does no harm either, on a blog like mine, to do a recap of some of the local sights. They're so familiar to me that I almost take them for granted but it's a while since I showcased the local icons.)

So... We're going on a Saltaire hunt... (no, not a bear hunt - though you can't go under it, you can't go over it... you've got to go through it!). It was a beautiful day (and I wasn't scared) so I decided I'd take a local walk for a change. I'd been out and about so much over the summer, I really hadn't done much around home. Mind you, over the years I've taken so many photos in Saltaire that it begins to be difficult to find a fresh view. Here are the classics, again:

Our first view of Salts Mill (above), from Caroline Street, with the Shipley College horticultural department allotments displaying a few bright red dahlias in the foreground.

We arrive at the main crossroads in the village centre, where Caroline Street and Victoria Road intersect. Looking southwest, a few of the Victoria Road shops lead up to the square where the Victoria Hall sits (out of view on the left) opposite the old school buildings, now part of Shipley College, behind the trees.

Looking northwest from the same spot, the Victoria Road shops continue down to the railway bridge:

Friday, 10 January 2020


Me in a blue mood... The theme for my online group for December was 'Selfie'. I think perhaps it was envisaged that we might dress up in the style of Cindy Sherman, whose work consists exclusively of photographic self-portraits where she imagines herself as different characters. Or we might even copy the Japanese grandmother's hilarious self-portraits HERE. That's just not 'me' however. I've always hated dressing up and I haven't that kind of sense of humour at all.  So my submission was a rather more muted affair, reflected in a blue-toned modern artwork in a gallery.

2019 was a rather blue year in some ways. We hope for better things nationally and globally in 2020. Speaking personally, my world will be a little bluer and a little less yellow in a positive way after today, as I am due to have my second cataract operation. With two plastic lenses, the world will be bright! I am not nearly as apprehensive as I was the first time, now I know what to expect. Yes, there's always a slight risk something could go wrong but que sera sera. I won't be driving or doing anything very vigorous for a week or two afterwards, until it settles down. I've some local pictures that I took in the summer and haven't yet posted, so I think I will take you on a sunny walk to remind us of what we're missing.