On Board
Narrowboat "FRILFORD"
(British Waterways No. 500645)


CHAPTER TWELVE - "Huddersfield, Bourns, Driving Tips and Big Water!"

End June 2005

I stayed in the Aspley Basin in Huddersfield for a week: 24th June to 1st July. It was good to stop for a bit. Aside from the excellent facilities offered by the marina in the basin the place is dominated by a huge Sainsbury superstore which stays open until midnight during the week. I’d like to say I did not go shopping there close to the witching hour, but I’m not sure I can say that! Being on FRILFORD has not cured my insomnia. One night, having gone to bed early after struggling to stay awake in front of the TV and then having fallen to sleep immediately, I soon found myself (and by soon I mean after about twenty minutes) in that weird place which is neither asleep nor awake. In that place disjoined and ephemeral thoughts rattle around one’s consciousness. I found myself thinking “I must remember to buy such-and-such and this-and-that, and so on.” These were important things like J-cloths, washing up liquid, potatoes, whisky: that sort of thing. I got up and made a quick list. This is not like me really; I am the sort of person who will walk into a supermarket with a vague idea of what I want to buy and then walk out half an hour later with lots of things, none of which were on my original wish list, so I have to go back into the supermarket and the process starts again. Practical thoughts that haunt one in the night are best written down, however, for they are gone with the morning gloom.

So there I am in Aspley Basin, Huddersfield, around midnight, scribbling “potatoes, whisky….” and so forth onto a scrap of paper. “Hell, I thought, “why not?!”.

I got dressed and went shopping. I was not alone. I walked around the aisles spying on the other people there, and wondering what on earth they were doing shopping for J-cloths at that hour, as they looked at me thinking the same thing. Back on board FRILFORD, and now wide awake, I enjoyed a couple of whisky nightcaps and told myself firmly that I must leave Huddersfield if only to get away from mammon’s supermarket temple beside me.

Ian found me in Huddersfield and, before I left, gave me a good look at Huddersfield and the environs. Ian is an old Merchant Navy friend of Adrian Donovan, who was skipper on Heath Insured, the yacht on which I raced around the world in Sir Chay Blyth’s 1992-93 British Steel Challenge. I’d met Ian before: he’d come down to the yacht a couple of times before we set off in 1992. He’s quite a character, to say the least. A mine of amusing stories, he is a Huddersfield man and as North Country as you like. He drives around in a wonderful old ‘rag top’ Series 1 Landrover. He drives it like Button drives his BAR! We went haring round Huddersfield in a blur of flapping canvas and screaming gears. It was great! What he showed me can be seen on the Huddersfield Heritage Trail page of a Huddersfield website. Do take a look: Huddersfield has the third highest number of Listed buildings in the country and the Heritage Trail page is worth a look.

Ian and I also threw the Landover up Castle Hill, just outside Huddersfield. Well he did, I was sitting in the passenger seat grinning. Dominating the Huddersfield skyline, Castle Hill has been occupied since the Stone Age. The Victoria Tower was built in 1898-9 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation. From Castle Hill and the Victoria Tower (which is only opened to the public on certain days of the year) there are superb views across the Holme Valley to Holmfirth and Holme Moss to the south (marking the northern boundary of the Peak District National Park), the Emley Moor transmitter to the east (a concrete communications tower which is Britain's tallest free standing stucture), and the sprawling industrial mass of Huddersfield to the north (thanks to http://www.bronte-country.com/castle-hill.html for the last bit!). Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/bradford/360/version2_castle_hill.shtml to see a 360 degree moving image of the views from Castle Hill, thanks to the BBC.

Ian took me back to his flat to meet his wife Rachael and we spent a very pleasant evening talking about boats in general and Rachael and Ian’s love of camping and tents. And Primus stoves and pressure lamps in particular. Ian has a lot of them and scours car boot sales finding others. So does Rachael. I vaguely remember Ian saying he gave Rachael a rare Primus twin burner cooker for a wedding present, one that was not in working in order but would be when he got round to restoring it in the way such people are, but I might conflating a few stories. Not sure I am though!

David and Marianne Bourn contacted me around the time I was approaching Huddersfield, and we arranged that they should drive their camper van to Huddersfield, camp in the car park next to FRILFORD and join me for the trip down the Huddersfield Broad Canal which leads away from Aspley Basin to the east. I offered them the chance to stay on board FRILFORD, but they sensibly said that they were very familiar with camping in the van and that that would be easier than the upheaval, for all of us, of moving onto FRILFORD for one night. They were right and the arrangement worked perfectly. Marianne kindly produced supper which she cooked, and we ate, on FRILFORD. David had headed up the team when we were doing agricultural resource survey work together in various African countries, and Marianne ran the office in the UK when we were all away. It was a few years since I’d seen them so there was much catching up to do. Drinks flowed and the talk got faster and many old friends and situations got an airing in our exchanges. It all went by in a cloud of whisky and wine and by the morning I’d forgotten most of it. Damn. Ah well.

In the morning David and I loaded my bike into his camper van and we drove a few miles down the canal to where the Huddersfield Broad Canal meets the Calder & Hebble Navigation. We parked the van in the car park of a very accommodating canal-side office and cycled along the towpath back the few miles to FRILFORD in the Aspley Basin where Marianne had coffee and toast on the go. David had his son’s bike with him, but it was stuck in rather a low gear so he arrived back in Huddersfield with his legs a wildly spinning blur!

Aspley Basin is a product of the canal transport system in England having been conceived and developed by a series of individuals and companies without too much joined-up thinking. Due to the size of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Huddersfield Broad Canal special boats were developed called Yorkshire Keels. However, these were too broad to navigate on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which could accommodate full length narrowboats (i.e. up to 72 ft in length) but not, of course, broad beamed boats. This meant that goods had to be transhipped at Aspley Basin. A number of warehouses around the basin today are testament to this transhipment. However, transhipment proved to be uneconomic so eventually a shorter version of the narrowboat was built, which could navigate in the shorter locks of the Huddersfield Broad Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation. This produced its own problem of course. A shorter narrowboat is a smaller narrowboat, which thus carries smaller cargoes!

Aspley Basin is bounded at one end by the most famous feature on the Huddersfield Broad Canal, namely the Locomotive (Turnbridge) Bridge. This was originally a swing bridge but was changed to a lift bridge in 1865 to carry heavy road locomotives. It is a fine contraption of beams, wheels and chains. Operating it lifts the whole bridge section vertically to allow craft to pass underneath. Until recently the lifting process required many turns with a windlass but now it has been converted to electro-hydraulic use, operated by the push of various buttons. It is still a busy bridge today, with many a white van rattling over a bridge once carrying Victorian heavy good vehicles.

As we prepared to leave Aspley Basin and thus Huddersfield I asked David to operate the bridge. I was glad he was there. I could have operated it on my own, I’ve operated many bridges on my own, but that would involve mooring FRILFORD, opening the bridge, reboarding FRILFORD, passing underneath the bridge, mooring FRILFORD on the other side then returning to the bridge to close it. Not a problem for me: I am not in a hurry. For White Van Man, however, this is much too much like a hold up. They like to get on… David operated the bridge beautifully and in no time the vans were clattering over the bridge once again. Ball bearings to Halfords, a clutch plate to J&G Motors Ltd., wallpaper to Mrs. Higgins of 43, Acacia Avenue – microeconomics is white vans driven by would-be Schumachers in a hurry.

The trip down the Huddersfield Broad Canal was an enjoyable introduction to David and Marianne of the pleasures of narrowboating. Being campervan owners they understood the concept. They liked the level of comfort I had on the boat and took the point completely that the great advantage with sedate narrowboating is that one does not have to pack up everything down below in order to move. Put a glass of something down, go on deck and move along the canal for a few hours and when one goes below again the glass, with contents, will still be sitting where you put it (provided you haven’t hit anything or otherwise ‘alarmed’ both the boat and oneself… See below!). That is not true of yachting, not even of riverine navigation on a cruiser, necessarily, and certainly not true of campervanning!

David had a go at helming FRILFORD and did a good job, despite his protestations that he could not do it and did not know what to do! Everyone coming to helm the boat for the first time seems to have this reaction and I like to see it. Better that than have someone get on board, declare that they can’t imagine anything too bad can happen at 3 miles per hour and set off buoyed up by the misguided impression that there’s nothing to it! There isn’t that much to it, in truth, but there are a few things that one needs to know in order to make steering a narrowboat a success. After all, the thing is not very boat-like! Originally, way back when, they were designed to be weighed down with cargo and towed from the bows by a horse. They are generally hard chine, (i.e. box-like as opposed to having sides with a more curved look) completely flat bottomed and have not a hint of a skeg or keel and they draw (i.e. the bit in the water, the draft) only something like 18 inches to about 3 feet at the most, depending on the boat and her displacement. Put a propeller and rudder on the back of a hull like that and one has to be ready to steer in a way that will compensate for the boat being pushed not pulled and having a propensity to ‘skid’ around in water rather than drive through it. Going astern, in particular, illustrates this. One can know whether one has a port or starboard propeller, i.e. whether the prop has a tendency to drag the stern to port or starboard when going astern (FRILFORD has a starboard prop; my father’s boat a port one), and what the boat is likely to do when going astern, but more often than not one’s own prop wash, a current in the water, the wash of a passing boat, or the wind, will effect the boat and she’ll do something quite different to what one was expecting when going backwards! The only way to first discover this and then work out how to deal with it is to experience it – time and time again… I know, I have and every time when going backwards it is a new situation. Interestingly one actually spends more time with the engine in forward gear when going backwards, than with the engine in reverse gear. What I tend to do is get the boat going backwards initially, hopefully with the bows following the stern in column rather than going of on a sideways jaunt of their own, and then use forward power to push the stern to port or starboard by way of steerage, all the while hoping the bows will follow. Sometimes they do….! Going forward is indeed fairly straight forward but one does need to know how to stop. Speed is deceptive and one can appear to be virtually stopped in the water when actually one is moving a bit; something which becomes alarmingly obvious when coming into contact with something solid which really isn’t moving, like a wall or a lock gate! One stops by putting the engine into reverse… Exactly – everything above then comes into play. One might stop but the stern might well be off across the canal with the bows going the other way. Going the other way? Yes: they can do that. It is one of a host of things that can happen!

It is a good idea to get completely stopped before attempting a manoeuvre. It is much better to get stopped and then start again. It sounds daft but it works best. Power settings are important too. I find that manoeuvring using the least amount of power is best. One sees people turning narrowboats around or making tight turns, or something, who use a lot of power going forward in a confined space only to then, sometimes a little too late, throw the boat into reverse and rev like mad trying to loose all the way just created by lunging forward. And we know what can happen when the boat is in reverse… I equate the principles to manoeuvring a car in a car park. Do we rev the engine like mad, drop the clutch, leap forward for a few yards then throw the car into reverse, rev like hell and go screaming backwards? No – we gingerly move forward and backward, maybe craning our necks all about, and take it slowly. So why not when manoeuvring a narrowboat? I sound like I know what I am talking about. I don’t perhaps, but I have manoeuvred enough times, sometimes successfully, often not, to know what might work and what definitely won’t. Mind you, sometimes I find myself throwing the throttle wide open and muttering ‘spit’ (or something like that) under my breath as an ill-thought-out manoeuvre collapses into its inevitable chaos!

Bang! Big bang sometimes… that’s the price of not getting way off. FRILFORD is 49 feet long and weights about 11.5 tonnes. I can’t remember the physics but thanks to the power of the Net I now am reminded about kinetic energy, viz: Kinetic Energy: “Kinetic Energy exists whenever an object which has mass is in motion with some velocity. Everything you see moving about has kinetic energy. The kinetic energy of an object in this case is given by the relation: KE = (1/2)mv2 where KE = Energy (in Joules) m = mass (in kilograms) v = velocity (in meters/sec). I’m not about to work anything out but it is good that FRILFORD, in keeping with the vast majority of narrowboats, is built of steel. 10 mm hull bottom plate, 6 mm hull side plating and 5 mm topsides plating in her case. Pretty good when you consider Heath Insured was built primarily out of 4 mm plate, albeit she had frames and stringers, which FRILFORD does not have.

David soon got off FRILFORD and busied himself with the locks. Locks seem to have a fascination for the lay person and after explaining to him what I considered to be the best way of operating the locks he was off down the canal ahead of Marianne and I, who manned the boat. Like many people new to lock operation he seemed to thoroughly enjoy preparing the canal for boat transit and I think he rather liked the physical challenge too. The locks are not usually grindingly hard work, but one or two can be tough and once one has done a number of them one can feel it a bit.

Having left Aspley Basin 1043 hrs and worked the nine locks of the Huddersfield Broad Canal between 1112 hrs and 1324 hrs, so my logbook reminds me, we nosed out onto the River Calder at 1338 hrs. We were only on it for a few moments, however, because almost immediately we were negotiating a very tight turn to get through the Cooper Bridge Flood Lock (a flood lock is one that is generally kept open and only used to control floods, as required. On this day Cooper Bridge Flood Lock was open). It needn’t have been as tight a turn as I made it, but I didn’t allow myself enough room and had to make it look to David and Marianne as though I meant to do it like that – which I hadn’t (see above re boat handling!).

We tied up immediately after the lock in what was now the Calder & Hebble Navigation, right next to the office in the car park of which we’d left David’s campervan. We had a couple of beers and the remains of last night’s supper by way of lunch and then David and Marianne left. They were on their way to see David’s father in Darlington. Our arrangements had worked well; they’d enjoyed their time on FRILFORD and I’d enjoyed having them. The accommodating way the office people let us use their car park right next to a place we could get to on FRILFORD was the icing on an already tasty cake. Some of the office lot were at the window of their office as I moved off after the Bourns had left, and we exchanged cheery waves.

I hadn’t actually planned to move; thought I’d spend the night there, but it was quite early (just after three in the afternoon in fact) and another boat appeared and started to make its way down to the next lock, Lock 13, Cooper Bridge Lock, on the Calder & Hebble Navigation so I decided to get going and use the lock with them. This was of some considerable significance for me. I was leaving the canal system and entering what was initially a combination of canal and river navigation but which, later, was to become large, commercial waterways populated by large, 600 tonne, barges and coasters. I felt as though I was leaving a safe, controlled, environment and entering something all together bigger. Well, I would… I was!

I embarrassed myself at Cooper Bridge Lock but the people on the other boat, who were the source of my embarrassment, did not seem too bothered. They got to the lock before me and opened the gates. Whilst the man was still untying the boat from the bank I slipped past him and went into the lock. As with the locks on the Huddersfield Broad Canal which the Bourns and I had been coming through in the morning, these were double locks, so I assumed the other boat would come into the lock beside me. This is what it did but the man was looking concerned and there was the hint of some tut, tutting in the air. Not angry tut, tutting, but tut, tutting all the same! After a few minutes in the lock the boat backed out again and the woman, who all this time had been standing on the side of the lock, operated the lock for me alone. I asked her what was going on. She explained that the locks around here are about 58 ft in length and that they have a 60 ft boat. They can get through the locks but they need to be in them alone so they can stop diagonally across the lock, corner to corner, to give themselves just enough room to get through. With my being in the lock beside them they couldn’t get diagonally across it, so the man had backed out again. Hence my embarrassment: they’d got to the lock first and I’d taken it, albeit unwittingly, and to make matters worse the woman from the boat was locking me through.

On the other side of Cooper Bridge Lock I was on the River Calder. Rivers are quite different to canals and this was the first one I’d been on since the River Thames on 6th April. They are wider, deeper and they have a current. I had crawled along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, spent a week in Aspley Basin and then moved steadily down the Huddersfield Broad Canal with the Bourns. FRILFORD suddenly felt different – sort of lifted up. I opened the throttle a bit; she moved forward eagerly. I opened it a bit more and we moved forward again. In no time at all I was doing 6 miles an hour and leaving a pleasing wake behind me down the middle of the river. A real bow wave curled back from the sharp end and FRILFORD became most boat-like!

I passed under a big railway bridge and then a footbridge. The river carried straight on over a weir but large signs and some big orange buoys guided me to starboard, through Battyeford Flood Lock, open like the previous flood lock, and I was suddenly back on the Calder & Hebble Navigation. This bit of canal was more like a canalised river; wide and deep with steep wooded banks and I was able to open the throttle and enjoy FRILFORD’s moving easily along a well-watered channel. This has nothing to do with speed. We are speaking here of the difference between 3 mph and 6 mph. Okay, suddenly I am going twice as fast as I had become used to travelling, but from 3 to 6 mph? Is this significant in the grand scheme of things? In the canal scheme of things it is, but as I have just mentioned, this has nothing to do with the actual speed. It is to do with the way FRILFORD feels on larger waterways. She feels more afloat than usual (which she is, I suppose, given the amount of water around her) and certainly moves more easily. This might not be noticeable to most people but I had been standing on the back of FRILFORD long enough by now to know the difference.

Battyeford Lock hove into view. I tied up, set the lock and let myself in. Then I stopped. There were no other boats around but I knew the couple on the boat whose lock I’d ‘stolen’ were still behind me, so I waited for them in the lock. They didn’t appear for about twenty minutes, but thanked me very much for waiting for them when they did. I told them that I was embarrassed about what had happened in the previous lock and was pleased to wait for them. “Not many others would have,” was their reply. It would have been better if I had remembered to close the top paddles (the things that let the water into the lock) so that the water had not come powering into the lock as the level of water went down, but this was quickly sorted out by the woman, who was operating the lock for us both.

Thereafter I followed them down the Calder & Hebble Navigation, avoided the vast weir at Mirfield, and through the Ledgard Bridge Flood Lock (open). They tied up next to the Lidl superstore and I went a little further, under bridge 18 and tied up on the British Waterways 48 hour moorings on the opposite bank.

I settled down and reflected on what had been a very good day. Mirfield is an interesting place, apparently. The birthplace, or is that the burial place?, of Robin Hood, or something, plus a host of other things which make it interesting, apparently. Do I sound a little dismissive? I am.

Something happened that night which both annoyed and alarmed me. It was not particularly alarming in itself and had no particular consequences, but it played straight into a few insecurities which, even after several months on The Cut, I still carried with me, and it left me thinking “If that is Mirfield, you can have it….!”

I shall write of that another time.

Hah – I should be writing soap operas… We’ve got the cliff hanger – cue the music!

Thanks for reading and thanks to Marianne for the pictures of me...