Thursday 10 September 2015

Coming up for Aire

After our rest day in Leeds, it was time to bid farewell to our city centre mooring and go down the remaining lock of the Leeds & Liverpool canal, onto the Aire & Calder Navigation.

True to form, it poured water from leaky top gates all over Erin Mae's stern, but we finally made it through, before turning into Clarence Dock, next to the Royal Armouries Museum.

We'd visited this museum yesterday, following recommendations from guide books and a boater, but I didn't enjoy it. For me, war is a very ambiguous thing. There's a age-old tradition of a "just war" argument, and it's easy to posit questions about what you actually do if someone attacks you or yours, or acts with appalling cruelty. How should you respond to acts of genocide? Etc. But it all leaves me feeling profoundly uncomfortable, especially because as soon as I settle on a position to adopt, I can easily start picking holes in it. The museum by no means sets out to glorify war – far from it. In fact, it even makes space for a small pacifist exhibition. But you can't exhibit and describe armament and weapons from the last few centuries without celebrating the technology, and to some extent simply accepting that this is what is.

Anyway, today we were there to fill our water tank, while my best beloved walked a few yards to get her head around the first of the automated locks on the A & C.

They work with a key, and have buttons to press in sequence, with lights to indicate what stage the lock thinks it is at. Unfortunately, this very first lock was not playing ball. No lights were showing, and nothing seemed to happen. Eventually I crossed the canal to the local CRT office, and they promised to send someone across to see what was wrong.

Andy came over, re-set something, used his magic key, and everything was fine. Thanks, Andy. You're a star!

The Leeds and Liverpool was a wide canal (for boats up to 14 feet wide), but the locks, being short and normally leaking considerable amounts of water, felt positively claustrophobic. Not so the Aire and Caulder. Parts of it at this point are the actual River Aire, and even when that is diverted and you're in a cut, it is wide enough to feel like a river.

It was also far more interesting than when we cruised down the River Severn a couple of years ago, because you can usually see beyond the hedge, and over the surrounding fields or hills.

The locks are designed for commercial craft to come up to Leeds, so they are big.

After those on the L & L they felt like an Olympic rowing course.

But they are not unattractive, and Woodlesford Lock even had a whimsical donkey admiring the flowers.

So we came down to Castleford and turned left. In spite of its name and Roman origins, I've always associated Castleford with hard men and rugby league, thinking of it simply as a Yorkshire industrial town. So our mooring is a bit of a surprise. Just over the bank there's a field with bales of harvested hay. It feels quite rural.

I just hope that boat in front of us doesn't accidentally slip its mooring in the night, and drift down towards us. I suspect Erin Mae would come off second best!


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