Is it like climb­ing a moun­tain?

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

Why do we do this? I asked my­self this ques­tion as I wres­tled with the fifth lock on the Wi­gan flight, looked at my watch, saw we’d been go­ing for an hour and re­alised that there could be an­other four hours of this to go.

Worse, I had just felt the first spits of rain on my head.

By lock 20 of the 21, it was get­ting dark and the rain was now pour­ing down. Five hours had passed since we started up the flight and the vi­sion of pie and chips and a pint at the Kirk­less Hall, that had been keep­ing me go­ing as I got ever wet­ter, was sud­denly dashed when I dis­cov­ered that the pub had stopped serv­ing food at seven. It was now eight!

Thor­oughly soaked, Mrs B and me fin­ished the last two locks in some­thing sim­i­lar to the state of de­pres­sion Eng­land fans must have felt af­ter watch­ing Ice­land beat them at the Eu­ros. We rounded the cor­ner at the top of the locks, moored in­stantly, dropped wet clothes in the bath and opened two tins of curry. (There are times when even CanalBoat’s cook­ery colum­nist feels be­yond pre­par­ing any­thing more than a saucepan of rice!)

So why on earth do we do this? Clearly not many other peo­ple were do­ing it – we hadn’t passed a sin­gle soul go­ing ei­ther way on the en­tire flight. I sup­pose, for us, it’s partly the old moun­tain climber’s an­swer: “be­cause it’s there.” A tough lock flight is a chal­lenge – and we’ve done ’em all.

But it’s not just that: in fact we’d done the Leeds & Liver­pool Canal twice al­ready though this was the first time we’d done the Liver­poolLeeds ver­sion. Or, to be more ex­act, the Wi­gan-Leeds ver­sion. And, in case you’re won­der­ing, go­ing up the Wi­gan flight is a whole lot harder than it ever was com­ing down. A bit like climb­ing the North face of the Eiger in­stead of the south one.

The real story is that, quite sim­ply, we like it ‘oop north’. All that ef­fort on the locks is worth­while when you get out of the town and gaze at that spec­tac­u­lar Pen­nine coun­try. The views are breath­tak­ing – and as I write this, we haven’t even reached the best of them, where the canal weaves its way sin­u­ously around the con­tours of the dra­matic land­scape near Gar­grave. And af­ter that we have Skip­ton, then the Bin­g­ley Five Rise locks, the re­mark­able Sal­taire and fi­nally Leeds it­self. What’s not to like?

The canals up here are much less busy than those down south, too. This year even more so: in the 40 miles since Wi­gan I doubt we have seen more than a dozen boats on the move. I’ve been won­der­ing why; I sup­pose some of the rea­son is the flood­ing prob­lems that have closed the Rochdale and (un­til re­cently) the Calder & Heb­ble, nar­row­ing down peo­ple’s boat­ing op­tions.

But I don’t think that’s the only rea­son. I think peo­ple are eas­ily fright­ened off and, sadly, some of these ar­eas have rep­u­ta­tions that go be­fore them.

Yes, the Wi­gan locks are hard work – harder than they should be, to be hon­est, if they had bet­ter main­te­nance – but ban­dit coun­try? We’ve never met any­thing but friend­li­ness and of­fers of help from passers-by on the tow­path. The dreaded Black­burn is much cleaner and ti­dier now; Burn­ley like­wise. I’d rather be go­ing through these places than some of the back­wa­ters we’ve trav­elled in Birm­ing­ham.

Two years ago we did the Rochdale Canal, an­other of those that pro­vokes much suck­ing in of breath and shak­ing of heads. So much so, in fact, that many boaters go up the pretty York­shire side, turn and come back down for fear of what they might come across head­ing down to Manch­ester. Again, it’s hard work in places, rough in oth­ers, but al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing and noth­ing that a bit of com­mon­sense won’t get you through.

I would def­i­nitely say, give the North­ern wa­ter­ways a try. If for no other rea­son than: the next time we are here we might find a boat or two to share the wide locks with.

‘Go­ing up the Wi­gan flight is a lot harder than com­ing down, a bit like climb­ing the north face of the Eiger in­stead of the south’

It’s worth it for this scenery

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