Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article Rivers to Ripon is the copyright of Jim Shead - The Selby Canal, River Ouse and the Ripon Canal. First published in Waterways World February 1998
Rivers to Ripon
In April we arrived at Godalming, the furthest point south on the system of connected inland waterways which cover so much of the country, our plan for the year also included a trip to Ripon, the furthest point north, so September saw us on the Aire & Calder making for Bank Dole Junction. I look upon Bank Dole as the start of the journey to York and Ripon, because once off of the Aire & Calder the route was all new to us. It is also the point where most cruising guide books became strangely silent, Nicholson Ordnance Survey Guides first covered this area in their 1997, seven part, edition. Before these arrived I had to rely on L A Edwards' Inland Waterways of Great Britain to plan the route.
According to Edwards' the distance is almost 59 miles, but some page turning and arithmetic is needed as the route involves three rivers and two canal sections. The first river, the Aire, is entered through Bank Dole Lock, a large, heavy, manually operated lock giving the impression that any trade there may have been here is long gone. After the large mechanised locks of the Aire & Calder, and its commercial traffic and pleasure craft, the Aire is a real contrast. The river winds through a mainly rural landscape, passing farms but little else. We saw no other boats on the move and only an occasional one moored, apart from cows and sheep the only signs of life were the Great Crested Grebes that dived out of sight as we approached and the sheep dog that ran along the bank barking at the boat. The two Aire locks were even more awkward coming up stream as their landing stages were beside the lock, that is on the weir side of the river rather than in the lock cut. This meant that when the lock was opened the boat needed to be turned or reversed to get back to the lock entrance. On a later trip up the river I was pleased to see that a new landing pontoon had been added below Beal Lock, in a more conventional position. At Bank Dole you must still use the one next to the weir.
After 61/2 miles on the Aire we came to the third lock, Haddlesey Flood Lock, which took us on to the 5 1/4 mile Selby Canal, built by William Jessop early in his career and opened in 1778. Unlike most flood locks the gates at Haddlesey are often kept closed though when we went through there was very little difference in the water levels. The canal runs level to Selby where the fourth lock gives access to the tidal Ouse. There are very few places to moor on the canal but after passing through the electrically operated swing bridge, just before Selby Lock, there are good visitor moorings with all facilities close by. A board by the lock gives details of the tides and the times when the lock keeper is on duty. Selby has a good town centre and an impressive abbey much of it dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.
At 12.15 the next day we went into the lock with another narrowboat and a cruiser, ready to face the 13 1/2 miles of the tidal Ouse up to Naburn Locks. As we came out of the lock the incoming tide was flowing strongly up river, bringing with it an assortment of debris; branches, weeds and pieces of timber. We travelled the first two miles picking our way past the flotsam brought with the tide but gradually we emerged into clearer waters. There are three bridges between Selby and Naburn, all large swing bridges with keepers, but these are designed for large commercial craft and unopened allowed plenty of headroom for a narrowboat even at high tide. The first two bridges are at Selby, the Railway Bridge followed by the Toll Bridge, then, at about the half way point between Selby and Naburn, Cawood Bridge. Further up stream the force of the tide was much diminished and a squirrel had no difficulty in swimming right across the river in front of our boat. As we got nearer to Naburn we met a narrowboat and several cruisers coming down river, then some barges stuck in the shallows. Even closer to the lock we found a large sea going cruiser aground in the middle of the river but there seemed to be plenty of water for our narrowboat.
There are two locks, side by side, at Naburn and above the lock is the water point, sanitary station, pump-out and moorings. It is advisable to use the facilities here, if required, as the next British Waterways water point is 26 miles away at Boroughbridge. Our destination for the day was York just six miles away. The river above the locks is full of boating activity, boat trips into York run from the Ship Inn here, boats are moored along the banks and in Naburn Marina. There are certainly many large cruisers but all types of boats can be seen on the river. After the marina we came to a disused railway swing bridge, now fixed and giving 25 feet headroom, then a little further on the left bank we saw the Archbishop of York's palace at Bishopsthorpe, a name reflecting the seven centuries the archbishop's have lived here. Most of the palace dates from the 18th century although it has a 13th century chapel.
As we came into York we saw on the right the junction with the River Foss, navigable for about a mile and a half, followed by the three road bridges in the centre of the city; Skeldergate, Ouse and Lendal bridges. The best moorings are just above Lendal Bridge by the Museum Park. Mooring rings are provided and near the bridge there are rubbish and Elsan disposal facilities and a drinking water tap, although not one that is really designed for a hose connection. The moorings here are very convenient for visiting the Minster and are only a short walk from the city centre. We stayed a few days here before setting off for Ripon and a few days more on the way back. York is a city of great charm and has a tremendous number of attractions crowded within the city walls. The Minster dominates the city and is flanked by old streets leading to the city centre, the Shambles being one of the most famous and picturesque. The Castle Museum and the Railway Museum are justly famous but are not the only ones in York; the Jorvick Viking Museum, the Yorkshire Museum and the Wax Museum are some of the others. There is a market and any number of shops, restaurants and pubs or you can treat yourself to refreshment at the famous Betty's tea-shop. Perhaps the real charm of the city lies in the countless small things of interest that seem to be round every corner. Buy yourself a York guide book and find out what a lot the place has to offer.
Tearing ourselves away from York we headed upstream towards Ripon. L A Edwards' book warns of "clay huts" which he describes as "a serious, but interesting series of obstructions". These under water hazards are apparently situated down stream of Linton Lock; as no guide to the river could be found in York we decided to keep to the centre of the river and hope for the best. The new Nicholson guide makes no mention of "clay huts" but, as we were to discover, they do exist. After ten miles we reached Linton Lock without incident. The lock and about ten miles of the river were under the control of the Linton Lock Navigation Commissioners and at the lock we paid £15 (plus £10 deposit for the key to the gate padlocks) for a monthly lock pass. A very large crack ran vertically down one wall of the lock so it is pleasing to know that this winter the lock has been closed for extensive repairs, financed in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The river continues winding through fields and past the occasional small village and after almost eight more miles meets the junction with the River Ure, which is our route to Ripon, and the River Swale, which is only navigable for a short distance. This junction marks the upper limit of the Ouse and the point at which we are again under British Waterways authority. We stopped the night at Boroughbridge, after passing through Milby Lock, the 20 miles and two locks from York having taken us 5 1/4 hours.
Boroughbridge is a delightful old town with a surprising number of shops for such a small place. We had moored in the lock cut almost opposite the British Waterways Sanitary Station, which also offers a self-service pump-out. The next five miles of the Ure offer as rich a feast of rural cruising as you will find on any upper reaches. There is one lock, Westwick, then near to the head of the navigable river we entered Oxclose Lock which marks the start of the Ripon Canal. This is another William Jessop Canal even earlier than the Selby Canal. In 1770, while working as assistant to John Smeaton, he did a survey for the canal and the Ure navigation, both navigations being authorised under the same Act of Parliament in 1767. The waterways of Yorkshire were Smeaton's home ground and Jessop learned his profession here, first as apprentice, and later as assistant, to Smeaton.
In the two miles to Ripon we pass more pleasant scenery, a visitor mooring by the racecourse and the home of the Ripon Motor Boat Club. Close to the end of the cut are two more locks, Bell Furrow's and Rhode's Field, both demolished in the fifties and not rebuilt until the mid-eighties. When we visited here the canal ended a short distance after the lock, however, the building of the Ripon Relief Road created an opportunity to remove the blockage and restore the canal. Now it is possible to cruise that extra half mile to the terminal basin. We walked into this small but ancient city and visited the cathedral, dating back to Saxon times. The present building was constructed between 1154 and 1530, with victorian restoration, but it still has a Saxon crypt dating from AD 672 that is open to visitors. The city is centred around a large market place dominated by an 18th century obelisk 90 feet high. We could not ask for a more fitting destination for the most northern waterway on the system.
On our return journey we stopped at Newby Hall on the River Ure, about three miles from Ripon. We saw the Hall at the end of a green avenue as we passed the private landing stage, its red bricks glowing in the warm September sun. A little way on we came to the visitor moorings where we stopped and paid a combined mooring and entrance fee. The extensive gardens are well worth seeing, there is a miniature railway running through them, rides for the children, restaurant and shop. The house is also open to the public.
After lunch we set off back through Boroughbridge and on to Linton Lock. It was a squeeze to get our 57 foot narrowboat on to the lock mooring as both sides of the lock cut, right up to the lock, are used as permanent moorings and the lock landing stages were clearly designed for cruisers rather than narrowboats. We were in the middle of the river, after the lock, when the boat tipped to one side for a few seconds before coming off the obstruction - we had encountered our first and only "clay hut".
It was getting late and we were looking for a mooring place, which, for a narrowboat, are few on these waters which are more geared to the needs of cruisers. I had noticed a pub with moorings near here on the way up to Ripon so I was looking out for it, then we glimpsed the tiny landing stage under the trees and the "Dawnay Arms" notice board at the top of the high bank. The landing stage bobbed up and down like a cork whenever anyone stepped on it and the walkway up to the top of the bank was steep and rather dilapidated. To ensure that we did not drift off in the night with the landing stage still attached I tied the boat to the substantial trees on the bank. This was probably a wise precaution as the following June we passed the same spot and the landing stage had completely disappeared. After dinner we made our way across the large garden and into the pub where we spent a very enjoyable evening.
Just above Lendal Bridge at York we found that all the moorings were taken by boats attending a regatta in progress there, so we went on to Ouse Bridge where, close to the bridge, there are moorings marked by British Waterways notices. These moorings are even closer to the centre than those at Lendal Bridge but they are outside the "King's Arms" and close to other pubs. They are also beside a very high quay which meant that we had to climb on to the roof of the boat then take a giant step up every time we got off the boat.
On the way back to Naburn locks we stopped at the Marina for diesel and also bought the guide book I should have got on my way up, the Ripon Motor Boat Club's Cruising Guide to the North East Waterways . A later edition (see review WW July 1996) is available from the RMBC, Birchwood, 101 St Wilfred's Road, Harrogate HG2 8LR for £14 post paid. This is 200 A4 pages in a plastic edge binding, of the sort used on business reports, but it contains a wealth of useful information; detailed maps of the Ouse, Ure, Ripon Canal and Trent, cruising notes on these and other navigations, history of the waterways, pictures, telephone numbers and the position of those interesting "clay huts".
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