Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article The canal with no boats is the copyright of Jim Shead - the third of "Jim's Jottings" covering the River Derwent, Pocklington Canal, the Ouse and Ripon Canal. Published in Waterways World September 1998
The canal with no boats
It was raining hard as we left the Trent and entered Keadby Lock, a manoeuvre I managed without hitting the side of the lock as I had at West Stockwith. We had turned off at West Stockwith to revisit the tranquil Chesterfield Canal and found its rural charms undiminished. The canal has a good number of boats based at West Stockwith, Clayworth, Retford and Worksop and I would recommend a visit to anyone. We found fewer weeds and an improved depth of water near Worksop since we were here two years ago.
Now our journey down the Trent was ending at Keadby where the Stainforth and Keadby Canal takes us through the flat lands of eastern Yorkshire, more like the fens than the dales. At Bramwith Junction we made a detour from this low-lying area by turning up towards Sheffield. This is a waterway of interest and variety, composed of cuts and parts of the River Don. There are many industries along the route contrasting with beautiful wooded reaches. The locks below Rotherham are large and electrically operated; those above are manually operated and much smaller. Passage through the last 13 locks up to Sheffield has to be pre-booked. A very helpful lock keeper unlocked the gates and assisted us all the way through the locks going up and on our return. Sheffield must have some of the best city centre moorings anywhere on the canal system; pleasant, secure, with good boating facilities and close to the centre.
On leaving the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation we joined the Aire & Calder which took us to the River Aire at Bank Dole Junction. This section of the River Aire took us over six miles to Haddlesey Flood Lock where we joined the Selby Canal. It is pleasing to note that all the locks now have large floating pontoons as landing stages, replacing the rather inadequate arrangements of three years ago. BW have not finished work on the Aire for when we got to Beal Lock we found a diver in the water measuring up for a future stoppage.
We entered waters new to us at Selby, for instead of turning up the Ouse to York we went down the 6 1/2 miles to Barmby to join the River Derwent. The Ouse was not running fast and we got into Barmby lock without any problems. This lock has radial gates so that it can be used when the Ouse is both above and below the level of the Derwent. After passing through the lock we moored on the facilities pontoon and I walked back to the lock to purchase a Boat Certificate (£12 for a year), which is required to ensure that boats meet the anti-pollution regulations on a river that is a source of drinking water.
The Derwent is an Environment Agency river that is very rural. Mooring can be a problem as there are very few recognised mooring places. There are moorings at the Breighton Ferry pub, about 4 miles up the river, but many are occupied as private moorings and there was not a gap big enough for a 57-foot narrowboat when we passed. We managed to moor on the bank at Derwent Bridge, Bubwith, and walked into the village for lunch, but when we tried to do the same on our return trip we found we could not get into the bank as the river level had fallen a foot. Since the building of Barmby Barrage the river is non-tidal but the water level still varies from time to time and this should be borne in mind when mooring.
Eleven miles up the river we come to the junction with the British Waterways Pocklington Canal and, shortly after the junction, Cottingwith Lock. Like all locks on the canal this is a wide lock, 57 foot long. The first things I noticed about this canal were the lack of any mooring facilities at any of the locks or swing bridges and the large amounts of weed that caused constant problems. We fought our way through the weed for over two miles, although it seemed a lot longer, to just beyond Hagg Bridge where we called it a day and moored, with the front of the boat in the reeds and the back in the middle of the canal. By this time we had noticed something else, there were no other boats. There must have been some other boats through here previously because there was a channel cut through the weed in the middle of the canal.
The next day we continued, through more weeds, to Gardham Lock, which has some unusual paddle gear operated by wheels. In other circumstances we might have appreciated the quiet surrounding countryside but the peace was shattered by the roar of our engine struggling against the weed. Luckily the channel was clearer above the lock and we completed the journey to Melbourne, 5 miles up the canal, with no further problems. At Melbourne there is a short arm, down to the village, with mooring stages and BW facilities. We moored on the visitor moorings and although we were at Melbourne we had no "neighbours", the only other boat here had a foot of water inside and was clearly not being used. Our guide book suggested that we could cruise another two miles to Coat's Lock but the canal was clogged with reeds below the next lock (Thornton) and the gates were padlocked. We had lunch at the pub where the landlord told us that a fortnight before a convoy of six boats had come up the canal for his famous lobster dinners.
We made our way back to the Derwent before we saw another boat. It was as if the whole canal - two locks, six swing bridges, moorings and facilities - were being maintained just for us. The Pocklington Canal has plenty of potential, what it lacks is boats. A contrast to our next destinations at York, where there are plenty of boats, and the newly restored and well used Ripon Basin.
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