Monday, 20 May 2013

I steered a horse drawn boat ...

… yesterday, a total of nearly 5 miles and 22 locks (27 lock miles) meeting at 10am and getting home to Rock n Roll at 20:45 … and for my effort I got … a black eye!
We met up with Sue Day of the Horse Boating Society at 10 am to see if we were needed for her trip to Huddersfield.  One volunteer had pulled out at the last minute so that left Sue and 2 other volunteers.  I had explained to her over the phone that I could do the locks so long as I was with someone else and that I had to bring Molly with me but didn’t want her getting in the way of the horse, other than that I was willing to be whatever help I could.  She asked if I would steer the 70’ oldest surviving wooden narrowboat ‘Maria’ built in 1854 by Jinks Boatyard in Marple; I said that I would give it a go!

We walked down the next two locks and set them; George returned to RnR to collect Molly’s box so that she can take up her usual position when I’m steering and also brought back a large spanner and wrench whilst I filled in the appropriate paperwork; he then helped Sue to harness Bilbo the boat horse.  

In the picture above we’re in Waterside Lock (21E) the first of the day, George is waiting for Sue to throw down the towing line which he will attach to the mast George has his hand on on the boat’s top plank.

 Three locks down in Holme Lock (19E) … so far, so good ...
 … steering to my left as I come through the bridge hole

There was a ‘stoppage’ between locks 17 and 16 and we had told Sue that there were barricades across the towpath, you could get round on foot but not with a horse.  She had rung C&RT but it wasn’t their responsibility as the barrier has been put up by the council.  Hence the large spanner and wrench - George dismantled part of both barrier for Bilbo to pass and then put them back again!

Lost count of which lock I’m in now but we’ve been travelling for just over an hour.  See those spouts of water and that they’re landing on the top plank and top of the cabin?  well, I’m going to get wet I think!  I was so right, the whole of my right side from my shoulders to my feet was soaked there was no way I could avoid it - just as well it was a warm day and I soon dried off.

I think it was about here that I gained my black eye!  I had been cruising down the middle of the canal as I would in motorised Rock n Roll but hadn’t taken into account that I needed a lot more room to go round the bends and ended up with the stern of Maria in the trees.  I could see really chunky branches flicking under and out of the top plank coming towards me and was mostly concerned that they will knock Molly off the top or that she would fall off if she jumped up in fright, so I had one hand on the tiller and the other on Molly to keep her still. So when that big branch finally reached me it hit me under my jaw and flicked up just under my left eye - it’s a good job I wear glasses or the damage would have been a lot worse!

Joyce and Nigel the other two volunteers on this journey in rather more appropriate dress than George and I were!
Don’t I look confident!
15:45 this is the lock with the poems on the balance beams - there were lots of peoples sitting outside these buildings and as we passed they clapped and made some very nice comments about ‘lady’ drivers!
Bilbo Baggins waits patiently beside the graffitied info board (a sign of the area)
 Bilbo Baggins and Sue Day towing Marie out of Longroyd Bridge and lock 4E - three more locks to go and it’s now 10 past 5

The Spinners Arms - some good comments too - I liked “she knows what she’s doing”

There is no access for crew to walk between lock 3 and just beyond lock 2 so both George and Joyce need to get onboard as soon as we clear the first lock.  Sue Day and Nigel have taken the horse over the main road and down the streets to wait for us on the other side.  Remember that ‘Maria’ has no engine so does not go far under her own steam as it were!  Not really knowing what was down there or how long these bridges under the road and university building was going to require some ingenuity! 

Once through Lock 3 we were in the bridge/short tunnel under the road where Joyce and George could reach the roof and used their hands and fists to ‘walk’ the boat through.  Out the other side George noticed that there was a towpath of sorts albeit a bit swampy and he climbed off Maria and using the stern rope pulled me through and stopped me in front of lock 2 where Joyce took the bow line under the lock bridge and helped to haul Maria in.
Now at lock 2 - what will this tunnel be like?  Joyce had hold of the bow rope and George the stern rope to haul me out of the lock.
The only way to give the boat momentum is to pull on the ropes, Joyce has already passed the bow rope under the bridge and George does the same with the stern line, Joyce got on the bow again and George will give the boat a good pull once the gates are closed to send her forward and then get quickly onto the boat as she passes him.
The tunnel was about 100 yards in length and again Joyce and George used hand/fists and feet to get us through.  Next obstacle was the ‘pipe bridges’ (built to stabilise the canal walls) - this section was about 150 yards and Joyce and George pushed on each ‘pipe’ as they passed underneath and moved the boat along quite nicely.  We were all extremely pleased with our efforts!

We hitched up once again with Bilbo and were soon through Lock 1 - at last were were in Huddersfield centre, on the Huddersfield Broad Canal (as opposed to the Huddersfield Narrow) and it was 18:45.  We continued past the university to turn into Aspley Marina where ‘Maria’ was to be moored until later this week when Sue, provided that she can get enough volunteers, will do the same journey in reverse!
Me with Molly and a blossoming left eye, Bilbo Baggins, Nigel and Joyce.

We've tidied up the boat, brought all the equipment and our belongings to the horse box, Bilbo is waiting to get into there and then we’re off to the pub for a very welcome drink.  Sue gave us all a lift back in the horse box and we finally arrived home on RnR at a quarter to nine feeling worn out, achey and very tired but very pleased and proud of ourselves after such a long but brilliant adventure!

Thanks to George for the pictures of me on the move, I didn’t have the time or the opportunity of taking photos as I didn’t dare take my hands off the tiller!

Today as I write this blog my arms and shoulders are rather tender - pushing and pulling that extremely heavy rudder has taken its toll but spirits are high and my bruised eye is coming on a treat!  We’re glad that we did it though.  We do it all again tomorrow but this time with the advantage of an engine and most importantly for those sharp bends - a bow thruster!


  1. What a tremendous experience! Mind you, I would have given a right arm or two to have been Bilbo's 'steerer' for the day..

  2. WOW what an amazing day, how lucky are you :)

    1. Thanks Kevin - looking back it was quit amazing that we agreed to do it!!

  3. Brilliant, what a great experience, and I'm sure your aches and pains will soon pass but what you both did will stay with you. Well done. All my love Sandra. xxx

  4. Blimey Carol!!!!!!!

    You are very brave to do all that!! Gawd I cant imagine me doing it for sure.

    Well done you, and what a fabulous experience you have had..

    1. Thanks Sue, I can tell you I didn’t feel brave until it was done, but yes it was certainly a great experience!

  5. What a brilliant day! Hope the eye isn't too sore tomorrow. Some arnica will help keep the bruising down. Simon NB Le Grand Bleu

    1. Hi Simon, It was a great day and my eye although quite colourful doesn’t hurt now - I’ve been using arnica (recommended by Joyce one of the volunteers on that great day) and it’s worked a treat.

  6. What an experience, the old fashioned way of the canals, something to remember. xx

    1. It was Garry, you would have really enjoyed the feel of ‘quiet’ under the boat as it glided on the canal. Love to all. xx