Today we entered tidal waters to cross from the Leeds Liverpool Canal to the Lancaster Canal. This involved locking out at Tarleton onto the River Douglas for four miles, fighting the incoming tide to the Asland Lamp, and then turning right up the River Ribble for three more miles to the entrance to the Savick Brook, a mile west of Preston, which takes you into the Ribble Link and where after nine locks, you join the Lancaster Canal.
Over the years we’ve heard some scary stories about this crossing. We’ve learnt not to listen to such tales as we find that what one person finds scary, we find exciting. Many months ago, over dinner with Pip and Mick on NB Oleanna we agreed to do this trip together.
We’d been instructed by Harry, the lock-keeper, to be at the sea lock entrance to the River Douglas by 11.40am. There were five boats in total booked to do the crossing today which would mean three lockings as the lock only holds a maximum of two narrowboats. We were at the front of the queue with life-jackets on, anchor laid out ready in the front deck with chain and rope attached and our life buoy on the roof.
With nowhere to moor at the lock, we were all hovering waiting for the off and eventually the lock was set in our favour, the pedestrian swing bridge in front of the lock was swung, and in we went. Quite a crowd,comprising lock-keepers, CRT personnel and some experienced sea-going folk assembled at the lock to ensure we knew where we were heading, to pass on last minute advice, and finally to wish us a safe and enjoyable journey.
At noon, the incoming tide was judged to be at an acceptable level for us to go and the gates ahead of us opened. NB Oleanna led the way. We were advised to give them a 20 yard start and then we were on our way too. We were expecting that as soon as we hit the incoming tide we would almost stop, but this didn’t happen as we powered up to 2100 rpm. Instead we made good progress, steering a slightly right of centre line down the narrow river, out past Shephards Boatyard where there were more boats on the bank than in the water.
Once we’d turned the corner at Much Hoole, the river straightened out and widened and you could see quite a way across the flat marshland either side of the river. Apart from the thrill of the journey, the only other excitement was when a plastic cruiser headed to us, causing quite a wake, and we turned into meet this head on. There was a slight change in the noise of our propellor as it struggled to find some water for a moment as we rode the wave.
Soon we started to spot post markers that defined the course of the river and before long, with the use of binoculars, we could make out the Asland Lamp. As we turned at the Asland Lamp there was still no sight of the boats that penned out of the sea lock behind us.
The sun was shining and there was a warm breeze from the north. Once on the River Ribble our pace quickened it was almost high tide and we hit slack water. We came across the Savick Brook a lot quicker than we thought, even though we had a map and had counted off the Mile Perch markers. We turned into Brook once we could see all the way down it, to make sure we didn’t cut the corner and hit the sandbank to the left of the entrance, and we called Steve, the CRT lock-keeper to advise him of our arrival, but he’d seen us as he was sitting in his van at the entrance. This part of our journey had taken about an hour and a half.
We continued on through the sea-lock, which we did without realising it was a lock and pulled up on the jetty just beyond to await the arrival of the other three boats coming up behind us. We were surprised to find a narrowboat already on the jetty, and they’d come down from Preston Docks that morning.
We discovered that there had been 11 boats booked out of Tarleton yesterday, as Monday’s crossing had been cancelled due to bad weather, and by the time NB Blueskyblue arrived at Savick, there had been insufficient water for them to enter the brook and they were diverted onto Preston.
As soon as the other three boats arrived, we were given the signal to proceed up the Ribble Link. Our two boats were the last ones to set off this time which meant that we would have to wait at the locks for the others to lock through first The course of the link is quite narrow, with some tight bends in it, overgrown with bamboo and reeds and at times it felt like were were entering Amazonian waters.
Steve, the CRT lock-keeper and his mate, operated the first lock and after that we expected to work the locks ourselves, but they followed us up through quite a few of the locks as they had to lock the paddle gear afterwards to make sure the youths of Preston didn’t empty the pounds overnight.
It took about four hours to work our way up through the locks, the last three, forming a staircase which we had to go up backwards due to the final bend in the canal being too tight for us to turn.
At the top we were met by those who’d gathered ready to pass back through the Link in the morning, as well as a tall sculpture entitled Gauging the Ripple.
Again there wasn’t a lot of space to turn at the top of the locks and we handed our front rope to a member of the waiting crowd who pulled our front round slowly so were facing the correct way and after that we turned left out onto the Lancaster Canal.
At Bridge 19 we spotted a yellow sign, and the writing was so small we didn’t have time to read it. We discovered afterwards that this had warned of the BNFL Westinghouse emergency zone and that if we’d heard a loud continuous siren, we should have left the area as soon as possible. Fuel rods for nuclear power stations are made here!
We motored on until about 7pm as we’d decided to try to make it to the Hand & Dagger at Salwick which advertised that it had moorings available. Unfortunately these moorings were taken and we couldn’t get into the side. After several abortive attempts to moor, we continued on through two more bridges and moored up about half a mile from the M55 motorway. It was just far enough away not to disturb our sleep.
We moored up and after a quick wash, we walked back to the pub to eat. Pip & Mick had telephoned ahead and there was a table waiting for us. As we finished our meal, we discovered we’d arrived on quiz night as the PA system came alive. We hadn’t been asked to take part and instead we tried to answer the questions anyway. We wouldn’t have won as we didn’t know enough correct answers!
After all the excitement of the day, I think we’ll sleep well tonight.