The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, anon, 1956 Pyramid Press [ebook]


The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, anon, 1956 Pyramid Press.  Book, thin card covers 10”x 7.25”,  pp. 100 (note in the original there are also over 100 pages of advertising, obviously the way the publication was funded. These of   little interest and have been omitted to reduce scanning costs). There are 87 B&W photos, illustrations in line and maps, many items being printed by a two-colour process thought fashionable at the time (the Festival of Britain had a lot to answer for!) but is now rather irritating. The book dates from the first years if the canal revival for leisure use pioneered by the likes of Charles Hadfield and the Rolts.


Circa 1964, I spent a two-week holiday in a hired cabin cruiser on the canal, with my best friend from school. One of those bitter-sweet experiences both aware that this would be the last time we would spend together before going our separate ways in the adult world. The years between the ages of 12 and 19 can seem like a lifetime… We certainly had a lot to remember our trip by … The first night, I was violently ill, a combination of vibration – the boat was over- engined for her size, and heat exhaustion from spending a blazing hot Saturday afternoon tackling the Five Rise Lock at Bingley. The following day, also very hot, progress was stopped by one of the new steel swing bridges which had expanded so much that it would not open. Eventually a larger more powerful vessel arrived from the opposite direction and towed it open, with a screeching of protesting metal. He then proceeded on his way leaving us to close it and of course it jammed making it impossible to lock it shut. After what seemed like eternity, a small lorry arrived and by bumping backwards and forwards while we pushed, jolted the damned thing free. Having to proceed at reduced speed because of the vibration and losing several hours because of the bridge it seemed obvious that we would not reach our intended turning point the Burnley embankment.

We had problems with livestock. A very angry swan took exception to our presence on a lonely stretch high in the Pennines, as we passed, it began running along the surface of the water with outstretched wings, looking like a B52 with feathers.  Once airborne, it gained speed and was obviously going to land on the boat. We hurriedly vacated the rear cockpit, slamming the cabin door shut as the terrifying creature crash landed. I think it must have stunned itself because it was very quiet for a while then began hissing and pecking at the cabin door. Getting bored with this it then jumped over the side and swam off home in a smug and stately fashion. We wondered if the scarred paint work would affect the return of our deposit.

Then there was the very pretty Jersey cow who attached herself to us in our way to a local village pub and tried to join us inside for a drink. While we had a couple of pints, she pressed her wet nose against the window, mooing mournfully at being left out of the round. After a while she disappeared and we set off back to the canal only to find her waiting on the tow path for her new friends. She followed is back to the boat and after we jumped aboard paused for a moment before attempting to join us. It was a very small vessel (“Sleep Four” – sure, if two were midgets who did not mind doing so folded in half in the forepeak) with a low freeboard. She managed to get two forelegs on the deck then became rigid with fear at the instability she had caused. We all know what animals do when frightened so now the towpath was wet, smelly and slippery. To a casual observer it must have looked as if we were trying to steal the beast… Eventually taking a foreleg each we were able to coax her back on to dry land, hurriedly cast off and started the engine. As we moved off she stared reproachfully at us with her big brown eyes and mooed a mournful farewell. Then there was the passage of the two immensely long tunnels, where the boat seemed to fit like a rat in a drainpipe and a tiny pinprick of light not only never seemed to get bigger, but due to some strange optical illusion seemed to be getting further away. I had always had mild claustrophobia but this experience was in a class of its own and quite spoiled the holiday, knowing it would have to be done again on the return.

There were other incidents – the dead cat tangled in the mooring rope, dropping the windlass key overboard, suddenly encountering a right angled corner (not a bend, a 90 degree corner) choked with old ladders, oil drums coils of rope and other debris. Finally, the night that we did not fancy mooring in the centre of Barnoldswick so picked a nice quiet spot about half a mile beyond the town. We were woken at about 7 am by the most appalling, frightening mechanical roaring and screaming noise. Our quiet mooring turned out to be just behind one of the test pits for the RB211 jet engine.

After six days we were in sight if the Burnley embankment but it was beginning to rain, and it looked very long… We decided to head back to the boat yard at Apperley Bridge. It rained most of the way, and the battery on my old banger of a car was flat. Enjoyable? Well up to a point Lord Copper. It was an experience I was glad to have had, but I do not think either of us ever went near a canal again.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal   links the cities of Leeds and Liverpool , a distance of 127 miles (204 km).  It crosses the Pennines, and includes 91 locks on the main line. It has several small branches, and in the early 21st century a new link was constructed into the Liverpool docks system. The canal took almost 50 years to complete, with pauses to raise further capital and delays due to the major tunnels at Foulridge and Gannow and the massive embankment at Burnley.

The most important cargo was always coal, with over a million tons per year being delivered to Liverpool in the 1860s, with smaller amounts exported via the old Douglas Navig ation. Even in Yorkshire, more coal was carried than limestone. Once the canal was fully open, receipts for carrying merchandise matched those of coal. The heavy industry along its route, together with         the decision to build the canal with broad locks, ensured that (unlike the other two trans-Pennine canals) the Leeds and Liverpool competed successfully with the railways throughout the 19th century and remained open through the 20th century




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