Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bringing Home The Bacon

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took the chance to get out and about a bit more in the past 10 days while lappy was in Nottingham being repaired.

This coincided with lovely warm sunny weather (for the most part) which has been conspicuously absent for most of the summer. Now that I think about it, we had glorious warm weather back in March/April when we went for weeks without a sniff of rain and then we got a summer where we got a full double nostril full of the stuff (following on from the sniff analogy !!) to give us the wettest summer on record (that's a 78 and not a cd). Now we're having more of the dry, warm and sunny variety and so I think the time has come to drop the idea of seasons altogether.

A bit revolutionary I grant you but I'm that way out these days.

I'm a sort of Victor Meldrew with a tattoo. Rock on.

Anyway a few days ago I went on a little trip to the nearby town of Bingley which seems to be famous for 2 man made constructions - the HQ of the Bradford & Bingley Building Society and the Five Rise Locks.

The former is impressively ugly and the later is simply impressive.

The B&B HQ was obviously transported from Normandy where it began life as part of the German defences against a potential Allied invasion. All that's missing are a few cannon barrels poking out from the windows and that would complete the image.

It's a worthy Carbuncle Award nominee for sure.

Thankfully I was able to drive past it with barely a glance as I was heading upwards to go to the Five Rise Locks - just about a mile away from this monstrosity.

Now I'd been to the locks about 6 years ago and I remembered that the locals seem to want to keep them a secret as there is one small signpost that takes you off the main road and after that, you're pretty much left to your own devices. I knew I was going in the right general direction - upwards - as after a few minutes, it became hard to breathe and my nose started bleeding. While cursing my cheapness for not getting the Renault Clio with drop down oxygen masks, I came to a familiar roundabout and knew I was close. I crossed over and drove on.....and on......and found myself out in the countryside and it all came back to me. I'd done the same thing 6 years ago as well !

I'm nothing if not consistent.

I did a u-turn and when I returned to the roundabout, I remembered I needed to take the 2nd on the right and within a few seconds, I was parking up about 50 feet from the top lock. It's easy to see why the location at the top is kept a secret as you basically park on an estate street and dozens of summer tourists invading the area would serious piss off the locals. Much better to let people park at the bottom, walk along the canal and get to the locks that way.

This is the view that greets you and very pleasant it is too.

On the right is a lovely cafe serving the usual hot and cold meals with tea, coffee and soft drinks.
I went in to check the menu and decided I fancied a sausage and bacon sandwich - but I wanted it later on after working up an appetite by walking down to the bottom of the locks, along the canal and back up again.

The photo was taken from the middle of a low bridge over the canal and you can just about see how 18th century canal boats would make their way to and from Liverpool, 111 miles to the West. The problem then was that the canal from Leeds, 16 miles to the East, was 59ft lower down and it's kind of difficult to get boats up and down a waterfall !

I mean canal ponies can only pull a boat so far.

Here are a few of the modern narrow boats that use the canal these days. Some are rented by tourists but many are owner occupied and become year round residences - residences that you can take along the UK's many hundreds of miles of beautiful canals until you find somewhere you want to 'park up' for the night, or week or longer.

Sounds wonderful but I'm sure it has it's drawbacks. I've been on such a boat but only for a week. Yes it's a peaceful and relaxing way to see this country from an unusual viewpoint but opening and closing all those locks can be exhausting.

Many of the boats had wind devices for generating electricity and some even had satellite dishes - just because you're on a canal shouldn't mean you have to miss Lost or Heroes or Emmerdale. Perish the thought.

This is a photo of one such dish with the cafe in the background.

When moored for several days or longer, the owners would make their boats more 'homely' by adding plants and flowers along the roof.

Anyway back to the problem of joining the Leeds canal to the Liverpool canal when there is a 59ft height difference.

The answer was to lift/drop the boats using a staircase of 5 connected locks which in the space of 320 feet, raises/lowers the water level 59ft 2ins. It is therefore the steepest set of locks in the UK and justifies a full time lock-keeper to help out those too inexperienced or too unfit to work the locks themselves. Barry, the 'locky' has been doing the job for over 20 years and was awarded an MBE in 2006 for 'services to Inland Waterways in the North'.

This is the view from the top lock looking down and you may have to click on it to see how each pair of lock gates has a small white 'bridge' between it and the next pair of gates.

These 'bridges' are just wide enough for you to get both feet on them side by side but they create a great vantage point for photography.

Each of the huge wooden gates are 7ft wide to make up a 14ft lock which, handily, is also the width of the canal.

The 5 lock staircase was opened on March 21st 1774 and such was the excitement generated, that 30,000 people turned up to watch.

I bet that seriously pissed off the locals - nothing worse than not being able to park your horse and carriage outside your own house ! That's probably when traffic wardens were thought up.

The local paper ran with the story........................

"From Bingley to about 3 miles downwards the noblest works of the kind are exhibited viz: A five fold, a three fold and a single lock, making together a fall of 120 feet. This joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators, and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits".

The article refers to the fact that there is another staircase of 3 locks just a short distance away and then one more single lock to complete the total drop of 120 feet.

This view from the bottom makes it easier to see the scope and impressive drop of the staircase and I waited for someone to walk down the path that runs alongside the locks to give some scale.

It really is a marvel of engineering and the only disappointment for me was that no canal boat needed to be raised or lowered while I was there.

Although the stroll down to the bottom had been easy ( as I stopped at each lock to take more photos ), I knew the climb back up again was going to be much harder - so I recharged my batteries by spending a while enjoying the scenery.

As well as the canal path, the locks, the water and the trees, there was wildlife in abundance.

Having asked for permission to do so, I took this photo of a dad out enjoying the area with his young son. They were feeding the wildlife which wasn't that wild and would come to the bread if it wasn't coming fast enough to them.

The sun burst through a cloud just as I was framing the photo and shone brightly on the locks in the background.

It was a true Kodak moment - or in my case a Canon moment.

This was the view looking the other way and the path ran all the way to..........well I've no idea really as I've never explored any further. Maybe some day I'll go back and walk the walk.

By now it was time to eat and so I climbed back up to the top and went to the cafe for my sandwich.

Isn't it funny how one looks forward to a food item SO much that nothing else will do ? I had been thinking of that sausage and bacon sannie for some time and as I stood in line, I even counted out the exact money, as men tend to do !

Finally it was my turn but even before my lips had formed the words 'and bacon', the girl broke my heart by informing me that they weren't serving hot food anymore !!!

It was 3:30pm for goodness sake. Did she mean it was the time of day or the fact that it was September or what ? Maybe they only cooked hot meals in even years. Whatever.

I glanced at the menu again but no cold offering took my fancy. I wanted sausage and bacon, dammit. I'd earned it. I'd walked and climbed and worked up an appetite. I deserved some fat and cholesterol to replace what I'd lost. I could feel my ribs start to poke through my skin.

I left the cafe in a deep depression but as soon as I walked the few paces to the locks and studied the view back down to the canal below and the countryside beyond, my mood lifted. I sat on a bench for a while and enjoyed the tranquility and then took my rumbling stomach back to the car and drove home.

As I passed the Normandy stronghold - sorry the B&B HQ - I gave it a cheery wave. It was still hideously ugly of course but my mind was brim full of the wonderful images I'd stored up over the previous few hours and I was feeling charitable.

Less than an hour later I was tucking into a home made sausage and bacon sannie as MY cafe has no time restrictions.

Never come between a man and his desired food item.


Daphne said...

Ah - that takes me back! Eighteen and a bit years ago when we owned half a narrowboat (a friend owned the other half) it was launched at Bingley Five Rise but I couldn't go to the launch because I was very pregnant with Emily and the hospital wouldn't let me. I was really gutted (though I have to say Emily was worth it).

Jennyta said...

How I envy you your wonderful freedom! Especially this week.

Silverback said...

Yes it's a hard life, Jennyta, and about to get much harder ! More on that later.

Daphne, I'm sure Emily would've loved coming into the world on a narrowboat so a big BOOOOO and HISSSSS to the NHS.

Must be coming up to Panto season.


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