The Brook, the Estuary and the River

Lancaster Canal to Rufford: 15 miles, 10 locks

By Wednesday midday Tentatrice and Cleddau were moored in the basin above the Ribble Link triple staircase locks, in readiness for Thursday’s 0930 locking down.

What did the locks look like from a more normal perspective? The ascent (on 19th May)  had been carried out backwards on the lock keepers’ instructions. This was to make the lock entry and exit more manageable in the tight spaces at the bottom and top of the locks.

There was opportunity for an afternoon recce: the top lock (lock 1) of the staircase was full of water – and this water would be taken down into lock 2 and then into lock 3 as the boats descended.

At the bottom of the triple locks the boats would reverse out, swing to the left and then crawl beneath a low bridge…

By early evening the two boats had been joined by a third. Fortunately, apart from the noise of some nearby motorbikes and a passing group of Nordic walkers, it was a quiet night.

Early next morning another three boats arrived, all booked for the 0930 locking down.

At 0930 two young strong-looking lock keepers arrived. They had an energetic couple of hours ahead of them… Tentatrice and Cleddau moved away from the side, swung the bows across the basin and manoeuvred sterns first into the top lock. The four other boats remained rafted up on the far side of the basin.

Ready: Phone. Satnav. Walkie Talkie. Maps and charts protected inside plastic folder.


Into the top lock – going down…

Reversing from top lock into the second lock…

Dropped down in lock 2…

Reversing out of lock 3…

That’s the bridge to pass under…

Unnoticed when passing three weeks ago was the cantilevered towpath under the bridge…

From here onwards, locks 4, 5, 6 and 7 are boater-operated. There are challenges of course, stray golf balls for instance,    and the need to unlock the paddles by releasing the hard to locate horizontally positioned metal pegs…

At lock 8 (the sea lock) the C&RT lock keepers reappeared to wind the paddles and push the gates.   It seemed Stage 1 was over.

Stage 2: The Brook. When navigable the ditch has water, though its depth obviously fluctuates according to the tidal state… It twists and winds and obstacles stick out at odd angles. Corners are tight and it took more than one go to get around one of them.

Stage 3: From landing stage back to non-tidal waters.  “Wait at the landing stage,” the lock keepers had said. “We’ll let you know when there’s enough water. It’ll be about 1 o’clock.” There was an hour’s pause, the time taken up with an early lunch, a hot drink, and a donning of waterproofs and life jackets.

Then from the bank came the lock keeper’s wave, beckoning the boats forward.  There was a green light at the tidal gate,    and the journey continued the last half mile or so to the confluence with the estuary.

Black clouds had gathered. Bank side sheep looked unperturbed.   There was a lightning flash. Thunder rumbled close by. Then down came hail, thick, dense sheets of it, obliterating anything but the vaguest of views, viciously stinging the flesh.

The brook broadened – was that the Ribble ahead and its south bank opposite? As instructed the Captain took a sweep to the left then fought the incoming tide to bear to the right and to turn downstream.

The shallows had been avoided.

Tentatrice struggled, close to the brook’s left bank, reversing, applying power – then surging across the Ribble channel towards Cleddau.

Boats 3 and 4 in the convoy, meanwhile, took a sharper right bearing, Rhasody surging ahead at speed, followed by boat 4.

In the catalogue of boating worst moments this one is near the top of the list: sudden nil visibility, a fierce storm overhead, torrential rain, a manoeuvre against a racing current.

Suddenly it was better: Tentatrice was alongside, the hail had ceased though the rain lashed down. Relief – there was no wind nor lashing waves to contend with…

It would be a straight run now for about three miles down to the Astland Lamp.

A sailing vessel under power approached from downstream, heading towards Preston and the dark storm clouds.

Boats and coats gleamed from the drenching. The flag, saturated, hung, windless, lifeless.   The maps and Google photos had become one green swirl of colour.   On Tentatrice Jennie, the First Mate, was at the helm.

The visibility was gradually improving. From across the river this shape resembled a Viking prow;    use a long distance photo lens and it looks more like a floating tree trunk. White froth streak islands drifted past.

The hangers at Warton came into view.  The two boats ahead had slowed now, curving left to arc round the Astland Lamp,   heading then towards the mouth of the Douglas.

Cleddau and Tentatrice were next, followed by Annapurna, then Juno.

Proportions began to change. There were humans on the Douglas bank.     “Is there something going on?” the man called out. “All these boats…?” How much did he hear or understand of the “Off the Ribble from the Lancaster Canal” that was shouted back in reply.

What sky colours – the unstable air producing sudden shafts of sunlight between the brooding clouds.

On up the twisting River Douglas, in another rainstorm, passing the shipyard,   slowing now to allow the two boats ahead to proceed through Tarleton Lock, hovering, hovering,    waiting to lock up off tidal waters.

Stage 4: Recovery. Moored a half mile beyond Tarleton Lock the boats and crews could be undressed! Off with the outer layers of life jackets and waterproofs, off with the scarves and shirts drenched during the hailstorm, off with the wet socks where rain had wicked down into footwear… There were jobs to be done, the radar reflector to be packed away, the anchor to be refastened, the herb pots to be re-positioned on the roof…

Friday. Just 90 minutes (and three tricky swing bridges)    along the Rufford Arm is St Mary’s Marina.

En route were spotted a water lily,  a disused lock   and a remarkable machine    which seemed to be straightening up tilted 440 volt power line posts…

The marina is just past Rufford Old Hall (yes, Richard, it’s on the To Be Visited List now, thanks for the tip). Now from her temporary mooring Cleddau has a direct view of Rufford’s St Mary’s Church.      After ten weeks out and about around the north west she deserves some well-earned rest!

Since leaving Aston Marina (31st March): 362¾ miles (including 16 miles on tidal waters), 146 locks

2019 Monkton Moments*- 5   

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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4 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Blimey mates you did it!! My hat’s off to you. I cannot imagine attempting it although Les and I both wanted to have a go at the Lancaster. Time now to catch your breath. xxx

  2. Carol says:

    Well done indeed! Tell me more about the radar reflector please.

  3. Carol,
    (Boatwif’s technical adviser replying!)
    The radar reflector is probably a bit of “overkill” as a narrow boat probably has a good radar reflective area due to all of the steel edges and corners. However, if we get into trouble on a sea / tidal estuary crossing I want to be found very quickly. When going out onto tidal waters I fit Cleddau with a temporary mast with navigation lights and the radar reflector.
    The radar reflector consists of a series of metal cells tuned to common radar frequencies and held in a plastic tube.
    It certainly made it easier for Vessel Traffic Control on the Bristol Channel crossing (Sharpness- Portishead- Bristol) to track us.
    I was recently looking up the advice for a Mersey crossing and it recommended a radar reflector.
    (I tried to insert pics but it will not accept them in Comment)

  4. Sue Deveson says:

    Hi Jaq,
    We really loved our time on the Lancaster – the views are stunning and the people friendly. I ache to go back and re-visit Glasson Basin and Morecambe Bay. I’d not expected the canal to run so close to the coast or to become aware of where the famous Morecambe Bay crossings occur.
    The trip back was easier in so far as we understood the Savick Brook lock system, the waiting for the tide and the location of the Astland Lamp. That thunder and hailstorm, however, were horrendous – sudden nil visibility just when we needed to see where to turn onto the Ribble! Still, we survived it – and the hover outside Tarleton Lock (no landing stage there) waiting for it to be turned round for us…
    Getting land legs back now…!
    Sue /Boatwif

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