The Ribble Link

“Be at the lock for about 9.30.” That was the instruction given by Roger, the relief lock keeper, on Thursday evening.

Six boats were booked through on what is called the Ribble Link, that’s the maximum number on any one day.  The crews of Tentatrice and Cleddau had obviously planned to travel together.

What would the weather be like – an important consideration to prepare for when going out on open water. The strong easterly winds seemed to have decreased but it had rained in the night and there were still showers about.  Warm layers then, plus waterproofs, gaiters or over-trousers, life-jackets.

The Captain boiled the kettle, made up two insulated flasks, one of tea, one of coffee.

One boat had passed by to the lock. Another started to move but held back… time was ticking by – a tide waits for no man.  Cleddau was untied, Tentatrice followed, slowly after that came the other boat and steadily they processed past boatyards, cranes and moorings. 

Tarleton tidal lock was open, a boat already inside. A reshuffle of lock order was not possible; Cleddau was waved in by men on the lock side. “No need for ropes,” one said.

The back gates were closed. The water went down. The doors were opened. Who was to go first? The other boaters were polite. “You can go first”.

As so often advised the Captain opened up the throttle. The channel ahead was full, tidal water surging upstream.

You keep to the middle, you avoid tyres, tree trunks and other floating debris…  The riverbanks are high, views limited at first.  A mile or so downstream there are floating pontoons, moored boats and boats on the bank.   These are sea-going vessels.  There was a shout from above: two men working on a boat waved hard. “Look at us, we’re high and dry!” 

Onwards, the water wider now. Paul Balmer’s Waterways Routes map was active on the android screen.

The land has flattened though some metres back there are natural flood banks. Pylons, occasional tree clumps, swans, sheep.

There came a strange structure – was this one of the perches someone had referred to…?  Wider still the water,  greenery directly ahead and hills behind. The Pennines?

With little infrastructure to provide a fix, effort was going into matching inlets and land shape on the moving map.

The tidal flow is merciless…


The Captain had done his target study.  The Douglas had reached the Ribble Estuary. “There’s Warton, look. Been to meetings there.”  (BAE Warton). On the other side (or so it seemed) was a white golf ball (radar),     an aircraft hangar and other buildings. But where was the Astland Lamp? Where was the Astland Lamp? Notes to boat skippers,  lock keepers, experienced navigators on this route all insist that the Lamp must be reached, given a wide skirting, keeping it to the right before turning east upstream.

Then it was spotted. A wooden tripod with a yellow sign attached. Below it are shallow waters and submerged walls.

Down to the left the estuary reaches Lytham St Anne’s and the Irish Sea.

Cleddau was turned right. Relief, boat still on course.

There was a roar. An aircraft took off, a Typhoon, near vertical, turning west, out over the sea. Then, slower, up into the airspace went a Jet Provost.

Concentrate – do not allow airshow distraction…

Up the Ribble now, towards Preston. The wind was slight, the water mere ripples.

Sheep on the left bank, a marker perch to the right.

Buildings on the left bank, a sewage plant…

In the distance a strange shape bobbed on the water. What could it be? A tree trunk? More like a complete tree…

Another marker.

A boat under sail was approaching, coming downstream from Preston Dock.  And on the left bank was a green light, a blue vehicle not far to its right. This was it then, red and green posts marking the entry to Savick Brook… The Millennium Ribble Link reached.

It’s a natural curvy weaving brook at the Ribble end.  A few hundred yards further on CRT men stood close to the edge – here was the rotating tidal lock, the sea providing depth in the brook.

“You know what you’re doing,” said one. “Just go round there and triple up with the others.” But none of this made any sense at all…

Round a bend – and then the channel was filled with boats, six narrow boats there were and no room to pass. Confusion!

Ropes were passed over, Cleddau secured now against another boat.  What? Why?

“We ran out of water,” explained one. “They sent us to Preston, to the marina in Preston Docks.” Slowly the situation was clarified: a low incoming tide and the previous day’s stiff offshore winds had left insufficient water in the brook. These six boats had transferred from Preston just the hour before.

So what now? The tide was still too high to give access through the bridge ahead – so wait.  The five other boats from Tarleton began to arrive. Here now were twelve boats rafted up together. From a boat on the inside of the raft came a chap with a large suitcase. “I was his crew,” he said, gesturing to a young man behind him, “but I’ve got to get back to London. There’s a bus soon.” And he and his suitcase scrambled over four or five boats to reach dry land.

With no onward movement imminent the Captain and Boatwif retreated below for a hot drink and a sandwich.

Then ropes were being untied, the two inside (Preston Marina) boats were slipping off towards the bridge. Cleddau was adrift, tied only to nb Bob at the stern (a later arrival from Tarleton). Boaters scrambled to start their engines and disengage from their neighbours. So the bridge hole ahead was passable now…

Fourth in a convoy of twelve Cleddau headed along the brook,   a narrow creek with sufficient water below the hulls to make forward progress.

There was a landing stage, but like sheep following sheep, the boats proceeded. Then round the next bend was the first of the 8 locks up to the Lancaster Canal.

Cleddau bobbed behind Hannah, waiting while the C&RT staff operated Lock 8 for the pair of boats ahead. Behind them a long tail of boats joined the lock queue.

Into lock 8, then onwards along the brook.

At lock 7  the lock keeper provided details of what was to come: self-help required at locks 6, 5 and 4, beware low-flying golf balls and the sharp Z bends, reverse the boats into lock 3, the bottom lock of the triple staircase…


Immediately after the railway bridge the brook widens to a point: bow positioned in the point the stern was reversed back into Lock 3.  An audience of C&RT staff watched – are boaters scored for their reversing skills, one wonders…

In came Hannah; behind loomed the doors to lock 2.  The front gates were closed and steadily the boats rose in the chamber.

Lock 2. Is some gardening needed to attend to the growth in the gates here?

Lock 1. Above was a spectacular shape, a narrow boat and navvies’ tools. (See here for more detail).

The back gates were opened.

Done! Cleddau had made it down the River Douglas, along the Ribble Estuary and risen 55 feet from sea level to the Lancaster Canal.

Later that evening, when both boats had made it to a pleasant rural mooring there just had to be a minor celebration…

Ribble Link in Facts and Figures

  • Millennium Ribble Link was opened in 2002
  • Tarlaton Tidal Lock to Astland Lamp – about 4 miles
  • Astland Lamp to Savick Brook entry – about 3½ miles
  • Height rise via 8 locks to Lancaster Canal – 55 feet


2019 Monkton Moments*- 3

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









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