Waterways of the Humber

Waterways of the Humber

Sunday 26 August 2012

Trent Falls

Where the Trent and Yorkshire’s Ouse meet, to form the Humber, is one of the country’s major waterway junctions.  The water drained from one fifth of England’s total area flows through here.  Why is it called Trent Falls?  Don’t know.  As far as I know it isn’t called Ouse Falls, although the more pragmatic do call it Trent End, but not Ouse End (and not Humber Start).

So, sticking with Trent Falls, there’s only one place ashore from where the whole geography can be seen and that’s the small village of Alkborough.
During the last miles of the Trent’s approach to Trent Falls the river flows along the bottom of a steep ridge on its eastern bank.  High for this part of the country.  Alkborough is on top of that ridge, near where it falls way to allow the Humber to flow to the east, so it has a viewpoint over Trent Falls and the flat country extending for many miles beyond.

The pale-coloured land on the left, just below the line of the horizon, is between the Trent and the Ouse.  The white post where the rivers meet is Trent Falls, and the white boat has cruised up the Humber and is turning into the Trent.
(Click on any image for a larger view).

From the skipper’s viewpoint it would look like this, a picture kindly supplied by Rachael Jennings, taken from her motor-cruiser.   www.naughty-cal.blogspot.co.uk

In the foreground is Alkborough Flats, an agricultural area for thousands of years, but now used for another purpose.  For 500 years there was also a small port on the Flats, until the 1700s, because the rivers limit access to this area and it’s still quiet and undisturbed.  There was more activity in 1643 when the Royalists in the Civil War brought an artillery position onto the Flats to defend access to the Trent, but the guns were eventually overcome by the Parliamentarians.  Late in World War 2 the Flats were used as a bombing-range by the RAF, USAF and the Polish airforce.

Agriculture eventually ceased on the Flats.  In September 2006 a breach was made in the floodwall, which allows the tide to flow in and out of a third of the 1,000 acre site.  During extreme high tides water also flows over a lowered section of the wall into the whole of the Flats, to alleviate flooding in Hull, Gainsborough and York.  During construction of the breach unexploded bombs were found, from the 1940s bombing range.

Today Alkborough Flats is also a wetland haven for birds and other wildlife.  It’s accessible from Alkborough (from Whitton Road, turn down Prospect Lane).  There’s a car-park, hides, information panels and seats.

Places with a spectacular geography usually have an ancient history and Alkborough’s viewpoint is also the site of a turf maze, known as Julian’s Bower.  Its age and origin are a mystery but it’s thought to be medieval.
The Victorians prudently copied the ancient design of the maze into the floor of the porch of the village church.

When in Alkborough we always visit The Paddocks Tea Rooms, which is on a working farm, for the best of service and food, and copious leaflets about exploring the area. www.collegefarm.org  They also have a caravan site.

Finally, it’s possible to drive further round the end of the ridge for views across the Humber.

As a dedicated blog-writer I, of course, spent many days waiting for a white boat to arrive to complete this picture!


Monday 20 August 2012

Waterways by Train

We enjoy taking a train from Rotherham to Hull, and have done so a number of times during different seasons. It’s the easiest way to see a selection of Humber waterways, and to gather a broad impression of the geography of the region  -  a geography created by the waterways.

Although Hull is not really covered by this blog it’s a city with a lovely riverfront on the Humber, and boats and shipping to see (dependent on the tide of course), so we are always happy to visit it again.

This post describes a railway journey starting at Rotherham’s new snazzy waterside station, officially opened in July this year.

The railway shares the valley created by the River Don.  Sitting on the right-hand side there are always waterway glimpses, although less so in the summer when the thickly-wooded surroundings block sightings.

But before we leave Rotherham behind there’s a clear view of the large canal basin, usually with flocks of swans, where very large commercial craft turn at their head of navigation.  The Don is a typical river navigation, so between Rotherham and Doncaster boats are sometimes on the river and other times on canal lengths which bypass weirs and shallows.

Next in view are massive steelworks through the centre of which flows the Don.  I mention this as proof that steel is still made in Rotherham despite the many ill-informed impressions.

Having got that off my chest it’s back to the waterways.  Near Swinton station derelict locks on the Dearne & Dove Canal are now the boatyard of the Waddington Boat Company.  And on leaving Mexborough station the line crosses a navigationally by-passed section of the River Don.

The Don looks different when in flood with fresh water from the Yorkshire hills.

Before reaching Doncaster the line passes through a tunnel and a deep cutting.  This is the limestone ridge through which the Don has made one of the few passes  -  further south the Chesterfield Canal had to tunnel through it to reach the Trent.

We changed trains at Doncaster - again sitting on the right side has the best views.  The line crosses the navigation just after leaving the station, but it’s masked by buildings, fences, etc.  A little later the Don is crossed and a small weir can clearly be seen, which looks insignificant, but it’s what stops the tide from travelling further upstream on this river.

From now on the geography is totally different.  For many centuries the tidal River Don, freed from the limitations of a valley, and a steep cutting through a ridge, flowed where it wanted through flat low-lying land.  That all changed in the 17th century when it was confined by Dutch engineers into an artificial course, that’s why the lower reaches of the Don are now known as the Dutch River  -  its straightened lines obvious on the map as it approaches the River Ouse.

By doing so a vast acreage of land between the Dutch River and the Trent were drained and developed into a rich agricultural resource, which is pleasant to see out of the train window.  Sheep grazing on the flood-banks of the waterways, small-holdings with a mixture of animals, remote small roads, horses in paddocks, and fields of crops of many varieties.

If facing astern it’s possible to catch a glimpse of Long Sandall Lock on the Don Navigation, but it is only a glimpse and I’ve never managed to get a picture of it from a train window.

After Stainforth station the line passes under the M18 and, a little further on, crosses over the Stainforth & Keadby Canal at Thorne.  There’s always moored boats to see from the train in this busy little waterways town.
 Soon afterwards is Thorne North station, the approach to it adorned by a lovely park with lakes.  After passing through more drained arable land the train crosses the Dutch River  -  it’s banks indicating the state of the tide.


 Immediately afterwards it’s a bridge over the Aire & Calder Navigation, as it nears Goole docks.

On the approach to Goole station the superstructures of ships in the docks can sometimes be seen beyond the buildings.  It’s a sign that major waterways are near.

The first is the Ouse, the king of Yorkshire’s rivers.  The train clatters across a long bridge over the Ouse which swings open to allow ships up to Howdendyke wharf  -  so it’s unlikely you’ll see a ship from the train!

And this is the type of ship the bridge swings for, unloading at Howdendyke wharf.

More flat lands, this time drained via the Market Weighton Canal.  I keep missing photographs from the train, so here’s one I took earlier.

Brough is a Roman town, created to guard the northern end of their Humber crossing-point.  From here the rail line gets closer and closer to the Humber, eventually after Ferriby there’s spectacular clear views as the train runs along the north bank.  Facing backwards shows the wide upstream channel of the Humber, but facing forwards gives a lovely view of the Humber Bridge.

Eventually the Humber Bridge is so near it requires the train-track to run under its northern approach road.  After Hessle station the Humber can still be seen but it’s beyond a busy parallel road.

Hull’s Paragon railway station is a delight, with flowers and a small area as it was when trains were the major form of public transport.

It’s an enjoyable walk from the station’s main exit, across the main road, along Paragon Street, at its end turn right into Princes Dock Street which is considerably more pleasant than it sounds.  The Princes Quays shopping centre is set in a water landscape with fountains, there are outside cafes, and on the other side of the street are historic buildings still in use.  At the end of Princes Dock Street there is a crossing to the marina with, at its far end, a lock into the Humber.

Downstream, left facing the Humber, is the start of a very pleasant riverside area, including a pier from where the river-crossing ferries used to sail, a footbridge over the River Hull, The Deep (aquarium) and a waterside footpath along the Humber.

It’s a day out of which we never tire, and Doncaster-Hull is only an hour on the train.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Rotherham's Bridge Chapel

What are the oldest buildings on our inland waterways?  Bridge chapels have a good claim.  Only four remain on their bridges, and the only one entire and unaltered is at Rotherham  -  over the River Don, a few yards downstream of where it’s joined by the Rother.

Such chapels were once a common sight for travellers, thankful for a substantial bridge, rather than the ferries from which many lives were lost, or the fords that were impassable when river levels were high.

But a stone bridge was expensive to create and maintain.  Medieval non-military construction engineering was almost solely in the hands of the church.  The men who built the great cathedrals were probably responsible, chapel-bridges usually having spans the same shape as arching and vaults in religious buildings.

It was chantry-chapels that were built on the bridges, specially designated as sites where priests were paid to chant masses for local people.  The funds received were used to maintain the bridge, a system that survived until 1547 when masses, and chantry-chapels, were abolished in the religious traumas of that century.

That was when most of the bridge chapels were lost  -  Rotherham’s survived, but lost its fittings and windows.  After that it had centuries of various uses, an almshouse, a jail with a cell in the crypt, a house, then a tobacconist’s shop in the 1880s. 

The town’s inhabitants signed a petition for the restoration of the chapel and in 1924 it was re-consecrated by the Bishop of Sheffield.

Now attention switched to the bridge.  The challenge was to create a bridge for motorised traffic without harming the chapel or the medieval arches on which it stood  -  built in c1483 its roadway was only 15 feet wide, increased to 24ft 6ins in 1769.

The answer was the present Chantry Bridge opened in 1930, about 20ft upstream.  The old bridge was incorporated into it as a footway only, reduced to its four arches and original width.

And the River Don?  It’s no longer the navigable route, having been bypassed by a lock-cut, and the growth of the town meant its channel was progressively edged westwards.

As a result the chapel’s bridge-arches are now usually on dry land  -  but not always.

When water levels are very high the Don still flows under the bridge of the Chapel of Our Lady.

The four arches of the original bridge are shown here, with the current road bridge extending from it over the Don's main channel.

 Services in the Chapel of Our Lady  -  Holy Communion, 11.00, Tuesdays.

The other three chapels still on their bridges are at  -

St.Ives, Cambridgeshire  -  over the Great Ouse.
Wakefield  -  over the River Calder
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire  -  near Bradford Lock on the Kennet & Avon Canal

Tuesday 26 June 2012

So Few Visitors?

I write this blog to spread awareness of a lesser known region of the waterways network.

It seems my efforts are needed  -  at Castleford flood-lock the car-park provided by British Waterways appears to be miniscule.

Only one visitor at a time?

And only one fisherman?

It's to be hoped that when the Canal & River Trust take over running our waterways adequate facilities will be installed!  Or an awareness of apostrophes.

On the other hand  -  when driving to the flood-lock the road-lanes for Castleford and Pontefract were painted Cas' and Pont'  -  just two little blobs of white paint, but a pleasure to behold.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Castleford - Four Days Later!

In the previous blog the first pictures show the waterways at Castleford  -  the River Aire flowing over the weir, and the area of the flood-lock at the end of the lock-cut.

That was four days ago.  After the torrential rain in the Calder valley last night, a month's worth in 24 hours, the same scenes looked like this.  The weir has almost disappeared.  These water levels are only 6 inches less than the highest recorded in modern times.

Compare the two sets of photographs.

What fish, eel, lamprey and otter ladder?

The conduits near the mill have been over-topped.

But the geese have found a sheltered spot out of the very fast flowing waters.

At the confluence of the rivers Calder and Aire  -  in the foreground the entrance to Castleford cut to bypass the weir.  The red traffic light indicates navigation is prohibited and, not surprisingly, the gates of the flood-lock are closed.  Four days ago they remained open.

The levels are so high that water is running through the top slats of the closed flood-gates.

As a result the water-levels in the lock-cut have risen substantially.

The green boat on the left is heeling over because a mooring rope, to the centre of the roof, has been tied too tight.  We, of course, slackened it off.

As I type  -  the whole of the Rochdale Canal has been closed to navigation, its route being along the inundated Calder valley.

And all of this water, and more, will end up at Airmyn  -  then into the Ouse, then into the Humber.  Truely Waterways of the Humber.

Friday 22 June 2012

Two Rivers - One Aim - the Calder & Aire

Fine weather was forecast for two days this week so we got out and about the waterways  -  this time to the rivers Calder & Aire.  I’ve named them in that order to distinguish them from the successful man-made system now known as the Aire & Calder Navigation.

It started with the wool trade.  Throughout medieval times the valleys of West Yorkshire had made a good living from wool.  But by the early 1600s they were beginning to make serious money exporting woollen cloth to Europe, sending it on slow-plodding packhorses to Rawcliffe and Selby to be loaded onto sea-going ships.  Slow, and expensive  -  Leeds to Selby in the winter could take two weeks, at £5 per ton, later water-borne cargoes would take only three days at a cost of only 10 shillings a ton.

Trade would expand throughout the century and by the 1690s it was making mega-fortunes for those involved in Leeds (on the Aire) and Wakefield (on the Calder)  -  money to be invested in improved transport, which in those times meant waterways.

The tide flowed up the Aire to Knottingley, so navigation that far upstream was possible for small craft on suitable tides, and free of charges which was good, but it was a long way from the two booming towns deep in the Yorkshire hills.

What we see today as the Aire & Calder Navigation is the result of almost 230 years of effort by the merchants of Leeds and Wakefield  -  culminating in 1826 with their towns having a direct waterways link to a new port at Goole, with docks for sea-going ships.  It was an instant success  -  3,200 ships used the docks in 1866, of those 463 were foreign-flagged.  Goole is still the furthest inland operational port.

We started our first day out at Castleford, parking near the River Aire where it crashes over a weir, one of the earlier navigational works to increase the depth of the river.  There’s a lovely new s-shaped footbridge across, opened in 2008, with innovative seating to enjoy the cool air.  Now the industrial pollution has been cleared from the river the bridge has opened up the area for the town. An added feature to the weir is an up-pass for fish, plus a similar but covered section for eels and lampreys, and steps on both sides for otters.

The footbridge and weir, viewed from the south bank.

Fish, eel, lamprey, otter up-pass.

At the south end of the weir is the former Allinson’s flour-mill which was the world’s largest carrying out traditional stone-grinding.  Unfortunately, after 100 years it closed in February 2011 but it’s still a striking building.

Constructing a weir is one half of a scheme, the other is to provide another route for boats to avoid it.  We walked upstream on the Aire’s north bank, a grassy path taking us round a bend to the confluence of the Calder and the Aire. 

The bush in the centre of the photograph is at the confluence of the two rivers  -  the Aire flowing down from the top right, the Calder from the upper left.  The waters of both rivers flow down to the middle left, heading for the weir, but boats pass through the entrance to Castleford flood-lock, in the foreground.  Its gates remain open when water-levels are normal.

The two rivers drain vast areas of the South Pennines so if there’s been copious rain the levels soon rise and the flood-lock’s gates are closed, as are those upstream on both rivers, and navigation ceases until normality returns.  When we were there Castleford flood-lock had recently re-opened.

It’s a pretty scene, and there’s usually boats about.  We happily mooch about such places, talking to people, gathering news about the waterways, and looking at boats.

The sheltered waters behind the flood-gates.  At the other end of this short straight section of canal a lock drops vessels down to the Aire at its lower level, it having descended the weir.  This is the way rivers were improved for navigation, often piecemeal, before canals completely bypassed the upper reaches  -  but, unusually, it’s the lower reaches of the Aire that are very bendy so it was those stretches that were instead bypassed by the Aire & Calder Navigation Company.

Where does the Aire end up?  On the second fine day we went to explore.

Airmyn village is quiet, its clock-tower the most memorable image, and sound.  The river is hidden behind well-mowed flood-banks, as is the way of things all along the lower reaches of the Aire and the Ouse  -  but walking along the bank tops is pleasant.

We parked near the clock-tower and went up the steps to the top of the bank.  It was mid-morning and the tide was ebbing, resulting in a fast-flowing river lined with mud as the levels fell with the tide.  We strolled along towards the confluence of the Aire and the Ouse.

When the weather’s sunny it’s often comfortable walking near these large rivers where their waters cool the air.  The silence was broken by the songs of chaffinches, skylarks and yellow-hammers.  Across the adjacent wheat-field, through gaps in the distant trees, could be seen two River Ouse bridges, the high modern one of the M62 soaring high, and the seldom-swinging one at Boothferry. 

The one aspect that’s frustrating are areas where bushes, and in this case trees, have grown between the flood-bank and the river, thus making it difficult to see the waterway  -  a visit on a fine winter’s day when the foliage has gone is often the answer.  But here we were on a beautiful early summer day, a day when frustration is not allowed.  I took what photographs I could before we strolled back to Airmyn.

As much as we could see of where the Aire flows into the Ouse.  Great big fingerpost for directions though.

The village used to be a busy port, but now boats on the river here are an extreme rarity.  By 1778 the Aire & Calder Navigation Company had decided that the extremely bendy lower reaches of the Aire could be tolerated no longer  -  so they built the Selby Canal to cut across from the Aire to the Ouse, the “king” of all Yorkshire rivers.  So, in one swoop, Airmyn’s days as a major port were finished, and there’s no reason for boats to visit.

But the A&C hadn’t finished  -  Selby was limited by only having a small basin above the lock, and no room to excavate more so in 1820 they started on their major works, to build a very wide canal all the way from Knottingley to Goole, a small village further downstream from Selby.  That way they could also avoid further bends on the Ouse, have direct access to deeper water on the river, and have room to create docks for ships and canal traffic.  This was not a company to do things half-heartedly!  By 1826 they had completed the task, with the only lower part of the Aire now used by boats the short stretch between Knottingley and Haddesley, to give access to the Selby Canal.

Of course, by then, the wool trade of Leeds & Wakefield had abated  -  coal was the next source of riches for the Aire & Calder Navigation.