We have looked forward to taking Celtic Maid to the Lancaster Canal for more than three years because anyone who has travelled it has reported enthusiastically about its peace and beauty. Despite a failed attempts three years ago, our determination paid off and along with our friends Julia and Malcolm Kirk on NB Figment we finally got there on the 27th June 2018.
Anyone who has ever been to the UK or specifically England, even for a short time, knows how variable the weather can be. There can be four seasons in a day, an umbrella is an insurance policy against rain, and everyone has a coat specifically for each different weather condition.
But we must have pleased the weather gods and goddesses. We had an amazingly beautiful summer for all of July with sunny warm days and calm nights, hardly any showers of rain and very little wind. It was perfect. For us. However, some parts of the country experienced peat fires, domestic water restrictions, very high heat conditions, and drought.
The only drawback for us was the slightly lower water levels which restricted mooring options to those in towns as it wasn’t possible to get close enough to the bank to moor up in rural locations. During the time we were on the Lancaster Canal, the Canal and River Trust reluctantly took the decision to suspend navigation on some canals due to water shortages, and we were unable to go down the Glasson Arm by boat due to its closure, as a result of water shortage, just the day before we planned to.
Getting to the Lancaster Canal – The Ribble Link
The Lancaster Canal is not connected to the rest of the system by a canal. Instead, the Millenium Ribble Link which opened in 2002, takes boaters from Tarleton on the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, through a lock onto the tidal River Douglas. This leads to the River Ribble requiring a right-hand turn at the Asland Lamp at the 5-mile perch (marker), then a left hand turn into Savick Brook, through a rotating sea lock and ascending eight locks to emerge onto the Lancaster Canal at Preston. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it?
We set off enthusiastically on a bright sunny day with very light winds. Tick for the weather because it couldn’t be better. With a little advice from the lock keeper at Tarleton to keep an eye out for the mile perches and markers, and to keep up the engine revs to deal with running against the incoming tide on the River Douglas and the outgoing tide on the River Ribble, we commenced the Ribble Crossing.
All went very well, really. We didn’t overheat on the rivers and made progress against the tide. We found all the required markers and turned in the right places avoiding an unnecessary trip out into the Irish Sea toward the Isle of Mann. We kept up with NB Figment who were leading the way.
And then we forgot to keep in touch with either NB Figment or the Canal and River Trust personnel. So we missed the call from Julia telling us to speed up a bit or we would miss the Savick Brook time restriction due to the outgoing tide and would have to go into Preston instead and complete the journey the following day.
Luckily for us, they let us into Savick Brook urging us to make haste through the Rotating Sea Gate and up to the first lock where they would let us in. What we didn’t understand was that we then had to navigate a very shallow, very meandering waterway to achieve this, hitting the sides and bottom as we powered along the brook. What a ride!!! And of course our poor engine really overheated and we were dealing with alarms and flashing lights and running hot water off down the sink just to help to slightly cool the engine. Complicated little beasts, narrowboats, when they have been constructed with not enough cooling tanks for such a trip!!!
We were assisted up the lock system by the Trust personnel and even managed to navigate the top three locks, which form a staircase, in reverse due to the very tight turning space at both the bottom and top of these locks. A manoeuvre we may never have to repeat but which has been mastered by Captain Bob now!
We arrived safely at moorings adjacent to the University Sports Arena and Last Whistle Cafe – enjoying a well deserved and much-needed beverage to celebrate our success and settle very frazzled nerves.
I will take a moment to explain the return trip some five weeks later.
On the 31st July, the weather was cooler, overcast and a little windy. We navigated the locks successfully without assistance bar the initial staircase. We arrived at the landing stage before the Rotating Sea Gate as with plenty of time to wait as directed by Trust personnel. Then came the call to say he had miscalculated and we were to be ready in fifteen minutes. That was OK but we had put our chairs out on the pontoon and were happily eating sandwiches for lunch anticipating a break before we hit the tidal section.
Not to worry. We were soon on our way. Unfortunately, Celtic Maid somehow managed to be in front which is not our desired position. Nonetheless, we got out onto the River Ribble and began the journey being buffeted by the tide below and the winds above the waterline. After guidance from Captain Malcolm on NB Figment, we moved slightly to starboard (right) and took advantage of the reduced tidal effect in the slightly shallower water.
Our fear was missing the sharp left turn at the Asland Lamp (and a consequent panic to call the Coast Guard to rescue us) but we recognised it and made the turn. NB Figment was hot on our heels but the other three boats in our flotilla were to our right and behind us slightly and almost missed the turn.
We continued smugly up the River Douglas and arrived at Tarleton Lock with no further anxieties, relieved to be back on the Rufford Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. A celebratory drink once moored back into the marina at Rufford restored our good spirits and resolution that despite thoroughly enjoying the Lancaster Canal none of us really want to navigate the Ribble Link ever again. But so appreciative of the opportunity it gave us to enjoy the beautiful Lancaster Canal.
The Lancaster Canal
This canal exists for 41 miles between Preston and Tewitfield (just north of Carnforth) in the Northwest of England primarily in the County of Lancashire. Tewitfield boasts being the most northerly destination on the connected navigable canal system in England and there are efforts being made to restore and eventually reopen the stretch north of Tewitfield to Kendall in the Lake District – dependent on funding and engineering solutions being available. We are pretty sure we won’t be here for this eventuality!
The canal itself meanders through Preston, Bilsborrow (home of Owd Nell’s Canalside Tavern in Guy’s Thatched Hamlet), Garstang where some great cheese is made by Dewlay Cheese Company, Galgate where the Glasson Arm heads via six locks through very picturesque countryside down to the Glasson Basin, Lancaster – home to much history and great shopping, through Hest Bank with a view of the sea and Morecambe Bay, and Carnforth – gateway to the Lake District via bus and train and location for some of the filming of the 1945 movie, Brief Encounter.
We had five wonderful weeks to enjoy all of this and happily named it our summer holiday.
Our first major stop was in Bilsborrow to enjoy the gin festival and music at Owd Nell’s Canalside Tavern, and discover the delights of the Barton Grange Garden Centre nearby. What a great first weekend on the Lancaster! We had brilliant moorings, great walks, met very friendly people, enjoyed the music, gin and atmosphere and purchased a few goodies at the garden centre Farm Shop.
Smiling happily, basking in the glorious sunshine we moored in wonderful moorings in Garstang, close enough to walk to explore the town centre with all its small shops and market, as well as restore our supplies at a choice of supermarkets. This is a truly beautiful town, friendly and very easy to explore.
As we made our way north to attempt to experience the Glasson Arm and Basin, the news came through that it had been temporarily closed to conserve water for the Lancaster Canal. Unperturbed we made the decision to moor in Galgate and experience the area on foot. The walk down past the locks is through some very picturesque farming land and the Basin full of sailing boats of all sizes. The town of Glasson appears a little run down and after consulting a local we walked on further to enjoy lunch in The Mill Inn at nearby Conder Green followed by a tramp through the fields, led by Malcolm back to the boat – a round trip of some 10.5 km.
Our next moorings were in Lancaster, giving us the opportunity to explore the historic Lancaster Castle. Bob and Malcolm also went to the Maritime Museum while Julia and I explored the shopping precinct. Knowing you get to do a return to these places means that the first visit is about exploring and the return one about doing serious experiencing.
We got a brief glimpse of Morecambe Bay from Hest Bank before mooring up and checking out what was available – not much actually. Bob and Malcolm met up with some other boaters and enjoyed the pub for the afternoon, while Julia and I walked down to Morecambe seeking out a butcher and supermarket. Not entirely successful but we did find Morrisons and a coffee before returning to Hest Bank by bus. When we returned here on our way south, Julia marched Bob and Malcolm all the way to Morecambe and back – and at least they got to see the Eric Morecambe statue even if they were exhausted on their return.
Carnforth brought forth many fantastic experiences. We explored the museum at the railway station, even resting a while to watch the movie, Brief Encounter, that was partially filmed here in 1945. The cafe did fabulous coffee but alas we arrived on the wrong day for gluten-free cake so had to make do with chocolate. Meanwhile, Bob and Malcolm were enjoying the boutique brewery in another part of the railway station.
From here we did a few day-trips into the Lake District. The first by bus, through Kendal to Lake Windermere picking up the “Steamer” across the lake from Bowness to Lakeside before enjoying the steam train to Haverthwaite and back. Once back in Bowness we did a little browsing through the shops before the heavens opened up on us and we had one of the very few experiences of rain on our summer holiday. The return bus trip was uneventful but we were keen to get back aboard our boats to dry out and warm up. A fantastic day really.
The next day we caught the train around the edge of Morecambe Bay up to Ravenglass where we rode the Ravenglass and Eskdale narrow gauge steam railway. More stunning scenery and the rain of the previous day had completely gone leaving glorious sunshine.
Julia and I decided to explore Kendal the next day for a bit of retail therapy and to give the boys a break! Here we found a few items we were seeking and after much searching had lunch in the best Sushi restaurant – Neko Sushi Kendal!! What a fabulous three days into the Lake District. All highly recommended activities and the scenery in this region is amazing.
Whilst Julia and I tackled the mounting laundry pile in the nearby laundrette, Bob took Malcolm in Celtic Maid up to the end of the navigable canal in Tewitfield and explored the disused locks awaiting eventual renovation. We now only had two weeks remaining of our summer holiday so we headed south again and enjoyed some extra adventures on our way back. Bob and I celebrated our wedding anniversary whilst in Lancaster and went to the cinema to see ‘Mama Mia – Here we go again” with Julia and Malcolm. I laughed, I cried, I sang and I danced. Loved every moment. The reviews from the others were mixed but I was very happy. Julia and Malcolm cooked us a fabulous dinner to round off the celebrations.
We were lucky enough to reach Bilsborrow in time to enjoy their cider festival following our enjoyment of the gin festival. Unfortunately, rain hit again whilst here somewhat spoiling the party atmosphere. But the cider was excellent.
All too soon our time was up and we presented ourselves back in Lancaster in readiness for the return trip across the Ribble Link.
Maintenance on Celtic Maid
Living on a narrowboat means that constant maintenance is required and sometimes things go just a bit wrong. Before we left the marina at Rufford we were given the contact details of Neil Cross who operates from near Garstang and does all manner of repairs to all manner of boats. What a fabulous find. He sorted out our domestic water pump (it has never worked so well or so quietly), replaced the immersion heater in our calorifier (that thing that gives us hot water!), added an extra solar panel for us, told us that the problem with the grill on our cooker was fixable – but at a cost not much less than a new cooker, replaced our MPPT controller which has finally solved our battery overcharging problems, and fixed the distressing leak in our bathroom – the shower tray seal had split and needed replacing.
Neil was able to fit us in when we came through Garstang and we were more than happy with his work. The final jobs were completed back in the marina at Rufford – Fettlers Wharf Marina. He was also able to help Julia and Malcolm with a small plumbing problem aboard NB Figment.
The staff at Fettlers Wharf Marina were also most helpful during both our stays. I was especially happy that they allowed us to have our new top box delivered there whilst we were on the Lancaster Canal – our next project to complete.
Our summer holiday had ended but more adventures awaited us ahead…..