WE HAVE just completed a trip on the Chesterfield Canal, having been fortunate to dodge the various river closures—in any case, downstream on the tidal Trent is usually okay, provided you take notice of what the very helpful lock keepers tell you.
I've been up the Chesterfield twice before and this time I was appalled by the lack of maintenance, not of the locks and bridges, but of the canal itself between West Stockwith and Worksop.
It was very weedy—I went down the weed hatch more times than I did on the Wyrley and Essington—and some stretches were completely blocked by vast islands of floating reed.
CART had no fewer than three weed cutters deployed and one of them was actually working! I presume that the others were back-ups in case the first one broke down.
Worse than this, however, was the state of the edge between canal and towpath. For 95% of the distance between Stockwith and Worksop there was a continuous barrier of vegetation, except at lock landings, mostly rosebay willow herb, that was six feet high and four feet wide.
It obscured the actual edge, so you could not see it and was virtually impenetrable. In an emergency it would have been impossible to get off the boat safely. The towpath itself, on the other hand, had recently been mown to a width of at least three feet.
Mind you, walking along can't have been much of an experience, since the vegetation must have made the canal largely invisible. So much for 'keeping people connected'. I have sent in a comment card to CART and I will be very interested in their response, since I believe that this is a serious health and safety issue of importance to boaters—so presumably it will be ignored as they are too busy worrying about the dangers to teenage trespassers.
A warning to anyone venturing up the Chesterfield beyond Worksop. Morse Lock, the first one above Worksop, is very tight. The boat in front of us got stuck and had to call out CART, whose men (are they CARTERS?) dealt with it promptly, but he was unable to go up to the top.
There is a notice warning that the lock is only 6ft 10in, but the boater concerned told me that he had never had trouble anywhere else, at Hurlestone for example. The CARTER said that they had real problems with boats getting firmly stuck on their return journey, jammed solid as the water went down in the lock. One had had to be removed by crane. The lock is scheduled for rebuilding next winter. This contretemps apart, the trip up the restored section to Kiveton was beautiful and highly recommended.
Sheffield Basin sold off?
Whilst at Kiveton I took the train to Sheffield, as we planned to go on there later and stay for a few days. According to the Boater's Guide, you can moor in the basin for up to nine days.
When I got to the basin I found that all the signage, though still black and white, was branded not CART or British Waterway, but CV. This stands for Calder Valley Marine, who operate a brokerage business from the basin, which contains mainly their stock in trade. The only visitor mooring, outside the basin, is marked 48 hours only.
I found Gordon Lambert, the Managing Director of CV Marine, in his office. He told me that his firm has leased the basin from British Waterways/CART since 2008 and controls it. Visitor mooring over 48 hours is £10 a night. This is outrageous—CART only charges £6 at Llangollen, where a marina was built specially. What right had British Waterways to lease out a canal asset in this way, and allow a private company to charge an excessive fee as a consequence, especially as their information says you can moor for nine days but makes no mention of charges? Are we going to get more of this?
In the event, the dodgy state of the rivers led us to abandon Sheffield, in case we got stuck there, but instead carry on up the Aire & Calder towards Leeds. West of Ferrybridge you are on the actual river. The guide books say that Ferrybridge lock is a flood lock, but locals told us that it is not and always requires operating.
There was no sign of any level indicators at Ferrybridge as we went on to the river and we made good progress to Bulholme Lock, where the river section ends. I was rather surprised to find a level marker and warning notice at the tail of the lock—and it was in the red!
The next lock, Castleford Flood Lock, was closed and the red light was flashing. I rang CART, who confirmed that the river was closed. I pointed out that a boat was passing the lock as I was speaking, and I was told that they could only advise. Subsequently, several other boats passed through, in defiance of the red lights. The safety question (again) is why no level markers when you go on the river at Ferrybridge—we navigated a closed river as a result; surely it can't be closed only one way?