Hector

The first day of real wind, as Storm Hector blows across the British isles on Thursday 14 June.

Stein Connelly, Operator Manager for Transport Scotland has said, “The strong winds and rain may lead to difficult driving conditions, particularly for high-sided vehicles.  As always, motorists should take extra time to plan journeys, follow police advice and drive appropriate to conditions.  The strong wind may impact rail, air and ferry services, so travellers should check with operators to see if their journeys will be affected.”

Narrowboats are surprisingly susceptible. You’d think their weight and power would simply plough on through any wind – but it’s easy to be blown off course, and end up on a lee bank. Then it’s very hard, sometimes impossible, to manoeuvre off, with the wind holding you there.

So Thursday dawned with the gale still raging, and we set off from Foulridge northwards towards Barnoldswick – Barlick, as the locals call it – and from there, towards Gargrave, where we thought we’d stay the night. If we got there.

The Met Office has started naming storms. It helps to alert people that they need to be ready for this one.

And it was wild at times – with the trees thrashing around, threatening to drop branches on us as we chugged along. Thankfully not many other boats. Some near misses, as the wind drove us towards moored vessels.

This stretch of the canal is beautiful – perhaps the most beautiful of the whole Leeds Liverpool – so we’ll have to be back to enjoy it without the strain and concentration required, thanks to Hector.

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The countryside is green and rolling, with the canal contouring around through fields and villages.

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Were we still in Lancashire? It didn’t feel like it, anymore. It felt like Yorkshire. Pendle Hill was still brooding over us behind, but very soon the Yorkshire moors could be seen in the distance before us, and the Pennine Way joined the canal towpath for stretches, on its way to the Scottish borders (or, if you’re Simon Armitage, walking home from Scotland, described in his excellent 2012 book).

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We pulled up in Barnoldswick. A bloke with his dog stopped to talk, to commend the town. The Rolls Royce social club was the place to eat, if we were here overnight. There was a real, traditional grocers in town. The dog – a staffy (true, not American, with a lovely smile and boisterousness) fell in the canal as she misjudged the boat distance. He warned her of a shower when they got home. She knew the word.

The town is obviously competing for the ‘town in bloom’ award. Flowers everywhere; local businesses supporting ‘Barlick in Bloom’ – because, of course, the name is shortened (even more than Oswaldtwistle is. (Ossletwistle).) The Civic Hall had it

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The local Indian more colloquially.

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We wandered, looking for the grocers, and found some delightful shops, and a market square, thriving with life.

The grocers was run by Sikhs, with a range of vegetables – some you’d expect, others not.  Then a coffee at a cake shop.

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On our way back to TLA we passed the Rolls Royce works.

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Just on the day when cuts of 4,600 jobs are announced. One of the reasons Barlick feels so resilient are the number of businesses we came across. Let’s hope Rolls-Royce here won’t be too affected – it looks like the head office in Derby is going to take the brunt, according to the Lancashire Telegraph.

Back to the boat and the canal has white horses. Never seen that before. The wind is hectoring – a good name. It leaves me tired, disgruntled, irritable. I think of that poem Wedding Wind by Larkin of the wind of disappointment through the wedding joy of a new bride. And also of L M Montgomery’s character Emily, who would imagine the Wind Woman bringing her poetic soul to life, in Emily of New Moon.

L M Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, 1928, p13ff: Emily is talking to her image in the mirror.

She loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture. That was a place where magic was made. … And the barrens were such a splendid place in which to play hide-and-seek with the Wind Woman. She was so very real there; if you could just spring quickly enough around a little cluster of spruces – only you never could – you would see her as well as feel her and hear her. There she was – that was the sweep of her grey cloak – no, she was laughing up in the very top of the taller trees – and the chase was on again – till, all at once, it seemed as if the Wind Woman were gone – and the evening was bathed in a wonderful silence – and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.

And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came ‘the flash’.

Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described – not even to father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke if it to anyone else.

It always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it, and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely – went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it – never summon it – never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow-wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a ‘description’ of something. And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

I try to persuade myself this wind is exhilarating.  That it opens up other worlds.

The Lark Ascending looks ready to battle on. The wind doesn’t feel on our side.

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After Barlick there are locks – the Greenberfield three,

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and then a double-arched bridge at East Marton,

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and the locks descending into Gargrave.

We had help with these, from CRT volunteers, who are always keen to talk. It’s dairy country – good to see cows – a dairy herd, with a bull for added measure – out grazing as cows should.

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The volunteer had a view. He didn’t rate the local farmers – the ones that weren’t organic. ‘They take a lot of water out of the canal, for a start,’ he said. ‘Then there’s the farmer, locally, who keeps 900 cows in his barn. They never see the grass. The grass is cut into silage and taken to them in the barns. Then the shit they produce is sprayed all over the grass, to make more grass. It doesn’t make sense. The cows never see the grass.’

Many of the bridges along the canal have rope marks. Rather beautiful. Not good for the ropes, though, and not good for the bridges either. So rollers were used. Most of them have gone now, but along this stretch we saw one or two.

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And even one around a bend in the canal

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Hector means – I fear – the end of the lovely settled weather I’ve enjoyed all trip. I’m reading Mr Lear at the moment, by Jenny Uglow.

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She describes how Edward Lear visited the Lake District in 1836, when he was 24. He was already a fine painter of birds; perhaps he could become a landscape artist. A trip to the Lakes, then, was a must for any aspiring artist. But it rained. And rained!

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I must read more of Alexandria Harris on weather. Her latest book, Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies is, she says, ‘an exploration of imaginative responses to the weather in England across centuries. I wanted to lie on the grass and watch the sky with Chaucer, with Milton, with Turner’.

I’ll lie with her. The weather is so moody, so powerful an aspect of living in this country, and countryside.

Embracing the rain, after the glorious May we have had, and as we now have left East Anglia with its gentler, sunnier climate, is part of this move up to the north west.

We moored that night, Thursday, over the aqueduct over the river Aire and saw a dipper below. You don’t get dippers in Suffolk. Nor do you get Wainwright beer.

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