The Other Side

14 June 2018

Foulridge Tunnel is traffic-lighted. We had a green light in our favour as we approached, and followed a hire boat in, that we’d paired up through the Barrowford Locks.

It had been the second tunnel we’d done in two days as higher and higher we’d risen, passing through Gannow Tunnel as we left Hapton and came towards Burnley.

This is Gannow Tunnel, looking back behind us. The light at the other end of the tunnel, with the same distance yet to go.


As we chugged through Burnley and Nelson, the terrain began to feel high country. Foulridge, the second tunnel, didn’t mark the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire (that comes later, after Barnoldswick), but somehow felt as if it did.

This hire boat, from Silsden, towards Keighley, was full of Kiwis – six of them – three couples, all in their 70s and 80s, who had known each other for over forty years. The boat was no bigger than ours – so they were hugger-mugger. The blokes – Ted, Terry and Wayne – had sung together at national and international level, winning awards in a Barber Shop quartet. Barbara, Christine and Sue decided everything, Ted told me.

They’d done this before – come over for a narrowboat holiday. It’d had been the Severn ring last time. Ted, Terry and I – on the boats – talked of Christchurch after the earthquake, and how the city couldn’t decide what to rebuild, and what to leave. We talked of how Ted had come out with his mum and dad, who were following his older brother and sister, who’d emigrated after WW2, and made their life there. Residency was easy then. Now they come back to the UK often, when it’s winter there, summer here.

As soon as we were in the tunnel they chimed up with ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’. The sound echoed around, filling the length of the almost-mile-long tunnel. ‘And her ghost wheeled the barrow, through streets broad and narrow, crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o’. Our turn.

Peter and I gave ‘I sing you one-o’. All the verses, so plenty of opportunity to give it all they had on ‘Three, three, the rivals’. I mean all they had. The rounded walls, that dripped and ran with water and salts, had a great acoustic. The extended harmonies bounced off water and reverberated, embracing the boat that came behind.

They were off down towards Leeds – for Foulridge tunnel marks the summit of the Leeds Liverpool. The water sheds here, and the flow will be with us, as we make our way down with locks that empty now, the lark descending, through Barnoldswick, through Gargrave, and to our final destination, Skipton.

On Ilkley Moor bar t’hat came next. All verses. Soon worms will come and eat thee up. And we will come and eat up ducks. We sang. As the light at the end grew greater, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot’ was their way of saying goodbye.


The idea of a tunnel between Leeds and Preston was first conceived in 1765 by John Stanhope of Calverley, near Leeds. A public meeting in Bradford, the following year, and by 1767 the proposal now was for a canal from Leeds to Liverpool. in 1768 the Lancashire side met, and Liverpool promoters suggested that the canal should pass through Burnley and Blackburn instead of via Whalley. 1770 saw the first Leeds and Liverpool Act passed, authorising a line via Skipton, Gargrave, Colne, Whalley, Walton-le-Dale and Parbold.

In 1773 the canal opened from Bingley to Skipton, and the following year, from Liverpool to Gathurst, and then by Douglas Navigation to Wigan. Skipton to Gargrave opened, and Bradford to Shipley and Bingley. in 1777 the canal from Skipton to Leeds was completed, but all the available capital ran out, so construction ceased on the main line. Meanwhile the canal opened from Gathurst to Wigan in 1780, and the branch canal from Burscough to Rufford and Sollom Lock in 1781.

A second Leeds and Liverpool Canal Act passed in 1783 to raise more money, and a third in 1790, authorising the line to be altered to avoid an aqueduct at Whalley Nab. In 1791 building recommenced west of Gargrave, and a third Leeds and Liverpool Act was passed in 1794, permitting a new line through East Lancashire. In 1796 the Foulridge Tunnel was completed, allowing the canal to reach to Burnley.


In 1799 the Lancaster Canal stretched from Haigh to Wheelton, and in 1801 the Leeds and Liverpool from Burnley to Henfield, and in 1810 to Blackburn. In 1816 the canal was completed, and opened throughout, with the Leigh branch joining to the Bridgewater, in 1820.

We moored up outside Café Cargo, in Foulridge, after a long day of the tunnel, and before that, the locks through Barrowford. Cafe Cargo was booked for a meal that night, and so we walked, back over the route of the tunnel, looking for the three air shafts that illuminated us briefly with light from above as we made our way through. We found two of them, with brick surrounds, on the old towpath which is now a cycle route.


The cycle routes that criss-cross the country are impressive, managed by the charity Sustrans. The old route for the horses, as the boats went through the tunnel, is now route 68.

The flowers are different, now that we’re in mid-June. The elder in full bloom, and the dog roses too.


Peter and I found orange hawkweed in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels, Foulridge.


Eric and I spoke on the phone – Eric from the other St Michaels, in Workington – about our plans to arrive on Sunday, and await the furniture which should be with us on Tuesday. There’s a new boiler to go in, but basically the house is ready. A week’s time, and the Rectory will be our new home. I need to start to prepare a sermon for Sunday 24 June. Both Peter and I are looking forward now. The trip is almost over.


Back on The Lark Ascending, and we settled down to watch the cruiser moored behind us get ready for a coach from Huddersfield. The care and patience was commendable, that enabled a number of older folk, with their mobility walkers, to negotiate the flagstones of the wharf, and make their way down onto Marton Emperor. Off she went, when they were all seated at their tables, down towards Barnoldswick. ‘Someone saw an otter yesterday’, said Martin, the owner of the boat. He’d wondered if it were a mink, but no, ‘it was too big and brown for that’.

Now I don’t have to work at Peter’s stole – and I’ve embroidered the Christogram from Mirfield on to its reverse side, using the threads that were blessed at the last Mass –


I’ve turned my hand to a rag rug for the boat. So I sat, and tugged strips of rag through hessian, attracting attention from the old ladies. ‘Good to see that’s still happening’, said one.


Peter read aloud Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, from chapters about the Enlightenment and the beginning of Romanticism.

McGilchrist explores how, at different times, Western culture has been dominated by either the left hemisphere or the right hemisphere of the human brain. He’s very clear that this is a metaphorical way of reading cultural history, and it makes a lot of sense to Peter and me. It’s the book we’ve chosen for our book club, which will meet in Skipton, on The Lark Ascending, in a month or so.

When the left hemisphere is dominant, the attention becomes focused on detail and systems. It seeks to control and categorise, to differentiate and manage. When the right hemisphere is in ascendency, culture and the mind is more aware of that which is beyond, and other, and which cannot be grasped, but only encountered. It’s a great book, offering a ground breaking way of seeing the human condition.

It felt strange to leave Lancashire behind. We looked back over the last few days, as we’d climbed steadily from Hapton, near Accrington, onwards. The view of Pendle Hill always with us.


We hadn’t stopped in Burnley – though were impressed by the signs of regeneration, especially of the wonderful great mills and warehouses that line this canal, reminders of the industrial past.


Burnley football ground was on our left, and the bus station painted in claret. Large churches,


terraces of houses, seen from the canal as it makes its way through Burnley –


and the canal with too many shopping trolleys and even derelict boats.


As we filled up with water, there was a boat with a bed base attached to his stern. ‘It’s all around my prop’, he said. ‘It’s burned out the engine and the gear box. It’s too tangled to remove. We’re not going anywhere’, he told us as we chugged past him. What would you do? We wondered. Very glad that wasn’t our fate.

Tuesday evening we’d moored just beyond Reedley marina.

The towpath was beautiful, and used by lots of people. One Asian-heritage man was delighted that we’re growing coriander on the roof.

We’d come on from Hapton as soon as I’d returned from Frodsham, where I had met, overnight, with old friends Heather and Elaine, to plan our revision of Theological Reflection: Methods.

It was great to see them both again. I’d lost touch since moving south. We explored the Church at Frodsham, and had a drink at the Ring O’Bells, and worked hard at each of our chapters, deciding what to leave out; what to include. Since it was published in 2005 much has changed, including our priorities and interests.

Elaine is doing research on the archive of Don Cupitt, which is housed at Gladstone’s library. We talked of the ways the Sea of Faith movement had been significant and Cupitt’s role in it all. I speculated that the questioning of the reality of God might have encouraged the development of a post-truth society. Elaine rejoined that people tend to blame the post-modern condition for the state we’re in, but for her, it’s all economics. ‘But neo-liberalism welcomes philosophical non-realism with open arms’, I claimed. It was good, engaging again.

I’ve travelled in my thinking since Elaine supervised my PhD at Manchester in the late 1990s. I tried to convince them that Edmund Burke, with his hatred of the exercise of arbitrary power, was worth studying for the PhD I’m starting in the Autumn. ‘Chris Insole’, I said, in reply to Elaine’s question of who would supervise.

Heather said to me as I became restless at one point, ‘that’s your wild side coming out’. ‘Wild at heart’, I grinned. ‘Not just your heart’, she said, affectionately. ‘I thought of coming to see you in Suffolk’, she said. ‘But a sign came up in my mind that said ‘Impossible’. She’s based in Glasgow. We’ll see each other more often.

As I sit, moored up at Foulridge on Thursday morning early, with no signal to send the blog, but typing the first draft, there’s a gale blowing outside. The trees are wild; the boat pulling against its lines. We’ve been blessed with so little wind over the last six weeks, it’s strange to feel its force.

Yesterday evening and the meal was lovely at the Cargo Café. We were sorry to have missed


For this is Pendle country, here where Lancashire becomes Yorkshire. It would have been remote in the 17C. Awful roads, where they existed. No canals. A strange and different spirit in the air.

That whole era of the so-called dawn of Enlightenment had far-reaching social, religious and psychological impact.

John Buchan captures it brilliantly in his novel Witchwood, set in remote Scotland.

How the old Catholic order, that seemed so natural, gave way to the forensic puritanism of the new religion, which didn’t know what to do with what it didn’t understand and control. The right hemisphere, taken over by the left. The ‘uncanny’ is born, says McGilchrist, drawing on the work of Terry Castle, and her book The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny.

McGilchrist explains how Castle looks back to Freud’s essay of 1919 on ‘The ”Uncanny”’  as she explores the phantasmagoria, grotesquerie, carnivalesque travesty, hallucinatory reveries, paranoia and nightmarish fantasy that accompanied Enlightenment.  McGilchrist believes that the Enlightenment, its rationalism and culture so left-hemisphere dominated, had no room for the magical, the wild side, the poetic, the strange. (2010: 350)

The same argument applies to that earlier time of the 17C when witches were hunted down as the magical, old rituals became suspect and strange, as Buchan describes so brilliantly. And all around here, in this wild land and brooding hill, witches were uncanny, beyond the ken.

I get restless when things are too forensic. I begin to wonder what’s being lost.

So much is being lost today, it feels unbearable. I live with a constant restlessness for the loss of abundance, of biodiversity. Canals, with their locks, and tunnels, with their narrow waterways that burgeon all around with wild life, with dereliction and untidiness, are places where loss is all around.

And yet all sorts of people use them today.

They offer the opportunity to discover a wilder side to life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s