A Slow Meander to York – Part 2 – The Selby Canal & Our First Challenge

We bought ‘Head in the Clouds’, over sixteen years ago, she was an empty rusty shell and has been transformed into our home.  There are still many things needing to be done to her, but we were able to move aboard last October and so far, we love living the boat life.

You can read this post, ‘It’s time to sell up and live on a boat where I explain a little more about her and the transformation so far.  Although we’ve had her for so long, we have only, so far enjoyed short journeys, so we thought it was time to try a bigger trip and venture up to York, which was always one ‘cruising‘ journey we wanted to do.  We were quite excited about the trip, it was a big deal for us because:-

a) hoping our engine wouldn’t fail us, (it’s an old Perkins engine which was taken out of a sunken boat and needs a little maintenance work); 

b) we were fairly new to navigating this 55ft X 10ft lump of steel around the canals and; 

c) because we’d heard of a few ‘scary’ stories about the River Ouse, we fancied the challenge  to give it a go. 

Part 1 of our trip,  (with a bumpy start) from Rotherham to Knottingley can be read Here.

This is Part 2 of our cruise, which continues from the Aire & Calder Navigation and  industrial Knottingley, along the River Aire and then onto the Selby Canal.  At the top of this beautiful canal is Selby Lock, which (in part 3) would then spit us out onto the fast flowing, tidal River Ouse 😬

The River Aire

As we turned away from the Aire & Calder Navigation and the noisy, industrious Knottingly, our continuing route towards York was now to enter the River Aire, with it’s three locks.

From Knottingley up the River Aire

The first, Bank Dole Lock, which would firstly give us the access from the Aire & Calder to the River Aire.   Beal Lock which was pretty much mid way between Bank Dole Lock and the start of the Selby Canal and the last one, West Haddlesey Flood Lock which is our access to the Selby Canal and cruising this canal was part of the trip we were looking foward to most, as we’ve been told by many people how beautiful it is, although it was on this canal where our first challenge lay.

We were expecting quite a tranquil journey up towards the Selby canal, but after coming out of Bank Dole Lock, we found the River Aire to be a little more difficult than expected as it was quite choppy with a strong current, (I suppose it would be practice for the fast flowing River Ouse to come).

Coming to Bank Dole Lock
Approaching Bank Dole Lock



Bank Dole Lock River Aire
In The Lock











Out of Bank Dole Lock and onto The River Aire

It was also such an interesting river as it snaked around many bends, twisting and turning along the countryside.









It was difficult to see much over the banks of the river as they are designed to be high flood defences, but we often had the lovely company of sheep, cows and horses.  Although the water was quite rough, we cruised happily enjoying the differing contours of the river as it was winding along, it was so peaceful compared to the noise at Knottingley.


The cruise from Knottingley to the start of the Selby Canal was around six and a half miles, which took us around two hours.  I did catch a lovely video of a Heron too 🙂

To enter the canal you have to pass through Haddlesey Flood Lock, which means a sharp bend from the river, swinging to the left into the lock, which can be a little tricky if it’s at all windy, because if the wind catches the boat it can be forced into the lock wall as it’s turning.  Luckily, it wasn’t that windy, so Jon was quite proud of his boating skills at that point as we nicely turned without drama.



We were now on The Selby Canal  and wow, straight away it was such a different scene.

The following excerpt was taken from the Waterway Heritage Map

“It is hard to imagine this peaceful waterway bustling with dozens of huge vessels, but for over 100 years Selby Canal played a vital role in a buoyant local economy.  Before the Selby Canal was built, boats were forced to navigate the River Ouse and the narrow and dangerous River Aire.  When traffic increased significantly in the late 18th century, the five and a half mile Selby Canal was built by renowned engineer William Jessop to link Selby with West Haddlesey.  It was completed on 24 April 1778 at a cost of £20,000.”

“Initially Selby Canal transported cloth and agricultural produce, but with the development of West Yorkshire’s mining industry this soon gave way to vast 60 tonne coal barges.  Ironically, the success of the Selby Canal was its undoing because the huge volume of traffic was causing delays.  In 1826 a new canal between Goole and Knottingley – now the Aire & Calder Navigation – was constructed.  In 1828, an Act of Parliament allowed the Selby Canal to be widened and deepened with a new lock built at Selby.  But, despite further improvements during 1830’s and the efforts of individuals such as James Audus who operated nearly 20 schooners, Selby declined as a port.  With the coming of rail in the 1870’s the service finally ceased.”

As we faced the Selby canal I could not imagine such boats cruising it as it was so peaceful, tranquil and beautiful with parts of it being so narrow, with very low bridges, it was just full of green foliage, flowers and wildlife.


We were faced with parts of the water surface covered with a carpet of green or so it seemed.  It looked so strange, quite bizarre in places, but beautiful at the same time.  As the Summer this year has given us so much warmth and sunshine, so this particular weed had flourished and covered the water in this area.  We had planned to moor here at Haddlesey for the evening, but unfortunately it was full of boats, so we had no choice but to carry on and there, we faced our first challenge of the journey, (I’m not counting the break down as a challenge as that was just annoying).IMG_1608


We faced Tankards Stone BridgeA Challenge?  Well… we’d been told that the bridges on the Selby are very pretty, but very low and after reading two different maps, both with differing measurements of the height, one saying 8′ and another saying 10′, we decided we’d take the risk, thinking we had just under 8′ on the height of our wheelhouse.  Also, with the lack of rain, we thought the water would be low rather than high.  The main risk, though was if we didn’t get through there was no way we’d be able to turn round.  Jon had actually designed the Wheelhouse to be taken down in case we came across low bridges, but the wheelhouse is one of the things which has yet to be finished, so to take it down now would mean cutting the metal doorframe down.  We didn’t fancy that, but hey – stepping out that comfort zone and all that…

We had to get under the bridge! I nervously took the helm, as Jon stood on the roof guiding the boat very slowly towards the bridge, I very steadily steered the boat through, being careful to stay well in the middle as the arches of the bridge were quite rounded, which didn’t help.  Jon literally walked the boat through with his hands on the underside of the bridge and Yeahyyyyy…we got under!! I have to add, it was with very little room to spare, hopefully that would be the lowest bridge on the stretch!

Tankards Bridge – We’re under! Phew!! Yeahyyy!!

The green carpet covering the water was very strange and we were a little concerned as weed and boat propellers don’t get on.  Jon’s had to untangle the prop a few times in the past, the main problem being weed, but we did hook up with a discarded handbag once too, but that’s another story.  We continued slowly and noticed that it didn’t seem to be a problem as the weed was made up of very tiny leaves.  We plowed through.

Rosie on heron watch

Bearing in mind, time was getting on a little and we were yet to find a suitable mooring for that evening, we began to notice that there was a lack of suitable mooring, in fact there was none.  Both banks seemed to be, apart from beautiful, have an abundance of vegetation sticking out from the banks, which doesn’t make it easy to moor against.  IMG_1681

As we approached Paper House bridge, we noticed a small space before it, we thought we’d go for it and having taken a few goes to tuck in we managed it.  It wasn’t the most ideal of moorings but it’d have to do, boats could easily get past.  We were tired, it was getting dark and we needed to stop.  So that was to be our next home for the evening.

Our first mooring at Paper House Bridge.

Jon left early the next morning for work so I decided to take the dogs for a long walk along the canal tow path to see what we had in store ahead.  Everyone was right, it is such a beautiful canal, so picturesque, so tranquil and as I walked along the well maintained tow path looking for our next possible mooring I came across Burn Bridge and yes, there were proper mooring spaces there.  I wasn’t totally happy with where we’d moored the previous evening so I looked at the canal and judged how easy it looked to navigate and I wondered if I should move the boat myself instead of having to wait for Jon to get back from work.  I called him to ask what he thought and his answer straight away was yes definitely, he had total faith in me and thought I was more than capable.

So I started the engine, cast off and carried on towards Burn Bridge.  Felt a little nervous, not because I thought I couldn’t handle the boat alone, I knew I could, but if anything goes wrong, for example, if the engine decides to be awkward and ‘conk out’ or if some of this strange weed gets wrapped around the prop, then I’d be in trouble, but I had to think positively – I ignored the strange, nervous looks I was getting from the dogs and told them, “nothing will go wrong“.  I actually enjoyed setting off and being ‘The Captain’ 🙂 

Our second mooring on the Selby Canal, just before Burn Bridge

What a beautiful, calm and nature watching cruise.  Around an hour later I arrived at Burn Bridge and yes, there was a lovely open space where I could moor up comfortably.  I made sure I tied the ropes securely, turned off the engine, gave myself a pat on the back and felt a little proud of myself – I’d just navigated a 55′ x 10′ heavy lump of steel along a canal and moored up on my own, so I then decided to do what any normal right minded person would do, I did the happy dance! 🙂 which again, gained a strange look from the dogs.

It was a lovely mooring, great open grassy area for the dogs and fairly quiet, (apart from being under the A19 Doncaster Road, but it wasn’t too noisy) so we decided we’d stay there a couple of nights before setting off again for Selby Lock.


Selby Lock is manned by the Canal and River Trust and is located at the tip of the Selby Canal.  This is the access onto the River Ouse and as the river is tidal, you’re only allowed out at certain times.  We’d booked our time slot for first thing Saturday morning, which according to the tides was to be 8am.  We’d heard various stories about how difficult the Ouse can be and how you’ve to really know what you’re doing, so we thought we’d have a drive up to see for ourselves.  Selby Lock is like a large basin with a normal sized lock, for some reason, we expected it to be much bigger.  We walked up to the river and ‘Whoa!’ I think we just stood there a little just staring at the water before we both looked at each other and said, “Bloody Hell That’s Fast!!”.  Ok so now we were nervous.  We stood for a while longer before turning round to walk back and decided we needed to find some life jackets as everyone using this lock was wearing them.  I spent the next day on the phone and driving to Batley to pick up two self inflating life jackets, (to have our cars with us, we do a little hop-scotching with them when we know where we’re mooring).  To be honest, as most boaters do have them we felt a little overdue acquiring this vital safety accessory.  Hopefully we wouldn’t need them, but at least having them made us feel a little better anyway.

Our meandering cruise up towards Selby Lock on Friday evening was lovely, a slow, peaceful canal and the nature which surrounds it is stunning.  We’ve seen the most beautiful Dragon Flies of various colours and sizes, along with so many other interesting insects, the birds were darting around the boat as we slowly made our way along and the Herons sit at the side like regal statues.  There was something playing near the edge of the water too, it was black and its head kept popping up, it could’ve been a water rat I guessed.  It is just so lovely watching the wildlife as we slowly glided along.


We noticed there wasn’t much mooring space as we went through a small swing bridge leading us into the basin at Selby Lock, so we had to moor just before the lock, which isn’t really allowed, but we were to be first out in the morning anyway and there literally wasn’t anywhere else to go.  It ended up being quite handy too as it was adjacent to the water tap, which meant we could fill up.  That evening, Jon walked into town to find a Chinese take away, (which was excellent, by the way) while I cleared the wheelhouse of as many things as possible, so we would have nothing to trip over for our first tidal encounter the following morning, Jon had already made sure the Anchor was ready, just in case.  I had the life jackets laid out waiting to be put on.  We were ready.  I knew Jon was a little concerned because he didn’t have his Friday night G&T, I obviously had a couple of glasses of wine.  We’d have an early night and set our alarms for 7am.

We were both awake before 6am looking at the river.  It was still fast!

It probably doesn’t seem that fast to most, but canal barges are usually flat bottomed and not designed for anything else other than very calm water… wait for Jon’s comment at the end 😂

Moored and nervously waiting to go through Selby Lock and on to the tidal River Ouse towards York


Watch out for my next post about our;  

‘Slow Meander to York – Part 3 – The River Ouse, Our Second Big Challenge’

which wasn’t actually very slow!



47 thoughts on “A Slow Meander to York – Part 2 – The Selby Canal & Our First Challenge

  1. Well done on going solo. I tried to picture your boat on the bit of the Ouse that I saw from the motorway, then realised that the canal must join it much further up towards York where it’s narrower.

    When you described going under the bridge it reminded me of a book I read about life on a working barge when they were towed by horses. Some bridges didn’t have tow paths beneath them and the occupants of the boat had to ‘walk’ along the underside of the bridge to get through. I think they had to get planks out and lie on them to reach the sides. The details are hazy, as it’s almost 50 years since I read it.

    1. That’s right April, not sure what book you read, but we studied the history of the canals in school as I was brought up and live in Yorkshire with many canals and very near to the Standedge Tunnel in Marsden. There’s quite a history to Standedge tunnel and it’s also the longest and highest in Britain, but yes the horses had to be taken up and over some bridges, including Standedge, which meant men used to have to lie on planks on the top of the barges with their legs reaching each side of the tunnel walls to walk the barges through. From memory, I think Standedge tunnel is around 3 miles long and very dark, so it would be by gas lantern, can you imagine?! The history of the UK canals is very interesting, I should read up on it all again. 🙂 thank you for reading April x

  2. Never been on a proper canal boat and your photos make it look absolutely amazing. A fabulous adventure that must sometimes feel like youve gone back in time a little. How wonderful that you now live on the water in such a beautiful part of the world.

    1. Thank you, yes it is absolutely beautiful. You do feel like your life slows down and you’re there at one with nature. I don’t feel the photo’s actually do it justice. 🙂 thank you for reading and your lovely comment 🙂

  3. What an amazing adventure for you two! We watched Timothy West and Prunella Scales on the canals and it looks like good fun. My hubby is from York so I’m looking forward to the next installment!

    1. Oh, we watch that too, love it 😊 thanks for reading Darlene, hope you like part 3. I love York, such a lovely city 😊

    1. Thank you for reading 🌸 yes I was particularly proud of myself 😊 amazing trip thank you x

  4. Slightly spellbound reading this – it sounds a tremendous adventure. Looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. Thank you George so glad you enjoyed reading. After building & working on the boat for so long, this trip has been quite a long time in the planning so was great to finally do it. Funny that by car it takes around an hour 😂 thank you for taking the time to read 👍

  5. What a fab adventure – and great pics to accompany it. Kudos to you for the solo mooring as well – those canal boats look lovely but I’m sure they’re difficult to manouevre. Thanks for linking up this week #teamlovinlife

    1. Hi thanks for stopping by 😊 yes you’re right, they aren’t easy at all so I was pretty proud of myself 😎

  6. What a fantastic adventure. There are two things I’d really love to do and that is explore Yorkshire and go on a canal trip around Britain and France (for a year !)
    Thanks for commenting on Lifestyle Fifty earlier and look forward to having you in the Women Who Blog series.

    1. Thank you Johanna I hope you get to do those fab things & have your adventures 😊 thanks for reading & yes that’ll be great 👍🌸

    1. Thank you Ali it’s great to finally be doing the cruising we’ve been planning for so long. Thanks for reading x

  7. So happy to find your blog and read about your houseboat river life adventures. We are currently in Holland doing a home exchange in a houseboat and seriously thinking about how to make our next home base a floating one. We are currently living in our home base of Sri Lanka where we converted an old storage shed into a home. So I can totally relate to what it takes. Looking forward to reading more…


    1. Oh wow that’s great!! We’d love to cruise the canals in Holland. You made a home out of a shed? Wow fantastic! Great to virtually meet you & looking forward to reading more 👋

  8. Can’t wait to hear the next part! I lived in York as a student more than 25 years ago. My window looked out on the River Foss, Much smaller and slower than the Ouse. York is one of my favorite places. Would love to see it via the river.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read & comment 😊 York is such a lovely place. You’ll see when I post the next one that we moored just down from The Foss 😊 facing the Millennium bridge 😊🌸

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer. The water on the Selby was so strange & the green totally disappeared in an instant on the Ouse, I’ll be posting about that soon. Thank you for reading 🌸

  9. Great job as a solo captain there, Sam. My cousin in France has a boat and he takes it from the Marne river, to southern part of France. He let me come along so I had a taste of what river cruising is like. #MLSTL

    1. Oh how wonderful, we’d love to cruise around France & I quite fancy Holland too. So much to do in life 😊

  10. Well, that was a long post and I read every word – such and interesting journey and you must have been so proud of yourself doing the captaining alone for that little stretch. We did a river cruise in Europe and I remember how close to the underside of bridges we were at times – the passengers on the top deck weren’t allowed to stand up while we went under – pretty hairy cruising for the captain!
    #MLSTL 🙂

  11. Fabulous post Sam, I really enjoyed reading of your travels and your going it alone with the boat!! It’s so good to read of your adventures. Have shared your post for #mlstl

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