Five, Three, Two, Sixth! 3rd August

Bingley Five Rise to Hirst Lock

Heading to the locks

The alarm was set this morning, a cuppa in bed then we were up and dressed rolling back the covers. Clare the Lock Keeper came to check how long we were, 58ft 6″, apparently we look longer. We would go down the flight first with NB Barley, followed by NB Tobias , if another narrowboat arrived they would join them. Then bringing up the rear would be a late arrival last night Hotel Boat Lady Teal who had snuck in to moor at the bins.

So we were pushing off at 8am and entered the top lock of the staircase at 8.05. The lady from NB Barley was going to help along with two Lock Keepers. I could have hopped off to help, but then there would have been too many people, so I stayed onboard to enjoy the trip down.

Bingley Five Rise is the steepest flight of locks in the UK, climbing just over 18m in 98m, so a gradient of about 1:5. Each of the five chambers opens into the next one, therefore making it a staircase. Going down hill you take a locks worth of water with you into the next chamber, then the next until you reach the pound below. Going uphill takes a lot more water as each chamber above the bottom one needs to be filled before it can be emptied into the one below raising a boat up the hill.

The structure is Grade 1 and opened in 1774. The first boat to use the flight took 28 minutes, not sure whether that was up or down though. Today we made our progress steadily down the hill. Once we got so far down Clare headed back to the top to start bringing NB Tobias down, leaving us with the other full time Lock Keeper, didn’t catch his name.


Gongoozlers of the feathered variety seemed to be allowed, but they were the only ones as we made our way down.

The occasional nudge as we started to descend a chamber kept us away from the side and we were warned that as the water level dropped in the last chamber the gates above would leak like billyoh. They certainly did. Both Mick and the chap on NB Barley had already closed the stern doors to keep their legs dry. Oleanna’s stern certainly got a good rinse when we backed up for the gates to be opened in front of us.

Pulling away from the bottom

A look back over our shoulders for The shot, sadly not with Oleanna in it, maybe I should have helped at the locks and then dashed down to take the photo! Oh well! Oleanna descended the five in 40 minutes, she has now bagged her sixth Wonder of the Waterways. Only one left to do to have the full seven, The Anderton Boat Lift, that will have to wait for a while.

The top of the three rise

We led the way to wait above the three rise another staircase. Here because of rights of way people can gongoozle. Below there were a couple of boats waiting, NB Elvira and WB nemoNoo the third hire boat from bearBoating.

NemoNoo coming up

Clare arrived along with NB Tobias and a volunteer, they set about working nemoNoo up the three rise. Time to chat with people and I decided to lend a helping hand this time.

This is only our second time down the rises, we’ve been up them three times. Barry Whitelock retired in 2017 from being a Lock Keeper here, we’ve come across him several times, a man of few words, but he certainly knew his locks. Talking to Clare today I asked how many Lock Keepers there were now. Four years ago there were four, this year due to the pandemic there are only two of them, plus volunteers. Some of the volunteers are wary of the public right now so on certain days crew from the boats are not allowed to help with the locks. On these days she misses the conversations and meeting new and interesting people.

Only two more to go

Yesterday she was the only Lock Keeper on duty with a volunteer which meant only a few boats could go through the flight, others had to wait for today or next weekend. Clare and the other chap are doing their very best to stay safe as if one of them gets Covid-19 then both of them will have to self isolate as they work closely together, this could mean that the five and three rise would have to shut until it could be manned again. Also only having two Lock Keepers means that the other jobs that used to happen on the flight, painting, trimming the grass edges to keep the place looking tip top, just don’t get done as they are too busy with boats.

These trees look good, can we stop here!

We felt in safe hands today and as we came out of the bottom chamber waved a big thank you back to Clare and the volunteer. NB Barley headed off whilst we pulled in, cleared the prop of weed and settled down to a late breakfast.


By the time we’d finished Lady Teal had come past and all the boats waiting to go up had gone. The next mile took us past old mills, one where you can rent space for £1 a foot, but most have been converted into flats and offices. Weed lurked below the surface just waiting to gather enough of itself around Oleanna’s prop to become a problem.

As we arrived at Dowley Gap, a staircase of two locks, Lady Teal was just pulling away from the bottom. Here there are no Lock Keepers, but no matter which direction you are going in you need the top lock full and the bottom one empty. The top chamber has new gates, but one gate paddle was filled with weed, so it filled up for us slowly.

Butch with his trike on the bow

Downerty Down we went, the bottom gates closed behind us. A boat in a hurry was pushing its way across the aqueduct. We soon realised we knew the boat and it was Butch at the helm. Lady Nelson is one of those boats that stands out, having a trike sitting on the bow. We waved and said hello as he pushed onwards, if we’d been on Lillian he may have recognised us too, he smiled and nodded back though, suspect he was keen to get to Bingley for this afternoons passage up.

The mooring we’d hoped for was occupied when we arrived above Hirst Lock. Lady Teal had beaten us to it, we did our best to find deep enough water and pulled in behind.

What are you doing?!

Tilly had been patient all morning so was very keen to head off into the tantalising trees. A chat with the crew on Lady Teal and we found out they’d only stopped for lunch and would soon be on their way again. We loitered so as soon as they had finished we could pull up. A quick shout for Tilly brought her running as we pulled the ropes, she isn’t keen on us moving the outside whilst she’s in it, but at least she got to see us pull the boat 60ft and thankfully she didn’t jump on the cat walk for a ride.

It smells nice round here

I took a walk across Hirst Swing Bridge, spotting a family friends bakery by the cricket field. Sadly they don’t sell from the bakery, the smell was wonderful.

I then followed the road up and walked through Saltaire. The neat houses all in rows with their blue name plaques. The end houses more ornate built for those of higher standing in the mills. I continued up to Victoria Road to see if any shops were open, only a few today and most of the main buildings looked closed. But with the bright blue sky it had been worth the walk around the World Heritage Site, more info can be found here. And here is a link to our visit back in 2014.

Is he sucking his thumb?

Back at Oleanna, once Tilly had returned for her dingding, I applied a touch of fertan to the port side grab rail where I hadn’t finished touching up the paint work last year. Hopefully now the towpath is on the right side for a while I’ll get a bit further with it whilst the weather is fine, if it stays fine!

10 locks, 3 staircases, 2.22 miles, 2 swing bridges, 5 gongoozlers, 6th waterways wonder, 1 trike, 1 bakery, 1 lion, 1 plan coming together another sorted.