This song is about two unusual ways in which human legs were put to use on the Yorkshire waterways.

A keel is essentially a Viking longship - and almost unchanged since mediaeval times. There's only one left now, 'Comrade' (above, pic by Michael Askin). They could sail on the Humber, but often needed hauling when inland with no fair wind. Unlike narrow boats they had no horse of their own (it would have had to come aboard when sailing!), so this meant using a man-harness (but this was shaped for a woman, because steering's a man's work, surely?) or a hiring a Horse Marine from some pub along the way (for 1d a mile and all the food he could eat - usually bacon and eggs). The marine was self employed and enjoyed unusual freedom for workers of that time, but his life had one major drawback: To ensure the rope didn't snag and the momentum of the keel drag the horse into the water, he had to walk, all day long, backwards!

The Standedge Tunnel, from Yorkshire to Lancashire is the longest and highest canal tunnel in Britain. It took so long to build that by the time it was finished, the railway had also crossed the Pennines. To encourage canal traffic, men were employed to 'leg' boats through, there and back twice a day, or 16 hours in the wet and dark. (But was this better or worse than walking backwards all day long?!)

Suggested by "A Life on the Humber" by Harry Fletcher


From the collier pits of Sheffield to the Alexandra Docks

Is a 3 day sail or a 6 day trail and five and twenty bleeding locks

So summon my assistance at some pub along the track

from the wharf at Thorne your on your own, I'll see thee coming back


When the wind won't blow and your keel won't go, it's me you've got to thank

For a penny a mile I will walk, my style - backwards along the towing bank

And if you feed me well I've tales to tell, of the million things I've seen

In my weary days on the waterways, as a Humber Horse Marine


I call my old nag Molly, she's the Lily of the east

You can see she stands full nineteen hands, my beauty and my beast

I ride her home each evening, and she's sure to pull me through

And if she falls in at least she'll swim, which is more than I can do!


My brother Ned got flighty, and he left us by and by

Heading west, where the pay was best, and the Pennines touch the sky

Now he walks the Standedge Tunnel, and he's welcome to his pay

Cos it's four hours through and four hours back, and he does it twice a day


So lower your coggy-boats, haul them away

Your keel needs a paint job and you've no way to pay

So slice up your bacon, and fry all your eggs

Or I'll leave you to manage on one pair of legs