Friday, 20 May 2022

Our first blog for 2022 and a new approach to blogging for this year

 We have given some thought to how often we update this blog and what we put on it. Over the years we have been boating and now that we have covered nearly all the inland waterways in England and Wales updating the blog is not always the pleasurable occupation it once was. So this year we will be trying some new approaches. Mainly we will focus any blogs on significant days on the canals particularly on less frequented waterways. For instance later this summer we hope to cross onto the Lancaster Canal using the tidal Ribble Link and that will certainly feature on the blog. But on more routine parts of the system which are well travelled by others we will likely just put up some nice photos on Helen's Facebook Page. I hope this link will lead you to that page:  I think you will need to be a member of Facebook before this will work.

In the meantime here are a few photos of our last two days on the River Trent. This year, we have started out rather later than usual principally because we have spent nearly 3 weeks on a car trip to Orkney.  So it was not until yesterday (Thursday 19 May) that we set off from Nottingham to go out on the river Trent and downstream towards Newark:

Here we are, having left the marina cruising the Nottingham Canal into the city.

The first lock of the year was Castle Lock

After two locks we are now out on the River Trent about to go under Lady Bay Bridge and heading downstream out of Nottingham. As is apparent we had a lovely day for the start of boating this year.

After a night above Holme Lock where we could see brave canoeists on the white water course alongside the lock, today was not such good weather but we have carried on downstream to Fiskerton. In the picture we are about to go under Gunthorpe Bridge, the only road bridge over the river between Nottingham and Newark.

So there you have it, a brief introduction to this blog for 2022.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Through Leicester, and on to Nottingham

 I have been remiss in not updating this blog before. We are now home having left Leo for the winter. I was planning on doing two more updates to our blog, but time has marched on so you have a bumper edition covering our last couple of weeks boating for 2021. This update then covers our cruising to and then through Leicester to Trent Junction and down the river Trent. It is always a bit sad coming to the end of cruising for the year, but nights are closing in, leaves are falling and it is time for us to go back to being landlubbers for the winter. In the meantime here is the last update from us for this boating season.

Our last update took us to the bottom of the Foxton Locks. We moored on Thursday 9th having just turned onto the Market Harborough Arm. This takes a winding course for about five and a half miles into Market Harborough. The arm was originally built to be the main route of the canal with the idea of going to Northampton. It would have been a broad canal allowing wider vessels to gain access to the canal system heading north. But it never happened and now the arm is a dead end. Why the picture of a cow? Well, as we were pottering along, we spotted something brown appearing round a tree and then disappearing. It proved to be this cow.

Here is the basin at the end of the Arm. Hire boats are based here and there is ample space to turn as well as services to the left.

Having moored, we walked into town. This is the Symington building which used to be a corset factory but is now the headquarters of the town council and also has a cafe where we had lunch, and upstairs is an interesting museum.

In the musuem were extensive displays of finds dating to the early Roman period which were part of a hoard buried at Hallaton, south east of Leicester. The photo is of an ear protector of a Roman soldier's helmet.

Market Harborough is on the river Welland which flows out into the Wash close to the mouth of the river Witham near Boston. This overgrown water channel is the river Welland in the town.

The road from the basin to the town is a broad street with some fine old houses along it.

We liked the peacefull Leicestershire countryside. This photo was taken on Saturday after retracing our way to Foxton and turning right to head north. From here the canal is on the level to Saddington Tunnel and then starts a gradual fall down 24 locks to Leicester where it joins the river Soar.

Just before the entrance to Saddington Tunnel is this feeder channel which supplies water from a reservoir nearby. We moored and followed a footpath close to the feeder to.....

.....Saddington reservoir. The water level seemed a bit on the low side, but we haven't had a lot of rain this summer so perhaps that's not surprising.

On Sunday 12th we cruised through the half mile Saddington Tunnel and soon came to the first of the locks leading down to Leicester. This boat, Thomas Henry, joined us down the locks. Here we are sharing the first - Kibworth Top Lock.

This is Wistow church near the canal. There is a lovely mooring here which we have used before but on Sunday we carried on for several more locks.

This is a wide angle view of the wall of Bumblebee Lock. Clearly there is some work to do here to repair the damage. We did alert a CRT maintenance man to the problem which could catch a boat rising in the lock.

On Monday we carried on through Kilby Bridge towards the centre of Leicester. This lock (shared with Matt aboard a boat called Tinker Too) is called 'Double Rail Lock'. The origin of the name is obvious in this picture and it is like this because a footpath crosses these lock gates and the double set of handrails gives more protection to passing pedestrians.

Having stayed the night near Glen Parva we cruised down to Leicester on Tuesday. It was a very wet morning. We are pictured waiting to go down King's Lock. Below this lock the canal joins the River Soar for the first time. The Soar has a reputation for rising very quickly but the mornings rain did not cause us any problems.

This picture is of Leo waiting to go through Freemans Meadow Lock. As the photo shows there is a huge weir above this lock which, in flood conditions, would pull boats towards it. To the left of the weir and out of sight is the ground of Leicester City Football Club.

We moored at the good floating pontoon at Friars Mill in the centre of Leicester and after the rain stopped later on Tuesday afternoon, our friends Tim and Dianne on narrowboat Kingfisher arrived from downstream. The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with where we had each been this year over tea and cake (including apple cake made that morning by Dianne) . This is Tim and Dianne leaving on Wednesday morning to go upstream while we set off by bike to visit the National Space Centre a couple of miles downstream.

Behind this novel model of a cat climbing out of a spacecraft you can see the characteristic shape of the Centre. The tall 'bubble' protects the Blue Streak and Thor-Able rockets inside.

This is taken from near the top of the bubble building. The foreground shows the nose cone of the Thor-Able rocket. Through the inflated plastic material of the space centre, you can see the building and tall chimney of a pumping station which is also now a museum and which we shall have to visit another time. The National Space Centre gives a good introduction to the space race as well as presentations about the planets and the wider universe.

On our way back to Leo we cycled through Abbey Park where the foundations are all that remains of Leicester Abbey. This is a modern memorial to Cardinal Wolsey who died here. It is in what is thought may be the site of his grave in a side chapel of the Abbey church. The quote is from Shakespeare's Henry VIII.

This is a view from across the river of the Friars Mill Moorings. Leo is in the middle of the three boats.

On Thursday we left Leicester heading past these painted panels towards North Lock. There is much redevelopment going on along the canal and the otter hides a building site.

This mural is next to Limekiln Lock.

Below Belgrave Lock we got a good view back over the weir to the National Space Centre.

An oddity of the route to the north of Leicester is that the canal cuts across from the river Soar to its tributary the river Wreake. In this photo the Wreake comes in under the bridge to the right. The Wreake used to be navigable upstream to Melton Mowbray and from there by the Oakham Canal to Oakham.

We moored on Thursday night on the Wreake above Junction Lock. In the afternoon we walked into the village of Cossington past some lakes and saw this Little Egret. These birds used to be rare in the UK but are becoming increasingly common.

The following day we came down Junction Lock and soon came to the confluence of the rivers Wreake and Soar. This photo was taken looking back and shows the Wreake to the left where the arrows point and the Soar straight on where the boats are moored.

We moored overnight at Barrow upon Soar. In a basin near our mooring were all these fun boats, mostly pedalos, ready for hire.

This boat viewed from the town bridge has come down Barrow Lock towards the left, which at over 9 feet deep is a big one, and is rejoining the main river before going under the bridge.

Our route on Saturday took us down Barrow Lock and soon to this flood lock close to Pillings Marina. A flood lock normally has both sets of gates open (as this one does if you look closely) but during floods it can be closed to protect the canal beyond from flooding. So normally you just cruise straight through without stopping.

It was a nice day on Saturday (18th September) as we came through Loughborough. In this photo we are just coming to the T junction where you can turn left for Loughborough Basin or right to continue following the Soar. We turned right and didn't stop in Loughborough though we have visited the town before.

Kegworth Deep Lock lives up to its name. It was built to replace two locks and is about 12 feet deep. We met old friends Jen and Jim on 'Dire Straits' coming the other way. It's a shame that you don't get much time to chat on these occasions.

Coming down the last few miles of the Soar we kept our eyes open for the familiar sight of the huge cooling towers of Ratcliffe Power Station seen here.

On Sunday we had a spell of quite heavy rain as we went through Ratcliffe Lock. Here are the remains of the old lock shown here alongside the new one.

Here you can see more clearly an open flood lock, this one is at Redhill just before the Soar meets the river Trent.

And finally here is the meeting with the Trent. The arrows point left which is advisable as the huge Thrumpton Weir lies to the right. You can just make out the sail of a small dinghy to the far left of the picture. There was so little wind that this dinghy had drifted downstream and was being towed back to the sailing club at Trent junction.

On Sunday we moored overnight on the floating pontoon at Trent junction. There was a magnificent sunset. Trent junction is a major crossroads on the canal system with the Trent navigation crossing from west to east, the Soar to the south and the Erewash Canal to the north. We had come through here back in May and had now come full circle and have travelled all four branches this year.

On Monday (19th September) we completed our journey for the 2021 boating season. First our route took us along Cranfleet cut (to avoid Thrumpton weir) and through Cranfleet Lock which had this fine lock gate garden.

This view is taken looking back below Cranfleet Lock where the route rejoins the river Trent. The lock is where the arrows point on the right of the picture.

We had a lovely day for our last cruising. The Trent is wide and was quite low with relative lack of rain so we were on the look out for shallows.

Here we are approaching Barton Island where the navigation route is to the left of the island.


So that brings us to the end of our boating for this year. We have left Leo in a safe mooring in Nottingham.  We hope you have enjoyed the account of our travels and wish you all a happy winter. Next year we have vague plans of going north but we have plenty of time to think about that. Thank you for reading our blog.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Heading north on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union

 Having turned right at Napton Junction we are now heading north on the Leicester branch of the Grand Union so here are some highlights particularly of the delights of the summit section from Watford to Foxton Locks:

First I promised in our last update to give more information about Weedon where we arrived last Sunday (5 September). Here you can see Helen standing outside a lovely old thatched building in the village. This used to be a pub but is now a private house.

In the early 1800s we were at war with France and the government took the decision to find a place to store weapons and explosives for war well away from the coast where it might be taken by invading French forces. So the Royal Ordnance Depot was built at Weedon and it was linked to the Grand Union Canal by means of a branch canal so armaments could be moved by boat. In this picture you can see the separate buildings for storing armaments either side of the branch canal and further down there were magazines for storing ammunition. Since the last time we came here, a visitor centre has opened giving more details of the history and is well worth a visit. Entry is free but donations are, of course, welcome. The volunteer guide was also keen to show us the collection of Lee Enfield rifles including allowing us to handle them but not to fire them!

This terrace of upstairs and downstairs flats is just across the road from the depot and was built to house the firemen attached to the Ordnance Depot. There were only three significant fires in its history but clearly there are obvious risks in storing ammunition.

Here is the village sign for Weedon Bec (effectively part of Weedon). The top pictures, left to right, are of a soldier at the Ordnance Depot, a Saxon princess and a bargee with horse towing a narrowboat out of the Depot. The main west coast mainline runs through Weedon and this explains the steam engine, a streamlined A4 pacific.

We left Weedon on Monday and here we are approaching the bottom of the 7 Buckby locks, sharing with another boat called Halcyon. It was a pleasure and so much easier with two boats in the lock.

Here at lock 9 (I think) we waited for this widebeam hotel boat, Tranquil Rose, to come out.

We moored in the long pound below the top lock and this picture was taken in the evening light showing our view across the canal. It's a lovely spot and several boats were moored here. The shop in Anchor Cottage nearby sells ice creams and also an assortment of traditionally painted ware including plant troughs of which we bought two last year.

We moved on and up the top Buckby lock on Tuesday. A short way above the locks is Norton Junction where the Leicester branch of the Grand Union turns right off the main line. In the picture the Leicester line goes to the right of the weeping willow tree and the main line to Braunston goes left behind the gates.

And here is the sign at the junction. We had come from the direction of Brentford and were turning towards Leicester.

A few miles up the Leicester Line we joined a queue of boats waiting to go up the Watford flight of locks. There are 7 narrow locks here, two singles then a staircase of four locks and finally a single lock at the top. It tends to be a bottleneck on this popular canal and we had to wait for about one and a half hours for our turn to go up. This is managed by volunteer and full time lock keepers who assist boats through. The name Watford might ring bells with non-boaters as the canal here is alongside Watford Gap Services on the M1. Here the narrow valley carries the A5, the M1, the canal and the railway all very close together.

Our turn at last, and Leo is in the first lock.

Having come up two locks we are now lining up to enter the bottom lock of the staircase. There are side ponds to the left of the canal which are still in active use. Each lock has two paddles one of which connects to the side pond and the other to the lock above. You must open the red paddle (linked to the side pond) before the white one (linked to the next lock). Remember "red before white, you'll be alright: white before red, you'll wish you were dead!"

Here we are in the top lock looking back down the flight to the top of the staircase.

And this is looking forward from the top lock with the service block to the left. There were lovely flowers all the way up the locks making it all very attractive.

Above the top lock the canal passes under the M1 and we moored as soon as we were a reasonable distance beyond the noise of the motorway. We walked into Watford village and found several Speckled Wood Butterflies on the way. Back on the boat in the evening, we watched bats hunting insects up and down the canal.
On Wednesday we set off on the 20 mile summit pound of the canal which has two tunnels. Here we are approaching the southern portal of Crick Tunnel which is about three-quarters of a mile long. You can see the headlight of a boat in the tunnel coming towards us. Fortunately two narrowboats can pass each other in this tunnel and in fact we passed four on our way through (going the other way that is - not overtaking).

Here we are out in the daylight once more passing through Crick village.   
Beyond the village the canal goes round three sides of Crack's Hill seen here. We have walked to the top in the past and there is a beacon at the top and a good view.

We moored on Wednesday night out in the wilds but a couple of miles across the fields from the village of Welford. We decided not go down the canal branch to the village this year but to walk in from the main canal. You will recognise these two. The first time we came to Welford there was a Postman Pat statue made out of wire but the second time we came he was in a sorry state. Last year it seems the statue was replaced by this carved wooden one.

On Thursday we cruised on across the rest of the 20 mile summit passing through Husband's Bosworth Tunnel and on to the top of the Foxton Locks. This bronze sculpture of a lad with the towing horse is on the left approaching the top lock. Foxton has 10 narrow locks in two flights each of five staircase locks. It is another bottleneck and this time we had to wait about two and a quarter hours for our turn to go down. But time passed quickly what with having lunch and accepting help from other boaters to join several hoses together to fill the boat's water tank.

Here is Leo finally approaching the top lock. This flight really is on the brow of a significant hill with a fine view as you go down. For a short period (1900 to 1911) as well as the 10 locks, boats had the option of a quicker descent or ascent on a boat lift with two caissons holding boats floating in water running on rails down or up an inclined plane. You can visit the remains of this by the side of the locks.

Here we are in the top lock. Again we have red paddles and white ones just as at Watford and the same adage applies.

In this photo we are looking back up the first staircase from lock 3. The house at the top used to be for the lock keeper but today it is mainly used for a cafe.

The lock keepers allow several boats to follow each other down (or up) the flight, so we had six or seven going down before a number were allowed up. Here we are looking down on the boat in front of us from a footbridge over the locks.

Here Leo is in the bottom lock of the first staircase. Beyond us is a very small pound and then the top lock of the second staircase of five locks. You can see that there is an upcoming boat in this pound that was obliged to wait until all of our six or seven boats came down before it could continue up the flight.

Going down a staircase the gates behind you seem enormously tall above you and it was unnerving to see another narrowboat nudge these gates as it followed us down.

But all good things come to an end and this view looks back to the bottom of the flight of 10 locks as we came out and turned right. It had taken us only 50 minutes to come down assisted by various volunteer lock keepers and helpful boaters.

At the bottom of the locks is another canal junction. The main route to Leicester carries straight on while a five and a half mile winding branch leads right to Market Harborough. We took the branch line and having done so almost immediately we had to go through a swing bridge. So Helen walked across from the Foxton bottom lock to join Ian at the bridge. There are lots of tourists at Foxton and you have to wait for a gap in the pedestrian traffic to open the bridge.


Soon we were through and moored shortly afterwards. That evening (Thursday 9th September) we met our friends John and Ali who have a narrowboat called Triskaideka (I hope I've spelt it right). We had a lovely meal at the Black Horse at Foxton and enjoyed catching up with them. On Friday it was off to Market Harborough but that is a tale for another day.