Saturday, 6 May 2017

Cruising the Sleaford Navigation

I'm pleased to say that we have managed to cruise to the navigable limit of the Sleaford Navigation, something that we failed to do two years ago because of the growth of weed.  It has been fun but not a navigation for those looking for an easy cruise.

The Sleaford Navigation originally joined Sleaford with the River Witham, a distance of 12 miles with 7 locks.  Now only the lower reaches of 7½ miles are open for boats.  People have asked us how far we travel on a narrowboat in a day and how fast we go.  Like most things boating it is hard to give a sensible answer.  For example yesterday we were cruising for more than 6 hours and covered less than 12 miles. Coming up the Trent last Monday we did 31 miles in 4 hours!  As you will see from what follows our passage yesterday was not a piece of cake.  

The Sleaford Navigation is also called the Slea Navigation (the river is the Slea) and its lower reaches are also called the Kyme Eau.

In this picture Leo is just turning into the Slea, passing lines of moored boats.  Just beyond the bridge there are flood gates which are normally held open allowing boats to pass.

And the gates were open for us.  Last time we came this way the water beyond was deep in weeds which immediately got round the prop and stopped any further progress.  We managed just 200 yards before having to pole the boat backwards through the flood gates.  This time the water was fairly clear.

After a mile and a half with crystal clear waters we reached Bottom Lock.  The water was so clear we could see all the fish swimming around us.  Here you can see Leo coming into the lock which has 'V' gates at the bottom and a guillotine at the top.  It is all manual: no power assistance here.

Here we are leaving Bottom Lock which is to the right, with a controllable weir to the left.  You can see from the ripples on the water that it was windy again yesterday.  The pontoons for the lock are quite short and certainly not long enough to take all of Leo.

Here is a patch of floating weed, a harbinger of what was to come.  Best to put the engine into neutral as the prop goes through this lot!
 After four miles we came to the village of South Kyme.  Visiting boats are a rarity here.  We were told that the last such boat before ours was a week ago.  The village is pretty with gardens going down to the narrow waterway.  Yesterday evening we moored on the piling you can see to the right, but first we had to go 3½ miles further to turn round.  This is where our problems really started.  Up to this point the canal was a bit shallow with a bit of weed and a current against us.

We were most of the way through the village when we came across this yellow boom right across the river.  Some residents living here said it had been put in the day before but did not know why.  A notice and comments from locals suggested there were people working at the next lock, so we detached the boom and carried on.  We did sort this out with the Navigation Trust later on by phone.

Round a couple more bends the weed had piled up by old bridge abutments completely blocking the river. We could see clear water the other side of this so ploughed in.  The boat became firmly stuck.  We used a pipe hanging over the river to push the boat on and Ian used the long pole as well.  Eventually we got through.

As we carried on the bends were tricky because of mud banks on the inside of the bends.  On the guillotine at Bottom Lock is a marker to indicate clearance at the lowest bridge on the navigation which was fairly accurate.  We had about 2 inches to spare.  This is Halfpenny Hatch Bridge.  As well as the hazard of the low clearance this bridge has sills below water level projecting into the channel.  We hit this on the way out and hit the sill on the other side on the way back.

Once through this bridge we had 1½ miles to go to reach somewhere wide enough to turn Leo.  Much of this was too shallow especially round the bends, with a fair current against us.  Very slow and difficult going with some going aground, backing off and trying again.

Approaching the end, the river twists back and forth and you have to avoid the inside of the bends otherwise you go aground.  A welcome sight is Cobblers Lock which is journey's end.  As you can see it has no gates and awaits restoration.  The idea is to turn in the weir stream below this lock.
 Dave Pullen from the Navigation Trust had suggested we should reverse into the weir stream and allow the current flowing over the old lock to push the bow round. This worked a treat.  You could fairly easily turn a full length narrowboat here.  Once we had turned we tried to reverse up to the old lock but it was much too shallow to allow this, so we cruised back to South Kyme.
 This view is looking back from Leo up the weir stream.  Just about wide enough to take a narrowboat.

It was much easier returning with the current and here you can see South Kyme Tower, the remains of a castle.

As well as a couple of Kingfishers, the Slea was notable for the number of swans on it and in the fields beside it.  Helen saw 25 all together this morning.

And these little ducklings scurried into the reeds to get out of our way.

Last night having moored in South Kyme we ate at the Hume, the local pub.   Friday evening is Fish and Chips and this was good and very welcome after a day when we did not have time for a proper meal at lunchtime.

This morning we walked round the village visiting the church and the tower (seen here).  Unfortunately the tower is on private land, but you can get good views from footpaths around.

After all the excitement yesterday we have gone just a few miles back today and we are moored on the lock landing below Bottom Lock.  Normally of course we wouldn't dream of mooring overnight on a lock landing, but here there is negligible chance of another boat appearing.  It is now four days since we have seen another boat moving!

So tomorrow it is on towards Boston where two more adventures need thinking about.  One is to cruise some of the network of 80 miles of navigable drains and the other is to go out on the tide and back in at Black Sluice.  We'll see. 

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