Friday, June 12, 2015

Through Leicester and almost 'home'

We departed Kilby Bridge around 7.30am on Wednesday for the trip through Leicester. Our companions from Tuesday, Roger & Linda on nb Cheviot, had passed us a good half hour earlier, but as we rounded the corner for the first lock of the day, there they were finishing off breakfast, so we were happy to be paired up again. 

A couple of the pounds were about eighteen inches down on water so as the girls set the locks, we hung around in the middle rather than risk getting stuck. The 'team' got into a good rhythm and were helped by quite a few boats travelling the other way. In fact, of the occasions we have travelled through Leicester, this was by far the busiest.

We were soon into Leicester, passing the football stadium and onto the straight mile. The water was quite free of litter, in part no doubt due to the presence of this litter picking crew. It was also good to see the moorings at Castle Gardens full although I would have had a different view had we wanted to stop!

nb Cheviot following us along the Straight Mile
Roger picked up a prop foul as we exited Abbey Lock. The water here was black and absolutely stank, so we pulled into the side and I went to give him a hand and offered him the use of some long sleeved gloves I use for such occasions, for which he was most grateful.

National Space Centre
Obstruction cleared and on we went, passing the National Space Centre below Belgrave Lock, and then on through Birstall and Thurmaston locks where we saw this well known 'bloggers boat' moored up at MGM. There looked like a good dollop of pigeon sh@t on the roof boys - James will not be impressed.

We all stopped for well earned refreshments at the Hope & Anchor, which turned into an evening meal...well you know how it goes once you're settled in !!

We arranged to muster at 9am on Thursday, as Roger & Linda asked if we minded them travelling with us. We were happy to oblige and, as agreed, we were off on the dot of nine. It was a lovely day for cruising (if not a little too hot - we're never happy us Brits). 

Sileby Mill always looks attractive, and today was no exception.

I had to remember I'd retired as we arrived at Mountsorrel Lock and a young chap was sat in the beer garden of The Waterside Pub, quite blatantly smoking a good brand of wacky backy. He then went inside to start work. Just hope he's not the cook.

This was an unusual sight as we approached Barrow on Soar, with a farrier fitting out a horse with a new set of shoes in the field. We moored up abreast at Barrow Services and the ladies went off shopping whilst we filled with water etc, before meeting them down at Barrow Deep Lock which was manned by three volunteers.

We couldn't pass The Albion in Loughborough without calling in for a pint. Maybe not the most appealing from the outside, but the landlord certainly knows how to keep a good pint in this traditional boating establishment, and a warm welcome is guaranteed.

Fully refreshed, we made the short trip on to Zouch Cut for the night, passing the delightful church and properties along the way in Normanton on Soar. 

Today has been the homeward stretch for us and we're now moored above Weston Lock on the T&M. We have travelled once again with Roger & Linda. It was billed as the hottest day of the year, but it was very much a misty and cool start. We were soon down at Kegworth Deep Lock where you can clearly see the remains of the old lock alongside.

As we descended Ratcliffe Lock, we came across the hire fleet from Avante Leisure (formerly Shakespeare Line) who were based at Mercia Marina. They have gone into receivership I understand. Eighteen boats in total means many disappointed people who now appear to be without a holiday, plus they are involved in other forms of holiday too.

Onto the wide River Trent and then Sawley Locks, which were manned by lock keepers and we were three to a lock as we were joined by a boat emerging from The Erewash Canal. We shared the next couple of locks with them too which made light work.
Clock Warehouse Shardlow
Shardlow Lock - all very cosy
So our mini adventure to The Thames is almost over, which is sad. We will be going into our new 'home' at Mercia Marina tomorrow (weather permitting) but when we look back, it's hard to believe that it is just under six weeks since we set off from Cropredy. It seems so much longer, which indicates how we have escaped the usual hustle and bustle of life, and I can confirm this retirement lark is pretty good. Sadly for Louise, she gets back on the hamster wheel of life on Monday, but hopefully not for too much longer. What this trip has certainly done is to re-emphasize how much we love the waterways and all that they have to offer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lazy days in Leicestershire

We've had a lazy few days which we promised ourselves and enjoyed the peaceful summit level of the Leicester Line, Foxton Locks and now we find ourselves at Kilby Bridge, psyching ourselves up for the run through Leicester tomorrow. 

The weather has been good for the last few days, so Sunday morning, after a good old 'Full English' I wandered off into Yelvertoft to get supplies and Louise cracked on with some washing. We slackened the lines around midday and headed off towards Welford Junction. There was quite a lot of boat activity, mainly from folks enjoying a weekend out of Yelvertoft Marina, but it was really noticeable how shallow the summit pound is, not really due to water levels, but the requirement for dredging. Nearly every time we passed an oncoming boat, we tipped, despite slowing right down and staying towards the middle as much as possible.
Lovely day for cruising
She can't get enough of steering now
Despite the sign, we saw no evidence of dredging, so maybe they're getting prepared ?? Progress was somewhat slow, but it didn't really matter in the lovely surroundings. 

We eventually reached North Kilworth where it was all a bit tight due to moored boats. We passed the  working pair of Nutfield and Raymond. We wondered whether they'd just given up due to the depth of water. 

The marina at North Kilworth is still under construction, but it's slow going. We did wonder if there is a need for such another large marina along here, attractive as it is location wise, but already with Crick and Yelvertoft in this area, will it start a moorings price war ?

We passed through Husbands Bosworth Tunnel before mooring up for the night.

Yesterday we were in no rush to get away. Our only plan was to get down Foxton Locks at some point. We arrived around 10.45am but had a bit of a wait as there was a single boat already coming up the flight. I've filmed the decent on the GoPro camera, so once we get back home, hopefully I'll be able to edit it. 

It was good to see nb Swift above the lock with groups of school children being shown around, learning about how working boat families lived, how cargo was stored and transported and how different materials float. I hung around on the fringes and listened in and the talks were really excellent. The kids seemed to enjoy it too. 

We had the assistance of a volunteer lockie all the way down the flight and it took the standard 45 minutes to reach the bottom. We moored up and then it was lunch in Bridge 61. We raised a glass to Louise's Dad who sadly passed away six years ago and would have loved this place. We had some light entertainment after lunch as we ourselves gongoozled. 

Nb 'The Admiral' appears from Debdale and starts to go left towards Market Harborough. Hang on, there's a swing bridge. A quick look at the map book from the steerer to check said swing bridge should be there. Oh yes so it should - must have missed that. Into reverse and stop just short...that was lucky. Off jumps a chap from the boat. He walks across the bridge to open it. Hmm it won't, so back to the boat. Another check of the book doesn't give any clues, so back across the bridge. It still won't open, so back to the boat and eventually finds a key. Back across the bridge (I'm getting tired just watching). Eventually he cracks the code, by turning the key and hey presto it opens. 

Through the boat begins to go. He's not is he? Surely not? He's never going to shut the bridge into the boat is he? Oh yes he is !!! Bang it goes. Onlookers in the beer garden are rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Never has a lunchtime snack been so exciting. He opens the bridge again and finally the boat gets through. Right then, just shut the bridge and remove the key. Simple you'd think? No, not for this poor guy. He looks at it, scratches his head, pulls on the bridge handle, looks again before a passing member of the public comes to the rescue. 
Now how do I get that bloody key out  
Off they go merrily on their way and we returned to the boat to find we'd had visitors whilst we'd been in the pub with this left on the back deck for us !! 

We moved on a mile or so to one of our favourite moorings just beyond Debdale Wharf where we moored in amongst the reeds. 

Today we have moved down to Kilby Bridge. We shared most of the journey with nb Cheviot who were very grateful of our offer to share locks. They appeared after we had descended Kibworth Top Lock, so we waited for them at the next one. They were very unsure as this was their first double lock on their own and were planning to get through Leicester today !! We were sorry to hear that the boatyard they had hired from had told them not to stop in Leicester. As I've posted before, we've never had a problem, but it seems that stigma remains. Watch me eat my words tomorrow when we go through. As it happens they too have stopped at Kilby Bridge, so we may see more of them tomorrow. 
Approaching Saddington Tunnel 
This afternoon we have welcomed friends Chris and Frances on board for a catch up. They live not far away and had just come from a meeting with their boat builders where they have finalised plans for their new boat. Exciting times ahead for them and I think we are looking forward to it nearly as much as they are, especially as they'll be mooring it at Mercia with us too. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summit else this sunshine

More problems with signal I'm afraid, but when I say the word Braunston, most will know what I mean. So, again a bit of catching up to do.

The weather has certainly continued to take a turn for the better these last three days. Thursday saw us call in at Cropredy Marina, from where we set off a month previously. We took on 113 litres of diesel and a gas bottle and also made sure the car was ok. I shall catch the train down to Banbury to fetch it in a week or so. 

Louise steered up Claydon Locks, five locks which raise us over thirty feet to the summit level of this lovely canal. 

Then on through Fenny Compton 'tunnel' which, as its name suggests isn't actually a tunnel at all, but a narrow cutting. When the canal was first constructed it did of course have a tunnel here, but the top was removed many years ago. 

This pretty turnover bridge takes the towpath from one side to the other. 

We watered up and had an ice cream at Fenny Compton Wharf, before we meandered on to moor for the night near to Bridge 130. A very peaceful spot, but the following morning it seemed a bit of a shame as just around the corner had been Andy & Sue on nb Festina Lente. Louise gave a quick blast of the horn as we passed on Friday morning to say hello. She was again at the helm (things are looking up) as I walked with Jasper. We'd swapped over by the time we passed Sue & Vic travelling south on No Problem. One day we will be able to stop for a proper chat, but this time it was just a quick hello. 

I blogged about this boat a couple of months ago, and plenty have since, but it was obvious that the water in which it now sits is much lower now than it was then. Maybe the owner will breach the bank again to refill his exclusive mooring.

No queue as we arrived at Napton Locks, so we started the descent straight away. We were following a boat down, so had to turn locks, but further down the flight, we regularly passed other boats, so although not the quickest descent, it was very pleasant in the sunshine. 

The windmill at Napton stood out in the sunshine.

There were plenty of folks milling around at Napton Narrowboats waiting to get aboard their boats yesterday afternoon. We soon passed Napton Junction and Wigrams Turn Marina and continued towards Braunston. We hired a boat from here back in 2006, our first taste of the South Oxford. It clearly had a lasting impression on us. We moored soon afterwards near to Flecknoe and had one of those afternoons on the towpath.

Today we were away quite early, wanting to try and beat the rush through Braunston. We arrived at the bottom lock around 9am and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves next to go up. We doubled up with a hire boat from Napton which had a very experienced crew of six!! It was like having our own F1 pit crew. Apart from an enforced wait halfway up due to water and boats coming down, we flew up. So one up for the hire boaters I have to say. Magnificent work from the crew of nb 'Voyager'. 
Top Lock with pit crew 
We met two boats in the tunnel. The first was easy enough to negotiate, but the second a little more difficult. The first issue was that it's tunnel light didn't work, and secondly it was towing a butty which didn't want to follow in a straight line. A bit of clanking and bumping as we passed but we got through unscathed. Why would you go in a tunnel without a light ??

We turned left onto the Leicester Line at Norton Junction. The properties here always look appealing. 

Before long we were at Watfod Locks. The lock keeper told us there were four boats on the way down and so to come up above the first lock and wait. One look at the pound above the first lock and we decided we'd wait as it was at least two feet down and a boat that had just gone up struggled to get out of the lock. 
A bit low in the pound
Eventually we entered the flight and passed the last boat coming down in the pound above the bottom lock. These locks are very enjoyable and before we knew it we were at the top and passing under the rushing M1 motorway. We'll pass under it again at the end of the week much nearer home, but I prefer this route. 
Looking back down the flight 
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Tonight we've moored opposite Yelvertoft Marina. We love this stretch of canal between Watford and Foxton and so will have a lazy weekend up here. Moored right behind us tonight is the boat which is subject of a this months Boat Test in the magazine Canal Boat - La Tortuga, built by Fernwood. Very nice it looks too. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Off the river and back on the ditches.

Well we've got a bit of catching up to do. No signal last night means we've fallen behind with our updates. 

So, back to Monday morning. We were away before 9am from our mooring at Abingdon, hoping to meet the lock keeper as he arrived for work to get a pump out card. We entered the lock shut the gates, but before Louise could open the paddles she could see another boat approaching in the distance and so opened them again. It just happened to be nb Waiouru with Tom & Jan aboard, so we were finally able to meet after all this time. We both stopped at the services and did what we needed to do whilst talking boats etc before we both headed off towards Oxford.

We were soon passing Nuneham House again before arriving at Sandford Lock, one of the larger and the deepest lock on the non tidal Thames, raising us 8'10". For the amount of water involved, it was surprisingly smooth and quite quick too.
Nuneham House
Feeling a little dwarved in Sandford Lock
We arrived in Oxford around lunchtime, passing Nb Waiouru on the moorings above Osney Lock. A quick blast of the horn brought Tom to the side hatch to wave us through. Good to meet you folks and we'll look out for you 'up north' later in the year.

Having passed under Osney Bridge, we turned sharp right for Isis Lock and sadly our Thames cruising was over for this trip. It certainly been fun, relaxing and most enjoyable, but we were now back on our beloved 'dirty ditches'.
Osney Bridge 
Isis Lock

The weather was changeable (I think that's what the weatherman said) and we had a few sharp showers to endure on the run out of Oxford towards Thrupp. Even the swans felt sorry for the cygnets and gave them a ride.

Thrupp was very busy, so we moored for the night just before Shipton Lock, and sat out a very windy night.

Tuesday morning was wet so we stayed put, only getting going after midday as the sky threatened to brighten up. It was still windy, but we had a good run up through Lower Heyford. This hire boat won the prize for stupid mooring of the day. We thought he must have broken down, but were amazed to find deck chairs out on the towpath when we got closer.

We took it in turns to steer and do the locks which are quite nicely spaced along here, although Louise would rather walk and lock  than steer.

We moored for the night at Somerton Meadow on a lovely evening. Jasper fully enjoyed the open space (and the cow dung !!!!)

Today has been lovely, and shorts have been the order of the day. We were soon at Somerton Lock, the deepest on the canal at 12' and a lovely location.

Louise and Jasper walked all the way up to Aynho Weir Lock so missed my close shave with a hire boat approaching Aynho, although she did comment later how quickly they'd been travelling when they passed her and she told them I was coming. I was passing a moored boat some way back from a bend to the left when it appeared. Two ladies in the bow saw me and one decided to go into panic mode and waved her arms about as if trying to take off, which obviously confused the hell out of the poor steerer who automatically hits reverse (mistake). Due to the speed, the boat didn't stop very quickly and careered across my bow into the bushes as I also hit reverse to avoid it. More pointles  arm waving follows from the bow, as the boat reverses back, and then back some more until it dawns on them that there's actually room to pass quite comfortably. As we do, the steerer looks across sheepishly to apologise. My parting advice was that he did two things wrong. Firstly, he hit reverse when actually there was more than enough room to pass, and secondly he took advice from the woman in the bow.

We stopped for a shop in Banbury where there is a big Morrisons very close to bridge 168 which is very useful. Then on through the lock and lift up bridge in the town centre and out the other side. This house always gets spoken about when we pass, although, if I remember correctly, the picture used to be quite a lot bigger. Each to their own...

It's a real shame to see the lock cottage at Bourton Lock in such a state of disrepair. It's a lovely location and hopefully one day someone will take it on and restore it to its former glory.

We've moored for the night below Slat Mill Lock in a quiet spot. We can just hear the M40 in the distance when we think about it, but it's been a deck chair evening out on the towpath, one of many to come over the next few days we hope.