Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Newton Harcourt (Summer’s still here)

We headed off for Newton Harcourt mid Tuesday morning.  Our friend Stuart, who lives nearby, had kindly sent us the grid reference of a spot that would make the most of the sunset.  He was absolutely right and we also got the chance to get the washing dried during the afternoon.

All the locks we went up seemed to have quaint names; the first was Double Rail lock with its elaborate overspill channel.

 Next was Kilby lock in the village of Kilby Bridge.

At Kilby Bridge we stopped for a while to dispose of our rubbish and visit the book swap stall.  We always enjoy the book swaps on the canal as we usually manage to pick up one or two books on our wanted list.  This time we got a Donna Tartt novel that was new to us – The Little Friend; like The Goldfinch it is daunting as the font size is so small and there are nearly 600 pages.

People who live along canals often leave boxes of excess fruit on the towpath and karen picked up some picking apples in Kilby.

The delightfully named Bumblebee lock was next and the bottom gates kept blowing open once the boat was in.  I held them together while Karen opened a paddle to start the filling operation that would keep them closed.

By the time we got to Tythorn lock Buddy made out he was exhausted.

As with Monday we only met one boat on the move all day which made it feel like winter rather than a late summer’s day. It was difficult to find anywhere to moor for lunch as the sides were either too shallow or reedy.  As it was so quiet we just stopped in a lock for lunch.  We sat outside so could see if a boat was coming either up or down but none came and we were able to eat undisturbed.  The next two locks were Turnover lock and Bottom Half Mile lock.

Half a mile further on we went up (the unsurprisingly named) Top Half Mile lock.  I made a basic schoolboy error here and forgot to continually check the line wasn’t too taught.  When Karen opened the gates I couldn’t release the line from the bollard and it was tilting the boat slightly.  So we had to close the gates again and let some water out to level the boat up.  The first time that has ever happened to us during thousands of lock operations shows why you always have to be vigilant.  In this instance I was chatting to a couple of passing walkers.

This is going through Wain Bridge where Karen and Buddy got off to go and get Spinney lock set for us.

The ninth and final lock of the day was Newton Top lock.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

South Wigston (a pleasant stay in Leicester)

On Monday morning we paid a quick visit to Leicester’s (famous) food market to stock up on fruit and veg.  We said goodbye to our neighbours John and Jane, whom we’d moored against on Sunday night, and set off southwards in the mist.

The stretch of water in the picture above is known as the Straight Mile and is used for rowing.  When Matthew was at uni here he belonged to the uni boat club so rowed this section many times.  This is the end of the straight where the rowers turn – we’re moored up waiting for the lock to be set.

Opposite the lock is Leicester City’s football ground.  I’ve forgotten how many premiership grounds we’ve cruised past but there are a surprising number.  From memory we have seen Reading, both Manchesters and Coventry but I’m sure there have been others.

After four locks we passed Maffi coming in the opposite direction on his narrowboat Milly.  We hadn’t seen him since being iced in at Fradley in the winter and played boat leapfrog for a while as we cruised North up the Trent & Mersey.  After lunch we met up with a guy who was going in our direction so we went up the next six locks with him.  He has been out on his boat since April and has cruised much of the same routes as us but our paths never crossed.  It’s always nice to share locks with people and swap stories. 

This dye works is one of several alongside the river south of Leicester.  The river used to be inky black for many miles through Leicester from the factory effluents until legislation was brought in to make the companies remove all colour from their discharges.

For the first few miles we were still on the river which looked lovely, if narrow, in the sunshine.  As usual, it was good to get out into the country again but we both felt that Leicester has been misaligned.  We had been led to believe that it was rough and that you mustn't stop anywhere or the boat's windows would be smashed and we would get mugged. The city centre itself is much cleaned up and far more presentable than I remember it when I last visited 25 years ago. We definitely liked Leicester and would recommend people stop there.

The exit to one lock seemed dangerously close to an unprotected section of weir.  It must be pretty hair-raising when the river is flowing faster – it is very gentle at present.

Five miles south of Leicester the navigation turned into the Grand Union (Leicester Section) marked by this milestone.

We moored at South Wigston after covering eight miles and ten locks.  I rang Stuart who lives nearby to arrange when he and Cheryl can join us.  When I mentioned South Wigston Cheryl said, “Oh dear, that’s a bit grim”.  Fortunately we were out in the country well away from the town.

 Here are the ten locks we went up today.


Monday, 28 September 2015

Leicester (Indian summer weekend and Ganesh)

Karen expects to be working in the North West so this means we need to head back up there.  I finally got my head round the winter stoppages so now know what routes we can take up the country and when.  As we want to spend a couple of months sorting the house out from mid November we need to get up North over the next six weeks or so.  We are heading for a boatyard near Nantwich who will store the boat for the two months.  We will then move back on board in mid January by which time we hope to have the house rented out.

Before we head up there we want to complete the Leicester ring which means continuing south through Leicester on the River Soar then join up with the Leicester section of the Grand Union.  We will go down the Market Harborough and the Welford arms to visit those places on the way.  Then continuing south we will get to Norton junction where the long journey north west will begin up the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham & Fazeley and finally the Trent & Mersey canals.  We have covered these canals before during this year but we want to take the most direct route before we get stuck by the stoppages.

This is the route we will follow - it covers 186 miles and 130 locks.

We left Loughborough on Saturday morning and continued south to Leicester on the delightful River Soar.  We both agree that this is the prettiest of all the rivers we have been on. 

Most towns seem to have boats run by local volunteers for the disabled and/or disadvantaged.  This is something that would interest me but whilst we are moving around the country it is not possible.  We saw the Loughborough boat full of people every day we were there; here it is at its moorings.

The bridge plaques on this river have a nice design and have both the name and number.

The first lock of the day, Pillings flood lock, which was fully open as water levels are currently low.

These residential moorings are in a very pleasant spot coming into Barrow upon Soar. 

This is the road bridge in Barrow…

…and this sign on the bridge needs updating.  It is not obvious that turning right is forbidden and that Leicester is straight on.

Here we are at Barrow Deep lock which has the only red painted pawls we have ever seen on the paddle gear. 

Barrow is apparently famous for the discovery of a plesiosaur skeleton in a lime pit in 1851 and is nicknamed the “Barrow Kipper”.  Karen and Buddy walked for a couple of miles from Barrow and had to cross the river at Sileby.

This coniferous garden is the sort that you would see featured in gardening books but is rather boring  as it will look the same all year round,

During the day we saw several kingfishers but they are too quick to get decent pictures – the one at the top of the page was the best Karen could get.  After leaving Barrow we came across these children on modern versions of pedalos.

 A new housing and marina development at Mountsorrel looked to be built in the Dutch style.

Mountsorrel also has some pleasant residential moorings…

…and a conveyor bridge built in 1860 – you can just make out the date on each side of the main arch.  It was originally a railway bridge but now carries crushed stone from a local quarry into Barrow on the conveyor.

There were gongoozlers galore at Mountsorrel lock.

A mile or so further on we went through Sileby where our friends John and Sue overwinter on Nuthatch.  This is Sileby lock.

As we are on the river , moorings are few and far between and tend to be on the canal cuts built to lock boats past the weirs.  This is the last lock we went through - Cossington lock – where there was one spare mooring space just above it.

We sat outside until dusk and this was our view whilst cooking dinner.


We were a little concerned about cruising through Leicester as some areas can be pretty rough.  There are some secure moorings right in the centre that have been built next to Castle Park with a locked gated entrance to the moorings from the park.  The same key fits the park gates which are closed early evening – this enables boaters to go out in the evening if they want to.  So the plan for Sunday was to head for the centre of Leicester.  As it was, when we got to Leicester and strolled around the city it was so much improved from what I remember from 25 years ago.  

Our friends Stuart and Cheryl who live in a village outside Leicester were going to visit us this weekend but as we weren’t sure where we would be we have decided to meet up later in the week somewhere south of Leicester like Foxton.

Karen took this picture soon after we set off and before I disturbed the water – it was amazing to get an upside down picture on a flowing river.

As we got closer to Leicester we had to keep our wits about us for kayaks etc.

This was the last day of the Hindu festival Ganesh (Ganesh Chaturthi to give it the full Hindi name).  We saw several boats chartered for the occasion – the celebrants were wearing bright clothes and making fun music.  These locals were celebrating Ganesh with a barbecue.

I wasn’t sure which arch to take here or which way led to Leicester but fortunately took the left hand one.

For those of us who can remember Wolsey Knitting, this is all that remains of their factory.

The bridges became more ornate as we neared the city centre…

…and, like Birmingham, many of the riverside wharves have been converted into apartments.

Here is a massive new apartment block being built – reminded me of driving from the airport into Kiev in The Ukraine where nearly every finished block looks like this.

This was confirmation that we were in the centre.

At the last lock of the day an Indian businessman started chatting to us.  He had just arrived in Leicester to check on his brother’s business – his brother was in Spain for a while.  This guy didn’t have a clue about canals and thought we lived in the lock.  Once we explained, it was like a new world had opened to him.  He lives in London and had never realised, for example, that boats in Paddington basin could travel to Manchester.  He was clearly a clever chap but had never considered the canal systems and how they worked. 

We had to double moor at the pontoons in the centre of Leicester.

We were moored next to a lovely couple, Jane and John, who live and travel on their boat.  We loved the way they coiled their centre line on their hatch.

We recalled seeing their boat, which is an unusual purple, in the middle of Birmingham in February.  We looked through our photographs and found a shot of them in Cambrian Basin which we emailed to them.  After mooring up we had a wander around Leicester centre which, as I said earlier, was rather a pleasant place.  Here are some random street shots.

A lot is being made of King Richard III and every so often we came across sand sculptures in commemoration.  Here are a couple – they’re really very good (the sculptures, not the pictures)

We found a proper market place so will visit it tomorrow before we set off on our travels again.

On the way back to the boat we went past the cathedral and saw the local version of a cross-dresser (on the left) talking to people at a function that seemed to be going on.

These are the six locks we went up today.