The Mother’s Day Cruise

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Froth has been lying in her moorings all winter long. But narrowboats are meant to travel. So it was with great excitement that we seized the fine weather over the past weekend and prepared for the maiden voyage of 2017! Rosie was certainly keen to get going..

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First things first: we had to take down the pram cover. It’s quite a clever arrangement. A zip joins the two halves in the middle, and when undone they part like a clam shell. It really did not take too long. Here is the back deck in all its glory. You can see the supports for the cover lying flat fore and aft.

There is plenty of room to move the tiller, but the struts also remain within the line of the boat, so no problem in tight situations. For a longer cruise, we would remove them altogether, but Sunday’s trip was to be just one day. Our plan was to go down to the top of the Watford Flight, then turn around and come back again. The trip should take about 4 hours and would involve two trips through Crick tunnel, there and back.

Since it was Mothering Sunday, we had invited all the generations of Louise’s family. This meant a boatload of seven people and a dog. Louise, as usual, cooked a fantastic buffet lunch.

Before we set off, though, here’s a quick peek into the back cabin, where you can see Peter Warden’s fabulous painting of Looe Island now hung on one of the few vertical surfaces on board.

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And so to a photo montage of the day’s trip. All these pictures were taken by Graham, Louise’s Dad, with his super camera.

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Boats in the marina

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Leaving the marina

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Andy at the tiller, catching the sun

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Jack and Toby went ahead in an inflatable kayak

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One of the many Canada geese that are now starting to nest

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Cute lambs everywhere!

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Leanne and Toby, ready for action.

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The buffet!

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Barbie and Rosie contemplate the scenery

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Moored at Watford flight, the family set off for a walk under the M1

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Leaving Crick Tunnel

As you can see, it was a lovely day, with loads of wonderful sights and sounds. There were three mothers on board and we hope each was given a special day to remember.

Christmas walkthrough

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A very merry Christmas to all our followers, and a happy New Year!

Since we’d cleaned and tidied the boat for the oncoming holidays, we thought it would be fun to give you a Christmas video walkthrough. As you’ll see, we are really very settled in now and loving the life afloat.

 

Pram Cover

Several weeks ago now, we had a “pram cover” fitted. It was constructed by Canvasman, who we can wholeheartedly recommend. With winter coming, we really want to have a covered back deck. It is much warmer, and a useful storage area, and perfect for cleaning muddy paws before stepping down into the cabin. It also keeps the engine compartment dry. All in all, it’s a terrific addition to the boat. Here it is under construction:

As you can see, it’s very sturdy and tall enough for Andy to stand up comfortably. The feeling of extra space is great!

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Since it was installed, it has quickly filled up with useful stuff like coal, hose, water, toilet cassettes, even Halloween decorations! And we have hung solar powered lights for extra twinkle.

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Here it is seen from port and starboard:

And finally, a view from the other side of the canal:

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Leicester Ring, Days 18-19: Foxton Locks to Yelvertoft Marina

So, finally, the homeward journey. We set out on August 1st, so the whole trip has taken a lot longer than 19 days, but we were stuck in Leicester for quite a while. There are really two big events in these final two days: going up Foxton Locks and arriving at our home mooring in Yelvertoft. This is not to say that the rest of the trip was dull – far from it. The stretch from Foxton to Yelvertoft is beautiful, uninterrupted countryside. Here’s a typical picture:

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We also saw some amusing boat names, such as this homage to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot:

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We stopped overnight opposite the Welford Arm turn, where there are fine moorings. This gave Andy an opportunity to paint the boat. Removing all those bumps and scrapes was surprisingly satisfying. Froth is now resplendent and good as new (well, almost).

But…the main part of this blog must be devoted to the magnificent trip up Foxton Locks. The real heroes are the CRT volunteers, who are incredibly fit and very efficient, as well a good humoured. This is Ian, proudly displaying his gold cap badge for 2,000 hours of service:

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He was one of many, all working away:

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There are ten locks in the flight, and, as you will hear if you watch all the videos below, I became rather carried away by the experience, likening it to Mahler’s 10 Symphonies (well, 9, plus the one finished by Deryck Cooke). It does feel quite symphonic and takes about as long as one of Mahler’s movements!

Here is the entrance to lock one:

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And now, a video sequence going up:

Coming home after such a long journey was also exciting. Here is the approach to the marina entrance:

Here’s the marina from the hill above:

And finally, some lovely shots of the sunset:

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This will probably be the last blog entry for quite a while, so we hope you have enjoyed it so far, and thanks to all those who have commented or sent messages.

 

 

Leicester Ring Days 16-17: Aylestone to Foxton Locks

One hazard of the canals is, as any boater will tell you, variable internet supply. Not a problem that would have troubled the IWA in the postwar years, let alone the working boats of the 19th Century. But in today’s world it’s pretty important, especially if one has a blog to write!

All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why these last blog posts from our journey are being written post-facto, in the comfort of the marina. We have experienced a mixture of poor signal (Foxton/Harborough area seems particularly bad) and ever diminishing data allowance. We get 64GB a month from EE, which you would think would be plenty, but it is amazing how quickly it goes, especially when uploading photos and movies.

So, Days 16 and 17 took us all the way to Foxton Locks, with an overnight stop at Kilby Bridge, where we used the facilities (good, clean). We have done 101 locks on this round trip, with always the same formula: Louise operating the lock gear and Andy steering the boat. However, some of the locks in this stretch really required a two-person effort on the gear, because they are extremely big, with gates that will not stay shut. Consequently, Andrew did a lot of climbing out via the ladders in the side of the locks, operating gates/paddles, then rushing back to the boat:

The wind and the rain do not help in these situations! But we are an efficient team, and we got through all the locks pretty quickly. We have been this way before, of course, and were pleased to see that the Canal and River Trust had repaired a lot of the gear, including one lock which we had reported to them last October.

Not all the journey was rural. We passed through several Leicester suburbs after Aylestone, including Glen Parva and South Wigston. Our favourite pastime in these sections is looking at the gardens. The houses are mostly small council houses, but many people who are lucky enough to have canal frontage do make a big effort. Here is Louise’s favourite:

And here is a montage of various others:

One thing that never changes is that there are always birds outside demanding food. This family of swans pecked the side of the boat to get their reward!

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Locks are beautiful places, whether encountered in the late summer sunshine…

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…or in the early Autumn mizzle.lock-approach

The boating life is active but also serene, and occasionally one comes across a little mystery. This pair of boots, found early in the morning by a lock, was completely abandoned:

We assume it was some kind of artwork in homage to Samuel Beckett.

 

 

Leicester Ring Day 14-15: Thurmaston to Aylestone

So, finally, we are back on our travels! This has turned into a rather strange, extended, summer ring, but we are now on the homeward path towards Yelvertoft. All the work has been completed at MGM Boats. Froth has a renewed cratch, a replacement switch in the battery compartment, and a host of smaller fixes. She is handling more smoothly than ever.

Last night, we made a short trip through Thurmaston Lock to moor up beside the White Horse at Birstall. The food is good there, and it has almost become a second home for Rosie, who has a spot on the hearth in front of the fire:

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Furthermore, it is a Pokéstop. For those who have no idea what this means, it relates to an augmented reality game called Pokémon Go which has become a global craze, with millions of players. Basically, you ‘catch’ little animated creatures by walking around and using your phone to find them. Our grandson Toby loves it and has got us both playing it too! It does have the advantage that it makes you walk a lot: Toby spent two hours walking in the rain with us a week ago, something which would never have happened were it not for this game.Anyway, loaded with Pokémon, we set off almost at first light this morning.IMG_5389

Birstall departure

There was a long day ahead, as we wanted to get through Leicester. As it turned out, the heavy rain came in at lunchtime, which meant we have moored at Aylestone. This is out of the city centre, but we still have a lot of travel through some of the rougher suburbs to do tomorrow to get to Kilby and the start of the more rural sections of canal.

But…today was all about Leicester. When we travelled this way back in October, we were quite disappointed by the generally dilapidated state of the canalside. Andy wrote to the mayor about it, and received this very nice, upbeat reply:

Dear Mr Hugill,

Thank you for your email and your comments about the Canal network in Leicester.

I am very pleased to advise that the Council has a series of investment programmes that will bring about tremendous improvements to conditions around the waterways over the next few years. The current focus of our activity is in an area we refer to as ‘Waterside’. This area reaches from Castle Park Gardens to North Bridge.

Within the next few months new visitor moorings will be in place in this area at the restored Friars Mill site, just to the north of Bow Bridge (A47 crossing).

Friars Mill itself will soon be complete, the result of 2-years and £7M investment (including almost £4M grant from the European Union) to create a prestigious complex of offices for high-tech businesses. Two further office buildings are also under construction on this site. These attractive buildings respect the architectural heritage of the area and will bring life and activity back to the water-edge.

The Council has secured £20M plus of grant from Government to build on the regeneration success at Friars Mill. We have been (and continue to) acquire land to the north of the Mill for a major mixed-use regeneration scheme including hundreds of new homes, offices and cafes on land between the canal and the A50, including Soar Island which lies between the Evans and Hitchcock weirs. Planning consent was secured for this scheme at the end of last year. This is a very large project that will have a transformational effect on the area and we hope to commence building within the next two years. This may seem like a long time, however the project is very complex and I am sure you will appreciate that we wish to get it right and make the very best use of the undoubted opportunity.

To complement this, our flagship project, we are working closely with the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency to invest in the Waterways themselves, including environmental and access improvements such as improved towpaths and new stretches of River and canal-side walkways.

I hope you will be reassured that the Waterways in Leicester are getting the attention they deserve and I hope you will consider a return trip, perhaps to the new moorings at Friars Mill this summer.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Soulsby
City Mayor

I responded positively to this news at the time, and this evening have sent another email expressing more appreciation, because several of the things he describes are happening. At last, Leicester seems to be waking up to its waterfront. So the rest of this blog is really a photo essay on “industrial Leicester”. A few captions will be provided, but not much more. Enjoy the show!

Going through Belgrave is still fairly rural:

River scene

But soon the city appears:

One way of tackling unwanted graffiti is to get graffiti artists to paint murals. Some are quite good:

Going through locks often involves some ducking!

Ducking under bridge

The National Space Centre makes a spectacular landmark:

Space Centre

Choosing the right archway under a bridge was sometimes a bit baffling. The main thing is to leave enough height for those on the roof!

Rosie and bridge

Some shots of the new moorings at Friars Mill, mentioned in the mayor’s email. They look really good.

Here are some random shots of bits of central Leicester seen from the canal:

Swans by Bridge 2Swans at Castle GardensRoad bridgeHoliday InnFrog Island bridge workFrog IslandFlatsDMU BridgeChimney

The final portion of the city centre took us past De Montfort University and on to Freemen’s meadow. Here there were rowers and canoeists a-plenty, plus of course the football ground – home of Leicester City, the premiership champions.

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One final piece of nostalgia. This doesn’t look like much, but 25 years ago I used to walk past this house regularly (on the towpath side) and fantasise about living by the river. Now we’ve gone one better and actually live ON the river! Still it’s intriguing to see this place again, situated in Aylestone meadows:

Aylestone house

 

Flash Floods on the River Soar

Yesterday turned into a rather exciting day. Mid afternoon, the thunder rolled in and brought with it torrential rain. We have mentioned before how unused we are to river cruising. Of course, we are now moored on the River Soar and, unlike a canal, the levels rise and fall. Louise was driving back from Market Harborough when she encountered these road conditions:

This gave a hint of what was to come. The river levels rose very rapidly and the water, which had been quite slow moving, sped up alarmingly. Here’s a video describing the scene:

We had to move the boat backwards in order to be sure to attach it to sliding rings that could rise with the water.

And for the first time ever, we had a use for the gangplank!

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If it were not raining so hard, it would have been a good opportunity to touch up all the paintwork, so battered after three weeks’ travelling. But all we could do once the boat was secure was batten down the hatches and sit indoors to watch the ever-rising water levels. For a while, it looked as though the water would cover the pontoon and the boat would be floating free, attached only to the tall poles with rings. But, much to Louise’s disappointment, in the end the water peaked just below the top of the planks and by this morning had subsided back to a normal level.

Still, it was an exciting evening. It’s great to see the Leicester flood defences working well and impressive to watch the river in fast flow. It also had a purgative effect, carrying large amounts of rubbish away downstream. Today feels clean and fresh.