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.

TowerSwans and rowerIn Freemens LockLeaving Freemens LockLCFCCanoes at Freemen's meadowCanoes and rowboats

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.

 

Leicester Ring, Days 13 – ?: Thurmaston

It was a week ago now, more or less, when we left the mooring at Cossington and travelled the short distance to MGM Boats at Thurmaston. Here is Froth lying in her current mooring:IMG_2472

Seen from the opposite river bank…

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It’s a bit hard to figure this out from the pictures, but we are in a “linear” mooring (i.e. lying along the river/canal front) on a spit of land which resembles an island. Here is the northernmost end of the ‘island’, just a few feet from where we are moored. The water lies either side of the tree. We are moored to the left of the picture, out of shot.IMG_2476There is a small community of live-aboard boaters, some of whom have been here for 30 years. There are rubbish, toilet, water and electrical facilities on site and it is very secure.IMG_2475

And, of course, there is the MGM boatyard:mgm

We are awaiting completion of various bits of work that need doing. It was always part of our plan to make this stop, but other events in life have changed the way we are approaching this extended interruption to our journey. Indeed, the ‘Leicester Ring’ voyage itself seems increasingly irrelevant, hence the question mark in the blog title.

The reason for all this is that Louise’s mother has become seriously ill. It’s a worrying time for everyone. Since all her treatment is due to take place in Leicester, we are now ideally placed to spend time with her and visit hospitals etc. MGM are being very relaxed about our being here, and are obviously going to take a long time to carry out the work, so we’ll just have to see how events unfold over the next few weeks. But life is so unpredictable at the moment that it wouldn’t surprise us if we ended up staying here for quite a long time.

It’s pleasant to be able to step out onto grass rather than a pontoon. We have lovely views across to Watermead Park, which provides excellent walks for Rosie.

Watermead_Country_Park

Plus, we have a city which we know well (having lived here for 30 years) on the doorstep. Last night we were able to have an Indian meal made of various savouries and sweets purchased on the Melton Road, which is possibly the best street in the UK for Indian food (although that claim would be highly contested by other locations). Nature is in abundance here. Yesterday we saw a grass snake swimming upstream.

Since this is a river mooring, we have tall posts with rings to which to attach the boat in case of rapidly changing river levels. Our current mooring belongs to someone else, but they are out cruising at the moment. We are assured that, when they return, space can be made for us to remain, which is very kind of MGM.

So, to summarise: life is dictating our situation at the moment. We don’t know when we will be moving on, either to return to Yelvertoft or to do something else. All we can do at the moment is to ‘go with the flow’. It is one of the joys of narrowboat living that we can live anywhere, so this is not so much of a challenge as it might at first seem.

 

Leicester Ring Days 10-12: Zouch to Cossington

It has been a stop-start few days, so a daily blog seemed a bit superfluous. But then, looking back at all the pictures, it seems as though we have accumulated rather a lot. Perhaps a post should have been written sooner! Ah well, here goes…

The story is that we first travelled the fairly short distance to Loughborough. This included a stop in the basin to use the facilities and take on some shopping:

Carrying on through the town, we then moored up for the rest of that day and most of the next at a central location right by the railway station (Louise needed to catch a train). That evening we had a takeaway curry from a little restaurant around the corner. It was truly great! I actually went back to thank them for the food (one drawback of our marina mooring in rural Northamptonshire is that authentic curry houses are rather thin on the ground).

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The next day we moved on to a more rural spot some way out of Loughborough:

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Today (Sunday) we travelled through several locks to arrive at designated moorings near Cossington. The reason for being here is to be poised for a lock-free trip tomorrow morning to MGM Boats at Thurmaston, where we will stay for several days while the team carries out various ‘tweaks’ that have arisen over the past few months.

However, this is just the outline of the trip. Here are some pictures and movies of sights we saw on the way. Many of the most striking were riverside dwellings, which come in all shapes and sizes, and from the highly expensive to the decidedly low cost:

The church at Normanton-on-Soar was especially striking:

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We picked up a passenger for some of the way:

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We continued to navigate some potentially difficult waters. We are not entirely sure we like river cruising, to be honest. We prefer the safety of the canals.

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And yet again we tackled some formidable locks. Here are some movies showing our trip through Barrow Deep Lock:

Barrow-on-Soar was an enjoyable place, full of activity. We stopped for water…IMG_2422IMG_2423

…and saw a dragon-boat go past, as well as lots of day-trippers in hire boats.

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Froth acquired some froth…

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But mostly it was just beautiful cruising through fabulous countryside:

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This evening we took a stroll down the towpath past Junction Lock (the last lock we came through) where the river turns back into the Grand Union Canal, for a while. The evening sunlight lit up the trees beautifully:

This is not the end of our voyage, but it is a definite break. We don’t know when we will set off to complete the ring. It may be more than a week, depending on how things pan out. So, it will be some time before the next blog post, dear readers. The weather forecast for the nest few days looks pretty good, so enjoy the summer!

Leicester Ring Day 9, Part B: Sawley Locks to Zouch

Strictly speaking, this post should be numbered Day 9 & 10, because this morning we moved from our overnight mooring at Kegworth to Zouch, where we had a very nice lunch in the Rose & Crown. This involved going through a lock too, but even so was only a short trip – perhaps half an hour.

The remainder of Day 9, however, was every bit as spectacular as the previously described journey. Having left Sawley Locks, we hit the River Trent and the shore got ever further away as we enjoyed the thrill of open water. It was great to be able to give ‘Froth’ full throttle, without having to worry about moored boats or breaking wash.

As we approached the big junction, there was a complicated road sign:

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From this we learned that we wanted the first on the right after the two left turns and avoiding the weir is rather important! When the rivers are flowing fast and high, I imagine this would be a very serious warning indeed. Fortunately, despite a stiff breeze, we had less to worry about. So, we passed the mouth of the Erewash Canal…IMG_5313

…and the continuation of the River Trent to Nottingham and beyond…IMG_5314

…and steered a suitable course to avoid the big weir…IMG_5318

…finally to make the right turn onto the River Soar:IMG_5322

The upper reaches of the Soar are full of interesting sights, dominated by the ever-present Ratcliffe power station.

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What intrigued us the most were the houses on stilts that festoon the bank:

There were also some genuine houseboats:

All in all, this is a fabulous small community, perched precariously in a flooding area and backed by tall cliffs that themselves look none too stable.

We passed through flood locks, which are held open at this time of year:

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Cheered by this easy passage, we assumed it would be a simple enough journey to Kegworth, but we did not know that the locks would be so gigantic. Even Rosie seemed to be wondering what on earth was going on:

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She became ever more grumpy and a bit frightened as we went on, and given the scale of these you can see why:

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The blue lines to the side are necessary to hold the boat in position (using the centre rope) when the enormous body of water starts to cascade into the lock. Louise cut a heroic figure in the high winds and the lowering sky, windlass in hand, making her way carefully across the balance beams almost up in the sky. Ratcliffe Lock was set at a right angle to the canal, which is always difficult in a narrowboat, especially a 67-footer. But Kegworth Deep Lock (pictured) was the real monster, the boat thrashing about and requiring real strength to hold against the turbulence.

It was with relief, therefore, that we headed towards our mooring outside The Otter. We had gone to the trouble to phone ahead to check that moorings would be available for a 67′ narrowboat and were assured that there is always plenty of room. On arrival, this turned out to be not quite right, because the mooring by the pub garden, while empty, is not really suitable to a narrowboat at all. It’s more of a plastic cruiser mooring bay, really. So we ended up mooring opposite, which was not entirely satisfactory. The river was very shallow, and we were opposite the main road and out of reach of the pub. Tired and frustrated, we tried moving on briefly, but had to reverse to the same spot when it became clear that the moorings round the bend were even worse. A large gin and tonic and a curry before an early night were the only way to soothe our aching limbs and tired brains.

To our surprise, we awoke this morning feeling quite fine, and so made the short trip on to good moorings at Zouch and lunch with Louise’s parents. It is here we will stay for the night and re-gather our strength before heading on to Loughborough and maybe beyond tomorrow.