Saturday, August 01, 2015

Down the locks and a Playboy Bunny on the Harboro’ Arm!

I never tire of the views around the Foxton Locks. The hundred-foot hill that the locks descends looks out over the Leicestershire Wolds, rolling fields of arable crops or grazed by black and white Fresians.

Looking north across the remains of the boat liftPanorama_0 

The top arm to the boat lift was dredged and the stop lock replaced a few years ago. It’s now being rapidly re-adopted by nature.
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Looking down the locks20150801_082232

We didn’t want to get stuck in a queue so were waiting above the top lock at 09:15. I went to find the duty lockie and booked in, to be told that we’d just have to wait for two boats coming up the last of the locks and we could go straight down.

Mags in the top lock, Dave, one of two volunteers on today, posing.IMG_6622

I’d left my camera on board, so didn’t take any pics on the way down. Anyway, we rattled down so fast that I didn’t get much time! Top to bottom in 40 minutes! With two lockies on and no-one else in the flight it was a doddle.

Leaving behind the pedestrian swing-bridge next to the bottom arm.IMG_6623
Even this was opened for us by a boater waiting to go up!

We’d decided to head onto the Market Harborough Arm to moor till Monday as it’s quieter with boats and pedestrians than the main line. I wanted to get some paint on…
So we cruised down to the first winding hole, turned around and retraced our course to moor near Bridge 7.

On the Market Harborough ArmIMG_6624

Moored for a couple of days 
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It took me 2½ hours (and aching shoulders…) to get the right side gunwale hand-flatted, then, after scrubbing and degreasing, I got the first top coat on.

Ready for paint…
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…one coat on!IMG_6629
Doesn’t it give you an immense feeling of satisfaction getting that first coat on. The second doesn’t seem to have the same thrill…
I’ve decided to go matt this time, it seems to be the “in thing” at the moment. Anyway it’s easier to touch up. So I didn’t bother to lay-off with a brush, just slapped it on with a roller.
The second coat will go on tomorrow. Then I‘ll be looking for a low bank on the left as we head towards Leicester to do the same to the other side.

Oh yes, the Playboy Bunny. While I was rubbing down the primer she slowly appeared…IMG_6627
Tilt your head to the right… Got it?
Bunny

Now come on guys, you didn’t really expect a long legged busty maiden in fishnets did you?

Locks 10, miles 2½

Thursday, July 30, 2015

More of the same as we head towards Foxton.

Yesterday  got another coat of primer on the left side gunwale before we set off. It’ll need another though to bring the level up.

Another fine start to the day, didn’t live up to it’s promise!IMG_6587

Just before Welford Junction we passed from Northamptonshire into Leicestershire.

Welford JunctionIMG_6589
The Welford Arm, off to the right, serves the dual purpose of access to a small wharf in the village and a feeder for the summit level from the two reservoirs above. Opened in 1814 it was derelict for some time before being restored for navigation in 1969.

We pulled in on North Kilworth Wharf, needing diesel, gas, and a couple of bags of solid fuel!!! The nights are still getting cold…

North Kilworth WharfIMG_6593
They used to run three Anglo-Welsh hire boats from here, but they’ve now gone. The wharf is currently fitting out it’s own holiday boat for hire to complement the day boat they operate.

Opposite there’s a lot of activity going on as the groundwork for a new 220-berth marina continues.
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We came through Husband’s Bosworth Tunnel and started looking for another suitable bit of piling for starting on the right side gunwale now that the towpath has switched sides.

A green tunnel in the cutting approaching…IMG_6596

…Husband’s Bosworth Tunnel
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The original brick lining has been reinforced in places by sprayed concreteIMG_6603

Looking back through the straight 1166 yard long bore.IMG_6608

We pulled in on a short length of piling at the end of the northern cutting, and I set to with the orbital sander.
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I had to do a bit of gardening first!

I didn’t get the sanding finished before the afternoon showers blew in again, but managed later in the evening sunshine, getting the first coat of primer on this side too.

This morning saw the second coat on the bare patches, so at least both sides of the boat match now!
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Some fine views from the canal along here.IMG_6612

We met a few oncoming boats, one in a bridge hole, but the hardest to pass was the hotel pair belonging to Bywater. The motor, Kerala, was drawing quite a bit of water as she towed Karnataka around the corner. We were on the shallow side and I had to work quite hard to stay on my bit. So did the lass on the butty!IMG_6615

We pulled in above Gumley Road Bridge where the towpath is still on the right. We were lucky enough to get in a sunny spot at the end of the high hedge.IMG_6619
The last coat of primer will go on the the right side gunwale in the morning, then we’ll move through the bridge to where the towpath swaps sides so I can get a third coat on the left.
Then comes the hard graft of hand flatting in preparation for the top coats. Oh, and no rain today!

Locks 0, miles 8

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I had a plan…

For some time now I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to have a go at the gunwales on the boat. Both sides are looking a bit scruffy, with scrapes and scratches incurred since last autumn. So, with the forecast looking reasonable for today, I decided to make a start. We set off at around 10:30 with a wash load of towels running but with plenty of spare charging capacity to go to the batteries.

Approaching Elkington’s Bridge, and it’s sunny! IMG_6582

The intention was to travel for about an hour till the washing machine had finished, then find somewhere away from moored boats and houses, with a low bank, so I could attack the left hand side gunwale with my orbital sander. Avoiding dwellings wasn’t a problem, it’s a fairly remote stretch of canal, but boats were another matter!

We had a bit of manoeuvring to do to avoid an oncoming boat and an overhanging tree. IMG_6583

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An advisory email to C&RT is in order, I think.

We finally spotted a suitable spot just past Bridge 33. It only took about an hour and a half to get the side sanded, the paint around the scrapes being feathered out and all rust removed. I swept off the dust and wiped down with white spirit before going in for a brew and a bite to eat. Then it slung it down!
The rain continued on and off till nearly 2 o’clock, putting paid to me getting a first coat of high build primer on the feathered patches. I’ll apply 2 or 3 coats of primer on the areas I’ve sanded back to bare steel, this will bring the level up to that of the surrounding paint. Flatting back will get rid of any surplus and level the surface ready for 2 coats of matt black.
It was still looking a bit dodgy but we decided to set off, heading for Welford Junction, hoping maybe to get some paint on later. We hadn’t been going for long before the heavy showers rolled in again, I put up with two then called it a day between Bridges 38 and 39.

Not my idea of fun…IMG_6586

It did fair up again late afternoon, so I managed to get that paint on after all. The gunwale is now blotchy with grey patches, and will stay that way till the finished coats go on.

Locks 0, miles 4½

Monday, July 27, 2015

Short days…

With the weather staying unsettled, and us in no particular rush, we’re not planning on long days. Today we’d left it open, maybe getting to Downton but if the sky looked a bit dodgy making an earlier stop at Bridge 27.
We delayed our departure for 20 minutes as a shower passed over, but the sun made a fleeting appearance as we set off past the marina.

Leaving CrickIMG_6565

With the shallow, winding nature of the canal there’s no rushing it, but that didn’t stop several oncoming boats going too fast for the navigation. It’s that time of year again…IMG_6567

Past the isolated bump of Crack’s Hill
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Yelvertoft Marina is now sporting a slipway. It wasn’t here last time we came this way.IMG_6568
The main mooring basin is just around the corner.

We dropped off the rubbish at Bridge 19, just outside of Yelvertoft village, but didn’t bother filling with water at this time.

Fine countryside in north Northamptonshire.IMG_6569

Ewe shouldn’t be there…
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Groan!

The canal describes a large S bend as it leaves Yelvertoft, heading south, then east, north-east, north-west and north-east again to arrive at Mountain Barn Bridge, Bridge 27.

Yelvertoft Fieldside Covert straddles the canal just before the bridgeIMG_6574  
The south side woodland is open to the public. A short but pleasant stroll through the trees.

We moored just beyond the bridge on piling. There’s a couple of boats already here, but it’s not as busy as we’ve seen it.

Looking down from the track up to Mountain Barn.IMG_6577
That’s us, being passed by a couple of the several boats on the move today.

We pulled in because the sky was looking threatening, but it didn’t rain till gone four, so we could have gone a little further. Never mind.

Locks 0, miles 4½

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Onto the Leicester Line summit level.

Cold, wet and miserable. The description of yesterday’s weather could equally well have applied to those hapless boaters who braved the conditions. Needless to say, we weren’t amongst them!
Pretty well non-stop rain and a cold wind forced me to take the almost unprecedented step of lighting the stove in July. We weren’t the only ones; several boat chimneys were sporting streamers of smoke.

Today, though still cooler than we’d have liked, is at least dry and sunny. In fact out of the wind and in the sun it’s been warm.

Several boats had passed this morning in both directions before we pulled pins and set off towards Watford. It would have been nice to get moored at Crick in time to watch the qualifying sessions for tomorrows Hungarian Grand Prix, but with this many boats about I didn’t hold out much hope.

Dappled sunshine replaces pouring rain under the trees.IMG_6553

Meg and I had taken a short circular walk first thing, crossing a couple of fields of ripening barley. The early sun made the rippling pasture glow with gold, but I hadn’t my camera. You’ll have to make do with a poor substitute taken later from the canal.

Fields of gold?
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About an hour saw us arrive at the bottom of Watford Locks. I expected to be joining the end of a queue and was pleasantly surprised to see empty moorings below the bottom lock. A walk up to chat to the duty lock-keeper brought more good news; we just had to wait for a downward boat to exit the bottom, then we could start up.

Swapping locks between locks 1 and 2IMG_6557

Looking up the four-rise staircaseIMG_6558

The locks here are arranged with two single chambers at the bottom, the staircase in the middle followed by a single again at the top. Built to narrow gauge to save money and water like Foxton Locks at the northern end of the summit level, there were plans to replace them with a boat lift when the Foxton Inclined Plane was constructed. This would have allowed broad-beam vessels to navigate from London to the northern canals, a trip only possible now with a coastal voyage from the Thames estuary to the Wash.
Events overtook the project and the railways soon became the preferred form of haulage. The Watford inclined plane was never built, and the Foxton one, full of promise when it was opened in 1900, only operated for 11 years before being mothballed and the flight of locks alongside returned to use.

Free boat wash in the staircase
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We were alongside the wharf at the top filling with water just 40 minutes after starting up.IMG_6560

There are some good moorings on the length between the lock and Crick Tunnel, we’ve stopped here before but not today, we needed the shop at Crick. So we pushed on, just another half an hour before passing through the 1528 yard long tunnel.

I thought we’d made it without meeting another boat, but one came in from the other end when we were about two-thirds through. Didn't touch the sides or the boat. Chuffed about that.

Looking back through Crick Tunnel, the other boat in silhouette against the south portal.IMG_6562

We were pulling in on the moorings opposite Crick Marina at just before 1 o’clock. Time to get the aerial up and watch the qualifying after all. It’s busy along here, more boats than I expected. Start of the holiday season now, though.

Thanks, Michael, for putting me straight on the railway thing. Duly noted and corrected...

Locks 7, miles 5

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Old wharfs, old boats and old (and newer) routes.

The importance of this waterway as a transport route is demonstrated by the profusion of old wharfs. Some are now merely widenings of the canal, with wharf buildings converted to private dwellings, some are still used, although more for mooring or boat-building than transhipment of goods.

High House Wharf through Bridge 27IMG_6517

Stowe Hill Wharf, busy, this one.
IMG_6519

And Weedon Wharf, peaceful now.
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Also scattered up and down the cut are several ex-working boats, they seem to gravitate to the Grand Union.

Edgware and Balham, local boats built for the grand Union Carrying Company in 1937 and 1936 respectively.IMG_6515

Not sure about these two
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FMC Kestrel at Weedon Bec
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We were off today at soon after 9:00, with a busy day ahead. The first two and a half hours were spent negotiating the twists and turns of the canal between Nether Heyford and Brockhall, then the straighter but noisier section as the canal shares it’s route with the A5, West Coast Main Line and M1 up to Buckby. Then we had another couple of hours up the Buckby Locks and around the corner onto the Leicester Line.
Completed in the last decade of the 18th century, the Grand Junction Canal as it was then known is essentially a contour canal, only using locks where absolutely necessary. It swings around Stowe Hill in an extended U shape, while the later railway, built with more modern techniques, goes straight through.

One of Mr Branson’s trains emerges from Stowe Hill TunnelIMG_6521

Had the Grand Junction been built at the latter end of the Canal Age, like the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (Shropshire Union) it would probably have gone through the hill too!

A very peaceful scene approaching Bridge 18 at Muscott Mill…IMG_6538
…until you take the earplugs out!
In just 700 yards the railway, A5, canal and motorway squeeze through the gap between Dodford and Whilton Hills.
The ancient Britons were the first, establishing Watling Street (the current A5) from the channel port of Richborough to Wroxeter in the Welsh Marches. The Romans adopted much of the route before James Barnes and William Jessop undertook surveys for the canal and chose the same gap. Within 50 years the permanent way of the London to Birmingham railway was laid alongside the earlier routes, and finally the M1 motorway, linking London with Leeds, was opened in 1959.

Reflecting on life as a duck…
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A boat was just going into the bottom lock of the seven at Buckby, but they chose not to wait for us.IMG_6542

By the time we’d emptied the lock again another boat had hove into view, so we waited a few minutes for them to join us. I’d much rather share broad locks than do them solo. Far too much walking about if you’re on your own.

Mags waiting for the bottom lock (Lock 13, they’re numbered from Braunston) to emptyIMG_6543

There was a note on the gate advising that Lock 12’s offside gate was inoperable.

Yep, pretty much!
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We were making steady progress up, sharing the work with boats coming down when Lock 10 was turned in front of us. It was the volunteer crew manning Raymond and Nutfield, the heritage working pair based at Braunston. I guess they’re on the way to Blisworth Canal Festival and didn’t have time to waste spare…IMG_6547

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Unusual cargo for Nick Wolfe’s Aldgate…IMG_6549
…an artificial horse!

We said our farewells to the two couples with whom we’d travelled for the last two hours at the top lock; they were stopping for lunch, we were pressing on around the corner to find a mooring on the Leicester Line.

Buckby Top LockIMG_6550

Turn right onto the Leicester Line
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We moored a little way along, just clear of the overhanging trees. The weather forecast looks a bit grim for tomorrow, if it’s right we’ll be staying here, moving up to Crick on Saturday.

Locks 7, miles 6½