Monday, September 15, 2014

Next to Frank the Plank…

We cruised the last couple of miles into Market Harborough this morning. I’d forgotten how pleasant this short, 5¼ mile, arm is.
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Nearing the town the canal runs through a lumpier area, so the banks are tree lined and full of birds, including kingfishers. No pictures today, though. They were very shy.

Of course, as I mentioned the other day, this length wasn’t intended to be a dead-end, it should have been part of the through-route to Northampton. But then the money ran out…

In the last mile the canal describes a loop around higher ground to the west of Market Harborough. Inside the bend sit the posh houses along The Woodlands. Expansive gardens run down to the water’s edge.IMG_1589

Earlier we’d been passed by three ABC Leisure hire boats heading back to base, and it looked pretty busy in the basin.

Entering the basin at Union Wharf
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We pulled in opposite the services and I went to have a word in the office. If we were prepared to wait there’d be plenty of space later in the afternoon, they had seven boats leaving with fresh hire crews.

So we waited, temporarily on a private mooring, being entertained by boats chugging back and forth to the pump out.IMG_1592

A couple from Maine, USA, were interested in boats, so they had the quick through tour. They were quite impressed, and toddled over to the office to get some brochures for the hire fleet.

As the moorings thinned out we had our pick of locations, but decided on the section of hard edge next to the sculpture know as “Frank the Plank”.IMG_1594
We chose here because TV through the aerial is poor and we can use the dish from this mooring. Also it’s the sunniest side, but I don’t think that’s going to make much difference.

Frank the Plank is actually a sundial, erected by members of the Old Union Canals Society, based a little further back up the arm. He was installed when the basin was refurbished in 2000, and represents a stevedore handling timber unloaded from a narrowboat.

We’re here for a couple of days, I’ve some shopping to do in town. It’s a certain lady’s *#$th birthday on Sunday…

Locks 0,  miles 2¾

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Down Foxton, towards Market Harborough

Yesterday morning I unlimbered John Sage from the bike rack and pedalled down to the Black Horse to get some fresh veg from the shop in the skittle alley. What we have is looking a bit past it’s best, two spotty carrots and three bendy parsnips. The shop wasn’t open, although it was well past nine o’clock. Is it still going, does anyone know? The website is still live…
Into the reserve supply of canned goods now, till we get to Market Harborough!

I was tempted to cycle into the town, so I left the bike on the counter, leaning against the swan’s neck, while I had a cup of coffee. A boat leaving the locks came past a bit quick, slamming the rudder over with the displaced water and depositing John Sage in the cut! I heard the bang from the rudder, followed by the scrape and splash, and knew straight away what had happened.
The boat was moving away towards the bridge as I got off, but they kindly advised me that my bike was in the water…
Anyway, it was floating upside-down because I’d recently fully inflated the tyres, so it was easy to retrieve. An hour on it’s handlebars, then another on it’s wheels drained the water out of the tubes, it wasn’t in long enough for it to have penetrated the bearings.
At least it got a wash, removing the cobwebs!

Earlier Meg and I had had a walk around the site of the Inclined Plane.

The stop lock on the upper arm.
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The arm was dredged and relined, and the lock rebuilt in 2006, allowing the earth dam to be moved from near the mouth of the arm to where the upper docks used to be.

Dam at the end of the Upper ArmIMG_1561

The lock had to be made good – if this dam failed 20 miles worth of canal water would be cascading down the slope into the Lower Arm!

From the dam, looking at where the docks used to be.IMG_1563
The hull on the left is in the channel linking to the caissons, had it still been there.

Looking down the ramp towards the Lower Dock and ArmIMG_1566
The lower section was all cleaned out and new pontoons built recently, too, and years of tree and brush growth removed to reveal the ramp.

The lift was opened in 1900, heralding a new era of fast canal transport from the coal-fields in the north to the consumers in the south. Or it should have done, but the money to widen the Watford locks wasn’t forthcoming, so the planned-for broad-beam barge traffic never materialised.
The tanks could, and did, take pairs of narrowboats up and down the 75 foot hill in far less time than it took to negotiate the 10 lock chambers alongside, and their use also involved a fraction of the water the locks did. But the lift was expensive to run, and, as cargos moved to rail transport, it became uneconomic to keep the steam engine that provided the motive power ready for the dwindling number of boats.
In 1911 after only 11 years, the decision was made to mothball the structure, in the hope that canal transport would revive, but of course it never did, and the steelwork was dismantled and sold for scrap, the buildings, apart from the boiler house, demolished.

Now that the arms have been restored, the next stage in the total restoration of the site is the rebuilding of the Upper Dock and rails, and construction of two new caissons. Then there’s the building of an engine house for the motors to haul them. A snip at around £15m… But wouldn’t it be a wonderful attraction for this part of the country!

This morning we decided to drop down the locks fairly early, to avoid the majority of gongoozlers that flock the locksides on a pleasant weekend. So we were on the water point just above Lock 1 at half-nine.

While we were filling I walked down to find the duty lockie and book in, and was told to come straight down. A quick jog back up the hill, fill the top lock, disconnect the hose and we were in the top half of the staircase 15 minutes later.

Looking down into LeicestershireIMG_1573

The brick building on the right is the old boiler house, now housing the museum.

Worth a quick look.
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The slideshow is interesting…

That’s a familiar boat, Mo and Ness’s NB Balmaha outside the pub! Where else…





Forty-five minutes top to bottom today, passing an uphill boat in the midway short pound.

The volunteer lock-keeper, Malcolm, helped a single-hander down, then came back up to us for the last couple of locks. It turns out he reads this (amongst others), so thanks for your help, Malcolm! Hope you had a good day.

Mags doesn’t quite believe the size of whatever it is Malcolm’s describing…IMG_1576

Below halfway, the Foxton Locks Inn on the rightIMG_1578

Water rushes into a side-pond as I empty a lockIMG_1574

Bottom Lock, complete with onlookers on the bridge, inevitably.IMG_1579

We swung round into the entrance of the Bottom Arm to finish off our interrupted tank-filling, and to empty a loo and rubbish, then Mags brought Seyella through the swing bridge and we set off towards Market Harborough.

There was one other interruption, Foxton Swing Bridge, which had to be negotiated.

Through Foxton Swing Bridge
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It used to be almost impossible to move, now it’s just hard…

We had no intention of heading all the way into town today, instead pulling in about halfway, beyond Gallows Hill Bridge.IMG_1586

Good TV and cracking internet here. I bought a PayG SIM for the iPad recently, an Orange/EE one. It was picking up 4G earlier! I still can’t register it though, I can’t work out how to send and receive text messages on the iPad!
And that’s the whole point really. It’ll be easier for Mags to text family and friends on there rather than the rather arcane keypad on her phone.

Locks 10, miles 3

Friday, September 12, 2014

Top of Foxton Locks

We didn’t move yesterday. I had a few jobs to do, the gunwale on the towpath side needed touching up, and our document filing was getting completely out of hand! I’ve now got a stack of old statements and paperwork 8” high!
Roll on colder weather; it’ll go in the stove.

It was definitely autumnal this morning as we pulled pins and set off.

Leaving Welford Junction
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Looking down the Welford ArmIMG_1534

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The pattern-maker did very well getting all this information on a standard GJCCo milepost. If it’d been me I’d have rounded up the fractions!





Opposite North Kilworth Wharf a large new residential development is taking shape.IMG_1537
I thought at first it might be yet another new marina…

Husbands Bosworth Tunnel cuts through the ridge upon which the village is built. IMG_1540
Established probably around the time of the end of the Roman occupation, it was originally known as Baresworde, Saxon for Bare’s farm. The prefix “Husbands” was added to differentiate the village from the nearby Market Bosworth, and indicates the predominantly farming (husbandry) nature of the area.
It also has the dubious honour of being home to the last 9 witches to be executed in Leicestershire…

The tunnel was completed in 1813, then in 1924 a refurbishment was required. IMG_1543
I thought we’d got away without meeting anyone in the tunnel, but an Ashby Canal hire boat appeared when we were about ¾ through. They were sensible, though, we both slowed to tickover and passed without touching each other or the sides.

Definitely Autumn…IMG_1544

The length of canal north of Bridge 50 is one of my favourites, with the Laughton Hills rising on the left and views of the Leicestershire Wolds through gaps in the hedge to the right.IMG_1546

It was made all the more special today with sightings of a couple of kingfishers…IMG_1548

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As close as that, eh.
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We pulled in between Gumley Road Bridge and the top of the locks. Most folk here seem to have moored before the bridge where there’s no mooring restriction, but the 2 day limit here will do us fine. IMG_1559
It’s sunnier here…

Locks 0, miles 7½

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Swapping Counties.

We had another short but fine cruise today, ending up where we intended to be last night, at Welford Junction.

This morning Meg and I walked up the field rising above the canal to the buildings that the nearby bridge were named after.

Mountain Barn, I guess
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Looking back at the canal and moored boats.IMG_1517
As you can see, it was a fine morning.

The summit level of the Leicester Line is very under-rated. Although the canal is shallow and often overgrown, the scenery is delightful.

A bit narrow in places…IMG_1520

Although there are plenty of brick bridges crossing the canal, few carry metalled roads. Most were built as farm accommodation bridges. So it’s quiet and remote up here, the only major crossing is the A14.

Under the A14 bridge
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This section, from Norton Junction to Foxton, was built by the Grand Junction Canal Company after getting frustrated by the lack of progress being made on this important north-south link.
The Old Grand Union Canal, the bit north of Foxton up to Leicester and including the branch down to Market Harborough, was plagued by lack of money. Their surveyed route was via Market Harborough to join the Grand Junction Canal at Northampton, all built to broad gauge.
But when the GJCC took over the project they took a shorter, cheaper route, south to Norton Junction. They also operated under financial constraints and built the locks at Foxton and Watford to narrow beam standard to save money, but the intention was always to upgrade them in the future, so Husbands Bosworth Tunnel and all the bridges were built wide enough for the hoped for wide-beam barge traffic.
Of course the increase in trade never materialised, even the expensive Foxton Inclined Plane failed to encourage more use, especially as the Watford Locks remained unchanged.

It’s perhaps as well that the navigation was never upgraded; it’s difficult enough when two narrowboats meet, it would be almost impossible for wide-beams to pass in places.IMG_1529

Of course, it was inevitable that we’d meet another boat in one of the overgrown bits…IMG_1527

We pulled over near Welford Junction soon after noon, with the fore-end in Leicestershire and the stern still in Northamptonshire. I’d take a picture of the boundary sign but it’s disappeared in the undergrowth…
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We were planning to be at Foxton for the weekend, but there’s no need now. So we might even stay here tomorrow. Or we might move on to a pleasant mooring we know near the Laughton Hills.

Locks 0, miles 5½

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Friends of friends.

Yesterday evening we heard some chatting from overhead, then this balloon landed in the field opposite.
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IMG_1502Going down…




They must take some packing away, and what happens if there’s no access for the support vehicle?




We’re on the third supermoon of the summer last night and tonight…
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Not as good a pic as August’s. It’s not quite as close, now a mere 226, 200 miles away.

We were away quite late this morning. There was a steady stream of boats heading north; every time I went to undo the mooring chains a boat came around the corner! It must have been busy in Crick last night.

Still, we were finally under way at around 10:45, a fine morning showing the summit level at it’s best.IMG_1510

One of the boats that passed this morning was NB Plaidy, and we were asked if we were friends of Chas and Ann, NB Moore2Life. Of course, we are.
We passed them moored near Bridge 21, and pulled in for a chat. Terry and Myra have been friends of the “Lifers” for many years, in fact their first boat, Nomad of Erehwon, was shared between the two couples.
We sat in the sun for an hour, chatting about this and that before we left them to their lunch.

Terry and Myra, NB PlaidyIMG_1511
Good to meet you both, happy cruising.

Our intention was to moor at Welford Junction, but with the tardy departure and our stop to chat we decided that it would be too late by the time we got there. So we pulled in near Mountain Barn Bridge. It’s a popular spot here, south-facing and sunny, and it’s quite busy but there was room for us.
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We’ll move on to Welford tomorrow.

Thanks to all those who’ve made donations to Macmillan Cancer Support, including Kath from NB Herbie, our Zoe, Lesley off NB Yarwood, and a couple of folk who remain anonymous. You know who you are…
We’re up to £327 so far.

Thanks Sue, KevinToo and Carol for the kind comments. Should hear in the next month or so, Sue. Fingers crossed…

Locks 0, miles 3½

Monday, September 08, 2014

Busy weekend, now a steady few days.

On Saturday morning Meg and I took a walk over Crack’s Hill towards Yelvertoft, hoping to find Les and Jaq on NB Valerie. They were there on Wednesday, but nowhere to be seen by Saturday. We’ll catch up with them somewhere ahead, I guess.

Misty morning from Crack’s Hill
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I pottered about through the rest of the morning, watched the F1 qualifying at Monza, then got my head down for an hour or so later in the afternoon. We were in bed by just before 10, ready for the long day on Sunday.

Up at 2, on the road at 03:10 we saw the sun rise as we headed north on the A1. What we didn’t expect to see was it set again as we travelled back south! We got back at about a quarter past eight, after a rough 5 hour trip back down from South Shields.

The Great North Run went well though, another enjoyable day with a great atmosphere. It was a bit warm, in complete contrast to last year’s wet, cool and breezy conditions.

Parked up about a mile from the finish line, looking out to sea on a glorious Sunday morning.DSC_0289

From near here I caught a shuttle bus into Newcastle city centre, then had a ¾ mile walk to the start, cutting through the university.

Following the crowds of runners through the campusDSC_0292
The university was established in 1834 as a School of Medicine and Surgery, and still has some fine period buildings on the campus.

The start assembly area on the central motorway. It stretches back from the start line for well over half a mile.DSC_0293

My time was relatively slow this year, just over 2 hours. I’ve always reckoned that if I can run a race in less than twice the time taken by the winner, then I’m doing OK. Mo Farah won in just an hour, so I’ve got a bit more work to do for the next one…

My sponsorship target of £500 for Macmillan Cancer Support hasn’t been reached yet – still time to contribute, folks. I’ve done my bit…

I didn’t go into the history books as the one millionth finisher in the Great North Run. I’d have had to been even slower. Tracey Cramond was an hour behind me.

After such a long day I was glad to see my pillow last night. No real aches and pains this morning, just a sore heel that I bruised early on in my training schedule and which has been a niggling injury for the last few weeks.
I took the car back to Enterprise this morning. It was a 2 litre turbo-diesel Vauxhall Insignia, a nice car, but I think it’s unnatural that a car that size should average better than 50 mpg! Our last cars would be struggling to achieve half that! Consequently there was too much fuel in it when I took it back, but they kindly gave me a credit note for the difference. Nice one, Enterprise.

A wash load was run while we were still plugged in, then I topped up the water tank, emptied a loo and was just about to set off when our recent lock-partner, Pete (NB Sarah) turned up to do some work on his boat, and we chatted for half an hour.

On the service wharf.
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Out of the marina, directed by Jane, our erstwhile neighbour, checking for oncoming traffic, and we were on our way, heading north.

Crack’s Hill from the canal.IMG_1496

Bridge 15
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We didn’t go so far, batteries are fully charged from the shoreline and an easy day was called for, so we pulled in on a sunny spot just past Bridge 17.IMG_1499

Yelvertoft Marina is just around the corner, and it looks like development work is still in progress. Opposite us is a sign “New Slipway for 2014” with a mini digger aimlessly moving muck about. It’ll be interesting launching boats from it, between a bend and a bridge…

Locks 0, miles 1