On Saturday afternoon it was busy on the towpath, probably folk who’d lunched at The Navigation trying to walk it off. The path is narrow, and inevitably they have to walk alongside the boat. So yesterday morning we took advantage of full locks left by a couple of boats coming up, and dropped down to below Double Rail Lock. It was a lot quieter there.
This morning we were up and on the way at 08:00. We intended to go through Leicester to Birstall, and you never know what you might come across. Low pounds, jammed lock paddles and rubbish around the prop are some of the inanimate hazards….
Leaving Double Rail Lock
The unusual name derives from it having two handrails on the lower gates. There’s a footpath crossing over the lock.
We only had about 15 minutes before arriving at Ervin’s Lock, and the first of the houses on the fringes of the city.
Ervin’s Lock, just in the commuter belt
The canal at this point is heading mainly west, following the River Sence valley and skirting the suburbs. There are patches of development but it’s mostly a rural corridor.
Blaby Mill. (sorry about the pylon in the foreground)
There has been a mill here since before the Norman Conquest, originally water-powered but converted to steam, hence the chimney. It’s now a riding school and livery stables. Vice’s Bridge, just above Bush Lock, is named for the mill owning family through the 18th and 19C.
The trees could do with a trim near Dunns Lock.
Beyond Handford Bridge the navigation turns right, heading northerly towards the city. Over to the west the River Sense joins with the River Soar, and it’s this river that the navigation is based upon from here to the Trent.
There’s plenty of water coming down, Blue Bank Lock landing was submerged. It did mean that most of the locks were full as we arrived, water was generally pouring over the top gates.
King’s Lock is a good stop over if you’re doing the run in two days instead of one. It’s just about halfway between Kilby Bridge and Birstall, is (almost) rural and has mooring rings below. It’s also where the navigation first makes use of the river, as it appears under a 15thC packhorse bridge alongside the canal.
The contrast now we’re on the river is remarkable. The water is clear and deep, but the channel remains quite narrow and overgrown, and is twisty in places.
Clear water on the river
You can see it’s not a busy waterway by the waterweed either side of a narrow channel.
Several mills stood along the course of the river, I imagine that delicate negotiations took place when the river was made navigable. Boat owners and mill owners have different priorities!
Aylestone Mill is no more, although the lock still carries the name…
Aylestone Mill Lock
The structure on the left is the Aylestone Globe.
St. Mary’s Mill overshadows it’s lock a little further downstream
Light industry starts to encroach along the route. This area was renowned for the quality of it’s dyeing processes, using the clean, soft water from the river. There are still some dyeworks in operation.
Shortly beyond St. Mary’s the river widens and drops through the deepest lock this side of Leicester, Freeman’s Lock. There’s a long, finely curved weir alongside, and Leicester City’s football club sits opposite.
Freeman’s Lock and Weir
I don’t remember the protective barrier last time we came this way. Not a bad idea, that weir must exert a strong pull in wet weather. The fence on the left prevents access to a new residential development alongside the lock.
The navigation enters the city properly from here, passing under several bridges on the Mile Straight.
A lot of work and money went into making the waterfront attractive, but it’s a shame that the city’s now undeserved reputation for trouble deters boaters from using the long line of mooring bollards near Newarke Bridge.
Mill Lane Bridge
After the straight there’s a couple of bends with large weirs carrying the river away in a long loop through the Abbey grounds. Another section that would require care in wet weather. There’s nothing to stop boats from getting swept onto the weir crest.
North Lock is situated next to an area historically known as Frog Island.
Not many amphibians around now, though. They probably all perished under the wheels of the traffic…
There are more mooring rings near Abbey Lane Bridge, handy for Abbey Park, but opposite industrial units.
Limekiln Lock and Memory Lane Wharf were the site of the IWA National Rally in 1967, but have come down in the world a bit since.
Memory Lane Wharf
Limekiln Lock and NB Moonshadow
This was the first moving boat we’d seen all day!
Below the lock it’s wise to keep the revs down. The water is shallow and rubbish strewn, with black, stinking silt on the bottom. Not a place you want to have to delve in the weed hatch! The silt is probably due to effluent from the factories on the offside. In contrast, the towpath side backs onto parkland.
Below Limekiln Lock
This short cut between Limekiln and Belgrave Locks is the grottiest section of the waterway through Leicester. It seems to collect all manner of rubbish, and the water is “distasteful”.
Relief at Belgrave Lock
Looking back, Belgrave Lock, Swan’s Nest Weir and the National Space Centre
The navigation leaves the city behind here, passing through an area of adopted gravel pits, now a nature reserve and waterpark. Twisting and turning, it passes under Thurcaston Road Bridge, probably originally 15thC and carrying the road on six stone arches. Only the right-hand one is navigable, a barrier preventing the unwary from trying the others.
Thurcaston Road Bridge The bridge from upstream
Heading towards Birstall
We dropped down the shallow Birstall Lock and moored just below at 2 o’clock. Six hours in the saddle, but it was a good run with most of the locks in our favour.
Moored in Birstall
Apart from the workboat further along, we were the only boat here, but the moorings have filled up since mid-afternoon.
Clear water again.
After a long day we treated ourselves by getting a takeaway from the chippie. Shopping tomorrow morning at the handy Co-op, then onward, probably to Sileby.
Locks 16, miles 12.