Monday, June 30, 2014

Ah, the social whirl…

On Friday evening we had my sister Kay and her partner Paul, and my nephew and niece Aidan and Samantha for a visit. Then on Saturday we had lunch with my Dad and stepmum in the recently refurbished Waterside, alongside the lock, followed by a visit from brother Andy and nephew Luke.

We shouldn’t have worried about overhanging the lock landing; this was the scene on Friday evening…IMG_0327
Two more boats moored behind us taking up the length of the landing!

Yesterday we were meeting Andy’s wife Nyree and Luke again near Syston, so moved from Mountsorrel to near the Hope and Anchor pub.

More fine cruising along the wide river sections.IMG_0328


It’s unusual to see swans and mallards sharing the same reed bed.IMG_0337

Sileby Lock and we catch up with NB Winding DownIMG_0330
We shared our locks today with this crew, but they were disappointed that we weren’t going further; they were planning on going up through Leicester to Kilby Bridge. Now that’s a long day!

Cossington Lock comes another couple of miles upstream.IMG_0345

It’s here that, although it’s still known as the Soar Navigation, it is actually using the bed of the River Wreake. It follows this tributary through Junction Lock and to Wreake Junction.
The towpath has been upgraded to a cycleway all the way to Cossington village now, and the bridge crossing the junction had to be replaced. It’s now high enough for navigation, possibly the first step in restoring the long abandoned Melton Mowbray Navigation and the Oakham Canal.

New towpath bridge across Wreake JunctionIMG_0355

From here to Thurmaston it’s all artificial cut, passing several gravel pits now part of Watermead Country Park, an area of lakes, wetland, woodland and meadow stretching from Syston to the fringes of the city.

Soon after we moored just beyond Wanlip Road Bridge the rain started, and it was on and off all afternoon. Later we were joined by Stuart and Netty on NB Gypsy Emma.

Moored near the Hope and Anchor
The new mooring along here looks very inviting, built last winter to replace a length of collapsed stonework. Trouble is they didn’t remove the masonry that had finished up in the canal and it’s very difficult to find a spot to get close in without scraping on submerged rock.

This morning I was up early to go for a run around the country park, but not early enough to say goodbye to Stuart and Netty, they’d quietly moved off long before.
I caught them up at Birstall, struggling to fill the lock so I stopped to give them a hand. The bottom gates were leaking so badly that the lock wouldn’t fill, we finally got the boat through by blocking the gap with a couple of planks of wood, shoving the gates with the boat and with three of us heaving on a top gate beam. Hope you had no more trouble today, folks.

It was gone 10 by the time we got going, heading towards Thurmaston.

Along the cut to Thurmaston

Thurmaston Island, moorings and MGM Boats, where the lads’ had the fine NB Chance built.IMG_0361

Up Thurmaston Lock

This should have been our only lock of the day, but circumstances changed when we arrived at Birstall.
Although both Stuart (NB Gypsy Emma) and I had reported the lock problem, the C&RT crew hadn’t yet arrived and a boat was stuck in the lock, once again unable to fill it.

Water pouring out between and under the gatesIMG_0365

The C&RT team arrived shortly after, and with a lot of poking and prodding made some progress towards getting the gates to close fairly well.
By the time we’d got one boat up two more had arrived at either end, and I helped work these through the lock and on their way before we came up. I thought it was a good idea while we still had the guys on hand…

Moored above Birstall Lock, you can just see the C&RT team still working on the gate.IMG_0367

Since we came up the team had to interrupt work to help boats in both directions. There’s now three of us moored above the lock, ready to head off through Leicester tomorrow.

After the rain of the last few days it looks like the weather is on the up again, warm dry and windless for the next week. Excellent cruising conditions.

Locks 5, miles 6

Friday, June 27, 2014

Well, the gardeners and farmers need it…

That’s what I kept saying to myself as I worked Mags up Barrow Deep Lock in a torrential shower, water running down my neck, soaking my shorts and running into my boots.
But no matter how loud I said it, it didn’t quite block out the insistent little voice in my mind saying, “But you’re not a gardener or a farmer!”

Yes, we woke up to drizzly rain after a showery night, set off in drizzly rain from Loughborough and got wet through at Barrow. But it did dry up a bit on the way to Mountsorrel, and it’s a fine sunny evening now.

Leaving Loughborough moorings
The boat in front is one of the Peter Le Marchant charity trip boats, Serenade. He’d just set off ahead of us when the shout went up from below – “We’re one short!” One of the passengers had wandered off into town first thing and not returned. A search party was despatched…

The River Soar Navigation, running from Freeman’s Meadow Lock in Leicester to the Trent, was built in two separate sections. The Loughborough Navigation was completed first, running north from Loughborough Wharf, the Leicester Navigation connecting with the earlier waterway and linking Leicester was 15 years later, in 1791. Both are based on the river, improvements to the depth, lock cuts and weirs making it navigable. They were built to take broad craft, so Trent barges could trade from the larger river right into Leicester.
To take boats further south the Leicestershire and Northampton Union Canal continued on from Freeman’s Meadow to terminate at Market Harborough. This opened in 1809.
It only remained for the Old Grand Union Canal, 23 miles from Market Harborough (Foxton) to Norton Junction, to be built and the north-south route would be complete. The dream of constructing a wide-beam transport route from the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfields to London was dashed though, when construction economies meant that this stretch was built to narrow gauge in 1814.
The four sections are now collectively known as the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal. 

With the weather as it was I only took a few photos, and those are poorly framed and often wonky.

Leaving Loughborough, now on the Leicester Canal. IMG_0306

Pillings Lock is used in winter and during high water levels any other time, protecting the artificial section through Loughborough from flooding.IMG_0308

The river from Pillings to Barrow Bridge is short but attractive – when it’s not raining!IMG_0310
We’re following another of the Peter Le Marchant boats, this one is Symphony.

Barrow Bridge can be interesting if the river is up; the weir stream comes in just the other side of the bridge, and the lock cut needs a sharp left turn.

And the navigation arch is well marked…
IMG_0312 Crop

It was when we were in Barrow Deep Lock that the heavens opened, so there’s not a lot you can do.
Even the ducks were less than impressed.

Mum trying to keep the brood dry and warm

It did ease a bit as we filled with water and emptied the loo and rubbish at Barrow Boating, but even so we did consider mooring near the weir. We decided to push on to Mountsorrel, though, the right decision as it turned out.

Looking across the fields to the 1860 Bridge.IMG_0316
That’s the War Memorial on the hill above the village.

The brick-built bridge is an architectural gem, but it only ever carried a single track mineral line from the quarries to the main line. Now there’s only a conveyor.IMG_0317

Approaching Mountsorrel LockIMG_0318

The weir stream

We managed to get on the end of the moorings above the lock, just a couple of feet of the counter overhanging the lock landing.IMG_0323

I said yesterday that the river can be fickle; it had risen several inches during the day, at 12:50 getting close to the amber zone on the marker below the lock.

Five and a half hours and a heavy shower later…IMG_0325
No green to be seen. The level was up about 5 inches.

Oh well. We’re not going anywhere tomorrow anyway. Maybe not Sunday, either!

Hi Adam, Thanks for the comment about the Avon Belle at the Rose and Crown. A bit more info gleaned from a local today. Apparently she came under Zouch Cut bridge to get to her current mooring, but only after they stripped everything off the roof and weighed her down with barrels of water. It’ll be all right if they only run cruises with a full complement of passengers – large ones!

Locks 2, miles 5

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A slight change of plan…

Today we were planning to get to Barrow, Mountsorrel, or even Sileby, but by the time I’d shopped and messed about generally in Loughborough we decided to stay here instead.

It was another fine start to the day, I went for a run around Kegworth and Sutton Bonnington trying out a new regime. In order to maintain a consistent pace I’ve loaded onto my iPod a series of tracks all with the same BPM. I’m trying 170, pushing it a little maybe, but I kept it up for 40 minutes this morning, up and down hills and on grass as well as tarmac. With a bit of luck this will improve my stamina and race pace. Can’t do any harm…

We were still off at around 09:30, after a rather noisy night. The wind had veered a little last evening, an early indication of the changing weather to come. But this meant that East Midlands Airport were now routing their take-offs straight over our mooring. And take-offs are quite a bit louder than landings! IMG_0274
I didn’t hear a thing, of course, I’m usually dead to the world the moment my head hits the pillow. Then I wake with the sunrise.

In hindsight we should have moored at Devil’s Elbow, where we usually stop. But you don’t get the morning sun here. Might as well make the most of it while we’ve got it!

Devil’s Elbow IMG_0275

Twenty minutes saw us at Zouch (pronounced Zotch) Lock.

Ascending in Zouch Lock
Years ago my then current mobile, a chunky Nokia, went to a watery grave as I crossed the bottom gates.

A new trip boat outside The Rose and Crown has it’s origins considerably further south…IMG_0281

The river does a loop around the lock cut dropping over 2 weirs just above Zouch Road Bridge.

Weirs at ZouchIMG_0283
Just off the picture to the left is another weir, with a radial gate, reacting automatically to rising river levels.

The river is very quiet at the moment, but there are reminders of how fickle it’s behaviour can be…IMG_0287

The reach past Normanton is probably the prettiest on the river. IMG_0288

It’s wide and deep and on the left are some beautiful houses with well-kept gardens.IMG_0289

Normanton’s St. James’ Church is sited close to the river. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book, Guillaume William the Bastard’s Conqueror’s country-wide audit of his new domain in the 11th Century.
The church dates from around a century later, and was known as a boatman’s church, but there’s limited access from the water now.IMG_0290

Near The Plough Inn a chain ferry used to cross the river, connecting Nottinghamshire on the left bank to Leicestershire on the right. The river ceases to be the county boundary just north of Loughborough.

Bishop’s Meadow Lock marks the end of the rural and the start of the urban. The river does a long loop around the town, while the artificial cut goes through the middle.

Bishop’s Meadow LockIMG_0292

A steady chug past a length of permanent moorings brings the navigation to the second lock on the cut, Town Lock. A boat was just leaving as we arrived, so I jumped off and Mags brought Seyella in.


What neither of us noticed was our uninvited lock companions; a family of mallards. Seven half-grown ducklings and mum.


Mrs mallard flew up to perch on the lock gates, leaving the little ones milling around in the rising water and squeaking frantically.

I filled the lock very slowly to avoid moving the boat in the chamber and possibly crushing the chicks. As the water approached the top, they started to leap over the gate into the pound above, the stronger ones first, finally leaving just a smaller one desperate on it’s own.

“Wait for meeee”
It managed to climb over in the end, joining the rest of the family paddling around on the by-wash weir and risking being swept back down again. Maybe that’s what they do for sport.

Above the lock and around the corner a long straight to the canal to Loughborough Wharf. Once the terminus of the Loughborough Navigation and occupied by a woodyard, it’s now been redeveloped, mooring pontoons surrounded by blocks of student accommodation.IMG_0303

We didn’t go up to the wharf, instead turning left just beyond The Albion, and mooring against the grass there.

It looks like tomorrow we may be breaking out the waterproofs for our run to Mountsorrel.

Locks 3, miles 5

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

One canal, two rivers, two days.

I didn’t post last night, we had guests in the evening.

Carol and Ellie, not seen them for nearly a year.IMG_0221

Meg had a good run around with Sealey.IMG_0222
Ellie brought us a lovely carrot cake, which we shared with tea and wine according to preference. They were with us a couple of hours, by which time it was a bit late for me to start writing.
Enjoy your summer cruise, you two, wherever you get to!

That was yesterday evening, during the day we’d shared the locks down to Shardlow with the group on the Sawley hire boat who’d also moored at Swarkestone the night before.

It was a good day, cruising gently down the Trent valley, with Weston, Aston and Shardlow Locks to descend. Not a lot to say about the day, so this is more of a photo-blog.

Preparing to leave Swarkestone.IMG_0168

This little robin chick was on the towpath. I hope he can fly, or he’s not going to last very long…

There’s a heavily wooded section as the canal approaches Weston on Trent and our first lock.

St. Mary the Virgin Church and Weston House sit on a rise to the west of the villageIMG_0180
The church is mainly 13th century, the house dates from 1865 and used to be the rectory. With seven bedrooms I guess Victorian clergymen were expected to have large families!

Weston Lock


Dodging the charity trip boat Serenade, out of Loughborough on an extended voyageIMG_0188

Weston Grange, alongside Bridge 7, is a fine Georgian building.

Weston was established as a village by charter by King Ethelred the Unready in 1009. A ferry crossed the River Trent just south-east of the village at that time, making it an important destination for north-south travellers.

The locks get shallower as the valley gradient lessens. Stenson Lock is 12’4”, Swarkestone is 10’11” as is Weston, then Aston is nearly 3’ less and Shardlow Lock is a diminutive 4’5”.

Aston Lock, good timing, two boats leave as we arrive. IMG_0195

Our locking companions for the day.IMG_0196
L-R, Luke, Lisa, Vanessa and Tom.

We parted company below Shardlow Lock, we filled with water and pushed on to moor above Derwent Mouth Lock, they stopped in the village for their last night aboard.

Black Swan leaving Shardlow LockIMG_0204

Crossing the wide below the Clock Warehouse

Now a pub, the Clock Warehouse was one of several large warehouses in this inland port.
The clock’s stopped, though…

As I said, we moored out of the village above the last lock before the river, where Carol, Ellie and little Sealey came to see us.
A good day all round, a pleasant trip and good company.

Today we were just preparing to move out when a boat arrived out of Shardlow so we teamed up with them as they were also heading onto the Soar.

Below Derwent Mouth Lock, across the wide expanse of Derwent Mouth.IMG_0223
The un-navigable Derwent comes in from the north (left), the Trent comes in from the south and continues eastward towards Nottingham.

Under the M1, the orange buoys beyond the bridge mark the weir which takes the river around Sawley Cut
Yes, the chap on the boat in the middle of the picture is standing on the roof!

Sawley Locks, duplicated and push-button operated.IMG_0230
We’re dropping down on the right as another pair of boats are coming up on the left.
While we were setting ours up I spotted the other two coming upstream so emptied and opened the chamber for them. They, not surprisingly, thought I was the lock-keeper when I closed the gates behind them, offering me the ropes to drop around bollards. I had to explain politely that I was leaving them to do the rest of the work themselves…

Leaving Sawley Locks…

…and out onto the riverIMG_0234
It’s great to be able to wind her up and blow the cobwebs out of the exhaust.

The four-way junction at Trent Lock is just about a mile below Sawley. Here, Cranfleet Cut takes the Trent Navigation straight on, bypassing another large weir, the Erewash Canal starts it’s ascent up to Langley Mill under the bridge on the left, and the Soar joins the Trent a bit up on the right, just above Thrumpton Weir.

Trent Lock JunctionIMG_0236

Turning right onto the Soar, Thrumpton Weir, crossed by the railway, ahead.IMG_0238

Through Redhill Flood Lock, Redhill Marina through the bridge arch.IMG_0243

Not sure what’s going on here; several identical cruisers, all up on blocks. There’s another four or five out of shot to the left. They’re all named for composers, we have Verdi, Strauss, Ravel, Bach and Bizet, which implies they’re a hire fleet. But  can’t find any mention of them on the marina website.

The cooling towers of Ratcliffe Power Station loom over the area, one of a dozen large facilities alongside the Trent, giving it the nickname “Megawatt Valley”. Abundant cooling water from the river and coal supplies from the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire coalfields made the valley an ideal location for power generation. At one time 25% of the UK’s power needs were supplied from here.

Ratcliffe Lock is the first “proper” lock, now going uphill as we climb the Soar Valley to the other side of Leicester.

Ratcliffe Lock, the old, infilled chamber in the foreground.IMG_0249
Flood protection measures have adjusted the river levels along here, making the earlier locks either too deep or too shallow. Or, in the case of Kegworth Flood Lock, superfluous in normal conditions.

Hitch-hiking damsel fly near Kegworth.

Kegworth Deep Lock is another new lock replacing the shallower chamber filled in alongside.

Kegworth Deep LockIMG_0261

It’s too deep allow control of boats from the lockside bollards, so slip-ropes are fixed in channels in the lock walls which the boat ropes can be taken around. These are common on Trent locks.

Above the lock there’s a good mooring spot opposite fine house where the river course leaves the lock cut.IMG_0266

But you need to be a bit deaf…
It’s on the landing flight path for East Midlands Airport!

Having learnt our lesson by mooring here once, we pushed on another mile or so.

Moored between Kegworth and ZouchIMG_0273

Two anglers, cormorant drying his wings, heron looking hopeful.IMG_0272
We’ve had a really enjoyable two days, one way or another.

Hi Peter, thanks for the kind comment, welcome aboard!

Locks 7, miles 13 (both days)