Saturday, July 30, 2016

Good timing for a trip down Foxton

The length of moorings above the locks were fairly full last night, but most of the boats seemed to going south. After Meg’s perambulation and breakfast I had a stroll down to the top lock to see what was happening; there was only one boat in the whole flight and that was just starting down.
So I hastened back, sorted out the boat and we set off after them.
The top arm to the inclined plane heads off to the right. I’m not going to describe the history of the boat lift here, I’ve done so a couple of times in the past so if you want to know more go here.

Mags waits patiently while I fill the top lock after booking in with the lockieIMG_1091

Looking down the flight, a couple of locks down.
That’s the museum in the old boilerhouse, on the right.

More red and white paddles.
We’re going down now, but the principal is the same as at Watford. Red before white… You’ll be alright. White before red… You’ll finish up with an irate lock-keeper!


The two lockies on duty said that they were surprised at it being so quiet. Plenty of gongoozlers, but not many boats. They spoke too soon. There were seven boats waiting to come up by the time we reached the bottom, so they were looking at a busy couple of hours!IMG_1094

We went under Rainbow Bridge and pulled in for water. While the tank was filling I went over to the car park to dispose of rubbish, having to wait for two more boats coming through the swing bridge.

Looking across the junction, boats are starting to move up the flight now.IMG_1098

We passed a couple of boats heading towards the junction as we set off. I hope they were going to Market Harborough, or they’ll have had a lengthy wait!

Past Debdale Wharf the navigation becomes an SSSI, no veg cutting goes on along here, and it shows!

There are some pleasant moorings near where the feeder from Saddington Reservoir joins the canal.
It’s twisty around here, but then straightens out into the cutting leading to Saddington Tunnel.

Although the entrance is a little difficult to see…IMG_1104

We followed a Canal Cruising Club boat, presumably out of Union Wharf, and going very cautiously through the tunnel.

I took pictures of the bat boxes, but didn’t really expect to see a bat. I wasn’t disappointed. Saw a large moth, though.


We planned to moor near Fleckney, it’s 15 minutes across the fields from the canal but there’s a good Co-op there.
There is a short length of piling just past Fleckney Bridge which gives the closest approach to the village, but the preceding hire boat pulled in there… after a bit of a struggle. IMG_1109

Not a problem, though. There is more piling either side of the next bridge, and frankly it’s more pleasant ‘cos there’s less trees. We got in on the first stretch.IMG_1110

We’ve been joined by another boat since we stopped, but, considering how many were milling around at Foxton, it’s been pretty quiet. Ahead of us now stretch the wide locks into Leicester. Maybe that puts folk off who are out on a short trip. Not us, we’re made of sterner stuff!
We’re having a day off tomorrow, however…

Locks 10, miles 4¾

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Hitch-Hiking Dragon as we cross to Foxton

OK, not a real dragon, as in Smaug, in fact a dragonfly.IMG_1073
He landed on my arm and seemed reluctant to leave!

It’s been mild but fresher today, quite pleasant in fact. A drop of rain first thing soon cleared away.

We’d intended yesterday to moor near the Welford Arm, about a mile further on. We needn’t have worried about not finding a space on the good moorings here!IMG_1061
Just about where we are, above, buried in the offside weeds, is the county boundary sign. We’ve crossed over from Northamptonshire into Leicestershire.

Opposite North Kilworth Wharf work on the new marina continues, but there doesn’t seem to have been much progress since this time last year.

North Kilworth Wharf

The group of people with the boat on the service wharf were amused when they spotted Meg in her tee-shirt.
I explained that she was a shy girl and didn’t like to go topless…
The sore patch on her chest is now drying up nicely. It’ll be another few days yet though before she can shed the shirt.

Husbands Bosworth tunnel is preceded by a very woody cutting, and here we encountered NB Zambezi, the crew shouting across that they read this stuff. Thanks guys.

Tunnel cutting…

…and the tunnel mouth
Like the other two tunnels on the Leicester Section, this is broad width and allows two way traffic.
I was hoping that we wouldn’t meet anyone coming through, but at the halfway point the silhouette of another boat appeared in the distant arch of the northern portal.IMG_1079
Sorry, a bit blurry. Not easy holding the camera still while on zoom and trying to avoid the unforgiving tunnel walls!
No drama, though. We both squeezed past each other without touching, boats or walls.

Clear of the northern cutting and into open country approaching the Laughton Hills.IMG_1084
There are some pleasant moorings along here.

A distinctive Scree! overhead made me look up. camera in hand, in time to spot one of the resident buzzards soaring past.

Strangely I didn’t take any more pictures in the last couple of miles. I think I was on the phone, talking boats with brother Andy.

We arrived at the top of Foxton, debating whether to drop down the locks today or stay above and go down tomorrow. The latter won, so we pulled in just past the boy and horse sculpture. We’ll go down in the morning.

Locks 0, miles 8½

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mixed weather as we cross the Leicester Summit

I thought the forecast said that we’d wake up to rain, but it didn’t actually properly arrive till about 12:30. We’d had a couple of drops before that, but they dried as soon as they hit the roof.

Our neighbours across the way invited themselves for breakfast.IMG_1036

We set off at ten to ten, under cloudy skies after a bright start.

The moorings opposite Crick Marina

Boat names on the back panel are often accompanied by the home “port”, we had Northwich, Cheshire on ours first time around. I particularly like this one…IMG_1040    

The Leicester Section summit level, like that of the South Oxford, twists and turns through a landscape of low hills and valleys. This adds to it’s charm, but makes steering challenging some times, especially when meeting oncoming traffic on the shallow bends.
You could be forgiven for thinking you are on a river in some stretches.


IMG_1046As I said yesterday, the Grand Junction Canal Company had a big interest in the construction of this link, even to the point of casting the mile markers.

The canal is particularly windy around Yelvertoft, to the point where the same road crosses the canal three times in just ¾ of a mile.

After that it starts to straighten out a little, heading generally north. It’s always remote, leaving the villages off to the side of the navigation.
The only sign of civilisation today was when we passed under the busy A14!
The many brick-built accommodation bridges are far more attractive.

Sitting below Downton Hill, the medieval village of the same name is no more than a memory carried in the name of the hill and of the canal bridge nearby.IMG_1055
This was another one of those subsistence-level farming communities that were destroyed by the Enclosures Acts. Northampton has probably the highest proportion of “Lost Villages” due to the Acts, because the majority of them still relied on the traditional open-field ridge and furrow farming system.

The rain came on in earnest now, so I started looking for somewhere to pull in. We’d stopped on a stretch of piling just up from Sybolds Spinney Bridge before, so we knew it was deep enough.

Moored near Sybolds Spinney Bridge

Of course, it wasn’t long before the rain eased and then stopped, and it’s turned into a fine evening.

Meg’s a little under the weather, she’s either been stung, bitten or scratched herself in an armpit (legpit?), and has been scratching the itch, making it worse. So now I’m using Hibiscrub to keep it clean and she’s wearing an old tee-shirt so she can’t get at it.

Not a happy bunny...
I've promised her it'll come off when we go for a walk.

Locks 0, miles 9¼

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Out of Braunston with the Hobos, then a damp morning up to Crick.

We were a bit later moving out from Braunston yesterday than I would have liked. The Post Office had misplaced our package of mail, so I had to go back up again in the morning. Not too much of a problem, though, It gave me a chance to get another cracking pork pie from the butchers. Yum.

Tom and Jan were away before us.
See you again soon, I hope.

We were away shortly after, passing the Stop House.IMG_0987
Before the canal was re-aligned, this was the junction between the Oxford and Grand Junction Canals. The GJ finished here, the Oxford continued under the bridge to the right. Tolls were collected here as boats moved between the two canal company’s waters.

The original route of the Oxford Canal goes through the dry dock in the marina. Then ends.

In the distance, as we came under butchers Bridge, we could see a boat just going into Braunston Bottom Lock, so were reconciled to having to go up alone. But they’d seen us too, and kindly waited for us.

In Braunston Bottom Lock with NB Hobo

We had a good trip up, several boats coming down meant that we could swap locks as we went.

One pair of downward-heading boats were the hotel boats Duke and Duchess, strapped up to come down the flight.IMG_0992

Out at the top lock.
The cottage is for sale…

I don’t like Braunston Tunnel, it’s where we acquired our very first battle scar, from a boat coming the other way. But today it wasn’t so bad, although we did meet three oncoming boats.

Looking up one of the airshafts.

Out of the tunnel and back in the daylight we had 40 minutes to go to Norton Junction. IMG_1006

Arthur and Ann, our erstwhile locking partners, headed straight on and moored above Buckby Locks, we turned sharp left and moored a hundred yards or so up on the Leicester Line. A little later they walked back with the dogs Bertie and Sheeba and had a brew with us.

Ann and Arthur, with Bertie the lurcher on the left, and Sheeba the retired racing greyhound on the right.
File 27-07-2016, 08 42 15
Sorry we missed you this morning, we grabbed a sunny spell! Have a good trip.

Rain overnight ran into this morning, Meg and I had a drizzly walk before we thought about getting away. The sky brightened so we set off, but had to put up with periods of misty rain on the way to Watford Locks.

The Leicester Line starts out very woody…

…but opens out after a bit.
That’s one chap who’s not pleased that the weather has turned!

Four transport routes converge as the canal approaches Watford Gap. The gap in the ridge was a natural passage for the Romans who built Watling Street…IMG_1013

…the canal builders came next, closely followed by the railway engineers.IMG_1014
And finally the M1 motorway runs unseen but not unheard off to the right.

Good timing as we arrived at the bottom of the locks, no-one waiting and a boat just coming out. It looked familiar too, the intertwined M and V on the fore-end identified it as NB Balmaha, Mo and Nessa’s old boat.IMG_1016

I went up to book in with the on-duty lock-keeper, and was told to come straight up, swapping with the next downhill boat.

Up we go, in Watford second lock

There are seven narrow locks here, three single chambers and a staircase of four. Side ponds are used to save water on the staircase.

The four-rise staircase


Going either up or down the red-painted paddle is lifted first, which starts to draw from the pond. Then the white is lifted, which drops water from the higher chamber into the pond.
Only when the adjacent pond and both lock chambers are level can the gates between be opened and the boat moved forward.

We were going to fill the water tank at the top, but an awkwardly moored CRT push tug prevented us getting close to the tap, so we pressed on.IMG_1027 
Mags on the tiller for a few minutes, I’d had to disappear inside for a comfort break. All that rushing water, you know…

We’re now on the summit level, just over 20 lock-free miles till we drop down again at Foxton. But it’s not without some drama, there are two tunnels to negotiate, the first not far away, at Crick.

Bridge 10 and Crick Tunnel

Although the lock flights at either end of the summit level are narrow, the bridges and the tunnels up here are built wide. This oddity is explained if you look at the history of this section of canal.
The Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal (a bit of a mouthful, that…) was promoted to link the end of the Leicester Canal in Leicester to Northampton, hence the name. But financial difficulties resulted in it running out of steam just outside of Market Harborough in 1805.
Meanwhile the Grand Junction Canal coming up from London to Braunston had opened, crucially at broad beam width. With the original line of the L&NU now in the doldrums, a new proposal to build a cut from east of Braunston (Norton Junction) up to join the L&NU to the west of Market Harborough was approved, and named the Grand Union Canal.
Predominantly funded by the Grand Junction Canal Company, it was built to broad beam standards to match the southbound route, but to keep initial costs down the locks were built to narrow gauge. The intention was, sometime in the future, to replace the narrow lock flights with wide, and hence have a barge canal running all the way to Nottingham and the Trent.
Of course, by this time railway competition was becoming intense, so the planned improvements never materialised. Apart from  the Foxton Inclined Plane, but that’s another story…

Crick Tunnel is notoriously wet, but the recent dry weather has reduced the deluges to no more than drips, so I didn’t even bother to put a jacket on.

Having been unable to get water at Watford I was pleased that the service wharf at Crick, south of the tunnel,  was vacant, so we topped up there.

We finally pulled in opposite the marina, with a moorhen nest in the reeds across the cut. The adults are on their second brood, two tiny balls of fluff following their parents about and also their older siblings. I was amazed to see the adolescents taking a hand in feeding the chicks, helping out mum and dad!



Sorry about the odd backgounds on some of the shots, I inadvertently switched the camera mode to intense colour!

It’s been a fine afternoon after a damp morning, but it looks like the rain will be back in the morning. Never mind.

One final thing. Can everyone keep an eye out for a boat stolen from Mercia in the last two or three weeks. I know it's probably repainted by now, and could be almost anywhere, but it does have a distinctive stern dodger.
Details here

Two days – Locks 13, miles 9¼