Sunday, 15 May 2011

Slow Boat on a Bonus

Day Fifteen: 17 July (Bonus Day One) Braunston to Yelvertoft.
Originally, we'd have been handing the boat over at the time I'm writing this, but thanks to AW we're in Braunston Marina, and the Shore Party have gone to the gift shop! It's locks today - and of course, after a blue and shiny start to the day, it's clouding over and the wind's getting up, just in time for us to do the getting-out-of-marina manoueuvre.
Thoughts on the naming of boats... they seem to fall into several clear categories.
: - the Name-Combo - either the names of the kids/grandkids (Brittany Lauren) or the owners (Philjean)
: - the Traditional - three types, the 'work ethic'  (Valiant, Warrior, Stalwart) and the floral (Gypsy Rose, Daisy) - or traditional girls' names like Martha and Ruby.
: - The Alternative Lifestyle - Chillin', Far from the Madding Crowd, Second Chance... these sometimes spill over into...
: - The Quirky - 'The Kid's Inheritance', 'Piston Broke' goes on!
Hire boats tend to have their own set - either class (Jupiter is 'Planet' class), yard - for example the 'Valley' boats, or  the Viking ones which have Nordic names. Canaltime seem to be the most random, almost as if they've had a competition to name the boats - 'Wilsons Chaos' springs to mind!
We're moored next to 'Moriarty' at the moment, which I think comes under Quirky....
Shore party returned triumphant with books, postcards and a couple of gorgeous brass miners' lamps, and we made an elegant departure to meet our time slot of 1000.
Up the Braunston Flight, mostly in company with  'Daisy' - an old traditional boat which has wheels to control steering and engine. One of the locks had a cascade running over it ('short pound' said the Daisy skipper). We let them run ahead at Top Lock, and followed then through Braunston Tunnel (2042 yards) - very uneven, and with some interesting features - air vents casting pools of light, an odd side-vent, a pipe feeding water in a stream into the canal, reflections and shadows from the boat lights. Quite spooky and strange,  but not claustrophobic. As we finally came towards the tunnel's end, we could see movement - turned out to be a bat (probably Daubentons) hunting the last 50 yards of the tunnel. As we got nearer, it flew up onto the tunnel wall and hung there until we were halfway past, before letting go and zipping past our heads - light through the part-translucence of the wing membranes - to go back into the depths of the tunnel.
Out into the light in a green cutting, and on across Braunston summit to Norton Junction. Kingfisher whizzed past, a flash of orange and electric blue (Mum was looking in the right direction for once, but still failed to see it despite my strangled squeak!) Tied up for lunch, then, after being battered by wake-wash for a while, went on to the Watford Staircase. Now we're officially back in the north - Watford Gap Services are just a little way beyond the fence. The lock keeper is in charge here, so we waited in the queue, some boats up, some down before we can go up; with any luck we'd get through before the locks shut for the night at 1900. Drew went off to take photos.

...well, that was an experience! A few hiccups further up were caused by an Important Personage who had a table booked for dinner in Braunston and thought He could start organising traffic- the lock keeper soon disabused him, and set him back up and out! We got through last one up (to His disgust, as we'd been there 10 minutes later than Him), and headed for Crick.

Crick Tunnel (1528 yards) is wet. Very drippy, lots of flowstone. Crick is full of marinas, and consequently full of boats, so we pushed on to overnight at Yelvertoft, opposite where they're creating yet another new marina - the whole area will be one big marina soon.
13 locks/13.5 miles/2 tunnels/Grand Union Canal, GUC Leicester Branch

Day Sixteen: 18 July (Bonus Day Two) Yelvertoft to Welford.
A short day, across green farmland (sounds of peacocks amidst hanging willows) and a kingfisher that Mum DID manage to see this time!
Went up the Welford Arm to the highest point of the GUC system - designed to bring water from the reservoirs to feed the canals. One small lock to go through (3 foot 6 inches), but a very odd set-up, with a narrow section almost like a half-lock before a 'pseudo-pound' and then the lock itself. It's a leafy backwater, with a lot of boats moored up the arm into the village. We turned at the marked winding hole and moored by the marina entrance - Drew went to investigate and found a few spaces higher up and another turning point - too late!

As we started the tedium of packing, a pair of familiar trousers went past - Matt the Engineer, and his dog Woody; he stopped to see how we'd got on, and have a chat. Drew caught up with him later at the pub (he lives in the village) and bought him a beer or two; he also ran into Jane from the yard, who gave us a late pass to return the boat in the morning!
1 lock/11 miles/GUC Leicester Branch, GUC Welford Arm

Day Seventeen: 19 July (Last Day) Welford to North Kilworth.

Up and sorting by 0800, and heading for the yard by 0900, to return the boat at a reasonable time. One last, small lock (number 103 for the trip).
Down to Welford Junction whilst cleaning sinks and sweeping floors, and the last three-quarters of a mile to North Kilworth, touching the wharf to tie up as the last breadloaf went into the crate. Unloaded reluctantly, chatted to Jane and Matt, and packed the car. The day turned hot and sunny as we drove home, not conducive to making the transition from 3-4 mph to 70 mph up the motorway
It's done, for this year.
1 lock/3 miles/0 tunnels/GUC Welford Arm, GUC Leicester Branch
I'll end with the usual collection of boat-and-bank dogs!
There's a Googlemap of where we went here.

Slow Boat up the Junction

Day Thirteen: 15 July. Coventry to Brinklow.
Drew went off to look at the centre of Coventry and the Cathedral , leaving Mum and me to sort ourselves out leisurely. Rain again, and very windy, which made getting out of the basin a somewhat awkward process, with a lot of backing-up. Not helped by what we found when Drew went down the weed hatch by Electric Wharfe and untangled what looked like a shirt and shorts, several bits of net and a whole heap of weed from around the prop. Oddly enough, Jupiter ran so much better afterwards, though she may have added to her collection going through the mess under Bridge 4...
Moored at bridge 8 for a Tesco trip and the rain began to really hammer down at around 1400; I began to think the shore party may be drowned. But at least we didn't have a 'distracted by rat - bump' moment today (so far!). Soggy shore party returned eventually, and the weather improved for a while as we went back to Hawkesbury Junction, trying to get pictures of the various artworks along the canalside. Hawkesbury's attractive but a bit complicated, though Drew did a fine job of negotiating it, and got into the lock - which is a stoplock with a rise/fall of about 6 inches! Lots of interesting canal architecture - the old Engine Shed, and lovely ironwork bridges. Chatted to folks who were on a lock-free holiday and were checking out the how-to of it.

After a late start and the shopping, we made it to Stretton Stop by Brinklow, and moored up on the towpath - first time we've used the mooring pins this year - and Drew managed to find unpleasantness underfoot in the overgrown verge. Sleep to the constant rattle and whoosh of the trains on the adjacent line.
1 lock/11.5 miles/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal, Oxford Canal.

Day Fourteen: 16 July. Brinklow to Braunston Junction.
Not a bad night, considering the trains and the occasional downpour, but the loud and over-excitable Jack Russell in the next boat made us keen to get away.
The first hazard would have been the swing bridge at Stretton, but that was open - the gap being filled by a bloke who had racketed past us earlier and was now dead in the water with a prop jam that he couldn't clear. Eventually he towed his boat round into the adjacent yard to let the traffic jam clear - which meant we didn't have to stop to shut the bridge!
Then it was through the vastly unstable Brinklow cutting - dead slow required to avoid any bank wash, as the whole place looked ready to slide downhill into the canal. We were on the lookout for somewhere to get a pump-out; most marinas were pretty full and/or inaccessible, so it was onward, ever onward, through sun and showers and blustery wind.
Newbold Tunnel was a delight - they've put coloured lights in it which show up the flowstone formations. There are supposedly bats, so they switch off at sunset...I'm not sure about the logic of that!.. it was all very pretty, so we stopped and Drew went back to take more photos.
Then we scurried through Rugby - nice sporting murals under the bridges, but again nothing much in the way of real industrial architecture. Couldn't get into Clifton Cruisers (inconsiderate nerd taking up all the service space to refuel) so on, to Hilmorton Locks. Like Sawley, these come in pairs - two locks, no waiting! Things fell pretty much right, so it was a quick ascent, and Drew got to try the 'stick the nose on the gate' technique.
Past the aerial farm (it used to transmit the time signal), and through rolling farmland marked by extensive ridge and furrow - some so deep that the sheep could shelter from the wind in them. There were some odd antics amongst the cows... and why are nearly all the horses black and white?
Coming into Braunston, the boats were double-moored, putting the lie to Pearson's claim that there were usually plenty of moorings! We're not even at peak holiday time, and it's full of boats. There was a tight turn by the Junction bridge, and a lot of slow manouevring trying to see if we could get into any of the small places - naturally, not possible. Everywhere we found was just past the end of permitted moorings, or at a waste station, or water point, so we made use of the latter, and Drew nipped into Braunston Marina to check out pump-outs. This was perfectly possible, hoorah, so with a dint of fine manoeuvring we went under the bridge into the wharf, to find someone else had just slid in ahead of us (to empty an Elsan, for goodness sake - don't need to take up the pump-out space to do that) so we pulled in alongside - and the heavens opened. Once the other boat left, Drew went to do the negotiating. I had a bright idea for once - rather than face the lock flight and tunnel before we could get to a mooring, which was the option - why not see if we could moor at the marina? Again, this was perfectly possible.

Drew now got promoted - he is now Grand Panjandrum, King of the Kharzi - as another new holiday experience happened; our first DIY pump-out! Smelly, but not messy, is perhaps the best way to describe it.
Then there was another bit of fine boat-handling to get us into our berth for the night, after which he celebrated by going to the pub for a beer and free WiFi. Mum and I read and relaxed, and enjoyed another heavy downpour complete with thunder and lightning.
3 locks/15 miles/1 tunnel/Oxford Canal, GUC Main Line/pumpout.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Slow Boat goes to Coventry

Day Nine: 11 July. Fradley Junction to Polesworth.
A gentle day with very few locks to try us, although the ones we encountered were deep and slow to fill; looks like this will be the way of it from here on. Tomorrow we tackle the Atherstone Eleven, so an easy day was a good idea. It was breezy, which did cause a few problems with crosswinds on the bends, and a rather closer-than-we'd-have-liked encounter with a couple of British Waterways working boats, who were fortunately very understanding!
Through open countryside again, and the horsiculture belt; many of the horses had fly masks which led to comments of 'who was that masked horse?'
The railway line runs alongside the canal for much of the way, and electrification means that the overhead gantries are very intrusive and ugly. There are also several (Roman) roads, all carrying a lot of traffic. Quite a lot of boats, but very few obviously hired ones, and it was all very busy - Fazeley Junction wasn't quite as bad a turn as Fradley, but equally packed.
Through the suburbs of Tamworth, up Glascote Locks and past Alvecote, stopping for lunch and a bit of canalside retail therapy with a bloke doing nice leather goods. Drew got himself a proper belt and holder for his lock key, and now feels very professional.

Moored for the night at Polesworth, which is nice; deeply wooded with a cutting on one side and an embankment on the other which overlooks the river Anker. Drew went for a recce, and I encountered a swan which seemed determined to peck my trouser bottoms. There's a very good Indian takeaway in Polesworth, with generous portions!
12.5 miles/2 locks/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal

Day Ten: 12 July. Polesworth to Atherstone.
And of course, our first wet day... not merely damp.
Not 'a bit rainy'.
Stair rods. All the way through the Atherstone Flight (which is more a series of short pounds and locks than a staircase). Slow going - althought there were some boats coming down, we sometimes had to empty a lock down to get in (which makes you feel quite guilty). Mostly we were followed by a family in the first 'Viking' fleet hire boat we've seen; they were entertaining, with a small terrier that seemed to be enjoying itself hugely, and a gaggle of kids who vanished below at the first sign of rain, leaving their parents to brave the weather. General chat to folks as we went along, and plenty of lovely dogs, including one very stubborn black labrador that utterly refused to walk across the top of the gate of Atherstone Top Lock, no matter what his person did to encourage him.
Drew got quite adept at hopping across between the lower gates, which saved no end of foot-miles going round. It all adds up. We moored up for shopping, and decided we may as well stay put overnight rather than go on a couple more miles.
We were amongst various working boats, carrying smokeless fuel and gravel - some had been as far as London, and I wondered if they'd been taking materials to the Olympics site - I somewhere remember reading they were using canal haulage.
Last night's curry stretched to leftovers!
4 miles/11 locks/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal

Day Eleven: 13 July. Atherstone to Shackerstone.
Another day of rain and wind. Headed down through Nuneaton to Marston Junction and the Ashby Canal, watering up at the 'Valley Boats' marina, where Mum got postcards and a plaque of the Foxton Flight. Drew went looking for chandlery bits with no luck, but did manage (finally) to get the Lockmaster map for this holiday.
Leaving, we were chased desperately by a bevy of confused ducklings (surely their mum wasn't big and green?)
Ashby Canal starts with the remnants of what turned out to be a stoplock - very narrow - and went on to be serpentine, blowy, and extremely shallow for much of its length; Drew remarked it was like driving through thick gravy at times. There were lots of moored boats too, and we discovered that 'tickover' varies from boat to boat - trying not to overhaul the boat ahead, we ended up having to overtake... it was like the world's slowest boat chase...
Water vole near Bridge 4, buzzards over Bosworth Field (yes, THAT Bosworth!).
Mostly small and pretty villages (apart from Hinkley) and cornfields. The idea was to get to Snarestone tonight, but conditions were against us, and after a couple of hours of almost-arguement, we compromised on a mooring at Shackerstone. Some of the scenery lovely, but mostly in a 'rural-neutral' way, without so much as a derelict shed to break the flow of fields and weeds.
0 locks/25 miles/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal, Ashby Canal

Day Twelve: 14 July. Shackerstone to Coventry Basin via Snarestone.
An early start, and a spell of fine-ish weather saw us up to the end of the canal - the scenery up here is much more interesting, with another SSSI through Gopsall Wood - wish I could remember all the plant names!
Snarestone Tunnel (228m) was quite fun - it has a bend in the middle, and gets lower towards the top end so you do have to duck a bit! Turned round just after the tunnel - little else to do, although the canal association are trying to extend to the old terminus at Moira; it's a work in progress.
So now began the long run back down to the basin at Coventry, and a day of frustration for me; I tried to help share the steering but got constantly caught by the wind, ending up getting us stuck again and again, and having to hand over to Drew (with his boat-handling experience etc from diving, he's so much more clued-up) to sort out a problem I'd created. Better stick to what I'm good at, which is going in and out of locks, and dropping-off and picking-up.
Weather was better than yesterday, but still wet in patches, so on and off with coats etc. We eventually left the waterproofs on, which seemed to deter the rain until around Hawkesbury Junction.
A thunderstorm (with lightning) hit at this point, as we were passing all the moorings, so I retreated into the boat and stayed there until we'd nearly reached Coventry.
It's another odd place; the old slapjowl with the new, big with small. Some interesting features - Electric Wharfe, Cash's Hundreds - but less 'proper' canalside warehouses etc, mostly things that have been cleared by demolition, like the old Ordnance Works, or rebuilt-on-the-site-of, like Electric Wharfe. Lots of pieces of 'public art' (mostly covered with graffiti) and although there was some good graffiti, much of that had been defaced. Sad, like the amount of crud floating in the canal, although the mooringhens and mallards don't seem to care.
Some really lovely buddleia bushes overhanging the canal, odd orange lights making spooky shadows under Bridge 5a, new flats, amiable drunks, and a lot of late evening fishermen...we eventually made it to Coventry Basin just after 9 pm, and got the last mooring (there is room for more boats, just marked 'no mooring'. Frustrating!) Drew went hunter-gathering, and returned with Nandos, which Mum and I had never heard of!
32 miles/0 locks/2 tunnels (return trip)/Ashby Canal, Oxford Canal, Coventry Canal

Slow Boat back on track.

Day Six: 8 July. Pilling's Lock to Shardlow.
And we're back on the water and on our way; at least, after a shower that made me feel a little less like Pinkie McStinkie, the Slut of the Cut....
We cover the same ground - er, water - back to Loughborough, but turn right up the river instead of into the city. It's back into the countryside, with wide reaches, loads of metallic blue and green damselflies, dragonflies like helicopters, ducks and moorhens herding their broods of young out of our way.
We travel in part-convoy with a couple of other boats, which means less banging about in locks and more hands to work them. One guy coming the other way says that the Trent & Mersey is getting short of water, and some folks have bottomed. We push on, with cross-winds.
The confluence of the Trent and Soar, near the cooling towers of Ratcliffe Power Station, is a vast expanse of water, more like one of the Norfolk Broads, with at least 3 canals leading off, and there is a huge weir to avoid.

Splatters of rain start as we head up the new canal - quite refreshing, really! - and face the confusion that is the Sawley Mechanised Locks. These are supposedly manned, but all we see is one officious beard that told us to wait while another boat came out, and then promptly vanished, leaving us to hover off the 'island' between the parallel locks, tall stone walls to either side. We finally get into the lock, and see the notice saying 'ropes must be used', so there is a bit of a scramble. Drew figures out the mysteries of the automated system, which button does what... we escape with little trouble, save for the shortness of the pick-up point on the island and, with a bit of deft manoeuvring, get onto the water point.
An encounter with another boat at this point draws my attention to how many boats have huge dogs aboard - this one had two German Shepherds, and one last night had an enormous black Newfoundland (and a one-eyed cat!). Maybe they act like supplementary heaters in the winter...

Drew helps another guy throught the lock - the controls on this side are totally different to the ones on the side we came up - and we water-up. Naturally, it overflows, but fortunately the whole system is geared to dealing with excess water.
Derwent Mouth Lock is badly damaged, one paddle is as loose as a catflap, and the whole RH gate is stuck fast. Awkward, but it's wide enough to sneak through (and gives us an idea for dealing with wide locks!) Looks like it won't be the last damaged lock on this stretch, either.
Tied up in the middle of Shardlow - a very pretty place - across the road from the Malt Shovel (classy but expensive) and the New Inn (plain pub food but good, and plenty of it) - guess where we went! Sat outside in the sun, admiring the motor show that developed in the car park, and chatting to the owners of a rather nice Ducati bike.
18 miles/10 locks/0 tunnels/River Soar, Trent & Mersey Canal

Day Seven: 9 July. Shardlow to Branston Lock.
Made our way through the picturesque and historical waterside of Shardlow; heading west now, and some quite deep locks. Pretty open land all around, with no significant settlements apart from one or two pubs and a remote, but prosperous-looking Indian restaurant. Got a phone message from Matt, checking that we were okay (nice of him), and called ahead to check the best time to call at Barton marina for fuel and a pumpout. Not that we'll get there today. Still several widebeam locks to deal with until we got to Burton-on-Trent; Dallow Lane came as a pleasant relief as the first 'smaller' one encountered.
We're still roasting in the sun, getting quite brown (and pink), although upper arms and shins remain resolutely peelie-wallie.
Burton-on-Trent is odd. It's a biggish town ('Largest in the National Forest' according to a sign we saw in a very small copse) but, although the canalside is quite nice, there is little industrial (and we like industrial) - you can see Marston's Brewery and the Coors maltings - and the rest remains stubbornly suburban.
Moored initially by the (clean, antiseptic, modern) industrial estate, but couldn't figure out how to get through it to the shops, so moved up to the moorings (and the mooringhens) by Bridge 54, after Branston Lock. Pearson's Guide said that Morrisons was about half a mile, but Drew vanished for nearly two hours, returning sweaty and disgruntled, having walked 'miles'. Filthy MacNasty was quickly sent to the shower and despatched.
18 miles/7 locks/0 tunnels/Trent & Mersey Canal

Day Eight: 10 July. Branston Lock to Fradley Junction.
Slow start, as we need to be at the marina after lunchtime. Two locks and a very tight entrance to Barton-under-Needwood marina, which is vast, and very posh. We drifted, elegant and windblown, alongside another AW boat, 'Foxton'. and negotiated the fuel and pumpout. Grumpy chap became less grumpy when he found we were the 'propshaft boat', and said that 'Foxton' had picked up a tyre round her prop in Birmingham, and had to be hauled out to have it cut free. Exited the marina somewhat poorer but quite competently (until we hit the opposite bank... oops!)
Down to join the river again between Wychnor and Alrewas (love these names!), where it's wide with yet another huge weir.  Pretty countryside, loads of dragons and damsels and lots of flowers by the waterside. We'd planned to stop at Fradley Junction, to get a better look than the last time we were here some years back, but it was not to be - the whole place was jam-packed with boats and gongoozalers, so we went carefully round the junction on a rope, to find the swing bridge open; with a guy behind us, that meant we didn't need to stop and shut it, and we sailed through happily.

Boat after boat after boat lined the canalside, until finally we found a space on a rather overgrown bank opposite a housing estate and slotted in there, with only a few nettle stings. Mum battled the shower this time, and Nellie O'Smellie was no more.
8 miles/9 locks/0 tunnels/Trent & Mersey Canal, Coventry Canal/fuel & pumpout

Slow Boat High and Dry

Day Five; 7 July. Dayboat to Loughborough
...and guess what - with all the fuss I'd nearly forgotten it's my birthday!
So.. They turned up about 0915, with the AngloWelsh guy who has the spares, and we disembark to the (very nice, with free WiFi) cafe. The boat is hauled up onto the trolley and is out for inspection. They reckon 3-4 hours, but the AW guy is looking for a bigger welding kit; they're replacing the entire assembly, which means cutting a chunk out of the hull. I try not to think about it.
We have coffee, and then sort out the dayboat.
'Kittywake's a small fibreglass cruiser, rather elderly, and very twitchy on the steering compared to the stolidity of Jupiter. Drew's steering is tested several times on the way to Loughborough (that's Luffburra, not Lugaboruga) - as we exit the marina, an enthusuastic springer spaniel leaps off the bank in pursuit of a passing swan, landing practically under the bows! A little further up, we encounter a small narrowboat-style dayboat crewed by a gaggle of females (looks like a hen party!) who seem to be navigating by bank-braille....
We make it to the City wharfe unscathed, and the shoreparty head off in search of supplies, while I catch up on my diary.
'Kittywake' is due for some TLC. Not long after being repainted last winter, she was stolen, and recovered in rather a sad state. Now she has a shiny, and very efficient, new engine, and is due a lot of bodywork improvements, a new screen and a seat for the helmsman. Nice to know she's going to be cared for.
I make contact with Tracey (who now lives near Nottingham) and organise a meet-up with her and the clan for dinner at the marina tonight. The shoreparty returns, and we head back to the marina.
Jupiter is still up on the cradle, so we set up in the cafe for a beer or two. Eventually we're joined by the AW guys, who have finished 'one of the more major jobs we've had to do'... The boat is back on the water with a whole new propellor and shaft, and a welded section in her hull, and Paul from the marina gives us a very convenient-for-the-facilities (especially the bar) mooring.
Back on board to inspect the work (very impressive) and a short snooze before meeting Tracey and Co for dinner. The food was excellent and the company wonderful, so a lovely evening, apart from the whole bar singing 'Happy Birthday, Whoever You Are' as they brought the birthday cake in (thanks T!)
5 miles/0 locks/0 tunnels/River Soar

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Slow Boat Up the Creek

Day Four: 6 July. Birstall to Pilling's Lock.
And this was the day things stopped going according to plan....
After breakfast and a quick shopping trip, it was business as usual, with added clunk. A grass snake swims across the river ahead of us as we leave; naturally the lens cap is on my switched-off camera.
The clunk gets worse. We don't like the sound of it, and there seemed to be trouble with the steering, so after Thurmaston Lock we stop to check the hatch again.
Plastic bag.
Still clunking, so we get to a reasonably accessible stopping place, and ring the boatyard, who send out helpful mechanics who arrived with about an hour.

Spirits plummet, and 
we halt. Going nowhere fast
we call the boatyard.

After poking about in the bowels of the boat, they deliver their verdict.
Not good news.
The bearing on the prop-shaft has popped out, so the shaft etc isn't properly supported going through the hull to the prop. And it's hitting the prop on it needs taking out and refitting - which means finding a yard and taking the boat out of the water. I can feel the holiday falling apart around us.
So we wait, to see if there's a yard that can handle us...

Help is soon at hand.
with stilson wrench and grease:
Matt, our new Best Friend.

Well, Pilling's Lock Marina can take us, but it's quite a distance away, so Matt the Engineer is coming with us to make sure things don't get worse, and AngloWelsh have been real stars - they've offered to either pay for us to have a day out somewhere while the boat is fixed (on a reimbursement basis) or the boatyard will let us have a dayboat for the day. PLUS as we'll be losing 2 days of our holiday, and Jupiter isn't booked out next week, we can stay out until Monday morning instead of returning to base on Saturday. A couple of quick phone calls and it's all agreed - so as long as it gets fixed tomorrow, all is better than good!
So here we go, letting Matt and Drew do the locks and steering.
Cossington Nature Reserve slips past, with terns screeching overhead. Lots of sizeable weirs (mostly dry-ish), some very posh houses, long gardens, some boats, overhanging willows (of course you always meet the oncoming boat where the willows mask it!).  Not quite sure why one house appears to have cannon on the waterfront...
The river widens rapidly after Montsorrel, very rural and lovely. We get to Pillings Lock by 1700 and then there is all the messing about getting to our mooring, and finding someone who knows what's happening.
They say they'll start at 0700...
8 miles/7 locks/0 tunnels/River Soar

Slow Boat on the Leicester Ring, 2010

Well, it seems to be becoming a habit to write about last year's holiday not long before going on this year's, so here we go again!

Day One: 3 July 2010. North Kilworth to Foxton.
Left home after the usual 3D jigsaw of carpacking, Mum wedged in the backseat amongst the bags. All the way to North Kilworth, we kept remembering things we should have packed. Got to the wharf at about 1515, to be met by very helpful staff, unloaded all the gear and parked the car, and once everything was aboard, it was time for the regular walk-through and handover checks on NB Jupiter, all 62 foot of her. By 1600 we were casting off. Headed up towards Foxton, through greenery (the first tree-I-have-been-dragged-through of the holiday was hawthorn).
Husband's Bosworth Tunnel - nearly 1200 yards and, like all the tunnels on our planned route, wide enough to pass another boat - was a long way in the dark, being dripped on. There were some very long stalactites, and two boats coming the other way - 'breathe in' said one, taking up most of the tunnel.
Emerged into more greenery, through the broad bean fields of Leicestershire.

Passing the bean-fields
Cows, sheep and dozing horses,
Yellowhammer sings.

Finally moored up just by Bridge 59, on a clear and peaceful bank in the late sunshine, to sort out the gear and start making dinner.
6 miles/0 locks/1 tunnel/GUC Leicester Branch.

Day Two: 4 July. Foxton to Kilby Bridge
And up and at it with the Foxton Flight!
Which was an interesting experience - not so much for the actual locking (not too awful, despite there being 10 locks) but more from the point of view of being a tourist attraction!  I don't know how many times Drew did the 'this is how locks work' talk to the numerous gongoozalers... meanwhile we'd watered up, chatted to fellow boaters, breakfasted..not sure where we're aiming for, but there are a lot of locks on the way.
Thought about a side trip up to Market Harborough, but an inadvisably moored boat and an unexpected swing bridge meant a mid-corner change of plan and direction straight up the Leicester Canal.
Saddington Tunnel supposedly has bats, but there was no sign apart from a rather well-made bat box shaped to fit the wall at the NW end.
Very rural, with sheep, and hedgerows full of dogroses; most of today's trees-I-have-been-dragged-through have been ash. Mum and Drew work the locks and I do the driving through them, cill-avoidance a speciality, and also act as Drew's relief driver. Feels strange to have such big locks (all double width) with few boats around to share the water. Jupiter drifts like a graceful brick from side to side in the locks, seldom ending up where I expect her to be. The wind catches her too - it's a gusty day and we have a few encounters of the bank kind.
We finally moor up at Kilby Bridge; most of today has been on a stretch of canal designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, for water plants, though I have  no idea which ones!
10miles/22 locks/1 tunnel/GUC Leicester Branch

Day Three: 5 July. Kilby Bridge to Birstall.
Another day of locks, and what Wogan used to call the 'Lost City of Leicester'. Fairly rural to begin with - one field seemed to be planted with both wheat and barley - muesli-in-the-making? Quite a lot of bank traffic, cyclists and walkers, some of whom were helpful with locks. The locks before Leicester have a key-opened padlock system, to try to stop malcontents and ne'er-do-wells emptying the locks (hardly a point as most of the gates are so badly balanced that they swing open if left without water pressure). Naturally, this means that the malcontents et al now satisfy themselves by cutting off the padlocks or filling them with superglue.
An enticing smell of baking cookies welcomes us to South Wigston - perhaps the Jacobs biscuit factory? Polite back gardens lead down to the water, but not the number of boats I would have expected, At Glen Parva, the houses are bigger and the back gardens (and inevitable decking and gazebos) better off too.
Back into the country for the last descent to Leicester, and the beginnings of our river adventures at King's Lock, where the Soar joins the canal, or vice versa. There is a system of warning markers to say if travel is safe - the river is subkect to flooding, but no rain means we are well into the green zone (unless - uneasy thought - it's just the algae).
The water is immediately clearer, with lots of weed visible, and more people fishing. Didn't see any fish, though!

A whole herd. Horses
black-and-white, pied like magpies,
contentedly graze.

And then - the weirs!
These are highly impressive, and in the case of Freeman's Meadow, huge. The path of the canal isn't always clear, so it's 'take it steady' and figure it out as we go, wave at the kids and chat to folks at locks.

Oddly, in the city, there are no padlocks. There is, however, a lot of graffiti, and an awful lot of rubbish. A coot uses a floating black bin bag as the base for a nest.
There's no room at the Castle pontoon, so we chug on to Birstall, via locks full of floating chunks of wood which make getting through a bit of a trial. After the last lock of the day, there's a bit of a pother as we help recover a football stuck on the wrong side of the canal, an operation involving some very deft use of the bargepole.

We moor up and inspect the weed hatch for an odd clunking. Find a piece of wire wound round the prop, extract same, and then take advantage of the locality to send Drew out for fish and chips.
12 miles/16 locks/0 tunnels/River Soar

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Home on the Range

We have ponies! Well, the RSPB has them really, but we all feel quite proprietorial about them. They are Konik horses, strictly speaking, brought in to help manage the rough grazing in the marshes and improve conditions for breeding waders. They are quite a long way from the Visitor Centre, and are rather elusive, seeming to like hiding amongst the gorse bushes, so when we got the opportunity to go to see them (after a very early start on the last goose count) we clambered into the reserve truck and bounced off over the fields.

There are eight, four fillies and four geldings, and they are quite young, and still in their fluffy winter coats. They were basking in the sun, and seemed less than impressed at the disturbance, but posed nicely before heading off into the marsh to continue the hard work of eating.

Go West!

A year or two ago, I made a trip to the far North, ending up at Ledmore Junction, where the fading light forced me to turn for home. I said at the time that I wanted to continue the trip down towards Ullapool, and in mid-April this year, while Mum was staying, we decided it was time to do just that. So, packing a few sandwiches and cereal bars, we headed west.

The weather along the Moray Firth was beautiful, until we got to Nairn, where an unexpected haar rolled in. Normally the fogbanks stay offshore (or sit over my house) but some twist of the weather meant that they followed course of the inner firth, and it wasn't until we had gone quite a way inland that the sun broke through again.

It took around four hours to reach Ledmore again, and the great lumps of Assynt rose before us. Last trip, I posted a picture of Suilven in the rear view mirror - this is the way it should look!

The road south runs through the Geopark - the whole area is fascinating from a geological point of  view - and we couldn't resist a diversion through the heart of it, past Stac Pollaidh towards Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles.
The road is one of the usual single-track-with-passing-places, and there are several small car parks for hill walkers, all full. Small lochs lie in the hollows between the hills, and we were delighted to get a great sighting of a black throated diver in full breeding plumage - not close enough for a decent photograph, unfortunately. Further on, we pause beside Loch Raa, where a flurry in the water turns out to be two otters! Again, they were not photographically obliging...

The sheep, on the other hand, were quite content to pose.

Not far from Achiltibuie, a small ferry takes visitors across to the Summer Isles. (and yes, they do exist outside of the 'Wicker Man' - in fact they have nothing to do with it at all.)

Turning back, we look again for the otters, but they have gone, as has the diver. We rejoin the main road and head for Ullapool, on the shore of Loch Broom.
It's an active fishing port, and full of tourists so we don't linger, heading instead for Gruinard Bay. Gruinard Island is more notorious for being the site of anthrax testing in the second world War, and was only decontaminated in 1990. On a previous trip, we saw a white-tailed sea eagle on the island; today the bay held more divers - red-throated and Great Northern - which are hard to follow as they do exactly as their name suggests - they dive, and usually surface a long way from where they vanish!

Time to go. Past the naval refuelling station at Loch Ewe, the gardens of Inverewe, to Poolewe at the end of Loch Maree.

We follow the lochside, towards Achnasheen, and come to a sudden halt in a convenient layby. 'There's a black grouse in that tree!' 'What - good heavens, so there is!'
And there was.

Next time, it's Torridon and Applecross, and the third highest (and most dramatic) road in Scotland...unless we go to Skye first! we shall see...

Up Country

April 3rd.  Amazed by the good weather, and in dire need of an escape from the computer, we decided to take a trip up Deeside; in the end we went much further than we expected. We followed the winding road along the southside away from the main tourist traffic and, with a minor diversion (well, round in a circle actually!) along a backroad, ended up in Braemar where we headed northwest to the end of the highway.
The Dee is a salmon river, and all along its length there are bothies and benches and parking places for anglers who have the money...the last, I think, being the critical element.

Mar Lodge lies beyond Braemar, up towards the headwaters of the river (the Dee rises in the Cairngorms, somewhere in the Lairig Ghru) - the valley is broad, flat-bottomed, the result of glaciation, and the river loops lazily across it in wide meanders. It's a lovely spot at any time of year, and there was a real feel of spring in the air at last.

Still plenty of time, and the weather staying fine, we decided to go back the long way, over the hills to Strathdon, the other river valley leading to Aberdeen.

The pattern of muirburn show that the land is managed for grouse shooting; it's a pity the grouse don't realise it. At this time of year they are more interested in displaying to each other, and we crested one hill to find this chap strutting his stuff in the middle of the road.

Finally he wandered off into the heather, and we headed for home.