Wednesday, 11 May 2011

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

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