Thursday, 11 October 2018

3-11 October: from Braunston to Foxton, Market Harborough and on to Leicester

Wednesday 3 October: From Braunston to Norton Junction and the Grand Union Leicester Line to beyond Yelvertoft (13 miles, 13 locks)
We slept well, waking after 8am to find sunshine finding its way through the overhanging trees near the Old Turn. After the usual checks and chats with neighbours from Australia, we set off past the Stop House and Braunston Marina behind a friendly hire boat, but after the first lock, they stopped.
the Stop House Braunston used to have a toll lock outside

Braunston Marina bridge used to be the old Oxford Canal straight ahead

For once, we didn't stop at Annie's creators, Wharf Narrowboats, but as we waited by the bottom lock, John chatted with the shop lady and one of their skilled men ( who had fitted out Annie in 2005), who suggested we use oil-based varnish on the white oak, as it would need a recoat. He thought Danish Oil might be ok, too, thankfully, as we have used this on some weather-worn external wood surfaces.
the interesting shop at Braunston Bottom Lock, by Wharf Narrowboats, who fitted out Annie

the Admiral Nelson pub, Braunston
We waited for NB Bhajee (named after their three children, Beth, Jack and ?, and also means grandad in hindi or nepalese). We passed up the locks with Bhajee, leaving them at the top.

entering Braunston Tunnel before the bump
We passed four boats in the rather bendy Braunston tunnel, and got bashed AGAIN, despite slowing right down and rubbing against the wooden beams on the South wall as we passed the first. John took it well, simply saying “you need to keep close to the wall, especially on this twisty bit”, but the lady steerer on NB Moody Blue shouted that she had been dazzled by our very bright headlamp. As we have our headlamp pointed at the tunnel roof ( the view of the arch helps John keep straight), John asked the boat following if our headlamp was dazzling, and he said it was fine, and wished us a good journey. Perhaps a simple “sorry” would have been a nicer response ….. ah well! In contrast, we felt for the last boater, who was so careful to avoid a collision that he scraped his boat against the unguarded North wall as he passed.
We came out not too wet, as the tunnel was not dripping too badly, and continued in the sun to Norton Turn, turning towards Watford locks, where we met some helpful and chatty boaters and CRT volunteers. John walked up the locks, swapped some books at the top lock bothy, helped the descending boaters before we got out turn to ascend before the 3pm closure time.
The mile before Crick Tunnel is a lovely place to moor, with a view of sheep pastures, but we continued. This tunnel is very straight, and you can see the far end, and we passed through alone, singing gustily, and making our usual ghostly cackles, too (we hadn't had time in Braunston Tunnel)!
We enjoyed the sunshine as we passed Crick and Yelvertoft Marinas, the latter with its newish slipway for blacking hulls. We used to moor by the Yelvertoft bridge and visit the characterful Knightley Arms pub. After the water point, there is now a long stretch of permanent mooring, followed by only two 14 day visitor moorings on the steel piling before it finished, which were occupied. We found several boats half a mile further, on steel piling, who would have moored and visited the village if there had been room. CRT, maybe you should consider having a few 48 hour moorings after the water point close to this village for travelling boaters?

Thursday 4 October: Yelvertoft to Foxton Locks (16 miles, 10 locks)
The twenty mile summit pound between Watford and Foxton is very rural, with a few tiny villages, pastures and occasional arable fields, the canal winding its way around hilly spurs. Willows overhang inconveniently at tight corners, where you meet boats, of course! Overhanging Oak, Ash and willow make your journey shady but pretty, at times.
John put on his wet weather gear to combat the fine drizzle under overcast skies, but enjoyed the view as we passed fields with cattle, sheep, gorse and broom, like there used to be on Lincolnshire mixed farms years ago, before prairie farming took over. Having visited Welford-on-Avon this summer, this Welford is also on the same River Avon, which emerges from Welford Reservoir.

North Kilworth Marina now has a lovely entrance bridge and boats moored, although civil engineering work is still proceeding. It looks to be an impressive, large affair when complete. We couldn't see any notice about diesel, etc, as yet. The Wharf diesel pontoon was occupied by someone cleaning out their diesel tank, so we continued.

As we reached the straight 1170 yard Husbands Bosworth Tunnel, we were surprised to meet three oncoming boats in the tunnel, and another three arriving as Annie emerged into the light. John crept along, nearly touching the wall, as we passed, and there were no bumps today, thankfully.

The sun came out, John removed his yellow gear, and we enjoyed the warmth of the sun .
Near Theddingworth, we watched maize harvesting, chipping whole plants and shooting the bits into an accompanying farm trailer moving alongside as it went along. We have been told they may be used as power station biofuel.

Past the scenic Laughton Hills, we arrived at Foxton after 1pm, to be third in a queue of boats waiting for six boats to ascend. We made the best of it, walked down, helped and enjoyed chats with the numerous volunteer lock keepers, boaters and walkers. Liana had a coffee, while John enjoyed a hot pasty, at the top lock cafe. The hour and a half passed quickly. Liana was helped by the volunteers, who now take the place of the one or two paid CRT lock keepers. They knew their stuff, and several were boaters. We secured Annie on the 24 hour mooring opposite the pubs, and adjourned to the shop and Bridge 61 Pub, as is our custom, where we had a couple of pints/coffees and chats with staff, locals and boaters alike. John had a nap and Liana watched TV until daughter Sarah visited after a hard day at school in Leicester, followed by an open evening. We had a decent meal at the Foxton Locks pub (last meal orders 2030), catching up and listening to the Robbie Williams tribute act in the terrace room next door.
11pm and a knock on the roof from a nearby boater with water under their boat floor. John lent a portable drill, hand pump and bucket to Sonia and partner on NB Jubilee.

5 October 2018: Foxton Locks to Market Harborough (5.5 miles, 0 locks, 2 swing bridges)
After our late night helping raise the Titanic / NB Jubilee, we woke about 9am and saw Sonia and partner, who brought back John's tools, bucket, 24v bilge pump and 4 foot pipe, with thanks and an unexpected bottle of wine. John had gone over at midnight and shown them how to use the pump, which worked enough with a 12v battery to fill our bucket for them to tip over the side, as the water was lapping over the rear cabin floor!
Jubilee waiting to ascend Foxton Locks. Good luck to you both!

Annie with NB Jubilee and the 61 pub behind
A Canal & River Rescue chap had arrived well after midnight with fresh battery, 12v bilge pump and long pipe, set it up and pumped Jubilee out in an hour, then left it running on automatic (it came on every hour, so there was a leak, clearly). Sonia's North American friend had bought Jubilee at Debdale Wharf, knowing it needed overplating, but decided to have them hoist her into the water yesterday and try motoring to London to get this done there. As Debdale were too busy to lift her out of the water again, in the picture below you can see them waiting to go up the locks to North Kilworth, where a crane or slip was waiting.
Liana and Annie at Foxton Locks
Waving goodbye to Sonia and friend (sorry we didn't get his name), we set off in the sun through the swing bridge, which was u/s and locked open. The road swing bridge in Foxton Village was soooo stiff that Liana couldn't shift it after unlocking it with a CRT key and closing the road traffic barriers. John tied up Annie and it needed us both to shift it: CRT, please note! Liana managed to close the bridge by herself, once Annie was through.
The five mile pound to Market Harborough is quite pretty, with dappled shade in the sunshine, but very twisty, around a large hill topped by Gartree Prison. It is about two or three miles as the crow flies!  in places there was much marginal reed and sedge, narrowing the channel, plus willows growing on blind corners and hiding sight lines at bridge holes made seeing around them difficult, so John sounded the horn. Thankfully, we only passed one hire boat. Approaching the town, the channel grew wider, and we saw two Kingfishers, one kindly sitting on a branch as Annie approached, for John to get a better view. We never have time to take a zoom photo, sadly. The footbridge as you reach the town outskirts, before moorings and a sharp right hand bend, is being replaced by a massive road bridge to serve a huge new housing estate taking over the hitherto rural west side of the canal, just the other side of the towpath hedge.
u/s swing bridge at Foxton Locks

overgrown canal

passing Great Bowden Hall

The whole area west of the canal has been cleared

this was the pedestrian bridge, but will bring a road to the new estate

It will soon change the quiet, scenic journey past large back gardens of expensive houses, as boats cruise around the peninsula to the Union Wharf basin. We winded and used the services in the basin, next to an ABC hire boat being serviced by an employee, who told us they don't sell diesel to boaters. Their diesel pump and (their?)  pump out seemed to be on the CRT  services wharf. There is plenty of 48 hour mooring space near the basin, but they demand £10 a night after this. We walked with our trolley and copious washing to the railway station - a long mile, so we'll get a taxi next time! The town has character and lots of good shops, as well as the usual ones, and is well worth a visit.

Monday 8 October: Haircuts and Railways (2 miles, 0 locks)
We couldn't cut grass at home as it was too wet, but we did manage to celebrate daughter Sarah's birthday a few days early, with her Grannie in Nottingham. Today, we had fun chatting with cuz Karen and husband Andrew, while she cut our very shaggy hair. Using the Return ticket ( a pound more than the £39 single), we took a local trains, changing at Lincoln and Nottingham, travelling over the weir at Trent Lock, through Leicester, to Market Harborough, on the London train. Carting our trolley with clean washing into town, we ate a good, rare14oz steak and scampi in Wetherspoons, then John with trolley caught the X3 Leicester bus up the hill to the Police Station by Union Wharf – much easier!
setting off visitor moorings from just outside Union Wharf
After sorting ourselves out, John took Annie a couple of miles out of Harborough to a pleasant country mooring between bridges 8 and 9, on steel piling, where we enjoyed the late afternoon sun. The neighbouring boater asked John about our solar panels system.
scenic country mooring 2 miles from Market Harborough with steel piles
the view East from the mooring

Tuesday 9 October: down the Leicester Line to Kilby Bridge (13 miles, 12 locks)
Cool, windy, but dry, so John set off quietly and gently towards Foxton, enjoying the views and morning sun. Between the two of us, we operated the stiff swing bridge by Foxton manor, before passing through Foxton Locks, quiet except for someone sweeping up outside the 61 pub.

approaching Debdale Wharf, with winding hole on towpath side - this was once the canal terminus for twelve years

The crane at Debdale Wharf was lifting a boat out.
We hardly passed anyone one the willowy, twisty section to Saddington Tunnel. This is, thankfully, about ½ mile long and almost straight, and you can see all the way through. It has a colony of bats hanging from the ceiling half way through, where the roof is damper: At least, we hoped the drips were water!

Saddington Tunnel is straight

The five Kibworth Locks are the first of the 24 wide locks down to Leicester, and we started down alone, meeting the odd boat coming up. There looked to be a wedding happening by lock 20, judging by the fancy marquees and flowers. We had to wait there while two boats came up. The reason locks had been set against us was that there were two boats ahead of us, they said.
approaching Kibworth Top Lock

fancy marquees

our friendly hire boaters shared locks down Kibworth flight

lots of help at Kibworth
After beans and toast for lunch below the bottom lock, we met one of these, an ABC hire boat, at the top Newton Harcourt lock, so continued down the remaining seven locks to Kilby Bridge with them, sharing the work and enjoying the conversation. As the girls were both busy tonight in Leicester, we had a few drinks and good hot burger and chicken meals, respectively, at the Navigation pub. Kilby Bridge is a good place to stop, with pub and CRT services, half way between Foxton and Leicester Castle mooring pontoon, and also on the X3 bus route between Harborough and Leicester.
Kilby Bridge Services on right, visitor moorings on left

Wednesday 10 October: from Kilby Bridge towards Leicester
Another cold but sunny morning! Liana lit the fire and we had a leisurely breakfast before writing up diary and blog together. Tomorrow is daughter Sarah's birthday, so we intend to be near Leicester to see her and her sister Rachel.
Setting off in the sun, we soon reached Kilby Lock, meeting Clive and NB Mulcibar plus dog Zip, en route to the River Witham Belle Isle Marina near Coningsby, single handed, after buying the boat last week. Zip was a disobedient terrier who was clearly uneasy with the boat.

Clive and NB Mulcibar
He fell in at lock 32 and swam to the offside as his master was trying to moor behind a cruiser moored on the lock approach. We got him and the cruiser's owner kindly helped us through the lock, too. At lock 33 we met NB Artful Dodger again: She had turned round after lock 35 as the pound was so low. John rang CRT, to let them know: The lady couldn't get an answer from the engineers, but said she's leave a message ….. John said we would continue and let down water as we go. He also asked all the boaters going up to let down water, too. Many thanks! We let a lot of water down, opening top and bottom paddles for some time to bring the level below closer to normal, but being careful not to lower the pound above too much. The next lock 34 was the same, and we let more down to bring the next pound up to 20cm low, taking some time. We heard more boats were turning round and returning, including our hire boat companions from the other day. Finally, we reached Whetstone Lock 35. The pound below was three feet low! Our boats had no chance of leaving the lock, so we moved them against the bottom gates and opened one paddle top and bottom, then both, with John staying with the boats in the lock and keeping an eye on everything. After half an hour, the pound below was only 18” (45cm) low, so we proceeded at idling speed down the middle, touching bottom in places, passing the two boats who had been grounded above lock 36, Gee's Lock. A gentleman from NB Kamili expllained they were waiting below Gee's Lock 36, but did not want to take water from an already low pound – great to have someone who understands and does the right thing! Thank you!
intelligent boater! Thank you!
The pound above had only dropped a foot, so our boating friends going South had clearly helped us. Many thanks! Liana stayed to let more water down, then joined us at Gee's Lock.
From then on levels were fine, so we continued with Clive through locks 37 and Kings Lock 38, where John explained the red/amber/green river water level warnings to Clive. It was well in the green after the dry weather.
At Aylestone Mill Lock 39, we moored on the offside by the weir, while Clive continued. We waited to see daughter Rachel after work, with dog Honeypie (HP), after which we kept HP while Rach did “Crystal Maze” church things. We walked around the large Aylestone Meadows country park, to the Black Horse pub near bridge 106 for well-earned food and drink. Rach returned and took us back to Annie in her car. We chatted to some homeless folk by the lock as we passed, in near darkness, to the boat. John wrote the blog while Liana watched TV.
Kings Lock with river level sign

dragon / Loch Ness Monster above Aylestone Mill Lock

we moor on right by weir above Aylestone Mill Lock

Thursday 11 October: Sarah's Birthday, and we are in Leicester (1 ¾ miles, 3 locks)
Happy Birthday, Sarah! We got up late after our efforts yesterday, had porridge and tea, then set off through Aylestone Mill Lock, leaving a gentleman sleeping on one of the benches. This takes you on the river through Leicester. Before St Mary's Mill Lock, the river twists around lots of old factories, including clothing and dye works, plus GCR locomotive works. We took our time. The graffitti is actually almost impressive by St Mary's Mill Lock, where the old Dunlop rubber factory still gives the feel of the “old days”: So many red-brick factories have been replaced by new housing, these days, cleaner but less characterful.
At Freeman's Meadow Lock, above the weir beside the King Power football stadium for Leicester City FC, a widebeam workboat was fitting new signs and welding, by the barrage. They kindly moved aside for Annie to enter the lock, and one of them helped Liana at the lock. Onward we travelled along the Mile Straight, under several impressive Victorian bridges, past Leicester Rowing Club and De Montfort University buildings to our mooring on pontoons beside Castle Gardens. We passed students with a home made boat, drying out their tent. The blue plastic barrels strapped to either side did not fill us with confidence! There is room for at least three full length boats here, but we were alone on the secure visitor moorings by West Bridge, surprisingly: Maybe the lock problems around Glen Parva have put off visitors. You can exit the pontoon and exit the park's far left corner gate at any time using a CRT key.
Later, we walked towards Leicester Royal Infirmary and daughter Rachel picked us up after work to show us her house improvements, walk the dog in Knighton Park and visit the London Road to have a good Chinese hot pot Birthday meal with Sarah and her lovely, sparkly teacher friend Aysha. You dip whatever raw food (meat/fish or vegetarian) you choose into boiling broth (spicy hot or not) to cook and flavour it, plus sauces, rice and noodles. We had a great laugh together!

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