Thursday, 21 August 2008
Foxton to Watford Gap
Clear weather, although windy still - many miles of lock free cruising, and perhaps some of the most beautiful quintessentially "English" scenery I've seen for a long time.
Just steering, and passing by distant villages - the canal doesn't pass through any towns or villages, but through two tunnels - Husbands Bosworth Tunnel and Crick Tunnel.
Just to show how dense we can be - we spent ages discussing the Battle of Bosworth Fields. Was it a Civil War battle? What happened? Who won? Would there be any point in looking at it? Isn't the Battlefield Steam Railway nearby - that might be interesting? We couldn't find it in the pages of Nicholsons on Husbands Bosworth. Then we realised that the Bosworth Fields was at Market Bosworth, on the Ashby Canal - several days cruising from where we were. Well History and Geography were never our best subjects - obviously.
Just before Crick tunnel a bloke sitting by the bank said - "It's wet - well the first half is anyway", and it did indeed seem to be wet for the first part. Alan disputes this, but I was sat at the front with an umbrella.
British Waterways were dredging a lot of the pound near to Watford Gap - we've seen a lot of this new restraining edging while on our trip. It seems to be set up in front of a weak and broken up bank, then BW seems to fill it with dredgings. Here there were big 'dumb barges' filled with dredged slurry, as well as the dredger itself, which seems to be propelled by pulling itself along by the dredging arm.
Suddenly we arrived at the top of Watford Locks - the roar of the M1 motorway was absolutely deafening. We went to find the lock-keeper who was painting some paddle gear, and told us that a boat was working up - we could start down as soon as it arrived. Once again, despite warnings of long waits we got going through the flight almost immediately.
Watford Gap flight is one lock, a staircase of four, then two more single locks. Like Foxton, it's red paddles first then white on the staircase.
I said (loudly) to the lock-keeper "It's very attractive here, but the motorway and the railway are very intrusive. "YOU GET USED TO IT," she answered. I'm not sure that I would.
Looking up Watford Gap Staircase - beautiful, looking so peaceful, and ruined by the constant roar of road and rail.
After a refill of water at the bottom lock we passed by the noise and bustle of Watford Gap Motorway Services behind the hedgerow. then looked for a place to moor for the night where we wouldn't be kept awake by the noise. The motorway and railway parallel the canal for several more miles, including Buckby flight of locks - we just wanted to tie up. About a mile past the bottom of the locks, near a small marina, is a section of canal which is somewhat shielded by a slight hill - we moored up overlooking farmland, and with very little noise to disturb us.
Daily Total: 22 miles, 7 locks & 2 tunnels
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Kilby Bridge to Foxton Locks
The rain mostly held off today - although there were some short and heavy showers , but the weather made up for it with wind. Wind for narrow boats is not good, making steering and mooring very difficult.
The countryside south of Leicester is very attractive, and really very remote. The canal seems to miss most of the few scattered towns and villages, making getting supplies quite difficult. Being Sunday we needed to get supplies before 4 pm and decided to make a stop near Fleckney and walk across the fields to the town for milk and food.
Foxton - We were quite keen to make Foxton flight before the evening. Several passing boaters had told us that you might have to wait several hours to get a passage up the flight, or even wait until the next day. If we couldn't make it on the Sunday, we at least wanted to be in the list for the Monday. We knew that there would be a lock-keeper to help with understanding how to use the side ponds.
At Fleckney the three of us struggled to moor the boat in the strong winds, then Alan and I set off across the fields to the Co-op in the local town. We managed to get quite a lot of suitable food, but half way back to the boat we realised we had no milk, so I went back into the town.
Saddington tunnel is famous for the bats living in there. Alan remembers being quite disturbed by the bats flying past him when he made a journey through the tunnel with his brothers in the mid 1970's, but we saw nothing of any bats, although there were lots of bat boxes up in the roof of the tunnel.
We arrived at Foxton in bright sunshine sometime after 4 pm. The lock-keeper was standing at the bottom of the flight, so I wandered over to ask how long we would have to wait to go up. "You're ready to go now? OK, flight's ready for you, are you doing the gates?" He explained "You do the paddles red before white, then open the gates, drop the paddles while the boat moves to the next lock, then shut the gates - easy." David found a windlass and we went straight in to the flight.
Near the bottom of the flight, overlooking one of the pubs
Up Foxton - It was enormous fun, David and I raced to be the first to open the Red then the White paddle (it has to be admitted that David managed far more than me), and push open the gates. There were crowds of gongoozlers (onlookers) watching and helping (or sometimes hindering) our progress up the flight. Families blocked the narrow bridges over each lock making it hard to get back to the paddle gear, or stood peering into the lock where we were trying to move the gates and burly men got their shoulders against the lock gates. This was perhaps the most unexpected - having spent two weeks straining against almost impossible gates while onlookers watched bemused we found that just as you leant onto the gate it would be almost snatched from you by eager helpers.
This is from the top chamber of the bottom staircase, just below the middle 'pound' looking up to the top staircase. Cath talks to the lock-keeper on the right. Notice the red colour coded paddle gear on the left.
David watches while the lock fills, the lock keeper has got the next lock ready, and eager helpers are ready to push against the balance beam.
Inside a lock chamber, looking up at the very tall gates that you have in a staircase lock.
A bit of Canal History - Foxton flight is famous, it consists of 10 locks, arranged as two staircases each of five locks. It's only possible for boats to be making the trip up, or down, a staircase at any one time. You can have more than one boat in the same direction, but boats can't 'cross' in a flight. A few boats can cross in the 'pound' in the middle, but it is a notorious 'traffic jam' at busy times. In 1900 the flight was replaced with a steam driven 'inclined plane' as part of the improvements that were supposed to bring far more narrowboat traffic as well as wide boats to the Leicester branch of the Grand Union Canal. However, instead of the theoretical 200 narrow boats a day the average was 8 per day, and the wide locks were never built in other parts of this canal to allow wide boats. After 11 years the expensive and little used inclined plane was abandoned and the 10 narrow locks reinstated. The Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument with plans to reinstate it to working order.
It took about 40 minutes to get from the bottom to the top, we moored up thinking we'd go for a walk and a well deserved ice cream, but a sudden downpour drenched everything. Cath and Alan went for a walk to have a look at the inclined plane.
Foxton in a downpour - the red brick building is the museum, where the steam engines were installed. To the side you can see the side ponds which allow saving water while locking through.
Fortunately the rain did not last long, by the time that we had walked to the inclined plane behind the museum the sun was beginning to show. This photo shows the inclined plane where two caissons were hauled up the hillside. The boats at the bottom show the lower level of the canal, and the large ponds are where the caissons for the boats entered the canal.
Looking down an inclined plane towards the canal
Looking up Foxton on our way back from the pub "Bridge 61", where there is a tiny bar and various other things are also on sale from a shelf in the corner (cakes, etc). The tiny shop next to the pub has books, some chandlery and essential supplies - it really felt like the kind of shop I haven't been into for about 30 years.
Daily total: 10 miles and 22 locks (including 10 Foxton) and 1 tunnel
Running total: 267.3 miles, 318 locks, 16 tunnels
Mountsorrel to Kilby Bridge.
A miserable rainy and windy day. We set off from Mountsorrel and at the first lock a miserable bloke who didn't like the order that I wanted to do the paddles in lectured me while the lock was filling - would he have been so rude to a man I wonder? This put a cloud over the first part of my morning, but I decided that I wasn't going to let him ruin my day long after he'd passed by, so decided that he was just a stupid old fart, and felt much better.
We didn't want to stop early at the secure moorings in the centre of Leicester, and had been told that some parts of Leicester were not great for mooring. We needed to press on and get right through Leicester before the evening - a lot of miles and a lot of locks.
No power to the prop - The first problem we encountered was at about 10 o'clock, when we were approaching a lock. As Alan put the boat into reverse to slow the boat as he approached the landing for the lock nothing happened - it was if the propellor had dropped off (boats don't have brakes - you stop or slow down by going into reverse). So we hit the side hard.
Trousers - Once we were moored Alan opened the weed hatch (which allows you to look at the prop). In our boat this is not an easy thing to do as there is very little room and means lying on your stomach in a very restricted space next to the engine (which was of course, hot). We avoid this if it is at all possible, but with nothing happening there was no alternative.
It turned out that there was some kind of cloth wrapped very tightly around the prop and the prop shaft. David, being very much skinnier and more flexible than either of us crawled into the narrow space with a pair of scissors, and hacked and ripped at the cloth until he emerged triumphant with a pair of jogging bottoms (so what scenario gets a pair of jogging bottoms into the canal?). This took about 40 minutes out of our schedule.
On through Leicester passing various landmarks dimly glimpsed through the persistent rain. The National Space Centre - I long to visit, but doing so would have meant mooring up in Leicester, and another day later home - by this point we really felt that we had pushed leaving an 18 year old (however sensible) on his own far too long.
The roar of a crowd told us that this building was something to do with football. Much of the southern area of Leicester is very attractive, but we found the anti-vandal locks still in use well into the countryside beyond the town. We were surprised at the vigour and energy of anyone who wants to walk that far to leave graffiti or empty locks.
No vandals - It must be said that despite approaching a number of towns with some trepidation as 'bandit towns' we met nothing but courtesy and friendliness from the young people on the towpath.
The weather eased a bit towards the evening, but with the possibility of a shower at any time.
We eventually moored at Kilby Bridge, I was far too tired to head for the pub, so we prepared a quick meal, and went off to bed.
Daily Total: 18.66 miles and 21 locks
Running Total: 257. 3 miles, 296 locks, 15 tunnels (still)
Monday, 18 August 2008
Shardlow to Mountsorrel (River Soar/ GU)
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Alvechurch to Birmingham
Having worked extremely hard on the Sunday we decided to take it easy today, just a relatively short run into Birmingham, then moor up near the National Indoor Arena.
So no locks, but two tunnels including Wast Hill, which we had been told was very wet, bendy and not possible to see through from one end to the other. No one is wild about doing tunnels, but we approached this one with some apprehensions. It just wasn't true - you can clearly see through it from one end to the other (2726 yards), and it was a bit wet, but so are all tunnels.
We came in through Gas Street Basin again (same route in as last time, from Kings Norton, past the University of Brum).
Once we'd moored up Cath went shopping and viewing the sights (I love Birmingham!), Alan did an oil change on the engine and a bit of fixing to the flush on the loo.
We went for another pizza in the evening, and then spent time wandering around the interesting water features in Brindley Place, and going shopping at a small Sainsbury's before heading off to bed.
We were kept awake by the racket made by the Canada Geese and the seagulls that seem to infest all cities these days all year round.
Daily Total: 12.22 miles, 0 locks, 2 tunnels.
Running Total: 186.5 miles, 221 locks, 14 tunnels
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Tibberton to Alvechurch
Today was the day of locks - forty two including the famous 30 lock Tardebigge flight. We set of through the first six, then I jumped off at Stoke Prior with the notorious folding bicycle with only one brake to get supplies. The note in the Nicholsons guide book about getting supplies near the bridge turned out to be a little inaccurate, and I had to cycle a mile or so before I found a small store.
Alan and David were already one or two locks up the six of the Stoke flight, and there was a single hander working ahead of us. This is always likely to slow you down a bit as the lock is full and you need it empty to go up, so I 'lockwheeled' ahead and 'turned' the lock for us as soon as he had left it. Alan was coping well coming out of the locks single handed, so I used some time to cycle ahead of the singlehander to 'turn' a couple of the full locks ahead of him, to speed him on. He responded by starting to open the bottom paddle of his full locks as soon as he had left them, so that they would be ready for us. Working together like this, with me setting locks for him and him emptying them behind him saved us both a considerable amount of time.
The rusty old folding bicycle from the tip. The first time I rode it on this trip it was found to be missing a brake block, than never got replaced through the trip, although it was deemed that it would be better having working front brakes than back brakes.
At the bottom of the 36 locks from Stoke Prior up to the top of Tardebigge I couldn't understand where the hill was - I knew that the locks were there, but the expected flight of locks up a steep hillside just wasn't there. It isn't until you get to the top that you can see how far you have climbed.
The top gate paddles on the Tardebigge flight are extremely difficult to move, they are incredibly stiff. I am not weak and I tend to use a normal windlass most of the time, but there were times that the only way I could get the paddle starting to move was by using a 'long throw' windlass for greater leverage, and then using my foot to get the first quarter turn. The British Waterways lock-keeper we spoke to said the problem was that the plastic paddles that had been installed were beginning to distort.
At the top of the flight we were tired but feeling incredibly good. We weren't ready to moor up yet so headed on through the Tardebigge Tunnel (580 yards) and the Shortwood Tunnel (613 yeards) and moored up at Alvechurch, near to the pub. A quick pint, and it was time to go back, cook, eat and get off to bed.
Daily Total: 15.30 miles, 42 locks, 3 tunnels.
Running Total: 174.3 miles, 221 locks, 12 tunnels
Friday, 15 August 2008
Stourton to Stourport