Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Summer Cruise - Kilby Bridge to top of Foxton Locks

Sunday 10th 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


Alan said...

Hello my dear....

Spotted an error....

It's not true that only one boat can be in each staircase at a time.

Multiple boats can follow each other up, (or down), but I believe they generally limit it to "waves" of three, as trying to pass more boats than this in the pound between the two staircases must be very difficult.

If all the traffic was one way, I can't see why a string of boats couldn't follow each other continuously.

Cath said...

Yes dear, of course you are right, I will make amendments to the blog

Adam said...

I don't want to intrude on a family discussion, but I've only ever seen them moor one boat at a time in the middle pound.

Last time we were there, we had a Canaltime in front and another behind, neither of whom knew what they were doing. The lock keeper was rushing up and down between them, and apologised each time he went past that he wasn't giving us any attention. The Canaltime in front somehow managed to get himself broadside across the middle pound! There's a pic on my blog, in a post back in March).

Great account of your trip, by the way. It's helped pass a boring Sunday at work!