Saturday, 3 April 2010

Knotweed 1976

East Midlands ring from Weedon
Easter 1976

Of all the trips, this one stands out in my memory for the sheer audacity of it's scope.

Knotweed at an unknown location, somewhere on the East Midlands Ring.

This was the first of three hirings from Concoform Marine of Weedon, and the plan was to complete the huge East Midlands circle in a single week. I have to admit that I now see this as a 10 day trip at least, and to try and tackle it in what is effectively six days is near madness.

I remember hassling to be off, and then blasting up the Buckby Flight to be ready to branch off at Norton Junction at first light the following morning . I often pass by the spot on the Westcoast Mainline and remember powering around the bends outside Weedon as if our lives depended on it.

Given the rate of passage it's amazing I can remember any detail at all, but by now I was 15 and studying for my CSE's - the exams which followed 'O' Levels and preceeded GCSE's. One of my favourite subjects was history (surprise surprise) and in particular the industrial revolution. For my project I chose the evolution of the canal system and was delighted when we moored up at the top of the Foxton Inclined Plane. I spent a very happy hour or so in the gathering gloom wandering around the site which was then a sea of brambles. There were  bits of concrete and rail here and there, together with the remains of the water channels leading to the top and bottom.  This visit provided enough material for a whole chapter on the topic of inclined planes.
Maybe this is where I caught the bug for exploring lost relics of the inland waterways.

The descent through Leicester passed me by, as did the race down the Soar and back up the Trent and Mersey, all the time knowing that we were against the clock to return the boat and get my mother back to work.

All was going OK, just, till we reached Atherstone. We climbed the flight in early evening only to discover a dry pound between locks six and seven. This is a longish pound and not one you can top up with a couple of lock fulls of water. The captain Snt went off ahead to try and pull some water down from the summit, which was seven locks distant.

After hanging round for a bit on my lonesome I decided to try and surge Knotweed out over the top cill by charging it at full revs and then going hard astern as the stern  passed over to build up depth. To my amazement this strategy worked and I then started a very slow crawl up the 18 inches of water left in the middle of the channel. The slightest bit of power caused it to stick fast so I set it on tickover and poled it along, eventually passing a boat stranded on the margin which caused consternation among its crew. After anout an hour of inching forward I reached the railway bridge where submerged masonry formed a very solid barrier.

I have never been inclined at accept defeat so I leapt into the cut and started to clear a narrow path through the rubble to the lock tail. These efforts, coupled with a few lockfulls of water let down by the Capt Snr was just enough to get us into the lock and on out of the flight in darkness.

It was than a mad dash to reach Buckby before the locks were closed for the night (1976 was the year of the drought). I seem to remember balgging our way into the lock and finally reaching Weedon at about 11.00pm.

The final recollection was of the Concoform staff checking the diesel level the following morning and being stunned at the quantity of diesel consumed, then shaking a dispairing head when they learned of the route we had undertaken.

As for Knotweed, she was a nice little 36 or 40ft boat with a trad stern and a wooden top. I noticed a Knotweed in the yard just before Concoform closed, but it was a newer version without the same cheeky character.

This was one of the all time epic cruises, exceeding even the early two week cruises for ambition and cruising hours. Given the distance travelled, it isn't really surprising that the photographic record is limited to a solitary image!


Nev Wells said...

What a great post - I really enjoyed reading it. That was some ambition. I like reading about late evening or early morning cruising, something we do infrequently but when we have done it especially first light it has been magical.

Re the image, I recon it is you just turned onto the Coventry from the T&M at Fradley with the boat yard covered dry dock in the background?

Take care


Halfie said...