Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The drive to reach Debdale

Loughborough to Debdale
July 2018

I booked a rental van today and was asked my location. A simple question but one which is always a bit difficult to answer when out boating. There is the place we are now, the place where we expect to be at a point in time and of course our home address.  I decided to start with our "now" address and said Loughborough. At the end of the discussion the location was repeated back to me and some garbled translation emerged which sounded nothing like Loughborough (clearly not a local). The problem is that I cant see the place written down without hearing the antipodean version in my head "LoogieBarruga". This particular little earworm is, of course, entirely due to a weekend we spent in the area with Sandra and Barry.

Loughborough Flood Lock

Anyway. With all this hot weather we decided to implement the "River Wey" strategy which essentially means starting off in the clool at 6.30am and then holing up under a tree from 11.00am and moving on again after 6.00pm when things have cooled down a bit. Well, we got the start right but the rest didn't go according to plan. We were off through the the Loughborough flood gates with the sun low on the eastern horizon, the misty River Soar winding its was south. All very idyllic. 

Soar above Loughborough

Somewhere along the way, and I have lost the exact location in a heat haze, we passed a short ice breaker moored on the off side with an elderly couple standing in the hatches. I was interested in their boat because it clearly had some history, but before I had an opportunity to ask about it they told me that they had the cabin section of The Jam Butty built to tow behind the boat they were standing on. For years I have offered the story of how the original version of the butty was 30ft long and was built to trail behind a short ice breaker tug and now I have found it. I love these little chance meetings where bits of a jigsaw come together.

The builders of the back section of The Jam Butty

We met some contractors our spraying Floating Pennywort at Cossington Lock and were so engrossed in our discussion about the week we completely missed the turn left sign. Instead we plodded up the attractive river in front of us till a warning shout from a moored boat alerted us to our error. "The last chap to make that mistake took two days to get out again!" We turned and retraced our steps with more than a bit of embarrassment.

Dont miss this sign, even if the river looks like it goes straight ahead

Our objective was to reach Leicester but in the event we entered the straight mile and found the visitor moorings both full and basting in full sun. The shady alternatives were on the west bank but these were adjacent to seats surrounded by bottles and debris - not an inviting spot for a hot Friday night.

Our enthusiasm for Leicester was not high in the first place and was not encouraged by a bunch of teenage boys swimming in a lock as we tried to empty it. They have no sense of the dangers involved and perhaps the most horrible thing was watching two dead rats bobble out from between our boats as we emerged from the lock. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

You may have noticed that I bough a Tilley hat in Saltaire and one of its selling points was that they float. Coming through Leicester I was hit by an unexpected gust of wind and off it went into the canal behind us. With the hat safely recovered, and rinsed, I can confirm that they do indeed float.

How to end a hot day (grandchildren's forgiveness sought)

So we pressed on upstream passing through another half a dozen locks stopping as the river section ended at Kings Lock at 5.00pm. With the waterway narrowing dramatically it was time to drop the butty into its astern position, the first time it has not been beside us since Skipton about three weeks ago. It may have been a long day but we covered 19 miles and 13 locks which is pretty much two days of normal travel. This puts us well ahead of schedule and means we can have a few shorter days.

Saturday dawned clear and bright (again) so we made a start on the Grand Union Leicester Section of canal. The canal is technically broad (14ft wide locks) but the channel is only really wide enough fro narrow boats (7ft) and many of the pounds between the locks were 12 to 18 inched lower than normal. We therefore inched from lock to lock eventually covering just six miles and nine locks to reach a bit of shade at Kilby. We stopped at 2.30pm, with just enough time to set up the TV and watch England play Sweeden which was a 2 - 0 win - but we lost signal 2 mins from the extra time and had to resort to old fashioned texts to our Dan to confirm the final score.

The evening was spent chatting to other boaters who, inevitably, came to look at the butty and stock up on preserves. All this passive selling has been constant this season which is very gratifying. 

Sunday and another day of intense sun. There was no church within 1.5 miles of our mooring and Helen's ankle wont carry her that far yet, so we were up at 6am with the aim of finishing the last 12 wide locks on the ascent to Market Harborough. We managed this in the relative cool of early morning, passing a large group of Galmping adults using Gas Pipe Lock as their personal swimming pool. They were little better than the kids in Leicester as one still dived in after I had raised the paddles to empty it! He didnt like being told to stay out.... I did observe that I had pushed past the bloated carcass of a dead sheep two locks down and no doubt there were others further up, and then went on to mention the symptoms of Weil's Disease. The "leader" said the risk of Weil's was overstated and he swam in the canal all the time and that he was a live aboard boater - as if that makes a difference! He clearly hadn't warned or informed his  friends didn't because they blanched at the talk of dead bodies, rats pee and diseases. I don't know if we had any impact but if they do have any symptoms later on they may just seek help.

The plan was to stop in shade as soon after the top lock as possible but could I find any? Could I like heck. The canal margins were all reeds and where there was a firm edge there was no shade. And so we drifted on, and on. We went through the Saddington Tunnel which offered some welcome shade but beyond the towpath switched sides and shade was elusive as ever. In the end we continued to Debdale Wharf, a location which was the end of the canal for several years when the builders ran out of money. Then, just before the winding hole the trees arched over the water from both side and we had found a mooring with shade and even a hint of breeze. 

We set of the paddling pool on the back deck and put in a couple of gallons of cold water which was used to cool some hot feet and provide a fit of respite from the heat. It may look daft but it felt great.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Moving up the Trent and Soar

Trent and Soar to Loughborough
July 2018

Its been a week since I offered an update, an omission which is due to the fact that we have been pressing on upstream for days and days, first the Trent and then The Soar. All this moving in the heat has been knackering and left little time, or inclination, for blogging.


Tuesday saw us complete the trip into Nottingham, passing Stoke Lock and Holmes Lock before turning off the river into the Nottingham Canal. We moored in some shade near Sainsburys and settled down to watch the England Columbia football match with Helen's sister and niece. 

Waiting to enter Stoke Lock

Thin picking for sheep on the dried out flood banks

During the first half there was a knocking on the boat which turned out to be canoeists wanting to buy jam and then the boat behind us wanted some. Fortunately these transactions didn't mean I missed any of the goals! As I took £20 in the process I guess you could say I made a score!

We started with a rendition of England 2 Columbia 0 - in fact it went to penalties but we won!

Wednesday was another relatively short day which saw us leave the Nottingham Canal at Beeston where CRT reps bought more preserves along with an impassioned attempt to recruit me into the CRT Friends scheme. Now, a few words on Friends. I am fully supportive of the Friends initiative, bringing both commitment and cash to the Trust, but its promotion frustrates me. Here we are with 30,000 licence paying boaters, all of who could be advocates of the scheme but who typically already pay the trust £800 a year. In my opinion every licence payer should be made a Friend free of charge and encouraged to go out and sing the schemes praises to those they come into contact with as they travel. But the snag is that you wont sell something you havn't already sampled and the consensus is that "after paying £800 a year there is no way I am paying out another monthly sum". I fear the Trust is missing a trick here but my oft repeated suggestion appears to miss the mark. 

Swallows and Amazons island on the River Trent

Then it was back onto the river, passing a Scouting island which always reminds me of the onedescribed in Swallows and Amazons.The lack of rain means that river water levels were not only low in the green but were at least a foot below the bottom of the green marker. This lack of water meant that the flow of water below Cranfleet Lock was swift over the shallow shoals and the passage of the deep drafted butty pulled up great clouds of silt.. 

Bridge roller on the Nottingham Canal section

We moored on the river near Trent Lock where the plan was to see Suzie, Jack and the grand children. In the event Helen damaged her Achilles tendon as we erected the gazebo to offer some shade. This mishap resulted on a trip to A&E and the subsequent programme of rest and ice presented some challenge in the coming days.

 Normanton on Soar

Thats one steep slipway

Thursday was spent negotiating the lower reaches of the River Soar, pushing the breasted pair up the river to Loughborough. We called into the basin to use the services but the place was  sun trap and we were pleased to leave it behind and moved on up the canal section to a shady spot just below Loughborough flood gates and a return to the river.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Calmer Waters

Torksey to Gunthorpe
July 2018

Our third and final session on the Tidal Tent was the 13 miles from Torksey to Cromwell, the first lock on the River Trent. Before we left our friends on Nauti-cal emerged round the corner and finally, after years of following each others blogs, we met. I love these surprises boating throws up.

A picture of me!

photographing her....

Without wishing to be blase about this last tidal section, we have tackled it in all sorts of conditions and it contains little to be concerned about. The tidal range at Torksey was about four feet with two hours of flood and 10 hours of ebb, twice a day. We are now about 30 miles upriver from the sea and there simply isn't the same volume of water to swill too and fro and whilst we to sear our life jackets on all tidal waters, this is the stretch where I am not entirely convinced they are necessary. 

Cheerio Torksey

The winding channel isn't terribly attractive and so I found myself obsessing about spotting the moment the time the tide changes. We set out just before ten and the last dregs of the ebb tide came to a standstill and we were immediately pushed ahead by the flood tide. Because of the hydraulics, this time lags way behind the tide at Hull, which all the calculations are based on.

Butler's Island

To put the tidal assist in perspective, our normal speed on still flat water is 3.0 mph and instead we were being pushed up the river at 3.7mph. Our expectation was that the assist would last for about 1.5 hours and could therefore be expected to run out somewhere near Dunham Bridge. Dunham came and went and we still clocked 3.7 and much to our surprise it continued to help us for another 2.5 miles to High Marnam Water Ski club. Then our progress slowed to 3.00pm and we waited for the negative drag of the ebb. 

Costa del Trent

Lower down the river the switch from flood to ebb happens very quickly but instead we had still water for another five miles. Then suddenly, as we passed Carlton Wharf we slowed and the gps clicked down and down till, as we rounded the sharp bends, we struggled to maintain a speed which starts with a 2.   At this point we were just three miles short of Cromwell but given our laboured progress, this took us well over an hour during which time we were overtaken by another two narrowboats.


There was no sense of danger on this upper section, but we had to accept slow progress. All we can do is to set the throttle and make the best progress through the water that we can. How long it takes to cover the ground is just a matter of time.

Cromwell Weir

Finally, at 3.00pm, after five hours on the  river, the long silver thread of the Cromwell Weir came into view, with the stark concrete chamber of the Cromwell Lock sitting to the right. The green light was on and in we went, joining the other two boats who had probably been waiting for 30 mins.

Cromwell Lock

We carried on to Newark another 5 miles up the river. Even after all this dry weather the flow on the river is steady at just over half a mile an hour so we plodded on through Nether Lock, eventually stopping on the east bank just opposite the visitor mooring pontoons. A word of caution - there are two taps on the pontoon but there is no dedicated service mooring. This means you may have to come alongside another boat and carry your hose over their boat. I did  later question this situation with the lock keeper and was assured  that is was perfectly acceptable to insist that this approach is practiced by anyone who moors there. Personally I would prefer to see one dedicated water point mooring.

Newark Castle and Town Lock

After a quiet night on the off side at Newark we restocked at Morrisons and headed off again up river. As we exited Town Lock a boat was waiting to enter. Sad man that I am, even at 400 yards and head on, I recognised it as Mike and Becky, fellow BCNS members, fellow preserve makers, fellow photography enthusiasts and at one stage Mike and I even shared an employer!.

Mike and Becky

Another fleeting meeting over we settled in for a long slow slog to Gunthorpe. Being Monday it was wash day so as I plodded on at 2.5mph Helen did the washing. It was another day of wall to wall sunshine with a strong wind which dried the washing on the lines in the butty in just a few hours. 

There is nothing wrong with the scenery upstream of Newark, but its long open corners do encourage the onset of boredom. To counter this I plug in my i-pod and worked my way through a couple of Beatles albums followed by a few episodes of Desert Island Discs podcasts. I hope my harmonies with John and Paul didn't trouble the fishermen too much.

Hazelhurst lock came into view, and then two hours later, Gunthorpe - our destination for the day.  The CRT services are a bit basic with a portaloo serving as an Elsan and no bins, but we did get water and a mooring for the night, ready for an early start for Nottingham.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Groundhog day

West Stockwith to Torksey
June 2018

Another day and another blast out on the Tidal Trent. 

Gates open and ready to go

Our enforced stay in West Stockwith proved to be very pleasant. After lunch at The Waterfront Inn, we spent a slobby afternoon dozing on the boat and bringing the blog up to date. Come 6.00pm we decided to visit The White Heart, home of the Idle Brewery where good food was available. 

Bye West Stockwith

In spite of a satisfactory first day on the Tideway, fears and concerns returned in the dark hours of the night. I find this habit massively frustrating and I had another less than great nights sleep, waking at 5.00am. Logic says all will be well, but still all the disaster options fill my mind. I guess the problem is that I know enough about the river to recognise the dangers, but not enough experience to put them in perspective!

Departure from West Stockwith is, as you would expect, determined by the tide. This isnt so much a matter of timing as observation. A single narrowboat entered the lock first and waited till the depth reached 3ft over the cill. Then the gates opened and he was off in a blast of blue diesel smoke. Then it was refilled for us and by the time we made a level with the river the water had risen to 5ft over the cill, and we left at about 8.30am.

Gainsborough Visitor Moorings

Paul Balmer had warned me about this exit, where the lock is angled downstream. The tip given to him was to exit like a rocket, but faster. I guess that because we have a shorter boat the advice was not as applicable, but we still gave it a good blast from the back of the lock and burst forth when given the thumbs up by the lock keeper. With a four mph current sweeping up the river, the bows swung round before the stern was fully out and the boat heeled over a bit, and then we were off up the river again at a steady 1500 rpm.

A salutary reminder that things can go wrong

For the most part the trip was uneventful, with us sticking to the middle of the channel and being swept south at an overall speed of about 6 mph. There is less grot in the water this far up and I suspect it is now entirely fresh. 

Gainsborough Bridge

The first notable landmark was Gainsborough where the visitor moorings sat uninvitingly empty - still somewhere I would use only if desperate. Then it was Gainsborough Road Bridge where swirls and eddies south of the cut waters caused the boats to buck and kick till smoother water was reached on the other side. 

Fast moving cruisers

It was between Gainsborough and Stoney Bight that we had our moments of greatest excitement. A number of tree trunks occupied the centre of the river and as we manouvered around them three large plastics came blatting along, punching the flood tide for all they were worth. With no ability to turn to meet the huge washes bows on, we had to take then at 30 degrees and oh my did we kick and buck. Of  course the pitch and roll of the motor became out of sync with the shorter butty. The bows of the motor were up as the butty went down and the connecting ropes were alternately taught and slack. All in all it was a thoroughly uncomfortable five minutes and the words "bloody plastics" were heard to come from my lips (with all respect to my friends on Naughty-Cal).

Turbulance at Stoney Bight

No sooner were we through the wake than we were into Stoney Bight where the river turns 180 degrees in an impossibly tight bend. This squeeze on the channel throws the current into a frenzy and provides another five minutes of excitement.

Then things settled down and we ticked off the landmarks as we passed them. A power station here, a pumping station there and of course, we started to count down the kilometer marker posts which started at 88 just south of Gainsbourough.

The flood tide continues to push us along, boosting our speed from 3 mph to over 5. At one point the Lancaster of the RAF Memorial Flight flew over us which gave Helen something to point the camera at. Up till then she has been focusing on sheep!


From our previous trips down river I knew that any slow canal boats making for Keadby would spend an hour or so punching the tide and it was likely we would meet them somewhere around Marton Rack. Sure enough, just as we approached Marton Corner and large broadbeam emerged, making slow progress.

Marton Corner

From there the skyline was dominated by the Cottam Power Station, which sits opposite Torksey. My main fear was that we would run out of flood tide, which was visibly slowing. It was with relief that we went under Torksey Railway Bridge and finally the entrance to Torksey cut came into view. In the event after three hours of travel we had maybe 20 or 30 minutes before the top of the tide - but you don't know that till you have done it.

Helen could see my stress increase as the flood tide came to an end and provided a non stop rendition of every river song she could think of. She also asked if, having completed most of the tideway, would I consider doing it with the butty again. Right now the jury is out. Lets get the last leg to Cromwell under our belt and I will give a balanced reply. I guess that this diversion has pushed us beyond our comfort zone for the paired boats, but has also provided an enhanced appreciation of what is possible. I certainly am happy to go to Gloucester at some point.

Torksey Cut

So here we sit beneath Torksey Lock, waiting for tomorrows flood tide, which starts at 10.00 am should help us to reach Cromwell three hours later. Maybe I will get a better nights sleep tonight.

Torksey Visitor mooring

Friday, 29 June 2018

Time and Tide

Tideway to West Stockwith
June 2018

Phew, stage one done and  dusted!

Well, they do say that time and tide waits for no man, and this was very true today. 

Goodbye Keadby

Having discussed the passage from Keadby to West Stockwith carefully with the lock keeper we were told to be ready to enter Keadby at 7.45am, ready to catch the flood tide which would push us up to West Stockwith. Alarms were set but in the event this proved unnecessary as I was awake by 5.00am with, if I am absolutely honest, a knot of fear in my stomach.

Out onto the tideway

Now this short cut up the Trent is great in theory but given our lack of speed (3.0 mph max at 1500 revs) out ability to punch a flood tide is very limited to say the least. Therefore it is important that we exit Keadby at just the right time and then maintain a very steady speed along the river to ensure we reach our exit point close to high tide. Go too slow and we will fail to reach the lock before the ebb starts to drag us back. Go too fast and we will overshoot and be unable to hold position till the magic moment is reached.

We made all the usual preparations for the trip including life jackets and VHF and on the eve of our departure we decided to update our copy of the Waterways Routes on line maps on both my laptop and more crucially on my i-phone. I don't get on too well with technology beyond plug and play, so Paul Balmer himself undertook to do the upgrade. Of course, the course of true technology never runs smoothly and it took the combined efforts of Paul and Helen to get everything working again. That's my problem with technology - fantastic when it works, but so often tempremental just when you need it most! Maybe doing an upgrade at 10.00pm on the night before our departure wasn't the greatest idea.

Anyway, we were travelling with another narrowboat which, I knew from experience a few days ago, was very able to show us a clean pair or heels. I was more than a bit relieved when the skipper idly said in the lock, don't worry - I will keep you in sight. At least there was another narrowboat out on the river.

I am used to being locked up into Keadby so it was a bit strange to find myself being locked up onto the river, which the night before was so far beneath us. The gates opened and there was the chocolate brown waters of the Tidal Trent streaming past the entrance. The other boat went first and no sooner was he out than he was whisked away on the current. We gave the engine a bit of welly and pressed out hard on his heels.

As we left the lock the keeper called - take it gently. As if we had any choice. We got out into the stream, very aware that for a breasted pair we were under powered, and settled the engine to a steady 1500 revs. This takes our movement on still flat water to 3.00 mph and is a rate we can maintain without overheating the engine. The issue is that we don't often do this for hour after hour and this isn't somewhere for things to go wrong.

Our thin line of connection with the outside world

Paul Balmer was there to wave us goodbye and we were immediately monitoring progress via the GPS function on his map app. Our little red dot was scudding up the river, peaking out at 7.58 mph near the motorway bridge. This told us that the underlying current was 4.58 mph and simple maths told us there was no way back.

With about 13 miles to cover we watched for each landmark, breathing a sigh of relief as we crossed the half way point after 50 minutes. The twist is that as the flood tide reaches its peak its flow decreased, so the tidal assist declines. This tideway malarkey leaves you very dependent of the expertise of the lock keepers. Whilst the other narrowboat was probably a mile ahead, we saw it in the distance on each of the long straight racks and each time it appeared we breathed a little easier.

Reflections in a teapot

However, all was not without incident. The river is awash with debris and you spend a lot of times weaving around the larger bits of floating rubbish. What you cant account for is the submerged crap and at one point what was probably a bundle of sticks caught in the prop and we lost all power. It took two or three blasts of astern before the obstruction cleared and we were starting to visualise an emergency weed hatch visit. Not something I would wish on my worst enemy at that point in time.

His nibs out on the tideway

The miles clicked off, three, two and one and which point we tried to reach West Stockwith on the VHF to see if we were going too fast or too slow for the tide. Our calls went unanswered and we soon saw that the other boat, which had been a mile ahead, was marking time outside the lock waiting for high water. At this point the VHF burst into life and it became apparent that he wasn't expecting a breasted pair. We would have to wait for 10 to 15 minutes while the first boat locked in.

Stemming the flow outside West Stockwith Lock

We did a big 180 degree turn opposite the lock and figured we would soon find out just how fast the current was flowing. The moment spent of drifting sideways along the river was a bit worrying, but we got the boats around and powered into the flow. The flood had started to abate so we managed to punch the tide at 1400rpm and edged closer and closer to the wall outside the lock. It isn't immediately apparent but there is an eddy by the wall and the closer in we went the less throttle we had to use till suddenly we found ourselves in idle with water surging past the outside of the butty. We hooked a mid rope on and waited.

One safely gathered in

After about 20 mins the lock keeper drained the lock and we were cleared to enter. A good bit of throttle was suggested, but we knew the boats best to it was up to us. Fast is usually a bad idea with the butty so we slid out across the lock and pushed the bows against the far side. With everything stable and the flood tide almost finished and we a short blast of power and we slid into the safety of the lock with barely a rattle. Phew, the relief was plapable. 


We chatted with the seasonal lock keeper and before we had completed locking up a pot of Blackcurrant and Sloe Gig Jam was sold.

Relaxing at the Waterfront Inn

And that was that for the boating day. 10.30 saw us tied up on the visitor mooring and within an hour or so we were supping a pint in the shade at the Waterfront Inn. Regarding the wisdom of the trip, it was just announced that the quick fix to the Marple flight have not been successful (now thats a surprise) and some rebuilding will be needed with the resultant extended closure. So, had we opted for the Huddersfield Narrow option we would have found ourselves back in Manchester this weekend with a very long trek ahead of us instead of which we will be in Nottingham and a direct route to the south via the Leicester Line.

However, before I settle into a Mr Smug routine there are two more hops on the tideway and then the plod up the river. I will keep you posted.