Wednesday 25 July 2018

Cosgrove calling

Welford to Cosgrove
July 2018

The Grand Union's Leicester summit section is remote, to say the least. It passes  through no locks or towns and instead is winds through field after field. The landscape is unremittingly rural where even the smallest hillock is named and represents a notable landmark.

Lock Keepers Cottage Watford Locks

Whilst there are no towns, it is peppered with marinas, one so new its vast acres of water contained just two boats. Yelvertoft, North Kilworth and Crick to name a few of the larger ones.

Monday was spent passing these marinas and finally through Crick Tunnel to find a shady spot half way between the tunnel and the locks.

The addition of Dan to the crew meant the start of a new Six Handed Rummy tournament which saw him continue his winning ways and I was the tail end Charlie, proving, once again that its just a game of chance......

Innovative use for a boat window in Weedon

We had a short 30 minute wait on Tuesday at the top of the Watford Locks before we descended in a group of three boats. Our journey to Cosgrove had been timed at four days travel, but with six days on our hands we elected to take things slowly. As it happened, Tuesday was the one day we completed nearly a full days cruising, descending the Buckby Locks in the friendly company of Euston 73, who had already passed us on one or two occasions. I sometimes wonder about boat names so had to ask why name a boat after a station? It turned out that it was a combination of Sue and Tony, which was rather good. Oh, and the 73? its the number of the bus which stops at Euston!

We pressed on south through Weedon, eventually finding a quiet mooring near Nether Hayford, where the noise from the trains or the M1 were muted.

Wednesday saw us reach Gayton Junction and a much needed opportunity to use the services. It was here we had, as Frank Spencer would put it "a spot of bother". I went to use the Elsan and somewhat carelessly put the cassette cap on the rim of the waste shoot. I moved the pipe to rinse the cassette and.... knocked the cap down the hole! Arrrhhhh!

Stables at Stoke Bruene

What was worse the bottom is simply an inclined gutter so I couldn't see / rescue it "down the hole". I went round the back and lifted the inspection cover and saw that the outfall pipe was smaller than the cap, which means it was stuck upstream and would therefore cause a blockage the next time solids were poured in. In something of a panic I considered the options and found a 4" inspection pipe which, with its lid removed, revealed a kinked down pipe and there at the bottom was my cap - 4ft away. Close but oh so far.

I was starting to rehearse my call to CRT (I cant just walk away from these things) when inspiration struck. Every boating problem can, in theory, be solved by cable ties or duck tape. The tape was recovered from the butty and a ball attached to the end of the mop handle with a sticky side out. Dan shone a torch down the hole and I carefully pushed the handle in. Much to our amazement it stuck on the second attempt and then, very carefully, we lifted it out. Top tip to self, always put the cap on the floor!

With tanks purged and filled we were off through Blisworth where we will return in a month's time. Considering how dry it has been Blisworth Tunnel was soaking wet. Nothing seems to reduce the water available under the hill.

Floating fuel stop

On the way through my eye was caught by a fleeting glimpse of a light in a shaft, just beyond the rebuilt section. Later enquiries revealed that this is an offset air shaft with two connecting adits to the main canal tunnel.  There are several possible reasons why this shaft is off set, but my guess is that it is a shaft which accessed the first attempt at a tunnel. 

We did little more than pass through the tunnel, stopping on the visitor moorings near Sculptor and the museum. 

Kathryn Doddington paid us a brief visit in the morning before we set off down the Stoke Bruene Locks, five were for us and two were against. As it was nearly three weeks since we last refuelled we were pleased to see the Jules Fuels boats moored at the bottom lock. Cash was exchanged and the tank topped off with enough diesel to last us a month or more. In fact, after two weeks of running we still had 2/3 of a tank left. Its the happy combination of a large tank and an economical engine.

Then is was the final few miles into Cosgrove, dropping through the one lock in the village to reach the sump pound as it crosses the upper reaches of the River Ouse. We arrived on Thursday afternoon by which time most of the traders were in place. Helen walked ahead and found our spot, immediately before Ray and Lesley on Morgana. This was a lovely surprise, but I have lost count of the number of times we have been trading neighbours. The arrangement is so regular that their four cats immediately identify their favourite resting places on the roof.

The only fly in the ointment was one visiting boat who was determined to sit on the mooring till the absolute expiry of the CRT mooring restriction notice. I think this was a matter of principle, but by shuffling boats we all squeezed in.

Dan rounded off his winning streak and was whisked off in an Uber to Milton Keynes station leaving us to prepare for the festival.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

To Welford the long way

Debdale to Welford
July 2018

Sorry about the pause on blogging, we have either been either a bit busy or the heat has made the idea of cradling a warm laptop rather unappealing. In fact it was only yesterday as we were hiding in the shade at Cosgrove that I heard a passing boater mention to his partner that, as far as he was aware from the blog, we were still near Debdale Wharf. The hot weather doesn't look like it is going anywhere fast so I am now sat under a tree somewhere in Milton Keynes playing catch up. Here goes.

Market Harborough basin

As in previous years we have hired a van about now and returned home to do all the domestic stuff but also to have a big blast at making our years supply of various variations of strawberry jam. That, and having an opportunity to recover the other half of our stock ready for the main festival season.

In the past we have used Milton Keynes Enterprise who will collect us from Cosgrove, but this year's schedule dictated something a bit earlier so we opted for a lay over at Market Harborough and a van from Leicester. Not ideal, but a safe place for the boats and a direct train line back to the city. As we were returning with Dan we opted for a larger transit sized vehicle which, with its turbo diesel engine had a good turn of speed but was rather noisy.

Attracting a crowd at Foxton

There are no long term visitor moorings near the basin so we moored the boats a few hundred yards back up the arm, adjacent to a gulley (other local variants are acceptable) which let us park up just a few yards away in Logans Crescent.

Home turned out to be anything but restful. We bought a huge volume of jamming strawberries from the farm shop in Hints and set to work. In the end we made over 250 jars, and watched England go out of the 2018 World Cup.

The concept of a three seater van was better in theory than in practice. As Dan has the shortest legs he was allocated the middle seat. Width wise we were OK but the gap to the dash board was smaller than RyanAir. Dan suffered a rather cramped journey and was unfolded at Market Bosworth. Reloading the butty is no small matter. The organisation of the preserves has more than a passing resemblance to an Ikea warehouse. Every possible storage location is numbered and marked on a "map" on the wall. Then as each variety is stored away its location is noted in the master book for easy reference later on. This is all great, but you do have to be accurate or you have absolutely no idea where anything is. All in all it took two hours under a cloudless sky to get the job done, followed by a drive back to Leicester and then the train and a walk to get back. 

After a night to recover we were off,  with an initial objective of mooring above the Foxton Locks. We rocked up to the bottom lock and could see boats descending so knew we needed to see the lock keeper - the problem is that the trip boat occupies the obvious lock landing and with the butty behind us we couldn't get back to the on to the north of it. In the end we just sort of hung around below the lock and figured the lock keeper would find us - which he did.

Busy Foxton

We zipped up the locks, aided by two lock keepers and followed by a huge crowd of gongoozlers, some of whom bought preserves as we rose. We had planned to moor and trade at the top of the locks but it was another blistering hot day and the lure of shade was greater than a few sales. We moved on and found a shady spot where we settled down for the night near bride 59.

Sunday's agenda was to make the short trip to the Welford Arm and watch the world cup final between France ant Coatia. This involved a passage through the Husbands Bosworth Tunnel and then on to the Welford Junction. This little arm is both narrow and shallow but given the remoteness of the canal in this area it offers on the the few opportunities to touch base with civilisation, and is therefore very popular. The end moorings were in full sun so we winded and returned to a tree lined section, just above the arm's single little lock. 

Sunset at Welford

The internet signal was a bit iffy but the we were able to watch the match by putting Helen's phone in a trainer tied to the roof !

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.