Monthly Archives: September 2017

Red Before White

Our recollection was that we had not done any of the Grand Union Leicester Section South of  Mountsorrell or North of Foxton Locks. But cruising down from Debdale Marina the other day brought back vague recollections of a short recce up from Foxton many years ago on the way back to Market Harborough, and of the canal being rather more overgrow than now, A rummage on the laptop found this picture from late September 2006, confirming our suspicions. It’s just up from Foxton Locks.

Grand Union Leicester Section

Don’t think we went very far – just to the winding hole before Debdale Wharf, probably.

A sunny morning this time round, and fortunately there seemed to be no boats heading down, so although we were by no means first in the queue for the climb uphill, there was no delay in getting started.

Foxton LocksFoxton Locks

The ten locks, arranged as two five-chamber staircase locks (with a passing place between them) use side pounds to manage and save water. The paddle gears are painted red and white, and the mantra is “Red before White – you’ll be alright; White before Red – you’ll wish you were dead.” Causing the side ponds to flood doesn’t make you popular with the locals.

Foxton LocksFoxton Locks

The sunny Saturday morning had brought out plenty of gongoozlers to get in the way and distract us, but after an hour’s exercise, we reached the welcoming sign at the top. Stopping to admire the view and fill up with water, it was clear the weather was closing in a bit, so we headed off along the summit pound and found some pleasant moorings in the middle of nowhere with a pleasant if dull and cloudy view, and settled down for a lazy afternoon. This part of rural Leicestershire is really very pleasant.

If We’d Known…

Setting off from Foxton to complete the 5 miles boxing the compass to Market Harborough (it’s about a mile and half as the corvid flies and even more convoluted than the South Oxford Canal summit pound), we turned up at Union Wharf to find that they actually had some pontoons available. With electricity. And cheaper than the Debdale Boat Park. Damn! We’ll know next time.

The wharf itself is mainly a hire base, a basin now surrounded by new flats and a restaurant, but better done than many, and not a bad place to tie up for the night. The last time we were here was almost exactly 11 years ago, picking up a Canaltime/RCI boat. As we drove up some bozo came straight out a side turning without looking and made mess of our car. We were on our way to Mull after a week on the boat, but fortunately the car was still driveable.

While we were sorting ourselves out Joss and Corniche turned up, and there was room for them too. Another arrival was a Piper boat Nice Butt… who we’d chatted to in Evesham last year; he’d had to give up cruising continuously to look after his aging mum, taken a mooring at Market Harborough, and had just got back from a week’s potter somewhere.

Anyway, shopping called. Apart from the usual town centre stuff about 10 minutes down the hill from the wharf (again, a better shopping area than many), just the other side of the centre is an area with a huge Sainsbury, a large Waitrose, an Aldi and a Lidl. There’s a Tesco Metro and a Co-op in the centre too. Spoilt for choice. The house prices looked pretty steep, and there’s lots of new houses being built – with St. Pancras a mere 60 minutes away, it’s clearly a commuter Mecca. (We’re only about 15 miles from Waterloo at home, and that takes 55 minutes!).

Well stocked with more supplies than we could carry, we splashed out on a taxi back, then had a decent dinner in the Waterfront establishment, all of twenty paces from the boat.

The next morning we went back into town to have better look at other than the local supermarkets.

Market Harborough

The name of this place seemed self-evident…

Market Harborough Grammar SchoolMarket Harborough Grammar School

… while the old grammar school clearly couldn’t take many pupils. Even more selective than today!

On the way back, looking for a cup of coffee, we bumped into the crew of Corniche outside the Angel Hotel, and while chatting a smartly suited chappie hijacked us and insisted we adjourn inside to a Macmillan Great British Cake Off coffee morning, where coffee and home made cakes were there for the taking; we could hardly refuse!

It being a hire boat turnround day at the wharf, we decided to head down to Foxton early afternoon before the hirers caused too much chaos, and so we could make a reasonable attack on Foxton Locks on the Saturday morning. Waving farewell to Joss and Corniche we started winding our way all round the compass back towards Foxton Junction.

As we approached Foxton village (complete with swing bridge) we passed Green Matters  tying up for the day. The chap called out “are you going through the swing bridge?” then “would you mind if I join you?” because swing and lift bridges are notoriously difficult for singe-handed crews. For some reason the landings are invariably on the towpath side, and the operating mechanism on the other. Which means that having tied up and gone across to open the bridge, you then have no way of getting back to the boat to take it through the bridge…

Leaving Green Matters at Foxton village, we ended up tying up just short of the second swing bridge, just by the junction itself. Only to find that Bridge 61, the traditional canal-side pub only did Guinness in “shake it up” pint tins (a Scottish landlord let us try one for free some years ago – it’s, as Douglas Adams would say – almost but not entirely unlike draught Guinness). And the Foxton Locks pub/restaurant had gone over to the dark side, and (the large Pepsi tap is always a clue)  not only didn’t serve Coke, but only had Murphy’s Stout instead of the real stuff. And we know they’ve changed, ‘cos here’s a photo from eleven years ago.

Foxton Locks

So, grumbling gently, we retired back to Bridge 61 for a cider and some real ale, wondering what the world was coming to.

Guinness & Tequila Sunset

With pretty much all of the laundry done, and unwilling to tarry in Debdale Wharf Multi-Storey Boat Park any longer, by mid Wednesday afternoon we packed up and picked our very carefully out through the multitude of packed boats. On the wharf just outside was Green Matters who may have had the fastest bottom blacking on record.

With only a couple of miles or less to Foxton Junction, and aiming initially for Market Harborough, we’d planned on going as far as Foxton Village – about a mile and a swing bridge from the junction, and for once stuck to the plan. Just before the junction we also passed Joss who we knew were going to Market Harborough for the weekend with Corniche. Didn’t see them, though.

Anyway, we found suitable moorings right by Foxton main street, and went for a wander. The Black Horse pub was closed – maybe until 17:00, maybe not, so headed to the other pub for a recce. Settling down with a glass of the black stuff outside, it came over all glark and doomy, then started raining. Perhaps we’ll stay here and have something to eat, we thought, and maybe the rain will finish before we head back.

Ignore for a moment the irony of a tiny One-Horse village in the Leicestershire boonies having a pub called the Shoulder of Mutton as the first of a proposed chain of franchised restaurants called The Texas Steakhouse. Ponder instead on their Country & Western background music, which every twenty or so minutes featured a track seemingly called Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. Such a universal truism that we can’t help thinking there must be a British traditional equivalent, complete with a Roud index number.

Suitably fed, watered and educated, and with the rain abating, we headed back to the boat, where – sure enough – Doctor Google was our friend. The song is apparently about the songwriter’s grandmother…

Farm Shops and Laundry, Red Kites and a Sparrow Hawk

Monday morning dawned bright and pleasant after a pretty wet and windy night, and although past the impending closure, we still had a “mountain” to climb (i.e. lots of locks) to Foxton & Market Harborough. The Quartermaster also needed to stock up on some provisions, so the plan was to carry on up another seven locks (quite enough broad locks in a day) and visit a well regarded farm shop. But first we needed some water, so we moved just across the canal to fill up.

Just as we were leaving Kilby Bridge, we noticed another boat Labyrinth looked as though they were getting ready to depart; they said they were almost ready, so we said we’d wait at the next lock for them. (It really is much easier with two crews). They were originally only going to go up three locks, but as we pootled on they obviously found Song & Dance as amenable a locking companion as we did them, and they decided they would stay with us up to Wistow. A pleasant – if busy – cruise.

No longer a problem for us, the overnight rain had put the Soar on red boards/flood alert, which was clearly going to be a problem for the several boats heading downhill trying to get to Leicester before the Wednesday afternoon deadline. Let’s hope the river went down as quickly as it went up!

We were somewhat surprised to see three Red Kites passing over- didn’t know they were in Leicestershire, but apparently they are. Finding a nice mooring spot relatively close to the Rural Centre cum Farm Shop, we headed off over the fields. The various shopping emporia and garden centre were all open, and full of all those things you never knew you didn’t need, apart from the delicatessen, which was closed due to someone having a hospital appointment. Ah well. At least the café was open, and we walked back across some different fields, a nice circular walk.

Labyrinth had moored just behind us, and on establishing that they kept similar “gentleman’s” hours to us and were going nearly as far as us, we agreed to set off uphill together again on the Tuesday morning.

During breakfast we were treated to a fine view of a sparrow hawk sitting on a fence post just across the canal; unfortunately Labyrinth’s crew missed it.

And so we put another five locks under our belt before waving them goodbye: we tied up and walked across the fields to Fleckney for milk and other supplies. Although full of cows, you could still see the remains of the mediaeval Ridge and Furrow cultivation system. After lunch we navigated through Saddington Tunnel, waved to Labyrinth who were tucked up for the day just the other side, and made our way a little further to Debdale Wharf Marina. We’d arranged an overnight stay to catch up on some more laundry – it’s never ending!

Debdale Wharf MarinaDebdale Wharf Marina

We didn’t altogether take to Debdale Marina: the boats are packed in on long, thin, metal pontoons. It certainly maximises the number of boats per square inch, but getting your boat in and out of mooring at the far end is a serious challenge. Good job we’re not claustrophobic.

Debdale Wharf Marina

Still, the Chief Otter Spotter did manage to add one to her tally.

Sloe, Sloe, Hip, Hip, Sloe?

After the exertions of yesterday, we decided a lazy Sunday in the sun seemed in order.

The unusually coloured boat behind us was called Rebellion  – we’d seen them moored up at Leicester; yesterday the chap had asked if we had a spare 25 amp fuse – his macerator loo had blown a fuse and he didn’t have a spare. They’re standard car-type blade fuses, not difficult to source from a garage or Halfords, but the chances of finding one late on a Saturday in rural Leicestershire were unlikely. Expressing surprise, as we have a similar loo (same make, description etc.) that has a 15 amp fuse he said his data sheet definitely said 25 amps. Anyway, we had offered him one of our spare 15 amp fuses to try… and this morning he knocked on the hatch clutching a fancy bottle of beer and said “so far so good”.

Given the impending canal closure, we were expecting some boats to head up from Leicester, and so it proved. After lunch we wandered down the towpath to Kilby Lock No 30 (the end/start of the impending stoppage, depending on your point of view).

First up was Green Matters plus a CaRT chap on foot. Green Matters was single-handing – always a challenge, particularly with broad locks – and had gone horribly aground in the by now infamously dodgy and insufficiently watered pound near lock 37. CaRT had come out to rescue him and run some water down, and one chap had stayed with him helping him all the way up to Kilby Bridge (and at the same time helping boats behind).

Kilby LockKilby Lock

Next up were our new friends on Joss and  Corniche. Fortunately there was room for everyone to moor near the pub.

SpindleSpindle

Carrying on our afternoon stroll back down the canal, it was clear (as it was elsewhere) that the Rose Hips had done extremely well this year, but the Sloes and Blackberries seemed to be significantly less prevalent than we remembered from this time last year. However, we came across several small trees/large shrubs that we didn’t recognise, with what appeared to be pink bell like flowers. Further on it became clear that that they were pink seed pods, enclosing bright orange seeds. On some of them, the leaves were starting to turn a lovely red colour too. Back at the boat, Dr. Google suggested they were probably European Spindle bushes. Even the chief garden visitor learns something every day.

Weed...

We were rather taken by this pair: makes a change from Rosie & Jim.

Later, sitting on the wharf drinking Joss’s tea and coffee, the Green Matters chap appeared, all spruced up for dinner at the pub. However, his dis was well gruntled as he’d arranged to bring his boat down from Newark to Debdale Wharf Marina near Foxton – they offered a quick bottom blacking service – and he’d planned on taking it back the same way. The impending canal closure and required diversion had added another week or 10 days to this originally fairly quick exercise, and the aggro and costs of arranging care for his aging Mum, and kennelling for his dogs didn’t bear speaking about. Boating isn’t always relaxing!

Marching to the Top of the Hill

It’s a long climb from Trent Junction along the River Soar and the Leicester Section of the Grand Union all the way to the bottom of Foxton Locks and Market Harborough; the Foxton Locks themselves then provide a final rocket assisted ascent onto the summit pound. But travelling up to Leicester, the climb had been undemanding and spread out. This rather changes after the centre of Leicester.

We’d been counting the lock numbers downwards, and the next lock en-route was number 41. We’d had emails from CaRT that there had been some problems with low/empty pounds around locks 37 and 38, supposedly due to idiots leaving paddles or gates open. Then came a bombshell… apparently due to “low reservoir levels despite recent heavy rains”, to preserve water and replenish the reservoirs they were closing the entire Grand Union Leicester Section from below lock 38 to above lock 30 “until further notice” (which probably means all winter). We initially misunderstood the email and thought the closure was going to start at 15:00 on Monday, which didn’t give us much time and caused a severe fluttering in the doo’cots, but a more careful reading showed that the stoppage would actually start on Wednesday afternoon.

Given the propensity for the Soar to become non-navigable pretty rapidly after heavy rain, the likelihood of a lock becoming broken etc. etc., and the alternative route home being to retrace our steps all the way back up to Trent Junction then along the Trent & Mersey to Fradley Junction and down the Coventry and North Oxford Canals – a detour of approximately three weeks – we decided the sooner we got above lock 30 the better. We also knew that our chums on Joss and Corniche weren’t planning on leaving Leicester until Sunday, and doubtless others would in a similar boat – if you’ll excuse the pun – adding to the likely difficulties with low water levels and so on. And not knowing this canal, we decided the sooner we headed off the better, planning on covering half the distance on Saturday, and finishing off the rest on Sunday.

Setting off relatively early – for us – we’d just finished filling Lock 41 by the Leicester City Football Ground, when Crystal Ball turned up below the lock, so we said we’d wait for them,in order to share Lock 40. Sharing a lock for the first time is always a little nail-biting: are they gung-ho and determined to crash around trying to beat the clock, or are they single-handing or timid and desperately slow?

Crystal Ball’’s crew were neither; we pottered along amiably together as a good team taking turn and turn about. They knew this section well, suggested that for reasons related to a nearby Young Offender’s Institute, and despite the rural appearance, this section wasn’t really a good place to plan on an overnight stay (needing a key to operate the locks was a clue!). They were planning on getting all the way to Kilby Bridge above lock 30, so, despite their SOP of not stopping for lunch (SWMBO doesn’t like lunch on the hoof, so to speak), we stayed with them. Occasionally dragging our bottom in low pounds, we duly arrived above the scheduled stoppage by mid afternoon. Whew.

6 hours on the move, just over 8 miles and 12 broad locks – nearly all set against us. A long day for us and Crystal Ball. Thankfully there were a few free moorings at the top, the sun was shining, and we gratefully tied up and went for a celebratory Guinness at the pub by the bridge.

Kilby BridgeKilby Bridge

No time for photography on the way up, but Kilby Bridge Wharf is a CaRT maintenance centre and looked just fine in the sun.

Toy Boat

And we couldn’t help chuckling at this broad-beam boat moored opposite.

And, of course, our friends on Crystal Ball had spilt the beans: the low water levels weren’t really to do with low reservoir levels. Most of the lock gates leaked significantly and the proposed programme of stoppages to sort them out during September (during the main cruising season) had produced an avalanche of complaints causing postponement until later in October (still early). And there had been a major leak somewhere in this section for over seven years (the field near lock 37 which regularly turned into a swamp was a clue, and the farmer was getting pretty fed up). They’ll probably drain the complete canal and try and find the leak. Let’s hope it gets fixed by the spring. We wouldn’t bet on it, based on CaRT’s performance so far.

A Sunny Afternoon in Leicester

After the custard tart had been disposed of, the wander around the city continued. There are plenty of impressive buildings around, and even some of the seemingly plain brick ones sometimes have surprisingly ornate decorations. And not-Fenwicks is an eye-catching edifice too. Apparently the new owners are going to convert it into several shops and restaurants and 90 apartments that seem unlikely to feature on the affordable housing lists. Fenwicks have also closed their shop in Windsor, but opened up in Bracknell. Go figure!

BrickworkNot Fenwicks

The chef decided we needed some fruit and veg. The market seemed somewhat awash with them, which kept her mesmerised for ages.

FruitFruit

The square in front of the Town Hall has a rather fine fountain, and seemed a popular place for meeting, greeting and/or reading the paper.

Town Hall FountainTown Hall Fountain

We stumbled over a newly refurbished arcade joining two streets in the Lanes area, but it looked deserted as no-one seemed to have moved in. And we couldn’t avoid the famous clock tower, could we?

Lanes ArcadeLeicester Clock Tower

We were rather taken with this hat shop display; rather less so with the nearby “fancy furnishings” store whose rusty Richard III crowns seemed rather, err, rusty.

Hat ShopRIII Again

Enough of shops and stuff, we headed off to the highly recommended Jewry Wall museum, just across the road from the boat. We’d singularly failed to notice that it was closed until further notice for refurbishment. It’s on the site of the Roman Baths, of which some impressive remains still survive. The church immediately behind was supposedly interesting, but closed too.

Jewry WallJewry Wall

So it was back to the boat for a cuppa, then a quick trip across the canal to Tesco to stock up on the essentials.

Still in city centre mode, we headed back into a by now rainy Friday evening to eat, and ended up in a Pho – Vietnamese Street Food restaurant – a first for us. A rapidly expanding chain, we can understand why – the food was very good. We know it was a Friday night, but relatively early; it was heaving and we were lucky to get a (shared) table. The adjacent upmarket burger, pizza and bistro establishments were relatively empty, so they must be doing something right!

Mind you, watching the kitchen sprinkle chopped peanuts or pour satay sauce over pretty much everything, we couldn’t help thinking the lady at the adjacent table with a peanut allergy was probably in the wrong establishment. We hoped her Epipen was handy and working!