Monthly Archives: September 2017

Birstall Birds

We left Mountsorrel on a rather better day: warm sunshine (and certainly not frosty).

Mountsorrel LockMountsorrel Lock

We often see herons standing on the towpath or flying around, but even though you consciously know they roost and nest in trees, they’re very large birds, and it still seems odd seeing them perched on a branch.


But true to form, this one didn’t hang around once we drew level – off it flapped.

Concerned about arriving in Leicester city centre late in the day, only to find nowhere to moor, we decided to stop at Birstall for the night, giving us a short-ish run into town. Pulling up at the visitor moorings below the lock fairly late (for us), a local boater suggested we add one more lock to our tally of four for the day, and tie up just above. This proved to be a good move: it was quieter up there with a pleasant view, and we were right on the edge of a large gravel pit turned bird reserve. Birstall itself had a decent co-op, and right down on the canal, a rather fine pub and restaurant which did decent Guinness and cider.

Heading back from the shops at lunchtime, we bumped into the crews of Joss and Corniche who’d helped us out at Kegworth, and were clearly following us down the cut.

Deciding to chill out for the rest of the day rather than cruising on, after lunch we dug out the spotting scope and binoculars, and went for wander around the nature reserve. No photos, but as well as the usual suspects, we did see an Egret, some Tufted Ducks, and a couple of male Wigeon still in eclipse plumage,  (which had probably just recently arrived for the winter).

And winter is definitely coming… there are still a few Martins and Swallows around, but very few now. The trees are noticeably starting to turn, and there are more and more leaves in the water.

We don’t understand pubs or publicans any more. There are two establishments close to the canal: one pretty much on it, the other only a hundred yards away. At about seven on this Tuesday evening, one – possibly the one with more CAMRA credibilty – was soulless, not terribly welcoming, and empty apart from one elderly couple eating some not very inviting Fish & Chips. The other was warm, welcoming, humming with drinkers and diners young and old, dog walkers and others, and busy enough that we were lucky to get a table. Makes you wonder how the first establishment stays in business.

Tomorrow – Leicester beckons, but before then, dinner at The White Horse! And very good it was too.

Mounting Up Mountsorrel

Saying goodbye to our bonnie moorhen, we pottered on down the Soar, called in at Pillings Lock Marina for lunch and to unload some of the black stuff. The marina seems to have delusions of joining Mercia mega-Marina in the tourist destination stakes but has a way to go yet.

By mid-afternoon we’d worked up through Mountsorrel lock and called it a day, boating wise. This was as far as we’d been down the Soar before: from here on we would be in unknown territory. In the meantime, we’d have a look around the town.

Mountsorrel Lock

It was a grey and not overly warm day, but the lock area is quite attractive, the lockside pub had been refurbished, and it was way warmer than our last visit…


… back in April 2006, when we woke up to a hard frost!

Mountsorrel ButtermarketMountsorrel Buttermarket

Wandering down the main street (once upon a time the A6), one comes across the Buttermarket. The street going up the hill by the side is called Watling Street; we weren’t sure if the lady was waiting  for some Romans or the cafe to open, but either way we suspect she was going to be disappointed.

Mountsorrel BeaconView From Mountsorrel Beacon

Paralleling the main street is quite a mound, or mount even, with a beacon on top, as well as a rather fine looking private residence…

View From Mountsorrel BeaconView From Mountsorrel Beacon

… and fine views of the local area, too.

Mountsorrel ShopMountsorrel Shop

Back on terra firma / the old A6 we stumbled on a strange emporium which, as well as offering to sell or make you pine furniture seven days a week, had an unusual collection of bits and pieces, including a novel re-use of a wooden crutch and ladder especially for a lady from North Wales, and two large bronze eagles tucked up a side passage. I’m sorry I haven’t a clue what they were doing there. Didn’t find any Romans though.

My Bonnie Moorhen

Here’s Miller’s Bridge No 34, where we’d moored up near Loughborough.

Miller's BridgeMiller's Bridge

Pleasant and peaceful enough for an overnight mooring, particularly as there were bollards provided, but otherwise unremarkable.

However, in the rushes on the other side lurked a family of moorhens: mum, dad and a couple of teenagers. Moorhens are normally pretty shy, but in the absence of any ducks, geese and swans this family decided that they really liked the (proper job) duck and swan food that SWMBO had cornered the market in.


So much so that, by the time we were ready to leave, this cheeky chappie was stealing the duck food straight out of my hand, while mum, dad and brother looked on approvingly, if  keeping their distance. Quite liked fingers too.

Swans and cygnets would do it at the drop of a hat, but they’re much more aggressive, their beaks are rather bigger, and we quite like having ten fingers each: it makes playing the guitar marginally easier. But a shy young moorhen? Quite remarkable.


Here’s the two youngsters together.

But we fear we may have created a monster. One rarely sees moorhens flying – they paddle despite not having webbed feet, or walk across the greenery, or run along the towpath. This chap, seeing me doing some washing up, helicoptered straight up the side of the boat and pecked on the window. We’re wondering just what’s in that duck food…

Maybe it was the reincarnation of Bonnie Prince Charlie, or a portent of another Jacobite Rebellion.

To Loughborough and Beyond

Eschewing a Sunday breakfast (or more likely brunch) at The Otter, we untangled ourselves from their mooring and carried on South down the Soar in pleasant sunshine.

Zouch LockZouch Lock

It’s considered very poor form to moor on lock landings unless actually waiting for the lock, but it looked as though this chap didn’t get the memo. The punishment seems a bit harsh, though.

Party BoatNormanton-on-Soar

Further down, at Normanton on Soar (formally know, it seems, as Normanton-upon-Soar, twinned with Staines) we came across this jolly looking crowd on a day boat. Song & Dance is only have a maximum of 6 people on board: this one was a third of the size and there are at least 12 aboard. What a swizz. The chap on the bank thought so too, and tried to smoke them off his bit of river.


The chief cook fell in love with another house with somewhere to park Song & Dance: the current owners looked kind of comfortable though.


Normanton on Soar looks very pleasant from the river, but chances to tie a narrowboat up and explore on foot are non-existent. The church is a well known landmark. Click on the picture, and you’ll see the sign says “All Welcome”, but the landing stage provided is only big enough for a small rowing boat: even a smallish Tupperware job would be hard pushed to moor. It was Sunday, but we couldn’t go. Ah well.

Shortly thereafter, one enters the outskirts then the centre of Loughborough. It’s not desperately inspiring or photogenic from the canal, but the small basin in the centre not only has various boating facilities, but is very close to a large 24-hour Tesco store. Except it was Sunday, so it was a quick whizz round before 4pm. Although useful, the basin – unlike some other town centre wharves – didn’t’ inspire an overnight stay, so rather late in the afternoon we fired up Song & Dance again and found ourselves a pleasant and peaceful spot out in the country. Near somewhere called Miller’s Bridge No 34 apparently.

Aliens, Aircraft, Jabs and Otters

Waving farewell to all the activities at Trent Junction, we chose our path carefully, and headed off down the River Soar. Initially very winding, with loads of fat bottomed girls and not a few Dutch barges too, we soon got to Redhill. The alien invasion seems to have temporarily stalled East of the river, but it’s still worrying.

Aliens at Redhill

This section of the Soar is right under the final approach for East Midlands Airport, and even if RyanAir were cancelling flights left right and centre, they were still piling into East Midlands. Actually that’s an unfortunate choice of words, as Kegworth, where we intended to stop for the night, was the scene of an infamous disaster that eventually caused major changes in commercial aviation training and operations.

The few moorings at Kegworth Flood Lock were occupied. Some people were returning to their two boats – Joss and Corniche – after visiting the shops, but were staying put to watch the Grand Prix (whatever that is). They were quite happy for us to breast up while we went shopping.

Needing to fill some prescriptions as well as the fridge, we climbed up the hill to the village, ducking each time Michael O’Leary’s finest swept overhead so low you could count the rivets, and we popped into the smallest Boots we’d ever seen. The delightful pharmacist didn’t need to check her stock – she knew immediately she’d got what we needed (we couldn’t easily return to collect if out of stock). And then said “while you’re here, would you like a flu jab – I can do it immediately”. We thought we were going to have to wait until we got home, or somehow make an appointment somewhere en-route. And then she sorted out a minor problem for SWMBO with something cheap and cheerful. Made a real change from some of the grumpy ones you come across.

Returning to the boat, somewhat concerned that it was getting late in the afternoon, and on some rivers suitable moorings can be difficult to find, we untied from Josh and carried on down a delightful section of the River Soar.

The chief otter spotter – a bit out of practice as it’s a while since we’ve been to Mull – was delighted to spot one just when we needed to. It seemed an opportune time to call it a day, and go for something to eat before watching the planes landing just a little behind us.

The OtterRiver Soar

An Erewash Wander

We’d decided that heading up the 12 broad locks to the end of the Erewash Canal then coming back again, or flogging up through the Cranfleet Cut past Boots factories to Nottingham was best saved for another trip. Still, before setting off down the River Soar for Loughborough and Leicester we thought a wander might be in order.

Trent LockCranfleet Flood Lock

Trent Junction cum Trent Lock is the kind of place where you want to make sure where you’re going, particularly with big and small canal boats, tupperware cruisers, sailing dinghies and rowers coming at you from all directions. It was reassuring to see that the Cranfleet Cut Flood Lock had been chained open, so no serious water level issues were expected.

Trent Junction Scout CampTrent Lock

There’s no decent vehicular access to the Scout Camp on the other side of the river, so everything is ferried across in a small bathtub with an outboard motor.

Erewash CanalErewash Canal

Heading up the Erewash, there are loads of houseboats, but we were puzzled by the Trinity establishment. We weren’t sure whether the ramshackle car port / conservatory had been built around the boat’s stern, or if there’d been a nasty accident reversing into the mooring.

Erewash Canal

We were somewhat puzzled by the huge tree growing between these two sheds, too.

House BoatDSCF5935

I suppose if you’re going down the houseboat route, you might as well do it properly!

Trent LockDog's Dinner

Finally, returning to Trent Lock, a boat coming down said the Erewash was “lovely” and not the hard work we though, but we decided to be lazy and stick with plan A, and retired to the caff for a snack. We opted for coffee and cake rather than the canine menu.

Canal’s End and an Odd Guinness

Shardlow, or – as it was – Shardlow Port is pretty much the end (or start) of the Trent & Mersey Canal (which connects the Rivers Trent and Mersey – there’s clue in the name). As we approached we were surprised by the new speed limit – we thought the canal limit was 4 mph.

Shardlow Port

We managed to moor up at the well known Clock Warehouse, now a pub.

Clock Warehouse, Shardlow

And – despite the cheap but otherwise excellent food – one that blotted its copybook twice! First, they didn’t have Guinness on tap. Bang! Then, when asked for a Coke instead, produced a glass of Pepsi without saying anything. Bang, Bang!

The weather wasn’t helping, and having been through Shardlow many times before, we failed to take any photos, but here are some we prepared earlier.  About 12 years earlier… they’re well cooked now.



Just before crossing the River Trent/River Derwent  Junction and heading out over the large expanse of water that lies under and around the M1, Song & Dance started going nowhere fast, and in no particular direction. With a squally wind blowing up broadside on, it took some time to get tied up – even temporarily – before heading down the weed hatch to give the propeller a stern talking to. Good job it happened before we were on the river junction section itself!

With the prop shaft suitably chastised, the wind and rain stopped, the sun came out and we headed across the ocean, then through Sawley Flood Lock to Sawley Marina for some diesel. By now it was a pleasant sunny and warm late afternoon, and we’d intended to moor up at the nearest available opportunity. Sadly, the only moorings left were private/long term places, so we had to lock down on to Trent proper, and hope!

Trent JunctionTrent Junction

We found a suitable spot right on the Junction at Trent Lock. Two pubs and a cafe within two minutes walk. It’s a busy spot – the River Trent and the River Soar come together, there’s a huge weir, sailing club, the junction with the Erewash canal, and the Cranfleet Cut (a canalised shortcut heading for Nottingham), an outdoor adventure centre for the scouts. Late in the day, we decided to explore a bit more after a decent night’s kip.

Trent Junction - River SoarTrent Junction

Still thirsting for a Guinness, we did however take a little totter along the path, noticing that CaRT were still spending money trying to make dogs laugh.Trent Junction

And as a reminder that we were in broad-beam country, the Cranfleet Cut seemed absolutely littered with huge broad beam work flats used for collecting the spoils from dredging.

Finally retiring to the pub for a pre-prandial, a glass of Guinness was procured. It looked like Guinness, with a lovely creamy head. After several thirst quenching mouthfuls, the realisation came that it was almost, but not entirely unlike Guinness. Not off, or thin and bitter as sometimes used to happen when the pipes weren’t cleaned regularly enough. Actually quite pleasant, but almost certainly not real Guinness. Perhaps they’d got the barrels mixed up with something else. Obviously not our day! Or perhaps the next big thing after fake news is fake beer.

Marina Blues

Back in the ginormous marina, Monday saw Fran heading off in the car for home, as – apart from wanting to stop dragging the car around with us – there were some things to sort out as we had a decorator coming to paint the outside of the house. A journey from hell, she got home in the end about three hours later than expected. But at least on Tuesday she was invited to dinner at Chirkley Court, the new posh hotel near Leatherhead, to celebrate her niece’s big birthday. They got VIP treatment, as her nephew is one of the duty managers…

Mercia Marina

Meanwhile, Song & Dance looked jealously across at the Wide Body department: you can get much bigger boats on this part of the network, but most looked pretty much like stationary live-aboard boats. Good job they’re not boating around causing chaos. Reminds me of another one we saw down on the Thames somewhere called Fat Bottomed Girl, presumably in contrast to at least two rather slimmer narrowboats called Flat Bottomed Girl.

Mercia MarinaMercia Marina

Mercia Marina

The marina really is huge (it’s more than a mile to walk around it), and comes complete with it’s own shopping centre, bar, decent restaurant, farm shop, cafe, chandlery, holiday lodges, boat rides etc. etc. And they’re still expanding. It’s a tourist destination in its own right. If you’re that sort of tourist…

Comfortably Numb

With the boss returning by train on Wednesday afternoon, we were glad to escape on Thursday morning and sail out into the peace and quiet of the Derbyshire countryside. We’d seen a different Comfortably Numb up on the Caldon Canal, but seeing the name again seemed to sum up how we felt, recovering from folk festivals, mad marinas and the like. It was good to be back boating.

Bromyard By Day

Bromyard Folk Festival - 50th!Bromyard Folk Festival

It was actually the 50th Bromyard Folk Festival, so someone made this tapestry. Meanwhile, Earlsdon – who process everywhere – clogged off from the festival site to dance up in town. In daylight this time.

Bromyard Folk FestivalBromyard Folk Festival

Some of the morris musicians take it easy, and get comfortable, while others stand up properly.

Bromyard Folk FestivalBromyard Folk Festival

And Jackstraws Morris are as good as always. But if anyone wonders why the Song & Dance dancer is smiling, she knows that when she turns round she’ll see the magic words…

After a splendid if intermittently cold and wet weekend of Singing and Dancing in Worcestershire, we climbed in the trusty automobile and headed back to Song & Dance in the wilds of Derbyshire.

Bromyard By Night

Leaving Song & Dance mid morning, we reached Bromyard in the early afternoon instead of the expected lunchtime as about eight miles out we kept running into “Road Closed Ahead” signs but strangely no posted diversions. Eventually running up against a “Road Closed” sign, and a traffic jam, we managed to turn round, and head off off piste in an attempt to circumnavigate the problem. Unfortunately, a 44 tonne Artic just in front of us had the same idea, but the chosen back road was very winding, very narrow, and the trees rather lower than his trailer. We eventually got out from under, and managed to find our way in. (We subsequently found out that there had been a nasty three-car pile-up on the hill outside Bromyard, blocking the road, and they hadn’t managed – when we got there – to put up diversion signs. Ho hum.

The dancer of Song & Dance  was very excited: it was the first time we’d been to Bromyard since 1993, and her dance troupe had never been formally invited, so this was forgivable.

The Friday night highlight for the Morris fraternity is a torchlight procession in the rain…

Bromyard Folk FestivalBromyard Folk Festival

After assembling in the Rose and Lion (the only pub so named in the UK, it seems),

Bromyard Folk Festival - And They're OffBromyard Folk Festival - Jackstraws Morris

the Mayor, Town Crier and dignitaries head off, followed by a bunch of Morris persons.

Bromyard Folk FestivalBromyard Folk Festival

Jackstraws sounded very subdued when walking compared with the North West Clog side Earlsdon, who sounded more like Jackboots Morris (not to mention their very large drum). SWMBO has history with Earlsdon, so your scribe must be circumspect.

Bromyard Folk Festival - Great Western MorrisBromyard Folk Festival - Jackstraws Morris

The Hop Pole pub/hotel at the other end of town had closed, but as tradition demands, each side still danced one dance outside. Great Western Morris danced the Upton On Severn Stick Dance after setting fire to their sticks, while Jackstraws  – who also dance the UoSSD – decided instead to wash their hankies, and danced their signature dish, the much more delicate Fieldtown Shepherd’s Hey. So far so good…