Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Sunny Morning in Leicester

Escaping Richard III, we took the opportunity of a sunny morning to just go for a wander around.

First up, just the other side of the Castle Gardens, was the rather nice square in front of the Castle’s Great Hall (itself now a Business School).

Castle SquareCastle Square - St. Mary de Castro

The church is St. Mary de Castro (sans steeple).

Leicester Cat

Heading out into part of De Montfort University campus via the old gate/tower, madame and a local gentleman ask directions from a local puss who was illegally sunbathing on a double yellow line.

New WalkNew Walk

A pleasant stroll down New Walk (not that new, it’s apparently been traffic free for over 200 years), brings you to the museum and art gallery.

New Walk Museum

The main gallery was preparing itself for a lunchtime Schubert piano recital, so the interesting exhibition in the room next door about Indian music was rather tempered by the practising pianists.

And in honour of Leicester’s multi-cultural environment and café society, we returned to the town centre, and sat in the sunshine at a Portuguese snack bar. Someone who shall remain nameless just adores those naughty pastéis de nata.

The King Is Dead…

With the Thursday lunchtime weather turning a bit ominous, we headed out into Castle Gardens, with the intention of at least visiting the cathedral. Right on the edge of the gardens we stumbled over the Church of St Mary de Castro – with not a Cuban refugee in site, it translates as St Mary of the Castle (as opposed to St Mary of somewhere else). Only recently (and infrequently) reopened to the public after they had to take down the steeple, we took the opportunity to dive in out of the rain.

St Mary de CastroSt Mary de Castro

The church proved rather fine, and had some nice ceilings too, but the dark skies and dim lighting put the damper on much photography. The photographer’s assistant got into a fairly lengthy discussion with a church guide, and came away with the feeling that said guide rather looked down on the nearby cathedral.

Leicester GuildhallLeicester Guildhall

Leicester Guildhall

Pottering on between heavy rain showers, and aiming for said cathedral, we took the wrong turning, and stumbled instead into the Guildhall next door. Again, a rather fine establishment, and one that is regularly used as a folk music venue. Our friend Pete Morton is playing there shortly, and he’s a Leicester lad, so it should be quite a night. Shame we won’t be there.

Tomb of Richard IIITomb of Richard III

Well call us old fashioned, but unlike pretty much every spiritual establishment our motorhome and narrowboat have taken us to over the last few years, we were singularly unimpressed when we moved next door. Apparently The Cathedral Church of St Martin was only made a cathedral in 1927; maybe that’s the problem.

Since they discovered the remains of Richard III in the car park just across the road, they’ve apparently redesigned most of the interior to fit in his tomb right smack in the middle. This has recently won an RIBA architecture award, which probably tells you all you need to know. The tomb itself and surrounding ambulatory is decidedly impressive. But ripping out the choir (replaced by moveable modern furniture at the West end), and relocating the high altar into the main body of the church just feels wrong. We can see what the lady at St Mary de Castro was going on about. Surely a proper job cathedral has proper misericords!

Even odder (or maybe not, as everywhere in Leicester seems to have become utterl obsessed with Richard III as a tourist attraction – read “economic salvation” – if nothing else), the cathedral was stuffed full of information about that dead king, but we pretty much failed to find any mention of the dead King who kicked the whole Christianity thing off. Mind you, visitors to the cathedral have apparently increased 10-fold, so it’s obviously helping their bottom line.

Can’t help thinking that if you want to plonk a very dead king right in the middle of a cathedral, Worcester did it rather better with King John!

Bishop's Chair, Leicester Cathedral

And finally, if you think we’re being harsh, what does one make of this Cathedra / Bishop’s Chair? Apparently it folds up…

Later we again bumped into the crew of Joss who’d been following us down the Soar. They thought much the same!

We have often thought old religious sites where believers have invested staggering amounts of time and emotional energy, whether Stonehenge, Salisbury or Chartres Cathedral, Midmar Kirk  or the stone circle next to which it is built, a tiny old chapel perched on a Welsh Hillside, or early Christian remains on a Hebridean Island, such places have an indefinable and unique atmosphere that inspires awe, even if only for the people who created them. Whether you believe what they believed or still believe, or not. But somehow Leicester Cathedral didn’t have that effect. Strange.

We decided we didn’t want to pay significant amounts of money to wander round the hugely publicised Richard III Visitor Centre built on the infamous car park (you can have Corporate Events or your office Christmas Party there – again, says it all). So, after a brief reconnaissance of the city centre shops, we retired to the boat for tea and biccies with Joss’’s crew, including Button the dog. We had a voucher for a seriously cheap meal at Café Rouge, so later headed off with our magic key to the Castle Gardens, to the new shopping mall cum entertainment district for some Steak Frites and a bottle of Malbec.

It had been a long day.

Song & Dance’s Welcome To Leicester

Over the years, we’d heard troublesome stories about boating through the middle of Leicester: security, vandalism etc. etc., and it’s a concern in parts of several city centres. But we’d heard things had improved somewhat, and that there were very good – if limited in number – secure moorings at Castle Gardens: right in the middle of town. And so it proved.

The journey in from the North was not overly inspiring; we shared the locks with another boat, and both learnt something new. If you’re ascending a lock, with the water coming in, you usually get pushed back towards the rear gate. But some develop – part way through filling – a quite fierce undertow that drags the boat forward, and can result in you hitting the top cill or gates with quite extreme prejudice.

Waiting below the bottom gates while a lock drains is normally drama free, sometimes there’s a significant flow that pushes you back a bit. But on the lock just below the Space Centre – and neither crew had experienced this phenomenon before – there was a serious undertow below the lock, dragging Song & Dance into a rather closer acquaintance with the closed bottom gates than desirable. Dropping all the paddles, we extricated the boat and retired to a safer distance to try again. Not a good start!

As it turned out, the moorings at Castle Gardens were most amenable, and there was plenty of space when we arrived. The floating pontoons protect you from the Soar flooding, and there’s a high fence with a locked gate that provides entrance into the gardens. The gardens themselves are quite large, pleasant to wander around, and with a convenient bridge across the canal, although situated between the two halves of the De-Montford University campus there’s lots of people. And there’s a 24 hour Tesco within 5 minutes walk. Even better, the various gates to the garden are padlocked at 17:30(ish), providing even better peace and security. But you’re not stuck for the evening – one of them has small inset gate (duck or grouse) that is unlocked with a key that every boat carries but vandals, by and large, don’t. Yes, it’s a bit close to the main river and canal crossing road bridge, and not far from a large A&E, so there’s a bit of noise from ambulances in a hurry, but no worse than any other city centre.

Immediately opposite the mooring is an impressive building that used to be a major sock factory; the bridge just to the left is quite a meeting place, and underneath clearly a favourite spot for feeding the swans, geese, pigeons and ducks. The place suited us just fine, so after lunch on the boat we determined to explore.

Sock FactoryCastle Gardens Bridge

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.

HeronHeron

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…

10063038

… 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.

MoorhenMoorhen

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.

Moorhens

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.

Normanton-on-Soar

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-SoarNormanton-on-Soar

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.