Category Archives: Boats and Boating


After the cat show, we didn’t really feel like heading immediately home, so rather than wind at Bugbrooke we decided to head off in rather pleasant weather down to Gayton Junction (where the Northampton Arm heads off), where we could (a) wind the boat and (b) take on some water. Approaching the Junction, it was clear we were entering prime wide-beam territory, and with them moored both sides finding a path through was a challenge…

Wide Beams

Just about managed to catch a piccy of the splendidly named narrowboat QWERTY, with Caps Lock as its home base. (Strange that that lock isn’t in the Canal Planner Database).

QwertyBail Faster! 

We were rather taken with the little run-around spotted in a Bugbrooke back garden too as we cruised back through in the opposite direction. Click on the photo if you can’t read the name…

A few miles further on past Bugbrooke we’d reached a pleasant spot we’d earmarked a few days before as a good mooring for the return trip. There was a narrowboat already there, but enough room for two. As we drew close there was a sign hanging from the tiller that said “just Married”, so we carried on a bit further, just in case they got too energetic and started rocking their boat enough to cause waves…

No Slap On The Head, and More Hedge Cutting

Thursday morning, and we were a little behind on our plan to get to Bugbrooke by Friday evening, so we quickly headed off to the top of the Watford Locks flight (a lock, a 4 chamber staircase, then two more locks) to find someone ahead of us just starting to head down. We thought we were in luck,  but the lock-keeper had other ideas – he had a single-hander at the bottom who had been waiting a while, and was going to help him up the flight before allowing us down.

We’d waited here before! In better weather, it must be said. And if you want some pictures, there are doubtless some from September 2015 somewhere, but dinner’s just been served.

About 45 minutes later we got the metaphorical green light from the lock-keeper, and we headed on down. The paddle mantra here is slightly different from that at Foxton – “Red before White, you’ll be alright; White before Red, smack on the head”. We made it down without getting a headache.

Joining up with the Grand Union Main Line at Norton Junction, we decided we’d better bite the bullet and carry on down the Buckby flight of locks too. We’re back in wide beam territory, the seven locks are hard work, quite a few were against us, and we were glad to get down to the bottom.

The only problem is that the M1, the canal, the West Coast Mainline and the A5/Watling Street all run together within the width of couple of hundred yards. Tying up by Bridge 18, the M1 is almost next door, but the road works, a shiny road new surface and a thick hedgerow meant traffic noise was surprisingly low. The trains were another thing altogether but tail off overnight. No sooner had we packed up for the day than a farmer came to cut his hedge: really must be the season for it!

Anyway, after working 14 locks, we slept well despite Virgin Trains’ best efforts.

Ships That Pass In The Light, and A Sign of the Times

Back at the boat, after a less exciting lunch than we’d been hoping for, we raised two fingers to closed butchers, and headed off. We had an appointment with some some Russian Blue cats on Saturday, and didn’t want to be late.

Not far down the cut, we called in at Crick Marina (owned by the same people who run Song & Dance’s winter home at Cropredy) for fuel and a pump out. Manoeuvring a narrowboat in unsheltered confined spaces in a strong wind is always interesting…

The only time we’d been there before was by car, to the huge annual waterways festival held there every year. It looks very different then.

We’d planned on finding somewhere near the top of Watford Locks for the night, which meant passing through Crick Tunnel, then trying to locate somewhere reasonably quiet. A boat had just emerged, and left it’s headlight on, and just as we were about to tell them, realised it was our friends Ian and Janet from Guildford Folk Club and Yately Morris on their boat Tuesday Night. They used to moor in Cropredy too, but last year, at the Crick Boat Show, won a free year’s mooring somewhere else (near Napton Junction, we think). If we’d been three minutes earlier, we’d have passed in the dark of the tunnel, and never known it was them. Guess we’ll see them in Guildford in due course to catch up.

On this section of the Grand Union (the “Watford Gap” area), the M1 motorway, the canal, Mr Branson’s finest express trains and Watling Street (the A5) all converge through the same gap in the hills. Finding somewhere reasonably quiet for the night can be a challenge, but having been this way before, we knew a likely spot, and luckily had the place to ourselves.

Should you have wanted to, you used to be able to access the infamous Watford Gap Services from the towpath, but alas no more. The angle of the barbed wire at the top of the high security fencing that now surrounds it is clearly set up to prevent anyone getting out of the services onto the towpath (as opposed to the other way round). Rumour has it that as a favourite “first stop” after Dover for lorries heading north, it’s a prime spot for illegal immigrants to jump ship (or lorry, as it were) and head off into the hinterland. So us boaters have to forego our Big Mac, Costa Coffee and Krispy Kreme Donuts…

What a hardship.

A Welford Diversion and A Crepuscular Display

Pottering on gently into October, the weather was a bit unpleasant, with wind and rain setting in, so we ended up not travelling very far, and mooring up at North Kilworth.

North Kilworth Narrows

Last time we were here, they were just starting to dig a new marina opposite all the moored boats between us and the bridge. They’ve still not finished, but – apart from a huge warehouse like building – it looks about ready to fill with water. It’s apparently owned by the Debdale marina people; they’ve used the same long thin metal pontoons, and it will be an even bigger boat park  by the looks of it.. Goodness knows where all the boats are going to come from, and we shudder to think what might happen if they all tried to go boating at the same time!

Welford Wharf

The weather continued vaguely unpleasant on the Monday. We diverted up the Welford Arm, which was deserted compared to the last time we were here. The weather probably had a lot to do with it. Tied up right at the end, and only 20 yards from The Wharf Inn, after a brief trip across the border into Northamptonshire to buy milk, and to renew our acquaintance with Postman Pat, we retired for lunch.

Owl CountryOwl Country

Back on the main line, we tied up for the night next to this large rough pasture field. It might not look much, but as it got dark, we had splendid flying display from a large barn owl hunting for supper. Seemingly unaware – or at least unfazed – by our presence the other side of the see-through hedgerow, we had some superb close up views of it aerobatically quartering the area, and once diving into the grass (albeit returning without any small furry rodent in it’s clutches).

Another short cruise in the morning and we moored up in pleasant farmland.

TreeLeicester Section Summit Pound

While having lunch aboard, there was a very odd noise, and that turned out to be a hedge-cutting tractor; clearly dangling the cutter over the top, the farmer had given the towpath side a pretty good haircut too. The tree was a bit of a puzzle too.


Despite the mediocre weather, having worked no locks today, we headed off on a circular walk to get some much needed exercise. We passed several herds of cows, all of which wandered over to investigate – they must be very bored. The hedge-cutter seemed to be following us too – must be that time of year.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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