Day 70: Kilby Bridge

September 16th, 2010

It was a long slog up to Kilby Bridge. I had hoped that some of my labmates would join me but they were all otherwise engaged. The navigation undergoes a strange transition during this journey, becoming more and more canal-like – the first few locks are accompanied by weirs, as the influence of the river is still strong. The southern fringes of Leicester came with a poor reputation – I’d heard tales of boats being vandalised and lippy teenagers swimming in locks from people over the last couple of weeks – but in fact the whole area was pleasantly suburban with gardens facing the canal along almost all its length. There was a fair amount of graffiti, but it’s not Manchester by any means.
In one lock I had a mild incident with a clove-hitch – the boats surging motion in the wash from the filling paddle had managed (for the first time in 700 miles) to overstress the clove hitch on the centre line, such that I couldn’t release it from the bollard. I closed the paddle and went in search of the marlinspike I’d bought from Clas Ohlson in Manchester – a few deft pokes and twists and the knot came apart. At Kilby Bridge I moored up and collapsed into a heap in the Navigation Inn with a pint of Marstons and a five-pound curry. Mmm.

Day 70: Leicester Castle Gardens to Kilby Bridge, 8 miles and 12 locks.
Total so far: 742 miles and 552 locks.

Day 69: Leicester at last!

September 12th, 2010

I’m in Leicester! The city council have kindly provided a floating pontoon with secure gates from the Castle Gardens, and there was plenty of space on it. Mike and I arrived at about 3pm, and he took the train back to Ipswich, poor chap. Our afternoon cruise through the outskirts of Leicester included a canoeing race near Thurmaston (meeting kayakers three abreast in a bridgehole was quite exciting!) and possibly the most litter-strewn section of canal I’ve ever cruised (between Belgrave and Limekiln locks). But we’re here – this was the aim of the trip – and I’ll probably be here until Monday now. I’m meeting my supervisor on Wednesday, so we’ll see what he makes of the thesis…

Day 69: Sileby Lock to Leicester (Castle Gardens), 9 miles and 8 locks.
Total so far: 734 miles, 540 locks, 481 litres of diesel, 4 gas cylinders and 108 rashers of bacon!

Day 68: Sileby

September 12th, 2010

Mike had joined me for the weekend, and we had a slow morning in Loughborough as he was recovering from being on nights. At lunchtime we found the excellent Basin Restaurant, next to the newly-smartened Loughborough Canal Basin, and had excellent and reasonably-priced dim sum. They do sushi, too…

We left Loughborough mid-afternoon, and toddled gently along the Soar navigation, discovering that the river is immensely pretty, especially the bit around Barrow-upon-Soar. We moored at Sileby Lock.

Day 68: Loughborough to Sileby Lock, 6 miles and 3 locks.

Day 67: Soar point

September 12th, 2010

It was a windy morning on Friday as I set off from Cranfleet. Unfortunately, in my haste to set off, I left my much-loved Tilley sunhat on the roof of the boat while I popped into the kitchen for something else, and when I came back it was nowhere to be seen. Given the wind speed it could have been half-way to Nottingham by the time I realised. Oh well…

At the end of Cranfleet Cut is a complex junction where the Trent meets the Erewash Canal and the River Soar – it’s sufficiently complex to have a system of roadsigns telling you which way to go and make sure you don’t end up in Thrumpton Weir! As I passed into the Soar, I crossed an imaginary dividing line separating the popular canals of the Midlands from the rest of the network – suddenly the place was crowded with boatyards and moored boats, whereas the Trent and the Yorkshire waterways had been distinctly sparse. I passed Ratcliffe, with its power station (last one!) and then Kegworth, which has a prodigiously deep lock and a very impressive system of wiers, like a water-garden writ large.
The lock turned out to be a little tricky – as it’s so deep, it has vertical risers (steel wires covered in plastic) set into the sides to moor up to. Unfortunately the plastic on one of the risers had frayed, and the stern rope caught on it, holding Innocenti down. I managed to free it, but it was a bit fiddly.
I carried on to Loughborough and moored near the station.

Day 67: Cranfleet to Loughborough, 10 miles and 8 locks.

Day 66: the top end of the Trent

September 9th, 2010

I set off in the late morning, having earlier attempted to coax some software into life and failed… oh well. I took the boat along the Nottingham Canal, negotiating the sharp bend past the EnviroEnergy district heating plant, which incinerates the city’s waste and delivers hot water for heating to the civic buildings. Beyond the plant the canal has been smartened up nicely and there were lots of people using the towpath as I stopped to go through Castle Lock. All the locks in Nottingham and above are canal-style broad locks, no more power-operated locks!
Soon afterwards I stopped on a convenient mooring (and there are a lot of well-placed mooring rings throughout Nottingham) and did a little shopping – in Sainsburys and at the chandlery of Nottingham Castle Marina, where I managed to get an exact replacement for the dodgy switch for the shower drain pump, hurrah! Once beyond the marina, the Nottingham Canal becomes the Beeston Cut and gets very slightly wider. This is an industrial area of town, with various small factories and two large ones – the John Player tobacco factory stands almost opposite the huge Boots head office and pharmaceutical plant. Once past the factories, the cut comes to Beeston, with a pleasant grassy verge being a popular place to moor. At Beeston Lock I passed back into the immensely wide river again, almost giving my agoraphobia after the canal! This stretch of river is rather Thames-like, with lots of little summerhouses along the banks and lots of moored boats. There’s also a rather fine island, Barton Island, with tall trees. Once I got closer it became clear that it belongs to the 2nd Beeston Sea Scouts, being easily the coolest Scout HQ I’ve ever seen…

After Barton Island comes Cranfleet Lock, a very deep lock out of the Trent and into a short cut that avoids Thrumpton Weir. The lock is unusual in several respects. Firstly, no windlass is required – handles have been welded on to all the paddles! Secondly, like all the Trent locks, it has no ground paddles. There are four gate paddles, but with the lock being so deep they only need to be open a crack to fill the lock with torrents of water. Most unusually there are no warning signs about turbulence or use of gate paddles, which surprised me very much, given BW’s enthusiasm for them elsewhere. I’ve moored just above the lock – a local boater assured me that I could moor on a vacant residential mooring for the night. Tomorrow we bid farewell to the Trent and join the Soar to head towards Leicester at last.

Day 66: Nottingham (Trent Bridge) to Cranfleet, 9 miles and 4 locks.
Total so far: 709 miles and 429 locks.

Day 65: Nottingham

September 8th, 2010

The rain two days ago manifested itself today in the form of at least 1mph of stream in the river. I plodded gently up to Nottingham during the afternoon, and the progress did seem to get quicker as I got there. The river was very quiet – I saw only a handful of other boats, and most of the lock-keepers were expecting me. It’s also surprisingly pretty – little or no industry and lots of nice riverside pubs. At Nottingham, I moored on a smart new pontoon opposite Nottingham Forest FC. The river in Nottingham, despite being very wide and full of rowing and dragonboat clubs, is actually a dead-end: a wier at the west end of the city blocks it. The navigation continues via the very much smaller Nottingham Canal, looping through the city centre and rejoining the river at Beeston. I went for a wander and found three interesting pubs: the first two were by the canal. Canalhouse is a pub in an old warehouse that was once a canal museum. It has an internal canal basin with two narrowboats in it! They appeared to be ordinary private boats, rather than the pristine ex-working boats I was expecting. They also had rather nice beer. I then meandered around the corner to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which claims to be the oldest inn in England. Having been to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans (which actually is the oldest pub in England according to the Guinness Book of Records), I was curious to investigate. The Trip is certainly interesting – it’s partly buried into the outcrop of rock under Nottingham Castle and several of the rooms are actually caves. Most intriguing. A gentle stroll back to the boat through the city centre (shops and shops and trams, oh my!) confirmed the city as being rather pleasant.

Day 63: Fiskerton to Nottingham (Trent Bridge), 17 miles and 4 locks.
Total so far: 700 miles and 517 locks. Seven hundred miles exactly, wow!

Day 64: wading through treacle

September 7th, 2010

One of the fascinating things about this trip is discovering how every waterway has its own character, expressed in the landscape, the engineering, the architecture and the attitude of the people using it. Coming up from Cromwell today has shown me a little of the Trent’s character. Firstly, progress is somewhat like wading through treacle – today the river is running with at least 1mph of stream, meaning that Innocenti (good for about 5mph tops) is making sluggish progress, like wading through treacle. Secondly, the Trent seems to have made a vague attempt to go metric – there are kilometre posts along the bank and some (but not all) of the speed limit signs are expressed in km/h. At least the ones I saw said “6km/h” rather than the Nene’s silly “11.2km/h” (or 7mph in old money!)
The Trent also has the most organised lock-keepers I’ve seen so far. Every lock is attended, and so far all three of them have taken my licence number (there are big signs saying “no licence, no passage”) and asked my destination for the day. The locky at Newark Nether Lock explained why they do this – they phone ahead to the next lock to give an indication of traffic, which is remarkably organised. For bonus points they also actually respond to calls on the VHF radio (unlike several of the Ship Canal locks and the one attended lock I used on the Aire & Calder) which is also handy.

At Newark I stopped at the King’s Marina for gas and diesel. The entrance is quite wide, but the signs had faded so badly that I wasn’t convinced I was in the right place. Once inside, I then had to try and guess where the diesel pump was, and eventually found it, right at the back. I found the attendant and he told me I’d have to spin the boat round for the pump to reach. I commented to him that a sign on a pole saying “Diesel and Pumpout Here” wouldn’t be amiss and he tacetly agreed. Anyway, I was pleased to discover that we actually only needed about 110 litres (roughly 3/4 tank), having not filled up since Anderton in Cheshire and that the final bill wasn’t unduly dear. Then I motored round the corner and tied up on the public mooring to do some shopping, the cupboard being rather bare.

I’ve never been to Newark before, but it rather charmed me. It has an air of comfortable prosperity, with lots of historic buildings in its narrow shopping streets. There are a prodigious number of tea rooms and at least two decent-looking butcher’s shops. It also has a rather pleasant waterfront, a handsome arched bridge and a large but ruined castle. I bought some provisions and motored on upstream.

North of Newark is yet another power station, but this time a new one – a gas-fired station built on the site of two previous coal-fired stations. Wikipedia claims it isn’t open yet, but it was producing a certain amount of steam, so it must be at least in commissioning if not in use. I carried on to Fiskerton and moored on a smart floating pontoon next to a long sheet-piled retaining wall holding the village high above the river. Unusually, the pontoon has no signs or markings on it at all – my experience of river moorings is that anything that can be moored to has a sign on it saying “no mooring” or “mooring for patrons only” or “mooring £5/night” but it was outside a pub, the Bromley Arms. I went to investigate, with the intention of taking a book and sitting at the bar and perhaps chatting to the regulars – the art of going to the pub alone is a useful skill when travelling solo and wanting company – but found the place busy with people dining. I had one-and-a-half pints of Ruddles County (the main beer on was Greene King IPA… please, no, not yet!) and then, since it was curry night, a dish of samozas and onion bahjis (the latter clearly home-made and very nice) as a beer-induced snack.

Day 64: Cromwell Lock to Fiskerton, 11 miles and 2 locks.
Total so far 683 miles and 413 locks.

Day 63: dawn raid on Cromwell

September 6th, 2010

The plan was to leave early and make use of the morning tide, so the Stalwarts and I were up and about at 7. I was ready before they were, so they gave me a headstart…

The upper part of the Trent tideway is perhaps a bit less interesting. There are still very few bridges and the river becomes quite meandering. It was also getting increasingly windy. Anyway, the Stalwarts caught me up just before Cromwell Lock and we locked through together – the lock is massive, very long and deep, and the weir beside it is spectacularly huge, with great torrents of water pouring over it into the tideway. I’ve moored just above the lock, initially just to stop for a bite, but it’s become so windy (gusting 40mph) that I’d rather stay here than crack on to Newark, about five miles upstream.

I’ve also produced a first full draft of my thesis and sent it off to my supervisors for their comments, hurrah!

Day 63: Torksey to Cromwell Lock, 16 miles and 1 lock.
Total so far 672 miles and 511 locks. Thesis 19811 words and 102 pages.

Day 62: the tidal Trent

September 6th, 2010

“Keadby’s like the end of the Earth”, people told me. Bleak and desolate, supposedly. Well, it may well be bleak and desolate to them, but they haven’t been to Denver Sluice! I went for a stroll round in the morning – the place has definitely seen better days. There’s a gas-fired power station, a small commercial wharf, another larger wharf that’s closed down, two pubs (one open, one boarded up) and then down the street is a row of houses, a school, a chippy, a workingmen’s club and several garages. At the end is a railway station and the very striking bridge over the Trent that carries both the road and the railway side-by-side. It once had a lifting section (it’s now fixed) that worked by pumping water into a counterweight tank to tip it open.

I trundled back to the boat, dipped the diesel tank and concluded that there was a third of a tank left and this wouldn’t be a problem unless it got really choppy and all the fuel bounced around in the tank and did some more thesis work until lunchtime, when I repaired to the Auld South Yorkshire Inn and had a fine Sunday lunch of roast beef and many kinds of vegetable. Mmm! At 1430 the lock-keeper was finally ready for us, and we locked down into the river. Once on the tideway we made steady progress on the rising tide. The Trent is more interesting than I expected because the villages stand close to the channel and you can see the top halves of buildings over the flood wall. There were no gravel barges or really very much other traffic at all, and when Evening Star turned off at West Stockwith I felt I had the river to myself. I zipped through Gainsborough at what felt like a massive speed, enjoying the refurbished waterfront but noticing that the rowing club was derelict. Just north of there I found another narrowboat behind me, nb Stalwart, and they gradually gained on me until they overtook just before Torksey. We finally arrived about 200m apart at the Torksey moorings to find it almost full. I moored next to Stalwart – the chap on it said “I’d have felt bad about overtaking you and then having the last mooring” and he and his girlfriend mooched off to the pub. I had dinner and joined them later for a pint and the pub quiz…

Day 62: Keadby to Torksey, 28 miles and 1 lock.

Day 61: convoy to Keadby

September 6th, 2010

My plan for the day was to get to Keadby so that I could do some work on Sunday morning before locking through into the Trent in the afternoon. I went out to do the engine checks and found that the couple on nb Evening Star, moored next to me, were also getting going. We went through the first lock at Whitley together, and then they stopped for water. I trundled on, doing the lock at Pollington on my own and then chugging across the increasingly flat landscape in the direction of Goole. I swung right onto the New Junction canal and caught up a widebeam, “Mizuki” at the first bridge. They were a mother and daughter, and the daughter hopped off to operate the bridges for us both. After that I asked to tag along with them, and was grateful for it, as the New Junction has a lot of lift and swing bridges, mostly power-operated. At Bramwith, just outside Doncaster, we swung a very sharp left onto the Stainforth and Keadby canal and stopped at Bramwith lock. Having seen barely any boats all morning, Bramwith was a busy spot, and I shared with another narrowboat while the Mizukis waited until they could have the lock to themselves. The other boat kindly opened the swing bridge for me and suggested that I might stop at the New Inn in Stainforth for lunch. I took their recommendation and had a generous and tasty portion of braised steak with mash, veg and Yorkshire pud for about a fiver! Having then got chatting to some other boaters, I was reminded that I needed diesel and gas, and a gent pointed out that I should get going in order to be at Thorne before the boatyards shut. Thorne has four boatyards, three of which sell gas and diesel, and this had been my first opportunity to buy either since Huddersfield (where the yard had been shut when we arrived) and in fact I’d last bought diesel at Anderton Marina in Cheshire! When I arrived at Thorne I found myself following Evening Star again, who’d passed while I was lunching in the pub, and as we approached the lock I saw the first boatyard, Stanilands, who are also a yacht club. The club were having their annual regatta, which was more like a village fair, and I didn’t fancy fighting through crowds of people to try and find someone to sell me some fuel. Besides, I could share the lock with Evening Star. The next boatyard (one lock and two swing bridges later) looked rather shut and had two rather shiny cruisers on either end of its service mooring, so i didn’t fancy shoehorning myself in. On to the third one, which conveniently had a big sign saying “Diesel here” so you knew where to go. I manoeuvered in between two residential boats and stopped by the pump. An elderly gent waddled up and I said hello and that I was after some gas and diesel. “Not now you’re not” he said “we’re shut. Shut at 4. 9-4 weekdays and 10-4 saturdays”, he added as if I was stupid not to know that! I was glad he wasn’t the proprietor or I’d have torn him off a strip, he sounded so self-righteous! Anyway, I decided to plod on to Keadby (more swing bridges, woo!) and get diesel at Newark instead. At Vazon, just shy of Keadby, we had to wait about a quarter of an hour for the signalman to open the unusual sliding railway bridge, as you have to wait for a big enough gap between trains. Finally we arrived to find the visitor moorings deserted and I moored up, had a bite to eat and went to bed!

Day 61: Whitley Bridge to Keadby, 26 miles and 5 locks.