Flash Floods on the River Soar

Yesterday turned into a rather exciting day. Mid afternoon, the thunder rolled in and brought with it torrential rain. We have mentioned before how unused we are to river cruising. Of course, we are now moored on the River Soar and, unlike a canal, the levels rise and fall. Louise was driving back from Market Harborough when she encountered these road conditions:

This gave a hint of what was to come. The river levels rose very rapidly and the water, which had been quite slow moving, sped up alarmingly. Here’s a video describing the scene:

We had to move the boat backwards in order to be sure to attach it to sliding rings that could rise with the water.

And for the first time ever, we had a use for the gangplank!

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If it were not raining so hard, it would have been a good opportunity to touch up all the paintwork, so battered after three weeks’ travelling. But all we could do once the boat was secure was batten down the hatches and sit indoors to watch the ever-rising water levels. For a while, it looked as though the water would cover the pontoon and the boat would be floating free, attached only to the tall poles with rings. But, much to Louise’s disappointment, in the end the water peaked just below the top of the planks and by this morning had subsided back to a normal level.

Still, it was an exciting evening. It’s great to see the Leicester flood defences working well and impressive to watch the river in fast flow. It also had a purgative effect, carrying large amounts of rubbish away downstream. Today feels clean and fresh.

 

Leicester Ring, Days 13 – ?: Thurmaston

It was a week ago now, more or less, when we left the mooring at Cossington and travelled the short distance to MGM Boats at Thurmaston. Here is Froth lying in her current mooring:IMG_2472

Seen from the opposite river bank…

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It’s a bit hard to figure this out from the pictures, but we are in a “linear” mooring (i.e. lying along the river/canal front) on a spit of land which resembles an island. Here is the northernmost end of the ‘island’, just a few feet from where we are moored. The water lies either side of the tree. We are moored to the left of the picture, out of shot.IMG_2476There is a small community of live-aboard boaters, some of whom have been here for 30 years. There are rubbish, toilet, water and electrical facilities on site and it is very secure.IMG_2475

And, of course, there is the MGM boatyard:mgm

We are awaiting completion of various bits of work that need doing. It was always part of our plan to make this stop, but other events in life have changed the way we are approaching this extended interruption to our journey. Indeed, the ‘Leicester Ring’ voyage itself seems increasingly irrelevant, hence the question mark in the blog title.

The reason for all this is that Louise’s mother has become seriously ill. It’s a worrying time for everyone. Since all her treatment is due to take place in Leicester, we are now ideally placed to spend time with her and visit hospitals etc. MGM are being very relaxed about our being here, and are obviously going to take a long time to carry out the work, so we’ll just have to see how events unfold over the next few weeks. But life is so unpredictable at the moment that it wouldn’t surprise us if we ended up staying here for quite a long time.

It’s pleasant to be able to step out onto grass rather than a pontoon. We have lovely views across to Watermead Park, which provides excellent walks for Rosie.

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Plus, we have a city which we know well (having lived here for 30 years) on the doorstep. Last night we were able to have an Indian meal made of various savouries and sweets purchased on the Melton Road, which is possibly the best street in the UK for Indian food (although that claim would be highly contested by other locations). Nature is in abundance here. Yesterday we saw a grass snake swimming upstream.

Since this is a river mooring, we have tall posts with rings to which to attach the boat in case of rapidly changing river levels. Our current mooring belongs to someone else, but they are out cruising at the moment. We are assured that, when they return, space can be made for us to remain, which is very kind of MGM.

So, to summarise: life is dictating our situation at the moment. We don’t know when we will be moving on, either to return to Yelvertoft or to do something else. All we can do at the moment is to ‘go with the flow’. It is one of the joys of narrowboat living that we can live anywhere, so this is not so much of a challenge as it might at first seem.

 

Leicester Ring Days 10-12: Zouch to Cossington

It has been a stop-start few days, so a daily blog seemed a bit superfluous. But then, looking back at all the pictures, it seems as though we have accumulated rather a lot. Perhaps a post should have been written sooner! Ah well, here goes…

The story is that we first travelled the fairly short distance to Loughborough. This included a stop in the basin to use the facilities and take on some shopping:

Carrying on through the town, we then moored up for the rest of that day and most of the next at a central location right by the railway station (Louise needed to catch a train). That evening we had a takeaway curry from a little restaurant around the corner. It was truly great! I actually went back to thank them for the food (one drawback of our marina mooring in rural Northamptonshire is that authentic curry houses are rather thin on the ground).

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The next day we moved on to a more rural spot some way out of Loughborough:

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Today (Sunday) we travelled through several locks to arrive at designated moorings near Cossington. The reason for being here is to be poised for a lock-free trip tomorrow morning to MGM Boats at Thurmaston, where we will stay for several days while the team carries out various ‘tweaks’ that have arisen over the past few months.

However, this is just the outline of the trip. Here are some pictures and movies of sights we saw on the way. Many of the most striking were riverside dwellings, which come in all shapes and sizes, and from the highly expensive to the decidedly low cost:

The church at Normanton-on-Soar was especially striking:

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We picked up a passenger for some of the way:

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We continued to navigate some potentially difficult waters. We are not entirely sure we like river cruising, to be honest. We prefer the safety of the canals.

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And yet again we tackled some formidable locks. Here are some movies showing our trip through Barrow Deep Lock:

Barrow-on-Soar was an enjoyable place, full of activity. We stopped for water…IMG_2422IMG_2423

…and saw a dragon-boat go past, as well as lots of day-trippers in hire boats.

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Froth acquired some froth…

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But mostly it was just beautiful cruising through fabulous countryside:

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This evening we took a stroll down the towpath past Junction Lock (the last lock we came through) where the river turns back into the Grand Union Canal, for a while. The evening sunlight lit up the trees beautifully:

This is not the end of our voyage, but it is a definite break. We don’t know when we will set off to complete the ring. It may be more than a week, depending on how things pan out. So, it will be some time before the next blog post, dear readers. The weather forecast for the nest few days looks pretty good, so enjoy the summer!

Leicester Ring Day 9, Part B: Sawley Locks to Zouch

Strictly speaking, this post should be numbered Day 9 & 10, because this morning we moved from our overnight mooring at Kegworth to Zouch, where we had a very nice lunch in the Rose & Crown. This involved going through a lock too, but even so was only a short trip – perhaps half an hour.

The remainder of Day 9, however, was every bit as spectacular as the previously described journey. Having left Sawley Locks, we hit the River Trent and the shore got ever further away as we enjoyed the thrill of open water. It was great to be able to give ‘Froth’ full throttle, without having to worry about moored boats or breaking wash.

As we approached the big junction, there was a complicated road sign:

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From this we learned that we wanted the first on the right after the two left turns and avoiding the weir is rather important! When the rivers are flowing fast and high, I imagine this would be a very serious warning indeed. Fortunately, despite a stiff breeze, we had less to worry about. So, we passed the mouth of the Erewash Canal…IMG_5313

…and the continuation of the River Trent to Nottingham and beyond…IMG_5314

…and steered a suitable course to avoid the big weir…IMG_5318

…finally to make the right turn onto the River Soar:IMG_5322

The upper reaches of the Soar are full of interesting sights, dominated by the ever-present Ratcliffe power station.

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What intrigued us the most were the houses on stilts that festoon the bank:

There were also some genuine houseboats:

All in all, this is a fabulous small community, perched precariously in a flooding area and backed by tall cliffs that themselves look none too stable.

We passed through flood locks, which are held open at this time of year:

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Cheered by this easy passage, we assumed it would be a simple enough journey to Kegworth, but we did not know that the locks would be so gigantic. Even Rosie seemed to be wondering what on earth was going on:

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She became ever more grumpy and a bit frightened as we went on, and given the scale of these you can see why:

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The blue lines to the side are necessary to hold the boat in position (using the centre rope) when the enormous body of water starts to cascade into the lock. Louise cut a heroic figure in the high winds and the lowering sky, windlass in hand, making her way carefully across the balance beams almost up in the sky. Ratcliffe Lock was set at a right angle to the canal, which is always difficult in a narrowboat, especially a 67-footer. But Kegworth Deep Lock (pictured) was the real monster, the boat thrashing about and requiring real strength to hold against the turbulence.

It was with relief, therefore, that we headed towards our mooring outside The Otter. We had gone to the trouble to phone ahead to check that moorings would be available for a 67′ narrowboat and were assured that there is always plenty of room. On arrival, this turned out to be not quite right, because the mooring by the pub garden, while empty, is not really suitable to a narrowboat at all. It’s more of a plastic cruiser mooring bay, really. So we ended up mooring opposite, which was not entirely satisfactory. The river was very shallow, and we were opposite the main road and out of reach of the pub. Tired and frustrated, we tried moving on briefly, but had to reverse to the same spot when it became clear that the moorings round the bend were even worse. A large gin and tonic and a curry before an early night were the only way to soothe our aching limbs and tired brains.

To our surprise, we awoke this morning feeling quite fine, and so made the short trip on to good moorings at Zouch and lunch with Louise’s parents. It is here we will stay for the night and re-gather our strength before heading on to Loughborough and maybe beyond tomorrow.

 

Leicester Ring Day 9, Part A: Swarkestone to Sawley Locks

Day 9 turned into a marathon, having made a late start. We will give up declaring our plans for the next day at the end of each blog entry, because the plans keep on changing! The reasons are largely beyond our control, so we just go with the flow.

The day began on the T&M and has ended at Kegworth (well, Zouch, if you count this morning’s short trip), well down the River Soar. We took a lot of photos, and the day was packed with incidents, so I am going to divide the blog into two entries, Part A taking us to Sawley Locks and Part B covering the remainder of the journey. In total there were 9 massive locks! We underestimated the scale of these, as you shall see…

The day began quietly enough. The local ducklings came by to see if we had any spare breakfast (of course we did):

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The locks on this part of canal are set in magnificent countryside:

This nice bench was located by one rather remote lock:

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The canal in these parts feels very natural, and occasionally presents navigational challenges:

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We had thought we would only travel to Shardlow, which was a couple of hours away and only a few locks to do. Our change of plan meant going beyond that but, even so, we did enjoy passing through. It’s got such a strong sense of canal heritage, but modern too. Here’s a selection of shots:

This old phone box seemed to sum up the attitude to the past:

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Here were some quirky boat names:

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We were impressed by this chap, who has built an extensive narrow gauge railway in his back garden:

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All in all, Shardlow is the kind of place where we would like to own a house, were it not for the fact that we don’t want a house!

Once past Shardlow, we started to encounter rivers. River cruising is fairly new to us, our only previous encounter being one hour on the Thames a decade ago, when we quickly turned round and raced back to the safety of the Oxford Canal! This time, we had no choice but to go on the adventure…

The further we travelled, the more open the waters became, until we reached Sawley Marina and the amazing (to us narrowboaters, anyway) Sawley Locks. Here are a couple of shots which really fail to give a picture of the full scale of the marina, which is full of ‘plastic’ boats and even some yachts that are clearly designed to go to sea.

The locks flummoxed us at first. There are two of them, and no obvious indication of how to operate them. There was nobody around apart from a passer-by, who was able to offer some help. It turns out they are operated mechanically and require a BW key. Here is the control panel:

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And a close-up…

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This indicator shows the state of the paddles in each lock as they open and close:

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We would have liked to use the Elsan point, but it turned out to be quite inaccessible once we had gone through the lock, and there was no way to reach it before going through, so we moved on, leaving the locks behind us.

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And these were the rickety steps which Louise had to climb down to rejoin ‘Froth’ after operating the locks!

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Part B will follow shortly…

 

 

Leicester Ring Day 8: Branston to Swarkestone

People who know this part of the Trent & Mersey canal will spot that we did not make it to the Rover Soar as announced at the end of yesterday’s blog post. This is because we have had a change of plan. Louise now wants to visit her mother in Market Harborough on Saturday, which means getting to Loughborough by Friday night, from where she can take the mainline train (two stops). This eases the time pressure and we can afford to dawdle, relatively speaking!

So, we had a leisurely breakfast and set off at a decent hour. The weather was lovely first thing, but the winds have picked up all day and we have had some small showers. Moored at Swarkestone tonight the wind is really blowing hard and there are big clouds too, although with some sunshine poking through. Swarkestone is a nice village, but even so the attractions of the pub and its river gardens could not outweigh the pleasures of sitting out of the wind in our cratch-conservatory and enjoying dinner on the cut.

There were only three locks today, but what locks they were! The biggest was the daunting Stenson lock with its 12 ft 4 in drop.

There were two helpful CRT volunteers manning this lock (and two more CRT ‘chuggers’ in attendance), so Louise was able to travel on board. As you can see from the pictures, the place is a popular destination, complete with a tea rooms with picture windows so the gongoozlers can watch and chortle in comfort.

It’s hard to convey the thrill of going through this lock, but here is a movie…

…and some stills:

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The other two locks were no less impressive in their way, although not as big and deep. We really like the T&M – it has a great sense of openness, but also of being cared for.

Here’s a sequence of ‘Froth’ entering Branston lock complete with Rosie having a ‘mad’ as she rushes around between Louise and the boat. She doesn’t do this every time, just when she has excess energy. By lunchtime she often wants to sleep!

We passed through Burton upon Trent, which was surprisingly pleasant with some nice mooring opportunities, but we didn’t stop.

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We did stop in Willington and had some lunch on the boat there. It seemed nice, but again we didn’t look around. Instead we pressed on, and saw a black swan..

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…passed over several aqueducts…

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…navigated our way past several threatening geese at a lock (Louise was forced to rejoin the boat on the other bank)…

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…and managed to avoid a fallen tree which had almost completely blocked the canal:

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Given that she only had three locks to do, and one of those was manned, Louise spent a lot of the time baking and produced a magnificent date and walnut cake as well as a lovely loaf:

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Writing this after a delicious steak and a bottled of red, it does all feel very pleasant indeed! We’ll sleep well tonight.

Leicester Ring Day 7: Fradley to Branston

Sunday was not entirely a rest day. I took the opportunity to do lots of boat maintenance. This included getting down into the engine compartment armed with a long pole…

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…and some disposable nappies! It might be a bit hard to see in the picture below, but they are the perfect thing for soaking up bilge:

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This greaser handle, by the way, has to be turned every day, to prevent water getting in. Needless to say “greasing the stern gland” is the subject of much ribald humour on board.

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Anyway, this morning saw us setting off early towards Fradley Junction, where the Coventry canal meets the Trent and Mersey. This proud fellow kept pace with us along the way:

Both herons and kingfishers seem to like to keep just ahead of the boat like this. Not that we’ve seen a kingfisher yet on this trip, but we remember that behaviour from years gone by.

Fradley Junction is full of history. The Swan is a great pub and one of the most photographed locations in  Britain, apparently. Martin from MGM boats (our builders) grew up near here and remembers it in the days before it served food. It’s still pretty authentic inside, though, and the beer is excellent, as I discovered yesterday. Note the old wharf building next door, too.

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The turn right onto the T&M was quite difficult because of the high winds and all the other boats around. We had to go through three locks in quick succession too. We kept Rosie on board for this bit, because there is a road right by the canal. She prefers to run around and stay close to Louise, but sometimes safety rules.IMG_2133IMG_2136

The T&M is a great canal, full of beautiful scenery and interesting sights:

As we passed through Alrewas (pronounced olwerus) we encountered our first river section. Quite exciting!

There were dangerous weirs to avoid, lots of weeping willows, strange navigational signs, and a general sense of open country and unfamiliar sights.

We passed through nine locks in total today, which was quite tiring for Louise in particular. They were mostly widely spaced apart, which was slightly annoying because just as we decided to put the kettle on another lock would appear and we’d have to switch it off again.

Our final destination, after five hours cruising, was Branston Water Park. The moorings there had been recommended by our old friends Sean and Theresa on nb Dilligaf. It was an excellent recommendation, not least because of the The Bridge Inn, which does fine Italian food. We really felt we had earned this supper:

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The plan tomorrow is to get to the River Soar. It’s quite a long trip and includes the rather daunting River Trent turn. But today’s experience has given us more river confidence and the weather forecast is pretty good, so we are looking forward to it.

Leicester Ring Day 6: all the way to Fradley

This was the view from the back bedroom porthole when we awoke at 7.00:

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A beautiful sunny day. Time to get going!

We travelled almost continuously for 8 hours today, and made it to Fradley, just south of the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal. Most of the trip was just great cruising in beautiful countryside. We did go through some towns: Polesworth, Tamworth (two locks here), Whittington (pretty place) and a few smaller villages, but the real highlight was our stop at Alvecote marina. We went there to fill the diesel tank and buy a new gas canister, but we ended up marvelling at this:

Nb Dane was built by A. P. Boatbuilding for The Narrowboat Heritage Foundation. This is doing great work with young people in particular. The boat itself was quite magnificent, as you can see from the video. We were several hours too early to see the craning in, but here is a picture from the NHF Facebook page:

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Alvecote marina is a busy place, with several old working boats around:

Refuelled, we pressed on. The canal was festive today in many ways. We passed the Tamworth Cruising Club summer gala, resplendent with bunting and many different boats:

We also had to put up with a small day-hire boat crammed full of drunken revellers zig-zagging all over the place in the name of fun.

Tomorrow will be something of a rest day and we will press on again on Monday. This will be a relief to Rosie, who looks quite exhausted!

 

 

 

Leicester Ring Day 5: To Atherstone, and beyond

Most of the day was spent going down the Atherstone flight. Eleven locks in total, some spread quite far apart. It was quite exhausting, especially for Louise. Even Rosie was getting rather blasé by the end:

IMG_2089We stopped to do some shopping in Atherstone after the fifth lock and spent an hour or  more having lunch there too. Andy managed to drop a mooring ‘staple’ into the canal, and got stung on the ear by a wasp. All this after an early morning weed hatch inspection, which involved donning shoulder length gloves and getting down and dirty in the canal water:

The hatch was all clear, thankfully.

We are now moored up in a remote spot on the approach to Polesworth. It has unfortunately become important that we press onwards to Leicester as rapidly as possible, owing to some bad news in the family. It is possible that this blog will become more intermittent as we will be travelling 8 hours a day. We reckon it will take 3-4 days to get to Leicester, at which point we will remain there for the foreseeable future.

Leicester Ring Day 4: Hawkesbury to Hartshill

Most of today’s journey was familiar to us already because we used to live on the Ashby canal and would quite often make the trip down to Hawkesbury. On one occasion we turned north and went up to the Atherstone lock flight too. So this was mostly a “do you remember” day, seeing how much, or how little, things have changed on the Coventry canal. One thing that hasn’t changed is the amount of rubbish in the water! We kept hearing things grinding against the hull. Fortunately we escaped getting anything wrapped around the propellor.

The day was fairly uneventful, the most excitement being provided by Rosie, who is now over-confident to the extent that she jumped off the boat as we came close to the side at one point, causing much frantic reversing and shouting as we tried to get her back on in the high winds. In the end we had to get off ourselves to retrieve her! In future, she will be held on deck. Anyway, no harm done.

We passed through Bedworth, where people go to a lot of trouble with their canal-side gardens, like this:

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And this:

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Or this:

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Wait – is that a… gorilla?

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It is! Rosie barked at it and, for once, we all agreed with her.

A little further on is Charity Dock, one of the stranger places on the canal. Here’s a short video:

And a photo of the … well, what to call it?! Junkyard or scene from a J. G. Ballard story?

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Round the next bend was a very familiar place for us…

We cruised on through Nuneaton, which has hundreds of well-tended allotments that break up the housing estates. The countryside the other side of town is quite pleasant, and we had a lovely stop at Springwood Haven:

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The people here were very helpful and Louise did some shopping in their gift shop while I filled ‘Froth’ up with water and emptied the toilet cassette. They gave us a map of Atherstone, which we will certainly use tomorrow.

We finally moored up at Hartshill, which still leaves us a full day ahead of schedule. The day ended with boat washing, once the heavy showers had blown over. That bucket on the roof is a nice idea – it folds down to a disc – but unfortunately is quite unstable and twice collapsed, spilling its contents all over the washer!IMG_2063

After these exertions it was nice to settle down to some of Louise’s excellent chicken, couscous and salsa.

Tomorrow, the Atherstone flight. All 11 locks of it! Time to get some sleep.