Sunday 31 May 2015

Speeding down the Soar

Not as in going too fast, of course, but as in being able to maintain a fair lick at gentle engine revs. From Leicester northwards the navigation is largely on the River Soar with lock cuts bypassing weirs. The flow of the river and the depth of the channel combine to make going downstream quick and easy.

From Castle Gardens in Leicester we shared locks until Birstall with Sir Tristram II, whom we found breasted up to us after church this morning.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We returned to the church we'd found last night, Holy Trinity Leicester, and went to the 1030 service. I think I suggested it was going to be a more conventional service. Well, we weren't sitting round tables with drinks and nibbles, but many people wouldn't describe it as "conventional". It was very good, though, with a challenging talk and modern songs accompanied by a five-piece band (bass, drums, keyboard, guitar and vocalist). The pews had all been replaced by comfortable moveable chairs on carpet; the words for the songs were on a screen; the vicar was in mufti. The few clues that this was actually Church of England included the exterior of the building; the banns of marriage at the beginning and the traditional "This is the Word of the Lord" - "Thanks be to God" after the Bible reading.

No photo - sorry - the one I took of the interior is too dark and boring; I forgot to take one of the exterior.

After church we went to the castle, or what's left of it. There was an open day, so we got to see the old Criminal Court and Civil Court. The University of Leicester was doing a research project on the trial (no pun intended) of newly written software for mobile computer devices (smartphone/tablet/audio file player). We agreed to take part and were handed headphones and an MP3 player each. We listened to a reconstruction of the "Green Bicycle Murder Trial" where the narration had us moving around the court to hear from the various characters in their positions; the witness in the witness stand, the defendant in the dock and so on. The story was interesting, but if you miss something you can't go back and hear it again. I found this very frustrating; much better to have been on paper.

Anyway, back to the waterway. This is where we were moored. I should correct something from yesterday's post; I implied that the apparently overstaying boat might not have been licenced. It is, in fact, displaying a current licence, albeit in the front window.

Looking behind as we left the mooring, and passing under West Road Bridge, we saw this sculpture.

Is it representative of Leicester's dying industry? That's dying as in the process of using coloured dyes to treat fabrics.

We stopped at the Hope and Anchor where we tied up right outside the pub. I wasn't able to manage a pudding after my enormous mixed grill.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Leicester's welcome starts badly but gets a lot better

We were up, breakfasted and ready to go by 9 this morning, but we very graciously (!) waited for Chance and Eleventh Heaven to go down the locks before us.

James waving; Chris untying

Les and Chris
There was a boat on the water point we thought we could share the locks with, but they were joining up with another boat so, in the end, we continued on our own. It was a great help to have the first few locks back set for us, thank you.

The weather was an improvement on yesterday, with no rain and a fair amount of sunshine. There was still a cool breeze.

At King's Lock, Aylestone, we stopped for lunch and then went to the tea room at the old lock cottage for a cream tea. Very nice scone, clotted cream and jam; the tea would have been better had it been hotter and not served in such utilitarian thick-lipped cups. Delightful lock cottage, though. If you go, make sure you use the loo. You go upstairs and into the original-looking bathroom, complete with bath.

The approach to Leicester from the south goes through lovely countryside; the city comes very gently until you suddenly find yourself at Castle Gardens at the end of the Straight Mile.

There are a few weirs to avoid on the way; this is the most impressive at Freeman's Lock by the football ground.

Arriving at the Castle Gardens moorings we thought we were going to have to breast up to another boat, as one boat was already doing so. We slowly approached the first boat on the pontoon only to see it had "No mooring" signs in the windows.

We later found out were later told that the boat had been there for weeks, claiming to have a broken gearbox. I think his licence holder must be broken too. No licence was displayed on the side.

As we tried to creep past the wind caught us and we nudged the boat. At this a man emerged and told us we couldn't tie up to him. Not the friendliest of welcomes to Leicester.

Once past the breasted-up boat we could see that there was, in fact, a space on the pontoon. We just fitted. Shortly afterwards we could see that another boat was coming in to land, as it were, so we indicated that he should breast up to us. Which he did.

I mended yet another bicycle puncture then, after tea, we walked round the city centre for a while. The main purpose was to recce a church for the morning; we eventually found Holy Trinity in Turner Street. As we were looking at the notice board at the entrance a young woman came up and asked if we were going in. Er ... it's Saturday; we were considering coming tomorrow, so what's happening now? It transpired that there was a free musical evening in the church. We were invited in and made very welcome. A jazz/rock band was performing; chairs and drinks were got for us and we found ourselves talking to the vicar. Or trying to; the music was very loud and not suited to the acoustic of the building. The next act was much better, a string quartet playing Sibelius. Then the young cellist played a Bach sarabande extremely well; this was followed by a breathtaking performance by his sister, a 15-year-old violinist playing from Biber's Mystery Sonatas. Her technique was amazing, with some incredibly fast and accurate passages and a huge amount of double stopping.

We were very glad to have come upon this; we will return for perhaps a more conventional church service in the morning.

edited to add corrections

Friday 29 May 2015

We didn't move far but we had a good time. My trainers should recover.

[Confusion alert: there are two people called Chris in this account. One, on Eleventh Heaven, is male; the other, on Essence, is female. Also the Les on Eleventh Heaven is female. Just thought I'd better clear that up. (There are also two Jameses, but you don't really need to know that. It'll only make it more confusing.)]

We didn't rush to get up this morning, but when we did I saw that Adrian was just walking back from setting the first lock. As he and Chris were expecting to share the locks with us I hurriedly put my waterproofs on and took my cereal to the helm. It was raining quite hard as we went down; my breakfast got slightly diluted.

It rained even harder when we stopped at the services at Kilby Bridge 90 minutes later; my supposedly waterproof trainers decided they weren't waterproof at all. It was nice at last to take them off together with my sopping socks when we had moved across to the 48 hour moorings opposite. The crews of Gabriel and Jubilee then went for a warming coffee and ginger cake on Essence (very tasty cake, thanks Chris). Back on Jubilee I lit the stove for a bit more warmth (it is very nearly June, after all). Oh - and the rain stopped more or less at the same time as we did.

We had decided to stay in Kilby Bridge for the day, with the strong possibility that Chance and Eleventh Heaven would turn up. Gabriel and Essence left for Leicester or beyond, leaving us to recce the pub for later and think about having some lunch on board. Then Chance and Eleventh Heaven did indeed arrive; we invited both crews for lunch but Chris and Les on EH declined having already sorted their own lunch, leaving Doug and James to share a simple salad meal with us. (Thanks for providing the wine, D and J.)

In the afternoon Jan and I walked into the town of Wigston, about a mile and a half away up the hill and down the other side. By this time, thankfully, the rain had stopped and it was on-and-off sunny/cloudy with a strongish cool wind. We bought a few non-essential supplies from Sainsbury's and Aldi and returned to the boat to get ready for joining Doug, James, Chris and Les at the Navigation pub for a meal. As someone said immediately afterwards, the food was good but the company was better.

Then we went back to Chance for coffee/drinks and engaged in a fair amount of laughter, as can be seen from this self-timed photo.

James, Doug, Jan, Chris, Les, Halfie
We had a great evening; thanks very much guys.

As I write this the stove is going again. This morning's socks have just about dried out; the trainers will take a lot longer. Tomorrow is supposed to start dry with rain in the evening. We intend to get to Leicester with a stop for a cream tea at King's Lock on the way.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Social boating

I have a lot of catching up to do. The last photo I published was from Sunday; today is Thursday. Eek! Here goes ...

On Monday, the last day of the Crick Show, we took up the Herbies' invitation to tea and cakes.

Jan, Kath, Jacob, Neil, Halfie
Delicious! Thanks Neil and Kath. (Thanks also to one of the Herbies' boating neighbours who took the photo.)

Very near where we were sitting a great (?) tit was attending to its nest which was inside a traffic cone.

We wondered how the babies were going to get out.

That evening, after striking the BCF stand and having a debrief on Sola Gratia we moved Jubilee to the service point for water and Elsan; then we breasted up to Mecca for the night.

The next day, Tuesday, we left Crick behind at last and headed north. Queueing for Foxton Locks we talked to the new owners of Limoux who were very pleased with their boat and looking forward to not having to show hordes of people round it as they had been doing at the boat show. They did insist that we had a quick tour, though!

We were the last boat down the flight that evening; the lockies had had a long and tiring day. Here is a view looking down the locks.

We tied up as soon as we could on the Market Harborough arm and were treated to a lovely meal by Chris and Adrian on Essence.

The sun shone as we made our way along the arm the next day (we're up to Wednesday now).

All the visitor moorings had gone by the time we'd winded in Union Wharf, so we tied up on the short length of piling by the CRT sign welcoming boats to the wharf. Adrian and Chris joined us for a curry at Avatar Dining (formerly Indian Zest) in Market Harborough. As we were there before 1930 we ate from the two courses for £8.95 menu. Good value but, of course, poppadoms and drinks always add to the bill!

It was good to see Jo and Keith on Hadar down at the basin. Keith looked well as he steered out the next morning (hey - that's today! I've caught up!)

We had briefly seen Trinity and Gospel Belle as they looked in vain for a mooring at MH; they had gone by the time we passed where they would have moored. They are going to the same BCF event as us in Cotmanhay on the Erewash Canal next week.

As we motored away from Market Harborough we met Gabriel heading for the town - Hazel had a dentist's appointment there.

After taking on water and then turning left at Foxton Junction we continued down the Leicester Section, past lots of fields of buttercups.

We stopped for lunch at Fleckney, then went for a walk (through a buttercup field) to the village. We'd seen that Chance was tied up just ahead of us; Jan went to investigate while I was mooring but reported that there was no-one in. After a bit of a detour on the way back - I was trying to take a short cut which didn't work - we returned along the towpath past Chance and the boat tied up in front of Chance: Eleventh Heaven. On board Eleventh Heaven, of course, were James and Doug. We waved to them through the window; they immediately invited us on board their friends' boat and plied us with wine and nibbles.

Chris, Doug, James, Les, Jan
A big thank you to Chris and Les who very kindly put up with our impromptu invasion.

Moving on, we caught up with Adrian and Chris on Essence at Newton Top Lock. While locking down the five locks to here from Fleckney Jan had been cooking a beef stew which the four of us enjoyed on Jubilee. Her piece de resistance, however, was the scrummy chocolate and walnut pudding with chocolate sauce. Yum yum!

As we were letting that go down James and Hazel on Gabriel arrived, taking the last mooring spot here. There was time for a self-timed group photo before they got an early night after a long day.

Tomorrow's weather forecast suggests that in might be rather wet; we might have an easy day and just go down seven more locks to Kilby Bridge and eat at the Navigation in the evening.

I have calculated that we are easily on schedule to arrive at Cotmanhay on Wednesday, with cruising days of 1.5 hr, 4.75 hr, 3.75 hr, 3.75 hr, 4.75 hr and 5 hr, so not too strenuous.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Crick fatigue

Phew! That's the Crick Boat Show over for another year. I haven't blogged for a while, not because of lack of signal but because the days have been long; we have been entertaining guests in the evening and I've been too whacked out to sit in front of the computer for an hour or so composing each new chunk of this stuff.

There's been a lot happening over the last few days but, even now, there isn't enough time to detail it all. I'll just mention a few of the people we met at Crick.

It was really good to see Del and Al of Derwent6 over for a day's visit. We saw Adam and Adrian (Briar Rose); Neil and Kath (Herbie); Andy and Helen (Wandering Bark and The Jam Butty) and we met Barry and Sandra of Areandare (the homebrew boat) for the first time. Now there's a couple it's impossible not to like - they are such good company. We also saw many fellow members of the Boaters' Christian Fellowship, of course. We were there to help run the BCF stand in its usual place in the Kingfisher Marquee.

We did get some time off to wander round the show site; I bought new firebricks for the stove; a new Nicholson's and some oil. We looked round only one boat, being put off by the need to book (and the fact that we're not really looking for a new boat anyway).

It just so happens that the boat we looked at went on to win the "best boat" accolade (I think I'm right in saying that). We looked round Ampere by Wharf House Narrowboats, which was voted third favourite boat (thanks to Adam for correcting me).

This year I managed to get to three of the seminars: The Blind Boater (Tracey Clarke); Floating Business (Andy and Helen, Barry and Sandra and Sarah Henshaw); and Boat Maintenance (Mark Langley and Rupert Smedley from Waterways World magazine). All three were very good, certainly beating aimlessly wandering round the show site!

On Sunday Jan and I went to the beer tent for the Hazel O'Connor gig, bumping into Andy and Helen and Barry and Sandra straight away. The venue was packed; we joined the crowd outside but with a good view of the stage.

It's not really my music, but Hazel O'Connor gave an energetic performance.

Gosh, the time has run away from me yet again. Just to say that we're now at Foxton with Adrian and Chris (Essence).

Thursday 21 May 2015

Rubber mats laid on towpath at Crick, bridge over the top?

CRT have today put rubber mats down on sections of the towpath in the vicinity of the Crick Boat Show.

They are laid on top of finely crushed hardcore where exposed tree roots could have presented a trip hazard.

A little over the top, methinks. Jan did manage to fall over one such exposed root last year and bruise her ribs, but I doubt she is to blame for this expensive operation. There is, of course, no way to secure the mats; there's nothing to stop a light-fingered boater purloining one or two for their deck. Let's hope all who pass by are honest.

The mats, though, are as nothing compared with the temporary bridge providing access to the show site from the towpath. This is an amazingly robust-looking steel (or is it aluminium?) construction soaring over the canal and must be costing thousands.

Since I took the photo the last section, by the steps, has been fitted, but the bridge is not yet open. The sign requests that people wishing to walk along the towpath use the steps as there is insufficient room between them and the edge of the bank.

The weather has certainly improved (will it hold for the show itself?) with wall-to-wall sunshine most of the day. Despite the still cool breeze I was inspired to dig out the barbecue (first time this year).

Today's last photo shows how far from the bank we are. I ought to drill a hole in the end of the gangplank to take a mooring pin so I can fix it to the bank; every time a boat goes past too fast (there have been quite a few today) the movement of the boat causes the gangplank to slip.

A job for the morning.

Adrian and Chris from Essence, fellow BCFers, came round for a drink and a chat this evening. We all enjoyed some of Jan's tiffin, which she made this afternoon. Scrummy!

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Voltmeter working a treat; wind turbines at sunset

I think I have mentioned that my current (sorry!) favourite gadget is the cheap but effective digital voltmeter constantly monitoring the battery bank. Here it is in situ in the cabin, measuring the voltage while the sun shines on the solar panels (and with the inverter and fridge on).

Being out of direct sunlight it's easy enough to read, but the one I have for the steering position is hard to read in daylight. I now have some different colour gels with me to try out over the display, so I'll experiment. Meanwhile I have ordered another low cost DVM, this time with a red display which I'm hoping will be more legible at the helm. Like the blue voltmeters it's not a bank breaker at £1.48 including postage. (The blue ones have now come down from the exorbitant £1.85 I paid to the altogether more reasonable £1.63!)

Stephen on Chyandour came over for a coffee this morning after I'd helped him tie up; he came for a meal later as well.

We walked into Crick village again; this time we looked round the (unlocked) church and bought milk from the Co-op.

On another walk, this evening, I took this photo.

What is it with me and wind turbines against an interesting sky?

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Crick prepares

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that we had an enjoyable glass or two of wine with Chris and Joy of nb Wrens Nest after our meal in the Boat House pub. It was good to meet you, and I'm humbled that you read my blog. I shall have to add you to my blog roll.

We made a leisurely start from Braunston this morning, stopping to top up with water before sharing the locks with Dunslavin.

Kevin and xxx (oops - we didn't discover Mrs Kevin's name) on Dunslavin were on their way back to Crick, so we followed them through Braunston Tunnel and up Watford Locks.

The tunnel was notable for two incidents; a passing boat suggested I should point my tunnel light up at the roof. Was I dazzling him? No-one has ever commented on my tunnel light before. The other incident was being hit by a boat despite my hugging the wall. Dunslavin was hit by the same boat.

At Watford Locks the boat in front of Dunslavin was the steamer Adamant. This would explain the smokiness of the tunnel. In this wonky photo Adamant has its funnel lowered as it enters the bottom lock of the four-rise staircase.

We were fortunate to do all the locks in the dry; it started raining almost as soon as we left the top lock. Then it hailed. Crick Tunnel came as a bit of a respite, feeling warm as soon as we entered. I thought it was rather misty in there until I removed my glasses. They had steamed up the instant we hit the warm air.

Immediately after exiting the tunnel the mooring restriction signs - for the Crick Boat Show - were in evidence. The temporary bridge to the show site looks a rather more elaborate affair than in previous years. The bridge was still being constructed, but I suppose they have a day or two to finish off.

The sky above the show site looks threatening, but I understand the forecast for the weekend is - at the moment - quite good.

The eagle-eyed will have spotted a certain well-known boat on the left.

To finish with today, the view from our side hatch now we are tied up past all the reserved moorings. This is Crack's Hill, up which we scampered this evening.

And a view from the hill itself: wind turbines and sky.

Monday 18 May 2015

Weather. Lots of it.

I think this photo tells the story.

No, it's not a tornado. We cruised from Rugby to Braunston this afternoon in Vivaldi weather. You know, the Four Seasons. We started in warm summery sunshine; then we had a heavy spring shower; I'm sure I had some autumnal leaves round the prop at one point; and, with Braunston in sight, it hailed.

I took the above photo from the Boathouse pub: blue skies and sunshine on the right; dark clouds and rain on the left. Intermittently there was a good rainbow as well.

As we got near to Braunston I took off my clip-on sunglasses and put them on the slide. I think they must have blown off because there's now no sign of them. Oops.

Regular readers might have guessed that we have been away from the boat for a few days. We returned home to do some essential gardening etc. It was good to see friends there; we went to our choir's concert on the Saturday and experienced it from the audience's point of view. It wasn't at all bad! We'll be back in the ranks for the next concert as rehearsals won't start until September.

Here's one of the four trains which took us from Norfolk to Rugby: an East Midlands service just coming into Wymondham Station.

We tied up outside the Boathouse pub and ate there. (Waitress: "I'm sorry, we haven't got any French mustard, only some Dijon mustard.")

Sunday 17 May 2015

Under the towpath

Walking along the towpath from Wood End Lock to Fradley Junction recently I came across this.


At the end of a short brick tunnel under the towpath is a paddle, connected to which is a rod extending above the ground. Raising this would empty a section of canal. I wonder how often it's used.

Friday 15 May 2015

A shed load of sheds

Seen in a canalside garden in Weston-on-Trent (I believe it was):

A lot of sheds. I counted eight. I think this constitutes a shed load.

Not that there's anything wrong with sheds - I rather like them.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Knitted mushroom covers!

Some people polish them, some people leave them tarnished, some people paint them ...

... and at least one person knits mushroomy covers for them.

Seen on the Shroppie.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

The music of Rugby

One thing I omitted from yesterday's account of hire boat mishaps was my rushing to the aid of someone who had fallen in the water. We were outside considering repositioning our boat when I heard a commotion from the hire boat in front. I looked and saw a man's head above the water, so I rushed over to help pull him out. He was, I estimate, in his seventies; one of the crew had already got him mostly out and I was able to help with the last bit and retrieve his hat before it sank. He was fine, but obviously rather wet.

Today we had a "free day" in which we explored Rugby a bit. The loos opposite the Clocktower shopping centre have a fine brick frieze depicting several events from Rugby's history.

There are lime kilns, the canal, the railway, the jet engine (shown as powering two Gloster aeroplanes) and masts from the radio station. There is also supposed to be a steam engine, but the machine in the centre looks more like an internal combustion engine to me.

We went to a lunchtime concert in St. Andrew's Church given by pupils from Rugby School. This was very enjoyable with performances ranging from solo piano to double flute, guitar and cello quartet to choir. I particularly enjoyed the Debussy (Clair de Lune) and Beethoven (a movement from a piano sonata).

We had lunch in a "hub community café". I had a fry-up (yum yum!) and Jan had lasagne. The café does an excellent job supporting and employing people with learning difficulties. We will go there again next time we pass through.

Our route back to the boat took us through Caldecott Park which featured this striking stainless steel sculpture of a tuba player.

The sculpture is called "Echo" and is by Hilary Cartmel.

Monday 11 May 2015

A little canal chaos

Straight after breakfast we moved onto the water point and filled up; then overshot Hawkesbury Junction slightly, stopping at the services to minimise the distance I had to carry the Elsan. A nifty reverse and a swing round to the stop lock had us onto the Oxford Canal, following two hire boats.

This is my favourite shot of the day, taken after an "incident" with the hire boats.

Back to the story. Despite the two hire boats following each other through the stop lock, we still managed to catch up with them after a couple of miles. And we don't go fast. After a while the leading, slowest, boat indicated to the one behind to overtake, which he did; then we were beckoned forward in the same way. Just as we were half a length in front, the boat which had overtaken first suddenly went into full astern. A boat was coming through a bridge hole towards us all. Because the first boat had stopped I had to slam on the anchors too, and so did the boat we had been overtaking.

The bemused steerer of the boat coming towards us said he was just thinking how quiet it was! Imagine his surprise to come round the bend and be confronted with three boats spread across the canal, all trying not to hit each other.

It all worked out all right; the oncoming boat was able to keep going, the boat which stopped got going again after some corrective steering, we were OK. The boat which was the original slow one got slightly stuck in the shallows by the towpath but soon got clear.

I was too involved with extricating ourselves from the potential mess to take a piccie, but here's one I took earlier of the three of us in convoy.

It was evidently the day for novice hirers; this Yellow Peril courteously stayed out of our way by hiding in the trees on the offside as we went past, but had a little moment with the tiller afterwards.

We tied up in Rugby at 1530; daughter Ally drove up from MK shortly after that with a huge pile of geography marking to do.