We’d got used to the speed of river travel and back on canals it’s shocking to see our slow crawl across the Nicholson pages. It shouldn’t really matter when the destination is nowhere in particular, but somehow it still does. ‘Progress’ wasn’t helped by low pounds and dreary weather today. The creep from Blackpole Lock to Offerton Bottom Lock was a painful slow go, with way too many boats (us included) heading up from Blackpole, the levels had dropped low enough for Canal and River Trust to put in an appearance.
Finally up through Offerton Top Lock the heavy skies closed in and we moored just before it hammered down. Leaving the rest of the day to poor soaked hire-boaters with little option but to push on with their Worcester/Droitwich/River Severn loops.
A fuel filter check as the engine sounded a bit dodgy through the shallow pounds – the filter was clear so we’re hoping the gurgling was due to alarming angles created by mounting bottom of canal debris along the way.
Today felt very un-English from start to finish. With blue sky and fluffy white clouds, the water was still and everything burst with colour. Not one boat passed in either direction during our stay on Wyre Piddle Island, meaning the lock was still for us this morning. A drop down and a little further on we tied up at Pershore. Market day was in full swing, an accordion sounded through the streets, a few people cycled on proper old bicycles and the buildings looked quite French. Amazing what a few balconies do – according to Nick.
Back to the boat for a water fill and then lunch below the lock. Nearing the end of The Avon now and after quite a bit of deliberating it wins best river award so far, rolling countryside studded with Stratford, Bidford, Pershore and Tewkesbury, pretty good going. Also agreed it wouldn’t be much fun on amber let alone red boards as some of the lock turning/weir combinations are bunglingly twisted.
Moored twice this evening, the sunshine meant a few more cruisers tied up here and there and before we knew it next stop was Tewkesbury. So we headed back up river, tied up at the old sanitary station – not so bad as it sounds, all the clobber has gone, all that remains are the mooring bollards and an overgrown patch of stingers…3G great, TV reception brilliant, view across the hills…and then there was Murk who looked pretty disgusted with his deal. So in an attempt to find him the kind of outdoor space he feels he deserves we de-camped and set off again – eventually mooring by Eckington Bridge. Bloody dog but beautiful evening to travel.
A final water top up before the last drop down into Bancroft Basin. With plenty of moorings free we swung round and reversed back along a pontoon. Ice cream boats, restaurant boats, trip boats they’re all here and so are the customers. We’d heard the basin can feel a bit like a goldfish bowl but we’re loving it – as is Murk, discovered sat out the back with a whole audience snapping their cameras. That dog is heading for a begging bowl.
Yesterday was mostly about buying a very expensive chicken, moving a couple of miles and drying out everything from the day before. Moored up where we once heard bongos, the wind whipped through the boat putting right the aftermath of our soaking. In under the step, the water pump looked a bit damp too, a teeny leak was soon sorted by tightening a few screws – any sign of water tank water in the wrong place gets our hearts racing since the big flood.
This morning we wound round endless fields of rape, under pretty bridges and down through Caluctt locks. Lunch and ‘big’ football was followed by a canal dip for Nick. You learn by your mistakes on this boat, he who drops the mooring chain gets in to fish it back out. We’re down to the last two. It took a while, apparently the bottom was pretty mushy and judging by the gunk stuck to the chain when it eventually appeared, pretty grim. An unexpected Sunday roast dining show for the couple on the boat next door. Nice. Lucky lady.
Moved on before dropping down through Stockton Locks, a few locks in and the chase began. An army of energetic lock setters sent out from a boat way back were snapping at our heals. Never one to turn down a challenge, Nick popped over gates, legged it between locks, wounds paddles like his life depended on it. The ferocious pace meant it wasn’t long before we landed in Long Itchington. Busy moorings and busy pub.
Early starters jostled for position at six something, they were long gone by the time we made it onto the stern. The sun came out and midway up the gongoozlers did too. Easy life back in the land of single locks, we hovered half way up for a few boats coming down before finishing the climb.
A load of laundry washed and spun, pulled in for a quick water top up before leaving locks behind for quite a while – the whole run through to Watford is lock free. Miles soon ticked by today, beautiful bluebell woods and fields of lambs.
Our priorities have changed since we left dry land, never thought we’d get so excited about four old iron rings. The rain had just about set in by time our ropes clanged through what seem to be long forgotten mooring rings out in the middle of nowhere.
Leaving Leicester we headed out on the straight mile. Rowers, joggers, cyclists, everyone was Eastering out and about. A few wrist snapping, shoulder wrenching locks then on through Aylestone. In the days before environment agency and legislation the Wigston dye works pumped excess dye water through the sewage treatment works, it was spewed out a few miles up in Aylestone producing and inky black ribbon of water, a sinister looking stretch that nobody wanted to boat or be. All much cleaner today, in fact the whole Leicester experience was practically murk free.
Quick mid-lock lunch, then more of the same – the locks continued to be tough going, and pretty much all against us. Past Glen Parva, through Blaby and South Wigston before a water fill at Kilby Bridge. Despite few moorings at Castle Gardens boat turnover in Leicester is steady, hardly anyone seems to over stay which is pretty unusual for a city. Counting the miles on the map water might be the reason why…20 miles and a lot of locks between the last water point in Barrow Upon Soar and Kilby Bridge.
One last lock for the day then tied up on a stretch with beautiful views over fields of lambs, oh and a hireboat cannon firing from the top of the next lock… since pitching up they’ve come thick and fast, at all sorts of terrifying angles.
From an explosive start next to an enormous Trent weir, the Soar soon quietens to a gentle meander though lush countryside. The water was running crazily slow and if Nicholson hadn’t kept saying otherwise it would have been easy to forget we were on a river at all. Not exactly sure how many locks we did, a few, and despite a bit of lock buddy swapping we shared them all with another boat. Quite happy about that as they’re pretty sharp so it minimised top of boat rope clinging.
Lunch on the roof where Murk figured he’d settle down for the day but there was plenty more where his morning walk came from.
Looked to stop in Zouch, but didn’t. On through Normanton on Soar where every garden, building and inch of picket fence could have won best turned out…unsurprisingly there weren’t too many visitor mooring dotted about. So we carried on through Loughborough, on and on, then on a bit more.
The town soon opened up to rolling countryside, water meadows and proper brick bridges. Can’t believe how much we are loving rivers – a lot has changed since we rode those red boards.
A quick trip along to the shop completed our Nicholson set, moaning all they way to the till – ‘Nottingham, York and the North East’ is way thinner than any other addition, technically meaning it should cost less.
Smoggy stuff hung low in the air as we made our way onto the short river stretch, grey and dank with low visibility too many hours out in it is enough to tip you slightly off kilter, black dogs and Baskerville Hall become easily imaginable across smogged out fields. Moored just outside Barton Marina, it seems a few other people called it a day early too, only one boat crept past since we stopped.
The map reader already changed his mind about the value of our final piece of the Nicholason jigsaw, anything that gives handy navigational notes like ABOVE ALL ELSE INLAND BOATERS SHOULD NOT PASS KEADBY UNLESS THEY FULLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE DOING has to be worth every penny.
Not far on from Shugborough we pulled over alongside a diesel boat moored by a farmer’s field, we had some last summer and had some more of the great value stuff today. Over the aqueduct and on through Rugely, a huge canal side Tesco has popped up since we last passed. By the time we stopped for water our bones were chilled as much as any day all winter. After lunch by the fire, we took position back on the stern kitted out in salopettes. Back into countryside, Kings Bromley Marina drifted past, it wasn’t long before we arrived at Fradley Junction. Top lock moorings were packed so we headed on down to the doublesided moorings where we were lucky to find a spot.
All dressed up in his Penkridge ‘uniform’, Nick poked about in the engine bay only to find all wasn’t well, a crack in the coolant hose, fortunately discovered before too much had leaked out; it was soon cut, fixed and topped up. Not many boaters kicking back on picnic chairs this evening, within minutes of mooring tonight’s neighbour was also engrossed in boaty stuff – plenty of towpath chunter going on, mainly along the lines of ‘stand still in a narrowboat and you’ll go backwards’. Cheery lot.
Taunted by a bold goose, The Murkster has been left traumatised – nightfall has done nothing to ease his situation, passing cars are now headlamp wearing geese, obviously.
Water filled we moved up through The Star lock and across to the car park moorings. Some of the most functional moorings on the network, Morrisons, hardware stores, chandlers, boatyard all just a couple of minutes away. Dodging the showers we finished off the last of the pre-blacking ‘things to do’ list things.
Still a boat in there at the moment but apparently the dry dock will be ready for us early in the morning. Checked if we needed to let the fire out, ‘that all depends on which dry dock you’re in’ …a little while later a flick through the diary revealed we were lucky enough to be in the newly felted dry dock meaning fires out. Here’s hoping it warms up.
The bedroom port hole bung is in place and definitely staying there tonight. A peek out is quite likely to reveal a very hairy, very white, very large man smoking topless on his stern. Hmmm nice.