Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eau What a Day!

APOLOGIES! OUR BLOG IS RUNNING BEHIND OUR TRAVELS. We were here in mid-June. We are trying to get up to date as soon as possible, but don't want you to miss out on any part of our travels! CLICK ON 'Where Zindagi Is Now' to find our latest location.

Leaving Boston, we headed back north-westwards, retracing our route to Torksey. We wondered about diverting at Anton's Gowt Lock and exploring the 'Witham Navigable Drains' but decided against it, taking into account the low bridges, weed, lack of formal turning places and the general philosophy of the Drains that they are there primarily for drainage and not for navigation!

But we thought we WOULD try the Kyme Eau, aka Sleaford Navigation, which used to link Sleaford to the Witham. There are plans to restore the full 13 mile length, but the present limit of navigation lies about 3 miles west of South Kyme at Cobblers Lock, with a 'winding hole' to turn boats up to 70ft long.

As we turned off the Witham, past a line of moored boats, we asked a boater what it was like further on. "A bit weedy" the sage replied, and went on fishing. We knew it was reputed to have quite a bit of weed, so this was no surprise and we carried on.

Sure enough, our progress was slow, with the occasional thrust in reverse to clear weed off the propeller, but we made headway to the Bottom Lock, about 1½ miles from the junction, and found that the water was clearer above that. Progress was still limited by shallowness and some weed, but we were able to move a little quicker.

Gradually, however, the weed became thicker and thicker, worse than it had been below the lock, and we entered South Kyme hoping to find that the navigation improved through the village.

It didn't! In fact it became a lot worse, as if the locals didn't really want any boats there. There was nowhere to moor to visit the village, and the navigation itself was horrendously overgrown, with thick willow branches making it near impossible for us to get 'Zindagi' through. Maximum dimensions quoted for this navigation are 72' x 14'6", but we doubt whether anything that size has been through for a very long time! ('Zindagi' measures 57' x 6'10")

Having penetrated the 'jungle' of South Kyme, the weed problem was even worse, and we were making negligible progress. The obvious answer was (and had been for a while!) to turn round and go back, but our problem was that the only turning space was still 3 miles ahead. The only other winding hole lay about 3 miles behind us, at the lock!

So, for the next three hours, we discovered that the average speed of a narrowboat in reverse through weedy water is about 1 mph! Steering a narrowboat in reverse is notoriously unpredictable, but it wasn't too bad. We were glad to get to the lock, turn the boat around and moor up to the lock moorings. Not what you are supposed to do, but it was nearly 10pm, no other boats were likely to arrive, and there was nowhere else to moor anyway!

The next morning, down the lock to make our escape, but we even had a short hold up there! 'Zindagi' grounded slightly in the lock, so we had to partly refill it and move the boat forwards a little before re-emptying it and getting away.

On our way out to the Witham, we passed the sage, still fishing on his boat.  "How did you get on?" he asked.  We told him, including about reversing for 3 miles.  "Thought you might have to do that", he said . . .

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lazily Down Lincoln Fens

APOLOGIES! OUR BLOG IS RUNNING BEHIND OUR TRAVELS. We were here in mid-June. We are trying to get up to date as soon as possible, but don't want you to miss out on any part of our travels! CLICK ON 'Where Zindagi Is Now' to find our latest location.

Torksey Lock was our gateway to another new world – the Lincolnshire fens.

The Fossdyke from Torksey to Lincoln was built in about AD 120 by the Romans, to join the Trent to the Witham, which they had also made navigable from Lincoln to Boston and the Wash. Apparently the Danes later used both of them to invade England, and the Fossdyke remains the oldest man-made navigation in the country which is still in use. Our route to Boston stretched 40-odd miles south-east, with only 2 locks on the way!

Just 11 miles (and no locks!) from Torksey, Lincoln was an easy target for our first day. After the vast expanse of the Brayford Pool, the Witham Navigation ducks out under the famous 'Glory Hole' arch, which dates from about 1160. The houses now on the bridge were built in the mid 1500s . . .

 . . . and then into the 'Waterside' development, with its modern sculptures poised over the river.

Stamp End Lock, on the edge of the industrial area, was our gateway out of the city and then the Witham quietly made its way into the fenland countryside, not dissimilar to the landscape we saw last year on the Cambridgeshire fens – and only one more lock in the next 31 miles to Boston!

Long straight reaches of the river, with hardly any detectable flow but at least the banks were not too high to see the surrounding countryside – and unexpected sculpture in the 'middle of nowhere'! There was very little 'traffic', but we saw the occasional other boat.

At Bardney Lock there were a few boats moored and one or two people around, and the lock was even filled for us and the gates open! Folk we had met at Stamp End Lock had seen us coming and prepared it for us – this sort of thing happens on the waterways quite often; a relaxed and friendly approach.

Just past Bardney, we spotted a Great Crested Grebe on its nest, and managed to get close enough to get a picture, for a change!

And then on to a tiny little village which once boasted three pubs, a railway station, a ferry and a butterscotch factory. The factory, ferry, railway line and one of the pubs have gone and one pub is inaccessible on the opposite bank, but the station platform and sign remind you that Southrey was once busier, and maybe bigger, than it is now.

If it was much bigger, they would have had difficulty getting everyone into the little wooden chapel on special occasions. Built by the villagers in 1898, it seems very well maintained – but tiny!

As we came near the old and new bridges at Tattershall Bridge, we were directly below the flightpath from Coningsby airfield, so our fenland tranquility was shattered by screaming jets. We passed the entrance to the Kyme Eau (Sleaford Navigation) and wondered about visiting it on our way back.

And so on to Boston! The tower of 'Boston Stump' dominates the skyline, and you can just see the bridge over the Grand Sluice, leading to the tidal River Haven and the Wash. Access to the 'South 40ft Drain' has recently been re-established, and the 'Fens Waterway Link' is planned to connect from here right round into the Nene near Peterborough, giving a through route for wider boats between the Trent and the Cambridgeshire Fens, without crossing the Wash as they now need to do! Will the Link be completed in time for us to use it? Who knows?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tidal Trent to Torksey

Before we leave Newark and take you downstream, a couple more photos. The first is one taken as we slipped under the bridge the afternoon before, framing the one surviving wall of the castle, which dates from 1173, with various additions up to the 16th Century.

And then one to show you the 1775 Trent bridge more fully. Great architecture, still in heavy use, modified over the years and yet remaining a thing of beauty.

And space, perhaps, to slip in a taste of more recent history, but which has apparently been more forgotten – the time when Newark was a bustling inland port and the Trent Navigation Company needed its large warehouse for the 'barge trains' which carried up to 600 tons of freight and could reach Newark from Hull in 12 hours. Those days are long gone, and only faded lettering on a fine old building remains.

But it was time to move on! Just 5 miles downstream was Cromwell Lock, our entry onto the tidal section of the Trent which leads down to join the Yorkshire Ouse at Trent Falls and on into the Humber. We have done little bits of tidal water before, but this was to be our longest section of tidal river so far. Fortunately, we were taking it in smaller 'bites', and we certainly weren't going as far as Trent Falls!

This first section was to take us to Torksey, where the Fossdyke Navigation joins the Trent, 15 miles downstream from Cromwell Lock. We had got used to being 'looked after' by the Trent lock-keepers, and on the tideway this is even more important, as there is big shipping around and Torksey Lock, for example, is only accessible from the Trent at certain stages of the tide.

River cruising is not like canal cruising anyway, as you can't just stop and moor up wherever you like, but have to find designated 'visitor moorings', and sometimes you are hemmed in by high flood banks and can't see much – though we quite like power stations!  Tidal river cruising is the same but more so – you can't really stop at all in between the locks, except at rare refuges. So it's very different, sometimes interesting, sometime a bit boring, but you can't allow your concentration to slip – there might be a sandbank to avoid or a big barge coming round the next corner – and the Trent has plenty of corners!

All down the Trent from here on, we found gantries looming over the banks, loading wharves for the enormous sand and gravel barges, but we were told that not many of them are operating as the recession has hit demand for sand and gravel.

The lock-keeper at Cromwell had told us that there were going to be some water-skiers further downstream, but "you won't need to do anything about them, they'll keep out of your way." Near High Marnham power station (which seems disused), we were suddenly in the midst of power boats, with or without skiers, travelling at high speed, creating strong wash and sometimes passing us much too close and/or on the wrong side, seemingly with no appreciation of the effect they were having on a slow-moving, flat-bottomed narrowboat. Fortunately, we left them behind after a few miles.

Soon after 2 pm, we arrived at Torksey, turned off into the lock approach, moored up and went to look for the lock-keeper to tell him we had arrived. He had seen us on his CCTV, and so we were soon sharing the lock with a large cruiser and rising to the level of the Fossdyke. We filled up with water and trundled along to the visitor moorings.

Our first encounter with the tidal Trent had gone well. Now for the Fossdyke and Witham!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nottingham to Newark - Afloat and Aground!

We had been 'heading for the Trent' since we left Blisworth back in mid-May, but it was the afternoon of 9th of June as we turned left out of Trent Lock on the Erewash and at last, we were actually ON the Trent and heading downstream to Nottingham.
Truth be told, it was only a couple of hundred yards before we turned off along the Cranfleet Cut which bypasses the enormous Thrumpton Weir, but once through Cranfleet lock we were on the river again, snaking our way eastwards and slightly northwards.
Only just over four miles, though, and we were back on canal as the Beeston Canal and part of the old Nottingham Canal take the navigation through Nottingham and past remnants of its canal history. Then, 4½ miles and 3 locks later, we 'locked out' onto the Trent next to Trent Bridge and County Hall.
Back to river navigation again, dealing with currents and vast expanses of water (when compared with the Midlands narrow canals, anyway). Last time we did this was going UP the Thames from Reading to Oxford in the depths of winter. Now it was DOWNstream in glorious summer. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but travelling downstream is a bit trickier than up, as the river carries you along and stopping is more difficult.
One thing we noticed quite quickly on the Trent was the change in bird life. Tufted ducks were suddenly frequent, and even the occasional Shelduck. A few more Great Crested Grebe, too. As they hunt underwater, the clearer river waters are ideal for them – no wonder we never see them on canals! Even our old friends, sand martins, flying in and out of their burrows in the sandy banks. We last remembered seeing them nesting in the banks of the Aire and the Yorkshire Ouse in 2008.
This next picture may puzzle you a little. Why, you may ask, are Dave and Val showing us a dull picture of the boat, a boring river bank and a pylon? Take a closer look and you will see that the boat is at an 'interesting' angle, and you may even detect a pale patch in the water next to it. A few miles from Nottingham, near the village of Burton Joyce, we had run aground! We weren't too close to the bank, though we had been watching sand martins. No, we had grounded on an upturned fibreglass dinghy, the 'pale patch' being its white hull below the water.
No amount of reversing and 'poling off' seemed to have any effect. We were stuck! As the Trent lock-keepers look after boaters by phoning each other to say which boats are on their way, we phoned Gunthorpe Lock to tell them our predicament, and ask whether they knew of any way we could get help. They couldn't help directly, but promised to ask the next narrowboat(s) that came through to try to give us a tow. We eventually turned off the engine and waited – but went on trying to think of how to escape!
With the river flowing from behind us, was there a way of using that force to help us get off the dinghy? We re-started the engine and tried to power the stern out as far as possible from the bank, with Dave trying to 'pole off' as much as he could. Result? The river current caught us a bit more, the boat tipped to an even crazier angle and the fridge emptied itself on the floor – but WE WERE FREE! Then a quick phone call to the lock-keeper to tell him we were on our way – 1¼ hours after running aground! Oh, the joys of boating!
The rest of the journey down to Newark was uneventful. We passed the little village of Fiskerton, with its pub and convenient mooring, and then Staythorpe Power Station, reminding us that we were in 'power station alley' along the Trent Valley.
Then into Newark itself, past the mouth of the River Devon (pronounced 'Deevon') and into Newark Town Lock, not long before the lock-keeper went off duty, with the magnificent ruin of Newark Castle ahead of us.

 Past the castle, through the lovely old 7-arched bridge, and we soon found a safe mooring within easy walking distance of the town.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Canal to Nowhere?

So there we were, back at the junction of the Rivers Soar and Trent and the Erewash Canal. Our plan was to go on down the Trent, but the Erewash was right there, only 11¾ miles long with 15 locks – it would be a shame not to sample it!

To be honest, there were some who had told us not to bother. "don't go there . . . the locks are hard to work . . . it's all weedy . . . it doesn't go anywhere . . . nothing to see, anyway . . ."

But you know us – We started up the Erewash!

Coming up Trent Lock, right next to the Navigation Inn, we had entered another little world. The Erewash Canal runs mostly through industrial towns with short stretches of countryside in between, and was once part of a busy local network which included the Derby and Nottingham Canals, now sadly both derelict, and joining onto the Cromford Canal, for which there seem to be some plans for part restoration. But this 'canal to nowhere' started to reveal its own particular charm.

First, the name. Years ago, looking at canal maps and reading books, we had seen this little canal and smiled at its name; it looked as though it should be pronounced 'Ear-wash'! A little later, we found out that it was really called 'Erry-wash', and now we found the canal sharing a valley with the little River Erewash – hence the name.

The small boatyard between Trent Lock and Long Eaton reminded us of some on the Fens and the lower River Soar – from a quieter age and happy with it. And, I suppose, if you think of water lilies as weeds, then yes, it was weedy! We didn't have any problem with water weed at all.

Coming through Long Eaton and then Sandiacre, we saw some fine old brick-built mills, none more impressive than the Springfield Mill in Sandiacre, now converted into apartments.


Not much further on, out in the countryside, we came to a lock just as another boat was coming out of it. "You've got some helpers here," we were told, "and they're pretty good." Sure enough, the youngsters who enjoy hanging around this lock were ready to help with opening and shutting gates, and were a friendly bunch too. Here's a picture, but what chance that they ever see it?

We chugged on to the basin at Langley Mill, the present limit of navigation, and found 'The Great Northern Inn' just nearby. We had been told that it was closed for refurbishment, but the refurb had been completed some time earlier. An excellent carvery lunch, with first-class vegetables, too – quite a rarity!


And so back down again, past Sandiacre Lock Cottage, the last remaining toll house on the Erewash Canal and the headquarters of the ECPDA (Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association), who have done much to rescue this canal.

Then yet another mill chimney, this time without any mill buildings remaining, but pressed into more modern use!  . . .

. . . and out onto the Trent again . . .

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Fradley and Back

You may remember that, back in March 2008, we took a few diversions while waiting to be able to explore the Caldon Canal. One of those took us down the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction and then down the Coventry Canal to Fazeley.

Now we had arrived at the junction of the Rivers Soar and Trent with the Trent & Mersey and Erewash Canals. Fradley Junction was 'only' 29 miles and 18 locks away to the west, and we had never been on this stretch of canal. So, while we were here . . . !

We turned left up the river to Sawley locks, our first taste of the 'Mighty Trent'. A big river, which would have been scary a few years ago, but now not too bad – not forgetting that flowing water always needs a bit more respect than the almost static canal variety! Through the lock, we moored up for the night, before going on to join the Trent & Mersey Canal, which very soon brought us into Shardlow. As our Nicholson's Guide told us, here are 'living examples of large-scale canal architecture', such as the 18th-century Trent Mill in this photo.

We went on through several locks (14 feet wide), and stopped for lunch, but our next stop was less welcome. We found ourselves in a queue at Stenson Lock and had to wait for over an hour to get through – a combination of Bank Holiday and a difficult and deep lock, the last of the wide ones in this direction.

Seven miles to the next (narrow) lock at Dallow Lane, right in the centre of Burton upon Trent, and almost hidden under a widened road bridge.

Then very soon out into very open countryside and the pretty and seemingly remote Branston lock, though not far from Branston village, allegedly the original home of the eponymous pickle!

On to another tranquil spot, Tatenhill Lock, though the hum of traffic was in the distance. The next 2½ miles were not so scenic, as the canal runs dead straight, now right next to the Roman road once known by its Viking name of Ryknild Street and now as the A38. It's just as busy (and noisy) as the A38 we know down in Devon!

Welcome relief, then, as the canal turned off westwards through Wychnor Bridges, to skirt the other side of Alrewas village, with a short section of river navigation thrown in along the way.

And then we were nearly at Fradley! It looked rather different from the icy conditions of March 2008, but the Swan Inn looked unchanged despite the bustle of many half-term boaters. We turned around directly in front of it and headed down the locks again, back towards the Trent.

The trip back was equally enjoyable (it's always different going the other way!) Here are a few photo highlights along the way:–

Yellow Flag Iris and

swans with cygnets near Alrewas,

a narrow bridge near Barton-under-Needwood and

an old canal crane at Swarkestone

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Heading For The Trent

We chugged out of Blisworth Marina on 15th May, having spent rather longer there than we had expected this time. As you know, our plans for this year are to explore the waterways around the River Trent, before heading over the Pennines via the Rochdale Canal. So we needed to head north!

Familiar waters to start with, as we have travelled this way many times, the last time when we came back to Blisworth in March. The weather was rather better as we turned off at Norton Junction and headed for the 'Watford Flight' on the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal. This lovely flight, mainly staircase locks where the top gates of one lock are the bottom gates of the next one up, climbs steeply up the hill just next to Watford Gap services on the M1, but is almost invisible from the motorway. Once at the top, the motorway continues northwest and the canal northeast, so the roar of traffic soon eased and we were enjoying one of our favourite stretches, more than 20 miles of narrow canal, mainly following the contours but also diving through two short tunnels on the way towards Foxton and Leicestershire.

We were in no rush; we had agreed to meet Leigh and Martin near Foxton on the 22nd, so we had time to go up the 1½ mile arm to the village of Welford, just for the fun of it, stop the night there and continue our journey the next day. Just one little lock on this arm.

Next day, we reached the top of Foxton Locks in time to fill up our water tank and have lunch before tackling the locks themselves. Lots more spectators here than at Watford, and more locks, too – this time in two 'staircases' of 5 locks each. Always satisfying to work through this flight smoothly!

We were still early to meet Martin & Leigh, so we turned east to take the twisting route to Market Harborough, where we walked into the town centre for some shopping. A very pleasant market town, and well worth the walk! Last time we were here, Val's knees were too bad for that – no problem now!

Then back along the Market Harborough Arm, passing the bottom of Foxton Locks and on to Debdale Wharf. The folks here had very kindly agreed to accept delivery of Dave's latest consigment of garden tools from Switzerland, as well as letting Leigh and Martin park their car there while they came with us for a few days. We picked up the Swiss order and chugged on to a spot we remembered, about half an hour along the canal. L. & M. were coming the next day, so we had a little tidy-up – after Dave had put all the tools away!

On the way, we passed a little family of swans and noticed that the male swan was very protective. On our way back to meet L. & M. the next morning, he made sure to see us off his territory by attacking the boat's rear fender, and we saw him do the same for at least one other boat!

Once Leigh and Martin had arrived, we 'set sail' northwards towards Leicester, and Leigh soon decided that her favourite place in the boat was on the roof, enjoying the brilliant weather that we had in late May – and Martin joined her as well!

They didn't have very long to spend on board with us, but we introduced them to canal boating and a pretty part of Leicestershire as we travelled to Kilby Bridge and then back again. Locks, a short tunnel and peaceful moorings in the middle of nowhere – great!

Of course, as we retraced our route to Debdale Wharf to reunite L. & M. with their car and then set out back north again, we were able to enjoy the countryside twice in each direction! Here are the locks at Newton Harcourt on a quiet May morning, before any boats were on the move.

We have been this way by boat twice before, but have always turned around and headed back south. This time, we were going on northwards, exploring waterways we have not seen before. Meanwhile, there were some familiar sights . . .

The crumbling mills and other industrial buildings started appearing alongside the canal as it crept into the Leicester suburbs and gradually transformed itself into the River Soar Navigation. We both remembered these but, when we had moored up at Castle Gardens, we walked into the City Centre and it was Val's memory that was triggered by the old Clock Tower. She was born in Leicester and lived nearby in her early years. Almost everything else had changed, but the Clock Tower stands there, seemingly unmoved by the bustle and modernity surrounding it.

As we moved on northwards, the river (as it now was) took us through towns and villages which sometimes seemed to belong to an earlier time. Their close link with the waterside gave them an unchanging character, simple and almost private – quite a change from Leicester!

Mountsorrel proved to be quite a little waterways centre, with lots of activity around its lock and bridge.

Normanton-on-Soar is right next to the river, but there seemed to be only one place where visiting boats could drop people off (not moor!) – just a tiny landing stage next to the parish church!

Back in Blisworth, when we said that we were heading for the Trent, someone said, "Ah, power station alley!" Sure enough, as we came close to the junction of the Soar and Trent, the cooling towers of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station were there – Welcome to the Trent valley!

And then we came to the 5-way 'crossroads' of the River Trent: The Soar to the south, the Erewash Canal to the north, the Trent & Mersey Canal to the west and, on the right, the vast Thrumpton Weir (to be avoided at all costs!) and the relatively narrow Cranfleet Cut, the beginning of the River Trent Navigation