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Archive for September, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 41

Posted by indigodream on 7 September, 2011

Foxton Top lock to Watford Top lock

Friday 19th August

Landscape...

It’s been a hectic week – I needed to clear the decks because I’d be spending a large part the following week in Wales (very long story); I was also busy making jam from the super-abundance of fruit in the garden, finishing off some proper work,  dealing with a couple of dog health crises and negotiating with some water board workmen who turned up unexpectedly to do some essential but, at this time, inconvenient work!

Just to update – Lynx had to have an endoscopy for a suspected tumour of the trachea – fortunately it wasn’t – ‘just’ severe inflammation caused by an infection or allergy – easily treated; Lou had a gum infection which culminated in the vet pulling out a loose tooth with his fingers (while she was conscious) – she is much happier with the rotten tooth and infection treated!

On the water front, getting connected to a different main has resulted in an increase in our domestic water pressure from a measly 0.6 bar to a whopping 6 bar – we’re having to switch the main on slowly just in case the extra pressure blows our old plumbing apart – so far so good!

Nonetheless, we got away on Friday afternoon, via Richard’s mum to drop Ty off and via Greyhoundhomer for a jam delivery – we eventually got to the boat in the early evening.

The boat had been fine – the water levels must have come up slightly and the back was still  aground but now tight against the bank! There is a large BW car park nearby but the signs say “no overnight parking” so Richard parked in the lane nearby. There is very good dog walking in the fields adjacent to the canal – wear enclosed shoes though – the thistles were very prickly through my sandals!

We quizzed our neighbouring boats to ascertain the local cat population (none!) – we got the melancholy news that the missing cat from last week had drowned – what a shame.

Folded landscape...

Saturday 20th August

We woke to a fine but cool morning – it’s alarmingly autumnal now with the landscape washed in a softer palette of mellow berry reds and leafy rusts. We’re already brushing fallen leaves off the roof. Lou and Lynx woke in good spirits – a miracle after the week that they’ve had!

We got off early – 8.30am – the canal was deserted and we enjoyed the peace of the next stretch. The landscape is amazing here – gently folded like a meringue in a mixing bowl. I noticed a reed bunting and a silent falcon hunting above. If a heavy harvest is a harbringer of a hard winter then order your thermals now 🙂

This is a long lock-free pound but the hounds had a chance to walk with Richard between bridges.

Richard took us through Husbands Bosworth tunnel – it’s a 2-way tunnel but we let two boats out, both from Northampton, before we ventured in. We met one other boat in the tunnel – nb Rundlestone – a very fine looking boat with immaculate paintwork.

Encouragingly, past the tunnel it was summer again – the sun came out and the landscape seemed greener. The towpath is infilled and soft beyond the tunnel so we had to get to the next bridge to let Richard off with his bike. He was going to cycle back for the car while I took the boat along the pound towards Watford. Note from Richard: The tow path is dire, in lots of places he had to walk, in one stretch he had to carry his bike as there was not enough room for him to push his bike alongside. The drive between Foxton and Watford is also slow so all in the car shuffle took 1 hour longer then anticipated.

Cracks Hill...

I loved the next stretch but it was slow going in the shallow waters. There were many moored boats, all looking very relaxed with human and canine crews snoozing gently on the towpath. Above, silent gliders were being towed into the blue heavens by noisy little aeroplanes. The landscape was a treat for the senses – the varied colours, the sound of birds and engines and the smells- the soft warmth of hay and the pungent radiance of manure. Another feature that I noticed were the “living mileposts” – there were plaques marking them but I couldn’t work out whether the ‘living’ bit was a particular type of tree – it wasn’t obvious from the water. The scenery continued to amaze – the Welford Arm looked very enticing and Crack Hill looked intriguingly artificial – but it isn’t, it’s a moraine formed by glaciers!

I had one stop with the hounds – Lou seemed distressed so I bought the boat in beyond bridge 39 to let her off for the necessary. This would have made a perfect overnight mooring for the hounds – quiet, deserted and flanked by fields where they could run. Luckily Lou and Lynx weren’t interested in running today – they just had a short bobble on the towpath and quickly hopped back on board.

Past Bridge 29 I started to encounter more oncoming boats – presumably coming up from Watford. They seemed to appear in pairs, making me think that the Watford locks were doubles – but they’re not! Passing was awkward in places but that’s sods law – you’ll always meet an oncoming boat where it’s narrow, shallow, obscured by reeds, with overhanging trees approaching a bridge on a blind bend – that’s just the way it is 🙂

I picked Richard up at Bridge 20 – he was stressed – he’d talked to the Watford lock-keeper on his way back and had been told that we’d need to arrive at top lock by 3.15pm in order to get down tonight and we were well behind schedule. He took the helm and I made lunch, anxiety about the time taking some shine off the afternoon.

Another view of Cracks Hill - there's a beacon on top - it must be magical up there when the beacon is lit...

We got to Watford top lock just after 3pm and found two boats waiting in front of us. We talked to the lockie and were told it was unlikely that we’d get through – he had a longer queue at the bottom so he was letting them up first and unless we got into the flight by 4pm (and not a minute past) then we’d be stuck at the top for the night. I found the lockie to be rather officious, but I strained to be charming as our fate was entirely in his hands. Richard went to help at the locks but the upcoming boats were slow and though the first boat in the ‘down’ queue went through, we didn’t, neither did the boat in front who’d arrived at 2.50pm. We gloomily watched the boats coming up – the first ones we met had been queuing at the bottom since 10.30am – the final ones had booked in at 1pm…..

I had a wry chat with the lady of the boat in front – she was emphatically blaming her husband for their not making the flight today – they’ve been this way many times and he had resolved to stop and walk up Crack Hill, delaying them by an hour. I had to tell her that I was joining her husband in the dog-house as Richard similarly blamed my slow driving for our not making the locks…..

Once we realised that we weren’t going anywhere, I tied the boat up properly while Richard checked the car – he wasn’t sure whether the lane at the bottom was secure, but he found that there wasn’t anywhere else (and it proved to be fine). There is a good service point at top lock – we got rid of the rubbish and filled our drinking water bottles. There are no pubs nearby though there is a Thai restaurant at the bottom of the flight. We opted to eat on board, giving me the opportunity to take the dogs for a long walk around the adjacent field. It’s well-fenced but there was a enough slack to let the greyhounds in (it is a marked footpath so we weren’t trespassing). The field adjacent was empty, but there were signs that it is sometimes used by livestock – Lynx managed to avoid the cow pats this time but still managed to acquire a pleasingly (to him!) rural odour.

The moorings above Watford locks would be very pleasant apart from one thing – they’re right under the M1 and the loud incessant noise was appalling. We did get a night’s sleep – you can tune it out provided that lorry drivers don’t beep their horns (they can’t help themselves). The odd overnight lull in the traffic noise was obligingly filled by train noise from the mainline below the locks.

We settled down to watch the Kings Speech on DVD -we’ve not seen it before as we’re fans of sci-fi/fantasy and it never occurred to us that we might enjoy it! But we were gobsmacked – what a fantastic film – it made up for some of the annoyance of our situation…

We were disturbed at 2.50am when the gas alarm went off – I got up, opened a few hatches and checked everything. There was no obvious source or smell of LPG (I sniffed at floor level). The boat wasn’t on fire and we didn’t have anything on that could produce carbon monoxide (engine or Webasto), but as its a colourless/odourless gas I checked the dogs – they’re more susceptible to CO poisoning than humans and are likely to show symptoms first. They seemed fine i.e. no less alert than usual (hard to tell with such idle hounds) – I did check for bright red mucous membranes (arguably a potential sign) – theirs looked normal. I went back to bed – 15 minutes later the alarm went off again. We did another audit – no obvious cause inside but we did speculate whether the super-sensitive sensors were picking up fumes from the busy motorway above. So there’s a dilemma – if the fumes are coming from outside then maybe we should shut the hatches/windows. It was 3am – that was too intellectual a dilemma for us so we just turned the gas off at the cylinder, opened the windows and turned the alarm off………

Note: do not ignore your gas alarm and do not turn it off until you are absolutely sure there’s nothing amiss. What, you don’t have a gas alarm? Get one installed straight away….

Photoblog:

I loved this undulating scenery...

Lush.....

Another one of Richard's inexplicable photos!

The towpath past Husband's Bosworth tunnel is in very poor condition...

Looking down at the tunnel portal...

The Welford Arm looked very inviting....

The main canal looks pretty good too....

Living milestone - dated 1983 - anyone know about this?

The busy road looked very out of place in this pastoral landscape...

That's bad - it's a day boat and surely you wouldn't need an instruction manual to tell you not to string you mooring ropes at decapitating height for a cyclist.....

We're not sure how this boat got to that spot - there's no channel or slipway and no road access for a crane - it's set neatly on blocks though so it wasn't carried by a flood....

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 40

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Kilby Bridge to Foxton Top Lock (Gumley Road bridge)

Saturday 13th August

Tandem manoeuvres with nb Kiewa...

We had intended to come to the boat on Friday, then that changed to Saturday morning, but we were worn out and had stuff to do at home so we delayed our journey until Saturday afternoon. The moorings at Kilby Bridge were now jam-packed – even on the offside. I guess it’s a knock-on effect of the stoppages as boats are getting temporarily stranded by the early lock closures. We got the hounds on board – Ty joined us this weekend – much to his horror – I’m afraid it was valium all round – Ty for his nerves (only when boating) and Lou for relaxing her spasming muscles – she’s been in a lot of pain this week.

We’d got essential supplies on the way up – it’s very useful having decent food shops in motorway service stations! But we fancied a takeaway and, as we had the car, went off to South Wigston in search of a chinese – there’s quite a selection and we had a great cantonese meal on board.

Sunday 14th August

We had some targets today – the first was to get past Kibworth Top Lock (No. 18) – the last of the locks affected by the restrictions; the second was to get to the top of the Foxton locks by the end of the day.

We started out early with fine weather on our side. We soon picked up a locking partner – nb Kiewa. She seemed familiar and as we got talking to their genial crew we realised that she was an ex-boatshare boat – years ago she was moored next to Dragonfly (our own Boatshare boat) at the Heritage marina on the Macclesfield – small world!

It's a very efficient way of moving between locks along a short pound...

Nb Kiewa’s crew had had a difficult holiday – the lady of the boat had hurt her ankle badly (ligaments but not bones broken) at one of the locks and they’d had to call an ambulance to help her. Later they brested up to a narrowboat at the fully-occupied Castle moorings in Leicester so that the lady of the boat could come back from hospital (on crutches). Their narrowboat neighbour (who shall be nameless – it’s not our tale to tell) took exception to their being brested up and tried to cast them adrift when they weren’t looking. It was a despicable thing to do, especially on a river navigation where a boat adrift could end up over a weir.

Sharon and Steve proved to be very good locking partners and we had a convivial and efficient trip up to Kibworth. This stretch is very scenic so Lou and Lynx had multiple rummages and, where we had to wait for locks, it was quiet enough to tempt Ty off for a bobble (on lead) though he’d much rather cower inside!

Water levels were generally low, even this early in the cruising day – I guess it must be pretty bad later on after a few boat movements. The pound below Kibworth was so low that nb Kiewa grounded yards away from the side and Indigo Dream scraped along, barely missing the bottom, even mid-channel. It was a sobering experience – the lock-keeper had photos of the reservoirs that supply the canal – two are dry, two are in water – just. It’s a desperate situation and hard to take in when it’s been such a wet July/August – or maybe that’s just Surrey!

Note: we’ve just seen a stoppage notice dated 25th August advising boats over 2′ 4″ deep NOT to navigate this section – Indigo Dream is 2′ 3″! It seems likely that the whole section will be closed to navigation sometime in the next few weeks.

As we ascended Kibworth second lock we were joined by a dad and his four kids – they cheekily asked for a lift and were charming enough for us to agree. It was a real tonic after the riots – a family enjoying a simple walk along the canal – they cadged a lift down with one boat and came back up with us. The kids said they’d had a “brilliant day” – so there is hope for the future after all….

There is a long lock-free section past Kibworth top so we left nb Kiewa behind and headed for Foxton. This section is lovely with prominent ‘ridge and furrow’ fields – marks of centuries of cultivation.

Fabulous views (1)....

We passed Debdale marina – it has to be the most discreet marina on the network – screened by trees, the neat entrance belies the size of the basin beyond.

Foxton was a shocker – the canal was quiet and rural right up to bridge 62 then it opened out into a junction/basin occupied by thousands (no exaggeration) of miscellaneous people and their associated noise – the hooting of the trip boat’s horn, the dubious Johny Cash tribute band at the pub and the chatter of the crowds. Ty was horrified – I wasn’t too chuffed myself – I do like a quiet life! We slotted in behind a boat at the mooring bollards on the right beyond the bridge – there were boats moored all around the basin so it was difficult to see who was in the queue and who was just moored up for the night. Richard went off to ‘register’ with the lock-keeper and we were told that there would be around an hour’s wait and that we would be second in the queue.

Foxton is unique in so many ways – there’s obviously the engineering wonder of the staircases and, somewhere around here, the remnants of the inclined plane, then there are the crowds!

Richard took Ty off for a walk away from the basin while I took Lou and Lynx off to try and find the site of the inclined plane. We never got there – I was daunted by the thought of pushing through the hordes on the narrow lock bridge with two large hounds in tow. As it happens we never got as far as the locks (or the inclined plane!) – so many people wanted to talk to/admire/fuss the greyhounds that we never got further than 10 yards from the boat!

As the end of the hour drew near, the crew of nb Kiewa caught up with us (they’d moored up and were going through Foxton tomorrow) – they had a tour of our boat and were sensible enough to admire her extravagantly – top people! We had more visitors later – the crew of nb Panacea, who we’ve met many times on St Pancras Cruising Club convoys on the Thames. It was good to see them again – they were also dashing down to London to take part in September’s tideway adventure – Panacea is looking very smart, having been repainted last year.

The hordes at Foxton bottom....

So the hour passed quickly and we were off. The lock-keepers are very jolly – the bottom lock-keeper told me about polishing his brasses – I told him that life was too short for polishing brass – “sex and alcohol” he replied cryptically – hmmm, was that a request or an invitation I wondered 🙂 Neither as it turned out – merely a list of the things in life that are worth spending time on!

If you have never seen a staircase then it is simply a collection of locks where the back gate of one lock is the front gate on the one before, very efficient in speed terms and saves water whilst boats are all travelling in the same direction. The paddles are a little less straightforward than in single locks but there are usually clear directions at the lock. In this case, once you get into the first lock, always open the red paddle first, this starts water getting into the lock from the balancing side pound. Once the boat in front has cleared the lock above then you can open the white paddle to drain the lock above – that sends water into the side pound and tops up the lock you are in. Once levels equalise you open the gates, shut the paddles, shut the gates and do the same again. There are 2 staircases of 5 locks, so 10 locks in all but they’re so efficient that you can get up to the top in around 45 minutes. Rumour has it that the England Rugby team did in something silly like 26 minutes! If you have never seen a staircase then there is a virtual model of half of Foxton here: http://www.foxtonlocks.com/sections/kids/flashgame.php The aim is to get a score of over a 1000.

Waiting for the staircase locks is a pain, but once you’re in the ascent is smooth and quick – the side-pound operation meant that numerous boats could work through without leaving the preceeding boats stranded. The crowds and noise continued unabated – I’ve never seen so many gongoozlers – one boy offered his services as relief crew and worked hard on the paddles – we gave him and his family a lift up the last two locks as a ‘thank you’. Like most places on the canal network, people are friendly, interested and it is a great day out. There were charity buskers all along the flight – of variable quality – but it’s undoubtedly a good place to stand with a collecting tin!

The gap between the two staircases is very awkward – there was a boat in the short pound, waiting to go down. They’d secured the boat with a centre rope but their front drifted out, leaving me no room to exit the locks neatly – inevitably their back then came out as I passed and it was a choice of scraping them or the lock. As one passing through, I’d advise holding your boat front and back if you’re stuck in the short pound!

We soon got to the top – the view is spectacular. We moored up for water at one of the many points – the water pressure wasn’t very good, but that was in our favour as it gave Richard time to offload his bike as I scouted out the moorings. It was 5pm-ish and there were one or two spaces between top lock and the bridge, but there were many more spaces beyond the bridge (though these filled up later). There were a few ‘commercial’ boats selling their wares on the towpath, giving the place a bit of a “leave via the gift shop” feel. Many more boats arrived at the top of the flight as I filled with water – it was doubtful whether they would go down the flight today – judging from the comments I overheard I suspect that the water points would be used as overnight moorings.

Gaggle of gongoozlers...

Foxton is undoubtedly a marvel and a definite must-do, but I found it a bit overwhelming on such a busy day – I’d love to come back here on a quieter day and have more space/leisure to explore….

Richard headed off to get the car and I watched the water tank – it took a while! When it was full, I decided to move the boat to a mooring beyond the bridge. I judged that this would be better for Ty as the numerous passersby between the locks and the bridge were rubbing on his nerves. I had some difficulty in mooring – there’s a good stretch of armco but the canal was shallow. In the end I managed to poke Indigo Dream’s nose into the bank and left the back grounded about six inches out – within acceptable leaping distance for the arthritic Lou and clumsy Ty!

Boats continued to arrive and I had a chance to observe the whole spectrum of boating life as a ‘drunken sailor’, meandering all over the canal, was followed by a prissy shiny boat complaining mightily about his behaviour. I found that I had sympathy for both parties – we hate being behind erratic boaters, but the drunken helmsman was cheerfully charming (as many drunks are!).  A boat moored a little way up had lost his cat – she had leapt for the bank as they were mooring, missed, ended up in the canal and subsequently disappeared – the distressed crew were searching both banks and water but they hadn’t found it by the time we left.

In the meantime, Richard was toiling back to Kilby Bridge along narrow and uneven towpaths, narrowly avoiding falling off his bike on several occasions. On the most notable occasion, the towpath was blocked by a middle-aged couple locked in a passionate embrace – Richard tells me he almost fell in the canal because they, and their dog, were obstructing the way………he wasn’t at all distracted by the sight of the very fine pair of breasts on display as the lady bent down to hold her dog 🙂

When he got back we decamped quickly – for future reference, there is a rubbish point at the BW car park!

We had the usual tedious trip through the M1 roadworks but we were buoyed by the fact that we are travelling ever southward and the commute will become easier as the weekends pass…..

Photoblog:

Fabulous views (2)....

Hitch-hikers! Oh, and the detail on nb Kiewa's prow - I like that design...

Isn't this beautiul?

"The canine carrying co" - that's should be written on the side of our boat!

The discreet entrance to Debdale marina...

Trip boat Vagabond plying its trade near Foxton...

nb Panacea looking very smart....

Deep staircases are so imposing...

Another view from the top...

Great views and see the flow into the side-pound below - very clever....

Now, how's this for an idea - if every visitor bought a 2l bottle of water with them and poured it in at the top then maybe these locks could stay open for longer this season...

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 43

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Weedon is a popular mooring spot - well, the village does have FOUR pubs!

Weedon to Great Linford

Friday 26th August

We decided to drive up after the rush hour and set off from home at 8pm – good decision – we had the smoothest trip along the motorways and got to the boat by 10pm via Waitrose in Northampton which shuts a little later than the nearby Asda.

Weedon is not the easiest place to offload the dogs – bold Lou and Lynx were fine though we kept them on lead past the moored boats; Ty, predictably, was terrified by the traffic and we had to be vigilant to ensue that he didn’t slip his collar and bolt. It was Ty’s 6th birthday today and he’d had a lovely day until we arrived at the boat – he gave us some very reproachful looks!

Despite the proximity of the busy A5, we had a quiet night on the moorings – just as well, we had a big weekend ahead of us……

Saturday 27th August

We got off at 8.30am – these last few weekends are setting a new standard for Indigo Dream – where have our comfortable 10am starts gone?!

The canal was quiet, though we noticed that  many of the moored boats had already moved away. The further we cruised the more we were reminded of how grand the Grand Union is – we fell in love with it all over again and cruised along with increasing enjoyment. The stretch out of Weedon is so high, with gaps in the trees offering delightful glimpses of the surrounding valleys.

I love the way the landscape is framed by the arched bridges - hard to get a good photos while trying to manoeuvre the boat through the bridge holes though...

We stopped off at Stowe Hill marine for a pump-out (£14) and decided to fill with diesel while we were there (83p base – we declared a 60/40 split). We like the folk here – they’re very friendly and the lady is a greyhound fan (she lost her beloved hound a while back) – she came on board to give our hounds a fuss – even Ty consented to be cuddled!

I was amused by today’s car shuffle – Richard would leave the boat to shuffle the car then pop up in time for locks and tunnels before disappearing again! I first dropped him off at Nether Heyford – he shuffled the car to Blisworth and cycled back in time to take the boat through the tunnel. It’s safe to say that there are no water shortages in the Blisworth tunnel – it was a wet as ever, though coming South you do tend to miss the pressure jet in the middle.

I noted in passing that Heyfords Fields marina is immaculate – possibly the most inviting marina we’ve passed yet. I also noticed a banner by Bridge 35 advertising that the 5-bells pub has a new chef – hmmm, maybe we’ll try that next time we’re in the vicinity!

Stoke Bruerne was as attractive as ever – it’s one of our favourite spots (there are so many :-)) and it was relatively quiet – there were two boats coming out of top lock and we joined nb Firefly who was waiting to go down. Nb Firefly is a Carefree Cruising share boat with a competent and pleasant crew – we had a great passage down the flight. Lou and Lynx had their usual bobbles at the locks though their activity was soon curtailed by a torrential rainstorm. They weren’t amused at being confined indoors – I don’t know what they were complaining about – I’d have paid good money to be forced out of the rain! Having said that, I didn’t get wet – my raincoat and hat did but I was actually quite snug.

We changed locking partners at bottom lock as we caught up with single-handed nb Jasper – we were to share the rest of the day’s locks with him and he proved to be obliging and ‘busy’ (some single-handers sit on board and let Richard do the work – not that he minds, usually!).

With the flight done, Richard cycled off for the car and popped up later at Cosgrove. I’d fed him a sandwich before he left and had prepared my own lunch to eat on the move. I have to offer nb Mona Lisa an apology for my erratic course along the canal – I was, at the time, wrestling unsuccessfully with Lou and Lynx for possession of my sandwiches. Lou had already sneaked the ham off my plate, I managed to grab and eat one sandwich but dropped the other two onto the deck in the melee! I cruised along hungrily while my smug hounds licked their lips with satisfaction. I did manage to dash inside on a deserted straight and grab some cookies to keep me going…

Bit of a restoration project....

The heavens opened again on the approach to Cosgrove but I had my coat to hand – it was that sort of day – I’d worn, in turn, my sun hat, warm fleece hat and rain hat, light fleece, heavy fleece and raincoat…

Cosgrove was as busy as usual with a small queue waiting to go down and a vast queue waiting to come up with boats arriving by the minute. I surmised that the Wyvern hire fleet were having a good weekend – I’m sure that we’ve seen most of their boats on the move today. The young crew of one hire boat were having a debate about where to moor for the night – they were worried about cruising too far and ending up in a manky industrial estate – I was able to reassure them that there weren’t any manky mooring spots between here and Gayton!

For the record, I HATE trough aqueducts (Richard loves them!) – I was interested in the river Great Ouse below but really, whose bright idea was it to have such a tiny unprotected gap between the deck and the fall – the dogs were locked inside, I have nightmares about them jumping/falling over the edge.

Sadly Richard missed the aqueduct – as soon as I was out of the lock at Cosgrove he went off to take the car to Wolverton train station, where we’d leave the car for the rest of the weekend, protected by the car park’s CCTV cameras. We’d pick it up on Monday – our destination, Berkhamstead, has a train station with handy connections.

We had planned a long day’s cruise, but by 6.30pm I was very weary and though we could have gone further we decided to moor at Great Linford. We’ve always admired the visitor moorings here – there are only two 48-hour spaces on the offside and we were amazed to see that one space was vacant. That’s fate! The moorings are flanked by a fine park which we hoped would suit Ty. As it happened, he was intimidated by the odd walker and blare of a car horn nearby and, later on, the bang of a small firework – never mind, he did relax enough to wee and that’s all that matters. We scouted out the surrounding area and found a charming thatched pub, the Nag’s Head, in the village (walk straight up the path from the moorings and there’s the pub). The lounge bar is small and quaint (no dogs allowed)  but the saloon bar (dogs allowed) is surrounded by no fewer than 3 TV screens showing football. We ended up in the saloon with the hounds – they immediately settled onto their sheepskins, much to the amusement/amazement of the locals. We had a good pub meal here and the staff and drinkers were very friendly. Ty did very well – he was relaxed enough to eat a sausage and that’s as good a measure of his mental state as anything!

We might have stayed in the pub for longer but I was on my last legs so we wandered back to the boat before it got fully dark and settled down in front of the TV. Unfortunately Lou had a severe muscle spasm after the day’s exertions so she ended up on valium and tramadol for the weekend. The drugs work very well, with few side-effects; when she spasms Lou becomes as rigid as a hound carved of oak, and I can’t describe how much pain she’s in so “c’est la vie”. She’s due to see the physio on Wednesday – that usually makes a big difference.

Photoblog:

That's a polite notice - I like it...

Interesting developments here - there's a tidy canalside mooring, the site has been levelled and there's a gravel drive down from the road for good access...

The immaculate Heyford Fields marina....

Approaching Blisworth...

Inside the Blisworth tunnel...

Blisworth ventilation shaft..

Stoke Bruerne water front...

Manoeuvres in the Stoke Bruerne flight - there's plenty of room to pass, even in the shortest pounds, though the pair coming up made it hard by moving off so very very slowly....

The scenery below Stoke Bruerne is lovely....

Lou and Lynx enjoyed the view....of the sheep!

The English countryside - we'll never tire of it....

The villages are quite distant on the stretch between Stoke Bruerne and Cosgrove....

The towpath as it might have been years ago....

Rainbow over toy-town....

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 39

Posted by indigodream on 6 September, 2011

Blue Bank Lock to Kilby Bridge

Monday 8th August

Leaving our mooring below Blue Banks lock - it's a lovely spot....

It was a fine morning and although the enforced stoppage was very inconvenient, it was pleasant to be cruising in the morning sunshine rather than last night’s thundery showers!

The Blue Banks mooring had been very quiet and also offered excellent dog walking in the adjacent field – though watch out for the large herd of ponies which seems to travel between the different fields. Luckily they were elsewhere when Richard took the hounds for their morning rummage. Lynx and Lou did a lot of rummaging today – there were plenty of locks and most were rural/fenced so perfect. Slightly less perfect was the inexplicable presence of large cowpats adjacent to Gee’s lock. Cow poo is Lynx’s favourite grooming product (as he eloquently described in his latest diary) and he smeared himself…….and me – sigh!!!

I have to say that the area around Blaby Bridge doesn’t look like bandit country though there are large housing estates on the offside – what we could see from the canal looked very civilised. However we did see Del boy’s 3-wheeler parked upstream of Bridge 43 – we wondered whether it was the original ‘prop’ from the TV series or a faithful reproduction!

We got to Kilby Bridge before midday – there are useful services offside so we got rid of the rubbish but we decided not to stop for water. We pushed over to the towpath side, where there were ample mooring spaces, mainly bollarded – it’s 48-hour near the bridge but 14-day a little further back.

We packed the boat and headed for home – our route to the M1 took us through several small villages where we’d hope to find a nice pub/cafe for lunch – there wasn’t one! So, we had a little detour to the charming town of Lutterworth and ate in the very fine “Greyhound coaching inn”.

Lou at the Greyhound Coaching Inn, Lutterworth....

As Richard parked the car I went into the pub to ask whether dogs were allowed –

“er yes” said the barmaid “er are they small dogs?”

“they’re greyhounds” I replied – they were admitted immediately!

We had a good pub lunch here – it’s a very welcoming place with a nice atmosphere – they also have accommodation. It would be a good place for a gathering – now we just need to think of a good excuse for one!

We had a good drive back but were in for a shock when we got home. We hadn’t watched the telly or listened to the radio while we were away so we were stunned by the news of the riots. We were even more astounded as the news unfolded on Monday night and we saw businesses within a stone’s throw of Richard’s office being looted and going up in flames. We could have watched the news all night but finally went to bed at midnight, keeping our fingers crossed that Richard’s office would be ok.

Note: Luckily Richard’s business was unharmed but we felt quite sick at the sight of people’s livelihoods being wrecked by unthinking mobs – after the incident with the fishermen I was musing gloomily that this is how the apocalypse starts – not with fire and brimstone but with the unravelling of the good will that weaves us all together……

Photoblog:

Green...

Doesn't look like 'bandit country' from here?

Lovely views from Kilby lock....

Lou's locking technique - get off boat, lie down, get back on boat - simple!

Well, I wouldn't go to sea on it!!

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 38

Posted by indigodream on 5 September, 2011

Hope and Anchor Bridge (Thurmaston) to Blue Bank Lock

Sunday 7th August

Bye bye Matilda Rose - it was so lovely to cruise with you....

We really needed to shift today and were up early with the aim of setting out by 8am – we almost made it, getting away by 8.30am.

However the morning was full of incident before we pulled our pins. I took the dogs for a walk along the lakes, preceded by a couple with an excitable spaniel. The spaniel wee’d on one of the fishermen’s tents and the whole situation suddenly erupted quite horribly. We’d passed the fishermen last night and they’d seemed ok, but when the spaniel transgressed (which I agree was very annoying) the fishermen started shouting, swearing and issuing coarse threats towards the spaniel’s owners, inviting the man to fight and culminating in threat to ‘cut the dog’s throat’. It was awful and went on and on, with the fishermen’s shouts echoing around the lake. I live a very sheltered life and  found it dreadful – well out of proportion to the original ‘crime’. Luckily it’s a circular walk so the spaniel’s owners didn’t have to pass the fishermen on the way back.

I didn’t get involved but put Lynx firmly on the lead on my way back – if that’s how they treat a couple, I’d no idea how they’d treat a lone woman whose dog trespassed in the same way.

Knowing that Graham is a morning person, I knocked on his window to let him know the fishermen’s temper (Baxter and Muttley are both boy dogs but immaculately behaved) – he and Jill came to see us off and we were away. I was sorry to have witnessed the event – these moorings are perfect for dogs and they got better the further along we went.

It was early Sunday morning and we had the navigation to ourselves – bliss! We did break the silence by helping Graham to check his new VHF radio, but otherwise the waterway was green and pleasant. It remained so on the approach to Leicester, though the sudden presence of trash and dead fish in the locks signaled that we were getting close to a large conurbation. The weirs around Leicester are notable – imposing and, in some cases, enormous, with little separation between the weir and the locks – the river is very benign at the moment but, as I’ve observed before, it must be fearsome in flood.

Approaching Leicester - the futuristic building is the national space centre - http://www.spacecentre.co.uk/

We did our good deed of the day below Watermead Bridge – a BW workboat was sticking out at right angles to the navigation, unsecurely secured by its front rope. There was enough room to get past but we decided to secure the workboat. I dropped Richard off and he scampered over the boat to the offside bank and pulled it in as I came alongside. Weeks ago we picked up a long length of thick blue rope from the canal (before it got caught in our prop) – we’ve been carrying it around since then, reluctant to throw it away but having no conceivable use for it on Indigo Dream. Today we found a home for it – on the stern of the workboat, securing it to a handy tree!

Leicester itself looked very inviting from the water – it’s mainly surrounded by parkland so the dogs could have a bobble at most of the locks. The mile straight is quite a sight and the castle mooring looked inviting – encouragingly there was space on the pontoon, though it’s hard to judge whether it had been available overnight. It was strange to see the long stretch of unoccupied mooring bollards on the towpath side. We picked up a leaflet about this section and it stated that Leicester Town Council are very keen to welcome boaters – the empty towpath moorings say that they have a way to go before they overturn the city’s fearsome reputation.

We didn’t have time to ‘stop and stare’ – we’d had another unfortunate incident at Limekiln Lock – as I was moving off the lock moorings below there was a horrible noise from under the counter. I assumed I’d hit a trolley and thought nothing of it. But the prop felt sluggish, so while the lock was filling Richard had a look down the weedhatch. He cleared a few bits and pieces from the prop but she still wasn’t right – the tiller was heavy and making an irritating rubbing/grinding noise. It took us over half an hour to first diagnose and then solve the problem – a tyre (as from a mountain bike) had corkscrewed around the tiller and the skeg just out of reach through the weed hatch. Fortunately the waterway was still deserted and we eventually managed to release the offending item without having to tow the boat out of the lock.

We’d enjoyed our trip through Leicester but I have to admit that the waterway became increasingly attractive as we traveled out of the city. The stretch above Mary Mill lock is so narrow and overgrown I thought I’d taken a wrong turn onto a tributary – what a contrast after the majestic weir just yards away above Freeman’s lock. The canal/river twisted and turned its way through an increasingly rural landscape. Aylestone Mill Lock was particularly attractive, with fine dog rummaging (though it was already too hot for our tired hounds, who just lay in the soft grass to supervise).

The weirs are VERY close to the locks in places....

We were eager to reach Kings lock (lock 38) – the starting point for the stoppages imposed by the water shortages. Our aim was to press on past Kilby lock and moor up for the week in Kilby Bridge. Alas it was not to be – at 1pm the lock-keeper at Kings Lock told us that they were starting to lock the locks before 4pm and that we wouldn’t reach Kilby lock in time. He also advised us to moor below Blue Bank lock as further along it was “bandit country”. This was a blow – it would mean that we’d have to stop cruising at 2.30pm (where we’d normally cruise until 7 – 8 pm) – how frustrating.

We went on to Blue Bank lock – the moorings below the lock are quiet and rural – too quiet, Richard was worried about the boat’s security for a week, so we decided to stay overnight, take Monday off and move the boat to Kilby Bridge the following morning (one of the compensations of being self-employed). Richard cycled off to do the car shuffle and I settled down to some domestics – time to wash the floor again! Richard was gone a while so I had time to chat to passersby and observe a thunderstorm approaching from Leicester. Richard timed his journey perfectly – he arrived back on the boat at the same time as the first drops of rain. Within an hour the outside temperature had plummeted from 24 degrees to a scant 10 degrees.

While Richard was away, numerous boats came down Blue Banks lock, desperately trying to get through King’s Lock before 4pm. Not all will have made it and I assume that the mooring above King’s lock would have filled with boaters waiting to pass through in the morning. I was surprised that no-one joined us on the Blue Banks mooring but I guess that most had been caught out by the stoppage at Kings lock.

The only trouble with the Blue Bank lock moorings is that they are in the middle of nowhere so I scraped another meal out of our supplies (thanks to some garlic bread donated from nb Matilda Rose’s store cupboard) and we settled down for a quiet evening. The mooring was silent and we had a good night’s sleep here…

Photoblog:

The country park looks very fine from the water (if you can avoid upsetting the fishermen!)...

Tug Warrior with Sarah of Chertsey fame on the helm....

It's so neat through Birstall...

These early starts are soooo tiring....

I wonder what the holes in the bridge are for?

Pretty....

You won't miss the navigable arch...

"City Skylines" climbing frame - I'll give that a miss thanks!

The less attractive approach to Leicester...

Part of Leicester's industrial heritage...

Leafy approach to Limekiln lock...

Not everyone respects the river in the way that the city council would like...

The tyre that tied itself to our rudder...

Duck....

Castle moorings, Leicester (on the left)...

Fine bridge over the mile straight...

Unusual footbridge....

Vast weir above Freeman's lock and a view of the Leicester City football ground....

Aylestone Mill lock - a good place for hounds to have a rummage....

The tea rooms at Kings lock - I guess you could do worse than be stranded here by the stoppages!

You see allsorts on the canal....

It really was an early start and a hound needs his beauty sleep...

Ponies in the field adjacent to the mooring below Blue Banks lock...

Storm on the way...

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 37

Posted by indigodream on 1 September, 2011

Loughborough to Hope and Anchor Bridge (just outside Thurmaston)

Friday 5th August

Happy hounds Archie, Henry and Ranger.....

We had the usual tedious trip up to the boat, despite leaving home quite early in the afternoon. We had a boating blogger’s meeting on the cards as we’d heard from the crew of nb Matilda Rose – they were moored just in front of Indigo Dream and ready for another pint or two and the now inevitable chat about the BCN Challenge and how to come first next time 🙂

We got to the boat around 8pm – we had no worries as Graham had already texted us earlier in the week to tell us she was fine – boating bloggers are a fine bunch! When we arrived, we quickly ascertained Daisy the cat’s whereabouts (she was safely on board) and got Lou and Lynx aboard. We had planned to go out to eat, but unfortunately Jill was feeling under the weather so we plumped for a chinese takeaway on our back deck with Graham and his grandson. Although we missed Jill’s company, we had a merry evening, with Graham regaling us with tales from his fascinating life in the airforce. It was actually warm enough to sit outside for the whole evening and it was gone 11pm before we knew it. We bid them a fond farewell – they were planning to stay put for now, while we had to head South.

We knew we’d be leaving around 10am so we made cat/greyhound arrangements (contact to be avoided at all costs) and went our separate ways….

Saturday 6th August

Sarah, Andy and regulars Ranger, Henry and Archie joined us for some more cruising today. Graham was on board when they arrived – he’d come over to arrange delivery of a new computer using our computer (always a dilemma – how can you order a new computer online when your old computer is dead owing to an overdose of red wine?). It was another merry meeting and Jill soon joined us. Before we knew it, they completely changed their plans and cruised with us for the day. It was late morning by the time we set off, but luckily we hadn’t set too demanding a target for the day – we’d decided to aim for Thurmaston/Birstall which Sarah had recommended as having excellent dog-walking.

nb Matilda Rose leaving our moorings in Loughborough...

We had one of those wonderfully spontaneous days – all new waters for us but familiar to the other crew so they could point out useful pubs, moorings and dog walks. With big double locks, even locking became a social event, with mugs of coffee and whatnot being passed between boats – we even swapped crew, with Richard joining nb Matilda Rose for a while!

Now, I have a bit of history in this region – many moons ago I set up and looked after a graduate training scheme for pharmacy students – this involved tedious, exhausting and lonely trips to all of the schools of pharmacy looking for likely candidates among the mainly disinterested student population. There are a lot of Schools of pharmacy hereabouts – Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester, which have grown up around local pharmaceutical industries. I’ve had a rather jaundiced view of these settlements so I was surprised to see how pleasant Loughborough is from the water. It also has interesting mill buildings – there’s a potted history here – I was surprised at the great age of the settlement and the trials and tribulations its endured over the years.

We did have some entertainment at the expense of two day boats, being inexpertly crewed by a gaggle of girlies on a hen party. It caused us a bit of a delay – they hadn’t worked out how to get the crew back on board after descending a lock and ended up with girlies scattered all over the towpath on both sides of the canal. They did eventually pick up their wayward crew –  we’ll never know how they didn’t capsize or fall into the water. Sarah assures me that we were laughing with the girls, not at them, even when Graham played the relevant part of “the laughing policeman” song at full volume!

With Daisy cat on board, the greyhounds, along with Baxter and Muttley, had some great rummages. We stopped for water by Mill Lane Bridge and the two packs had a rummage down the lane and Lou had a splosh in a quiet part of the weir stream – watch your hounds here though as the main weir stream is fast flowing, even with the current low water levels. We had thought to stop for lunch in the nearby pub, but the moorings were busy so we pressed on to Cossington. The moorings were busy here too, but we just managed to squeeze in right at the end of the moorings, ‘borrowing’ one of the lock bollards for an hour. We took the hounds for a run in the adjacent fields, which offer great walking and another opportunity for Lou to have a little paddle – she does love it! We then went off to the pub – our combined pack of 7 dogs (5 greyhounds and 2 tibetan terriers) causing considerable interest. The pub did good beer but alas no food so I had a human rummage and managed to find enough food for a surreptitious picnic in the pub garden.

We rarely stop for a proper lunch, and in such good company we started to put down roots which proved hard to shift. However we did need to get as far as Thurmaston (at least) today so we packed up and moved on. We’d had a fine day’s cruising, but the skies were dark and grey as settled onto our overnight mooring just beyond Hope and Anchor bridge (Bridge 19). One of the attractions of this mooring is the miles/acres of excellent dog-walking in the adjacent lakes/country park. We took the hounds for yet another walk – Lou had another splosh – before coming back to out respective boats. We fed the hounds then went off to the Hope and Anchor pub for supper. We debated sitting outside, but there was a slim majority for eating inside – just as well – soon after our starters arrived there was a torrential downpour. We stayed dry and had a convivial evening with our firm boating, blogging, dog-loving friends…..

Photoblog:

Loughborough has a pleasant waterfront...

Industrial remnant - old mill building presumably...

Grand.....

Sarah and Andy, Indigo Dream's relief crew with Jill and Graham behind us on nb Matilda Rose...

Flood lock...

We were soon back out in the countryside - the river seemed much quieter today....

Soar views...

Not all weirs are as obvious as this - but then again this is part of the flood defences...

Underneath the arches....

Gate paddles create a fearsome flow...

But the turbulence isn't a problem when there's two boats in the lock....

These cycle paths are getting everywhere!

Fine bridge built in 1860 - there's quite a bend here - we go under that bridge!

Weir below Mountsorrel lock....

It was a joyful day....

It's behind you.....

There are some pretty places here....

Day boats Rumble and Fumble living up to their names!

What is this and why did we take a photo? 🙂

Great dog walking at the start of the vast Watermead country park...

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