Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Foxton and beyond




Sunday 1st July
Our friends Tore and Kirsten arrived in Leicester today and we had an enjoyable evening sat on the pontoon enjoying a few beers whilst watching Denmark, unfortunately, leaving the world cup. They were staying in Leicester for a few days but we planned to leave the following morning.
Monday brought more fine weather as we left early during the morning rush with people hurrying to and fro to get to work. We slid gently along the straight mile through the old part of Leicester under the many bridges and a left bank steeped in history.
Leaving our mooring in Leicester
We arrived at the first of the twelve locks we had planned to pass through today, this lock is overlooked by the impressive King Power Stadium, home to Leicester City FC. Rejoining a now tiny river Soar we progressed on through the locks bypassing the wiers until arriving at Kings Lock where the navigation leaves the river for the last time. We were joined by another boat here, making our progress up the remaining locks easier, having an extra pair of hands to assist in moving the large gates. Above here we encountered many shallow pounds making our progress slow having to be careful of the debris hiding in the shallow muddy waters.
This stretch of canal leaves the city to the south but turns eastwards continuing to cling to the suburbs for what seems like forever. The views here are limited but as we approached our destination at Kilby Bridge the scenery began to hint at what was to come over the next few days. We tied up opposite the Navigation Pub unable to resist the temptation of a cold beer on such a warm day.


Low Pounds

Tuesday 2nd July
We had arranged to continue our journey up the locks towards Foxton, with the boat we had travelled with the previous day. We soon got under way only to find the three boats that had set of before us queuing at Bumblebee lock,  our first of twelve, scheduled for the days cruise. As we left Kilby we noted that the water level had reduced by almost 9 inches overnight. The lack of water was the reason for the queue we had just joined, the lock keepers had closed all the locks up to Foxton to enable them to refill the low pounds between the locks we had travelled through the previous day. The lock keeper estimated a wait of four hours before we could proceed so we settled back to enjoy the hot sunshine. After a couple of hours we were given the nod to proceed being warned that they may have to close the flight again if the water levels didn't fully recover. As there were now five boats in the queue  one of us would have to negotiate the twelve locks as a single boat. We volunteered to do this as everyone else seemed to be in a hurry. We eventually got under way making steady progress through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen outside Yorkshire! Our progress was helped by lock keepers who were still around adjusting the water levels. By late afternoon we had reached the top and passed through Saddington tunnel to arrive at a remote mooring for the evening where we settled down to watch England progress to the quarter finals by winning their first ever World Cup penalty shoot out. The nearest village was a combination of two at Smeeton Westerby, to the south east of Leicester we could hear the cheers as England scored, drifting across the fields.
After all the excitement of the night before the next morning was beautiful, warm and sunny with the now straw coloured fields providing a contrast to the clear deep blue of the sky. Our journey took us past the marina at Debdale Wharf and onward towards our first glimpse of Foxton where the mainline climbs away to the right ascending the famous lock flight, for us,  all this canal history would have to wait for another day as our path took us along the few miles down the arm to the canal terminus at Market Harborough.
The canal builders had intended to continue on to Northampton but the last section was never completed.
Market Harborough
The basin at the terminus proved to be a busy spot containing a marina, hire base and bookable visitor moorings, we opted to turn around after using the facilities to moor just outside the basin on the visitor moorings.

Market Harborough

There was plenty of room in a welcome shade from the searing heat. I had been contacted via Facebook by a fellow boater, Michael Ball, whom I had been put in touch with by David Beard, a colleague from my days at SLI Lighting, who sadly died a couple of years ago. Michael and his wife Christine arrived a few hours after us, and moored up next to us. It was great to finally meet up after following each others adventures through the last few years. We had a spot of maintenance to do on the boat but later joined them in a couple of the many fine pubs to be found in the town for a few beers and a catch up.
We were pleasently supprised by Market Harborough, it has many of the usual shops as well as many quirky small shops and cafes.  We also visited the market and replenished our supplies of meat at the stall of a local producer.
The following morning we set off to further explore the town, one of its famous families are the Symingtons, one branch famed for the making of corsets in the building that now houses the museum. The other branch of the family went on to produce soups etc and are still doing so with famous brands such as Ainsley Harriot, they have a large factory in Leeds and were recently noted for selling dried noodles to the Chinese!
Later that evening I decided to try a spot of fishing, landing a couple of small Roach. Michael joined me with a welcome glass of whisky, replenished several times as we chatted late into the night.
I had enjoyed our stay here but as the mooring rules are strictly enforced it was time to move on so the following morning we cast off and made our way back up the arm to Foxton.

Foxton
Foxton is one of those places on the network that seems to attract hordes  of visitors and boasts many attractions for tourists and boaters alike, fortunately we were able to find a mooring right at the bottom of the flight in readiness for our ascent in the morning. We were also reunited with Tore and Kirsten who were moored on the adjacent spot.
Once we tied up we were treated to a Jazz concert in the pub opposite the mooring as well as a Ukelele band in the other pub close to the mooring.
We decided to have a walk around the junction to explore the many interesting things to see.

The junction was created to provide a link from the Grand Union at Norton to Leicester, arriving some 75 feet higher than the earlier canal below.
It was decided to build a flight of locks to cover the difference in level, however,  due to water limitations it was decided to make these narrow locks as are the ones at the the other end of the twenty mile pound at Watford Gap. The locks are cleverly designed as a pair of staircase locks with 5 locks each. Every chamber had its own side pound, this halves the amount of water used and facilitates a speedy and efficient passage through.
Although efficient, the locks took 45 minutes to get through and even with a crossover point in the middle only one way traffic through was possible. The Grand Union company decided to try and improve the situation and in 1898 began the construction of an inclined plane.
The structure was designed around two caisions each capable of carrying two narrow boats or a widebeam. The boats were floated into the caisions and then the ends closed off trapping the water inside the tank, the weight never varied as the displacement of the boat equalled the weight of water.
One caision would be at the bottom of the plane whilst the other was at the top, a steam engine was installed to move the caisions, again the two balanced out so the steam engine was required to start the motion.
On the opening of the lift two boats could be moved in both directions in 12 minutes, a significant time saving.
The "Boiler House" Museum

Incline top
Looking down the incline

The inclined plane opened in 1900 but was only in operation for 11 years then closed due to a combination of competition from road transport, the inefficiency the steam engine and a failure to widen the Watford flight. Little of the structure remains now but there is a small but interesting museum in the restored boiler house, the plane itself can still be seen along with the docks at the top and bottom where the bats were marshalled into the system. The site is now in the care of the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust, they have an interesting website  http://www.fipt.org.uk/  this has a lot more information about the area and is well worth a look.

We had a walk down into Foxton village on Friday evening calling in at the Black Horse en route. We made our way back along the canal towpath and hoped to catch up with Michael and Christine Ball but we could see them just leaving in the distance as we approached, we were sorry to have missed them but wish them well for their onward adventures. We arrived back at our boat just in time to avoid a short downpour of rain, however it was short lived and offered little relief to the parched landscape.

Saturday 7th July
Yet another beautifully sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky, we made ourselves known to the lock keeper and took our position of third in the que to go up, there were no boats coming down so we were soon underway, reaching the top in an incredible 45 minutes. The views looking back northwards are a backdrop of typical english countryside with fields of cattle and hay bales all around.
Top of the Foxton Flight
View from the top

We cruised on for a couple of miles beyond the top lock to find an idyllic mooring in the middle of the sublime countryside. Fortunately we had a good TV signal and settled down to watch England beat Sweden in the World Cup quarter final.
Following the game I decided to do a spot of fishing managing to land a few young bream and a couple of Roach.
Waking up to another glorious day we set off to explore the Welford arm a few miles further on, the arm is just under two miles long with one lock and terminates just outside the village.
Welford Junction
As we cruised along one glider after another was been towed above us, into the air by a fleet of around six planes, further investigation revealed that it was a national competition getting underway and looking up into the sky we saw spirals of gliders searching for thermals under the clouds.
The trip along the arm was sublime with the verdant backdrop of vegetation speckled, Monet style, with Cabbage White and the bright blue Damsel fly.
The arm was originally built as a feeder to the summit level from two reservoirs above the village, we took a walk up to them and were pleased to see there was plenty of water, in spite of the stifling heat. Poor old Scruff was suffering in the heat too so we took her into the water to cool off, she took a bit of coxing to get her out again! Our route through the fields took us  over a tiny brook, this was the tiny river Avon with whom we will be hopefully be reunited with later.

Monday morning brought slightly cooler conditions and we decided to make our way along to Crick, home to the large boat show held at the end of May each year.
We found a good mooring opposite the Moorings restaurant and bar (closed on Mondays) we took a walk into the village to the small Co-Op at the far end from the canal, we also noted the two pubs on the main street as we planned to eat out on Tuesday.
My sister Carole and husband Jim came up to see us on Tuesday morning and we decided to have a coffee in the bar opposite the boat, before calling at the Red Lion for lunch. The Red Lion has a large and varied menu at lunchtime, all meals priced at a reasonable £5.95, the food was good and is certainly good value for money. It was nice to meet up with Carole and Jim again and we returned to the Moorings again before returning to the boat.
Later in the evening we were joined by Tore and Kirsten finishing off a great day with a few more beers.
Wednesday morning was cloudy and a little cooler, and we got an early start . The 1500 yard Crick tunnel, was our first point of interest, strangely there was a warm draught in the tunnel, there was also a lot of water pouring in along the first half of our passage through. We soon arrived at the other end  and progressed along to the top of the locks. We passed under the M1 just north of Watford Gap services to arrive at the first of the seven locks.
Watford side pounds


Watford Locks
We tied up and made a brew as the lock keeper informed us that they were letting six boats up the flight before we could start our descent. This flight of locks is similar to those at Foxton in that there is a staircase of four locks along with three singles. We had to wait an hour or so, by which time the sun had burnt through the clouds finally we began our descent, there were six boats in the queue waiting to descend  Tore and Kirsten were first with us following, as with Foxton we were through in less than a hour and heading down to Norton Junction, a few miles downstream.
Arriving at the junction we turned right heading northwest towards Braunston with its 1 1/2 mile tunnel and 6 locks.
2nd Lock down the Braunston Flight


We shared the locks down to the village with Tore and Kirsten, the village is another honeypot for canal enthusiasts and boaters, and we arrived to find most of the moorings occupied, we decided to press on a little further waving goodbye to our Danish friends, their route takes them down to Oxford, we will continue on the Grand Union heading west to Warwick before climbing the 21 one locks of the Hatton flight to join the Stratford canal.

Looking back to Norton Junction


Yorkshire Lock gate at Welford













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