Monday, 6 October 2014

Kilby Bridge to Market Harborough and Foxton

Monday 29th September

Bumblebee Lock to High Bridge 79, Newton Harcourt

We set off early, and the first four locks were empty in our favour, but the final two were full.  A lovely morning with a slight mist in the air.  A good view of a buzzard sitting in a field.

Early morning cruise

Top Half Mile Lock

We moored on piling just after High Bridge, with a good view of the valley, and sunshine to dry our washing.

Lots of dog walking going on. One was a German Shepherd who was interested in Hugo.  The owner told us that Newton Harcourt manor house by the church was up for sale, and they were going to build houses behind it.  He then walked on, and an elderly lady came into view a minute of two behind him, saying: “I don’t know why I go along with him on these walks!”

Hazel put out the washing to dry.  A rain shower started. Hazel took the washing in again. The rain stopped.  IS THIS A TEST?

We walked along a bit of towpath, over bridge 78, across two fields and along a road to Wistow Garden Centre, which includes a few craft shops, a farm shop, a pet accessories shop, a tea room and a model village.  We looked at the model village, which is a little tired, and bought a frappe and an ice cream, before walking back another way. 

Model Village at Wistow

This route took us up a lane, and over a new bridge, and past the manor house (not very old) where they are building new homes in the grounds. We guess that the new bridge was to allow works access to the site. 

We visited the church of Newton Harcourt, and signed the visitor’s book. Very dark and not often used.  Back over bridge 80 and along the towpath.  James spotted a bank vole running along a horizontal branch in the hedge.

Back at our boat we found another boat moored in front: Skylark. 

Two buzzards in a tree nearby. This seems to have been the year of the buzzard. We have never seen so many.

6 locks, 2 miles, 1 live bank vole in hedge, 1hr45

Tuesday 30th September

Newton Harcourt to Smeeton Westerby

Apart from one or two trains, this was a peaceful mooring.  We set off at a leisurely time after consuming some Aldi croissants.  Skylark had not moved.

Rural views near Wistow

Crane’s Lock

Crane’s Lock and Pywell’s Locks were both in our favour, but 19 and 20 Kibworth Locks were full and needed to be emptied.  Kibworth Top Lock had a boat in it coming down, so we went in after it had left..

We paused for lunch after bridge 74, and phoned the Old Crown in Fleckney to check that the music session was happening tomorrow (first Wednesday of the month). It wasn’t – my information was old.  We scooped up Hugo, who was enjoying life on the towpath, and moved on to the moorings for Fleckney at bridge 73. Skylark arrived soon after. We walked across a medieval field with undulating bumps and made our way to the Co-op for some essentials.

We moved on through Saddington Tunnel, which has bats, but all we could see were bat boxes on the walls. 

Saddington Tunnel

Lots of good moorings after this – one local boat had reversed in the feeder from the reservoir.  We found a place with a good view of Smeeton Hill.

It was a lovely evening and we sat out on deckchairs on the grass. Not bad for the last day of September!

5 locks, 4 miles, 2hr35

Wednesday 1st October

Smeeton Westerby

A sunny morning after a breezy night.  We had a lovely cooked breakfast with Anabel’s bantam eggs.

Djinni is a smart boat we have seen moored occasionally.  Today they went past fairly early, and if we hadn’t seen them we would not have known.  They hardly put out any wash, and the engine was very quiet.

Skylark went past around midday.

James adjusted the setting on the thermostat on the immersion heater. We’ll try in it a few days to see if it works.

Caught up with blogs.

No boating today

Thursday 2nd October

Smeeton Westerby to Market Harborough

A lovely sunny day. Our first stop was the water tap just before Foxton Locks. There are three here, and the pressure is good.  We thought there might be boats waiting for it at Market Harborough.

Foxton Junction

There were no boats using Foxton Locks as we passed.  There is a small manual pedestrian swingbridge at the entrance to the Market Harborough arm. The instructions say to insert your key and turn it, but it wouldn’t turn.  There is also a handle to lift to release a catch and it is all very fiddly.  The bridge swung without difficulty, and when James swung it back it would not catch in the mechanism, which is probably why the key would not turn originally. He left it as he found it.

A little further on there is a road swingbridge. It has barriers which can’t be released until the key is turned. The bridge can’t be swung (manually) until the barriers are across. It is all complicated due to health and safety.

Foxton Swingbridge

We passed Djinni, and asked them whether they had an enclosed insulated engine, but they said they just had a hospital silencer and trad stern.  We cruised slowly along, making notes of possible moorings, and looking at the fish, as the water was clear. At one place we found the head of a child’s fishing net entangled in a bramble, so we cut it away to use the material as bait bags for the crayfish traps.  While we were doing that, we spotted a bullfinch in a nearby bush.  We haven’t seen one for several years, so it was very exciting.  We used to see them quite often years ago.

On arrival in the basin at Market Harborough, we headed for the facilities, where a Canal Club boat was moored in the middle of the moorings, and they were washing the boat with a hose.  We managed to reverse into a spot round the corner where we could tie on with the stern line and the centre line, with the bows sticking out across the bows of the hire boat.  “You realise you’ve blocked us in?” said one of the two Canal Club staff. The boat had nothing behind it, so was definitely not blocked in.

“We only have two more boats to do, and then it’s all yours” the other one said.  We only wanted to empty our cassettes and dispose of our rubbish. Thankfully we didn’t need water as we had filled up earlier.  This is a C&RT facility, but the hire boat base seem to think it is for their exclusive use.

Market Harborough basin

We left the basin and moored on the visitor moorings, two boats in front of Skylark.

We went shopping in Market Harborough.  They have a Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and a small Tesco.  We pottered round the market, and some of the other shops, had a latte on the square, and took a taxi back with our trolley full of provisions.

A very warm night.  This is supposed to be October!

0 locks, 8 miles, 2 swing bridges

Friday 3rd October

Market Harborough to Foxton Step Bridge

We needed to leave and come back again, because these are 48 hour moorings and we want to be back here on Sunday for church.

We wanted to get some more milk so James went to the local newsagents and convenience store across the main road. It had “closed” on the door; a little odd at 10am on a Friday.  Closer inspection revealed that the shelves were empty. Closed DOWN would have been a better phrase.

He wandered over towards the Canal Club office to see if they sold milk. Before he got there a lady approached and asked him if he was from Gabriel.  It turned out that she was from Silent Lights, the company from which our angel lights came, and had remembered that we had entered an illuminated procession with them.  She had just had a week on a hire boat.  With not enough space for them on the boat, the lights are now at Weybridge Methodist Church, where, hopefully, they might be erected this December for the public to see as they pass by.

The man in the Canal Club office said they didn’t sell milk, and then a voice piped up from the doorway “But we have some!”  The Silent Lights lady gave us a half full 4 pint bottle, straight from the hire boat fridge.  The Lord provides.

It was a pleasant day for boating, although there was a fair breeze.  We wanted to go out into the countryside for one night, to sit out the rain forecast for tomorrow, and cruise back in the forecast sunshine in late afternoon.

Woodland just outside Market Harborough

We cruised 3 ½ miles to a winding hole, where we turned round and reversed a further half mile through two bridges to a mooring by Foxton Step Bridge.  Thankfully no boats came along while we were making our manoeuvre.  The bow thruster really helps to keep the boat going straight.  Just after we had moored up, three boats came past.

Enjoying the wildlife

We finally managed to put our canal map into the frame we had bought, and we hung it with sticky Velcro-style fixings.  The plan is that we can take down the whole frame to show people canal routes, and put it back up again.

Hugo seemed very happy with the place, and to demonstrate this, he brought us a live field mouse, which James had to return to the wild.

We noticed a sign which said 6.43kph.  Presumably this is the equivalent of 4mph, but as boats don’t generally have speedometers, two decimal places is little excessive in the accuracy department. Who has wasted money on such a futile sign?

6.43 out of 100 for intelligence

Evening near Foxton Step Bridge

Reflections at dusk

0 locks, 4 miles, 1 mouse, 1hr35

Saturday 4th October

Foxton Step Bridge to Market Harborough

The rain came in the morning as forecast, and then stopped at about 3pm, so we set off back towards Market Harborough, and very soon we had blue sky and sunshine.

We passed the only sight of industry in the area – JG Pears. Apparently they try to find uses for animal carcasses, and bathe the neighbours in sweet aromas on warm summer evenings.

JG Pears factory

We moored on the visitor mooring bollards and as we were finishing off with the ropes, a couple came past, with two dogs and a cat.  They had all been for a walk along the towpath.

James suggested we went to the Mexican restaurant we had spotted in town.  Hazel said it was too far, so instead we had fajitas for dinner on board.

There are water taps on the visitor moorings, so we filled up later on, in the dark, without moving the boat.

0 locks, 4 miles, 2 mice, 1hr20

Sunday 5th October

Market Harborough to Foxton Locks

After a peaceful night we had glorious sunshine and a slight mist in the morning.

Early morning at Market Harborough

We took our shopping trolley and walked into Market Harborough and found the Baptist Church, where we had a warm welcome.  We were half expecting to see Jeff and Margaret Bonser, one-time BCF members who have since sold their boat.  Sadly they were away in Dublin this weekend.

Market Harborough Baptist Church

The worship was led by a very good keyboard player, accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer.  There was no-one leading the singing, but the congregation were in good voice.  The message was about self-control, well delivered by Nick, the pastor.  After the service, coffee and biscuits were served upstairs, where there are several large rooms – a good facility.

We popped into the Co-op to buy a few things before catching the bus back to the basin.  We used the facilities before setting off for Foxton.

It was a lovely sunny day as we cruised this now familiar stretch.  At the first swing bridge, there was day boat approaching from the other direction.  James opened the bridge, Hazel took Gabriel through, and the day boat came through slowly. The traffic was building up either side, and James swung the bridge back again after the day boat.  After replacing the road barriers and removing his key, he saw a hire boat just stopping on the bridge bollards. Bad timing!

After the second swing bridge, where we had several young children watching our progress, we were hoping to visit Foxton Boat Services, possibly for fuel, depending on price, but also for toilet blue, and coal. The place we thought was the boatyard seemed to have become a gastro pub with a large open air seating area where things like fuel pontoons used to be.  The other side of the locks entrance was a cafĂ© and a shop.

We went to tie up on the lock bollards to discover that this was reserved for a trip boat!  Where were we meant to queue for the locks? The notice said queue other side. Other side of the notice? Other side of the canal?  Just then the trip boat returned, and there was lot of gesticulating for us to get out of the way.  We realised then that the notice was for people to queue for the trip boat, not for boats to queue for the locks.  We pulled back to some bollards on a bend, so our stern was sticking out into the bridge hole.  While Hazel went to find the lock keeper, James spoke to the man on the trip boat and expressed his surprise that trip boats were allowed to use the lock bollards.  “We’re not blocking anyone,” he said. “You can take your boat straight in.”   “Not without stopping first to report to the lock-keeper and open the gates!” James replied.  Apparently they have been operating like this for 55 years.

At that point Hazel returned to say that we could go into the locks.  Hazel took the tiller, while James cast off the ropes, despite being told by the trip boat man that we should not untie until the gates were open.  James emptied the first lock and Hazel took Gabriel in.  Very soon we had a crowd of people round the boat as it was a hot Sunday afternoon.  The locks have side pounds, and there are two types of paddles.  The red ones empty the water from the side pound in to the lock.  The white ones empty the water from the lock above in to the side pound.  We have to open the red ones first to stop the side pounds getting too full and overflowing, wasting the water.

Plenty of people to talk to

Extra crew

We had a team of small children pushing and shoving on the lock beams with great excitement.  The lock keeper was a CRT volunteer, who mostly just monitored what was going on, except at the gap between the two flights of locks, when he went ahead and set the lock for us.

At the top, we stopped at the first available mooring after the water points and the disabled space.

At about 7pm we took our instruments, drinks and torches, and wandered down to the museum. We found two people there already, with concertina and melodeon at the ready.  A few more turned up, and there were thirteen altogether in the end, two of whom were spectators and raffle organisers.  It was all good fun, with each taking a song or tune in turn.  We sang: Long Way Down; Well, Well, Well; Low Bridge (Erie Canal); and Dorset Juggernaut.  There was more enthusiasm than talent, but they were a friendly bunch and it was worth going.

Night in the museum

10 locks, 5 miles, 2 swing bridges, 3hr05

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