The tide is high

Glo­ri­ous weather greets David Johns as he plucks up the courage for a river trip

Canal Boat - - The Boat Test -

‘But for some­one who still very much classes them­selves as a nau­ti­cal novice, the trip up the River Soar and briefly onto the Trent was a big deal which I’m ex­cited to share’

We are a nau­ti­cal na­tion, sup­pos­edly, due to our is­land ge­og­ra­phy and there­fore ge­net­i­cally pro­grammed to be drawn to the wa­ter. Un­for­tu­nately, any wave mo­tion in­duces a mildly nau­se­at­ing sick­ness hence my pref­er­ence for the flat calm of canals rather than the sea.

In a ma­jor tri­umph of boat­ing this month though, the first month of my 2017 Big Cruise, I have chan­nelled the spir­its of Raleigh and Drake to achieve the per­son­ally mo­men­tous goal of – wait for it – go­ing on a river.

It was a rel­a­tively be­nign river, granted, and in rel­a­tively be­nign con­di­tions too plus I had an ac­com­pa­ny­ing “res­cue” boat in the event that dis­as­ter struck.

But for some­one who still very much classes them­selves as a nau­ti­cal novice, the trip up the River Soar and briefly onto the Trent was a big deal which I’m ex­cited to share.

Hang on though, let’s jump back to ear­lier in the month. The boat and I had reached the bot­tom of the Grand Union Leicester line and paused at Crick to re­stock sup­plies, cour­tesy of the lit­tle Co-op in the heart of the vil­lage. The ex­cit­ing news here was that my EE mo­bile sig­nal ac­tu­ally worked for once which is un­usual for that part of the canal net­work.

Even more ex­cit­ing was the weather forecast for the week­end ahead. At the time of read­ing this you’ll need to cast your mind back but do you re­call one un­ex­pect­edly sunny and gor­geous week­end in early April when the tem­per­a­tures soared?

Yes, it was that one and on those two mar­vel­lous days I had the truly glo­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of cruis­ing north from Crick, past Yelvertoft and through the most amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful, green, quiet coun­try­side all the way up to Fox­ton. This was truly heaven and in­cred­i­bly, barely an­other boat to be seen apart from one true ge­nius who wasn’t even boat­ing but re­clin­ing in a rooftop ham­mock. Where the heck was ev­ery­one?

Per­haps this was proof of a the­ory I’ve in­vented and one day in­tend to base a PhD upon, namely the Boat-Weather Para­dox which runs some­thing like this: if it’s cold, over­cast or rain­ing, you don’t boat be­cause it’s hor­rid. If it’s warm, sunny and fine you don’t boat ei­ther be­cause you’re en­joy­ing sit­ting on the tow­path drink­ing gin and tonic.

Ei­ther way, there are no mov­ing boats on the canal, ever – un­less you’re moored in which case every boat in the coun­try comes past you (hence the para­dox) and prob­a­bly with­out slow­ing down at that.

As usual, I must quickly in­ject a word of thanks here to the vol­un­teer lock keep­ers who swept me through places such as Fox­ton’s ten-lock dou­ble stair­case with ease. Cheers chaps (it’s al­ways been chaps, so far)

At Kilby, my sup­port team ar­rived on the in­ter­est­ing hy­brid nar­row­boat Barneswood – part elec­tric, part diesel, it’s quite the un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence to move with vir­tu­ally no en­gine noise when the bat­ter­ies are tak­ing the strain. Alan, Wendy and their two Springer spaniels would be go­ing with me in con­voy up the Soar to the Trent and Mersey, as they know this area well.

For all the fears about rivers – cur­rents,

weirs, depth, sharks, gi­ant squid, Krak­ens etc – it turns out that the Soar is re­ally rather pleas­ant apart from the usual ar­ray of lit­tered plas­tic bot­tles and other de­tri­tus float­ing past the boat when go­ing through Leicester.

We stopped right smack in the heart of the city at Cas­tle Gardens – moor­ings with se­cured ac­cess, for maybe 3- 4 boats on a float­ing pon­toon – and pot­tered back into what’s laugh­ingly re­ferred to as ‘civil­i­sa­tion’ by those who haven’t yet dis­cov­ered liv­ing on a canal.

A brief foray round the mar­ket yielded some fruit, veg and many mis­placed apos­tro­phes, af­ter which we quested for a lunchtime pie, that be­ing even­tu­ally sat­is­fied of sorts by a trip to Greggs.

Then we were off on the boats again, through the big­gest bevy of swans yet en­coun­tered - they seem to love Leicester – and through Birstall which I had al­ways thought was in York­shire but turns out to have a twin here too and up to Lough­bor­ough where once upon a time, many cen­turies ago (it feels like), I went to univer­sity.

Sadly, ‘twas here that the need for the town’s slang name “Rough-bor­ough” was made ev­i­dent as Alan’s bar­be­cue was nicked off the tow­path by some hood­lum, last seen rid­ing off with it on his pedal bike.

Take note if you’ve not been here, in­ci­den­tally, that as you turn at the sharp T-junc­tion with the basin to the left and the route north to the right, that if the wind’s a’blow­ing the wrong way then the turn can re­sult in fun and games as the boat gets pushed side­ways down the basin arm be­fore you have a chance to turn the back out as it emerges from un­der the bridge.

Down the Soar we con­tin­ued and a fas­ci­nat­ing find at Keg­worth and Rat­cliffe of old, un­used locks now buried in the ground and filled with grass in­stead of wa­ter. The sides, lock lad­der, gates and other parts of the mech­a­nism all re­main, a most pe­cu­liar grave.

Above Rat­cliffe, the Soar emerges onto the Trent – and now we’re talk­ing. This is a river! Wide, deep (I sus­pect) and im­pres­sive, we stayed on it only long enough to go up­stream past Der­went mouth and onto the Trent and Mersey canal where tran­quil­lity reigned once again and a ver­i­ta­ble check­list of ‘fa­mous canal places’ was on the cards: Shard­low, Fradley Junc­tion, Great Hay­wood...

My com­pan­ions were bade farewell shortly af­ter­wards – they do not yet have the lux­ury of per­ma­nent life aboard as I do – and de­spite a coal bag wrapped around the prop as the boat came up to Swarke­stone, progress was made along some ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful bits of canal.

Here’s an­other valu­able les­son I’ve learned on this trip: never be tempted to moor on the end spot next to a lock land­ing at a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion.

It ap­pears many boaters sim­ply can’t con­tain their ex­cite­ment at the prospect of lock­ing and feel com­pelled to crash, bang and scrape along the side of a moored craft so as to step off as soon as pos­si­ble, ig­nor­ing the plenty wide enough canal and the fact that their boat has a tiller so it could, in fact, sim­ply turn onto the land­ing where re­quired if they could be both­ered to steer. Rant over.

I lied. Here’s an­other: it was time for the en­gine to have a ser­vice which I class as es­sen­tially be­ing change the oil and fil­ter. In­fu­ri­at­ingly, though the en­gine oil is sold in 5 litre bot­tles, my wretched Lis­ter takes 5.5 litres so you have to buy two!

Yet, weirdly, the pump that’s used to ex­tract the old oil only pulled out 4.5 litres even though there was plenty on the dip­stick. This merely con­firms what I’ve al­ways sus­pected, that en­gines are ac­tu­ally mys­ti­cal, mag­i­cal ob­jects where space, time and all sen­si­bil­ity is warped. This is why boat­ing is so ex­pen­sive.

It seems to be work­ing al­right though since I gave it that fresh juice so here’s hop­ing the Grand Tour continues with­out in­ci­dent. Find out via my video up­dates at www.Cruis­ or fol­low me on Twit­ter (@ Cruis­ingTheCut) and here in the pages of Canal Boat mag­a­zine.

Prov­ing my nerves of steel

Proof of the Boat-Weather para­dox

Mak­ing cruis­ing look easy

Hard at it in the ham­mock

Tied up for some tran­quil­lity

The calm be­fore col­li­sions

Where was ev­ery­one?

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