The tide is high
Glorious weather greets David Johns as he plucks up the courage for a river trip
‘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.CruisingTheCut.co.uk 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?