Go to Allan's Page Part 2 - Manchester and Gloucester Canals Home Page Part 3 - The Droitwich Canals and Birmingham Go to Deb's Page
The Witham Navigable Drains View Slideshow The Black Sluice Navigation

Boston, the Manchester Ship Canal, and Droitwich 2011

Part 1 with South Kyme, the Witham Navigable Drains and the Black Sluice

We set off on our travels before Easter for once, heading for the village of South Kyme (near Boston) which was having its annual festival over the May Bank Holiday weekend. With a brand-new set of batteries, and a new water pump after the old one had failed just 2 days before setting off, we were as well-prepared as could be. Taking advantage of perfect weather conditions we were able to make a really quick journey over the Foxton summit and down the Rivers Soar and Trent to Newark.

Newark is one of our favourite riverside towns, and we spent a happy day there visiting our usual French restaurant and stocking up on essential supplies at the 'Real Ale Shop' (guess what they sell!). The following morning we set off for Cromwell to meet  the lunchtime tide; as it was Easter weekend the river was very busy, and there was chaos at the Nether Lock while a volunteer lock-keeper struggled in vain to fit all the waiting boats into his lock. Luckily we had allowed plenty of time to reach Cromwell, but our delayed arrival meant that we had to moor outside of 4 other narrow boats. Everybody helped each other out in a great spirit of teamwork, but it was all too complicated for Telford the dog as he tried to go ashore for a pee; jumping straight up into the air didn't seem to take him from one boat's stern to the next, and since the only movements he understands are jumping up in the air and running straight along, he tried running straight off the stern of the boat. Naturally this meant that he ran straight into the river. He hates swimming so it was a good thing there were plenty of people to grab hold of him and haul him back on board again.

 

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The front half of Cromwell Lock was full of cruisers
The rear half of Cromwell Lock was full of narrow boats
The other narrow boats sped away from us, but they were slow compared with this water skier.
The lock keeper at Torksey was determined to squeeze us in behind the other 4 narrow boats.

By using the whole chamber the lock-keeper managed to fit 19 boats into Cromwell Lock so it was certainly very full. The cruisers sped off into the distance, and all the other narrowboats soon left us behind, but we knew that we were relatively early so there was absolutely no need to hurry. All the cruisers had assembled 2 or 3 abreast on the moorings below the lock, and the 4 other narrowboats who were going our way waiting for us in the lock. The lock keeper called us on the radio and invited us straight in as we approached; it didn't seem possible for us to fit in the remaining space but he was determined to fit us in, saying that he had managed 5 narrowboats once before but couldn't quite remember how he did it! Eventually after turning first one way - to shut one gate - and then the other, we squeezed in and were lifted up to the Fossdyke.

 

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A good mooring for shopping in the centre of Lincoln
Looking back at Lincoln's superb cathedral
Sculpture of a woman beside the River Witham
A rather more abstract sculpture beside the River Witham

After shopping at Lincoln, we stopped at the village of Washingborough, where I took the time to read the information board about a ferry boat tragedy which happened there nearly a hundred years ago:

On the night of Saturday 23rd September 1916, a Zeppelin airship dropped bombs on open fields by the river, damaging some buildings in the village. It is believed that the airship was following the firebox glow from a train approaching Lincoln.

The frightened driver stopped under a bridge at Greetwell, just north of the river from Washingborough. The Zeppelin’s commander, thinking the train had stopped at Lincoln station, attacked what he thought to be the city’s factories.

The following day, hundreds of people walked from Lincoln to see the damage, and many used the ferry to cross the river. At about 4.30pm the crowded ferry overturned and tragically Ernest Robinson aged 17 and a young boy George Melson, aged 7, were drowned.

Carrying onwards down the Witham we soon met our friends on 'Fairies Wear Boots' at Chapel Hill and made our way up the Kyme Eau. The weed on the river was very thick in places, and would make the river impassable later in the year. We decided to take one of the boats backwards, so that it would not need to turn at  the head of navigation which was known to be rather silted up at  the turning point, and later reversed the procedure by using a forward-facing boat to bring Keeping Up down the river backwards after the festival.

South Kyme

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Heading through the flood doors on to the Kyme at Chapel Hill
Traffic cones mark the old bridge piers on the Kyme
Thick weed above Lower Kyme Lock
A close-up view of the weed
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Travelling breasted in opposite directions so that the boats will not need to turn round
It's difficult manoeuvring through the bridge when breasted like this
A superb chain-saw sculpture of a kingfisher with a fish, beside the river at South Kyme

We moored comfortably in the middle of South Kyme, right next to the footbridge, and after a day or two the river started to fill with boats until more than two dozen boats were occupying every inch of river-bank. The villagers were the most friendly people we have ever met. keen to talk and offer practical assistance such as fresh water to anyone who needed it. We spent a lot of time in the pub which is really the centre of the community, and were amazed to see the villagers dressed up in their finest clothes (and some specially-bought hats!) to watch the Royal Wedding on a specially-borrowed giant-screen in the Saloon Bar following which the landlord laid on a special "Wedding Breakfast Pie". As he said, the English like breakfast, and they like pie, so in an attempt to be the most English person in the village (he is not English-born himself) he had created pies containing full English breakfasts of sausage, egg, bacon, mushrooms, and baked beans. In contrast, the following night he served one of the best curry-night banquets that I have ever tasted. We absolutely love this little village and will return as often as we can.

 

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A beautiful mooring at South Kyme
Soon the village started to fill with visiting boats.
Village footpaths set off in all directions
'Out for a Duck', the winning entry in the scarecrow competition

The first village event to be enjoyed was the annual scarecrow competition. It seemed that almost every house had sprouted a scarecrow in the garden, and the variety and imagination of the competition entries was amazing. The judges must have had a hard time choosing between the superbly-constructed entries. I have shown just the winning entry "Out for a duck" above, but I have put a Slide-Show of all the entries on my Flickr site: I really recommend that you stop now and take a look at it (opens in a separate window).

Before the main festival, we went into Sleaford by car for a look around. The Kyme Eau, in case you didn't know, becomes the River Slea above the village of South Kyme and then becomes the Slea Navigation; the campaign for its restoration continues strongly with the construction of a new lift-bridge and boating facilities on the isolated section at Sleaford.

Walking around Sleaford Church we discovered that when it was renovated in the 19th century, one window was left over so it was re-erected in the churchyard where it forms a beautiful centre-piece. In all, Sleaford is a very pretty little town and is well worth a visit.

 

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Sleaford Church's redundant window in the churchyard.
The new lift-bridge over the Slea Navigation
Mosaics have been let into the path beside the river
The duck-race on the Kyme

Back in South Kyme, after the Table-top Sale in the village hall the next event was the duck race. Because there was so little flow of water on the river, and the wind was blowing very strongly from the North, the race was run in reverse with the ducks being tipped into the water at the finishing line and then blown up-river to the start where - amid much cheering - the winner was declared.

The Sunday morning started with a wonderful Boaters Service in the village Church, which was absolutely packed full. The Rector herself is a boater, so she knew exactly what she was talking about as we solemnly Gave Thanks "for canals and their social history; for the narrow boats, and locks, and winding holes, and tunnels". The church also had an exhibition of wedding dresses of the past 100 years, every one of which had been worn in that same church and had been lent by its owner.

 

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Wedding dresses back in the church
The Medieval encampment
Fire Eater (Watch the Video)
Sword fight (Watch the video)
Jousting (Watch the video)

Finally the main celebrations of the weekend took place. The Medieval tower had been opened to the public for the first time in 600 years so the whole event had been given a Medieval theme; the entertainments included sword-fighting, jousting and heavy horse displays, medieval crafts such as sewing and sword-making, fire-eating, dancing, music, and a quantity of medieval drinks. Finally the day concluded with a hog-roast and a concert by numerous artists including the local group The Ruffs whose song "Inbred and Proud" just has to be seen to be believed (this Youtube link opens a new window. Turn your sound up loud!)

The Festival was a HUGE success, attracting at least 4 times as many visitors as expected and providing a wonderful day out for everybody. We just can't wait to go back next year.

The Witham Navigable Drains

Returning to Chapel Hill, we were joined the next weekend by our good friend Bones, and we set off with 'Fairies Wear Boots' to make a determined assault on the Witham Navigable Drains. If you didn't catch our account of it which was published as a in Canal Boat magazine of October 2011, you can read it by clicking on this picture:

Explore the Drains

Click on this picture for our exploration

of the Witham Navigable Drains

We had an absolutely brilliant weekend, reaching the charming village of New Bolingbroke for the Saturday night and then squeezing through the tiny culvert at Bunker's Hill to reach this iconic signpost showing "Boston 2, New York 9" which is guaranteed to confuse any visiting Americans!

The Black Sluice

I'm not sure which is the less inviting name, the Navigable Drains or the Black Sluice. Anyway, the following weekend we took part in a campaigning trip to the Black Sluice Navigation which is the first open section of the new Cathedrals Link which will ultimately connect Boston to Peterborough, Ely and and Cambridge. The new entrance lock to the Black Sluice is a little over a mile downriver from the Boston Grand Sluice, through the Boston Tideway and past the Boston Stump as the Cathedral is affectionately known. Click on this picture to read a full account of the trip.

Explore the Drains

Click on this picture for our exploration

of the Black Sluice navigation

Over the next three days we explored the whole length of this waterway, and we're now looking forward to exploring it further in future. There is a possibility that we may be able to get as far as Spalding next year: watch this space (update, the trip was cancelled in 2012 but we're still hopeful for another year).

Back on the Midlands Canals

Debbie had decided that she liked the idea of travelling the full length of the Trent and Mersey canal in one go, which seemed as good a plan as any so we set off back up to Torksey and caught a convenient early-morning tide on the Trent. As we headed up the river Debbie practiced her bread-making skills - with delicious results - and after a couple of days we were able to stop at Stoke Bardolph for the weekend while I caught a coach home from Nottingham.

 

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Debelicious bread, baked on board
A beautiful rainbow frames the Trent at Stoke Bardolph
Debbie stands exactly half way along the T&M canal

The wind had been blowing steadily now for almost a month, and our journey up the river to Nottingham proved to be quite exciting as the wind reached 50mph and was blow the waves right over the bows. We were very glad to reach the comparative shelter of the canal, and by morning the storm had largely blown itself out so we set off again, making steady progress up the Trent and Mersey canal towards Manchester until we reached Fradley. Here we met up with a friend from the Canal World Forum, who treated us to a magnificently well-informed tour of Lichfield before giving us a lift to the Railway Station so that we could go home to attend a christening. We were apprehensive about how well the dogs would cope with travelling by train, but in fact they loved it and were very well-behaved; Molly especially loved the way everybody made a big fuss of her as she lay on the floor in front of our seat.

Returning to Fradley we were disappointed to find that our new batteries soon went flat despite having been left plugged into a mains supply for the weekend, but the suppliers were very good and immediately brought us a new set so we were able to continue our journey to Manchester and Gloucester ...

 

 

The Witham Navigable Drains View Slideshow The Black Sluice Navigation
Go to Allan's Page Part 2 - Manchester and Gloucester Canals Home Page Part 3 - The Droitwich Canals and Birmingham Go to Deb's Page

 

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