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2013: Spring in the East Midlands

Snow on ice

Can you guess what this pretty pattern shows?

It had been a bitterly cold winter, and then it was warm and sunny for a while so we decided to go for a short Easter trip. It was cold again as we set off under clear blue skies so perhaps we shouldn't have ignored the icicles that hung from the bridges, but we made good speed and quickly reached the pretty summit level above Watford. After a cold night however, in the morning we found ourselves well and truly stuck in the ice. The pretty pattern above is actually the canal beside the boat, frozen solid and covered with snow!

 

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Icicles hung down from the bridges
The river at Cosgrove was full with melt-water
Frozen in the ice
It's very pretty but we aren't going anywhere

We didn't mind being frozen in. We were perfectly happy in the beautiful countryside with nothing to do apart from staying warm in the bitterly cold winds and regularly walking the dogs in the snow, but we were getting through our supplies of coal and gas very quickly. Luckily after three days it warmed up slightly and a hire-boat came crashing through the ice on its way back to base. We followed in its wake for a couple of hours as far as North Kilworth, where we stocked up with coal and gas before travelling on to Foxton for a wonderful evening in the highly-welcoming Bridge 61 bar which is one of our favourite watering-holes. The weather continued to improve after this, and by the time we reached Market Harborough it was beautifully sunny and warm, so we moored outside the basin and walked into town for supplies before turning around and heading back to Foxton.

 

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Market Harborough basin, full of hire boats
This fine sculpture beside the basin reminded me of ...
...  this new one at Wolverton which is entirely made of model railway parts
The centre of Market Harborough
There was even enough sun that we could tell the time.

After yet another night at Bridge 61 we set our sights on Milton Keynes and started back across the summit. It was still cold but all things were bright and beautiful; the snow had nearly all melted and it seemed no time at all before we were home again.

 

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Ascending Foxton staircase
It's not surprising that this tree had fallen, seeing how hollow it was
The summit is English countryside at its best
The snow had nearly all melted
How much longer can this little boat at Whilton support its ever-growing load of vegetation?

After a few weeks at our home mooring, which gave us time to visit the French village of Sancerre and stock up with as much wine as the car could carry, we decided to set off again and visit our friends who lived on their boat "Fairies Wear Boots" at Chapel Hill near Boston.

When we reached the Braunston flight, early in the morning, several of the pounds were dry (which is not that unusual there) but nobody from any of the six boats waiting there had a clue what to do. They had phoned C&RT but nobody had come out to fix the problem yet so we needed to refill the empty pounds, but one very enthusiastic individual had taken charge and convinced everyone that he was an expert. He was very concerned because his boat was "extremely deep-draughted" at almost 2ft (which is actually quite shallow) and so he had opened one bottom paddle at every lock. He was surprised that even after an hour the pounds were still empty but when we suggested that he should open a top paddle as well, at least at the top lock, he screamed at us that this would drain the top pound so that the tunnel would collapse and we would have to pay C&RT for a new one! The only solution was for Debbie to distract him in conversation while I refilled the pounds, and in no time at all we were on our way again.

 

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We liked this new mural which welcomes boaters to Rugby
The cattle near Rugby have magnificent horns
All-Oaks Wood was beautiful in the sunshine
The swing-bridge across the narrows at Stretton

Cold winds and short sharp showers alternated with brilliant sunshine as spring struggled to turn onto summer. We cruised happily up to Fradley junction where we had intended to turn right and head for the Trent, but we then heard that the spring floods had washed so much silt into the Trent lock cuts that they were blocked to navigation. They apparently couldn't be dredged for at least a fortnight, so we decided to turn left and pass the time by revisiting the incredibly pretty little Caldon canal.

 

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A beautiful afternoon's mooring ...
... at Tixall wide ...
... with nothing better to do than to enjoy a lazy drink ...
... and wait for a glorious sunset
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A steam engine at Great Haywood looking good for restoration
The bridge at Salt looks so solid and heavy
A grand collection of toilets at Armitage
This seat at Stone symbolises the town's origins  in the pottery industry
A plaque at Stone records the town as the birthplace of the Trent and Mersey

There was not much traffic about so we just seemed to fly up the Trent and Mersey Canal until at Stoke-on-Trent we turned sharp right into the Caldon Canal (not an easy task in a boat as long as Keeping Up). We were hurrying to get out into the countryside again that night which perhaps explains why we didn't notice when the front fender got caught on a broken bolt on the gate between the two chambers of the staircase pair at the start of the canal, . Luckily the fender is not attached securely by its chain; the chain is attached by a short length of cord, which snapped with a sound like a rifle-shot to leave the fender dangling loose from its chain. No damage had been done, and I was simply able to re-tie the cord before we left the lock. We continued  out into the countryside and stopped at a beautiful mooring which turned out to be only a couple of hundred yards from where we had stopped 5 years previously.

 

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The warm weather had encouraged the canal's wildfowl to hatch their latest broods.

The Caldon Canal is at its best in springtime; looking back in our old logbooks we realised that it was 27 years - to the exact day - since we had first visited this canal. On that occasion we had noted that there were stunningly beautiful carpets of bluebells, and that the bright sunshine was quite warm but the winds had been cold and vicious. Everything was just the same this time but more so, the bluebells in particular were just amazing but sadly my photos failed to do justice to them.

We didn't continue on to Froghall tunnel as we had been through there as recently as 2007; we chose instead to spent a wonderful day at Consall Forge. I rather welcomed the freedom of having no available signal for TV (satellite or terrestrial), phone, or internet; such enforced isolation is all too rare these days. Debbie however was very anxious to watch that evening's episode of Eastenders (I can't imagine why) and she persuaded the pub landlord to let her watch it on their TV instead.

 

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We moored in view of Shugborough Hall
Early in the morning we spotted a balloon preparing to take off
The balloon was soon in the air ...
... and passed overhead at low altitude ...
... so we could wave at the passengers

By the time we left the Caldon Canal the Trent locks were navigable again, so we headed east to meet our friends - only to get a message that they had left Boston and were heading for Beckett's Park marina at  Northampton. We decided to carry on towards them anyway, and see where we met up! The canal was quiet and the river was flowing really well, so it seemed to be no time at all before we were through Newark and were waiting for the next day's tide. The mooring at Nether Lock is usually quite high above the level of our deck, which would be difficult for Molly who at 13 years old is finding it difficult to jump ashore, but the river was high enough that the deck was level with the bank so the mooring was ideal for us (or indeed for anyone who likes trains). The area around the lock was heavily populated by rabbits and I was worried that the dogs might chase them, but Molly just couldn't be bothered and Telford's only interest was to find out whether or not they were small bushes that he could cock his leg against!

 

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Moored below Newark Nether lock
It's a lovely mooring if you don't mind being close to the trains
We moored underneath the footbridge at Lincoln
Then headed back up the Trent with our friends

We met up with our friends near Lincoln, then turned around and travelled back up the Trent with them. After a thoroughly enjoyable few days together we parted company at the junction to the river Soar where they were stopping to have their boat hauled out for blacking. At this point we met up with a lovely couple on "Hay Boat" and travelled with them all the way up the Soar to Foxton. Our boating styles complemented perfectly so we had a very easy trip, punctuated only by half a day's delay when our engine decided to spit out a core-plug (for the second time) and spray high-pressure oil all over the engine bay. Oh what a mess! But our wonderful engineer came out from Braunston and fixed it within a couple of hours so we soon found ourselves in Bridge 61 Bar at Foxton once again.

From here it seemed a short run home to our mooring - which to our surprise had been taken over by a flock of sheep. It turned out that the mower had gone wrong and our ever-resourceful neighbour had borrowed a flock of woolly lawn-mowers until it could be repaired. They did a wonderful job, although of course instead of removing the cut grass they merely converted it into something that you had to be careful not to tread in!

 

Woolly lawnmowers

 

 

Next we'll be going to Sweden before our summer trip on the Thames.

 

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Go to Allan's Page Our 2013 Swedish trip on the Gota Canal Canals Home Page Summer on the Thames, Avon and Severn Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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