A Taste Of The High Life
We have been through Foxton Locks and up the Market Harborough Arm only once before, a wintry trip on our previous boat. We really liked the town and as a lock closure further up towards Leicester was expected to last a few more days we planned to go up the arm and spend a day or so at the far end. There is a section of visitor mooring just before you reach the service point at the entrance to the basin at the end. As it happened these spaces were all taken when we arrived at four o'clock on Saturday afternoon. Beyond the service point, however, there are a number of pontoons managed by Union Wharf, who operate the site and run a number of day boats and hire boats from there. These pontoons, right beside the Waterfront pub and convenient for the walk into town, are available as temporary mooring for a nightly fee that includes pontoon services. It was an easy decision to stay there for the night and pay the fee. In the end it was so convenient that we indulged ourselves by staying for a second night and then, as rain was promised for the Monday, for a third. Unlimited access to water and electricity for two whole days! The only drawback being that Bracken could not walk on the steel mesh of the pontoon so she had to be carried on and off the boat whenever she had to go out.
Pubs In Crisis! What Crisis?
The Waterfront is a nice gastro pub that used to have an extensive food menu. Being only fifty yards away we thought we would try to get a takeaway meal to eat on the boat. I went over for a pint, table service of course, to check this out. The menu on offer now, as seems to be the case everywhere, is very much more basic and limited in variety than it used to be. When I asked, I was told that they didn't do takeaway. Having explained that we were mere yards away, could supply our own plates and it would save bringing the dog in they did go and ask the chef but he was adamant that such a request was impossible to fulfil. It is curious that while screaming blue murder about the damage COVID-19 is doing to their businesses there are so many in the hospitality industry who are willing to turn down easy money when it is offered. In the end they didn't lose out this time. I ordered our meals and Sue came across to join me as it was served, leaving Bracken in the boat. The food was good, the pub still has a nice atmosphere and it remains very popular but it was some time before we were forgiven for deserting her for forty whole minutes.
Sunday was expected to be fine and so it proved. Bright sunshine most of the day but a fresh wind with it. We got up late, went for brunch rather than breakfast and did a number of chores around the boat before setting off into town for various errands, the weekly shop and just a nice walk around the town. So far, it doesn't seem that badly affected by the great unpleasantness and was much as we remembered. The park, particularly, was very busy on a sunny Sunday. We went back to the boat by taxi as the supermarkets are rather thoughtlessly located at the other end of the town and by then we had rather a lot to carry. Having stowed that lot away, we set about the pram hood. When we had moved on after it was fitted we effectively dismantled the pieces and put them in the well deck, as far out of sight as possible. Fine weather was a good opportunity to dig them out and spend time understanding how they worked. The outside of the boat had sprouted all manner of metal studs and brackets and without the cover attached it all looked a bit punk.
After a bit of a struggle we got it up in place again and then we found a YouTube video from Kinver Canopies explaining how to fold them down. Following that did seem to work okay this time and it collapsed onto the roof of the boat reasonably well so we left it in place this time.
Looping Through Lubenham
Monday was supposed to be a wet one, which decided us to stop where we were in the lap of luxury for the extra night. In the end, it was dull and damp but wasn't that bad so we went for a walk down the canal and across to Lubenham. Apparently this used to be a lovely walk across the fields to the village and then up over a hill into Market Harborough itself. Now three developers have joined forces in building a huge housing estate with hundreds of homes right across the route. Different phases are in different stages of completion, of course, with the rights of way maintained but carefully obscured. We missed a turn and found ourselves wandering aimlessly in a kind of moonscape for a while until we found a site hut and got some directions. We found our way out in the end and on the other side the peace of the countryside resumed taking us down into the village.
It still wasn't raining and the village pub had a decent shelter out the back so we decided on a rare pub lunch. Very good it was too and while we were there the first proper rain came through and passed over, so a good decision for once.
Something more persistent and unpleasant did get going in the end but by then we were coming into the bottom end of Market Harborough and could make our way back up the High Street to the boat, light the fire and settle in for the rest of the day.
At this point we had no specific schedule. We set out on Tuesday as the sun broke through and moored up by Foxton village, a little short of the junction, at lunchtime. Tempted by the signs everywhere advertising their lunches and tearoom we made our way up to the Black Horse where a large bill board in the garden proclaimed 'Lunches & Afternoon Tea - 7 Days a Week". For a sunny Tuesday lunchtime near a popular visitor attraction it was strangely deserted in the garden and when we found and tried the front door it was locked. There was no sign on the door but we eventually found a notice that announced that they were closed on Tuesdays. More evidence that the blow to hospitality industry hasn't been quite as severe as is made out in some places!
As is always the case, having made up our minds to have lunch at the pub we now felt cheated and reluctant to just go back to the boat and open the tin of soup we had originally anticipated. Instead we walked past the boat and headed down to the junction where we got a beer, a cheese & ham roll and a seat in the sunshine overlooking the water at the Bridge 61 pub there. Followed by a pleasant walk back to the boat across the fields it was a successful day.
The next day we headed up to the junction and turned North. For the first time on this trip we were now travelling through completely new territory. We had no specific route plan but we had decided on a place to meet the canopy fitter on Thursday lunchtime so he could finish the job. It was another largely fine day with just a couple of spots of rain in the afternoon so we had a good cruise, calling at Debdale Marina for some diesel and just Saddington Tunnel and five locks before we moored up by an aqueduct over the River Sence at teatime.
At the last of the locks the lock landing was completely blocked by two large CRT workboats. At half past three there were three CRT workmen packing up their bags and heading off home for the night. We see a lot of criticism of the Canal & River Trust and I generally try to disregard it. By and large it ignores the scale of the task and estate they have to manage on a charity basis, it usually overestimates the contribution one year's license fee makes to the whole and is often prompted by a self obsessed focus on an issue that relates to the critic's own unique personal circumstances. It's a bit like the noise you here about any attempts to deal with COVID-19 and its impact. It has to be said, however, that CRT are prone to shoot themselves in the foot in very simple and obvious ways and this is an example. Not mooring on areas such as a lock landing is one of the first rules impressed on boaters by CRT, not having the lock landing available for boats working the lock is not just inconvenient but positively dangerous, especially for single handed boaters and there was a long stretch of perfectly good towpath mooring where the workboats could have been tied up just a hundred yards further from the lock.
Even I found myself mentally reaching for my Facebook keyboard when I saw this. Of course, that would be a pointless place to complain about it and by the time we had got through and moored up the half composed e-mail to CRT Customer Services felt like more trouble than it was worth.
We were planning to move up to Kilby Bridge the following morning to meet the fitter at lunchtime but as we squared things away we had a message saying that he wouldn't be coming after all, this time because his partner may have tested positive for Coronavirus.
Thursday turned out to be a brilliant, sunny, autumn day and since it now didn't matter when we got to Kilby Bridge, if at all, we hung out the washing and went for a walk from the boat.
There are a lot of good paths around here and we walked across to Wistow Rural Centre via St Winstan's Church, which is impressive and pretty but stands there in isolation. There is no obvious trace of the mediaeval village it must have served and we haven't been able to find any clue as to why it was deserted although oddly, if the village was deserted in mediaeval times, it is said to have been altered in the 14th and 15th centuries, and remodelled in the 18th century.
The Rural Centre is just a café and a garden centre and a collection of small craft shops but we had a poke around and got an early lunch in the sunshine before walking back around our circuit and heading off about one o'clock.
The run up to Kilby Bridge only took a couple of hours and was very pleasant in the sunshine but the last lock of the day provided some unwanted adrenalin. As the water level dropped I heard a shout from Sue and turned round to see what was up. The baseplate on the port side had caught on a patch of damaged brickwork underwater in the side of the lock and the boat was tilting dangerously to starboard.
I did start to wind the nearest paddle back down again but have no idea if it would have been enough or done in time to avert disaster. Fortunately, the boat slid off the brickwork and settled back on an even keel before we had to find out. This time we did contact CRT. They have responded but as others report having had the same experience here over quite a long period I am not sure any real action will be taken.
Kilby Bridge doesn't have anything aesthetic to recommend it. It is just a good stretch of solid 48 hour mooring by a main road and a pub with a CRT depot and services facility on the offside. A good place to meet someone to work on the boat although, of course, that was no longer happening. However, we had just reached one thousand and one engine hours that morning, which meant it was time for a major service. This seemed a good place to do it, with ready access to call for reinforcements if needed, Kilby town nearby if I needed extra parts or materials and all the required services on hand.
A couple of years ago I attended an engine maintenance course, now long faded in memory. Despite best intentions I have always managed to find an excuse to get someone else to carry out the engine servicing on both our boats. This time, however, I had acquired the relevant parts, brushed up on the servicing requirements for the manufacturers warranty, resurrected my notes from attending the course and watching others at work and I was determined to do it myself.
This is a job that usually takes a qualified engineer a couple of hours, perhaps a few minutes longer for a major milestone like this, where nearly all the filters need to be checked and changed. Needless to say, despite starting before morning coffee, it was dusk by the time I had finished. Nevertheless, all the boxes had been ticked, no disasters had been encountered and the engine started smoothly without spraying various volatile fluids in all directions around the engine room. Big success!
I will confess that I shirked the task of completely draining and replacing the many litres of coolant. Views differ on the need for this if the concentration of anti-freeze and additives is still correct, which they were, so I chose discretion over valour for this one.
The only real problem was realising that I had run out of de-ionised water halfway through topping up the batteries. The nearby Kilby town, from which the bridge takes its name, turns out to be less nearby on foot. It was further still as the first petrol station I came to didn't sell de-ionised water so I had to carry on to the top of the town to find one that did. Still, it was just a bit of shoe leather and an hour or so interruption and I was able to return to the boat and complete the job.
Last Legs To Leicester
Saturday morning didn't reveal any hidden issues with the previous day's servicing, such as a bilge full of red diesel, for example, so we set off for the bright lights of the big city - Leicester.
It wasn't a bad day, with just a few spells of very fine rain. The journey was largely uneventful, although we came out of one lock at the wrong angle and just caught the corner of the handrail on the arch of a bridge just outside the lower gates. First blood on the new paint job!
We covered eight miles and twelve locks during the course of what proved to be quite a long day. Along the way, having passed through King's Lock, we joined and re-joined sections of the River Soar which are often the subject of CRT notices to say that strong stream or flood warnings are in place and the navigation is closed. Today all the indicator boards were firmly in the green and it was often hard to tell when you were in a canal or a river section, with only the number of hazards marked on the map to show that this can be a tricky journey at times.
Approaching the city there was the usual interesting variety of attitudes to having a canal at the bottom of the garden:
As with all big towns and cities it is hard to tell in advance where you can moor and do so safe from unwanted interference. We had asked for some advice from groups on Facebook and the strong consensus was that Castle Gardens was a good secure site but also limited for space and often full. Approaching in the gathering gloom we felt our usual rising apprehension that there might be no room at the inn and we would have to find an alternative in the dark. A relief, therefore, to find a floating pontoon in the middle of the city, long enough for four or more boats and completely empty.