I mentioned in my last post that we were reviewing our plans for the rest of our trip. Our initial thoughts had been to continue south from Loughborough, through Leicester and eventually Braunston where we would join the Oxford canal and then head back to the Ashby canal. When we thought about the thirty five broad locks between Loughborough and Foxton, the limited moorings available in Leicester and the prospect of travelling over the long, lonely summit to Crick, we were hardly filled with enthusiasm. The alternative was to simply turn around, re-trace our steps to Fradley and turn left on to the Coventry. This shorter route would get us home in the middle of August but it would leave us free to do other things before the autumn set in. It was an easy decision to make so on Sunday 5th August, we got up early and turned the boat around and started on the descent towards the river Trent. It was hot and sunny again but we reached Sawley marina just after one o’clock and managed to find a space to tie up for the rest of the day.
We had another early start on Monday 6th and enjoyed a fresh breeze as we passed under the M1 again and then found ourselves on the Trent & Mersey canal. Pressing on through Shardlow, we were joined by a three generation family on nb Heron and that made the remaining broad locks very easy. They stopped for lunch while we carried on until we were almost at Willington w,here we managed to find a shady spot and escape from the sun’s heat.
On Tuesday 7th, we moved early again with an overnight mooring at Barton Turns marina in mind. The narrow locks seemed like nothing compared to the broad locks and our progress felt swift as we reached the marina entrance. I had just started to turn in when a boat leaving the marina came into view. I stopped and fortunately they were not turning our way, however as we both manoeuvred our craft, another narrowboat appeared from the opposite direction to us and proceeded to steer around the back of Caxton. The three boats formed a triangular pattern in the marina entrance for a few moments and then we were all on our way again. We had a good afternoon in the marina and then had pizza in the Waterfront restaurant, taking advantage of their two-for-one offer.
Wednesday, surprise surprise, we were up early again and motoring on to Fradley junction. It was a straightforward trip and soon we had done the locks and turned on to the Coventry canal. It was still fairly early when we moored at Whittington so we walked up to the village and caught the bus into Lichfield where we spent the afternoon.
Thursday 9th saw us moving on to Tamworth, a place that we haven’t visited before so we took the opportunity and walked into town. It was alright, too. We saw the castle but didn’t visit it, instead choosing to read of the town’s history on the numerous information boards dotted around. We did a lot of walking and got back to our mooring in the late afternoon.
Rain had been forecast for Friday 10th but we didn’t see any of it until we reached Grendon where we filled with water, we then pushed over to the other side of the canal and moored up for the day.
Our mission on Saturday 11th was to go half way up the Atherstone flight and stay there for the weekend and that was exactly what we did. We met enough boats coming down to make the ascent relatively easy and we had no problem finding a space below lock 5. It’s only a five minute walk to town from there so we enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine on Long Street, the main thoroughfare in the town. For old time’s sake, we also had a couple of hours in the library room of the Red Lion Hotel reading the papers.
Having travelled every day for seven days and with rain forecast to fall throughout Sunday, we were expecting to stay put until Monday the 13th. There was little rain throughout the morning on Sunday and the sky brightened up around one o’clock so we decided to get the remaining five locks done and out of the way, leaving us with a straight run home the following day. The ascent of the locks was easy, lock five was empty as a boat had just passed us. As we rose in the lock another was working down lock four. The same happened at lock three with the added bonus of a volunteer lock keeper on duty. In fact, the top three locks had lock keepers, so much so that our passage through took just under three quarters of an hour. The following ten minutes were not so straightforward for us. As we approached bridge 39, an ABC hire boat appeared. This shouldn’t have been a problem as we were a long way from the bridge ourselves. Unfortunately, the steerer was going a little bit faster than his skill level should have allowed him to, he messed his line of approach up and then panicked, steered the wrong way and ended up across the canal on a collision course with a moored boat. We had stopped and reversed out of the way, not wishing to become part of the entertainment. A woman appeared on the deck of the ABC boat, took the tiller and got everything under control again so we started approaching the bridge again, just in time to see the bow flashes of another narrowboat appear. No drama this time but we did have to stop again. Forty five minutes to get through five locks, ten minutes to get under a bridge! Just to complete the whole Atherstone experience, a teenager threw a stone at us and hit the boat as we passed under bridge 38.
We tied up near Hartshill for the day, leaving ourselves with just twelve lock free miles to cover on Monday morning.
There’s not a lot to say about the final leg of our journey really, an early morning start under a dull sky and the feeling of a bit of rain in the air. Through Nuneaton with only the odd dog walker for company and then back on to the Ashby canal at Marston junction. We weren’t really sure if we would encounter low water levels after the long hot summer – the Ashby can be shallow at the best of times. As it turned out, we had no problems at all. We had heard that water has being getting pumped into the Coventry canal from the quarries at Hartshill (it flows in near the Anchor Inn to be precise) to maintain the level and since the Ashby is on the same pound, it seems to have benefitted too. By the middle of the morning, we reached Hinckley and the Trinity marina where after sorting out a berth and completing the relevant paperwork, we tied Caxton up and walked home.
That might be us for this year now, maybe the odd short cruise here and there but we have no plans for any long trips.
Last year I summarised the statistics for our trip so I thought that I might as well repeat the exercise here.
Number of weeks spent on board – 17
Miles travelled – 314 (504km)
Locks – 221
Tunnels – 4
Counties visited – 8
Blog posts – 45
The last time we passed this way, we weren’t impressed with Loughborough at all so we weren’t that bothered about staying overnight. The trip from Kegworth had been a straightforward one and we arrived on the visitor moorings around eleven o’clock and found a space easily enough. We took the short walk into town and could see that a lot had changed in the last eight years, the market was on, the sun was shining and the whole place had a vibrant feel about it. We walked around and completely changed the opinion that we had held since 2010 and so decided to stay for a few days. A little bit of digging found that the local heritage railway, The GCR was having a special event over the weekend to mark fifty years since the official end of steam train running in this country. It looked like it would be worth hanging around for on the Saturday, just leaving us with Friday to amuse ourselves.
The title of this post isn’t a mistake, we went to Lincoln on the train on Friday. Very often when we are staying in a place where there is a railway station, we look to see where trains run to from it. It doesn’t always yield interesting results but when we found out that there is a direct service to Lincoln, we made the decision to go. The decision was made at half past eight on Friday morning while we were still in bed but by quarter to ten, we were standing on the platform of Loughborough station, a mile away, ready to board the train.
The trip lasted an hour and a half and stopped at half a dozen stations along the way but the train wasn’t busy and it was modern, quiet and clean so the time passed quickly. Of course we wanted to visit the Cathedral having already been to a number of others on this trip and since there is a castle nearby, it made sense to visit that too. In my mind, I associate the name ‘Lincolnshire’ with flat landscapes and big skies but I must admit that I have only been to places like Spalding and Boston. I had no idea that the castle and Cathedral stand at the top of a steep hill in Lincoln!
Anyway, we climbed up the hill and then climbed up on the castle walls and then to the top of the tower – real gluttons for punishment! Lincoln Crown Court still sits in the building inside the castle walls but they don’t use the Victorian prison any more. The castle experience also includes the exhibition of one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, quite appropriate for us after our trip to Runnymede last year.
By the time we had trudged back down the hill, an activity which was possibly harder than the climb up, we were glad to get back to the station. Our efforts were rewarded as we found ourselves in what should have been the first class section of the train but East Midland trains have declassified it to standard class. It still had the bigger reclining seats though, so we travelled in relative luxury back to Loughborough.
Later on Friday evening, when checking the GCR website, we saw that because of the recent hot dry spell and the risk of lineside fires, the number of steam trains on duty over the weekend was going to be severely restricted and heritage diesels would be substituted. There didn’t seem much point in going, after all if we want to travel on a smelly, noisy old diesel train we can just get a Northern train from Leeds to Sheffield but for a fraction of the price.
Saturday was another warm day and with the plan to visit the Great Central thrown out, we did a bit of grocery shopping and then reviewed our plans for the rest of the summer – more of which in the next post.
Although we had considered exploring the Erewash canal and toyed with the idea of going on the Trent into Nottingham, the option that appealed to us most was to simply head for the river Soar. We left our departure until after nine when we knew that there would be a lock keeper on duty. The locks are electrically operated but we wanted to make the job even easier and that’s exactly how it worked out for us.
Once free of the lock, it didn’t take too long to reach the turn on to the Soar and once we had made the turn, the differences between the rivers became immediately apparent. The Soar is narrower and twistier than the Trent and of course we were now heading upstream instead of downstream. The first mile was painfully slow due to the string of moored boats, many of them widebeam. The only lock that we had to work was at Ratcliffe and there was a narrowboat about to leave just as we arrived. The skyline is dominated by the eight giant cooling towers of Racliffe power station and it took a long time for us to lose sight of it.
Our destination had been Kegworth and we were pleased to see that there was only one boat tied on the moorings next to the flood lock.
Once showered, we walked into the village and headed for the church in search for a memorial to the people who lost their lives when a plane crashed on to the M1 motorway nearby. The memorial is actually in a cemetery on the other side of the village but we were pointed in the right direction by a lady in the church. It’s a nice memorial but it looks a bit unloved with no flowers, just a poppy wreath, presumably left since last November.
The chances are that none of the victims are buried in the cemetery so it’s hard to imagine that relatives of the dead would visit the memorial since the plane was flying from London to Belfast; especially since it is directly below the flight path for East Midlands airport. The story of the tragic event is here, it’s hard to believe that it is almost thirty years ago since it happened.
We returned to the boat in the middle of the afternoon and had lunch and then relaxed for the rest of the day.
The worst of the weather had passed by Monday morning so we were up and out and glad to be moving again although we didn’t plan on moving very far. There was a long slow crawl for a mile through Shardlow wharf and past all of the moored boats beyond before we reached our one and only lock of the day. Derwent Mouth lock marks the end of the Trent and Mersey canal and just below it there is the confluence of the river Trent and the Derwent. Suddenly, it was as if we were crossing a lake, the water was so wide.
We passed under a pipe bridge that I used to see when travelling north on the M1 and then we passed under the motorway itself.
We then passed the only other boat on the move before arriving at the moorings opposite Sawley marina.
Luckily enough, other boats were just starting to leave so we had our pick of the moorings. We found ourselves a straight stretch where the ring spacing was kind to us and tied up for the day.
It was only nine o’clock and since we had planned to catch the bus into Long Eaton to do a big supermarket shop, we took advantage of the Sawley marina café across the way. Breakfast didn’t disappoint, it was superb and ended up being our only meal of the day! Anyway, despite being full of breakfast we stuck to the task, walked to the bus stop and caught the Skylink bus into Long Eaton. The zigzag duo ticket allows two people to travel on the buses all day for £11. Twelve minutes later and we were getting off the bus again with Tesco, Asda and Aldi lined up in front of us to choose from.
After an hour, we had bought as much as we dared to carry back to the boat but it wasn’t too much of a hardship, the bus stop is opposite the supermarkets and at the other end, just a five minute walk from the towpath. After unpacking the groceries, we caught the bus again using our zigzag duo and returned to Long Eaton so that we could have a look around. It was alright too, all of the usual suspects were present when it came to the high street shops and we had a good wander around, picking up some bits that the supermarkets don’t stock. The bus route follows the Erewash canal for a little way into town and although we took a mild interest in it, we decided not to explore it by boat.
After we returned to our mooring later in the day, the chores couldn’t be avoided any longer so it was a case of dumping rubbish, emptying cassettes and filling the water tank – there is no glamourous side to narrowboating!
(On reading this, Sue remarked that there is a glamourous side – relaxing on the front deck with a glass of wine in the sunshine. I agree in principle but then she hasn’t just emptied five toilet cassettes into an elsan!).
Our original plan for Tuesday had been to have a lazy start but we were awoken early by some heavy rain showers. We weren’t travelling so it wasn’t a problem, we just lost a few hours sleep, that’s all. With no real plans for the day, we eventually decided to walk to Trent lock where the Erewash canal meets the rivers Trent and Soar. The rain had long gone by the time we started our walk but there were some good sized puddles along the way, confirmation that a lot of rain had fallen in a short period of time. When we arrived at the lock, we took a good look around the area before making our way to the Trent Lock pub where we had a leisurely lunch.
By the time we returned to the boat, we couldn’t be bothered to go anywhere else so we just stayed on board and turned our thoughts to the next part of our journey.
Our arrival in Shardlow was a little disorientating, it seemed like it should be mid afternoon but it was only just after 10 am due to the fact that we had started our journey just after six. Rather than just potter around the village, we decided to catch the bus into Derby, which is not too far away. It was an impromptu decision so we had no plans except to just look around. The bus runs every twenty minutes and it only takes twenty minutes to get into the city so we were there just before twelve. Just before twelve is just before lunch time so after a walk around Eagle Market, we went into Intu, the giant shopping centre and had lunch at Carluccio’s. We didn’t really do much else and definitely didn’t spend enough time in Derby to form an opinion of the place but the heat and humidity continued to oppress so we caught the bus back to Shardlow, returning to the boat just after three o’clock.
Shardlow is a strange place, once an inland port, it still retains a lot of its character due to the presence of so many old warehouses and other associated buildings – many of which are listed to one grade or another. In many ways there are similarities with Stourport but equally there are many differences. Shardlow boasts eight pubs but very little in the way of shops unless you count the local marina / caravan park which stocks a few basics and the distant Post Office / tiny general store (It’s up for sale if anyone fancies it – Rightmove. We weren’t too interested in either really, the heatwave broke down with an almighty crash bringing high winds and rain for the weekend. I did manage to pop out and visit 3/8ths of the local hostelries in the two days that we were moored in Shardlow but other than that we just hid indoors and enjoyed the cooler, fresher air.
We’ve been leaving the cratch cover open at night to keep the bedroom cool at night but with overnight rain forecast on Thursday night, we closed it all down and prepared for another day at Ragley Boat Stop. The rain didn’t come and it was boiling inside the boat with the result that we awoke at five in the morning. Seeing that sky was blue and that the forecast now said no rain until after 9pm, we decided to move on towards Shardlow. Nothing else was moving as we made our way along the Trent and Mersey, not too surprising at 6.30 am. After we had passed through Swarkestone lock, we got caught in a sudden sharp shower of rain. Soaked to the skin within the first two minutes, we managed to pull over and tie up until it passed over. We only had to endure one more of these downpours although we were pre-warned by some loud claps of thunder which gave us a chance to pull over again before the heavens opened properly.
That was as much as we saw of the forecast – all day, heavy rain and so we carried on until we found a mooring in Shardlow. Looking at the latest
Wet Met Office forecast, we are going to be faced with the same dilemma that we faced at Willington, maybe we’ll just overstay on the 48 hour moorings.
Our original intention had been to stay two nights in Willington but the weather forecast made us change our plans. All week the
Wet Met Office have been advising people to stay indoors by issuing a warning that is just one step below a national emergency! Friday was forecast to have torrential rain and thunderstorms so we would be faced with three options. 1) Travel in the storms, 2) Overstay by a day, 3) Move on Thursday. We chose the third option, planning to stop somewhere between Willington and Shardlow.
We needed water too and since we had moored past the service point at Willington, hoped that we could fill the tank before we reached Swarkestone lock. There is a tap marked in the Nicholson’s Guide and there is a pub nearby but what we didn’t realise was that it is Ragley Boat Stop where there is an excellent overnight mooring at the bottom of the pub garden with both water and electricity available.
Needless to say, we visited the pub and it is a beautiful place so not only did we have a drink, we had lunch too. At £5 for each meal from the lunch menu, we couldn’t go wrong and the quality was good too – unbeatable value. The afternoon was spent mainly on board in the sweltering heat although I did return to the bar for an hour to help them out with their cold beer sales!
We were up and away early on Wednesday, partly to avoid cruising in the oppressive heat and partly to try and get a mooring in Willington. It all worked as we hoped and we found a space on the 48 hour visitor moorings there.
As we passed through Burton upon Trent, Sue decided to pay tribute to the town by having one of its famous products for her breakfast. If you’re now picturing her pouring a pint of Marston’s Pedigree on her corn flakes, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Instead, she had marmite on toast. It’s over a hundred years since Marmite was inflicted upon the human race but full marks to the German scientist, Justus von Liebig who managed to find a way to get rid of some of the waste created by the brewing industry.
Willington is one of those villages that embraces and makes the most of its canal frontage. There’s a large information sign entitled “The Willington Experience” (hence the title of this post) which has a map of the village surrounded by details of all of the local businesses.
We walked out of the village to Betty’s Farm shop where we saw proper free range hens roaming in a huge field outside the chicken sheds. We popped into the local Co-op on the way back, as much to take advantage of the air conditioning as anything else.
The last time that we passed this way, we had lunch at the Green Dragon next to the canal. That was eight years ago and the Green Dragon has lost its colour and is now The Dragon. It’s undergone quite a transformation since we were here before and is now a very much bigger and busier establishment. We had our evening meal there, by accident really as we had only gone to have a look and maybe a drink but with a nice seat in the garden, one thing led to another and the next thing we knew we were ordering food.
It was about nine thirty when we got our act together and left Barton marina on Tuesday morning. We hadn’t planned on going too far and it was probably just as well as it took us almost an hour to get through Tatenhill lock. We had followed one boat down through Barton Turn lock but by the time we caught up with them at Tatenhill, they were third in the queue for the lock. It was almost midday when we reached the moorings at Branston Water Park and after we tied up, we decided to have lunch at the nearby Bridge Inn. The pizzas that we had were superb, there’s no more to say about them!
After lunch we walked into the village by way of the tunnel under the A38, much easier than our crossing of it near Alrewas! There’s a handful of shops in the village, the ubiquitous Co-op, a bakery, a chip shop and a Tanning salon – no doubt having a very slack period this summer. Branston is home of the famous “Branston Pickle” despite the fact that after its invention in 1922, production moved to London two years later.
There was no problem in getting a short term mooring in Barton Turns marina so after paying the fee and filling with diesel, we tied up just outside the Waterfront pub restaurant. After exploring the various shops along the edge of the marina, we decided to have dinner at the Thai restaurant, Nipa. The food, the service and surroundings were excellent – a real treat!
On Saturday, we took a walk into the village and had a look around, another lovely place with a few shops and a disproportionately large number of pubs. The locals must have loved it when the marina development took place and introduced four more places to eat, a few more shops and even a cinema.
Sunday was a day when we didn’t venture far, we took advantage of the cloud cover in the morning and did some cleaning while it was relatively cool. Caxton now has one fairly shiny side and one extremely shiny side.
It was already very hot on Monday morning when we caught the bus into Burton upon Trent at half past nine. We had a walk around the town centre and then found our way to the riverside before feeding ourselves in the Market Hall. which dates back to 1883.
We returned to Barton by bus in the early afternoon, did a little bit of shopping in the Co-op and then walked back to the marina. It was extremely hot so we just took shelter in the shade of the front deck, doing very little for the rest of the day.