Saturday 26 June 2021

Erewash Canal. Trent Junction to Langley Mill and back.

  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the Erewash; we’d heard no end of stories about heavy lock gates and uncooperative paddle gear, about not finding anywhere to moor or any services, about unexpectedly low bridges and about numerous trips down the weed hatch to clear everything from water lilies to fishing tackle to mattresses. However, we’d also heard expressions like “Hidden gem” and “Best kept secret”, so it was with open minds and open eyes that we set forth northwards from Trent Lock. 

A quick glance at the Nicholson or Pearson canal guides will tell you that there are indeed no services between the junction with the River Trent and Langley Mill. However, as those two places are only 11¾ miles and 15 locks apart, and a good number of visiting boats go from one end to the other in a day, it really isn’t a problem. What is a bit tricky is the fact that the only boater’s skip anywhere on the whole canal is at Trent Lock, and as we spent a leisurely 3 weeks going up to Langley Mill and back, we had to surreptitiously put small bags of our rubbish in litter bins along the way. No big deal, we’ve had to do the same on other, much busier parts of the network, but just something to bear in mind if you come this way.

Edited to add; We've since found out that CRT have had a couple of BIFFA bins placed in the KFC car park at Langley Mill, which is just before the basin and backs onto the towpath.

  Some of the lock gates and paddle gear - in fact most of the lock gates and paddle gear - were stiff and heavy, and we were very grateful to have two boats going up and down together. Even with double the crew we frequently had to both use just one gate, the other one being too much effort, and Ann-Marie had to resort to the extra leverage from our double length windlass on the odd occasion to get the ratchet moving.

This was one of the only paddles that wasn't stiff or heavy!

    Navigating the Erewash on our own would have been much harder and trying to do it single-handed wouldn’t be much fun at all, so we can see why it gets the bad press in that respect. 

We didn’t find weeds a particular problem. There are an awful lot of water lilies, but we always found a navigable gap between them, and in June when we were there, they were just starting to burst into flower and looked beautiful. The lack of boat traffic has its effects. The water is amazingly clear, so you can see all the long thin grass-like stuff growing up from the bottom, seemingly reaching out to grab your propeller or foul your rudder as you pass over it. It’s a bit disconcerting at first but you soon find that it’s not very tenacious and you’re actually mowing it as you go along. You can also see the fish, of which there are thousands everywhere you look. Little fish, big fish, stripy fish, all manner of them darting about or just soaking up the sun. On one hot walk along the towpath we counted half a dozen pike lazily basking in the water. On most of the network, we look out of the windows onto grey-brown opaque soup, but the Erewash was like living in an aquarium. The people living in the houseboats at Trent Lock must be sick to death of hearing “Look at all the fish!” every time a visiting boat goes past. 

As for mooring, there’s several places around Trent lock; 48 hrs on the canal, 3 days on floating pontoons the River Trent and 14 days on Cranfleet Cut. At the top end, in the Great Northern Basin at Langley Mill, there are 7 day moorings with enough room for four or five boats, plus a couple of 14 day spots below the lock. In between there are bollards in Long Eaton and Sandiacre which, although handy for shopping, are both adjacent to busy roads. There’s also a long stretch in Ilkeston alongside Gallow’s Field, which was dredged in 2017 to allow over 100 boats to moor for the IWA festival of water. We found a lovely spot just below Sandiacre lock, but our favourite mooring was just above Potter’s Lock at Ilkeston. There’s some handy Armco to chain up to and a nice wide, buttercup strewn grass verge.

    Perfect for barbecues and lolling about in deck chairs...

....and there's a handy little car park by the lock.

It is true that there is quite a lot of jungle along most of the tow path and the canal profile is either ‘V’ shaped or silted up, but we did pass boats moored up in a quite a few other places as well. Like the K&A, the Erewash isn’t the sort of canal where you can stop anywhere; a bit of planning is needed, but the excellent Sustrans spec towpath makes a bicycle reccé very easy.

   Something else that needed a reccé was bridge heights. Nicholson gives the air draught of the canal as 7'5", but we'd heard of one or two people getting caught out, especially just before Langley Mill at bridge 27. We took a tape measure on a walk up there and clocked it at 6'8", which is nowhere near the lowest bridge we've been under, but we had to lower some of the roof-tat to get through.

   We got lots done in our three weeks: We had two new tyres on the car, and got the wheels re-aligned. All the spring bulbs got lifted for drying out and were replaced with peas, dwarf beans, tomatoes, lettuce and rainbow chard.

   The little herb planters that we started in Loughborough got a bit further, they’ll get finished eventually, but other more important stuff keeps popping up.

We had a really lovely day out with a bunch of family who we haven’t seen for ages. Our niece Rachael and nephew Alan both live near Derby, so we met up with them and their families at Belton Hall (NT) and spent the day bimbling around and chatting followed by a picnic.

We found a Haha!

Realestate: The dream....

The reality.

    We took Bob and Mandy along as well and we all had a grand time. There was a slight panic at the end of the day when we couldn’t find our car keys, but some kind person had handed them in to reception so the drama was thankfully short lived. 

Our engine woes continue, but we think we might have got to the bottom of it.

    The Lister had been getting steadily smokier all the way down the Leicester line and the River Soar, and as we came up the Erewash it was getting to the point where something needed to be done. Dave didn’t really know where to start looking; it’s barely run-in after its rebuild last year. After checking the fuel pump control rods were synchronised the next step was to take the heads off and look for clues. It was quite coked up, which was causing the smoke, but why? It doesn’t have an air filter, but a blocked exhaust would have the same effect. Dave removed the exhaust lagging and was pleasantly surprised to find the system in very good nick. It’s made from sections of quite substantial 2” threaded tube leading an industrial grade silencer, which in turn is connected to another threaded section welded to the hull.

 It’s all quite well designed and although it didn’t look like it had moved for decades, with a bit of percussionist encouragement it all unscrewed and came apart relatively easily. On inspection it didn’t seem to be particularly bunged up, except for the short section welded to the hull. That was the only bit that wasn’t lagged and was clearly restricted to a degree where exhaust gasses had condensed on the cold steel. Was that enough to cause the problems? Only time would tell. A bit of a clean with a wire brush cleared it out then Dave put it all back together. That was when he discovered that one of the unions on the spill rail had given up the ghost. The spill rail has to be removed every time a cylinder head comes off. Lister recommend de-coking every 1500 hours so over its 50 odd year life the poor old spill rail has no doubt been on and off countless times. The unions are brass and the spigots on the injectors are steel, so sooner or later something is going to give. As he was putting it back together Dave noticed little tell-tale slivers of brass in the steel threads meaning that the union had stripped. Not expecting much, he looked on the internet, and was amazed to find a batch of new-old-stock spill rails for sale. Knowing that it’s a vulnerable part, he’s searched for one before without success, so even though these had the take-off point on the wrong end, necessitating some pipework re-routing, it was still something of a miracle to find one at all.

The new rail is now in, the engine isn’t filling up with diesel and we aren’t leaving a trail of smoke behind us. Dave’s not entirely convinced he’s found the root cause, and he’s not putting the exhaust lagging back on till he’s happier about it, but it seems ok for now. 

When Dave wasn’t scratching his head in the engine room we had games evenings and film nights with Bob & Mandy and went for walks along the Erewash valley and the derelict Nottingham canal which, along with the (less derelict and currently under restoration) Cromford Canal, joins the Erewash at the Great Northern Basin at Langley Mill.

The Nottingham Canal. Some of it is still in water...

Some less so, and some doesn't exist at all.

The end of the Nottingham, now the ECPDA permanent moorings

The fabulous Bennerley Viaduct crossing two canals, a river and another railway line in the Erewash valley

The new Sustrans access ramp up to the viaduct from the Erewash Canal towpath.

    After a lovely day's boating we finally arrived at Langley Mill.

Waiting for the lock at Langley mill.

This was once a bustling hive of activity.

   While we were there we had a visit to the Basilia tea shop in the town (there isn't much else to do) and cycled over to Ikea for some new cushions. Nottingham Ikea was the nearest one to where we used to live in Lincolnshire; in a former lifetime we'd go there for a day out with the kids. It was a bit weird turning up on our bikes at a retail park we used to drive to.
  We'd noticed several signs for Shipley Country Park, which sounded very familiar, so we went to have a look. It was lovely, with masses of varied rhododendrons and azaleas...

...a sculpture trail...

...and we had a very nice day out. However we didn't recognize it at all, so we couldn't work out why we had the feeling we'd been there before.   

There is a little service block in the basin and the boatyard sells diesel, so after a few days and with everything filled and emptied we turned the boats round and started our journey back to Trent Lock.


 Our social life has begun taking the first baby steps on its return to normal. Back at Potter's Lock we had an afternoon sitting out in the buttercups with some of our old 2cv club mates who live around there.   

Jean and Ian came along on their Ebikes, shortly followed by Jim and Den. We made sure we remembered how to be hospitable this time; we gave them a guided tour of the boat and had drinks and snacks aplenty. It was a really lovely to spend a sunny afternoon sitting chatting with our mates, and it brought back memories of all the big international meetings we’ve been to with the car club.

With Bob and Mandy keeping an eye on Legend at Potter’s lock for a couple of days, we whizzed up to Yorkshire to David and Kate’s. We hadn’t seen each other since 2019 when we'd spent an afternoon with them while we were up on Loch Ness, and a weekend at the Ely Folk Festival shortly afterwards. David just happened to be in the middle of a camper conversion on their second Mercedes Vito van; after seven years of sterling service the first one he did had bitten the dust. Back then, Dave had helped him install the pop-top roof, so it was good that we were there just at the right time to help with swapping it onto the new van.

There's no going back now!

They live in an annex off their daughters house and they’ve had an extension built since we were last there, which has doubled the size of both kitchens. They showed us the pictures of the house and garden while the building work was going on; it really did look like a bomb site with muddy trenches and piles of rubble everywhere, but now it’s all finished and smelling of new paint and the garden makeover is almost complete. The difference all the extra space makes is amazing and both couples are delighted with it.

On the drive home we went through Bradford where we noticed signs for Shipley Glen Country Park where we have been before when we were up on the Leeds and Liverpool. Doh! 

When we got back we reluctantly slipped our mooring at Potter’s lock for the last time and went back down to Sandiacre, where we had two sleepless nights due to a stupid swan deciding that Legend was a predator that needed attacking at regular intervals from dusk till dawn. It was amusing to start with but by 4am, after getting up twice to chase it off, the novelty began to wear off. 

Two years ago we came up to the Derby and Sandiacre canal for a WRG canal camp. Where we moored at Sandiacre was right next to the restored lock cottages and the junction... we took the opportunity to walk along the line of the currently derelict D&S to Borrowash lock where we were working. The line is in really good order, the councils were gifted it when it was abandoned and although it’s mostly filled in they’ve preserved it with a footpath following the route. The volunteers and contractors are very busy with lots of work going on all the time and a section of the path was closed while a new lining was being installed.

 Despite the rain we got all the way to Borrowash lock....

 ...where we simply had to visit a café for a bit of a dry off, before trudging back in ever worsening weather, and once again arrived back at the boat sodden. 

The day after that we had a flying visit to Mum and Dad’s for a Father’s day lunch with them and Karen and Andrew in the Fox and Hounds, which we were moored outside when we were on the Basingstoke three years ago. It was a terrific meal; proper pastry-all-the-way-round steak and ale pie washed down with a lovely pint of bitter and great company. On the way home we popped in to see Lindsay and Paul as we were passing. We only meant to stop for a quick catch-up, but there was so much to talk about we ended up staying the night. 

In the morning we came back to Legend just in time for a quick lunch then off down the last two locks in the drizzle. Bob and Mandy stopped in Long Eaton for shopping while we carried on back to Trent Lock where we moored up in almost the same place. We spent the afternoon sorting the plants out and tidying up.

We're half way through 2021 and, like the year before it, its certainly going to stick in people's minds. We're very aware that we've been extremely fortunate and our lifestyle has allowed us to ride out this epidemic with relatively little hardship. Not being able to see our grandchildren has been very tough, but compared to the massive upheaval other people have had to suffer we think we've got off quite lightly. Sticking a pipe cleaner up our noses before visiting out friends and family might be unpleasant, but it's a small price to pay to know that they're safe.

2021. The year of the Pipe Cleaner.

It’s been an interesting excursion up the Erewash; most of it has been peaceful and chilled with barbecues and walks and sun tans, but getting the engine sorted and Dad being poorly has made it a bit frantic at times. Now we’re back at Trent Lock we feel that - for the time being at least - we’ve got all our ducks in a row.

We’re going to pause here for a while; there are things coming up on the calendar which will be a lot easier to sort out here than further down the river. Plus there’s still several places we haven’t waked to and a tea shop that we’ve not visited. The truth is, it’s lovely and we don’t want to leave.

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