Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Chesterfield Canal. West Stockwith to Shireoaks.

    As soon as a space became available we pulled off the pontoon at West Stockwith and tied Legend to the visitor mooring rings in the basin. 

   For one thing, it’s easier to get to all our roof –tat when we’re moored side on but, more importantly, climbing in and out of the boat through Dave’s ridiculously cluttered engine ‘ole is always a risky endeavour and best avoided where possible.

   After that we walked back along the riverbank to Gainsborough to collect our car. Even with a stop to pick hazelnuts on the way, it still took far less time on foot than punching the tide had done the previous day.

Gainsborough riverbank from the bridge.

The high wharves and the empty wharehouses are the only reminders that this used to be a busy inland port.

   We were quite taken with Gainsborough, the Old Hall is very impressive...

 ...and we had coffee in the really friendly All Saint's Parish church café before driving back to Legend for lunch. In the afternoon we took the car forward to Gringley-on-the-hill and came back along the towpath, mixing our walk with some running. We’ve decided to have a go at Couch to 5K and we reckon if we do it together we’ll be able get somewhere. Ann-Marie hasn’t run since she left school, so she’s got a huge hill to climb. Dave used to run when he was in the RAF, and did a bit more a few years ago after Chloe ran the London Marathon, but he probably did too much too soon (really? Who’d have thought?) and had to stop when his knee started hurting. Couch to 5k starts off very gently with alternate 60 second runs and 90 second walks in week one, gradually building over 9 weeks. We’re feeling better already and we’re rather proud of ourselves. Time will tell, but it’s going ok so far.

   Next day we left the basin and set off towards the other end of the canal.

Leaving West Stockwith Basin.

   Of course in its heyday, the other end used to be Chesterfield, but after the collapse of the Norwood Tunnel in 1907 boats have only been able to get to the eastern portal. The very busy and very enthusiastic Chesterfield Canal Trust have made great progress in reconnecting the two parts of the canal, and plans are in place to get round the collapsed tunnel, so maybe at some point boats will be able to get all the way to Chesterfield again, but for now the navigable limit is Kiveton. Except for us it isn’t. Unfortunately for us the navigable limit is the Shireoaks Marina entrance; the last place we can turn round before a broken lock at Turnerwood. Sadly CRT aren’t going to do a temporary repair because that particular lock is due for replacement during this year’s winter works programme so it’s going to stay shut until December, by which time we’ll be long gone. It's perfectly understandable but we’re really disappointed; the flight of locks up through Turnerwood and Thorpe is one of the prettiest on the network and we’ve really been looking forward to taking Legend up there. Also, five years ago, our first taste of volunteering with WRG was the Bonfire Bash at the eastern tunnel approach. We’d promised ourselves at the time that one day we’d bring our boat up there and reverse up to the portal, so it’s a bit gutting to get so tantalisingly close.

   Never mind, it still leaves a decent amount of canal to chug along for our visit this time, and we’ll just have to come back again at some point to get up to the end.

   ‘The Chezzy’, as it’s fondly referred to, is notorious for being shallow, narrow and weedy, so we were prepared for some slow boating.

The first of many weed clearance jobs.

 Finding that a top ground paddle had been left open all night on the second lock we came to at Misterton didn’t help matters...

Misterton Lock
...we were a good eight inches down and ploughing the muddy bottom for about two and a half miles towards the next lock.

We gave up when it started raining and moored on some handy bollards at Wooden Beck culvert. After lunch the sun came out and we decided to stay put for the night in the hope that the pound would fill up again by the morning. It was such a lovely mooring that we stayed for two nights. While we were there, Dave got some of our accumulated firewood cut up and stashed in the log box, ready for when we start lighting the fire, and we took our Kia for and MOT, which it failed. We need new brake discs and pads, which Dave can sort out, and also new lower suspension arms, which he can’t, so Halfords are going to get the job. The MOT was in Chesterfield, (we got it free, but had to book it months ago and Chesterfield was central-ish to where we thought we might be at the time.) so while it was being done we walked across the town to Tapton Lock at the beginning of the canal where it leaves the River Rother.

One of the spill wiers where the Chesterfield Canal leaves the River Rother.

The flood lock at the start of the navigation.

A quick coffee at Tapton lock café and visitor centre.

Unmistakeably Chesterfield.

 Before we left Chesterfield, we picked up the discs and pads so that Dave could get on with them as soon as we found somewhere suitable.

The next morning we drove out to Ollerton for our flu jabs, then to the beautiful Clumber Park for a picnic. We walked through the grounds of the long demolished stately home, and were stunned by the amazing walled garden...

Clumner Park lake.

The entrance to the Walled Garden.

Cordoned apples and 130 varietiesof rhubarb. Crumble anyone?

...with its vast glasshouse and its fabulous National Rhubarb Collection, with no fewer than 130 different varieties. We’d always thought rhubarb was rhubarb. Who knew? 

There was a little produce stall with a donations tin, so we came home with some Raspberries, some apples, and a huge 2 foot long yellow courgette, which we then had to carry 2 miles back to the car.

What a Whopper!

Back at the boat, we had a late lunch then set off for some lovely early evening boating to Drakeholes where there’s a layby right next to the moorings so it’s perfect for mechanicing.

Lockgate cobwebs in the sunshine.

The well looked after and very conveinient Drakeholes Mooring.

   The little Drakeholes tunnel is only a couple of hundred yards long, the lower parts of the walls are sandstone, while the roof is very tidy brickwork and it’s really dry in there, making it an ideal environment for bats. As we boated thorough we were thrilled to be joined by a little bat flying along with the boat, at one point it was flitting about between us at the back.

In the morning Dave was out early working on the car while Ann-Marie had a clean through the boat.

The first of four brake disc and pad replacements.

Before. Still plenty of thicknes, but the test machine recorded too much fluctuation.
After. New disc, new pads and cleaned up caliper. Dave managed to resist spraying it red and writing "Brembo" on it.

   We had our lunch out on the picnic tables taking advantage of the Indian summer sunshine. The weather at the end of September in 2021 was really warm and sunny; we knew it wouldn’t last for long, so we were having our meals outside as often as we could. In the afternoon we drove to Hayton Low Bridge where we left the car, before walking back through Clayworth with a visit to St Peter’s church to see the Traquair Murals.

   When we parked up we noticed that one of the new pads was binding, so that’s got to be looked at before we take it back in for a retest next week.

That evening Dave made a stash of Ash and Hawthorn at the next bridge ready for collection when we went through in the morning. The wind picked up as we set off and it was quite a breezy day in the end. We collected the firewood stash and carried on towards Hayton, trying to juggle between going slow enough to not dig the back end into the mud, and keeping enough forward motion to not be blown sideways. It didn’t help when we met Nb Green Man on a bend...

Nb Green Man. The first moving boat we'd seen for days.

...but with a bit of reversing from both boats and a good deal of arm waving, we managed to pass each other without touching. At Clayworth a big gust came between the houses and blew our little propagator off the roof into the water...

...but happily Ann-Marie went back with a boat hook and managed to retrieve it while we were stopped at Clayworth services.
The former pub at Clayworth, now the Retford and Worksop Baot Club HQ and mooring site.

   It was put back on the roof and strapped down to prevent any more bids for freedom then, after filling up and emptying out, we carried on to Hayton.
A family of swans. Spot the stowaway Canada Goose.

   The pretty little visitor mooring at Hayton is only big enough for one boat, but we were fairly sure that having passed Nb Green Man, there were now only two moving boats ahead of us, so it was a safe bet that the mooring would be empty. And indeed it was.
Hayton Low Bridge. Another beautifully looked after visitor mooring.

   As soon as we tied up Dave had the offending brake in bits and freed off the seized calliper, then we drove off to the other side of Retford and parked at the top of Forest Locks before walking back through the River Idle Nature Reserve. There was a slight detour when we found (not for the first time) that the two ends of the footpath we were following weren’t joined together with a footbridge over the river. It’s often the case that what is not printed on a map is just
 as, if not more, important than what is.

After an active morning with wood chopping and running before breakfast, we had a lovely time boating through Retford, pausing under an overhanging willow to do a bit of trimming. Most of the time, if a tree is reducing visibility or threatening to swipe stuff off our roof, we just snap off a couple of twigs or little branches as we pass. This one was a bit more serious so we stopped the boat under it while we deployed the big loppers and emerged from the other side with a big pile of foliage on the back deck.

   The last wide lock on the Chezzy is the beautifully named Whitsunday Pie lock in Retford. From there all the way to Chesterfield the locks are all narrow gauge. We haven’t been able to find a definitive reason for this; there are only six locks on the wide gauge section and fifty-nine plus a couple of tunnels from there to the end, so cost must have been top of the list, but why build the first six to a wide gauge? Cargoes of coal, bricks and limestone from the hills above Worksop and Chesterfield, were carried in double ended narrowboats known as Cuckoos, (which remained horse drawn right up until the closure of the canal in 1961) and transhipped into Humber Keels at West Stockwith basin. THIS is a wonderful history of life on a Humber Keel and makes fascinating reading.

Talking of Limestone, it wasn't all used in the blast furnaces. After the Houses of Parliament burnt down in 1834, a national survey of quarries was carried out to find a suitable stone for rebuilding, and the sand coloured limestone found at Anston quarry, about a mile north of the canal's summit, was chosen for the job. It’s interesting to think that the Palace of Westminster started off as 500,000 cubic feet of bedrock in Yorkshire. The vacant space now contains a very nice private housing development.

We stopped briefly by the park in Retford for a run ashore...

...then carried on up the narrow locks following a little river cruiser on their first trip. 

West Retford lock. they're all narroow from here on. 

Coming up to Forest Bottom lock

   We stopped at Forest top lock for the services then found a spot on the Armco where the water was just deep enough to float our boat. It was a bit late for a car move, so we just did a quick reccé of possible mooring spots before parking back at Forest Lock.

Our next hop took us to Osberton Park, a huge, very horsey, private estate.

A lovely setting for a lock near Scofton on the very posh Osberton Estate.

A floating reed island full of dabbling ducks.

   On the way we went through Ranby by the side of the A1 and passed under another of Dave’s often driven-over bridges. He still gets a secret thrill every time that happens. We had thought we’d find somewhere to park the car in Scofton, a little village on the estate, but all the access roads had big, severe looking key-coded security gates, so we had to be content with just boating through there instead. We found a very nice bit of Armco to tie up to...

...then walked back to Ranby where we’d left the car. We drove it forward, parked in Shireoaks and walked back to Worksop where
Dave’s nephew Richard and his lovely family had just moved into their new house. They’d invited us for tea and had a new Labrador puppy called Artemis to see, and we were really honoured to be their first guests. New house, new bedrooms, new puppy, new school; it was all terribly exciting. We had a really lovely evening; the kids had grown so much since we last saw them. Dusk was falling when we left, but we’d remembered to bring torches so the evening walk back to Legend was quite pleasant.

Next morning we had an early start boating into Worksop.

 Just outside Worksop is this railway bridge, apparently held up with chewing gum and string.

 We arrived with a batches of freshly baked goodies just in time for Richard, Kathryn and their kids to climb aboard for a trip up the locks. They’d had to leave Artemis at home as she wasn’t old enough to go outside yet, so they couldn’t stop for long, but we managed to get a few locks done before stopping to make quick work of Ann-Marie’s splendid lunch. We waved them off with a promise to see them again on our way back, then carried on up the last of the locks (passing under the A57, another of Dave’s bridges) before mooring up just after the marina entrance at Shireoaks. We decided to have a week there; there were lots of places to explore and we wanted to go over the tunnel and have a wander down the remains of the canal on the other side, so for the first time for ages we made ourselves at home and even put our little bird table up.


Monday, 27 September 2021

River Witham. Fossdyke Navigation. River Trent (Tidal Section) Boston to West Stockwith.

   Five nights in Boston really wasn’t enough. We didn’t waste a minute but we could easily have stayed for a fortnight. To begin with we drove to Navenby where our old Morris side were having one of their first dance outs since the restrictions lifted. It was fabulous to catch up with them and considering how little practice they’d managed to get in they were really good and they were really enthusiastic which is what counts. We followed them around the village visiting Mrs Smith’s cottage and a couple of pubs followed by a workshop session where we joined in with a Much Wenlock dance and realised just how much we’ve forgotten.

   For the first time in three years we went to the beach. Before we bought Legend we did a campervan tour of France, Spain and Portugal (it starts Here) and spent most of it walking along beaches. We’ve missed having sand between our toes so we headed for the coast between Skegness and Mablethorpe and parked at Chapel Six Marshes.

From there we walked south along the big wide beach to the North Sea Observatory...

...then back up to Anderby Creek for coffee, before following the coastal path through the dunes to the car park.

 There were a few other folk about, but for the most part it was gorgeously deserted.

   The next morning Dave was up and out with our spare gas bottle for exchange at Buildbase as soon as they opened at 7am. They are handily sited right next to the lock, and as cheap as anywhere else for Calor Gas. After a quick breakfast we threw our overnight bag and a bunch of tools into the car and headed off for a busy couple of days away. First stop was Southam for dental check-ups, then down to Lechlade where Steve and Annemarie where moored on Andelanté. It was supposed to be just a social visit and a barbecue, but the day before Steve had rung to say they’d had a fire in the engine room, all the wiring and two batteries were fried, nothing was working and maybe we shouldn’t come. We’re made of sterner stuff than that.  We went armed with spare wire and hydraulic crimpers and by the time we got there Steve had got hold of some new battery cable and lugs and had got two replacement batteries on order. It must have been quite scary when it all went bang, nearly all the negative cable was completely gone, plus the tops of the two worst batteries.

Andelanté's engine room in bits.

Dave soon found the source of the trouble, which was a combination of things; primarily there was a corroded lug on the last negative connection, causing high resistance and heating up. Added to that a normal 110ah starter battery had been wired in parallel with five 125ah AGMs, making it work way beyond its remit, and finally, they’d just got a new washing machine and had inadvertently switched both that and their electric oven on at the same time. The six AGMs could have coped with the massive draw, but the cables were completely over-loaded and the high resistance joint must have lit up like a Christmas tree, which is what melted the cables and set fire to the 110. Once that was going a couple of 4L oil bottles had burst, spraying oil onto everything so Steve was really luck to manage to put it out. As it was he used all the fire extinguishers they had on Andelanté.

   It was a bit of a mess. They’d spent the morning cleaning up pulling the old wiring out, but there was still dry powder everywhere, everything was covered in black soot and there was about an inch of manky watery oil in the bilge.

   Dave got stuck in, and with him measuring and tracing cables, and Steve on the crimpers making up new links and lugs, they soon had the engine wired up and working again. There were still five of the AGMs in working order, so they were also able to get the domestic circuits operational without too much trouble. The 300a house battery isolator had predictably burnt out, so Dave bypassed it as a temporary fix with strict instructions to replace it as soon as possible. The battery monitor shunt had been kebabed as well, so Steve went on the net to find a replacement. Apart from that everything else was ok and we had them back with lights, pumps and inverter by about 3pm. Dave and Steve were both filthy after squirming round in the engine ‘ole, and Andeanté had no hot water, but it was a glorious day and the Thames looked very inviting, so after a bit of a soapy scrub and a dive into the river they both emerged all clean and shiny.

   A little while later on Dave realised that he’d dived into the river with the car keys in his pocket, which could have ended really badly, but thankfully we don’t have remote locking, and equally thankfully they were still there when he climbed out. Phew!

   On the way home we stopped off to see Mandy and Chas in Peterborough. They’d just got back from holiday that morning but kind enough to abandon their unpacking to have us for lunch. We had a lovely couple of hours sitting in their garden catching up on all their news.

   Back home, Dave went for a walk along the riverside to the tidal barrier, which is a bit like the one on the Thames and serves the same purpose. The tidal section of the Witham, from the Grand Sluice to the sea, is known as The Haven and is the home of Boston’s cockle fishing fleet, the last couple of which were just coming back into port as Dave walked past. The Macmillan Way long distance footpath starts in Boston and for the first few miles follows the bank of The Haven before branching off diagonally across the country to end at Abbotsbury in Dorset.

Boston Tidal Barrier.

The lock to Black Sluice, which will eventually form part of the proposed Fens Waterways Link beween Boston, Peterborough and Ely.

The next morning we untied from the finger moorings in Boston and set off back to Torksey and the Trent.

   Langrick Bridge was full and Dogdyke was on the wrong side of the river for car moving, so we ended up at Tattershall Bridge for the night. On the car move we drove to Coningsby to see the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor's Centre. The Lancaster wasn’t at home that day and the spitfire wasn’t due back until later so we didn’t look round the hanger, but the rest of the display was very interesting.

On one of our walks we got caught out in a thunderstorm. We knew that rain was forecast, but it came along an hour earlier than we expected and we were literally soaked to the skin.

The Viking Way through Southrey Wood, on of the few untouched medieval woodlands in the country.

A bit moist after the third downpoor

 Never mind, a hot shower and a bowl of soup had us feeling human again in no time.

On the leg from Kirkstead Bridge we were joined by Tim, a 2cv club friend who lives near Boston. He’d never been on a narrowboat before and had a really good time, steering most of the way to Bardney.

 The moorings at the town where we’d left the car were full so we carried on another half mile or so to Bardney Lock and walked back.

On the drive back to Kirkstead, we stopped for a wander round Woodhall Spa and a short spell in a coffee shop with Tim, before dropping him off at his car. He was very taken with the boat, Ann-Marie added him to our ‘moving email’ list and we’re sure we’ll see him again on our travels.

Dawn at Bardney lock.

A misty riverbank at Bardney 

We paused for a night at Washingborough before returning to Stamp End for a couple of days in Lincoln.

Back at Stamp End Lock. 

Evidence of a pair of lock gates further in the chamber, but the lock itself doesn't appear to have been lengthened.

The lock anchors and recesses (now filled in) are idendtical to the remaining pair, suggesting that at one time the lock had two sets of bottom gates. But why? Maybe to save water as a concession to mill owners further upstream?

   We visited the Usher Gallery...

A chandelier made from beach-combed plastic rubbish.

Lincoln's Glory Hole.

...and The Collection; a really interesting local natural history museum that tells the story of Lincoln and Lincolnshire from the ice age to the present day.

We also walked out from the city over South Common...

The Cathedral from South Common.

A Red Admiral on South Commom.

 ...to the top of the hill to see the International Bomber Command Centre.

The spire at the IBCC. its height is the same as a Lancaster wingspan.

It's a beautiful, peaceful and respectful place, but like the RAF memorial at Runnymede, we found the plaques with endless lists of names of lives lost overwhelmingly saddening.

On the way back down to the boat we walked along the Riverside Path, which follows the Witham on its way into the city...

...ending at Brayford Pool. Then we said goodbye to beautiful Lincoln and went back through the Glory Hole...

...across Brayford Pool and back onto the Fossdyke navigation, heading for the Trent. We stoped briefly at Saxilby for water, then tied up on the visitor moorings before Torksey Lock.

Later on we walked up to the lock where we found Paul and Kay on Nb Maggie May who were stuck there for 8 weeks waiting for a new engine. They’d been involved in a rescue on the river of another boat who’s gearbox had overheated and lost power. They’d managed to get alongside and were towing them back to Torksey when their engine threw a big end. Somehow between the two of them they’d managed to get back, but it all sounded very scary. Torksey isn’t a bad place to be stranded without and engine; there’s toilets, showers and parking, Gainsborough isn’t far and there’s a really nice pub. Even though their situation wasn’t ideal, they were still in good spirits and it was really good to see them again.
Nb Maggie May. Stuck at Torksey for 8 weeks with a broken engine.

At 5 o’clock the next afternoon, after getting the boat river ready, we went through the lock and moored up on the tidal side with a bunch of other boats, ready for our trip to West Stockwith the following day.

   Coincidentally Graham and Dawn on Nb Countess Rose II arrived at about 7pm on their way up the river to Cromwell...

 so we had a very jolly evening with them; fish and chips in the pub, then back on board Legend for coffee.

First thing in the morning Countess Rose II and the other boats heading for Cromwell were off up the river on the incoming tide, or flood tide.

   We had to wait till 2 o’clock for the last couple of hours of the outgoing tide, or ebb, to take us down to West Stockwith in time to meet the flood just as we got there, so we could turn into the lock on slack water. Well, that was the plan anyway. As it turned out there were four boats going that way and despite leaving at 2pm as instructed...

Our little convoy leaving Torksey.

...when we phoned the West Stockwith lockie from Gainsborough he told us we were a bit early and we ought to tie up at the visitor pontoon there for a little while then leave in pairs 20 minutes apart so there would be time to turn the lock for the second boats. It took a good ten minutes to get all four boats turned in the river and tied up, which according to our calculations would have put us back on schedule, but we were moored on the inside and despite suggesting that we really ought to be leaving, we couldn’t go anywhere until the others went.

Preparing to turn at Gainsborough.

An unexpected stop at Gainsborough visitor pontoon.

 There seemed to be a spot of misunderstanding of the term “Little While” and the lead boats didn’t leave the mooring for another half an hour. By that time we’d all missed our window, the flood tide had been and gone at West Stockwith and was heading for us. The stretch from Gainsborough should have taken 20 minutes of gentle downstream cruising with the tide, instead we had an hour and a half going flat-out into the flood, eventually crawling up to the lock a full 2 hours later than planned.

The final few hundred yards into West Stockwith lock. Look at the flow on the left hand bank!

When we got there we were faced with a really hairy turn into the lock which is on the outside of a bend, so in the fastest flowing and most turbulent water and, from that direction, at a horribly acute angle.  It was like Salter’s Lode all over again, except this time Dave got it right. Stay about a boat length out from, and parallel to the wall, gradually dropping the power until you’re almost stationary, then when the bow is level with the far wall turn in sharply and put a spurt of power on. The bow fender will kiss the wall, as soon as it does, power on again and you’ll slip into the dead water in the lock entrance.

 It was a massive relief to be safely in the lock, we’d spent a good portion of the time coming down from Gainsborough wondering what plan B was, and our nerves were jangling. We were also rather annoyed because, left to our own devices, we would have been there just when we were supposed to have been. We’d split the trip into four legs and worked out how long each bit should take, so we knew we were going too quickly to start with and, after waiting for too long at Gainsborough, that we were then going to be too late. However, we’d never done the trip before and we were with another crew who had, so we’d bowed to their supposedly greater knowledge.  Still, we got there in one piece, the lock keeper was lovely and sympathetic, and as we got backed onto one of the finger pontoons in the basin the crews of the other three boats were all there to welcome us.

Turning in West Stockwith basin.

Moored up on the pontoon.

 It had been a long day, a hard day and most definitely a school day. But looking back we had to admit that we’d really enjoyed it and the sense of achievement alone had made it all worthwhile. Legend had performed flawlessly and once more delivered us to our destination, our brave little engine no doubt benefiting from the Italian tune-up on the way.

As dusk began to fall we gratefully snuggled in for our first night on the Chesterfield Canal.


Chesterfield Canal. West Stockwith to Shireoaks.

     As soon as a space became available we pulled off the pontoon at West Stockwith and tied Legend to the visitor mooring rings in the ba...