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.

Saturday 12 June 2021

River Soar (Loughborough Section). Erewash Canal. Loughborough to Trent lock.

  Our week in Loughborough started with a hilarious Eurovision party next door.

 Bob and Mandy had strung the flags of all nations inside Matilda Blue and we had a sweepstake so that each of us had two countries to cheer on. When our chosen song was being performed we waved our flags and passed round country themed food and drink items (some liberal imagination was used for this; what do Lithuanians eat and drink anyway?). There was a prize for the highest scoring country, which Ann-Marie won with France, and all in all it was a roaring success. Unlike the UK entry, of which the less said the better.

  The following day we all went to the recently re-opened and very interesting Charnwood museum in the town and had a coffee in the little café. We learned Ladybird Books used to be printed here, and all about the history of lace making, renown for the Luddite revolts as it moved from cottage industry to mass production in the mills, as well as the history and geology of the district. We still had to wear face masks and only a few people were allowed in at a time, but sitting round a table and chatting made it feel like things really were starting to get back to normal.

  There was rain forecast for the next afternoon, so we decided to have an early start and go for a walk up Beacon Hill. However, the rain had a different definition of ‘early’ and caught up with us just as we got to the country park. The map at the entrance showed a 50 minute walk up to the top and back down to the café, so we figured that as we had our coats on we could do 50 minutes in the drizzle without too much bother. Only it wasn’t drizzle. And the 50 minutes was measured by Usain Bolt. By the time we got to the top the rain was horizontal and we were decidedly moist.

  Dave said “Was that a lightning flash?” Ann-Marie said “I’m not sure, I didn’t hear any…” and the rest was drowned out by an almighty thunder roll that seemed to go on for ever, accompanied by even more rain. It didn’t let up all the way back down to the bottom, by which time we were both soaked through to our pants. In the little café, we stripped off as much of our sodden clothing as common decency would allow and draped it over the chairs round a thankfully spare table. Then, along with other equally sodden walkers, we hugged our coffees and gently steamed while outside the clouds parted and a very smug looking sun came out. We were sure we heard it laughing.

  The Great Central Railway goes from Loughborough to Leicester and trains had just started running again, so we planned a walk across the fields to hopefully coincide with one of them. Bob came along with us and the timing almost worked; although we saw it emerging from a cutting, we were just a minute or two too late to actually be on the bridge when the train went underneath.

  We could have waited on the bridge for 45 minutes for it to come back, but walking to Quorn and Woodhouse station, where we could sit outside with a cream tea and watch it pull in seemed a much more civilised option. 

  To say we were impressed by the attention to detail of the station platform and the splendour of the train when it pulled in would be a massive understatement. It was all so perfect, from the beautifully restored rolling stock in the yard, to the immaculate uniforms of the Station Master and his staff. We truly felt transported back to the 1940s.

  Just as we finished our tea, the train pulled out on it's way to Leicester.

  A wonderful spectacle to finish off a brilliant day out. And the cream tea was lovely too.

  Things had been rather emotional that week. We’d learned that Dad had gone into hospital for a couple of days after a blood test and we were really worried about him. We’d already planned to take the car down that weekend to fit the new radiator, so we brought it forward a couple of days. When we arrived it was good to find him back home and looking better than we’d expected; he still had more tests to follow, but thankfully the Doctors were on top of it and he would soon be on the mend.

  Outside on the drive, Dave soon had the new radiator in. Every time he does anything to our ageing Kia he always finds himself impressed by how much thought has gone into the design of the thing to make working on it simple and straightforward. He cut his teeth on the 1970s offerings from Ford and British Leyland where every small mechanical problem involved squirming about in the floor and the disassembly of half the car. During our 2cv years (we met through the owner’s club) the simple, minimal and easy-to-get-at mechanics of little air-cooled Citroens made a nice change, and the need for constant tinkering to keep them going was all part of the fun. However, since we’ve been boating we’ve purposely had a succession of unobtrusive invisible hatchbacks that we can leave parked on an urban street without worry, but it means that even with the increasing reliability of modern cars, Dave still sometimes finds himself squirming about on the floor, the starter motor on the Astra being a prime example. (You can read all about that here.) The Kia is a complicated turbo diesel, with an inter-cooler and air-con and absolutely no free space under the bonnet. It looks daunting, but somehow they’ve made it accessible.

Euro Car Parts delivered the new radiator to Mum and Dad's house.

Removing the cooling fan.

Everything is easy to get at. No squirming on the floor for this job.

New radiator in place
Fan back in and  nearly done.

  On our way home we stopped off in Wallingford to join in with the launch party that Steve was having for his new venture into the boat hire business. With a bit of Dave’s help, over the previous few months Steve has been getting Nb Barking Mad II ready for hiring out for holidays on the Thames.

  Originally a plugged-in live-aboard boat, Barking Mad II needed a lot of changes to make it a holiday home for 6, plus all the additional requirements of commercial Boat Safety Scheme. That had meant installing a second alternator and solar panels, re-wiring the batteries, lots of painting, adding non-slip coatings to the gunwales, fire escape signs, converting the central heating pump to 12v, and the biggest job, which was converting the toilet from cassette to pump-out. We had a barbecue on the riverbank in the company of all our old Wallingford mates, got very drunk and stayed over on Andelanté.

  In the morning we walked up the towpath, past ‘our’ mooring, to have a look at Ruth’s new 45’ tug.

  What a lovely little boat; just perfect for one and such beautiful lines. After that we had a cuppa with Colin and Julia on Smith’s Lady before coming back to Legend.

   We really didn’t expect to enjoy Loughborough as much as we did and we were quite sad to leave. It’s an honest little unpretentious market town and we felt happily at home there. There is a restored basin in the town, but although it is nicely presented with landscaping and mooring pontoons it is surounded by high rise buildings and very close to the town pubs, making it a bit of a numpty magnet. Most people go in there for services then, as we did, moor just before the junction bridge.

   With Matilda Blue behind us, we boated down the rest of the canalised section to Bishop’s meadow lock, where we breasted up and filled both water tanks (at another slowest tap ever) then rejoined the river down to Zouch, (pronounced Zotch) as the sun came out.

We hovered in the river to allow the little chain ferry to make it’s crossing...


...then carried on through Zouch lock... Devil’s Elbow where we pulled in for a couple of days of sitting outside in the sun and bank-side barbecues.

  We did manage to drag ourselves out for a car move from Zouch to Kegworth, including a trip to Shepshed for Ann-Marie’s second jab. We met Bob and Mandy in Kegworth and had a very enjoyable pint or two in the Red Lion before walking back to the boats.

  Next morning we were off to Trent Lock. More lovely sunny boating down the Soar with a quick stop at Kegworth flood lock where the car was parked to transship the shopping out of the boot.

  At Ratcliffe lock we had to wait while a boat below the lock got pulled off the sandbank by the lower lock landing. The sandbank was well known by local boaters, and was due to be dredged, but there were no warnings for the unprepared, apart from a small, worse than useless notice that you couldn’t see from more than 3 feet away, saying “Danger - Shoals” stapled to one of the upper lock gates. A fat lot of good that’ll do you when you’re pushing your way up to the downstream lock landing!

  On we went down the last bit of the lovely River Soar to the mighty Trent. Matilda Blue was way ahead and as we approached the mouth of the Soar we could see them turning into the entrance for the Erewash.

  There were several 48hr mooring sites around Trent lock; a floating pontoon on the river, some bankside moorings at the beginning of the Cranfield Cut, and some visitor mooring bollards on the first bit of the Erewash. We ploughed our way accross the river and followed Matilda Blue into the entrance...

 ...then joined them in the lock. just above the lock is a services block, followed by the moorings where we tied up for a few days. 

  Being at Trent Lock is a big nostalgia rush for Dave. Half a century ago, along with his mate Mick, he used to cycle here from Spondon on sunny weekends such as this. They’d mess about and ‘help’ with the lock and generally get in the way, and it’s where he first caught the living-on-a-boat bug. After 10 years on board Legend and after travelling round most of the network, it feels slightly surreal to finally be here.          

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...