Friday 20 October 2023

Trent Lock to Leicester. River Soar.

We had a lovely Autumnal morning saying goodbye to the Mighty Trent...

...and boating up the pretty little River Soar to Kegworth...

...where we moored up at the deep lock,,,

...then sat outside in the sun for brunch.

It's a hard life sometimes!

Until the end of September, unless the river is in flood, Kegworth Deep flood lock is left open, so it makes a handy mooring.

From there we took Legend to Zouch, but not before we’d done a muddy parkrun at Dishley and cycled back.

Dishley parkrun was a little muddy

On the way to Loughborough. The Floating Pennywort is encroaching in from the banks.

We had the feeling that Autumn was definitely beginning; mud was re-appearing in our lives and we had the first fire of the season that evening, although ten minutes after we’d lit it we were stripping off and had all the windows open. 

The next day was the 1st of October ‘23 and the beginning of what turned out to be a two week Indian Summer. We took the boat to Loughborough (which we feel compelled to pronounce “Looger-borooger”) and made good use of the keb on the way, clearing the floating Pennywort out from behind the lock gates. Pennywort looks pretty, but it was beginning to threaten navigation on the narrower parts of the Soar.

Legend trying to eat some of the Floating Pennywort.

It's really heavy when it's wet, but we got a fair amount out..
This was in Loughborough, but it's all along the river.

We moored on the new bollards alongside the recently resurfaced tow path in Loughborough. In fact while Legend was there the top dressing got applied to the path and it now looks really good. That bit of towpath has constant footfall, there's always other boats moored there and it's overlooked by the houses opposite, so we knew Legend would be OK while we were away.

After a couple of days catching up with little jobs Dave packed a case and we drove the 13 miles to East Midlands Airport where Ann-Marie dropped him off for a flight to Belfast and another week helping Chloe and Sandy with the house build. Ann-Marie couldn’t go this time as she was in for a clinical trial, so we had a week in different countries mostly missing each other’s calls on Whats App.

The majority of Dave and Shandy’s week was spent up step-ladders making the ceilings airtight before the plaster boarders turned up the week after.

This meant firstly installing noggins and false rafters in all the edges where the internal walls and the real rafters didn’t line up closely enough, then stapling, taping and gluing an airtight membrane across the underside of the rafters and 100mm down the walls. The false rafters' main job is to give the edge of the plasterboard something to fix to, creating a solid corner.

Shandy also had the unenviable job of putting insulation above the membrane in the roof crawl-spaces that won't be accessible once the ceilings are plasterboarded.

When she wasn’t working, Chloe got on with applying airtight tape to all the door and window frames which was quite a mammoth task and had been keeping her busy for a couple of weeks already.

Airtightness is important because they have a Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery (MVHR) system in the house which, combined with the enhanced insulation qualities of the ICF walls, the Thermal Bead Screed and the under floor heating from the solar powered air-source heat pumps, will make it a very efficient and comfortable house indeed. The final two-man job the boys had to do before Dave went back home was to put insulation up in the roof of what they are now calling "The Gym". Shandy came up with the brilliant idea of using long wooden sticks with a flat bit on the end. It sounds primitive, but it worked perfectly.

 There's an Instagram time lapse video of them doing it here. 

Ann-Marie’s week consisted of packaging up some stuff that she’d sold on Vinted and taking it to various post lockers in town, then either consuming or binning the contents of the fridge, before packing her own stuff up and driving off for a four day trial. It was all a bit up in the air to start with because she was down as a reserve, and didn’t find out whether she was actually going to be on the trial until day two. She’d resigned herself to going home and was looking at flights to go and join Dave in Ireland, when she got told that one of the other volunteers had been rejected because his heart-rate was too low, so she was staying. The rest of her week consisted of the usual occupation of trial volunteers; watching telly and trying to sleep.

Ann-Marie got back on Tuesday then picked Dave up from the airport on Wednesday. The pick-up would have been a perfectly co-ordinated slick operation if Dave hadn’t left his case on the shuttle bus, and had to wait for fifteen minutes in the rain till it came back round. Doh!

 As soon as we got back to Legend we cast off and began our trek up the Soar towards Leicester. It was still raining when we set off but we had a schedule to keep to, so Dave armed himself with the big brolly and some waterproof trousers and ploughed on up to river. He didn’t need the wet gear for long though, the rain eased off and we had a lovely afternoon making our way to Barrow on Soar where we moored up just above the lock.

Approaching Mount Sorrell.

The next day we carried on to Birstall via the services at Barrow. We didn’t see another moving boat all day apart from a trip boat that we met on a blind bend and only managed to avoid hitting by some hasty reversing by both skippers. Why is it always blind bends or bridge ‘oles?

The was only one other boat moored at Birstall so we got the perfect spot and went for a walk round the lovely Watermead Country Park.

Birstall moorings. Notice how the bank comes about half way up the boat.

 In the evening it began raining and didn’t stop till the morning, by which time the river had gone up a foot and was in the red on the marker on the lock wall, so no boating for us. The Soar is notorious for these almost instantaneous fluctuations in flow. It has a very narrow catchment area, so heavy rainfall in one area can cause a lump of water which quickly travels down the valley raising the level, then dropping it just as fast. 72 hours seemed to be the usual interval, which would be too late for us to get anywhere before Ann-Marie had to go back into the clinic. We’d had plans to get to the other side of Leicester in the next couple of days, but that plan got scuppered and we hastily hatched a new one. We decided it would be ok to stay in Birstall till Ann-Marie came out again then catch up with some big moves after that.

We slackened the ropes off allowing for a further rise, then caught a bus back to Looger Borooger. We treated ourselves to a conciliatory (and delicious) lunch in Olivia’s cafĂ© then recovered the car and drove to Go Outdoors where we got Ann-Marie a much needed new coat. While we were there we got some Nikwax Techwash and TX waterproofer to treat Dave’s coat that he loves, but which lets the rain in. If the weather carries on in the same vein we’ll soon be able to let you know how well the Nikwax works. We then drove to Zouch and recovered our bird table, which we'd forgotten to pick up when we left, and then went back to Birstall. By the time we got there it was still raining, the river had gone up another foot and was only an inch or two off flooding the towpath.

Birstall moorings 24 hours later.

 CRT had issued a closure notice on the entire river from King’s lock to the Trent, so we knew it would be a few days before we could go anywhere. Through the evening, the rain eased off and we kept our eye on the river level. It began to fall before bed time, and by the morning it was back down to the Armco, but still a foot in the red.

Staying at Birstall for the weekend meant we could walk into Watermead Country Park on Saturday morning for parkrun, and then again on Sunday to volunteer for the junior run. We had the first frost of the season on Sunday, so we were wrapped up like Nanook of the North while the kids ran around the park, then back home for lunch with a fire and an afternoon game of Rummikub till dusk, when Ann-Marie had to go back for her second week on the trial.

In the morning Dave kept himself busy with some boat jobs, including repainting the shelf/cup holder/box thing that sits on top of the rear hatch while we’re bobbin’ along...

...and sewing up the top of one of the cratch cover zips that was letting the zipper come off, and had been bodged with a safety-pin for a month. He also did his first wood womble for a couple of years; last year we were moored in the wharf at Bollington and were using coal, so he had a year off wood collection and cutting. It was a bit of a shock to be at it again, but he soon had a little haul of hawthorn and ash under the tarp on the log pallet. Meanwhile the river was back down in the green and the rain had stopped.

In our Whats App chat that evening we decided that as Storm Babbet was on the verge of sweeping across the country and bringing more rain, it would be a good idea for Dave - while he had a window of opportunity - to set off and single-hand the boat through Leicester and get above the river section at King’s Lock. So at 7:30 the next morning Dave set off. It wasn’t a promising start; ten minutes after casting off, he managed to drop his aluminium windlass in Birstall lock. He had however, had the foresight to allow for this eventually and had put three jubilee clips on the handle so that it could be recovered with a magnet. Unfortunately he hadn’t considered the possibility of the magnet falling apart and losing it’s string, but luckily it got stuck to the hull so he was able to get it all back. By this time another boat had turned up to use the lock so he had to leave it. We have other windlii so he could carry on. Single handing was relatively easy going up the river through Leicester, the double locks all have very nice boaters steps up the bottom wing walls, so it’s very easy to hop off with the rope as you go in, then tie the boat up and work the lock without having to climb up a slippy ladder. The locks themselves are quite gentle, mainly because the baffles on the top gate paddles are mostly bunged up with stuff.

 Passing the Castle Gardens mooring in Leicester.

A sad sight on the outskirts. This was someone's pride and joy once, and probably their home too.

Dave had Legend up through King’s Lock by 12:30 and stopped for lunch.

After lunch he cycled back through Leicester to once more recover the bird table, and by the time he got back it was nearly tea time.

We call this one "Bike with Bird Table"

We’re going to have find a fool-proof aide memoir to stop that happening.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Fradley to Trent Lock. Trent and Mersey Canal. River Trent.

Saturday morning at Fradley was really busy, and a taste of things to come. We’d looked at CRT’s program of winter maintenance closures and worked out that if we wanted to be on the river Wey next spring, we had to be south of Denham Deep lock on the GU before January, when it shut till March, effectively cutting off our journey south. So we really had to get some serious boating in over the next three months. Of course in the working days, Mr and Mrs Boatman, along with their eight year old son and a horse, could have done that journey in a week. However they weren’t well known for having much of a social life, nor were they uncontrollably addicted to flying off to other countries at the drop of a hat to see their grandchildren.

We were up early, up Fradley Junction lock, winded in the junction (trying not to squash the yoghurt pot that was moored there...

...and back down to our mooring before eight, then cycled into Lichfield for parkrun.

As soon as we got back, we were off down the locks to Alrewas where we moored just above Bagnal lock, a couple of boats ahead of Dire Straits.

We fitted some bacon butties in-between showering, hanging out the washing and sorting the plant watering gizmo out, then went over for a goodbye chat with Jim & Jenn. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another six years before we catch up with them again. The afternoon was spent packing for ten days in Ireland on the building site.

The next day Ken was having his 70th birthday Sunday Lunch Party in a pub in Fleet, which was conveniently on our way to the airport, so we locked Legend up, put our luggage in the car and headed south. On the way we stopped in Solihull to volunteer for junior parkrun, and Karen’s to say hello and pick up our post. Ken’s party was a hoot.

We were on the boater’s table which was fun, and it was really good to see Ken and Annie with all their friends and family around them.

We went from there to North Camp train station, where we found a very convenient parking spot right next to the platform, and caught the train to Gatwick.  Chloe and Matilda had been in the UK and had managed to get on the same flight as us so we had a lovely meet up in the airport. 

The flight was delayed, but otherwise uneventful, and we were tucked up in the caravan in Randalstown in no time.

The house had come on in leaps and bounds since we were last there with the roof and solar panels finished, the first fix plumbing and electrics done and the heat recovery system installed, plus, in the previous couple of days, the insulated concrete sub-floor had been poured.

We’d seen all the photos and stuff on Instagram and such, but walking round inside it was a whole different thing. Chloe and Shandy have worked so hard to get to where they are and they’re doing it all with two full time jobs, two small kids, two rabbits and a dog in a static caravan. We’re incredibly proud of them. During the ten days that we were there there was another giant leap forward with the windows, the sub-floor vapour barrier, the under floor heating pipes, and the screed going in.

Despite meticulous planning on Chloe’s behalf, there was one morning when the window fitters - who had to come back with some re-sized panes - arrived two hours after the concrete mixer full of screed, by which time the pour was well underway. So we had the bizarre situation of the mixer lorry driver helping the window fitters lift the last big double glazed unit into the sun room, while the flooring guys waited patiently to fill it with the custard-like screed, which wasn’t exactly the plan. (They’re decidedly un-impressed with the window fitters, but everything will get sorted in the end.)

While Dave was busy building stud walls and laying DPM in the house, Ann-Marie was busy having fun, fun, fun with Matilda (who was only at pre-school for a couple of hours a day) and Caleb when they came home from school.

And, although there wasn’t much time for social stuff we did get a bit of time out with Chloe...

... and she joined us for a parkrun...

...Caleb ran his first junior parkrun....

...and we all went out for a meal one evening with Deccy and Katie and their kids to an Indian/Italian restaurant where the kids had pizza and the grown-ups had curry.

What a great idea.

The screed had dried enough to walk on the day we flew home, so before we left we were able to wander around inside the house with the floor at the finished height and the windows in, which was far more exciting than it sounds. The next big job is an air tightness membrane and plaster boarding the ceiling. Although they’d originally thought they’d do the ceiling boarding themselves, they’ve decided that as the ceilings are three meters high, and there are absolutely acre’s of them, they’re going to get professionals in for that. Dave is going to go back in a couple of weeks when Shandy is off work to help with loft insulation and whatever else needs doing before the inside gets plastered and the outside gets its four coats of flexible silicone render. It really is coming on, and if they can keep this pace up then although it might not be all finished, it’s still looking good for them being in by Christmas.

We did a last school pick up before Chloe drove us to the airport so we were able to hug Caleb and Matilda one last time, then boarded another delayed plane. We landed back in Gatwick an hour later than planned, but still in time for the last train to North Camp, where we’d left the car, and drove round to Karen’s.

Back at the boat a couple of days later, we moved on to Burton, through the lovely river section...

...and stopping at the lovely little Shobnall Marina for some of the cheapest diesel and gas we’ve had for ages...

Legend in Shobnall Marina service dock for gas and diesel.

...then moored up on Shobnall Fields again, hoping for a quiet night so we could catch up on some sleep.

 At about half past eleven we were woken up by some very loud music right outside the boat, which turned out to be four or five teenage girls sitting round a picnic table with snacks and a big bluetooth speaker. We debated whether to go out and have a word, but concluded that it was Friday night, this was their town, their park and they had every right to be there, and the probability of that ending badly was quite high, so we decided to wait till the batteries ran out. That happened at about twelve-thirty, by which time they were all fairly hammered. (Dave found an empty vodka bottle when he was tidying up in the morning.) After a short session of screaming at each other and falling over, they all thinned out and we got back to sleep. Boat life is many things, but never dull!

The day after that was the Saturday We Shall Remember.

Because cycling between Alrewas (where we’d left the car) and Burton (where the boat was) either meant going along the muddy, narrow and nettley towpath or along the busy A38 dual carriageway, we devised a cunning plan. First we cycled out to Rosliston for parkrun; the ride was hillier than we’d expected but a very effective warm up for an equally hilly 5K run. Then we were back on the bikes for another hour to the National Memorial Arboretum. By the time we got there we had jelly legs, but we were only a mile or so from the car and had completed two sides of a triangle, avoiding the A38. It was all going perfectly to plan.

The Arboretum was beautiful, emotional, inspiring and thought provoking. After breakfast in the very good restaurant we spent a couple of hours walking round less than half of it. You really need a whole day there to take it all in. We found it all deeply moving and would urge anyone to go.

In the early afternoon we walked out to the bikes for the last short leg to the car, which was when Ann-Marie said “Have you got the car keys?”

There was a horrible pause as the bottom dropped out of our little world.

In nearly thirteen years of dragging a car around the country this was the first time we’d forgotten the keys and about the worst time it could have happened. We were knackered, and the ride back was what we’d spent the whole day trying to avoid. We carried on into Alrewas to see about bus times and found out that we’d just missed one, the next one would be in half and hour and it took an hour of meandering through villages to get to Burton. Once we got there we’d have a half hour walk to the boat, then of course we’d have to do it all back again with the keys. There was nothing for it, we’d have to cycle back.

It was hard, but not as hard as we’d imagined. There was a strip of tarmac along the side of the A38 that, while not being what anyone would describe as pleasant, at least separated us from the traffic while we coaxed our poor little legs ever onward. When we got back, Dave - with the car keys securely embedded in his pocket - walked up into town and caught a bus back to Alrewas. Karma must have felt sorry for us because the card machine on the bus wasn’t working so he got a free ride and a taste of life with a bus pass. (He gets one in December and he’s very excited about it.)

While he was out Kim phoned to say that she, John, George and Freddie were nearby and could they come over, so by the time Dave got back to the boat it was full of people. It was great catching up with them, we’ve known Kim and John since they were not much older than George and Freddie, who are two of the coolest kids we know. John is everyone’s idea of a great uncle and his nephews adore him, and Kim is the epitome of a laid back mum.

So, the day turned out to be really good. We will remember the Arboretum, but we'll remember the car keys more.

The next day we had another boat move and a cycle back to do, but just as we were about to get the bikes out of the car in Willington, Karma looked kindly upon us again, Paul and Amanda phoned to say they were on their way home to Oxford from Scotland, they’d spent the night in Hilton at Amanda’s parent’s, and could they pop in to see us. Perfect. They took us back to Legend and we all went in for a cuppa and a chat,...

...then they set off home and we pulled the pins and moved down the cut to Willington. Later on we drove over to Hilton ourselves to see Rachael and Mark.

September was turning out to be a real social whirl for us, and there was still more to come. With the boat safely tucked up at Swarkstone, we set off south once more for a weekend camping at West Wittering, near Chichester, with Karen, Andrew and the Pompey Puddleducks, the Citroen 2cv club that Ann-Marie started many years ago. We had a lovely long weekend catching up with all our old 2cv mates, and to top it all we found Rummikub in a charity shop, which we’ve been after ever since we played it in France last Christmas. Winner!

On the Saturday we did parkrun at Hotham park in Bognor for the second time, then joined all the other campers at Itchenor for a guided boat trip round the harbour which was really good and interesting.

In the afternoon back at the campsite there were games, a fancy dress competition...

 ...(we must try harder next year) followed by a BYO barbecue and a lovely evening with Fran, Sean and Phoebe, some of Ann-Marie’s dearest and bestest friends.

There was an electric hook up included in the camping fee, so we took out electric blanket and were lovely and cosy while last dregs of Storm Agnes battered our tent. In the morning we packed it all up, said goodbye for another year and went back to Karen’s for lunch, Strictly and a cuppa with Mum and Dad before driving home. 

Two more moves got us back to Trent lock where we executed a very neat turn in the wide river and reversed onto the inside of the pontoon.

Lyn was there to meet us; she and Nick were just about to set off on Nb Rocyn, along with Nick’s brother Steve and Barbara on Nb Helene, to Sharlow, where we’d just come from, so we hopped on board and got another lift back to our car, working the locks for them on the way.

How serendipitous was that? When we got there we all piled into the Malt Shovel for a great pie and chips lunch, after which we left them to carry on with their pub crawl, took our car to Kegworth and walked back to Trent Junction.

It was the end of September, we’d had a fabulous time with the best weather and such good times with so many of our friends, and we really felt like we’d made the most of it. But there was also a feeling that summer was ending and Autumn was on its way; ahead of us lay the River Soar, Loughborough, Leicester, Foxton locks and the Grand Union. We've turned Legend's flower troughs over to cyclamen and we're looking forward to chilly days on the tiller and toasty evenings in front of the fire.

We’ve loved it up here on the northern waters, but we can’t wait to get further south and be nearer to Mum and Dad for a while.  

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...