Jim and Karen continue their canal boating adventures through the UK. Currently they’re in Leicester navigating their way through various locks and tunnels en route to the Foxton Locks.
You guessed it, we have made it to Leicester and have now gone beyond. What a great time it has been over the last few days. We headed off down the River Soar. It’s not a particularly big river so in this section the river/canal tends to meander a bit. At various places “cuts” have been made. You leave the river and follow this canal/cut for a bit before tipping back into the river again. It was a tight interesting section all the way to Leicester.
A few minor delays
Normally this trip would have been a doodle but on the day we did it we got to a wee town called Birdstall to find the lock was buggered. We had to wait there a few hours till the canal trust repair people turned up. By the time we arrived, there were already a few boats waiting before us and as you do you get chatting. Once the lock was repaired we headed off with another couple who were also going to Leicester. The advantage now was that the locks were quicker and easier with two boats in them.
All looked good, and we thought we could be in Leicester by 4pm and be having a pint by 5pm. When we got to the last lock of the day in Leicester we found it’d been shut down by the fire brigade and police since 11am that morning. This was a result of a truck carrying gas cans catching fire in an industrial park right beside the canal. That made it easy for the fire brigade to get water, but once again we had to park up and and wait it out.
Finally the lock was reopened at 7pm so we could move through to the mooring area. As anticipated, because the lock had been closed most of the day, all the moorings were occupied as no boats could leave town either. In the end there was nothing for it but to “raft up” against other canal boats for the night. When we finally got all that done it was after 8pm, so – you guessed it – we all decided we needed a light libation after close to 12 hours boating that day.
Leicester was a nice city to wander round for a day or so. It had a historic cathedral, the new burial place for King Richard 3III, the delightful Abbey park and gardens, as well as a large market to wander round and replenish our stocks.
Canal boating through the UK countryside
After a couple of nights in Leicester we continued heading south with what was to be a big day of boating through a large part of the UK countryside. During the day we saw very little in the way of towns or villages – it was rural farmland through and through. During the morning we passed through 12 locks and so it was looking like we might have a shorter boating day as my “first mate” and lock person was just about over the locks for that day already. Then the river gods took pity on us, as we were caught up by a boat with a family of four guys on board.
Because the section in front of us had the locks a lot closer together they were working a system where three of the guys were leapfrogging ahead and running down the canal setting up the locks in front of us. All the locks currently on the Grand Union canal are double locks fitting two boats at a time, so it made a big difference with both boats working together. When we decided we would stop for the night at a wee town called Fleckney, 24 locks had been traversed that day – a new record for us. I can tell you the “first mate” was a lot happier by then.
The Saddington Tunnel
We stopped at Fleckney because in front of us now along the river was the Saddington tunnel and I wanted to do that the next morning. The tunnel is just over 800m long and was built in 1797. This tunnel is straight thank goodness, but it’s a weird feeling boating through something like this. There’s no lighting in the tunnel other than our boat headlight, and the wee speck of light at the other end telling me there is light at the end of the tunnel (sorry about that).
It was really mesmerising steering through the tunnel. My eyes got sore trying to see and steer the boat in a straight line for 800m so that you don’t hit the tunnel sides. I have to say I was relieved to get out the other end. The only issue is that we have a longer one to go through in the next day or so.
The day, however, was still to get better, as a couple of miles past the tunnel were the Foxton Flights. These are a series of 10 locks forming the longest and steepest staircase to climb a hill of some 75ft in height. I will write a separate blog about the Foxton flight of locks because it is simply so incredible.
So that’s it for now. We are parked up at the top of the Foxton Locks for the night. Following the Sunday pub lunch I think I can almost feel a nana nap coming on. It has been one really interesting day or two here on the canals. Cheers.