Up the Leicester Line
Monday again (25th July). I always used to wake up with that “Monday ” feeling, but not these days. Monday always means moving on to pastures new and today was very much one of those Mondays.
We headed off mid-morning, bound for the foot of Watford Locks, which neither of us have done before. As you approach, you can see through to the Watford Gap services car park and the noise of the M1, the A5 and the railway are pretty intrusive. We thought we’d be in for a pretty noisy night. As it happens. the mooring at the foot of the locks is actually pretty quiet, considering how close you are to both.
Watford Gap, by the way, is so-called because it’s a valley between two hills, roughly 400 metres (1,300 ft) wide, through which the A5, M1, West Coast Railway mainline and this canal thrust. It’s often thought of as marking the divide between Northern and Southern England.
The Watford lock flight is an unusual one, being made up of seven locks – from the bottom it’s two single locks, a staircase of four and then a final single one. An added complication is that the four locks in the staircase also have side pounds (like our home flight at Hanbury) and there is a strict order of paddle opening, denoted by red and white paddles. There are vlockies on duty to ensure that they are correctly operated.
The locks raise your boat by 16 m (52 ft 6 in) and deposit you on the “Leicester Summit”, on which you stay until you get to Foxton Locks, up near Market Harborough. We have elected not to go through today as Monday is always a very busy day for Paul, especially in the summer. It’s been an education watching the boats processing up and down through the locks, though, and seems to involve a fair bit of hanging around! We shall see tomorrow!
And then – in the blink of an eye and just after I’d shut down my laptop – the plan changed. The queue had disappeared, Paul had done a good day’s work and the vlockies were getting a bit worried about water levels. So it was now – or possibly never! OK – maybe a slight exaggeration, but it did seem to be best to go.
We quickly untied and set off for the first lock. We would love to have been able to put the drone up, but it’s just too gusty all the time, so you’ll just have to make do with the pictures of this rather marvellous flight. The vlockie gave Paul instruction and then went off to help some absolute newbies, who had just picked their boat up, to do their first flight of locks. A kind of baptism by fire, I feel?
We whistled through them pretty quickly. All done within the hour and then it was time to look for a nice mooring. And we found it – just past a delightful bridge, with Armco and no-one else about, not too near the M1 or the railway. It looked pretty perfect. The only remaining issue was would we get close enough to the bank. And yes – we could! So it was practically perfect and, as we were not planning on going anywhere the next day, it would more than do.
As we were not going anywhere on Tuesday, I decided I’d make some home made Baked Beans. They are delicious and actually pretty easy to make.
Home Made Baked Beans – Serves 2
1 chicken stock cube
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (or less)
2 garlic cloves
1can chopped tomatoes
I can cannellini beans
30 ml rice vinegar (or any wine/cider vinegar)
1 Red onion
2-3 tbsps olive oil
- Finely chop red onion. Mince garlic.
- Heat oil in a pan. Add onion, garlic and chilli flakes. Fry gently until softened.
- Dissolve the stock cube in 100ml of boiling water.
- Add the tomatoes, stock, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
- Drain the cannellini beans and add to the pan.
- Note – I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to spicy heat, so I only use a pinch of chill flakes
I promise you’ll never go back to Heinz. Except they are so flipping easy! I’m serving this with salty, crispy Belly Pork and Potato Wedges.
I also had fun, today; feeding a very bold little moorhen. Such a cutie.
As it was so nice here and we fancied a bit of a chilled week, we decided to stay yet another day and move off on Thursday. People often ask about moorings and what restrictions there are. It’s pretty simple – if there is no notice telling you how many days you can stay, as there often is in popular places, you can stay towpath side for up to 14 days. During the winter months, many short stay moorings revert to 14 days (from 1 November until 31 March). Sadly there is a small minority that think the rules do not apply to them. It’s obviously quite difficult to “police”, so a lot get away with it, but that’s fine if they don’t take over the towpath, as some do. There is often handy CRT signage – although it looks like some has been taking pot-shots at this one with a BB gun!
The Wednesday weather (27th July) looked fair, so I caught up with the washing and also defrosted the freezer. We have just a small 12v freezer under one of the seats in the dinette. It’s just enough for a few staples – peas, fish fingers etc , but mainly we use it for ice. Essential for our drinks. It’s pretty easy to defrost – I take everything out and pop it in a cool bag. Then I put a large bowl of boiling water in and close the lid. Wait five minutes and it’s good to go. Any stubborn bits of ice can be gently prised off with a fish slice and then it’s a good wipe to dry it and back on. And a nice frost free freezer. Bish, bash and, indeed bosh!
Malcolm, the moorhen from yesterday clearly remembered that he got a nice snack from me and came back to the hatch for more, bless him. It’s one of the things I love about this life – all the wildlife that you see and sometimes get to interact with. I shall be sad to leave him.
It rained a little overnight, which meant we had to sleep with the bow doors shut, which I hate. I never seem to get as good a night’s sleep without all that fresh air. Our destination today (28th July) was Crick Marina, which we plan to use as a base for the succession of guests we have arriving over the next week.
We passed through the very straight Crick Tunnel (1528 yards/1400 metres) which is reputed to be the home of a ghost in the form of a young female with no face. There is also a story of a man walking his dog, who dog reacted very strangely on approaching the tunnel on the towpath – growling and refusing to move. When urged on by his owner, he slipped his collar and ran off in the opposite direction. The man did not see anything but did notice that the air had become very chilly. There are also tales of boaters who see a boat with a light coming towards them which then disappears. All very fanciful to this firm non-believer, and needless to say – we saw nothing.
As we passed the first entrance to Crick Marinahttps://www.aquavista.com/find-a-marina/crick-waterside-marina (it has three!) we saw Matt from Paintbrush and as we arrived on the service moorings, he came up to meet us, together with Mel and Phil from Hunky Dory. It was quite the welcoming committee and lovely to see them all after 4 months and over a year, respectively. A gathering of Ortomariners. I wonder what the collective noun should be? A flotilla? A fleet? I don’t think any of us bears arms, so an Armada can’t be right (although I ldo like the sound of it). I think I’ll go with “a fleet of Ortomariners”.
We have been to the annual Boat Show at Crick but did not recognise it all. I asked Mel what happened to all the boaters when Crick is on. She told me that everyone that is staying for the duration of the show has to move up and squish into one end of the larger of the two basins to make room for all the display boats.
We had an invitation for dinner that evening. Toy from Paintbrush had offered to cook a Thai meal. We were very much looking forward to it and we were not disappointed. It was delicious and we spent a lovely evening chatting and swapping stories with them and with Mel and Phil. Mel and Phil have a picnic bench by their boat and we sat chatting to them until quite late. A really lovely evening all round.
Friday (29th July) was (as ever!) cleaning day, getting the boat tidy and smart looking for another set of first-timer guests, Ellie and Alan Smith – both ex-colleagues and friends of mine from my days at the Office for National Statistics. We were very much looking forward to seeing them and showing them our home and way of life. They arrived late afternoon and we spent a very pleasant evening catching up.
After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday, we left the Marina and headed out towards Yelvertoft and beyond. It was very nice weather, which is always a bonus when we have guests on board. Alan was scheduled to be going on a canal holiday later in the year, so we used the weekend to familiarise him with steering and mooring and the like. Our original plan had been to head to Welford but we had received a CRT notification that the one lock on the Welford Arm was out of action. That was a shame, as we’d hoped to have given him experience of a lock, too.
We passed by the very charming and rural looking Yelvertoft Marina and it became evident that our plan to get to Welford had been a bit ambitious anyway, even though we had received notification that the lock had been fixed. But plans are only plans and can be changed, so we began to calculate where we’d need to turn to get our guests back to the Marina in good time to get them home, ready for work the next day. And to spot nice moorings.
We winded (another good learning opportunity for Smithy) and made our way back to a rather nice looking mooring – with a view of the beautiful Northants countryside, complete with a couple of church spires – near Bridge 33 – which we had spotted on the way down. We were praying that no-one else would have snapped it up and they hadn’t. Lovely.
The boys had a good time racing up and down the towpath and squabbling over sticks. Sadly Ted lost his name tag at some point. This is a bit of a nuisance as he is – although it’s unlikely – the one who might be tempted to wander off. And of course I’ve been meaning to get a spare but never quite got round to, it. Who’s sorry now?
Sumps and Smithy went off for a walk with the boys while Ellie and I had a chat. There is never any shortage of things for us to natter about! The topics are wide and varied and we go back a long way, as I have known Ellie since she was at college. We had drinks when the boys returned and after dinner, we introduced them to The Game and also to Doble. The latter of the two was the better received and there was much hilarity.
There was some rain over night and Sunday morning alternated between light drizzle and hot sun. Smithy steered most of the way back to the Marina, passing through bridge holes and oncoming vessels with aplomb. These are things that make a novice steerer’s heart race, but he was a quick learner. We also instilled a few bits of canal etiquette – such as priority over bridge holes, slowing down in plenty of time for moored boats, where not to moor, etc. He took it all in and will be a considerate and more knowledgeable hirer than many.
We arrived back at the Marina in time for a late lunch before they bid us farewell and set off on their journey back to Hampshire. It had been a great weekend and we were – as we always are – sad to see them go. We spent the rest of the day washing bedding, showering and moving back into our bedroom. We are perfectly happy to relinquish it to our guests but it’s always a joy to be back to normal.
Next week will see us hanging around Crick for a bit, as we have an old friend who now lives in Bulgaria coming over for a day out on the boat (that’s not the main reason he’s coming over!) and also my brother and nephew arriving for a few day’s stay. It’s a very convenient place to meet folks and also very pleasant, so it will be no hardship. Water levels, by the way, continue to be a bit of a worry, with some canals actually closing and some flights of locks on restricted opening hours.