Crick Marina and onwards to Welford, Market Harborough and beyond
We had originally planned to leave Crick Monday morning but have been seduced by its charms! We decided that rather than going out and back, we’d just stay put – particularly as we had friends joining us for a day trip on Wednesday and also family joining us for a long weekend on Thursday. And we like it here.
As we were staying, we decided to return the hospitality shown us last week and have drinks on Monday evening. I made a batch of Cheese Shorties, and we gathered near Old Nick on one of the handy picnic benches that are dotted around. We had another lovely evening, chatting and laughing with Mel & Phil and Toy and Matt. Toy was particularly fond of the Cheese Shorties so I promised to make her a batch.
I did mundane things like catching up on the washing and tidying on Tuesday (2nd Aug) while Paul, of course, worked. I also made a batch of Cheese Shorties for Toy, as promised. Mel had mentioned that there were plans afoot to enhance the boater’s facilities at the Marina and one of the things being considered was the construction of a Boule terrain. I had mentioned that I had played competitively and quite seriously in my younger days. We agreed to meet at 2 and I would “show them the ropes”. I had also mentioned it to Matt and Toy and they too came along. We went through the rules of the game, showed them all the kit (counters and measures and magnets etc. ) and then we covered a few things about stance and how to throw and also the main types of play – the point (playing as close to the cochonnet (jack) as possible) the Carreau ( were the shooter’s boule takes the place of the boule it has just hit) and the Tirer (where the boule pushes another boule out of the way). We spent a couple of hours playing around, after which, I went for a cycle into Crick – more for exercise than anything and to blow the cobwebs away. I saw the grandly named church (St Margaret of Antioch – who is the Patron Saint of Kidney Disease!) and the handy Co-op and Post Office/Convenience store.
As it was a nice evening and we had a good space just by Old Nick, I had mentioned that Paul and I would be playing that night if they fancied a bit more boules fun. We had a mini tournament, with Paul and I playing, then Phil and Mel playing and then the winners, Paul and Phil playing in the final. Toy came along to watch and support, too. Once again, we had a great evening and they all seemed pretty hooked, with talk of buying their own boule. As we would be out the next day, we offered them a loan of our boules (which are competition boules) which they happily took us up on.
We had an old friend from our Portchester Players days, Geri Blunden, joining us on Wednesday. He now lives in Bulgaria and was over for a wedding nearby. He was bringing his Bulgarian girlfriend, Svetlana, along too, for a taste of the canals.
They arrived at around 11 and we set off along the same route we had taken with Ellie and Smithy at the weekend. Paul was working so I was at the helm. It was a changeable day, with light showers and then sun again until the afternoon and then it remained pretty sunny. Svetlana, who spoke very little English, appeared very taken with the canals. She managed to convey that she felt that the life would be peaceful and stress free – I couldn’t help but agree, but had to point out that the sun did not always shine! We arrived back late afternoon and bid them adieu. Svetlana was full of plans to buy a boat and trade from it to to earn a living , We shall see!
Mel and Phil popped back later in the evening to return the boules. They had been playing all evening with Toy and Matt and they were all thoroughly smitten with the game and had plans to go to the nearest Decathlon in Coventry to buy their own boules. How very lovely!
Mel and Phil and Toy and Matt had plans to leave Crick and go up to the spot that we had found last weekend and which was also a favourite of theirs. We were sorry to see them go, but knew we would see them all one more time as we went up the cut, when we finally left Crick. Actually, leaving Crick would be a bit of a a wrench, we had thoroughly enjoyed our week there – almost like a little holiday. And it had been lovely spending time with friends.
Bruce and Lenny arrived just after 11 on Thursday and we got them packed on board and off we set, once again. It was the third time we had cruised the same stretch in less than a week, so it was the canal equivalent of a well-trodden path. Bruce had a conference call to make and Paul was working so the steering fell to me again. We eventually pulled over for the evening a little short of where we knew our friends to be. We had an evening of games – Uno and Doble – and then an early night all round.
After brekker on Friday (5th Aug) we set off towards Leicester, planning to take a quick detour off the main Leicester line onto the short (1.6km) but sweet Welford Arm. It was originally built as a navigable feeder for the Leicester Line and also used to transport lime to the lime kilns (the remains of which can still be seen) and coal for sale. There is a very pleasant looking pub at the terminus, but we had plenty of food on board, so not this time.
There is one lock (3′ 6″ rise) but 4 boats ahead of us and all heading to the terminus. It took quite a while to get through, but it was very pleasant in the sunshine, so no problem. We eventually reached the terminus and winded and then moored for lunch. And then it was time to make our way back down the arm and take a right towards the tunnel at Husbands Bosworth.
The tunnel is 1166yds/1066m long and very straight, with the usual good acoustics. We sang a few songs and then Lenny had a go at blowing my Dad’s old bugle, which we keep on board in his memory. He’s not bad at it! Many people can barely get a note out of it. We cruised on and eventually found a nice spot, with Armco for our evening stop,
I cooked dinner and afterwards, we had a quick look at the route for tomorrow. It became evident that we’d not come as far as we needed to. After a quick conflab, we decided we’d unhitch and cruise on until dark, so that we would be a bit closer to Foxton Locks. The locks are on limited opening hours as part of the water-saving measures that CRT are currently forced to be making, after all this dry weather.
It was quite chilly, but a very pretty sunset and it was fun to watch the bats dive-bombing the insects along the canal. The banks were not in a good state of repair and we had a couple of attempts at mooring, but to no avail. It was getting darker and darker, the moon had risen and we had to put the tunnel light on and then Paul added his head torch. There are actually no rules about cruising after dark. It is perfectly permissible – although CRT say it is inadvisable. And hire boats are, quite rightly, very strictly forbidden from night cruising. Eventually, we found a spot that would do and pulled over. It was pretty dark by then, mind you. And time for bed.
Saturday saw us arriving at Foxton to find a short queue of boats waiting to go down the flight. We were boat number 3, though, so not too long to wait. And the vlockies set off batches of boats down the flight, which speeds things up.
Foxton Locks are unique and are the longest and steepest locks on the system. They are also the only flight of locks made up of 2 sets of five in a staircase. A staircase, you’ll recall, is where you move directly from one lock to another with no gap (pound) in between. You descend (or ascend) 5 locks in one, then enter a very short pound before descending/ascending the next set of five. It’s a total rise/fall of 75 feet over a very short distance and – from the top – it’s pretty spectacular. And it was a first for us, so doubly exciting. I steered through the first set and then swapped to operating the locks for the second set.
It’s a very popular tourism site (c 400,000 people each year) and there were plenty of gongoozlers. There is a cafe at the top and also at the bottom , plus a couple of pubs and places to picnic, so visitors and boaters are well served.
In addition to the locks, the remnants of an “inclined plane” can be seen. It essentially a boat lift and was quite successful in operation for some years, saving massive amounts of water. But sadly, it did not get the traffic and became too expensive to keep in good running order. There is a Museum at Foxton dedicated to it and more info can be found here.
Immediately at the foot of the locks, is a right turn down towards Market Harborough, where we planned to stay and dine out that evening. It’s a very pretty and rural canal, with great views over the Leicestershire countryside and only 6 miles long. The original plan had been for the canal to run to Northampton, but the project ran out of money. There has been considerable redevelopment of the basin and it is a very attractive place to visit, with all boaters facilities, plus moorings, with hook-ups, for visiting boats.
We arrived early afternoon and Bruce and Lenny went into town, while I did a bit of tidying up. With just two of us on board, the boat stays reasonably tidy, but the minute you introduce another couple of bodies, it all goes haywire!
We all showered before dinner and went out smelling sweetly – I say went out. We literally stepped off the stern of Old Nick and arrived at our reserved table at The Waterfront. The food was very nice. and it was so warm and sunny, it was more like dining out in Italy or Spain! We ate early and spent the remainder of the evening watching a movie (Thirteen Lives, in case you’re curious. Well worth a watch). .
It was a very quiet night, until some chap started talking very loudly from one side of the basin to the other at 08:00 – a bit early for a Sunday morning, we felt? We feasted on bacon butties and took on water and dealt with the toilet and then it was back along the Arm towards Foxton Junction. We had very much enjoyed our short stay in Market Harborough and will definitely be back to explore more of the town.
We arrived at Foxton, where we stopped for ice creams all round – even the dogs – and turned right towards Leicester. Foxton was absolutely heaving! It was very warm indeed and we cruised along (while Bruce was having a snooze and Lenny was on his phone) using George’s brolly as a sunshade. We pulled over at about 4pm, in a very pleasant rural spot, opposite some horses.
We watched the sun setting and the moon rising sitting out on deck, with our last coffees of the day. It was beautiful, rosy and pink and peaceful. And then I heard a rustling in the reeds a little way upstream, and a bit of splashing. My first thought was an Otter, but I quickly dismissed it. Who is that lucky? And then then there was more rustling and I could actually see the reeds moving, right opposite our boat. I motioned to Paul to be very quiet and then up it popped! A perfect otter’s head, staring at us. I don’t know who was more shocked – us or him. He made a sort of huffing sound and stayed there, regarding us with his little curranty eyes. Suddenly Ted spotted him and barked and he disappeared. But we’d had a moment that will stay with me for ever. We stayed watching for ages, until the light had fully faded. We were pretty sure he had gone to sleep in the reeds, as we could hear a regular and gentle snoring sound. That moment was the icing on top of our yummy cake of a week.
We will be saying farewell to Bruce and Lenny on Tuesday next week, Paul will be back at work and we will press on towards Leicester, hoping to be through the city and onto the River Soar before the weekend. Early mornings are likely to be a feature as it is forecast to be hot, hot, hot.