Leaving the Leicester Line and joining the River Soar

We left our amazing Otter mooring on Monday (9th Aug) morning and set off towards Saddington Tunnel – another chance for Lenny to hone his bugle blowing skills! Luckily, we were the only boat in the tunnel, which provided a brief respite from the already hot sun. Luckily it’s a shorty at only 880 yards/805metres long, so we didn’t have to endurejoy his bugling prowess for too long!

Today was all about Locks. Locks – and heat! We had worked out that we needed to get to Kilby as it was a good place for Bruce to get a taxi back to Crick. The trip involved getting through 12 locks and below Foxton, the locks are the wide type, with room for two boats side by side. Luckily, we were still locking down so there was no need to rope up, as we would have done if we were locking up. There is generally a lot more turbulence from water coming in when locking up, than from water going out when locking down.

It was very hot indeed and George’s umbrella put in a sterling stint as a parasol – although because of its size, it had to be put down for steering into and out of a lock as I could not see! The locks were a fair distance apart, and as we had been promising it all weekend, we got one of the bikes off for Lenny to lockwheel. Sadly, he barked his knuckles on one of the locks and was rendered hors de combat.

We arrived at Kilby with some relief and tied up. It occurred to us that as Bruce had another conference call the next morning, It might be prudent for him to go and get the car that afternoon, to save some time the next day, so off he trotted. He returned about an hour and half later and parked in the very handy car park at the CRT yard opposite where we were moored.

It was so hot that we removed windows and put the fan on and all drank lots of cold liquid. Cooking dinner was a very sweaty affair and I was glad of a cool shower afterwards. We spent the evening watching another film (Buzz Lightyear) and retired with all the windows still out and doors open, although it had cooled down significantly.

As they were leaving later, Tuesday morning was packing time. Bruce took his conference call and then brought the car over, down the very handy track alongside the moorings. We smartly decanted all their belongings, checked for things being left behind (although we later found toothpaste and brown sauce!) and they were off. I did not envy them their drive, especially as Bruce’s air con was playing up and needed re-gassing. We settled down to work and blog. We had decided not to move until after Paul had finished work. It would hopefully be cooler by then.

After work, we slipped over to the water point to top up and also to deal with the loo and then set off. We hoped to get to a little rural bit on the outskirts of Leicester so would need to crack on through the six locks to get us there. It was still very hot indeed as we made our way further North. Our hopes of it being cooler were unfulfilled and we drank everything non-alcoholic that was chilled in the fridge! We’d need a serious re-stock pretty soon!

Leaving Dunns Lock

We had been told of a little spot that was perfect for one boat on the stretch between Whetstone Lane Lock and Gee’s Lock. We found it but, with the lower water levels, it was not possible to get in to the bank. Damn! Our only option now was to use the tail end of the lock moorings overnight. This was a calculated move – we we were fairly sure that there was no-one behind us, if there had been, they’d probably already pulled over for the night. And we planned one of our early morning cruises the next day, so we reckoned we would not be in anyone’s way. And we were right.

The Wednesday alarm rang at 05:45 and we jumped up and swung into our early morning routine – I make the first drink of the day (1 tea, 1 coffee) while Paul gets us ready for the off. We had 6 locks to tick off before the secure moorings in central Leicester. It was a beautiful morning, with just the merest hint that Autumn was on the way, a little chill, a slight mist on the water, but that just added to the beauty.

I think we woke a heron up as we entered one lock – he didn’t react at all to our presence until I did a short blip of bow-thruster and then he rose with an annoyed “Craark” and flew off. We saw a rough sleeper at another of the locks. A very nice chap who helped with one of the lock gates, which have a habit of opening with the lightest water disturbance. We got chatting and he said he had been cold in the night and and had walked to MacDonalds for a hot chocolate at 2 am. He said he liked it by this lock (Aylestone Mill Lock) as it was quiet and he liked to watch the wildlife. I was sorry that I didn’t have anything handy, like a hot drink or a sandwich or even some cash for a hot drink to give him, as we carry very little on board.

The approach to Leicester is very attractive, especially passing through the Aylestone Meadows Nature Reserve area. The towpath is well used by dog walkers and joggers and we greeted quite a number of them as we made our way towards the centre of town,.

The route is very weedy and the River Soar is very much in evidence and eventually we will leave the Leicester Line behind and be cruising solely on the Soar Navigation. We met our first boat of the day about 08:30, who told us of a tree that was down and that it was pretty tricky to manoeuvre around. They weren’t exaggerating and I quickly reported it to CRT as we had gone very firmly aground in the low water levels. It took a fair bit of heaving and swearing to get afloat again. The University is also quite prominent, with Halls of Residence lining the route.

After seeing several grand bridges, we arrived at the secure moorings (Castle Gardens ///dots.inches.title) to find that a boat was just leaving and we gratefully took its place. They said that they had spent a reasonably quiet night, although had witnessed much rat activity.”They run over your feet!” Nice! We’ll look forward to that.

You’ll, no doubt, be glad to hear that we had a pretty quiet night and were untroubled by our furry friends although, as we had our sundowners out on deck, we could see them scuttling about. Yuk. But way too soon that Thursday (Aug 11) alarm went off and we slipped away into another jewel of a morning.

Before we leave Leicester behind, a little cultural history. Leicester is famous for textiles – in particular, hosiery, but also knitwear and other clothing goods and shoes. Did you know that by the 1930’s it was claimed that “Leicester clothes the world”? Those of a certain age will definitely remember the Wolsey brand of stockings – named , incidentally, after Cardinal Wolsey, who is reputedly buried in Leicester Abbey. By 1936, Leicester was recognised as the second richest city in Europe, thanks to its very successful textile industry. It’s also home to Walker’s crisps, had one of the earliest multi-storey car parks, beneath which a branch of Tescos (the first outside London) was, for some years the largest store, by floor area, in Europe It was the birthplace of the Attenborough brothers, Gok Wan and Gary Lineker, among others.

We had four locks and 4 miles to do to reach our planned evening stop on the outskirts of Leicester in Birstall, near the lovely Watermead Country Park, created from old gravel pits and home to much wildlife.

As we passed through this Northern edge of Leicester, the city’s industrial heritage was very much in evidence, with lots of mill-type buildings and chimneys. As you can see, the skies were a vivid blue and it was already beginning to heat up as we pulled over at our chosen spot. There was one space – sadly with no shade. But good solar possibilities! Every cloud and all that.

We had a morning grocery delivery here on Friday (12th Aug). It’s a very handy spot as the river flows right past the bottom of White Horse Lane and the moorings are right there (///gallons.precautions.blitz). It all went smoothly, although it was a race to get all the chilled/frozen stuff stuck away before it melted! It was already hot by 09:30 so we saw no point in moving off. Especially as the temperatures were expected to exceed 30C. It’s way too hot for cruising.

We eventually left at around 5pm. It was still hot but there was a pleasant breeze and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening cruise. We had sundowners as we cruised along and we both felt very happy on this lovely, meandering river. We finally pulled over just above Junction Lock (/// We had only covered about 3 miles and 2 locks but we are not in a hurry. It was a very quiet spot. We went to bed fairly early (for us) as we planned an early start to beat the heat again. It was way too hot still, but the fan allowed us to get some sleep.

The alarm rang at 05:45 – a very odd time to be getting up on a Saturday (13th Aug)! And we both sprang out of bed. It was a funny old morning. Slightly chilly and with low, almost foggy cloud that kept the sun at bay. Paul actually put a fleece on! I am made of sterner stuff. But it was really lovely, cruising along in solitary splendour. We greeted numerous dog walkers, all out with their pooches in the cool of the day. Very sensible.

One thing I have noticed on this lovely river is the sheer amount of Floating Pennywort there is. I have talked before about this alien plant, introduced into the UK in the 80s by the aquatic nursery trade and actually banned from sale in 2014. It causes a range of problems, forming dense mats that can affect oxygen levels in the water, threatening fish and other aquatic life, It can become so prolific that boaters, anglers and others can’t use the waterway, and it even clogs sluices, weirs and drains, potentially increasing flood risk. It must be a real headache for the water authorities, as it grows up to 20cm per day and can regenerate from even the smallest fragment left in the water. Chemicals are out of the question, so it has to be removed mechanically at great expense.

One new hope is a weevil – Listronotus elongatus – which has been shown to curtail growth. It’s actually been licenced for release in the UK waterways and hopes are high that it will help in the control of Pennywort. My only worry is that – despite it being a very selective beast, dining only on Pennywort – introducing alien species usually causes other problems. Fingers crossed it doesn’t develop a taste for Watercress, for instance?

Alien invasion

But back to cruising – we cruised past the romantically named village of Mountsorrell, home to the largest granite quarry in Europe, and then stopped at Barrow upon Soar for water and sanitation. There is a very jolly boat operator there, with brightly coloured pedalos , which looked a bit Blackpool to be honest! We passed through Barrow Deep Lock (not so deep at 9′ 7″, at which there was a friendly vlockie and then called in to Pillings Lock Marina, hoping they had a chandlery (they did, but not much of one in all honesty!) We had asked one of their moorers and they had said almost exactly that!

By now it was starting to get a bit too warm, the sun had burnt through and it was very intense as we left the Marina, so it pulled over on the bank, shortly after, to sit it out until evening. We’d come around 7 miles and 6 locks. And seen one boat, on the move, although more passed as we were moored. Mad dogs!

We set off again early evening and by a stroke of enormous luck, found a spot that was shaded on both sides and spent a much cooler and quiet night there. One boat actually went past and said “You’ve got a great spot there!

I was all for staying put on our lovely shady spot on Sunday (14th Aug), as it was going to be another scorcher, but was persuaded we’d find even better. So we set off, bound initially for a visit to the basin in Loughborough. Just to see what it was like. It’s pretty good, with all the requisite boater facilities, plus a handily placed Tesco. It was quite shady, so we decided we’d stay and move off again early evening, as seems to be becoming the norm during this incredibly hot weather.

It was still pretty hot at 5pm (30C) but there were a few clouds around and a nice breeze, so we decided to venture out. There were lots of people out canoeing, paddle boarding and swimming as we approached Normanton (on Soar). The Soar, by the way, marks the county line between Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

It was a pretty idyllic scene, with the beautiful mediaeval church of St James (c 13th Century) dominating the skyline and people enjoying the river. We would love to have joined them in the water but there was, sadly, absolutely nowhere to moor. There were some delectable properties fringing the canal, too. Lucky people to live in such a great location. Although I wonder if they are ever threatened by flood?

We pressed on and eventually found a spot we fancied, with bollards, just before Zouch Lock, complete with a field of young bullocks. Delightful! And there we ended week 14.

This week, we shall be leaving the River Soar, which we have thoroughly enjoyed, and briefly joining the non-tidal Trent. We also have first time guests this coming weekend and plan to cruise up the Erewash Canal, given reasonable water levels. As I write, it has become quite grey and we are feeling one or two spots of much needed rain.

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