Leaving the River Soar and venturing up the Erewash.
We had planned to move on come Monday evening, once it had cooled off but Paul was engaged in a knotty bit of testing for a new product and did not notice the time. It was a little short of 7 pm when he looked up and said “Oh!”. It was a pleasant location so it was not a hardship to stay another night, plus it was still pretty hot, so no big deal.
We are meeting another set of Old Nick virgins, old friends Steve Arnott and Maria Ede-Weaving this weekend, at Sawley Marina and have plenty of time to get there. The Marina is located on the Upper Trent, on the non-tidal River Trent. It’s part of the same group (Aquavista) as Crick and Brinklow and others we have stayed at.
The weather had cooled a little when we awoke early on Tuesday and set off. It was very peaceful stretch of river but punctuated by a steady succession of aircraft taking off and landing at the nearby East Midlands Airport. The airport is an international one and was remodelled as a civilian airport in the mid sixties. It was previously known as RAF Castle Donington, a Bomber Command training field in WW2. It’s certainly pretty busy today, ferrying folk to and from their holiday destinations. The arriving planes are quite low and good to watch.
As we cruised towards the second lock of the day, we came across a tree down. It looked as if we’d just about be able to squeeze past, with no damage, but a wider boat (and there are quite a few on this wide navigation) would have no chance. I immediately reported it to CRT and they issued a notice to all boaters later on in the day. This is a free service, to which we subscribe, which notifies subscribers of any new issues/structure failures/navigation obstruction warnings and closures on the system, by email. It also advises subscribers when the issue has been resolved or gives updates on progress. It’s a pretty good service but must use a lot of CRT resources to operate successfully and rely on good communications.
There is also a handy service for rivers, which are always more volatile than canals. The service lets you know if there are any strong stream warnings in operation and uses a green/amber/red notation. Green means you’re good to go and Red is do not attempt navigation under any circumstances. You ignore these warnings at your peril. Insurance will not pay out if you get into trouble after ignoring one of these alerts.
Having squeezed through the obstruction, taking it very slowly, we continued towards Kegworth New Lock – formerly known as Kegworth Deep Lock. This one actually is quite deep at 12 feet, and was built in 1986, replacing the previous lock on the site. The old lock is slightly to the left (as you lock down) of the new lock and the remians of it can still be seen. The old lock only had a rise of 7′ 6″, the difference being due to a change in river levels caused by extensive new flood control measures. The cill of the new lock is unusually large and has been the nemesis of several hire boats.
We cruised on and eventually found a bit of bank, with Armco, that looked a good bet and settled there. Cruising done for the day by just before 09:00. We planned to stay there on Wednesday, too, as the weather looked a bit iffy. We had unexpected guests, shortly after we arrived.
It rained on and off from late morning and on into the evening, but not a deluge – medium showers might best describe it. It was still raining when we went to bed and was the first night for some weeks that we slept with the bow doors closed. We like our fresh air!
When we awoke on Wednesday (17th Aug) , we saw that the water had risen by around 8 inches overnight! And this was with only moderate rainfall. It served as a reminder of the capricious nature of rivers.
I had a surfeit of bread and so made a quick batch of Bread Pudding. Now Paul loves this but will not touch Christmas Cake or Christmas Pudding. Go figure! I’ve included the recipe below in case you fancy making some. Its very nice!
8 oz/225g of bread (crusts removed before weighing)
10fl oz/275 ml milk
2 oz/50g Butter – melted
3 oz sugar – I use light muscovado but any will do
1 good tbsp Ground mixed spice
6 oz/175g dried fruit – sultanas, raisins, cranberries. mixed peel (if liked)
A few chopped glace cherries (if liked)
1 egg, beaten
A little demerara sugar for dusting the top, if liked.
Preheat the oven to 180/160Fan/Gas 4. Greas/line an 8×10″(200x2gomm) baking vessel – whatever you have that is roughly that size, really.
Tear the bread into small pieces and put into a mixing bowl. Pour the milk over, give it a mix and leave to stand for 20 mins or so, while you are weighing out the remaining ingredients.
After bread has soaked, add all the remaining dry ingredients to the bread mush. mix to incorporate. then add the melted butter, mix. Then add the beaten egg.
Put mix into into the baking vessel and then into the oven. It will take between 45 and an hour to cook, depending on thickness. It should feel firm to the touch in the middle. Leva to cool and fight off those that are trying to nick it. Can also be served hot with custard.
This last stretch of the Soar is dominated by the Ratcliffe Power Station, with its 8 massive cooling towers. It’s quite a sight – especially up close. And quite spectacular on a slightly mizzly night.
We pulled another of our early stunts on Thursday. We were leaving the Soar today, a charming river, which we’d thoroughly recommend. Oh and guess what! Paul spotted an article from CRT East Midlands on Twitter it read:-
“Weed munching weevils have been introduced to the River Soar as part of a @stwater project to tackle invasive species. The weevils only feed on non-native weeds which can choke the waterway. All part of ongoing efforts with @Leicester_News and @EnvAgency to improve the river.”
And was accompanied by this photo (with thanks and credit to CRT East Midlands)
It was – unusually – a bit of a chilly, grey morning as we set off towards the Upper Trent, bound for Sawley Marina, a little before 06:00. We passed though our last lock on the Soar (Ratcliffe – a lock we tackled with even more care than usual as it is poorly and requires nursing) and Redhill Flood Lock. In case you’re curious, a “flood lock” is used to prevent a river from flooding a connected waterway. It is typically installed where a canal leaves a river. They are usually deployed by the water authority rather than by the public. In non-flood conditions, you’d hardly know it was there as both the top and bottom gates are left open.
As we rounded the next bend, the River became very wide and we could see the entrance to the Erewash Canal – more or less straight on at the “crossroads”, with Nottingham to the right and Sawley to the left. We took the left and up through one of the pair of Sawley locks, which are automated. There are all the necessary facilities for boaters, here too, which is useful. There has been nowhere to dispose of rubbish since Loughborough – unless we missed it? The last time I came through here was on my Dad;s boat and we came down through the locks and just poked our noses out onto the Trent and then turned back up through the locks. And that must have been – crikey – forty years ago. I must have been very young! Who am I kidding??
We moored on the 48 hr moorings just before the Marina because it seemed a bit presumptuous rocking up for an overnight stay before the birds had fully finished the dawn chorus! We stayed there until lunch time and moved to our allotted spot and got hooked up.
As is usual when we have visitors, Friday (19th Aug) meant cleaning and hoovering and changing beds and grocery deliveries and other domestics. The groceries were a bit problematic and a very kind chap at the local Sainsbury’s got us out of a real hole – i.e. we would have had no food for the weekend! We were very lucky he was so helpful, as the error had been mine.
Our guests were coming from the South coast and leaving around lunchtime. On paper, the journey should take 3.5 hours but, being Friday, they did not arrive until around 6:30pm. We had seen them, briefly, at George’s wedding back in May but before that, with Covid and us moving away it had been maybe 2 years since we had seen them and there was a great deal of catching up to do. Indeed we chatted and laughed until nearly midnight.
On Saturday, we set off back towards Sawley locks and out onto the Trent. But this time, we turned left, onto the Erewash Canal. The Erewash (pronounced, we believe Erry-wash) is just 12 miles long with 14 locks. It was originally cut to carry coal and rescued from dereliction in the late 60s by a gallant band of enthusiasts – the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (ECP&DA) and thank goodness for them.
It was a tiny bit stressful turning off the Trent into the narrow entrance to the canal, which is at an acute angle. I had to contend with the flow of the Trent and the brisk breeze, both conspiring to blow me onto the right-hand bridge arch. Not for the first time, I blessed the last-minute decision we had made, to have a bow-thruster fitted. It came in very handy.
We had been warned by one of our Ortomariner friends that the Erewash was very weedy. Indeed, they had turned round and abandoned their attempt at navigating it. It was immediately obvious that they had not been exaggerating! There was a carpet of duckweed that was pretty thick and which actually wrinkled like a piece of fabric as we cut our way through to first lock, which is right on the junction.
It was Maria’s first time on a narrowboat and she was quite excited by the process of locking up. And let’s be honest, it is a pretty amazing bit of engineering. Especially when you consider that the locks we still use today, all over the world, are based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci – the “Mitre” lock. As the name implies, Leonardo’s mitre lock had gates that were chamfered to a 45 degree angle, so that they meet each other at a point. When water hits them, the two mitres are forced into each other, resulting in a tight seal. Because of their shape, the gates are also easier to open, once the water pressure is reduced (by emptying the lock).
We soon had a good routine going, with Paul and Steve operating the locks while Maria was put on rope duty (these were wide locks, so we roped to avoid sloshing about). It was very pleasant weather as we passed through the Derbyshire small towns that border the canal, which more or less follows the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border.
We were particularly taken by the beautiful mills in Long Eaton, relics of the lace trade, for which it became famous. One usually thinks of Nottingham when one thinks of lace, but Long Eaton is only 8 miles from Nottingham and the mill owners found that they could pay a lower wage in this formerly agricultural village than in Nottingham itself.
One of the largest lace-making mills, Harrington Mill, was built in 1885. It took one and a quarter million bricks to build the 167-metre long factory and it has 224 cast-iron windows down one side. Harrington Mill was built by a consortium of manufacturers. The turrets on the sides house the original staircases. The mills – all now re-purposed – are still a very impressive sight. I love the mill chimneys – as you may have guessed!
Going was very slow indeed, thanks to the weed. You could actually feel it dragging along the hull and there was much blasting astern to clear the prop. We normally cruise at 800rpm, which uses just under 30A. At some points we were using almost twice this current to achieve 800 rpm and our speed was down to 1 mph. We were going nowhere fast! We decided that we would turn round at a convenient point and return to navigate it fully in Spring, when hopefully the weed would be less intrusive. Speaking of weed, someone had a very healthy, but illegal, crop growing on the offside of their boat!
We passed though a total of five locks, noting that the holes in the lock gates, where water rushes in when you have raised the gate paddles, were pretty choked with weed and could not close fully. One particular plant, which anyone who has ever had a fish bowl or tank, will recognise, is called Elodia, and I think it’s the “Elodia Crispa” variety – also known as curly waterweed – which is a particular menace in this respect. And, sadly, it’s another highly invasive alien species, banned from sale or release into waterways since 2017 but is now rife in water courses throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Much like Floating Pennywort, it can regenerate from a tiny piece of stem left in the water and so is difficult to eradicate. It is reported even to have blocked the intakes of hydroelectric power plants in New Zealand.
Sandiacre was a particular favourite of the locks. It was originally a toll lock and the former lock-keeper and lengthsman cottages are now managed as a Museum by the ECP&DA. There is a cafe and they run heritage events, such as rag-rugging and ropework workshops.
We eventually turned just short of Trowell and retraced our steps, mooring for the night with a lovely view of a very impressive church and spire and a field of horses and several Belted Galloways. We played games in the evening, with Steve – a big board game fan – introducing us to a couple of new games. One which we particularly liked was called ” The Crew – The Quest For Planet Nine“. It is a “co-operative strategy” game – all of those playing as a team against the game – and involves working together via trick-taking play to complete missions. It gets increasingly difficult to complete a mission and, although we only played three missions, it is pretty absorbing. We liked it and only stopped playing as we were all tired.
After breakfast on Sunday, we untied, ready to move out but noticed we were a little bit aground. And by little bit, I mean good and stuck! It was a long pound but the water levels had clearly dropped overnight. We tried all the usual tricks but to no avail. We pushed, we rocked, we moved everyone to the bow, we deposited everyone off the boat, we were assisted by a passing cyclist (whom I was convinced would fall in) but we were still stuck. We were beginning to think we’d need to flush some water down from the lock just above us but our tenacity did eventually pay off. We could see bubbles coming up from the mud – a sure sign that the mud was preparing to release us. A couple more big heaves and – once the stern was in deeper water – a blast of astern and we were free! Phew. It probably took about half an hour, in all, to refloat.
We made our way back through Sandiacre and Long Eaton – noting a very handy Co-op, with adjacent moorings, just by Bridge 10. By the time we got back to Trent Lock – a very popular location on a sunny Sunday afternoon – Maria had been promoted to lock operation and actually gained a round of applause from the gongoozlers when she persevered with a particularly stiff lock paddle. And then we slipped back onto the mighty Trent and back, through the Sawley locks to Sawley Marina. It was lovely seeing everyone enjoying being by the water, boating, paddle-boarding, sailing, walking the dog or just sitting watching the parade of people go by. We’d had a great weekend and I really did not envy Steve and Maria their trip home or, actually, want them to go. But all good things must come to an end and we reluctantly waved them off.
We showered, put on a load of washing, tidied up and relaxed for the evening, looking forward to getting back into our own bed. We had an early night and were soon slumbering peacefully at the end of week 15.
Next week we will join the Trent and Mersey canal, which actually marks the start of our trip home to Droitwich. Summer is waning, Autumn is drawing nearer, evenings are getting shorter. But we have another 9 weeks or so left in which to do that trip, thank goodness! Its not over yet, although water levels continue to be a bit of a concern.