Floating Downstream

Our plan is to meet up with family on the Chesterfield Canal so now that we were all shipshape we set off, Under Trent Bridge, with it’s beautiful blue and gold metalwork

and onto Holme Lock, where we had to wait for the floating gin palace to come through. Lots of happy people looking down on us.

Our first overnight stop at Stoke Lock. Ironically on the canals we would rarely stop at a lock, for a start the landings need to be kept clear for boats on the move and there’s always a risk that the pond will drain if gates are leaky. However that’s not the case on big rivers, there are usually tall walls or floating pontoons near the locks but little else other than a great community spirit.

The turbulence as the lock fills or empties can be quite ‘exciting’ so boats are held fore and aft by our ropes around inset poles to stop us bashing into the walls or other boats.

Inside Stoke Lock

It feels quite intimidating being at the bottom of a big lock but it’s like opening an advent calendar when the gates open to reveal a whole new landscape.


The weirs on the Trent are colossal, not to be messed with. The froth continues for quite a way.

Looking back towards the weir

We made it to Farndon, just outside Newark on day 2. Farndon marina is home to an old Norwegian fishing vessel that has been transformed into a bar/restaurant, and it’s well worth the 5 minute walk for a £6.50 plate of fish and chips.

Fish and chips at the Knot

Next stop Newark, past the beautiful castle and onto the visitor moorings by the CRT offices. We only stopped long enough for Eric to fill the water tank and for me to fill the fridge, Aldi is less than 10 minutes walk from here so a convenient place to do the chhores.

Newark Castle from Town Lock

And the final joy of this leg of the journey was to watch the sun setting from our overnight mooring at Cromwell lock.

Sunset at Cromwell

More roof work

After Nottingham the river locks are manned by lock keepers and the procedure is to announce your intention before you arrive. That way the lockies can set the lock for you or advise you where to wait your turn. You can phone ahead which is ok if there’s good reception, but using a VHF radio is the prefered option. We opted for a fixed radio rather than a handheld device because the clarity is generally better. But this requires an aerial. Last year we cobbled together a tempory mag-mount affair but we wanted something more permanent, and I finally relented and gave Eric permission to drill holes in the roof.

I’m not sure who was more worried.

I watched nervously from below, although I’m not sure what I’d have done if he’d gone through the ceiling. But he didn’t.

Job done, all ready for the base to be screwed in place.

One rachet antenna base ready for the aerial

Now we can be heard for miles and we set off downstream on the Trent underneath that beautiful bridge on our way to meet family on the Chesterfield Canal.

Adding Solar Panels

(Technical data to be written by Eric later) We’ve long believed that solar panels are a good idea for narrowboats. But the complexity of adding them to an all electric boat the way that Eric wanted seemed a step too far for our builder. For the sake our our sanity we didn’t peruse it initially, but during our week at Beeston things fell into place for us to rectify this compromise.

Eric had been researching panels on and off for several months. And the panels that fitted our bill came from Photonic Universe, a company in Orpington, Kent. We had a family event to attend in Sussex, so hired a car large enough to take advantage of close proximity and transport 4 panels back to Firecrest.

You’d think it was Christmas morning when Eric unpacked the boxes on our bed.

Inspecting the goods

My concern was, “where the heck are we going to store these until they are fitted” but Eric’s enthusiasm was such, that it wasn’t much of an issue. We were hoping for cool overcast dry weather and that’s what we got the very next day, so it was out onto the bank to unpack properly

Unpacking on the bank

First we needed to check which way we were going to position the panels. Bearing in mind that retro fitting panels means working around pancake vents, centre ropes and dog boxes, we had a lot to consider. Our choices were horizontal across the width of Firecrest or lengthwise, so we played around also taking into consideration the need to wire them into the boats electrics.

Looking at different options

We opted for length ways down the boat, 2 in front and 2 behind the pancakes, rather than width ways across the boat.

Decision made, pairs of panels lengthwise

First job though, was to wash the roof thoroughly. We don’t call him Flash Gordon for nothing.

Washing the roof

Then Eric used masking tape to mark out the chosen positions, and to protect the roof from any excess glue squelching out. He used CT1 glue as its both waterproof and flexible as well as being virtually impossible to unstick.

Glue on the panels

We worked as a team lifting each panel into place.

The point of no return, lowering the panel into place

We smoothed the panels down and held them in place with our ballast weights whilst the glue cured.

Smoothing and weighting the panels in place

Stopping for a cuppa after each one, and then completing second pair the next day.

Three down one to go

After a week at Beeston we were itching to move on, so we cruised the 5 miles along the Beeston Cut onto the River Trent outside the County Hall. Here Eric was able to add a bead of glue to mastic the edges of the panels.

Applying mastic

All four panels are now safely in position, awaiting the far more complex stage of the project. Wiring in and connecting them to our existing system.

Looking towards Trent Bridge

And just before anyone comments on the ropes across the panels in our header photo, we know this will reduce our output, generally speaking we will only have one centre rope and it fits between the panels. We have a secondary extra long rope available for deep river locks.

Turning onto the Trent

The Soar had soothed our concerns about travelling on a river again, but this morning before we set off, we prepped the anchor and donned our life jackets ready for the big water on our journey north. The Trent is the third longest river in Britain, 185 miles long. It starts its journey on Bidolph Moor in Staffordshire where it historically marks the divide between the North of England and what lies below. Its large drainage catchment area from the moors and the midlands makes it vulnerable to heavy and occassionally catastrophic flooding, hence the need for boats such as ours to treat it with respect. We shall be travelling 85 miles downstream as far as Keadby, which in theory is 24 hours travelling, however, we need to eat, sleep, explore and spend time with family so you’ll have to bear with us for another 2 months. After Keadby the river carries on for another 9 miles until it reaches the Humber Estuary and the sound of seagulls and proper shipping lanes.

Our first view of the Trent. And although we want to turn right, the arrows guide us to the left to avoid the weir.

Leaving the Soar

Things are starting to look familiar from last year’s cruising. The boat club house on the island,

Looking towards the Trent from the Soar

And the entrance to the Erewash canal

Looking towards the Erewash from the Soar

But looking back a solitary swan says goodbye and thankyou for calling.

Mouth of the Soar

After all that excitement, seeing the open water, we’re immediately guided back onto a managed canal

Cranfleet canal section

And towards Cranfleet lock

Cranfleet Lock

And finally onto our destination for the next few days, Beeston

Beeston Lock

Soaring along the Soar

Lots of lovely cruising along this final part of the journey before we joined the Trent.

Early morning at Birstall

We cruised straight through Loughborough, but came across some pretty villages

Normanton on Soar

With gongoozelers

Alpacas at Barrow upon Soar

I had quite a lot of hard work to do

Cheryl closing the gate

But we were rewarded with some lovely mooring

Barrow boats visitor mooring

There’s some impressive houses, we wondered which country we were in at one point, this developement even had it’s own private marina

And some very impressive bridges. This is Mountsorrel mineral railway bridge. It’s a grade II listed building and as it helpfully tells us it was built in 1860

Mountsorrell bridge

The nearer we got to the Trent, the more dire the warnings became about the potential for the river to flood. These wooden railings are the final emergency mooring facility before the Trent. And surveying the low lying ground around I hope that bungalow is built on stilts. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be if we needed to use such a facility, but I know how grateful I’d be if I did.

Emergency moorings on the Soar

Our final night on the Soar was at Sutton Bonnington tucked in the bend known as the Devil’s Elbow

The mooring on the Devils Elbow

Our final morning on the Soar saw us cruising past the coal fuelled Ratcliffe power station. It’s been churning out electricity for 50 years, but it’s days are numbered.

Radcliffe power station

We saw these cooling towers last year when we looked south from the mouth of the Erewash canal.

Radcliffe power station

Leaving Leicester

I get the impression there’s a lot more still to do and see in Leicester, but Castle Gardens is a 2 day pontoon. We moved up to the 14 day Friar’s Mill pontoon, all of 5 minutes cruise and still within walking distance of the centre, but it is in the midst of redevelopment and noisy. We were excited to see electric hook up, but nothing seemed to be working.

Friar’s Mill mooring

We didn’t stay long and continued past Frog Island, and if judging by the size of the frog on this mural probably safer not to.

Frog Island mural

Frog Island is actually a suburb of Leicester and houses some of the Victorian mills and factories and has some fascinating history.

Sadly the canal and river is still full of rubbish that accumulates on the bends and around locks.

But looking beyond, the countryside was lovely. It’s a flat landscape with many lakes that have been developed into nature reserves, Watermead Park. I don’t know if any of the lakes are manmade left over from mining or gravel extraction, but we could imagine navigation being impossible in flood season.

We moored up for the night at Birstall, a nice village with all the facilities a boater needs, pub, co-op, and takeaway.

Birstall Mooring

Many lives of Leicester

Archaeology shows that Leicester was a celtic settlement in the Iron age, long before the Romans arrived and created a garrison town. With Romans and soldiers and access to a navigable river, the community naturally grew. We didn’t have to wander far to see some old buildings. Sadly there is very little left of the castle other than a few walls.

Old castle walls

But the castle grounds weren’t wasted as they were incorporated into the more modern homes.

Inside thd GuildHall

Commerce thrived, and wealth was acquired which needed showing off. Leicester has one of the countries oldest surviving guildhalls built 600 years ago. It’s now a museum, showing off it’s finery.

Magnificent fireplace in the guildhall

Guildhalls frequently became the town’s courthouses and prisons, Leicester’s being no exception, proudly showing off it’s gibbet iron. This one is a replica of one used to display the executed body of James Cook. He was hung for a grusome murder infront of a 30000 strong crowd in 1832, and that was before social media was banned from showing grizzly images. Apparently criminals weren’t always dead before they were hoisted up for public display.

Gibbet Iron, no longer in use

Thomas Cook (no connection to the afore mentioned murderer) was born in Derbyshire but made his home in Leicester. It was here that he set about encouraging social improvement through education and consumption of less alcohol. He saw the emerging railway as a means to create this opportunity and in 1841 he organised his first escorted tour. He took a group of 500 people 12 miles from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a temperance meeting, it cost 1 shilling. The rest they say is history.

Thomas Cook overseeing the building work at the train station

Leicester also played a pioneering role in the knitwear industry, introducing machinery to manufacture hosiery, there are knitting machines on display in the Abbey Pump house. However it is the Leicester Seamstress that is commemorated with a city centre sculpture where she is sewing up the stocking seams by hand.

The Leicester Seamstress

Space to explore

One of Leicester’s attractions is the National Space Centre

We’ve seen the brown signs as we’ve whizzed by on 4 wheels but never had the time to stop and investigate. So now that we were close enough to walk into space, it was time to take that giant leap. We invited Tim to join us for the day as he has a degree in astrophysics, I thought he might be able to give Eric some intelligent conversation.

National Space Centre.

Tim and Eric discussing the practicalities of living on the ISS

It was an interesting venue, even though it was geared towards the millions of little aliens swarming beneath our feet from the many school visits taking place. We got a better view looking up

Satellite in the rocket tower.

But being true boaters, once we’d done space, we nipped across the road to the Abbey Pumping Station, a free entry museum, (unlike the expensive NSC) which showcases Leicester’s industrial and technology heritage in magnificent Victorian building

Unlike the space industry where, practicality and weight take high priority, the Victorians added finesse to their structures.

Both eras are awesome but beauty is subjective and if I’m honest I be hard pushed to say which venue I enjoyed more.

It’s a good half hours walk back into the town centre, more if you stop to enjoy the cherry blossom along the river. But there is mooring beyond the museum’s and I’d strongly recommend visiting both if you’re feeling flush, (and yes you’ll see how an astronaut toilet works) and definitely visit the pumping station if you’ve got an hour to spare.

National Space centre

Abbey Pumping Station

From Car Park to Cathedral

Via the Castle Garden. We weren’t sure if we’d get a mooring in central Leicester but even though we’d been enjoying some glorious cruising weather, it seemed most boats were still tucked up for the winter. The waterways quiet and moorings plentiful, so we had a whole pontoon to ourselves. The pontoon itself has a locked gate into the gardens and the gardens are locked to the public at 5.30 each day, meaning not only did we get an extra level of security but our own private garden and castle ruin to enjoy in the evening.

Castle gardens

This is our first visit to Leicester, it seems a friendly city, not too big, the usual array of commercialism and a sense of pride in its history.

Most notably, Richard III. In 1485 he was defeated by Henry Tudor and killed at the battle of Bosworth. This was the last battle of the War of the Roses and marked the end of the middle ages in England. His body was unceremoniously buried in Leicester’s Greyfriars church although according to wiki, in the garden, not the car park. Henry Tudor, now King Henry VII, did pay £50 (£40 000 today ) to have a monument erected but over the years the site was lost. Until in 2012 research lead the RIII society to a council car park, ironically to a reserved bay marked with an R. During their first excavation human bones were discovered, which we now know to be those of Richard. After a bit of wrangling, he was ceremonially reburied in Leicester Cathedral.

Richard III

We’ve never been ones for paying homage at tombs, but we were both touched by the simple dignity that surrounded this new grave.

I particularly liked the modern stained glass that overlooked the tomb, (photo taken from the web)

Leicester Cathedral stained glass