A little bit more of Loughborough

Loughborough Moor felt like it could have been in the middle of nowhere.

A promising start to the day

But inbetween the cows mooing, we could also hear what sounded like a steam train whistle. Sure enough, the Great Central Station wasn’t one of British Rail’s mainline hubs, but a terminus for the Great Central Railway heritage line. In its heyday, the line ran from Manchester to Marylebone, but now it operates both as a tourist attraction between Loughborough and Leicester and as a test track for modern diesel trains and restored steam trains.

The Great Central Station

The station was only 15 minutes walk from the moor, so we would happily have taken a trip, but of course, the service had been reduced so we could only get a brief glimpse of some locomotives through the fence.

The engine shed

When we came through Leicester 2 years ago, we discovered that Thomas Cook’s first package tour was an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough. I wonder what the Victorians thought of the industrial factories nearby the station. Or were they whisked through to Queens Park by carriage. We continued walking into town and passed by one rather striking building, Taylor’s, the world’s largest working Bell Foundry.

Taylor’s Bell Foundry

We were greeted warmly when I poked my head through the door marked museum, and glanced at the treasure trove of stories inside, but alas they weren’t able to permit us entry. We will have to come back another year.

A glimpse inside the museum

I’m missing the opportunities to really explore the places we visit, and now getting to know a bit more about Loughborough had to be done via the internet. We came across this man sitting in outside the town hall. He is known at the Sock Man, a sculpture by Shona Kinlock. He represents the knitted hosiery industry that helped create Loughborough’s prosperity.

The sock man

We felt rather sorry for him as he is only wearing one sock (besides a fig leaf for modesty). In my world of hand knitted socks this is known as the curse of SSS or Second Sock Syndrome, where the knitter becomes so enthralled (or bored) by the fact that they completed a whole sock that they fail to cast on the second. I’m sure we will come back another year to moor on the moor and explore Loughborough some more.

Advisory note… this post contains Cows

We’re watching you

We spent 5 nights on Loughborough Moor at Miller’s bridge, along with 3 other boats but still had enough considerate spacing between each boat for us to think this would be a peaceful mooring. “Oh no” said our nearest neighbour, “You wait until the cows arrive…..” I looked out shortly and saw this beautiful lady taking a drink,

Mirror mirror on the floor

Then the whole herd wandered over the bridge to join her

Here come the family

And just after teatime, the farmer arrived as well. He called over to apologise because they were going to be very noisy overnight as some of them had just been separated from their calves.

And the farmer

Dusk fell and it was a beautiful sunset, but not a cow or moo to be seen or heard.

Only bird song to disturb the peace

They had the good grace to spend the night over on the far side of the field, but sure enough at 5 am they emerged from the mist mooing mournfully.

Waking at dawn has its advantages

The farmer is very very caring. He comes into the field twice a day with a bucket of treats for them so that he can check them over. The canal/river is narrow enough at this point for us to hold a conversation, so as they tucked into their supper I learnt a bit about these beautiful pure Herefords and how to spot the Hereford/Holstein crosses.

Bottoms up

I wish I could share the video I took of them running to greet him. Much better than most modern TV comedy. But when he’s not around they do plod sedately

That must be delivermoo calling us

One afternoon we heard them making quite a commotion. I was a bit worried one might have fallen in whilst taking a drink.

Don’t fall in

But no, hidden by the longer grass, ones of them was giving birth. So on our last day on the Moor we were treated to watching a 1 day old calf frolicking. And if I thought that running cows were funny running calves are hilarious.

The little one hasn’t learnt to pose for the camera yet

I was quite sorry to say goodbye to them.

A short journey

We could have stayed in Barrow for a few more days, just soaking up the peace.

The meandering Soar at Barrow

Until the joy riders arrived on their bikes. Yes, Barrow Boating brings new meaning to travelling by water.

That looks more like hard work than fun.

There were several of these bike boats and swan shaped pedaloes, and once the frost had melted happy families joined the emerald drakes adding to the rich colours. The ducks seem to have disappeared, I can only assume they are now sitting on their nests and we’ll be rewarded with fluffy ducklings soon.

Where have all the ladies gone

But Barrow wasn’t always fun and frolicks as this poem pinned up at Barrow deep lock reminds us.

Barrow Deep lock is the deepest lock in the East Midlands region having a fall of 2.9m (9.7′) but it didn’t faze us, the deepest canal lock in this country is Tuel Lane on the Rochdale canal at 6m

The Barrow Deep lock

The rest of our day saw more wide open river sections.

The navigable Soar between Barrow and Pilling Lock

Although we didn’t plan to cruise far, just beyond Pillings Marina under Woodthorpe Bridge

Woodthorpe bridge

And onto Loughborough Moors, a journey which took us all of an hour to do of just over 2 miles. We are easing ourselves into the sort of boating we love.

More tranquility on Loughbourough Moor

Oh what A beautiful Morning, from Birstall to Barrow

We could have enjoyed a few more days at Birstall but the water point at at Friars Mill (in Leicester) wasn’t working and we were perilously close to running dry. (CRT were informed so hopefully it’s fixed now). We phoned ahead and were given permission to fill up at Leicester marina, and carried on our way.

The river Soar

Canal builders knew how to make the most of local features and took advantage of the navigable sections of the river Soar so canal and river intermingle which makes for an interesting journey. We love the 1860 bridge at Mountsorrel. It was built to carry the railway supporting the local pink granite quarries. At 90feet (27m) it’s one of the countries longest single span brick bridges. The track was lifted in the 1950s and although it’s now a grade II listed structure, previous restoration was badly done and it’s condition is deteriorating.

The 1860 bridge at Mountsorrel

We were lucky to get onto the visitor mooring at Barrow Boating as there’s only room for 1 narrowboat and a small cruiser.

Visitor mooring at Barrow Boats

During the day there’s a steady stream of walkers crossing the bridge over the weir that permits the river to continue its meanders whilst the canal to cut the corners.

The weir at Barrow

But at 6am in the morning it was all ours for one of the most breathtaking walks we’ve had so far this year. (Not that we usually walk at 6am but when I saw the sun rise and the frost, there was no way I was missing this treat) The flood plane meadow beyond the weir was shrouded in ethereal mist.

It seems like the cattle had the same idea for a morning walk, but thankfully they haven’t worked out how to open the gate over the bridge.

Cattle on the soar

It’s a bit surreal with the daytime reaching teeshirt temperatures, to see a proper frost first thing.

Frosty nettles

I’m quite glad we haven’t discarded the winter duvet yet.

That’s ice on the roof

I usually compile a “create your own calendar” so we can enjoy looking back over our previous years travels, I fear 2022 may be full of misty morning images.

I still haven’t decided which is my favourite

Grazing rights

I should say that Barrow upon Soar looks an interesting place to explore, I’d image it was a thriving place in the 17th/18th century looking at the houses. But with Eric suffering badly from the catkin pollen we decided to leave our daytime explorations until we can return here in another season. There’s plenty of 14 day Armco mooring just beyond the next bridge. And lots of lovely walks

Boating in Birstall

We weren’t sorry to say goodbye to the horrible graffiti of Leicester on 12th April. Our spirits soared as cruising restrictions were lifted and mooring restrictions re-imposed, and we cruised along the Soar. We were the first boat to work through Birstall lock and moor up for the day.

Still room for a few more boats in Birstall

But we weren’t the last, with 6 boats overnight and several more enjoying day trips and performing the Suez manoeuvre.

To be fair, this boater manouvered perfectly and didn’t get stuck

There’s a nice looking canal side pub here, but we’re still not ready to mingle so instead treated ourselves to fish and chips from the Birstall Fisheries. We wonder what it says about us when the “mini lunch” portion is still too much, but it was a good meal and we’’ll use that chippy again.

There’s a good piece of cod under those chips

Eric set to work completing the wiring for the solar panel we had stuck onto the roof last June.

A man at work

The wiring isn’t the difficult bit, it’s the locating of all the tools etc that get scattered around the boat, usually under the bed that caused the delay. And the realisation that Eric has developed a hayfever allergy that we think is connected to catkin pollen, so pretty though they are, we think we will have to avoid springtime river cruising in future as this happened when we came this way in April 2019.

Laden with misery

But at least we are now generating sufficient power from solar to cover the power used the for the amount of cruising we do. I always thought it was a bit of a mammoth task retrofitting solar panels, but I didn’t expect to come face to face with one when we went exploring.

The Watermead mammoth

Several miles along this area of the River Soar, were used for sand and gravel extraction. The Watermead mammoth was discovered in the pits along side bronze age settlements and ice age bones. It must have looked very different then, now it’s a well maintained country park with the emphasis on leisure and preserving the wildlife and habitat.

Just one of several lakes in this area

Birstall’s a good mooring spot, although there aren’t any specific boaters facilities, the village has all the amenities you need, several pubs, takeaways and small supermarkets. And with extensive easy walks, there’s a happy friendly atmosphere on the Towpath.

Enjoying the peaceful tranquility again

A moment to reflect

Today is the funeral of HRH Prince Philip. I’m usually very pragmatic about the death of such an elderly person, but I felt a deep sadness at his passing and shall take a moment to reflect.
Ironically on 9th April I had gone in search of Richard III

The statue of Richard III

Who is now buried in Leicester Cathedral. I wasn’t able to go inside so I enjoyed the gardens instead.

Tulips at the Catherdral

the Cathedral is now flying it’s flag at half mast.

This morning as I was reading other boat blogs I saw that NB Albert had written about Prince Philip. Not only did HRH love being out at sea, he also supported the inland waterways and canals. An interesting piece to read.

Castle Garden daffodils

Pull your socks up…

Leicestershire’s heritage is really up my street, as it was famed for knitted hosiery. And anyone who knows me knows I like to knit socks. The more colourful the better. Sadly as the museums were still all closed I had to make do with looking for some of the public art. This sculpture across the road from the Castle Gardens represents the wool dyeing industry, which was an essential for fashionable footwear. Although William Elliot was not famed for creating colour but a pure and consistent black dye for gentlemen’s stockings made here back in the day, aka 18th century. (Circular sculpture behind the dye bucket is the Mermaids arch, which I shall discover more about next time we visit)

The “textile process”

A lot of the hosiery was made in small workshops and hand finished in the workers homes. The Leicester seamstress pays homage to the women that did this. I reckon this stocking is rather more fancy than the socks I knit.

The Leicester seamstress

The clock tower was built by the Victorians to commemorate some of Leicester’s famous benefactors, including the wool merchant William Wigston, wool being used for spinning weaving and knitting. I didn’t linger as the clock tower is a prominent meeting place in the centre of town and there was an organised protest march gathering as I approached, I wasn’t sure social distancing was being respected so I left them to it.

The clock tower

Perhaps protesting is in Leicester’s heart, I think this campaigner is one we would have been proud to support. Alice Hawkins worked as a boot and shoe machinist in Leicester. She became a leading suffragette and through the Women’s Social and Political Union, campaigned for equal rights for women particularly the right for women to vote. She went to prison 5 times between 1907 and 1913 and was awarded the Hunger Strike medal. Sadly her husband Alfred was injured during a protest and broke his leg, although he was awarded a compensation of £100, Alice died a pauper. Women over 30 who met the property criteria gained the right to vote in 1918, ten years later the right to representation act was reformed to include all men and women over the age of 21 and again in 1970 the age fell to 18.

Alice Hawkins- a brave and courageous woman

But it’s not all been work and no play. Back in 1996/97 Leicester’s fortunes were more athletic, their sporting prowess brought home the Coco-cola cup for the foot ballers, the Pillkington cup for the rugby players and the Britanic Assurance championship for the county cricketers in both 96 and 98. I confess to not knowing how they have done since, although one of the competitors on the BBC’s 2021 Great British Sewing Bee comes from Leicester .

Worthy winners

Just in case you’re interested my socks are knitted on 2mm circular needles using yarn hand dyed by the yarn badger, https://theyarnbadger.com/ a lovely lady from Sheffield who specialises in making self striping sock yarn.

Happy feet

There’s the pretty and the not so pretty

I guess every city has its less salubrious side, and it might be an unfair impression, but Leicester seems to fair badly. We left the pretty, well maintained rural mooring with its throngs of happy energised towpath trawlers to continue our journey north. Kings Lock Tearoom was closed when we cruised past in Spring 2019 and it still is. As it looks like someone’s home I wonder if it will ever open again.

Kings Lock

And this is where that tiny little beck of a river and the canal merge to take us onto a river cruise.

Merging of the River Soar and the Grand Union canal

Word has it that the River Soar can rise and fall rapidly when it rains. Some narrowboaters are reluctant to cruise on a river fearing the flow, flood and lack of suitable mooring. I think we fall into the respectful category. We’ve checked the weather forecast and know that we can limit the days we’ll spend on the river if necessary. However, apart from a bit of snow, it’s been relatively dry, both recently and for the foreseeable. So we said goodbye to the pretty countryside and drifted towards the city centre. The debris in the water and hooked around the vegetation at flood level is sad.

This is so sad

But the graffiti is foul. The next lock is shameful and I won’t post a photo of the worst that I saw.

St Mary’s Mill lock

Don’t get me wrong, we both enjoy seeing street art, and we dont underestimate the talent of some artists, but this is vandalism and doesn’t do anything to create a sense of pride in a community. The river runs along the West side of the city, with one or two old bridges over to the residential side of town. With bollards and hard standing, there is potentially a lot of mooring available in the city centre, but the beer bottles and cans of nitrous oxide warn us off.

Heading towards Newarke Bridge

But thankfully there is space at the official Castle Gardens secure visitor mooring for a few days.

Castle Gardens visitor mooring

Promises of spring, blown in on the North wind

So much for our cruising plans, there was no way we could get through this obstacle that had come down overnight. The north wind doth blow.

Glad we weren’t moored next to this one

We joined the others waiting patiently at Blue Banks for CRT to leap into action – which they did with great efficiency.

Mooring below Blue Banks lock

It turned out to be such a lovely mooring that we stayed for a whole week.

This is a mooring spot to mark on the map

Walking and exploring the nature reserve and country park adjacent to the canal. The old train line has been developed into a cycle/foot path right into the city centre. The river Soar meanders the meadows here so I suspect it’s land that floods regularly. Unsuitable for residential development, there is a huge retail park nearby, and for any boater needing to stock up on non essential fashions and sports gear, this really is worth marking on the map.

Everards meadows and Fosse retail park

Admittedly we didn’t feel any desire to wander around a deserted retail park, and won’t be going anywhere near it in the next few weeks when it opens up, but it was nice to be able to buy some M&S hot cross buns. I had a go at making my own simnel cake, but took my eye off the grill for a mini second and the poor apostles got slightly singed.

“Well” baked but still tasted good

And with it being a bank holiday weekend we got a merry mix of English weather, beautiful blue skies one minute and biting cold north winds with snow the next.

Is that blossom or snow

But on the whole it feels like spring has well and truely sprung.

Is that a 6 legged frog