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, 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

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Double Rail Lock, Kilby

The lure of cruising in this mini March heatwave proved too much to ignore. Although I did wonder if a new snowy mountain range had appeared in Leicestershire.

Snowy mountains or a storm on the horizon

But no it looks like spring has well and truely arrived.

Yellow Celandines by Taylor’s Bridge

We decided to interpret the guidance issued by CRT on 23rd February

“…….potentially from 29 March, when it is anticipated that the official stay at home order will end but people will be encouraged to stay local. Limited local boat movement may be possible but you should avoid travelling if your boat is not located close to where you live, and only those living aboard are permitted to make an overnight stay…..”

We’ll keep our social contact to a minimum and stay close to our home. But we aren’t the only ones enjoying the liberation being outside in the sunshine brings.


And just to prove this is home, I even hung the washing out to dry.

You can’t beat hanging the washing out to dry in the fresh air

And Eric has been touching up the paintwork

He claims to be working, not sleeping on the job
Gee’s lock


There’s been a fair bit in the news this week about it being a whole year since first lockdown. Social media asked us to share our final photo before the new normal and of course being March, it was no surprise to me that my last photo was a vase of daffodils.

Daffodils in Liverpool 23rd March 2020

And then completely unintentionally exactly one year later another vase of staffs.

Leicestershire daffodils 23rd March 2021

Admittedly I don’t usually keep a vases of flowers sitting in the open side hatch, they’d be in the canal or smashed on the floor the moment one of us moved and rocked the boat. But as I soaked up the colours of the golden sunset lighting up the old wharf side shed, we both realised that it is exactly two years to the day that we were last moored here.

Rural sunset 2021

A little different to my evening stroll last year.

City skyline 2020

The only thing I’m going to predict for 2022 is that I will have daffodils.

Daffodils at Wiston

To add a couple of positives this week, we’ve both had our vaccines without suffering any significant side effects. And after 4 phone calls and 4 different individual access codes we finally got our census completed, what a fiasco. All the call handlers tried to be helpful but it was only the last one on the 23rd who, listened heard and understood that we don’t have a postal address and created our very own individual address and code.

Plenty to reflect on

Moving on

The promise of spring in the air proved too much for our wanderlust to ignore, and we have taken the decision to pull the pins and cruise away from Market Harborough.

Goodbye Market Harborough

As we head off to Debdale to refuel, we intend to stay compliant within the restrictions, only cruising for essential services. So instead of returning the 12 miles back to Market Harborough we have decided to cruise onwards towards the next water point which is only 8 miles north. But slowly.
First stop, the area we have affectionately called the beech grove, because when we arrived in the autumn, it was a mass of golden copper beech leaves, which sounds a bit more inviting than it’s official name, Gallows hill.

Our Beech grove

Of course the real reason I wanted to start cruising is that it’s lambing season.

Although they might be cute, they aren’t half noisy at the start and end of the day.

Sunrise at Fleckney

And I was never quite sure who was watching who

I’m watching ewe

Heavily laden with fuel, water and a well stocked larder, we continued north as we could see the light at the end of the tunnel

Saddington tunnel, north portal

We’ve been warned to expect achey arms when we get our jabs in a week or two, but it can’t be worse than the aches after doing the first heavy double locks since we left Braunston back in October.

Kibworth Top Lock

CRT are still hoping to lift the restrictions on cruising on April 12th so until then we shall remain south of Leicester. There’s a lot of rural mooring around here, and it won’t be long before the mud dries out on the Towpath, and we can enjoy some good walks again.


Spring in our Steps

This week’s warmer weather has put the spring back in our step. It’s good to be feeling a bit more optimistic, with improving Covid figures and a roadmap to “normality”. Even CRT has published it’s aim to re-impose mooring restrictions from 12th April.

“… earlier than 12 April, holiday lets are expected to reopen. We believe that at this point cruising can be done freely and overnight stays on boats and holiday hire boating will be allowed, as long as you are one household or support bubble. The boat movement suspension will be lifted (with boats required again to move every 14 days).” (Taken from CRT website)

We know it’s still 6 weeks away, and remains under review, but it hasn’t stopped us wanting to get Firecrest shipshape. Being moored under trees hasn’t done much for our roof, so Eric rolled up his sleeves and set to with the fairy liquid.

That’s looking better

Whilst I did some spring cleaning indoors. Earlier in the month I decided it was time to catalogue my stash, which is perfectly acceptable because everybody knows wool is an excellent insulation, therefore you can never have too much.

I’m sure there’s room for more, and I know where to hide it.

But in order to be allowed to acquire more, you do have to use some of what you already have, so I took 6 braids of fibre and spun it into yarn

Production line spinning

Then, (I’m really proud of this bit) I knitted myself a jolly jumper. All within 4 weeks. Yes, 4 weeks to spin and knit a jumper. It might not be the height of sophistication and perfect in the commercial sense, but I haven’t stopped grinning cause it feels like a big colourful hug. Even Eric likes it,

You can’t beat a bit of colour

Working on a project like this certainly helps my sanity (And Eric’s) when we can’t get out exploring as we want. Market Harborough has a fascinating history, but sadly the town centre museum remains closed. It would have been fun to see it’s artifacts as the imposing victorian red brick Symington building used to be the corset factory and home of the Liberty Bodice, as worn and hated by our parents. ( personally I thought a liberty bodice was something to do with the American war of Independance, but thats the Liberty Bell isn’t it) The building on stilts is the 17th century Old Grammar school, raised off the ground as the town was frequently flooded.

The red brick Symington building and the Old Grammar School

I may not be able to go inside these lovely buildings but being in the town centre i see them each time I go to the supermarket. A favourite sight is the sundial set into the walls of St Dionysus’s church.

Improve the time…. Or else?

Much as we would like to improve our time as instructed, we shall continue bide it, making do with visitors who are still allowed to cruise freely and visit the boat.

Visitors hoping to be fed

Staying Safe and Keeping Warm

Oh dear, over 3 weeks since I last shared a little of Firecrest’s adventures. But that’s cause Firecrest hasn’t been very adventurous and I’m finding it hard to look outwards right now.
We’ve celebrated Eric’s birthday. I knitted him a thick pair of socks.

Birthday socks

And as usual, we ate too much, (the steak and chips was eaten before I thought to snap a photo)

More birthday goodies

We hunkered down for the baby Beast from the East 2,

Oh No, more snow

We took advantage of the muddy puddles being frozen, to enjoy a Towpath walk

Early morning pleasures

Whilst a few thought it amusing to throw junk off the bridge onto the ice. Knowing what havoc an old bike wheel could do if it got caught on the prop, we went back with our boat hook to remove it before the thaw allowed it to sink .

Mmm, nothing polite to say about the idiots who think it amusing to throw stuff into the

Thankfully baby Beast only lasted a week and the ducks didn’t sink, although the thick ice remained below the surface so they enjoyed walking on water.

Looking like spring might be on its way

And I got flowers for Valentine’s day

Somebody loves me

And pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

Despite Erics advancing years, we’re still young enough not to be called up for vacination for several more weeks. And despite our desperation to be able to cruise freely again, neither of us are shouting for an early release of lockdown. Keep warm and stay safe everyone.