Time to Reflect

I don’t cope very well when my world is restricted, or rather I cope by closing in on myself. Eric and I are very content living on Firecrest, yet while I’m quite content with my own company, and love interacting with just one or two people, I struggle with crowds. Hence my lack of posting over the past month. I haven’t lost my “happy space” it’s just become a lot lot smaller, and I find it harder to share.

We spent November moored just outside Union Wharf in Market Harborough.

Union Wharf Arm, Market Harborough

When the government told us to stay home and CRT told us we could only cruise for essential services, we had to debate going for rural and enjoying the permitted cruising to keep the tanks appropriately occupied, or to opt for the convenience of civilisation, with a water point and services all on hand. Having been spoilt during first lockdown in Liverpool with everything available, we hoped for more of the same.

Gallows Hill, Gt Bowden

Market Harborough is a superb little market town, it’s somewhere I could imagine living. Besides it having a canal, it’s got lots of independent shops, selling locally made produce. 18 months ago, when we booked the boat in for blacking at Debdale we were positively looking forward to spending the exciting run up to Christmas here, with fairs and concerts to enjoy and happy people all enjoying the hubbub of life. Alas non of that was to be. And I just felt overwhelmingly sad. Our own suffering has been limited to inconvenient restrictions, but for so many, worlds have been ripped apart physically emotionally and financially. And sadly, unlike some, I don’t have a magic wand.

Flying high over Market Harborough

We made the most of our time, and got out walking. This part of Leicestershire might not boast the most dramatic scenery but it’s awesome to stand at the top of a hill and look across the fields for miles.

Looking down towards the village of Gt Bowden

And as always we remain hopeful.

Locking down, from the top to the bottom of Foxton locks

A good start to the day

Waking up to a cerise sky through the porthole ought to be a warning to any good shepherds, but we took advantage as it turned blue to go down the flight at Foxton. 11 locks, in 2 staircases and several helpful volockies to make sure we did it all in the right order.
We sailed past the horse and his boy

The Foxton horse and boy

and straight into the top lock

Top lock

The volockies were happy to recruit some younger helpers, so this family took great pleasure in opening and closing the opposite gate for me. (We came down before the current lockdown 2, so we only had to adhere to proper social distancing)

Volockies of the future

And once at the bottom we took advantage of the water point, looking wistfully over to our favourite pub on the canal network. Bridge 61.

45 minutes to complete the flight, 1 hour 45 to fill with water

We have very fond memories of becoming an accepted part of the Foxton community when we spent the 18/19 winter season around here. Those memories were one of the main reason, we opted to book our hull blacking at Debdale during the winter months. Then we enjoyed homemade soup, pies and pints and a roaring log fire in the tiny room.

Happy memories from winter 2018

This year, we could have sat outside with our pints and takeout, but it doesnt hold the same appeal. We will still pop into the shop regularly, especially as we can order fresh food, and as one wise person reminded me, we shouldn’t be panic buying toilet rolls, but panic buying as often as possible from our precious little independent shops like this, because these are the heart of small community.

Not quite what we had in mind, but nice to see a good custom

I was doing some reading about the history of Foxton Locks and found this amusing list of items that they found when the flight was drained in 2018 for maintenance.

3 iPhones, a digital camera, a dinner plate, a laptop, a vintage boat hook, a paddle rack and paddle plate, a debit card, a car battery, some solar lights, a pair of child’s sunglasses, a pair of sunglasses, a thermos mug, 3 mugs, a spirit level, a tape measure, a chimney cap, 4 lamp irons, a pie of spare piling, a water valve, a washing machine cold water pipe, an A board from the museum, 3 Walsh aluminium windlasses, a steel windlass, the missing gate cap off number 12’s bottom gate, 5 pint glasses, a blanket, a vent from the door of a boat, a shield from the bottom of our fence posts, an umbrella, the missing brick from the end of the waterfall weir, 2 dollars 50 cents in Canadian money, 12 pence in UK sterling, a stapler, a 1960s Coca Cola bottle, 4 beer bottles, a child’s scooter, an anode, 2 navigation lights, the missing aluminium extension to the drag, 4 golf balls, a paint tin…
… and 84 fenders!!

Golden days

The stretch of canal between Husbands Bosworth and Foxton is a favourite of ours. I think it’s the hills on one side,

bridge 51, Laughton

and the vistas on the other.

Looking towards Lubenham

But in October it’s the golden trees glowing, that adds an extra joy to cruising in the autumn.

Somewhere around Lubenham

We love being rural, but it takes some planning to make sure we don’t run out of fresh food. There isn’t a supermarket on every street corner and sadly you can’t rely upon there being a village store anymore. But today, Google maps had revealed a potential opportunity in Husbands Bosworth. And having checked the tortuous route of the canal we reckoned I could walk the 2 miles inland and do the shopping by the time Eric had cruised the 3 miles to the next easy access.

A4304 to Husbands Bosworth

And we’d got our timing right. I arrived back on the Towpath just in time to see Eric and Firecrest emerge from the Bosworth Tunnel

North portal of husbands Bosworth tunnel

Fully stocked up again we were able to enjoy a few days quiet mooring

In the middle of nowhere

With some profitable walks, as we found several generous apple trees with enough windfalls to gather

I see Apple pie

So I made pie for tea

Pie day

And again it would be quicker to walk, 3 miles to Market Harborough or 8 via canal

Looking towards Leicestershire

Locking Up

Now we are on the Leicester line of the Grand Union canal, or the Grand Junction carrying company, as it used to be known. we have almost reached our destination.

We are only planning 24 miles

We are booked to have the hull blacked at Debdale over the winter. And as luck would have it there are planned winter stoppages around Husbands Bosworth, which means we can’t hang around in case we got caught on the wrong side. No stormy clouds to start the day.

Looking northwards from the wooden bridge at Norton Junction, firecrest is third on the right

We pushed on and the day’s journey took us past the Watford Gap service station on the M1. And each time we wonder if those hurtling up and down the country have any idea that life in the slow lane is a mere stones throw over the barrier. Despite our gratitude to the haulage companies responsible for keeping the shelves stocked, we’re in no hurry to swap our 200 year old super highway for the modern version.

There’s a four lane motorway behind that hedge

We got to Watford flight nice and early before pening time at 10am, to be greeted by the volockies, “oh we’ve been here since 8, we always are.” Consequently instead of mooring up and enjoying a boaters breakfast, we set off up the flight straight away.

Half way up

It’s a very pretty flight of 7 locks, 5 being a staircase, which means extra care and attention is needed to manage the water flow. Instead of the water being directed into and out of the pond inbetween locks, there are side ponds.

Water whooshing into the side pond

It’s all very logical but countless people get confused and end up with no water in the lock they are aiming for or flooding the boat below, hence the reason no one is allowed to use them without a lock keeper. And to be honest i struggle to articulate how it all works, but I do know the correct sequence to get it right.
But it’s a pleasant flight and takes just over 30 minutes to reach the pond before the final lock.

Almost there

Then only a short hop to the Crick tunnel

The southern portal

but enough time for us to enjoy a Braunston Bacon Buttie.

You can’t beat a bacon buttie when you’re cruising

And onto some lovely rural countryside.

Just another lovely bridge

We decided not to stop in Crick this time, but pushed on to Yelvetoft, where the welcoming committee came to check us out.

Swanning around

It would be quicker to walk, but not as dry

We know that Firecrest is no Ferrari when it comes to playing the speed game, but honestly it would be far quicker to walk sometimes. It’s 6 miles from the Rugby visitor moorings to the Skew bridge at Yelvetoft. But 21 miles by canal, and it took us a week. We were still playing dodge the rainclouds but had enough time to beat the planned winter stoppages so our first stretch of this section was just “around the corner” to the top of the 3 Hillmorton locks.

Top Lock, Hillmorton(yes there is a rainbow there)

It’s a picturesque place and there’s usually a willing crew of volockies to help you through. They take great pride in these twin locks, and are quite sad to know that the surrounding fields are already being turned into a housing development.

Poetry at the Middle lock, Hillmorton

I have mixed feelings, people need homes as well as pretty canals. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I love being in the countryside, with its freedom, it’s wildlife and it’s farm animals.

Cows sheep swans and the Barby Alpaca

Still, we meandered onwards towards Braunston for a night on the outskirts.

We should have known red sky in the morning didn’t bode well for a dry day

Despite it being a Sunday we didn’t join the service at the church, even though we have been made so welcome there in the past. Thankfully the butchers was open and I stocked up on a plentiful supply of Braunston Bangers for our boaters breakfasts.

Braunston is such a busy place, mooring is at a premium and TV reception is poor. So we chose not to linger this time….

Cruising through Braunston in the rain

….and snatched the opportunity to share the Braunston flight with two lovely young couples on their first ever narrowboat holiday. Having never done a lock before I don’t think they realised they were doing me as big a favour as our guidance was doing them. We transitted the tunnel without meeting oncoming traffic and as the storm clouds were brewing again

That looks ominous, time to moor up

We waved goodbye to our new friends, they were heading to the New Inn pub at Long Buckley

If you keep straight on, the pub is on the next corner

We settled for the night just “around the corner” past the gorgeous toll cottage at Norton Junction on the Leicester line.

we’re turning left onto the Leicester line.


We emerged from a very wet few days to complete our journey down the Coventry. Eric began his career working for the GPO, so it was with great excitement when he shouted out , quick look at that, after a bit of investigation it turns out to be one of the very few remaining traditional telegraph poles at Hartshill. Unfortunately although it’s mentioned in several boaty blogs there’s not much information about this particular pole. However I did discover there is a telegraph appreciation society

The Hartshill telegraph pole

But what most boaters look out for as they cruise along the Coventry is the Stig at charity dock, I was inside making a cuppa at the time, so only just got to wave as we cruised by.

And then onto Hawkesbury junction or Sutton Stop, as the little lock here only has a rise of 6 inches to accommodate the toll house, and water rights of both the Coventry and Oxford Canal

Looking towards Sutton Stop

Yet again we haven’t continued into Coventry basin but took the sharp turn under the bridge and onto the Oxford canal.

Under the bridge at Hawkesbury Junction

We made our way onto Rugby along this lovely rural section through some woodland, not quite in its full autumn regalia.

Cathiron woods

Arriving for a night at the hotspot, with maybe 15 other boaters making the most of the close proximity to the retail park. We would have stayed longer at Rugby’s convenient visitor mooring, except that it annoys us disproportionately. It’s on quite a narrow section, with 14 day mooring on one side and a couple of 48 hour spaces oposite surrounding the water point and Elsan. Now I don’t mind walking along the Towpath to empty the “necessary” but I hate the thought of carrying my waste over a busy public road bridge. Also much of the 14 day mooring is on a curve which makes it that much harder to moor securely, and that makes a difference when too many boats don’t understand how to pass at tick-over. And worst of all, unless you are a Flanders and Swan hippopotamus, the Towpath is in an appalling state. In my non hippo opinion, there is absolutely nothing glorious about Mud, I loathe the stuff. Rant over, when we woke to red skies in the morning we set off down to Hillmorton

Red sky in the morning at Rugby

We’ve been here before

We’ve cruised this way before, and yet again it’s been a case of getting from A to B with little time to properly explore. This time we were playing beat the weather, the goal being to do the Atherstone flight when it wasn’t raining. Although it was a grey start

Looking over the fields at the bottom of the Atherstone flight

But at least the day dawned dryish.

Firecrest at Lock 11 in the autumn

October 2020 didn’t make for quite such a pretty picture as I snapped in May 2018 when we helped our friend Jo up the same flight

Blue Pearl at lock 11 in the spring, 2018

I was happy to spot something new to me near the start of the flight, another style of mile marker. This one pointing out 9-18 miles presumably to Tamworth and Coventry

9 miles from Tamworth and 18 to Coventry

Atherstone itself is home to the headquarters of Aldi, so with it being close to the canal, I popped in to stock up. I wish I’d thought to take a photo, because its the first time I’ve seen entry into an actual superparket controlled by traffic lights above the door. I’m guessing there must be an automated counting system to control the numbers inside the store. What a good idea. If nothing else it made us smile. And it was nice to break the flight of 11 locks into 2 with a bit of retail therapy. And what’s more we emerged at the top of the flight with blue skies.

Emerging, almost at the top

We moored up in Mancetter, just below Apple Pie Lane, where thankfully peace had been restored, for this is the site of Boudicia’s last battle. Sadly it’s also where she died.

Cherrytree lane bridge, (apple pie lane is the next)

I’m glad I had a fully stocked galley because the next few days were definitely not cruising days

I guess you have to expect rain in October

Tamely down the Coventry

Tamely down the Coventry

Tamhorn farm mooring

The next section of our journey took us south on the Coventry canal, leaving the rural farmland to travel through Tamworth. We find it’s always an interesting section of canal with plenty to see. Someone has decorated their boat fantastical creatures made out of old tyres.

Trespassers beware

Although I really prefer seeing the alpaca farms along the cut.

A pity they don’t want to watch the boats as much as I want to watch them

It’s 2 years since we came this way and I’m always pleased that I see things that I’d not noticed before. This time it was a boundary stone, placed to mark the end of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal. We debated whether it indicated an abandoned junction or whether the cut we were on had historically changed company and despite the CRT map clearly and logically labelling Fradley Junction into Coventry as the the Coventry canal other maps suggest we are now on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Easy to miss, the boundary stone.

We didn’t reach an agreement although shortly after as we cruised through Tamworth, we did reach the junction that CRT recognise as the start of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal.

Giant wildlife murals painted on the junction

We didn’t stop to explore Tamworth this time as we were playing dodge the rain showers and wanted to moor closer to Atherstone. One day I’d quite like to walk over the Tame Aqueduct, it’s not quite in the same league as the famous ones but never the less still quite high above the river.

The Tame Aqueduct

There’s an interesting feature on the Coventry bridges south of here, my imagination thought it could be a toll booth but Eric’s more sensible suggestion is a storage space for the stop planks.

Could it be an ancient prison for speeding boaters

After a bit of a damp cruise we were rewarded with a rural treat to moor overnight

Looking towards Whittington Barracks.

Ticking off the Trent and Mersey Canal

We had planned to take things at a more leisurely pace once we passed through Stoke but the lure of cruising in the sunshine is proving hard to resist. And we know “winter is coming”. This section of the canal is new to us. The last time we reached Great Haywood, was June 2017 on our very first major outing. We had turned right under the bridge onto the Staffs and Worcester canal heading southwest to meet friends.

Leaving the Great Haywood mooring

Now we are heading towards the Midlands. Undeterred by the chill in the air, a couple of bacon butties sorted that out, off we set.

Warm clothes and bacon butties

I’m not sure if its just the blue sky, but this does feel a very pretty canal and we both agree we’d like to cruise it more leisurely in the future.

Looking down from Bridge 57, Handsacre

Some people like collecting garden gnomes, it seems that people with canal side properties prefer pirates and vagabonds

Oo arrr me hearties, who’s got the rum

These guys also had a boat moored called the Dancing Sheep with a pink tailed mermaid taking the pose.

Boaters come in all shapes and sizes

Which of course appealed to me, both loving pink and being a fibre fanatic. Back in the spring I treated myself to a new spinning wheel. This one being a tiny wee electric wheel. It is perfect to use whilst we are cruising,

My tiny Electric spinning wheel

It’s manufactured by a small start up company in America called dreaming robots and during September, Maurice (the designer), ran a photo competition called Spin Anywhere. Winner was chosen by a viewers poll, and guess what… a photo I’d taken while in Northwich won.

Winning entry of the “electric Eel wheel” spin anywhere competion

My next spinning challenge is a fun fundraiser spinning marathon called Britspin. I’ve taken part in this event for several years now and this year I am the captain of an “elite team” called the Towpath Twizzlers. Our co captain is Martina from NB Burnt Oak, who is a roving trader selling her own hand dyed yarn and fibre. There’s a link to the virgin money page if you would like to support us raising money for the RNLI. And if you want to join in you can find us on Ravelry.
Of course spinning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we were very impressed that the overseers of this lock had left a teapot for us

Wood End Lock just before Fradley Junction

We were now approaching Fradley Junction where the Trent and Mersey Canal continues for another 25 miles to Shardlow and the great River Trent just south of Nottingham

The start of the Coventry Canal at Fradley junction

But we were turning right onto the Coventry canal, back onto familiar territory.

Misty mornings and sunny days

We love cruising in the autumn, especially when the day starts clouded in mist, but you just know that the sun is waiting to throw off it’s duvet and shine.

Another perfect day

Shortly after leaving Stone we reached Aston Lock and saw the half way milepost for the Trent and Mersey. Exactly 46 miles between Preston Brook and Shardlow.

Half way

The T&M mileposts were originally made of stone, but were replaced in 1819 by a striking cast iron design.

Spot the difference

But we realised they weren’t all the same. Some carry the date 1977.

I had assumed the originals had been melted down to reclaim the metal, but actually most were removed during WWII to make it harder for any potential enemy paratroopers to find their way. The T&M canal society have a very interesting page about where they found the originals and how they reinstated these attractive. posts. I frequently kick myself for not looking up this sort of information before we cruise past, because apparently there is still one original stone marker left at Weston Cutting. https://trentandmerseycanalsociety.org.uk/mileposts/campaign/

We continued our cruise towards Great Hayward Junction and we lucky enough to find a sunny space opposite the aptly named Canalside farm shop and cafe.

Farm shop moorings at Great Haywood junction

We’d timed our arrival to meet up with our friend Jo, Under normal circumstances we would have spent the afternoon in the cafe enjoying tea and cake, but instead we all sat outside in the sunshine catching up on the past few months lack of cruising. We both made early starts the next morning, in opposite directions

Nice to have seen you Jo

And the sun came out