Second Christmas

If the hobbits can have second breakfast we can have second Christmas. This time we were celebrating on board Firecrest on 25th December. Sadly it is the first time I can remember that we haven’t been able to go to church, but that wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, we knew who’s name we’d be singing a happy birthday to as we washed our hands that day.

I’d decorated the corner of the saloon with a miniature Christmas tree, that had been delivered by post complete with lights and decorations (thankyou Carole) and added the gifts we had been given last week. Everything looked perfect.

Firecrest’s Christmas corner

I won’t go into all our little traditions but as you can see we had a good time.

Goodness knows where we’ll put it all

Lunch was a prepped turkey roast intended for four, but hey we need leftovers to last the week.

Turkey roast from our favourite Suffolk butcher

But the effort was worth it.

Mmm not sure the cook is supposed to wash up as well

More presents in the afternoon, usually Eric gives me a jigsaw.

Easily pleased, he’s already drunk the whisky

but I turned tables this year and had this one printed from what we consider to be our best photo of the year. There is a confident kingfisher, who’s territory is the Market Harborough Union Wharf. And his favourite perch – no pun intended, just happened to be right opposite where we were moored. We saw him so often we became rather blasè about “our” kingfisher. Eric was able to snap away with his digital SLR most days.

What a poser

Try as we might, didn’t quite capture the moment he dived for his dinner, even though we saw it happen several times.

Preened and proud

So as we wrap up our Christmas cheer, I want to say thankyou to all our friends and family who found a way to send cards, gifts and good cheer. Thankyou, we love and appreciate you all. And to our friends and family who have not been able to celebrate this Christmas, particularly the families of Connell, Chris and Angie you are in our hearts and prayers.

Black is beautiful-and so is our bottom

The reason for our season here was to have our hull re blacked at Debdale Wharf Marina
Typically narrowboats are taken out of the water every few years to re paint the hull which protects the metal. Depending upon what sort of finish you want/can afford etc determines your choices. Traditionally the original wooden working boats would have been hand painted with bitumen tar to seal any gaps and preserve the wood. It’s still used today, but bitjmen is a soft finish and prone to being scraped off, plus, metal isn’t absorbent like wood. Nowadays a two-pack epoxy resin paint is much more hard wearing and longer lasting. Although it’s still feasible to do this yourself, our lifestyle and skills meant we chose to hand Firecrest over to the professionals. We opted to go the whole hog and have the hull grit blasted, zinc plated and then two-packed. Not the cheapest option, but it’s guaranteed for 10 years so in theory we don’t need to have the boat out of the water again before 2030. Though in reality we probably will, just to pressure wash the hull and check it’s all ok but we can do this ourselves, so the sums arent quite so negative in the long term.
If you open this link to Debdale wharf, there is a video showing what they do.
The whole process was relatively easy. The hardest bit was tidying up inside and moving “stuff” off all the work surfaces so nothing would slide off during the crane out.

Hmmm Is that really Firecrest

With everything shipshape and secure on the Monday morning we apprehensively, handed over the keys, waved goodbye to Firecrest got into our hire car to drive to Heather’s for the week.

Just testing the crane will lift 18 tonne of boat

However the most traumatic bit of the day was during the drive home. We were hit by a piece of debris falling off an oncoming lorry. It smashed into the wing mirror and destroyed it. We’re still thanking God that it didn’t hit the windscreen otherwise it could have been really nasty. Thank goodness for car insurance, the bill came to just under £700.

That was a close call

We managed to sneak in this trip to Heathers legitimately, on account of being made homeless for the week, but we were well aware that restrictions could be tightened at any point so whilst we consciously kept a low profile and didn’t do the usual round of visiting friends we did celebrate “first Christmas” (Second Christmas will be just the two of us and third Christmas will be when we finally get to see our son again.)

First Christmas

The seven days flew by but it was exciting to get back to admire our bottom. We arrived in good time to see the whole process of Firecrest leaving the shed and being craned back into the water.

Emerging from the warm shed

It’s obviously a well oiled machine, the team worked as one, efficiently and confidently, whilst able to chat to us about what was going on.

Attaching the front fender

I really didn’t need to have worried about the boat swaying. Debdale have a gantry crane with a double webbed cradle that is remarkably stable.

If he’s brave enough to stand there, the crane must be strong enough

But it was still a huge relief when we were finally back in the water.

Floating again

Debdale provide their customers with photos of the weeks work and whilst I wouldn’t usually share photos of us with no clothes on, this shows Firecrest‘s hull just after pressure washing. The white scratch marks on the base plate show the damage done from scraping along debris thrown into canals. We think they are white because of the electrolysis effect from the anodes whilst we were moored in Liverpool’s briney basin. You can also see how much original paint has flaked off leaving the steel vulnerable to rusting, which only served to confirm the need to have a hull re blacked.

After pressure washing

You can see the difference before and after the grit blasting . The surface is now perfectly prepared for the zinc to adhere.

Before and after grit blasting

The molten zinc is sprayed on straight after the grit blasting has been done to prevent any oxidisation. You can see the image of the stern showing the hull zinced but the gunwale above the rubbing straight is just grit blasted ready to receive the two-pack with its cream flashes. And finally the hull is fully clothed in nice shiny black two-pack

Zinc and blacking

What you can’t see from any of the photos is that the gunwale is now in need of painting so it matches the hull. It’s a quick and easy job, something we usually do once or twice a year just to keep it looking pretty. But for now we are back out on the cut, with a huge sense of relief that we don’t have any deadlines or obligations in the foreseeable future. And apart from that pesky little bug doing the rounds, we are free to “fly” again.

Moored just beyond Debdale

Meandering around Market Harborough

We weren’t able to do exactly what we had planned during our stay in Market Harborough but being given permission to stay for the full 4 weeks of lockdown gave us plenty of time to explore. We moored just outside the entrance to the Union Wharf basin. We had a water point next to the boat, there are at least 5 along this stretch of mooring. And the other essential services were a few minutes walk in the basin.

Looking towards the end of the line, At Union Wharf

Being November, we had to snatch our opportunities as the weather was miserable a lot of the time. The Towpath had nearly as much water as the canal.

It’s about a mile’s walk into the town center, past some lovely Georgian buildings

Walking into Harborough

And a fantastic Victorian fishmonger, open right onto the pavement. complete with marble slabs and hand made tiles, where I got the freshest of mackerel. It’s a pity there were so many customers to have taken a photo of the whole place, but I’m very glad to see it thriving.

The Old Grammer School in the centre is unusual, it is built on stilts because Market Harborough had a reputation for flooding. It was also the head quarters for the royalist’s cavalry during the first English civil war. Nowadays, it is an open hall for hire.

The old grammar school

Thanks to lockdown, we took the opportunity to walk further out of town. Gt Bowden is a quintessentially perfect English village, we could imagine the roaring fire in the pub whilst we strolled around. Instead we enjoyed the outside, and you will have to take my word for it that the Florentine Millionaires shortbread, from Weltons deli really did taste a million dollars.

Looking towards Great Bowden Church

Mind you it wasn’t always us doing the looking, we got the distinct impression we were being watched as we walked to the Farndon Fields farm shop.

That’s a well fed bunny

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