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.

Swans


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

Daffodils

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

Welcome 2021

January is a time to look around and take stock, a bit of reminiscing doesn’t do any harm, but our adventurous spirit is itching to move on. Alas for now we are following CRT guidlines to once again, “limit our navigation to access essential facilities and services only”
It’s a bit of a dichotomy for us. We are happy with our own company, we don’t yearn to be part of a large group, in fact the thought of noisy gatherings and parties intimidate and exhausts us. We are self sufficient and invigorated by our boat life. Yet what makes boat life so enjoyable is the interaction we have with the people around us. We never tire of the same old questions, Is it cold in winter, – only outside the boat, can you stand up inside-yes, etc, but equally so we are interested in the Towpath trawlers. It can be as little as a cheery wave hello, to taking the time to hear the highs and lows. People are what make a community, people are precious and people are the reason we will strive to do what is asked of us to help bring this pandemic under control.
I’ve said before I find these restrictions hard, I cope by shutting myself away, but I awoke on Friday morning, the 1st day of 2021, feeling upbeat and positive. There might not be many photos over the next few weeks, cold grey mud doesn’t inspire me, so why would I capture it on camera. So I’ll use this time to look back at the 10s of thousands of photos I have already taken since we moved aboard and perhaps share a few of my favourites.
I just hope Eric doesn’t expect every day in 2021 to start with a boaters breakfast.

That looks good

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
https://www.debdalewharf.co.uk
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

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

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

Towards Market Harborough

Whist yesterday’s wander into Welford had been a joy to be out cruising in autumn,  today it was cold and harsh.
At least as we made our way through Husband Bosworths tunnel it was dry.And although it wasn’t sunny, the canal cut through an avenue of beech trees. And out into some open hilly Leicestershire countryside.  To help warm me up I got out and walked.
Until we got to our overnight mooring at the top of Foxton Locks. This has to be one of my top ten views from the canals, sadly the camera doesn’t do it justice.