Familiar names in unexpected places

Foxton Top to Norton Junction: 26 miles, 9 locks, 3 tunnels

Up Foxton Locks, the coal removed from the front deck and the chimney swept all in one day – that had been a really successful day!

This was still rural Leicestershire. The cabin top and gunwales were sprinkled with white confetti (aka hawthorn blossom).    Seen shortly after departure on Wednesday morning was a work party of five fellows on a contractor’s work boat.    The men appeared to be in conference.  Maintenance? Or maybe they were trying to retrieve more fallen trees like this…

The canal weaves gently past the Laughton Hills.   There is frequent overhang of branches and foliage.  Then there’s Husbands Bosworth Tunnel (1170 yards)     and activity at North Kilworth Wharf and Marina.

A mile further on a decision was required: Keep Right or Bear Left.

It was left, left along the Welford Arm. “Not so much an arm, more a finger, this branch was dug to bring water from Welford, Sulby and Naseby reservoirs to feed the main line.” (So writes the author of the Pearson Canal Companion). It’s a narrow “finger”, less than two miles long, with one pretty lock      and a dead end at Welford Wharf.

Much care has been taken with the surroundings of the Wharf – information boards  about the old lime kilns    and full panel details    about the 5 circular walks that can be taken from the village.

As for the village itself – it’s essentially one long street    with one small shop on an incline, mostly quiet, except when tractors roar through it. But Welford does achieve fame for this – its statue of Postman Pat with Jess, his black and white cat!   A previous Postman Pat carving (chosen by pupils of the village primary school and fashioned from willow stumps), deteriorated so much that a village action group raised £2,500 in three to four months to have a hard wood carved replacement. (Source: a Postman Pat neighbour!)

Back at the Wharf a convenient edge provoked another spurt of boat domesticity – the bow deck was badly in need of a clean. In solid fuel burning months the front deck becomes more of a wood and coal shed.

So, deck cleared   

Deck scrubbed   

Deck rinsed


Deck drying

Anchor replaced   

With the jigsaw puzzle of the deck matting fitted together again and the deck clobber returned to its place, Cleddau set off back along the Welford Arm Finger, back through Welford Lock, past the farms and the sheep, back to Welford Junction, to head west through north Northamptonshire and on towards Norton Junction.

There were plenty of mooring spaces available, but all overhung by dense hedging and tall trees. Sometimes you just crave a bit of evening sun – and then, success, a neat little spot with sun spreading its rays on the front of the boat and on the laundry at the back!

Late afternoon there was the sound of swishing water as canoeists in training raced by, once, twice, three times…

There’s a compulsion sometimes for Boatwif to potter along the towpath to find out just what’s beyond the next bridge or what’s round the next corner.  There were numbers to be read (that distance from Leicester?),  dates to spot on a Wey Navigation boat and a serious case of home-mooring sickness induced when Simply Messing, a boat built just across the way from Victoria Pit, was spotted. It was good to chat with her owners and to discover some mutual acquaintances.

Onwards the next day – more bends, more hedges – and the road noise. The A14 cuts through the landscape hereabouts, connecting the M1 with Kettering, Huntingdon and places east to Felixstowe…

Peace and birdsong returned, there was a green world again.

Then what was this…?  Glamping for Adults…With hot tubs, it would seem…

The canal, the Leicester Line, weaves on along the contour, passing vaguely familiar place names: Yelvertoft Wharf (and a stop here for water), Yelvertoft Marina (so THIS is where Yelvertoft is and there’s a slipway here too), and then a mile or so further on is Crick Marina, site of the vast inland waterways show  (returning this year in its pre-pandemic size, from 2nd to 5th June). On this stretch there was one more famed canal feature to pass through, Crick Tunnel (1528 yards). As canal tunnels go, it seemed a decidedly wet one, water seeping down from the roof.

How lovely to see flag irises.

On Saturday Cleddau reached the end of the summit pound at the Watford Locks. These locks, like those at Foxton, are closely managed by teams of lock keepers.

Check in first – “Time to put yer kettle on,” said the lock keeper. “There’s at least three boats coming up.”

There are 7 chambers in total and from the bottom there are two single locks, followed by a staircase of four locks and then one final lock.

So kettle on, rubbish disposed of (is this the tidiest and prettiest rubbish compound on the entire waterways system?!), water tank refilled, flower displays admired – and after about 40 minutes the first of four ascending boats came into view.

Lining up for the start of the descent (and trying not to be distracted by the planted up wheelbarrows)

As at Foxton the paddles are wound on a “Red, then white and you’ll be alright” basis. Aided by a lock keeper and an enthusiastic new-to-boating gate pusher it was a swift descent. One boat was waiting below the four chamber staircase and two more were below the bottom lock, all waiting to ascend. Moral: Boating requires patience and the readiness to follow instructions…

Onward, with just two miles to go to join the main line of the Grand Union at Norton Junction. A garden gnome held a clear message as Cleddau cruised on, past Welton Haven and Welton Field to the junction.

So, it would be just under 42 miles back to Leicester – and just under 90 miles to Brentford and the River Thames!  Luckily, (at 17 miles) Destination River Nene is closer than either of those figures…

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 166½ miles, 115 locks, 6 swing bridges, 4 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

Height drop from GU Leicester summit: 52½ feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 6

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections):

At Watford Locks: Announcement from a community boat skipper:  A long time ago I did a canoeing course on the Cleddau…

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