For the sake of a loaf of bread…

Kilby Bridge (via Market Harborough) to Foxton Top: 21 miles, 17 locks, 4 swing bridges,1 tunnel

Sunday morning. With the boat serviced and ready to go from Kilby Bridge, 8 miles south of Leicester, were the crew ready?

The previous day’s locking partner was expecting wet weather too. Then a decision was made, Cleddau would go for it, solo. 

“If you can get up to Bridge 80 there’s a pretty little church to see,” was advice received from several folk with local knowledge. The sky was bright, the air still.

“Hm, might be ‘a Sucker’s Gap’,” the Captain muttered, recalling meteorological misfortunes when trying to land an aircraft…

Only 7 locks to do then before Bridge 80.

What glorious names some of these locks have  and and just look at the buttercups, the tiny blue flowers, the cow parsley and the cygnets… Up and up Cleddau climbed, aided later on by a local swan fan, who helped push and close gates, advised on local wildlife and revealed that the cygnets’ favourite food is defrosted sweetcorn.

Mooring up was done just ahead of one shower   – and after another Boatwif set off for a short exploratory walk.

Across a farm track bridge, over a stile, across three fields and there it was, the tiny Wistow Church. And it was open, St Wistan’s Church. It’s smaller inside than expected: to the left at the west end is a belfry, ropes suspended over a font. Directly ahead of the doorway is an organ with colourfully decorated pipes.  The church has Norman origins although the box pews were installed as part of a Georgian restoration in the eighteenth century. The side chapel is gated off and it is not obvious who is memorialised here.   The altar piece is a reminder of that seen in Fotheringhay Church, where three panels are painted with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed). Daylight floods into the building, the only stained-glass windows being at the western end.

After the prohibitions of the pandemic years it is a joy to be able to peek inside rural and urban churches again…

Five more (the last five!) hefty Leicester Line locks lay ahead the next day.

With two locks to go there was a surprise at Taylor’s Turnover Lock. An array of tepees at Bridge House Barn  seemed to be set up for events, weddings perhaps?  Memories swam back of a fine tepee wedding breakfast last July over in Shropshire.

Onwards, in lovely countryside. But why from time to time, in the midst of a green landscape, are there bright blue man-made signs installed by Canal and River Trust stating the absolute obvious…?

Kibworth Top Lock  – as if in retaliation at the audacity of cruising this canal, here the waters swirled and churned, rocking the boat until finally the levels equalised and the gates could be opened. The summit at last!

  After Saddington Tunnel (881 yards) the canal felt different. Concrete edges alongside the towpath had useful securing points.

Here was Nb Bob Doubles (owned by a change ringer, perhaps?) and goodness, far from the sea, a mermaid!

The canal winds towards Foxton and Foxton Locks. To go up the locks – or to bear left and stay on the level…?

For the sake of a loaf of bread (yes, the bread on board had gone mouldy) Cleddau chugged through another 5  miles of countryside (and two swing bridges, twice!) to reach a shopping opportunity. The nearer the canal gets to Market Harborough (a quintessential market town)  the more splendid are the houses and their canal side gardens. .       There would seem to be plenty of work hereabouts for professional gardeners.

The canal terminates at the attractive Market Harborough Wharf, a huge rectangle of water surrounded on three sides by modernised apartments and an eatery. What a very pleasant setting for a private mooring.

Basic supplies replenished on Monday afternoon, Cleddau turned back on Tuesday and headed to Foxton Locks. It was here over the next few hours that 3 Monkton Moments* occurred. (See below for details).

Foxton Locks are a curiosity – 10 narrow locks set in two staircases of 5 with room for two boats to pass each other after the first five locks. 

There seemed to be a lot of boats lurking at the bottom of the locks – were they moored (two days only allowed) or in a queue to ascend? Boatwif set off to make enquiries. “Yes, you’ll be 7th in the queue,” said a lock keeper* (making a note in his little black book), after what sounded like Chicken Licken.

Settle in then for a wait of some time and a refresher of what the lock flight looks like.

It’s a popular place for walkers, gongoozlers and school parties.  For those with a serious interest in canal infrastructure there’s a museum which explains the history of the inclined plane that was in use here between 1900 and 1910.

The paddle gear is all on the offside of the flight. For each lock chamber one paddle is mounted on a red painted post and the other on a white painted post. There’s a  golden rule: Red, then white – and you’ll be alright.

The morning wore on and it was established that Cleddau was to follow Tricky Nicky, with Little Haven* to follow next. It was a wait of nearly two hours but then the climb began.

Red, then white – and you’ll be alright. If working a boat up or down Foxton you have to maintain concentration. But it’s a sociable ascent too, conversations with windlass-carrying lock keepers, spectators and even with volunteer painters.

Ice cream at the top was resisted (What? Ice cream before lunch? Never!)

and Cleddau cruised on a mile to moor up, have some lunch – and to spend the afternoon rearranging the coal stocks before sweeping the chimney…


Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 146½ miles, 107 locks, 6 swing bridges, 2 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 6

Enquiringly: “So that’s the white rose of Yorkshire…?”

Emphatically: “You’re from Yorkshire!”

Analytically, on seeing both red and white rose petals: “Suppose one of you’s from Yorkshire and the other from Lancashire…?”

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 3

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

1. Foxton Lock keeper to Boatwif: So what’s your boat’s name?

Boatwif: Cleddau, spelt C L E D D A U.

Lock keeper: I know. I’ve lived in Pembroke.

 2. Crew member from nb Little Haven: I did teaching practice at Milford Haven and at Llansteffan…

3. Towpath walker near Foxton: Cleddow – swords – I was brought up in Fishguard.







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