‘O to be on water…’

With lengthening days and increased light levels Boatwif was in need of some boats…

Just before Easter there was a road trip to West Wales. The M4 soars over the wide Severn Estuary on the second Severn Crossing  – the tide was low, there were no boats in view – and certainly no adventurous boaters like those on Cleddau and Tentatrice in June 2015

Down in Pembrokeshire the only vessels in sight were pretty small – a rowing boat out on the Pembroke River that forms the moat around Pembroke Castle   and a few paddle boarders at Freshwater East.

A couple of days later there were sightings of surfers, both on and in the waves at Freshwater West.    

Then spotted from West Angle Bay was this large vessel, the Speedway, heading back to Rotterdam after off-loading crude oil at one of the Milford Haven oil terminals.


While it is always good to observe boats and floaters in action, for Boatwif being on a boat is better… With Covid booster jabs administered the time was right for another pre-summer Cleddau crew training session. After success at Welford Lock in March the Captain was determined to work his new hip around some more locks… So during a couple of bright and breezy days Cleddau was headed north again, this time to Market Harborough.

Canal side sights going north from Crick are familiar now: Crack Hill, the remnants of a boat parked in a field,  the mermaid fender on a Leicester Line boat.

A close look shows fresh green shoots at the base of the yellowing reeds. Much brighter was the yellow of the rape in the fields.

On past the hot tubs (no takers on a Thursday morning), the white blossom shimmering in the sunshine.

A ‘Men at Work’ sign preceded towpath repair activity – the boat squeezing past workboats laden with equipment and supplies.

How noticeable it was that in the few short weeks since passing this way greenery was greener, blossom was brasher – and the sole juvenile swan near Bridge 34, abandoned by its parents now, seemed even lonelier …

At Welford Junction there was a left to Foxton.  The canal passes North Kilworth; largely hidden on one side is a huge modern marina opened only about six years ago  while opposite is North Kilworth Wharf where a jumble of boats and paraphernalia requires careful negotiation from the helm…(no photos as the photographer was at the tiller…)

Then comes Husband Bosworth’s Tunnel (1171 yards long, wide enough for narrowboats to pass in opposite directions).      North of the tunnel canal banks and hedges are high with bizarrely angled trees stretching upwards to gain light.

When views open up on the western bank the glorious rolling Laughton Hills are revealed.  An overnight mooring here was pastoral bliss…

From Bridge 51 the path to the top of Kicklewell Spinney beckoned invitingly; only the dairy cattle camped on the footpath and a chained gate proved a deterrent.      Another time, maybe…?

On the towpath side of the canal the spire of Theddingworth Church can be observed from field paths crossing the shallow Welland Valley. A metal plaque on a tree indicated another “Living Milestone”, this one being No.3 Below it is a large stone, a number 3 worked into the surface. Two sentences in the Pearson’s Canal Companion have unlocked the puzzle of these living milestones: In the 1980s the Old Grand Union Canal Society planted trees where previously there had been J (Junction) milestones, with the numbers indicating the miles to and from Foxton… So that explains the No.13 plaque spotted, well about 10 miles further south…

Onward, with murky views over the Welland Valley,    a grand farmhouse, with stables and paddocks, and then unusual bird scarers dotted across a large field,   to arrive at Foxton Locks.

This flight of 10 locks involves 2 staircases of 5 chambers with a crossing point in the middle; To control passage up and down the flight you have to book in with the duty lock keeper. His initial response of “You’ll have to wait about an hour” was swiftly changed to “You can come down now.”

So this was it, as waterproofed from head to toe, the Captain prepared to operate the locks down the flight.

It’s very important to remember the rules here at Foxton: “Red, then white, and you’ll be alright…” The order in which the paddles (red first, white next) are raised is critical in managing the water supply.

The descent began, and the giant ice cream cone outside the Top Lock Coffee Stop slid out of Boatwif’s view.

The locks are deep,   there are disjointed voices above from spectators and paddle-winders. Periodically as the water level equalises the doors ahead are opened and the boat must be moved into the next chamber.

“I like your flowerpots,” a gongoozler beside the fifth lock commented.

“They’re HERB pots, all for culinary usage,” Boatwif was able to explain as the boat began to descend again. His female companion giggled, recognising perhaps that chives and thyme and mint and flat leaf parsley are not just for looking at…

There was a pause for about 10 minutes at the mid-point passing place to wait for an upcoming boat to arrive and pass.

Onward Cleddau went down to the bottom lock to emerge at Foxton Junction. It’s a left to Leicester but a right to Market Harborough. The Captain set off to swing the footbridge across the Harborough Arm. A hire boat moored exactly where Cleddau’s bow needed to swing, a mischievous breeze blowing from the right and an oncoming dayboat struggling to tie up in front of the Foxton Locks pub made a smooth turn difficult… A second attempt was successful – and anyway the pub customers were provided with some free entertainment.

Once past the second Harborough Arm swing bridge (always a bit of a beast to move) the canal winds and weaves for another five miles to the terminus at Market Harborough. There’s a rendering plant near Bridge 8, there’s a  curious metal structure near Bridge 9 and immaculate gardens as the canal slides towards the terminus at Union Wharf.

On and alongside the canal there had been little sign of human life, bar a vertical paddleboarder and a near horizontal gardener.

April’s easterly destination had been reached – and as the crow (or seagull) flies Leicestershire’s Market Harborough is located 188 miles from the surfboarders at Atlantic-facing Freshwater West…

From Crick to Market Harborough: 23½ miles, 10 locks

2023 mileage total: 63; lock total: 12

You may also like...

6 Responses

  1. Sandra Briskham says:

    Love your final comment noting the number of miles between the near horizontal gardener in Market Harborough to the Surf Boarders at Freshwater West!

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Well, I haven’t calculated road miles between Market Harborough and Freshwater West yet… !
    As for mileage by water the closest we could get to West Wales is probably via canal and river to Tewkesbury…
    Sue /Boatwif

  3. Sandra Briskham says:

    And from Tewkesbury down the Severn, and along the coast of South Wales, talking nautical miles and weeks of cruising to reach Fresh West!! Very very challenging and impossible!!

  4. Pip Leckenby says:

    A mint plant, that’s an idea as I’ve just bought a bargain bottle of Pimms for drinks on the terrace this year!
    NB Oleanna

  5. Susan Deveson says:

    Now where have I heard the phrase “drinks on the terrace” before?!

    Sue /Boatwif

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.