Before I head towards Foxton via Bridge 51 I must apologise for my lack of posts. Over 6 months since my last post, how on earth did that happen? Just to be clear, I have neither fallen off the planet nor the back of the boat. In fact, I have no good reason to explain my lack of posts, except 10 weeks out on the boat over the summer. This included lots of trading, chugging along, painting, breaking-down and a trip to A and E…. but more of this in future posts. Back on dry land there has been more painting, catching up with commissions, lots of painting for Christmas gifts and a couple of talks about Pea Green. Fingers crossed I will be back on track soon with regular posts.
In 2018 most of my trading was at Welford, which is relatively quiet as a place to sell. So, this year, 2019, I have tried to be less anti-social in my canal trading. As a result, I have made a few trips to Foxton Locks to sell my painted wares. Foxton Locks is about 9 miles along the Leicester Line from Pea Green’s home mooring at Welford. But, in the parallel universe of canal trundling it takes my little, old boat 3 ½ hours. Meaning a trip to trade there takes a bit of planning.
The lure of the locks
Foxton Locks is a top location for the Canal and River Trust. 4,000 boats use the locks each year, not to mention those who visit by car, bus and bike. Foxton is a special spot with the longest flight of narrow, staircase locks on the UK system. The locks consist of two staircases made up of 5 interlinked locks with a pound in the middle for boats to pass.
As well as the locks are the remains of a late 19th Century boat lift. Built to speed working boat pairs going up and down the hill. On the lift the boats travelled up and down in huge water caissons. (Imagine a boat funicular with enormous bath tubs to hold the boats.) The lift is sadly, long gone, having closed in 1911. The remains are now classified as a Scheduled Monument – basically up there with the likes of Stonehenge. Along with the views across the Leicestershire countryside, two pubs, teashops and a museum Foxton attracts thousands of visitors each year. So, really it is a logical place for me to trade…
Foxton is only 20 minutes’ drive from my house, but on the boat takes 3 ½ hours. It’s this journey time that fuels my reticence, along with the time needed to capture Monte the Cat, and get him to the boat as well as the essential, ‘cat-on-the-boat-acclimatisation’ time. Plus, the journey towards requires going through Husbands Bosworth tunnel, which is dark, murky and generally anxiety making. To be honest it is a wonder the boat leaves the marina at all…
Nevertheless, at the end of May I decided I was being ridiculous. After all, I needed to earn some money and decided Foxton had to be done. I loaded the boat with enough food and drink for the zombie apocalypse, filled up with water, emptied the loo, and with the cat caught and on the boat we were off.
Leaving three days early
For reasons which I shall explain we (me, the cat and the boat) set off on Wednesday, with a view to trading at Foxton on Saturday…. Bonkers as this sounds you must remember three things: first I grew up in a household where my Dad would say we were leaving at 10am and then sit in the car at 9am revving the engine. Second ‘mooring anxiety’, this is a recognised fear of not getting a ‘good’ spot to moor and trade, therefore requiring the need to arrive very early, ‘just in case’. Third, it’s a lovely piece of canal and I wanted to spend time near Bridge 51. Meaning I could visit my favourite cows and enjoy the view of over the Welland Valley.
With Monte securely in his travel box, and with help at the Welford Lock I was soon at the junction with the Leicester Line. I turned right towards Foxton and had a quick shouty conversation with the people at North Kilworth Wharf before heading towards the tunnel. (Cue the Imperial Death Star music -for the tunnel, not the good folks at North Kilworth.)
Accident waiting to happen
As I got closer to the tunnel a boat- jam began to form. I was hanging back from the boat in-front. The boat in-front of them seemed to be zig-zagging across the water, apparently reticent to enter the tunnel. Behind me a boat with Mr Speedy at the helm was almost on top of me, and behind Speedy there were two more boats.
With my fatalist tunnel prophecies working overtime in my head – ‘multiple pile up of narrowboats in tunnel’, ‘Mr Speedy rams Pea Green and the tunnel falls in’, ‘Cat takes over steering boat after lunatic boat incident’ – I decided the best thing to do was to pull Pea Green into the towpath. Speedy went merrily on his way creating a huge wake, and I rode the wave slipping in behind. As I got going the two boats behind both began to sprint towards me and so I stopped once again. I was now just short of the tunnel entrance, so had a perfect view of the unfolding mayhem.
The incident unfolds
Speedy and the next boat headed into the gloom. Leaving one more boat, a steel hulled cruiser, to pass before I set off again. At this point another boat’s tunnel light became visible heading out of the tunnel. It was then that Mr Cruiser left the wheel of his boat and disappeared inside. This left his his boat drifting towards the boat emerging from the tunnel. Mr Cruiser was oblivious and unapologetic as his boat narrowly missed hitting the narrowboat leaving the tunnel. The crew of the narrowboat weren’t quite so relaxed about the near miss.
Despite this near miss Mr Cruiser ducked into his boat for a second time, oblivious to the next narrowboat heading out of the tunnel. This time, despite the narrowboat sounding its horn, Mr Cruiser’s boat collided with the narrowboat exiting the tunnel. The loud bang of the collision brought Mr Cruiser onto the stern, who waved at the narrowboat crew. The narrowboat crew did not reciprocate. As the narrowboat came alongside I commiserated with the crew. With breakages inside the boat, they were not impressed with the incident. I set off once more, relieved I had waited before heading through the tunnel.
I know I go on about disliking tunnels. I realise its not so much the tunnel but being faced with another boat coming through. Although Husbands Bosworth is a two way tunnel it can feel very narrow when another boat is heading towards you. The last time in Husbands Bosworth tunnel I had met a pair of 72 foot working boats. It was only as I came alongside the motorboat at the front that I realised there was a second 72 foot boat behind. Luckily, they clearly knew what they were doing. I managed to not use the tunnel wall to send the top edge of the boat.
This time I wasn’t so lucky as I bounced off a boat coming in the other direction, and hit the wall. I thought I was close enough to the wall, but I apologised anyway – in that ridiculous British way. He then apologised to me, claiming the bump.. Once through the tunnel I breathed again, though cursed the fact I would have to make a return journey
On the other side the canal emerges into a treelined cutting, before weaving around some impressive hills. Having gone through Bridge 50 also fittingly known as ‘Stinky Farm Bridge’ I was fast approaching one of my favourite mooring spots. I do wonder when Bridge 50 gained its stinky label. There are often cattle lurking in the farmyard, which I guess is the cause of the stinky-ness! So many canal bridges have names, as well as numbers. I am left musing as to how they acquired their names.
This time I was aiming for Bridge 51 a rural spot, with the added bonus of mooring rings. As regular readers will know I am a lazy moorer. Knocking in mooring pins causes me aggravation. All the effort of holding the boat, when trying to hammer in pins is too much of a pain in the rear. I don’t mind mooring on chains or ‘nappy pins’ on the Armco, but fixed mooring rings feel ridiculously decadent.
A hill rises above Bridge 51, wrapped with arable and livestock fields. A woodland creeps along the top of the hill and edges down the hillside bordering more pasture. The livestock have quite an area to roam and usually start their day off to the right on the endge of the woodland. They gradually munch through the fields to their left, ending the day at the top of the hill and usually out of sight. Although I know their movements I usually unintentionally time my wander up the hill to coincide with meeting the cows at the stile.
Mabel the moooo cow
Mabel and her cow chums are generally nosy and interested in saying hello, though I must admit I am a bit wary. I can’t seem to forget the urban myth that 33 people a year in the UK are deliberately murdered by cows and I just can’t shake images of axe wielding bovines…
I must admit I don’t know a huge amount about cows. My cow knowledge is limited to the industrial sized tubs of udder cream I slathered on my eczema as a child (my Dad worked for Ford tractors). Additionally, I do love cheese and plain yoghurt, generally not eaten together. In hindsight the cheese probably contributed to the need for the tubs of udder cream… The Archers has provided the rest of rest of my cow insights, which must be true…it must be true.
As a result of my shoddy knowledge I treat my cow and cattle encounters like those I have had with elephants in a across Africa. If they (either elephants or cows) start to flap their ears and stamp a foot I generally take this as a bad sign and back off. Surely, if it works with elephants the same must be true of cows.
The cows are friendly
The cows at Bridge 51 were in fine spirits back in May and let me pass without incident. Though I didn’t turn my back to them until I was quite a way up the hill! I headed further up the hill to take in the view of the Welland Valley. In the sunshine the landscape looks like an Art Deco travel poster, just missing the ‘Visit Leicestershire’ caption. It is a quintessential English landscape, with 18th Century fields (yeah I am so much of a history geek I can date fields), church-spires sprinkled across the landscape and the canal cutting around the bottom of the hill. A truly lovely spot to stop for a while.
After enjoying the view I headed back down to Pea Green and Monte the Cat. I spent the rest of the day panic painting ready for the upcoming weekend of trading, all before heading towards Foxton on Friday morning.