Monday, 6 October 2008

Urban sprawl and flooded rivers

Sunday got off to a bit of a slow start, mainly because the weatherman was right and it poured with rain. Nathan and I tucked into a hearty English breakfast in bed, before wrapping up in our waterproofs and braving the elements of urban Leicester.

Cruising towards the city, the waterway began to widen. The locks got stiffer and heavier, and the more built-up surroundings made an interesting change from the rural canals of the previous few days. It is a shame, but the waterways of Leicester really do feel to be somewhat neglected, navigations that time forgot. We encountered more broken lock paddles on the route through the city than I have seen in my entire boating career to date!

Suddenly, we rounded a corner and it felt like we were on the sea. This was certainly the most open water that Muddy Waters has seen since I owned her, and it felt fantastic. Words cannot express how beautifully she swam through the deep water, gliding along at a decent pace, breaking through the water so smoothly and silently. Nathan popped indoors for a while to check on the food / fire, but I called him back pretty quickly. Just outside Leicester City football club, approaching Freemans Meadow lock, I saw the most exciting (if somewhat frightening) sight that I have ever seen from my boat. We were cruising along the top of a HUGE weir! The Nicholson guide says "The canal and River Soar meet just above Freeman's Meadow lock, where there is an enormous unprotected weir. Care is needed, especially in times of flood. KEEP WELL OVER TO THE TOWPATH SIDE." It certainly isn't wrong. The photos aren't great, mainly because I was concentrating on keeping my boat well away from the edge!

Heading North out of the city around lunch time, the high water warning markers which had indicated "Green, safe to proceed" along the journey so far suddenly showed Red, and we had to wait in a lock for an hour or so for the river level to drop. The boat that we eventually went down the lock with had been there since 9am and the crew were somewhat frustrated about being held up. We took the opportunity to devour the roast lamb which Nathan had been preparing as we cruised and change our clothes as we were soaked from a morning out in the rain.

Eventually the water level dropped until the amber marker was just showing, and so we set off somewhat cautiously down the river. I didn't enjoy this section of the jouney, as the current was still rather strong and steering the boat became a little too challenging for comfort under one particular bridge. No harm was done, fortunately. We arrived at Birstall lock to discover that the high water marker was most definitely in the red area still, and so tied up to wait for the level to drop once more.

Replacement crew (my Mum!) arrived on Sunday evening, along with a rather tasty seafood risotto which Dad had invented for us (recipe to follow), and Nathan and I took her to the Mulberry Tree bar which we discovered located conveniently close to where we had tied up. All that I can say is that I hope that we do better boating than we do in pub quizzes!

After a brief return to the boat to eat the remainder of the chocolate fudge cake which Nathan had brought down as a birthday surprise for me, Mum went to bed. Nathan and I weren't ready to sleep, so instead ventured off into Watermead country park, in search of the next lock to check the water indicator there.

Lesson 1: Venturing into unknown country parks in the dark with a torch whose battery doesn't last very long maybe isn't the best idea in the world.
Lesson 2: Such country parks tend to be rather muddy after heavy rainfall.
Lesson 3: Ballet pumps aren't the best footwear for these kinds of adventures
Lesson 4: Maps and compasses can be quite handy sometimes

We got a little lost, but made it back to the boat safely after just over an hour. We didn't manage to find the next lock or check the water level, but looking at the map this morning I suspect that we walked pretty much past it and didn't notice!

Mum and I are now sitting on the boat by the lock, still waiting for the water level to drop. Somewhat frustrating, as the sun is shining, there's a little bit of mist lingering over the water, and it's exactly the kind of morning that I would love to spend out cruising.

We've already had 4 cups of tea, a boiled egg with soldiers and a homemade scone each already (it's only 9:30am) and are both hoping that the water drops soon as the sunshine and blue sky are taunting us stuck here. Fingers crossed...

Just off to the shop, will upload photos later.

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