Wednesday 30 September 2015


Sounds painful, doesn't it! But it's actually quite a peaceful spot on the River Soar.

It would be significantly more peaceful without the A something-or-other rushing at an angle to intersect with the river about 400 yards ahead. But we're not complaining. At least we're not looking at the power station.

The Ratcliffe power station dominates the countryside for miles around, and was the first thing in view as we emerged from our overnight mooring on the Erewash Canal onto the wide watery expanse where the Soar and the Trent converge.

The Soar is very different to the Trent. Not half so wide.

Difficult manual locks with heavy, leaky gates and muscle-stretching paddles, belying the rural idyll awaiting as soon as you've got through one.

As with any river, the locks bypass a weir where most of the water rushes downhill. But they're normally protected significantly better than this wooden barrier held up by  few stanchions.

Generally the river has been very pleasant to cruise on this sunny last day of September. We still haven't managed to find anyone to do Erin Mae's engine service, but I don't suppose we'll come to any harm just yet. We did get some diesel at a very reasonable price, and we met some helpful boaters along the way, just when we needed them – at those locks!

Tuesday 29 September 2015


Actually, it's Erewash.

It's one of those names that you probably never see, until you become a boater. And then you don't know how to pronounce it until you hear someone else.

It starts where the River Soar runs into the Trent. We hadn't intended to go up it today – that was supposed to be for another time. But I want to get someone to do a 250 hour service on Erin Mae's engine, and we'd heard there was a good boatyard just up the Erewash, so we made the turn and came up the first lock.

As it happened, the mechanic in question was elsewhere, but on the phone he recommended someone else, who we might visit tomorrow. Meanwhile we carried on up the Erewash to find somewhere to wind. It's quite odd to be on a stretch of water where you can't simply turn round wherever you want.

Slowly up the canal we went (it's rather shallow), and came to a set of traffic lights showing double red. Very odd, as there was plenty of room under the bridge the train was rumbling over. The lights actually related to the flood gates just before the bridge, but there seemed no reason not to go through. So we did, and are still here to tell the tale. In fact we went up, winded and came back through them.

So tonight we're tied up just inside the Erewash, and will go down off it in the morning. They say the further reaches of it are delightful. Those delights will have to wait.

Monday 28 September 2015

Moon river

Our river mooring last night was peaceful and safe in every way. The river flowed gently past, but we hardly noticed the movement.

A big event was on the horizon, of course. I expect 50 million photos of the eclipse have found their way onto the internet today. I wouldn't want to buck the trend.

We set our alarm for 2 a.m., and woke to find the river was swathed in mist again, but the moon was visible through it. I set up the camera attached to the frame of Erin Mae's side hatch, which was perfectly positioned for us to watch the spectacle.

The view-finder picture was generally much better than that with the naked eye, especially through the river mist.

The earth's shadow began to creep across the moon's surface. I took my photos by setting a 2-second delay, to avoid all hand contact at the point when the photo was actually being taken. But I took so many that the battery ran out, and I was switching between charging the battery via the computer for a few minutes and then taking a few more shots. I couldn't do both at the same time.

Finally I dug out a charger that links direct to the mains, and found that the camera would take pictures while attached to that. Phew! I had to adjust the position of the camera frequently, and this was a reminder of how much the moon moves across the sky, presumably in an arc that depends on its own movement round the earth, and the rotation of the earth itself.

It was remarkable how red the moon got as the shadow got to cover most of its surface. It stayed this way for a long time, and then eventually the shadow won out and, with the extra effect of the mist on the river, meant there was very little to see for a prolonged period. We sat in our chairs, keeping an eye on things through the window when we weren't dozing off.

Eventually the light began to return, but there was little sign in this phase, that I could see, of the redness we'd seen before. By now we were pretty tired, and went back to bed before the whole of the moon was visible again. Surprise, surprise, we got up pretty late this morning!

This didn't really matter, because the mist only cleared around 10.30 a.m. We set out shortly after to make our way to Nottingham.

We had two of the enormous river locks to negotiate first, with friendly lock-keepers to operate them, and then found ourselves at Meadow Lane Lock, which leads from the Trent up to the cut through the centre of the town.

It was rather odd to be back on a normal sized canal, with locks you have to operate yourself with a windlass.

And I think this is the first time either of us has been in Nottingham, though this wouldn't be the first castle under whose walls we have cruised.

We shall rejoin the Trent proper eventually, for just a short stretch. We shall remember it particularly, I think, for the tidal reaches that offered their own challenges, for the sparkly delights of the section below Gunthorpe Lock, and especially for the eclipse seen with the river mist rising and making for a highly atmospheric middle-of-the-night.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Trent sparkle

Once the early mist had cleared, we were off up the Trent again. As we were pulling out from the mooring, Angell Hardy II came round a corner behind us. At that point she looked absolutely huge, but by the time she'd followed us into Newark Town Lock, she was  little less threatening.

We chatted with the crew, and then they moved out ahead of us.

The river twists and turns a bit here, and from time to time we would get a glimpse of her apparently sailing among the fields. Very bizarre! The flatness of the country means that water is everywhere (or perhaps the fact that water is everywhere has produced the flatness). We haven't, however, quite worked out which waterway leaves or joins our branch of the Trent under this bridge.

What was clear was the point at which the Trent divides into two, before rejoining north of Newark.

The water pours over the weir. The geese like it, but boats stay well away

This section of the Trent was steadily becoming more and more attractive.

It was sparkling in the sun. There was more to see, and it was easier to see it.

After a few miles we joined a couple of cruisers in the next lock. They'd previously overtaken us, but had to wait anyway when they got there. There was also a couple in a small boat with an outboard, who were having a great day out.

All three left ahead of us – they were likely to be going a bit faster than us on the next stretch. The river was sometimes broader, sometimes narrower. There were a lot of fishermen in some sections, but they mostly seemed to fiddle with their tackle as we passed, rather than exchange a greeting. Unlike the canals, there's very little sense that they are going to pull back a rod as you go by. The onus seems to be on the boat to avoid them, even though lines often seemed to stretch way out from the bank.

The countryside was beginning to get some vertical interest.

The occasional small, wooded hill would poke up on one side, usually involving  a bend in the river.

Other things were sticking up as well. We weren't close enough to see what these standing stones were, and Nicholson's doesn't mention them. Since they've been adorned with a couple of brass plaques, they may not themselves actually be ancient monuments.

Up through Gunthorpe Lock, and found a nice mooring on a floating pontoon. One or two noisy parties have threatened to join us, but have thankfully gone away again.

So this is the view through the side-hatch this afternoon, and very peaceful it is.

This has been by far the most enjoyable part of the River Trent that we have encountered so far, and we're hoping for more of the same while the weather holds.

Saturday 26 September 2015


Last night's sky and its calm reflection promised fair for today's trip through to Newark – our last on tidal waters for a long time, probably. But what would the day itself actually hold?

The first thing it held was a view of a pot / teapot collection, tucked in at the side of Torksey Lock. The opposite gate (also unused) held a collection of pots and pans.

The second thing it held was fog. This was, after all, 7 a.m. during a high-pressure spell towards the end of September. But, for all that it was natural, it was extremely disconcerting! This section of the river has obstacles which are problematic for the unwary or the inexperienced.

When Erin Mae's bows are thrusting forwards into the mist, and you can't judge the line of the bend in the river that you know is just ahead, it's a little worrying. You can't pull over into a lay-by. You can just about judge how far you are from the banks. You keep your eyes and ears alert for anything large (or anything at all) coming the other way. You hope you've chosen a suitable line to take to avoid the invisible shoal, but there are no guarantees. You're cold, and the next boat back in the convoy is following your lead, in so far as he can see it.

No photos from that particular hour before the sun finally dispersed the mists, of course. Pictures of white haze don't look too good on a blog. But eventually they were dispersed, of course, and everything began to look a bit more cheerful.

Classic bits of pastoral scenery as we came past Carlton-on-Trent and North Muskham.

And eventually, through Cromwell Lock and Nether Lock, we came to Newark.

The visitor moorings were decidedly disappointing. Just one short section against a floating pontoon and the rest against a harsh, hard wall with bollards but only the occasional, badly thought-out ladder to get onto terra firma. It was a major feat of mountaineering to get my best beloved's replacement knee onto solid ground, still in one piece, and still attached to the rest of her body. It was an even greater achievement to return her safely to the boat's interior after a saunter around Newark.

But what a saunter that was! Newark seems to owe its existence to being at the point where the Trent divides into two. Great North Road engineers, centuries ago, figured that two smaller crossings were easier to construct that one larger crossing. Newark became a gateway to a crossing.

That also, of course, meant it was likely to be fought over in times of trouble, so it's hardly surprising that the castle is basically a rather attractive ruin. Large bits of it were blown up during the Civil War (Newark was a Royalist town) and large amounts of what was left were removed by the population whenever stone was required for a new house or a pigsty or something.

But the pièce de résistance was the Town Hall, which we wandered into almost by accident, seeing a sign to a museum and art gallery as we entered the old Buttermarket. Going up in the lift we encountered Andrew, a guide to the museum, who proceeded to give us, in effect, a completely personal and hugely entertaining tour of what was on show. The art gallery was an interesting collection of works by well-known artists  who came from Newark.  The museum was essentially a civic collection of things related directly to the town, so included regalia, and a mace, and samples of the Newark siege coinage – diamond-shaped coins minted from the silver of the church and the gentry to pay the garrison at Newark in 1645 / 1646, and so on. Andrew took us to see the ballroom – a stunning space by any standards, and showed us other interesting rooms and objects.

Some of them told a story, of course. This was the Proclamation Stool, which was simply a stool in the mayor's office from about 1800 to 1820. But when the rider arrived from London with news of the death of George III (he'd been on the throne for 60 years, remember), the mayor grabbed both the Town Crier and the stool, and ran out into the square. The Town Crier cried "Oyez", etc, and the mayor stood on the stool and proclaimed the death of the old monarch and the ascension of the new one. And that is the use, in fact the only use, to which the stool has been put ever since. It stands there, with a brass plaque commemorating each transition for the announcement of which it has provided a platform. We reckoned there's room for about four more. Hm…

Friday 25 September 2015


The boy who stuck his finger / hand / arm or whatever in the dyke, and so saved Holland, would probably have felt at home in this part of England. It's flat and criss-crossed with ditches that drain the water from the land.

Mind you, I've never really got to grips with what goes on with this sort of water management, especially in Holland where so much of the country is below sea level. In my experience, water flows downhill most of the time, so how can you drain land that is at the level of, or below, the sea? I guess you need pumps, and that presumably has something to do with windmills, but whoever thought of it in the first place? Genius!

Perhaps you can let it run out at low tide, and stop the gap when the tide rises again, but that must need a lot of cooperation between interested parties and work-forces.

I remember the chapter in Edward Rutherford's Sarum where the water meadows around Salisbury begin to get managed, to the benefit of the local community, but I still have no clear idea what it was they were actually doing.

It's interesting that one of our guide books says the ditches in this neck of the woods serve for both drainage and irrigation. Presumably, with the east of the country being drier than the west, there is a regular need to get the water out of the ditches and back onto the land. I suppose you just hope that it hasn't all drained away in the meantime.

Anyway, clearly the Fossdyke and Witham Navigation has this dual purpose of transport and drainage. Near Torksey Lock the rather ugly concrete outflow point from a pumping station feeds the canal.

And all this is just as well for the trip-boat industry. As we pulled out this morning, another narrowboat was about 200 yards behind, and I kept an eye on it as we sauntered past the long line of boats on the long-term moorings. What they hadn't bargained for, I imagine, was the Brayford Belle coming up behind them, and apparently not the slightest bit interested in the polite practice of keeping its speed down.

We saw the narrowboat pull across and the Belle surge past. Perhaps they have a special dispensation to break speed limits in the interests of the local economy. I was determined they weren't going to get past me, so when the line of moored boats came to an end I applied the throttle, and stayed well ahead all the way to the pub where they do their about-turn.

Which law is it? Apart from the Brayford Belle and ourselves, hardly anyone was moving on this stretch of water this morning. And there are only about two twists in the miles of straight canal. What is it that specifies that it's precisely at one of those corners that you meet a cruiser coming the other way on the outside of the bend, at a speed that would have made the Belle proud?

They probably matched each other all the way back to Lincoln, to which we ourselves have, for the moment, said farewell. Now, with its unexpected and considerable hill, there's a city that would survive even if all the drains failed for a whole winter.