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The 1999 "Earnest" Maiden Voyage Cruise

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1. Braunston to Cromwell Lock via Grand Union Canal, Leicester Section, Welford and Market Harborough Arms, River Soar, River Trent.

With the demise of poor old John Fleming, Ian Scott had been lumbered with a lot of the boat movement transportation in his trusty company Escort. On the departure day Ian picked up Kerry, who does not drive and then Neil. We got up to Braunston earlier than expected at 10.00am on the start date Friday 2nd July. Ian was going to leave his car at Braunston and get dropped back there by Jackie, Julian's wife, who had agreed to do a crew swap when we got to Sheffield. Owing to the distance "Earnest" was from the car park field we had many trips to unload the car. We still managed to shove off at the reasonable time of 11.00am. This was welcome as this Friday was a "bonus" day. We soon got stuck into the Braunston Flight and turned off at Norton Junction onto the Leicester Section, at 1.30pm. Kerry who is a very fit 50 something soon got into the swing of things and was soon trying to out do Neil and Ian when in lock wheeling mode. Ian and Kerry were soon throwing themselves at the Watford Flight, they did check if any thing was coming down, but had missed the B.W. notice asking boat crews to summon the lock keeper at the top of the flight first. We had just started the staircase section when he ambled down and gave Ian a ticking off. Another boat had just arrived but he would have let us up first. Crick Tunnel was soon passed and we arrived on "new water", the junction with the Welford Arm at 7.25am. It was our intention to try out the pub by Welford Basin that night, an as we wanted a meal we had to be there before 9.00pm. We arrived in the basin at 8.20pm and got pole position right at the end just past the sanitary station. We were soon in the excellent "Wharf Inn" enjoying a pint of Marstons Pedigree and a nice meal in the restaurant bar. We all agreed the Welford arm was unexpectedly fine, a nice little lock and a well preserved basin with an excellent attached pub.


Ian and Kerry soon get into the spirit of T.N.C. on tour.

The start of the Welford Arm.
   

Pole position in Welford Basin, "Wharf Inn" just to right. (You can just see the Pub sign.)

Welford Basin, sanitary station in old warehouse.
   

Welford Arm Lock.

Welford Arm Lock.
   

The next night we really wanted to get into Leicester to try out the new pontoon moorings at the end of "The straight" and go to one of the reputedly excellent Indian restaurants in the Golden Mile. We realised this would be a long day even by our standards, even missing out the un-navigated Market Harborough Arm. In 1997 Ian and Neil did the top of Foxton Staircase to Montsorrel in a day, but missed food in the pub, so we knew it was feasible. We left Welford not incredibly early, at 7.25am. The top of Foxton was passed at 10.35am. Crystal the lock keeper let us straight in (we have always found the Foxton lock-keepers particularly helpful.) Crystal soon got involved in a conversation with Neil about stopping on the new pontoon moorings in Leicester. She said that un-officially she could not recommend it, because the redevelopment of the area had opened up this non towpath site with a new footbridge right over the moorings. There had been reports of yobs jumping down onto the moorings from the footbridge and breaking into boats. She said that it was alright to stop there for a few hours in the day. Neil asked her where the last "safe" place before Leicester was, as we did not fancy Blaby where Neil and Linda stopped in 1993. Crystal replied that our best bet was to go to pub in Market Harborough for lunch and then stop at the "Navigaton" at Kilby Bridge for the night. She then slapped Neil's wrist for using one of those disgusting bow thrusters, this was something not allowed in her flight of locks! The Market Harborough arm was started at 11.15am and we got to the pathetically shallow visitor moorings just outside of the basin after winding, at 2.20pm. We wandered around the basin, still not finished after a 2 year closure. The pub we found was the one near the basin, the name of which escaped us, as we sat in the garden. It was not very inspiring, just having had a "Pubmaster" refit. We spent an hour there. The general impression of the basin was very disappointing, R.T.C. Rolt must be turning in is grave. No visitor moorings were in the basin, the sanitary station had not been finished and all the remaining warehouses turned into bijou apartments. The section of the canal which had been closed while the basin was redeveloped (from Bridge 14 winding point) and the visitor moorings were disgustingly shallow and weedy, you would have thought B.W. would have spent a bit of their windfall actually on the canal. All in all we wished we had seen the basin in its derelict state before "redevelopment". 
As we approached Foxton we caught up with two boats. The first was the Foxton Boat Services day boat, the crew were completely un aware of our presence. There idea of normal navigating  involved keeping excessively to the right, grinding along the bank, bushes and for the most part the shallow edges. Kerry gave them a blast on the air horns and they nearly jumped out of there skins. Neil shouted out to them "Would it be alright to pass?", they replied "yes", by which time they were completely up the bank. As we passed them quite quickly Neil shouted to them it should suck them off and they would have more success if they then kept to the middle. As our stern passed them they were indeed sucked right to the centre of the canal and set off with renewed vigor. The next boat was an Anglo Welsh hire boat completely crewed by nurses, this Kerry found out from his brief conversation with them. Kerry was very disappointed when they turned left to go up Foxton! We passed Foxton at 3.25pm pushing on for Kilby. When we got to Newton Top lock we had a planning meeting and decided it was going to be very tight to get to Kilby by 9.00pm and hence dinner in "The Navigation". So we adopted Neil and Ian's 1997 method of having dinner while going down in the lock, albeit very slowly with only of one bottom paddle raised. At 7.30 pm we were just finishing when a B.W. bloke appeared out of the lock cottage, amazingly enough it still occupied by B.W.! He was a bit of an old school "Jobsworth" type and started getting officious when Neil said we were having our dinner in the lock. He said we could not do that and where were we going to moor tonight? Neil replied that we had just done it, that it was not causing any harm and that we were going to Kilby before dark. He lightened up a bit, said we would have to move it and advised to certainly not try mooring any nearer to Leicester than Kilby. With Ian lock wheeling on the "Lock wheeling machine",  (not a push bike!) we shot off and was in the not particularly inspiring pub by half nine.



We shoved off in drizzle early the next day (Sunday 4th July) at 6.40 am to miss any yobs in the "Horror" section of South Wigston. A few kids were found sheltering from the rain under Vice's Bridge No. 93, but they turned out to be harmless. The 1930's road house pub, "The County Arms"  now a Beefeater, which we stopped at in 1993 and mentioned by Rolt in "Narrowboat" was passed at 8.30am. We were now in more pleasant waters. The huge unprotected weir at Freeman's Meadow  Lock horrified Kerry on first seeing it, but was less impressed when we were in the lock and could only see a trickle going over it. The over engineered "Manchester Ship Canal" flood channel through Leicester was just as impressive and unlikely as ever and was populated by even more rowers than normal. The redevelopment to the West of this section was nearly complete, when we last passed in 1997 it had only just started. The new footbridge over the visitor moorings was noticed, it is funny how sometimes efforts to open up the canals in redevelopment often makes it worse for boaters. We had arranged to meet up with Andrew the boat fitter this day and a few mobile phone calls pinpointed him down to a pick up just below Birstall Lock. Andrew is a keen cyclist, especially when he was at University in Loughborough. He lives at Quorn and met us on his bike, at 12.30 pm, straight from home. As we approached Loughborough we passed "Tache" Ray from R&D in an R&D hulled Lincoln Narrowboats hire boat. They soon weighed anchor and shot off close behind us. Neil thought they were behaving a bit competitively, so he prepared for the very sharp bend to the right after the Bridge before the junction with the Loughborough Town Basin. With a look out on the front Neil did a full throttle power turn in one with out using the bow thruster and left "Tach" Ray behind as he had to do it in two attempts! Andrew subsequently found out that they stopped soon after to go to the pub. Not far from here is the old R&D boatyard, the slipway is still there but all the waterfront is fenced off with a large car compound an body shop behind it.. We dropped Andrew off at "The Plough" Big Steak at Normanton on Soar, but being a Sunday evening were not doing food, so we carried on. We think Andrew enjoyed is first taste of "T.N.C on Tour", he certainly came well prepared with his own supply of 1664! We stopped for a nice pint and dinner at "The Rose and Crown", Zouch between 7 and 8.00 pm. After this we carried on to Cranfleet Cut on the River Trent as we planned to stop at the Nottingham Sainsbury's for supplies and to go to the pub at dinner time and get to Newark the next night.


Monday 6th July saw us leave Cranfleet Cut fairly late at 9.35am. We had a fairly fast trip down the River Trent, but were held up a bit by a slow moving craft on the Beeston Cut, arriving at midday. We then did a spot of shopping in Sainsbury's then went for lunch and a pint at "The trip to Jerusalem" in the Castle mound. We left at 2.45 pm with the object of getting to Newark that night. As we turned the sharp Poplar Arms Corner heading back down to the River we were aware of some lads up on the bridge. The canal is in a bit of a cutting here with no access up to the bridges. We had just passed the bridge when we were showered with  gravel, a bit of an opportunist attack. Ian was a bit incensed so ordered the boat into the bank. He legged it back up the towpath and jumped up to the bridge using a handy pipe. The lads were a bit late in scattering and Ian after a bit of a run caught one of them! Ian who is really a bit of a pacifist bid not wallop the kid, but instead gave him a civic dignity lecture! We were soon back under way, but Ian had knackered a muscle in is flight. At 4.00pm we swung out of Meadow Lane Lock back on to the River Trent and had a fairly fast run all the way to Cromwell Lock, arriving there at 10.05pm. We obviously intended to stop in Newark, only one decent mooring was noted  not far from the bridge so we decided to go down stream of the bridge, wind and then come back to the quay. This was aborted due to being spat upon going under the bridge, Newark did obviously not want our trade!, at least it would be nice and peaceful at Cromwell. We had dinner on the move as soon as we were through Nether Newark lock. It was indeed a  nice quiet hot evening at Cromwell Lock and we started to drink into the beer locker.


Foxton Staircase, red before white and you'll be alright!

Foxton Lockys in deep conversation.

Foxton Swing Bridge, at start of Market Harborough Arm.

The uninspiring, redeveloped Market Harborough Basin.

Saddington Tunnel.

Freeman's Meadow Lock, Leicester. Large unprotected weir to right. West stand Leicester Football club above trees.

New bridge at start of Leicester straight.

New footbridge over pontoon moorings at end of Leicester straight.

North Lock, Leicester.

Limekiln Lock, Leicester.

Site of old R&D boatyard in Loughborough.

Castle Lock, Nottingham Canal, Nottingham.

New pub in old Trent Navigation Warehouse, believed to be gay bar as we were encouraged to stop by a band of nice blokes hanging out of a window. Well, all the nice boys love a sailor!

Waiting for Kerry to crank Newark Town Lock.

Newark Town Lock. 

Peaceful moorings above Cromwell Lock, head of tideway, River Trent.

The tour continues...


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