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Leicester Ring and a few diversions

Day 1

The start of our big adventure!

Our early summer holiday began today, seventeen days to explore the Leicester Ring. In actual fact, we have previously covered a big chunk of this route on other trips. Fradley down to Marston on our 4 counties ring trip and Marston down to Norton when we took the Grand Union down to Leighton Buzzard.

We pulled out of the Trinity Marina at one o’clock on one of the warmest days that we have experienced since we bought the boat. The outlook for the coming week is good so we are looking forward to a good holiday. By the time we reached Marston junction at the end of the Ashby, we had seen almost all of the Ashby boat company fleet returning to base at Stoke Golding. We cruised through all of our familiar areas in the sunshine; The Charity Dock at Bedworth, Ansty and its golf course, Rose Narrowboats at Stretton, eventually mooring just after half past seven at All Oaks Wood. That was it, our first day done and we were well on our way.

All Oaks Wood

Day 2

Our rural retreat brought us the dawn chorus at 4am but it was 7am when we woke up properly. We got underway for eight and had breakfast “on the go” near Rugby, crumpets topped with home made soft cheese and bacon bits. The three locks at Hillmorton presented no problems for us and again we enjoyed another beautiful day in the sunshine. The weather had obviously brought everyone out and we passed dozens of boats before we stopped at Braunston. We made a quick pitstop before rounding the corner and mooring opposite the Boathouse pub.


Surprisingly, we had no intention of visiting said hostelry but they were already doing a roaring trade, capitalising on the good weather. We wandered round to Midland Chandlers to pick up a couple of bits and pieces and then spent the rest of the day sitting on the deck, enjoying the summer evening.

Day 3

We awoke at six which was good because we wanted to ascend the Braunston locks as early as possible. As we approached the bottom lock we met with Bruce and Sheila aboard nb Sanity Again. The couple were waiting to pair up with someone to traverse the flight with and we were the first to arrive. This nice couple were taking their boat, a 70′ liveaboard, to the Crick Boat Show where the builders, Braidbar boats were showing it as their latest offering. The locks were with us for most of the way and we completed the ascent in just one hour. It seemed fitting to exit the top lock together before hovering just outside the top gates to pick up our lock-wheelers. We said goodbye to our new friends and wished them luck at the show before following them into Braunston tunnel.

We have travelled through Braunston tunnel twice before but on this occasion we were making a one way trip. We heard a ghostly noise part way through, probably a bird in the vent shaft but still a little unnerving anyway!

We exited the tunnel into bright sunshine, despite the shade from the tree lined cutting and completed the journey to Norton junction. Finally, we were turning into unknown territory, the Grand Union Leicester Section. We passed Bruce and Sheila as they were mooring up for the day near Watford and we passed Watford Gap services, surely the only service station on the canal network! Soon enough we reached the bottom of the Watford flight with its staircase locks, a new experience for both of us. Sue went off and found the lock-keeper and under her instruction we made our way to the top where we carried out our chores. Almost immediately we passed under the M1 motorway and made our way to Crick tunnel. This tunnel is shorter than Braunston but as we approached the northern portal, we suffered (or enjoyed) a “rainfall” of water for the last 200 metres. This water, when it hit the hot steel roof of the boat, instantly evaporated, creating clouds of steam.

As we exited our second tunnel of the day we were pleased to see that we were able to moor very close to Crick village.

As we tied up, we noticed a hire boat ahead which had come loose from its mooring and was blocking the canal, no concern of ours since we were tying up but once secure, we help a passing family to pull the boat in and re-pin it.

After a quick drink and a shower, we made our way into Crick itself, only ten minutes from the towpath and well worth the visit.

Beer researching took place in the Red Lion (Old Speckled Hen) and the Wheatsheaf (Bombardier). A stop at the Co-op and then it was back to the boat which now sat nicely in the shade. Holiday or no holiday, chores still have to be done and in a departure from previous trips where we took lots of clothes and created a massive pile of dirty laundry, this time we have a washing machine! Sue took charge and washed our towels, t-shirts and our smalls while I sat down and caught up with this journal.

After dinner, we ventured back up to the village where we encountered a South African group who were looking for somewhere to eat. Their intended destination, Edwards restaurant, was inexplicably closed and they had already checked out the Red Lion to discover that there was no evening service. We could offer them no good advice so we left them on the canal bridge and we headed into the village. We found the third pub, the Royal Oak and were disappointed with it. A horrible place with a manager to match, we left as soon as possible and made our way to the Red Lion, a pub which promises so much and delivers so little. All in all with its background noise from the motorway, Crick is very much a village which flatters to deceive.

Day 4

Waking up in the shade, we were on our way for eight o’clock, pulling past Crick Marina and on our way towards Leicester. This section of canal reminded us of the rural Ashby as we motored on through the Northamptonshire countryside under another cloudless sky. There really isn’t a lot to see along here except the rolling green landscape and of course at this time of year everything is growing, reminding us of the description “Green and pleasant land”. Eventually we reached the junction where we turned right and made our way to Welford. We reached the terminus at half past twelve and turned the boat around before filling the water tank and emptying the toilet and bin at the BW station. After mooring up properly, we took a walk into the village where we visited the shop and discovered that the Elizabethan pub was closed. We returned to the wharf where we had a drink and contacted the Union Wharf at Market Harborough to arrange our stay on Tuesday night.

Half past two saw us back on the boat, firing up the engine and heading off in the direction of Foxton. After passing through North Kilworth wharf.


and Husbands Bosworth Tunnel, we eventually tied up next to bridge 60 above Foxton top lock, ready for the descent into Market Harborough on Tuesday. After dinner, we took a walk down through the partially restored inclined plane to the newly refurbished pub next to the bottom lock where we had a quick drink before returning to the boat.

Day 5

We were up and about for seven o’clock and after a quick cup of tea we moved on to the top of the Foxton flight. The lock keeper gave us some instruction and at eight o’clock we entered the top lock. We were held up in the middle compound as five boats passed us on the way up. We finally emerged from the bottom lock just after ten and then made our way along the Harborough arm. The sky was cloudy but it was a welcome break from the scorching sunshine of the last few days. It was midday by the time we reached the basin terminus where we quickly tied up on the pontoon before paying our overnight mooring fees.

P3 at MH

Plenty of time to catch up on the chores before doing a little shopping and then meeting up with daughter Amy and her boyfriend Jamie who live in the town.


Day 6

We left Market Harborough around 10am and headed back towards Foxton. It was very quiet and we were soon passing through the junction and heading off in the direction of Leicester. In common with the summit, the route from Foxton to Kilby Bridge is pretty desolate but as lonely as it was it wasn’t a bad journey and we tied up near the bridge just five minutes before the rain started and came on for the evening.

Day 7

We began our big trip through Leicester at twenty past eight after filling the water tank at Kilby Bridge. Our trip to Birstall would cover twelve miles and include fifteen locks. Reports and articles we had read suggested that the trip would be one to get over and forget so with the distance and the locks involved, we weren’t looking forward to it much. The passage into Leicester was a quiet one, hardly any boats and half filled locks which were well spaced out aided our passage as we skirted the edge of South Wigston and then Blaby. From Kilby to Aylestone the lock paddles all have anti-vandal locks but the journey was pleasant as we passed the back gardens of many houses. After Blaby the canal passes through park land and is joined by the river Soar. With very little rain in the last few weeks it was difficult to notice any significant current, the only difference was that the water ran clear and it was possible to see the plants growing below the surface. The parkland continued as we passed Aylestone, dropping slowly down the Soar valley.

The landscape eventually changed to one of old industrial ruin as we reached St Mary’s Mill lock.

St Marys Mill

Shortly after that we sat opposite the Walker stadium, home to Leicester City football club where Sue had her moment of glory in front of the “Shrine”.

Blue Army

We avoided the large weir in front of Freemen’s Lock before descending further on our journey into the city.

Freemens lock weir

The next section is a straight mile of wide water crossed by many bridges and it’s fair to say that we were mightily impressed on this particular sunny summer’s day.

Approaching Leicester Central

We stopped briefly for lunch on board, opposite castle gardens at the nearest point to the city centre.

As we left the city on our northward journey we saw more dilapidated factories and warehouses before passing the National Space Centre and then finding ourselves back in the countryside again.

North Leicester warehouse

National Space Centre

We reached Birstall just after half past three, a total journey time of six and three quarter hours.

We showered before walking up into the village for a look around before returning to the boat with some groceries from the Co-op. We then rounded off the day with a fabulous evening meal at the White Horse pub, a two minute stroll away from the boat. Reflecting on the day, we came to the conclusion that Leicester gets a bad press, we enjoyed our trip and would recommend the route without hesitation

Day 8

Another bright sunny day greeted us as we awoke on board Phoenix III in Birstall. From here on in, our busy locking days behind us, we looked forward to our cruise which would take us to Loughborough. Leaving our mooring at eight o’clock we were soon appreciating the width of the river Soar.


The time passed quickly on this fresh summery day. With temperatures in the mid teens, blue skies and white fluffy clouds accompanying us as we made our way down the dark clear water of the river, we were happy with our choice of holiday once again. A short stop at Barrow-upon-Soar for water and the like preceded the rest of our journey to Loughborough. The locks continued to be evenly spread out making this a very pleasant day indeed.


We reached Loughborough wharf just after one o’clock and were pleased to get the last of only five spaces there. After securing the boat we walked the short distance into the town centre and then on to the Great Central Railway.

Shocked by the prices of the platform tickets (£5) and disappointed by the town itself, we returned to the wharf to find that Phoenix III was the only boat left! Seeing that a few teenagers had begun to congregate, we decided to grab a few essentials from the nearby Sainsbury’s and leave the town.

We were soon on our way again and within half an hour, we were back out in the countryside. We passed by Normanton-upon-Soar with its beautiful church, nestled amongst some of the best waterside properties we have seen on our travels.

The wind seemed to be getting stronger as we passed by the emergency moorings above Zouch, so much so that the width of the river and the rough surface made us wonder if this is what it would be like taking the boat out to sea. Once on to the Zouch cut, we found one of the last mooring places and tied up for the night just above the lock.

Day 9

We were due a day off and with the first rain forecast for more than a week, we decided that this was the best day to have it. We made arrangements with Sue’s daughter and her family to meet for lunch at the nearby Rose and Crown before sorting out a mooring for Monday night at Beeston.

After a quick shower we walked to the pub where Rebecca, Don, Daniel and Rachel joined us for lunch. This lovely, welcoming pub provided us with a tasty selection of food enjoyed by all. After lunch, we all walked back to the boat for an hour of conversation, fishing and games.

Our visitors left us about half past three and then it was just us again, we made some loose plans for the following days cruising before just kicking back and relaxing.

Day 10

Sunday morning, another lazy day ahead, we dragged ourselves out of bed some time after eight after the obligatory cup of tea of course. The wind was blowing hard as we moved into Zouch lock, the same wind got us all out of shape as we passed out of the bottom gates but a bit of deft pole-work by Sue got us back on the straight and narrow in no time at all. Once on the move we had no problem as we twisted and turned our way along the Soar towards Kegworth deep lock. This lock was a bit of a challenge with big gates and difficult to open paddles but we made it through and on to the following shallow lock which was chained open for the summer. Just beyond here we tied up for the day, had a cooked breakfast and then went off to explore the village. There was a junior cricket match in progress as we passed by the village green but we did not stop to watch. It took us about ten minutes to reach the village centre where we visited the local Co-op and replenished our supplies.

On our journeys, we carry both Nicholsons and Pearsons guides to the waterways. The former has the better maps while the latter usually has more detailed local information. Both publications have information on pubs but on this occasion they differed from each other and from reality. Nicholson lists three pubs in the village, The Anchor, The Cap & Stocking and The Red Lion whereas Pearson only mentions the first two. We saw The Anchor and eventually Sue worked out the location of The Cap & Stocking. We didn’t find the Red Lion but we did see The Old Flying Horse, all very mysterious! In the end, we only visited the Cap & Stocking which was a delightful experience, a step back in time almost with Bass bitter served from the jug.


Well worth a visit whether travelling by water or by road.

After a couple of drinks and a scan of the papers we returned to the boat for the afternoon.

Day 11

After two lazy days we were up for a bit of a cruise so we got up at half past seven, threw on our clothes and were underway by eight o’clock. We had no real plan although we had made a provisional booking for an overnight stay at Beeston Marina. We only had one lock to negotiate before we passed the Ratcliffe on Soar power station then it was through another chained-open floodlock and we left the Soar and joined the river Trent. Almost as soon as we were on it, we were off it again as we entered the Cranfleet cut. We joined another narrowboat for our passage through the next lock which allowed us on to the river again. Our journey so far has taken us from our native narrow canals onto the broad Grand Union and then on to the even broader river Soar. The Trent by comparison is massive, the Phoenix was like a dog let loose, engine revving freely, clean river water washing high along her sides, she loved the freedom as we shot down to Beeston. We were waved into the lock by other boaters and soon passed into the canal which would take us into Nottingham. We passed by the Boots estate at Beeston before mooring at Castle Meadow where we visited the large Sainsbury’s and replenished our supplies. Surprisingly, we were stopped for an hour before we carried on into the City where we turned around and made our way back out. In fairness to Nottingham, the whole canal experience is excellent, there is nothing for the traveller to fear or be concerned about, unlike many other towns and cities.


Our trip back out of the City saw us getting involved with a fleet of cruisers which included one broken down vessel being towed by another. We took on water at Beeston lock where we encountered a boat full of drugged up filthy hippies. As soon as we could, we made our way back up through the lock and on to the river again, the trip back to the Cranfleet cut only taking an hour. It was here that we caught up with the cruiser fleet again who helped us through the fierce running lock, two narrowboats and a small cruiser whose crew were petrified as the three craft moved back and forth in the chamber. As the time was approaching six o’clock we decided to tie up for the night in the cut, just short of Trent lock. We were helped in by a fellow boater who took our ropes and as we secured our mooring told us that he was setting off early to hopefully reach the tidal Trent by the following night so that he could return to Wakefield by next weekend. We thanked him for his help, went inside and then sorted ourselves out with showers and our evening meal. Our big cruise over, we reflected on our adventure on the mighty river Trent and started thinking about the next leg of our journey.

Day 12

We awoke to an overcast day and gradually got ourselves sorted out for about half past nine. Once we had untied we realised that we no longer had our boat hook and by the time we had reached Trent Lock junction we had come to the conclusion that someone must have lifted it late the previous night. We passed the cruisers that we had accompanied from Beeston the day before and noted that one of them had a similar pole on board but we passed on by knowing that they would not have taken ours.

We approached Sawley lock soon after and Sue walked up to the lock to see what was happening. There was another narrowboat waiting to go through and soon enough a woman appeared and told me that her husband had gone to the lock ages earlier. A few minutes later the bottom gates opened and two boats emerged. I followed the woman’s narrowboat into the lock and then we waited while her husband took charge of the controls of this automated lock. After a few minutes of no activity, Sue stepped up to the control panel and set the paddles in motion. “Lock Guy” as he became known tried to cover up his lack of understanding but his wife soon put him in his place by reminding him that he had made the same mistake at a previous motorised lock. The full story was that he had left his boat to operate the lock and despite assurances to the two crews in the lock, had been unable to figure it out until Sue had arrived and shown him what to do, to which he triumphantly announced to the boaters below, “We’ve sorted it now!” . Sue’s secret? She read the instructions on the control panel!

Lock Guy was stopping at Sawley marina so we waved goodbye to him and his wife and moved on up to the Trent & Mersey canal by passing back under the M1 motorway ( we first passed under it in the opposite direction nine days earlier at Watford Gap). As we approached the first lock we passed an oncoming boater who informed us that the lock was ready for us. We thought this a little strange because we could see two boats ahead of us so we assumed that he had not noticed both of them. The two boats moved into the lock and then one of the lock wheelers started waving us in, maybe the two were short boats after all? We pulled over while Sue went to check it out, only to discover that the boaters were having a brainstorm, it would be impossible to fit all three boats in the lock, today was proving to be a day for silly mistakes.

We had travelled through light drizzle so when we saw that we could moor at Shardlow right outside two pubs,


we decided to stop for the day and go on a pub crawl. We had lunch in the Malt Shovel and it was excellent. We were probably the youngest customers in the pub but it was still a good place to be. We walked to the Navigation and it was here that I gradually remembered the events of the day before, particularly the episode in the lock with the cruiser. I had handed our boat hook to the lady on the cruiser and I didn’t get it back, it had been the pole that we had seen on the cruiser earlier in the day. All of a sudden I was with Lock Guy and the boaters who thought that we could all fit in one lock in the final of “no-brain of Britain”!


We visited the local museum but found it closed so we returned to the boat and decided to move on. The drizzle had long stopped so we enjoyed our cruise up to Swarkestone where we tied up on some excellent moorings above the lock. We were able to take on water and dump our bin bag before settling in for the night.

Day 13

We were looking forward to the first lock of the day so we left our overnight mooring and made our way to Stenson where we would find the last wide lock of our journey. The previous day’s locks were deep and the gates had been heavy so we would be glad to return to some shallower narrow locks. At Stenson we encountered a late entrant in the “no-brain of Britain contest” a bloke who leaped off his cruiser, opened the wrong paddles and then asked if all the locks were like this one. Our last broad lock and obviously his first! We were joined in this lock by another narrowboat which got jammed on its way in because one of the bottom gates would not open fully and he had left his fenders down. A bit of manoeuvring and we were sorted before heading off to our next stop, Willington. After stopping for our services we moved on and tied up on the village moorings. We had lunch in the garden of the Green Dragon enjoying the sunshine.

After lunch we continued our journey, passing through Burton on Trent. Sunshine, narrow locks and pleasant canal-side scenery made for a lovely afternoon as we cruised along the Trent and Mersey. We found a good mooring at Branston and although we were close to the Bridge Inn, we stayed on the boat where we enjoyed the sunset and fed the birds. Three families of Canada Geese swam around us before they engaged in a short fight which was over in less than a minute. Peace resumed and we then retired for the evening.

Day 14

Another sunny day was waiting for us when we awoke on the second Thursday of our holiday. We made our way along the canal as it ran parallel to the A38 and I was reminded of Watford Gap services as we passed a Little Chef which sat between the road and the water.

We travelled on the final section of the river Trent before we arrived at Alrewas. After securing the boat, we walked to the village where we visited the George & Dragon, the butcher and the local Co-op. Alrewas seemed like one of those perfect villages that many people dream of living in.


The national war memorial is nearby but we were advised not to walk there because we would have to cross the busy A38.

We spent the late afternoon and evening hanging out around the boat. Lock Guy appeared and spoke to us, he was actually alright despite his earlier behaviour but he was soon “called in” for his dinner. We ate our own evening meal, fillet steak from the butcher shop, sitting on camp chairs on the towpath and then had a long conversation with the couple on the boat next to us. All too soon and another day was behind us.

Day 15

Another sunny day! We left Alrewas early hoping to get a head start on everyone else but the journey to Fradley junction was still slow going, particularly when it came to the last junction before the turn.

The last time that we turned on to the Coventry canal at Fradley junction was almost two years ago at the end of our rained -out Four Counties ring trip. On that occasion we were just desperate to get home but this time the turn was made with the sadness of knowing that our holiday was almost at an end.

The lock free trip to Fazeley on a sunny day was a pleasure and with the exception of a stop at Streethay Wharf for diesel we just carried on cruising to the two locks at Glascote. The top lock was a little awkward but we were soon on our way and we eventually moored opposite the Samuel Barlow pub at Alvecote. We ate on the boat but didn’t visit the pub, instead we enjoyed the evening sunshine while we contemplated the last couple of days of our cruise.

Day 16

We had positioned ourselves at Alvecote so that we could plan our return to Hinckley in conjunction with the weather forecast. On this Saturday morning it looked like we would be able to divide the final leg of the journey over two days.

We untied and set off, all too soon we reached the bottom lock of the Atherstone flight. There was a lot of traffic in both directions but we plodded on and moored at lunchtime between locks six and five. We walked up to the town where we noted that it was carnival day. Most of the girls and young women wore a single flower in their hair and there was an overall happy atmosphere in the town.

We had lunch in the Red Lion almost as a matter of ritual really before we did some shopping and returned to the boat. We then proceeded to ascend the remaining five locks and had a bit of a catch-up with the crew from one of our marina neighbours who were descending the flight.

We left Atherstone and made our way towards Hartshill. Our plan was to stop somewhere before Nuneaton and in the event we were able to tie up outside the Anchor Inn. We showered before heading to the pub for what would be our final meal of the holiday – and it was pretty poor! There is no point in going into detail, it was a disappointment and we won’t go there again. We returned to Phoenix III and turned in for the night.

Day 17

We have made the trip from Atherstone to Hinckley so many times on a Sunday that we didn’t really expect much from the final few hours of our trip. Sure enough, the trip was an uneventful four hour excursion through Nuneaton, round Marston Junction and on to the Ashby. Just after eleven o’clock we were tied up and found ourselves filling the car boot with our belongings.

Later, as we reflected on our trip, we were in no doubt that this cruise had been our best yet.