Canal Boating – Heading North Back to Market Harborough, Part III

This is the third installment and final post of our week long canal boat excursion, on the Leicestershire canals. The first two installments, covered the journey south, while this will cover the return to Market Harborough.

With only one week, we had insufficient time to complete a full circle, so we must retrace our outbound tracks, back to Market Harborough. Select the links to review Part 1 and Part 2

Day 5 – Retracing Our Route North

Today’s navigational challenges included heading up Watford Gap Locks, passing through Crick Tunnel and getting through Crick, hopefully before the boat show starts. Our destination tonight was Yelvertoft, which you may have guessed, has a pub close to the canal.

To expedite our transit through Crick, I again started the engine, cast off the lines and pushed off the bank about 07:00, while the ladies were still sleeping. The ladies were awake just before arrival at Watford Gap locks, about 08:30. One boat was entering the locks and we had 2 more ahead of us, so about a 10 – 15 minute delay. This time Judi and Erica were operating the locks, while I drove the boat under the careful eye of Nan, our Admiral of the Fleet.

Entering the lower lock at Watford Gap

The Watford Gap Locks comprise a series of 7 locks, which takes about 1/2 hr to transit.

Entering the lower lock supervised by Nan

Once in the lock and the gates are closed, the incoming water tends to push the boat towards the rear gate, so I had to keep manoeuvring to maintain position between the lock gates.

Judi and Erica opening the gate on lower lock

Once the levels equalise, the gates are opened and you proceed into the next lock.

Erica nipping across the lock, no Health & Safety on the canals

Judi & Erica preparing the 2nd lock

The above lock was a single swing gate, whereas most of them were double gates. Both valves for adjusting the water levels were on one side, so normally you required a person ashore, on each side of the lock.


Judi and Erica waiting for lock # 2 to fill

With the boat being lifted in the lock, I was continuously operating the engine ahead or astern to maintain a position between the lock gates.

Lock # 2 is full so gates opening

With the level in the locks equalised, Erica and Judi are opening the front gates, while I pushed ahead into lock # 3.

Entering lock # 3

Departing lock # 3, we entered a small pond, which is a passing place for boats going in opposite directions. This speeds up the process, as boats can start at the top and bottom, at the same time. Without the middle passing pond, if boats were heading up, no boat could go down until the full convoy heading up had cleared the locks.

Boat we passed in the passing pond

In the above photo we are already heading up the lock after the passing pond. This is the boat we passed continuing down through the locks we just vacated.

2nd last lock at Watford Gap

Completed Watford Gap Locks and bound for Crick

The above photo is taken after we cleared the Watford Gap Locks and is taken behind us. This is the queue of boats waiting to descend the locks. The transit through the Crick Tunnel, while long, was again uneventful. On clearing the tunnel, we immediately were in the throngs of the boat show. Congestion was considerable, so unfortunately I was unable to get any photographs.

Along the left bank it was a continuous wall of boats, berthed 2 deep. This left a narrow passageway, which was comfortably wide enough for 1 boat; however, we did have to pass a number of southbound boats. Can we say very tight fit!!!

We arrived in Yelvertoft shortly after noon, so Erica and I wandered into town to pick up some milk. After shopping we stopped at the pub, The Knightley Arms, to check it out and sample their refreshments. Great staff and friendly locals. We noted the lady behind the bar ordering a coffee from the cook and then the cook ordering a pint of Guinness and disappearing back into the galley. Off course, the pint was destined for the Beef & Ale pie!!!

All 4 of us walked to the pub and had an exceptional meal. I had the Beef & Ale pie, which was brilliant. We got chatting with the locals and on leaving they offered to drive Nan & Judi back to the boat. Really great village, with nice people.

Day 6 – Return to Foxton

Today’s navigational challenges were the Husbands Bosworth tunnel followed by descending Foxton Locks. This time we actually passed another boat inside the tunnel. For a couple of hours, I sat up in the bow with the camera, while the ladies very competently handled the boat.

Passing other boats on the canal

Many people full-time on their canal boats, enjoying a similar life to the full-time RV’ers in North America. This is us passing one of the full-timers with a selection of flowers. This would be the equivalent of boondocking.

Judi & Erica driving the boat

All 3 ladies were excellent students in learning the art of small boat driving. They all did an excellent job and spent many hours sharing the conning responsibilities. Above is Judi & Erica driving, while I sat in the bow.

Canal overflow gate

To ensure safety of navigation, they must maintain a fairly constant water level on the canals. Water is gained from rainfall, runoffs and the reservoirs that feed the system, while it is lost by evapouration and the locks. Above shows one of the overflow gates that release water into local ditches, when they have too much water in the canal.

Passing another boat

While the canal is generally wide enough to comfortably pass other boats, it does get narrow at bridges and a number of other spots, due to encroaching vegetation. One must be constantly vigilant and slow down to permit safe passing, as required. Due to meeting at a bend, we slowed to permit the other boat to pass safely.

Passing another boat with canopy of trees

We even passed a kayaker


Approaching bridge # 33

Above photo shows the canal narrowing at the bridge, only wide enough for 1 boat.

This was one of the few long straight stretches of the canal

Two bends and a bridge, fortunately nobody opposing us

All 3 Admirals on the bridge

Judi, Erica and Nan all on the bridge. This is Nan at the controls, having just passed under a bridge.

Our final tunnel was returning through the Husbands Bosworth tunnel. The 3 previous tunnels we cleared unopposed, but on entering the final tunnel, we noted another boat just entering the opposite end. During the training, we were advised they are just wide enough for 2 boats to pass, so on we went. The Admirals delegated the helm to the lowly Captain, so I grabbed the helm and off to accomplish another first. We actually had lots of room to spare, when passing the other boat – at least 6 to 8″.

Next up was Foxton Locks, where we arrived mid-afternoon. We secured at the top, while I went for a walk to find a volunteer, who advised they had 1 starting to head up, so we could start down and meet in the middle passing pond.

Foxton Locks from the top

Being lock pros, by now, it was a breeze and 45 minutes later we were secured for the evening.

For dinner we returned to Foxton Locks Inn, but this time dinner was just OK, definitely not as good as our first visit.

Day 7 – Return to Market Harborough

Today is Sunday and tomorrow, we must have the boat back at Union Marina in Market Harborough by 09:00. Since it is 2+ hours from Foxton, we decided to return to Market Harborough today, rather than face a very early start tomorrow.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, with a few mugs of tea, then set off down the canal towards Leicester. Just prior to the first lock, we turned around and then commenced a slow trip back to the marina, arriving late afternoon. For dinner we visited the Waterfront, enjoying another Sunday Carvery.

Day 8 – Tearful goodbyes

On the Monday morning we loaded our luggage back into the cars, returned the keys to the Union Boat Club and said our tearful goodbyes, after enjoying a brilliant and relaxing week. Judi and I were heading to Canterbury, while Erica and Nan were going home to Glossop.

Would we do it again – yes, but with the following provisos, hire a bigger boat with 2 bedrooms and go for 2 weeks, completing a circle route, rather than retracing our steps.



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