He Must Be Called Frank. 22nd August

Gees Lock to Friars Mill Moorings

Tea with breakfast and we were ready for the off at 8:30, early for us.

Last night Mick had closed the bottom gates on Gees Lock and thankfully they’d stayed that way. At Blue Bank’s Lock it was full and a chap walked up and opened the top gate for us. He was a Scout leader and was on a walk down to see if the river was at a suitable level for the scouts to use later in the day. He also stayed to help close up and have a bit of a natter. Thank you!

Look horse, the tea room doesn’t open until tomorrow!

King’s Lock. Long before the tea rooms ever existed the cottage had been vandalised and set on fire. A young chap called Ade and his partner Lou approached British Waters to see if they could rescue it, it was due for demolition. They worked hard on the cottage and today it is a popular spot with walkers and boaters. Ade and Lou now are set builders and have built Chippy panto every year I’ve been designing it.

Sadly they only open Wednesday to Sunday, we always seem to pass when they are closed, one day we’ll actually go inside. By now I was taking note of moorings that were available, I knew one person waiting on the other side of North Lock 42 in Leicester who may be looking for a mooring later today. Two boats below the lock, plenty of room for several more boats.

So sad

A sign on the lock beam warned us of a sunken boat between bridge 107 and Aylstone Lock, there it sat, half submerged having been set light to, thankfully no-one had been onboard at the time.

Not hard

As we pulled up at the lock a boat was exiting below. There was time to have a quick ‘Are you carrying on? We’ll wait for you!’ conversation. Brilliant we’d now have two people filling locks and coping with swinging gates. Aylstone Lock took its time to fill and empty, the smell of fuel at the bottom gates was really quite pongy. Now the narrow stretch that today made us feel as if we must have gone the wrong way. But the dye factory was still there even if the gas tower opposite has totally vanished.

St Mary’s Lock

The walls round St Mary’s Lock are still covered in graffiti tags as always, the smell of fresh spray paint emanating from the walls. There sat the boat waiting for us, NB Blue something, didn’t catch their full name, surrounded by C&RT volunteers, they were preparing to paint the lock gates. It always amuses me when someone suggests hoping/jumping back on your boat as it descends into a lock when I can just simply step back onboard below as it leaves. As there were numerous blue shirts about many with windlasses I decided to walk on to the next lock along with the crew from the other boat.

Heading along the straight into the city

Freeman’s Meadow Lock sits by a big weir opposite the football ground. Two boats were just pulling away below, we’d been following a convoy. The other lady and I chatted , they were heading for North Lock, booked through today. It was their first time on the Leicester Section. I made suggestions of where they might be able to loiter should the lock cut be full of waiting boats.

Friars Mill

Our arrival into Leicester was earlier than originally planned. Our plan had been to arrive as the moorings emptied out with boats heading to North Lock for their assisted passage. We’d not been able to book for today, but decided to keep the pace up and have a couple of days in Leicester before our booking. Castle Garden moorings were empty and at Friars Mill there was enough room for two narrowboats behind a couple of cruisers who looked like they lived there. We pulled in, our plan had worked.

We decided to go and see what was happening at North Lock, how many boats would be waiting? How were they going to open the gates with the top cill being in such a bad state?

Looking above

Above the lock seven boats waited, below only four, the rest were holding back where there was more space and would move up once they heard boats were on the move. Plenty of chaps in blue and life jackets milling about, a list of boat names booked for today sat on a lock beam, 8 uphill 8 down. The bottom paddles slightly lifted and the water at the top end bubbling away, both sets of gates chained shut.

Below with more further back

Familiar faces and boats from our journey across the Leicester Section, the people from Ripon, our lock partners from today and right at the front of the queue NB Golden Eagle.

The road alongside the lock is a busy one onto Frog Island, so everyone had to keep an eye on their backs as huge wagons pulled in with inches to spare receiving a round of applause from everyone waiting for the lock. On the other side there is a new development being built, fencing and neat planting to a showroom, behind which is a complete building site. A forklift came along and moved away barriers, two chaps moved piles of breeze blocks and undid several panels of solid fencing this was so a vehicle could be brought alongside the lock.

C&RT undid a section of the neat fencing, swinging it out of the way. A 4 tonne chain winch and strops attached to the offside lock beam. A signal was given, a C&RT old pick up was driven round through the building site, the aim to use it’s towbar as an anchoring point for the winch. The pickup was turned round and then maneuvered into such a position that the towbar was just in line with the lock beam. Everything was attached and ready to go as the lock was drained.

They waited for the level to reach a mark that couldn’t be seen from our side of the lock, from here on the level would stay just about even, the same amount of water coming in through the cill as was going out through the bottom paddles, now is when they needed to encourage the bottom gate to open just an inch or two to empty the lock fully.

All the time this one chap had been leaning against the off side beam. ‘He must be called Frank’ I said. ‘Give me a leaver and a fulcrum and I’ll move the world’ says our friend Frank. He’d most certainly have been that chap leaning against the beam if he’d been here!

A pull on the chain winch, another, the beam moved a touch, a gap appearing in between the bottom gates, the rush of water leveling things out. Brilliant! The first two uphill boats were ushered into the lock, paddles would up and they were soon on their way, cheers all round.

Then the first two down hill boats. Once they had reached a certain level they were encouraged to move forward should anything more happen to the cill behind them. The whole process was repeated everything now where it needed to be. It took 14 minutes from the first boat entering the lock to the last one exiting. Job well done.

Going down

Chatting to a C&RT man he said that they’d been getting calls for assistance a couple of times a day in the last few weeks. People had started to improvise, a Spanish windlass attached to a handrail, a forklift truck and numerous passersby had been commandeered to help open the bottom gates. This morning they’d just been informed that there would be a stoppage to replace the cill around the 4th September. Until then assisted passages will happen twice a week.

Bubbling away

I sent an update to the boat waiting out of view that boats were on they’re way towards them now. The second batch of uphill boats now entering the lock. We’d seen enough now. A little spec in my vision suggested either I’d been looking towards the sun or a migraine was on its way. We headed back to the boat for some pills, my sight not having improved sadly. I spent much of the remainder of the day in bed listening to Tilly complaining about not being allowed out!

Ready for the next two

Mick popped into one of the railway archways near Friars Mill, a car repair shop to ask if they might know someone who’d be able to look at our alternator that went faulty on us earlier this year. The chap said he’d get someone to look at it and let us know, his deadline being Friday morning when it’ll be our turn to go through North Lock.

Half the uphill boats pulled up in Leicester the rest chose to carry on. We’ll keep our Welcome to pull alongside notices in the windows for when the next group of boats arrive for the lock. Our neighbours behind us won’t be moving on, as they told us, They live here!

Up in Yorkshire work took place on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, 20 tonnes of clay were used to block the leak and and then plug the bank. The leak now stopped before anything more serious happened to the bank.

6 locks, 2 shared, 4.3 miles, 3 resident boats, 1 plan paid off, 15 or maybe 16 boats through the lock, 4 tonne chain winch, 1 Frank, 6:30 start for one boat, 9 men in blue, 2 big thank yous to C&RT, 3 pills.