We were delighted to be joined again in Foxton by Wendy and Stuart. Last time they were on board the weather was shockingly wet, so though they stayed the night, we didn’t go anywhere. This time, Wendy had expressed interest in the Foxton Lock Flight, so we made sure that she could be with us as we went through them.
The locks are considered too complicated to be left to boaters to do on their own, so they can only be used when they are staffed by Canal and River Trust (CRT) lock-keepers. The arrangement is that you turn up and make yourself known, and you’ll be put on the list. The locks can handle multiple boats in transit at the same time, but only if they are (almost) all going in the same direction. We waited until our guests had arrived before moving to the waiting area just in case we were immediately invited up.
As it turned out, there was one boat coming down, so we were called in after about half an hour waiting. Clare and Stuart hopped off to work the gates, while I drove in with Wendy for company. I was pleased to slide in without touching the sides – I usually manage that, but without such a large audience. Stuart closed the first gate himself, but soon realised that with all those gongoozlers about, the easiest way to operate the gates was inviting others to do it.
When we got to halfway, Wendy decided to get a different perspective, so she hopped off to join the locking crew. A few locks later, Stuart decided it would be nice to reward his gang of helpers with a ride on the boat. So a group of four excited children joined me at the back of the boat for the rest of the flight. Stuart meanwhile continued to recruit helpers from the towpath.
Clare did most of the winding. The arrangement of these locks is very unusual. There are only two paddles per lock, and they are both on the towpath on the same side of the lock. The rule is to always open the red one first. This lets water from the side pond in to the lower pound. Then the white one can be opened, it lets water from the top pound in to the same side pond. Once the three are at the same level the gates are opened and the paddles closed. Although this is the longest staircase lock in the country, it is considered the easiest and quickest set of locks too.
Wendy wound the top paddle to bring us to the summit level, and the children were disembarked at the ice cream shop. (They had been snacking on the boat already, but were still expecting ice cream.)
We found a place to moor, and then walked back down the hill to the pub for lunch. Suitably refreshed, we set off along the canal for a short cruise. I had identified a winding hole a couple of miles away that allowed us to come back, and I had also seen that we could turn again without having to go back through the locks.
We moored up for the evening next to a statue of a horse. It was strange to catch sight of it out of the window now and then while we were there.
This morning we went to the museum in the former boiler house half-way up the locks. The museum tells the story of the inclined plane boat lift which was built adjacent to the locks and opened in 1900. Two boats could be taken up and two down in 12 minutes. It makes our 45 minute lock run seem slow. It closed for economic reason in 1911 and never reopened. The metal was eventually sold for scrap, but the slope remains with stubs of canal at top and bottom.
We got confirmation today that there are no appointment letters sitting on the doormat in Edinburgh (thanks Sam!), so we decided we are safe to head off in to the railway station desert to the south of us. We set off in warm sunshine this afternoon – distinctly warmer than yesterday. We passed the group of tiny ducklings we’d seen yesterday – but today there was no sign of their Mum.
I had intended to moor up before we reached the tunnel at Husband’s Bosworth, but the towpath was not suitable, so we went through the tunnel and stopped at a nice spot beyond it. Tomorrow’s very early sunrise will be unobstructed, but to take pictures of tonight’s sunset I had to climb on to the roof to see over the hedge.