Market Harborough to Kilby Bridge, 14.25 miles, 12 locks, 1 tunnel
Finally left Market Harborough, after first emptying the loo and the bins (again!) and checking that the Soar and Trent were being well behaved. Although my previous plan called for me to retrace my steps and go back down the Leicester Section, then up the Oxford and Coventry canals, I'd much rather explore pastures new, which means going north at Foxton Locks and through Leicester and Loughborough.
The Market Harborough arm was pretty—I'd not really had time to appreciate it on the way in as the light was failing—and all was going well until I got to bridge no. 4, which you may remember is an offside swing bridge. Last time I was lucky enough to find a volunteer to operate the bridge, but today the only people around were two men who were peering into either a telephone or cable TV distribution box a little way beyond the bridge. I was going to have to do it myself.
Having not previously approached the bridge from this end and being unable to see a mooring bollard on the 'swing' side, I pulled over to the towpath. Once there I could see the mooring bollard and decided that the solution was to simply give Oothoon's bow a shove and let her carry me over to the bollard. So I gave her a shove and...somehow didn't get on board quick enough. I don't know whether there was still a little bit of forward momentum at that point and she went off diagonally rather than straight, but the next thing I know I'm sliding down the side and in the water, dangling from the rail in the well deck at the front. I've often wondered what I'd do if I somehow ended up in the canal and how I'd get back on board (because various people have told me that narrowboats are fiendishly difficult to climb onto from the water). I figured I'd throw my leg up onto the gunwale and somehow hoist myself up, or if I was round the stern and the propellor wasn't going round, I'd use the two ribs round the hull and the rear fender as steps, or if she was moving I'd try and direct her towards a crash landing on the shore and climb out of the water there. But none of these take into account some harsh realities:
1) I'm not actually strong enough to lift myself up at the best of times
2) You weigh an awful lot more when your clothes are wet up to your arm pits
3) The edge of the well deck is about 2.5 feet above the waterline, so my arms were fully extended
4) Canals are shallow, but (except maybe at the edges) that doesn't mean you can touch the bottom
After struggling for what seemed like a long while, but which was probably only a few seconds, I did the sensible thing and yelled "Help!" Then a second later I did something even more sensible and yelled "Help!" as loud as I could. As I did this, one of the men from the distribution box vaulted the rail of the bridge, landed on the far bank and climbed into the well deck. He first attempted to pull me out of the water by grabbing my arms and pulling—like they do in films where someone is holding on with the fingers of one hand. That didn't look like it was going to work. Thinking fast, I suggested that he push the boat over to the towpath side so I could try getting out on the bank there. This he did, and after another vault over the railing and a quick sprint, he was waiting for me when I arrived. Although this initially seemed like a good idea, I suddenly realised that I was now in the rapidly closing gap between the boat and the bank—not a terribly sensible idea—but fortunately my hero grabbed the boat and stopped it crushing me. As I was now at the edge I gingerly put a foot downwards and found that at full stretch I could reach the bottom. This was good, but still not enough to get me out of the water. Then I realised—the gangplank I'd bought a few weeks ago was basically a ladder with a bit of wood on it, so I asked my rescuer to climb on the roof and get it, which he did. After removing the plank, we lowered the ladder down and rested it on the bottom, and I climbed out, surprised to find that instead of the man who had saved me (who was still on the roof), there was a kindly Dutch gentleman with an enormous beard who was telling me to hold his hand so I wouldn't slip. Once I was out again and the boat was tied up (no idea who did that), my saviour gave me a cheery wave and went back to his distribution box; and the Dutchman and his lady companion continued on their stroll. I went below to get changed out of my wet clothes and dry myself—hurrying because I knew that I was taking up the mooring reserved for operating the bridge,—so you can imagine my surprise when I'd done all this and stepped outside again, to find that the bridge had 'vanished'. Turned out that another boat had come along behind me, with more crew on board and one of them had just opened the gate and was waiting for the boat to come through. Asking if I might pop through too, the bridge-man said yes, and so I did. They were stopping for a spot of lunch immediately after the bridge, so I proceeded on to bridge no. 1, which is also an offside swing bridge. Fearing the worst (and not wanting another ducking) I approached the bridge slowly, but then a woman jumped off a Canaltime boat that was moored nearby, ran across the bridge and opened it for me. Wonderful!
Swing bridges and the Harborough arm behind me, I decided to moor at Foxton and have some lunch. I was very worried that shock might set in and if it was going to do so, I wanted to be moored and fed. There are nice moorings at Foxton and after making Oothoon secure, I headed for the pub Bridge 61. Who should be sitting outside having a Ploughman's but the Dutchman and his companion. They enquired whether I was okay and I enquired about the Ploughman's, then after ordering a 'mixed cheese' Ploughman's and some tea, I sat next to them and we chatted. They were both very nice and quite concerned about my wellbeing, but I had to agree with the Dutchman that the Ploughman's wasn't the best. It's basically a sub roll, three types of cheese, a tub of Branston, two tubs of butter and an apple. However it is all bundled in a gaily coloured napkin/tablecloth, which wouldn't look out of place on the end of a stick if you were leaving home, the apple is a nice touch, and I rather like Bridge 61 as a pub, so I'm being much more forgiving than you might expect. After lunch it didn't look I was going into shock (unlike my poor phone, which has taken quite badly after its dunking—oh well, I was looking for an excuse to buy an iPhone) so I headed for the next hurdle of the day.
A BW work boat passed me as I set off from Foxton and roared away into the distance. I followed behind, at what I thought was a quite pacey 3.7mph, but could only catch them up when they slowed down for moored boats. Eventually I caught them up properly just before I got to the tunnel—looked to me like their propellor had dropped off! Saddington Tunnel is 880 yards (0.5 mile/0.8km) long, is wide to allow wide-beam boats through, straight and relatively benign. I was convinced I'd seen a boat in the tunnel as I approached, but by the time I'd turned my lights on and entered it, there was no sign. I'm pleased to say that nothing happened in the tunnel. No oncoming boats, no engine bother, no electrical bother, and nothing supernatural. Which is good, because I was still a bit worried about my mental state.
After the tunnel there's a short section of canal before you hit the first set of locks at Kibworth. As I approached the top lock, I could see another boat between it and the next lock. I didn't know if they'd seen me, but apparently they had, because as I was operating the lock the captain of the boat approached and said that they'd thought they'd seen me entering the tunnel as they left (which cleared up that mystery) and that they were waiting for me at the next lock. We did all of the Kibworth locks together through to Crane's Lock, then they were stopping for the night—as they put it "in the middle of nowhere". I decided to press on, because I had it in my head that I had to be at Kilby Bridge or my chances of getting through Leicester in a day would be dashed.
By the time I'd reached Newton Harcourt it was just after 6 and my GPS had already told me that sunset was about 7:15, so I thought about stopping there. At least I'd be fresh and could make an early start in the morning. At the top lock I talked to the artisan who was decorating what used to be the lock keeper's cottage, who told me that the village didn't have a pub, didn't have a shop and didn't have a post office either. While none of those things were essential to me, being stocked up for a day or two thanks to Herr Aldi, I did fancy a pint. If I wasn't going to be able to get one, I might as well press on a bit further as there'd be less to do in the morning. I figured that I'd get as far as I could before sunset, then stop. The first two locks were a chore, but as I came out of the second one, I met a boat coming the other way who were sorry that they hadn't seen me and so hadn't left the gates open on the next lock, but that at least it was ready. This was fortunate, because apart from not having much in the way of towpath to moor next to, the lock also didn't have any bollards, making it tricky to stop Oothoon drifting off.
I eventually got through the third lock and after that was a half-mile straight to the next lock. I figured I could see well enough to get me down the half-mile and I'd moor at the next lock, but when I got there the gates were open and it was ready to go. Not wishing to look this gift horse in the mouth, in I went and started to operate the lock. Not far away was the next in this set of locks, also with its gates open, so after I'd finished the first lock, I went into the second. By this time I had my lights on and was being a lot more careful. Once that lock was out of the way, I realised that Kilby bridge was one mile and two locks away. Nothing! So I decided that I'd take my time, go carefully and reach my target after all.
Can I just take this opportunity to once again mention that out in the country, when the sun goes down, it gets really dark! Fortunately it was a clear night and the moon came up, glowing bright orange before turning its more usual white, otherwise I suspect I'd have been stuck. So, even though I've done it before and gotten away with it, my advice is: don't do locks in the dark. Can I also just mention that the countryside is full of animals, some of which are quite noisy and rather surprised to find you and your boat there. Having said that, I did go carefully, took my time, made sure all my movements were deliberate and not hurried, and somehow got through them. Now it was just a matter of finding my way through the rising mist and hoping that there'd be somewhere to moor.
I needn't have worried: I could see the lights from a distance away and the moorings were clear and excellent. I pulled up, moored and went inside to the lasagne that was to be dinner tonight. As a special treat and in homage to the Large Hadron Collider, I broke open a bottle of Atom Smasher, brewed by the City of Cambridge Brewing Co. Ltd. Very nice. Shame I'm probably too knackered to get up early tomorrow though—I'm supposed to be going through Leicester!