Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Leicester - As You Like it

Our friends, Kris and Bernard, who have a narrowboat on the River Soar, invited us over to
Leicestershire for a day out on their boat "Sunshine" on Saturday. They keep her at the newish marina at Pillings Lock between Leicester and Loughborough and a trip on the river made an interesting contrast from our normal beat on the Shropshire Union Canal.
We keep Starcross on on-line moorings at Norbury Junction, so the marina was a new experience for us.

There's still a lot of work to be done on the site, but its a pleasant environment and, with a view of the Midland Main (Railway) Line from your boat, not a bad place to be based. Heading out of the marina and turning right towards Leicester we were straightaway confronted with another relatively unusual experience - a lock!Pillings Flood Lock is normally left open in the summer months, but in March it was closed and so, unlike at Norbury - where we are in the middle of the 17 mile pound - our trip began with some lock work. Once through the lock we were onto the River Soar. Heading upstream, the effect of the flow on the boat's progress was immediately noticeable until we reached Barrow -on-Soar and passed through the Deep Lock and back onto a short canal section.

To the right you can see the entrance to Proctors Pleasure Park. Today its a somewhat run-down and fairly seedy caravan park with some boat moorings on which "Sunshine" was once kept, but in its hey-day it was the destination for train loads of day trippers from the surrounding towns of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham! The lock weirs on the Soar are fierce - at least to someone used to the placid waters on the canal system, but it doesn't stop boaters taking advantage of all available mooring spots. I must admit that I wouldn't very much like to keep my boat at this particular spot at Sileby Mill Lock!

The locks themselves are wide and the gates and paddle gear heavy to operate and yet another contrast to our home waters. Conveniently, my heart condition means I'm temporarily banned from other than very gentle lockworking at the moment so Hil and Kris had to get stuck in! At Birstall you become aware of the approach to the city of Leicester. The first landmark is the Space Centre. Last time we were in Leicester we intended to visit it, but changed our minds when we found that we would have to queue for over an hour to get inside. If its as interesting inside as it is from the outside though it should be well worthwhile.
The nearer you get to Leicester the more interesting the scenery becomes. These industrial buildings are reminiscent of the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) of old,
whilst further excitement is provided in the form of the unprotected weirs, of which this is one:

Leicester has a terrible reputation amongst boaters many of whom seem to think that the only way to approach the city is as part of an early morning non-stop run from Kilby Bridge to Birstall. They'll probably be wondering what on earth we were doing heading for the city centre on a Saturday afternoon! Suffice to say that as locals our hosts are well aware of the risks the city actually poses and, as expected, we enjoyed a completely trouble-free run with no navigational problems and nothing but friendly greetings from towpath walkers. Our only concern was that Sunshine would have to be left alone on the visitor moorings overnight, but we needn't have worried. Such is the popularity of Leicester that boats were breasted up (double-parked) on the Castle Green moorings and we had to tie up to the British Waterways workboat that's usually kept just off the end of the pontoon here, which at least allowed us an uninterrupted view of the splendid West Bridge.

In the evening we had tickets for a performance of "As You Like It" at the city's new "Curve" theatre. The production was very good, although we were all a bit too tired to enjoy it to the full and the venue itself seemed somewhat lacking in atmosphere and had little or no sense of occasion. We returned home with Kris and Bernard for the evening, leaving "Sunshine" at Castle Green, from where they retrieved her on Monday. All in all it was an excellent day's boating and a complete contrast from the Shroppie!

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