Victor is shocked by the 'stoppage' work

Published: Sunday, 17 September 2017

I was shocked indeed by what was done in the five days of Ervin's Lock stoppage, but more of that later.

Towpath2A couple of nights moored by the lakes at Syston were peaceful enough as we had moved down a little way on the moorings of this part of the Leicester Section, so were then away from where the cyclists turned into the park to use its tarmac paths.

Old fashioned towpath

This left us with a real old fashioned towpath as can be seen, (carrying on from my last picture) with its only users a few dog walkers realising it was safer that being in the actual park.

But don't get me wrong, I can well see the advantage of people wanting to use such a cycle track from Syston, Birstall and the like into Leicester, avoiding, what to them are the dangerous roads. After all it is exceptional exercise and about the cheapest mode of transport.

The only pity is that they were not installed as proper cycle tracks rather than on the narrow towpaths.

Birstall no paddleNeeds so TLC

Thurmaston Lock was a joy, as it had obviously had new gates and balanced as well, with all its paddles working.

But a pity about Birstall Lock that really needed some tender loving care with a gate that would not fully open and a paddle missing.  And no, it wasn't something stuck behind the gate as a walker told us it had been like that 'for ages'.

And now a further waiting game for Ervin's Lock to be repaired, but we were lucky enough to get the only vacant mooring on the jetty by another park, this time well secure behind a locked gate of the beautiful Castle Gardens in the middle of Leicester.

So at last Friday came, and today after a week's work, Ervin's Lock should be open—at the end of the working day of course, so off we went on our merry way.

 Straight MileA mile of nowt

I am always surprised by the moorings on the 'Straight Mile at Leicester. So many times we have cruised past with moorings—a long length of bollards followed by an even longer length of rings, yet every time we pass they have been totally empty of boats.

Staying on the garden moorings opposite and being early starters, you would expect a few boats taking advantage of either the bollards or rings on a wide waterway for an overnight stay, but never any. 

I well remember the vandals of the past when it required the appointment of a ranger to give some security, but on the Leicester Section they are very much a thing of the past, for which we can no doubt thank smart phones, tablets and the huge choice of telly, as they are certainty not here now.

PoetryNo problem

At the end of the 'mile' by the massive weir is Freeman's Lock, though fairly deep was no problem at all, with the gates well balanced, the paddles easy to wind and even a new bridge attached to the top gates for easy access across the lock.

Alas the same could not be told of the next lock, St Mary's Mill, with leaking gates and the paddles needing our Yorkshire windlass to wind, yet this one is not on the list for repair. But another with 'poetry' on its gates. But this time not the excessively expensive poetry carved into lock beams by Cart's own poet, but a much cheaper version, and more to the point.

Generally the locks were not too bad after this, though as expected there were leaking gates, but they were well balanced and the paddles easy to wind with our rather long windlass!

Kings LockThe 'emergency stoppages

And so to the locks of the section to Kilby Bridge that are needing such attention, the four being described by Canal & River Trust as 'emergency stoppages'.

The first, King's Lock, that is due for a full weeks' work on Monday 23rd October, had rather leaking bottom gates, as can be seen, but I have to tell no worse than say Radcliffe Lock at the bottom of the Soar, that has been in a similar state for many a year.

The paddles however were okay as was the balance of the gates.

Blue Banks Lock

Then it was Blue Banks Lock that was originally due for closure on Monday 9th September, that was absolutely ridiculous as being just after the school holidays, the week when many take to the waterways to not only miss all the kids but to take advantage of lower boat hire rates.

But the IWA though this might hinder boaters getting back from its festival on the Erewash, so Cart of course but the stoppage back to accommodate.

Wetston Lock2This time we could see nothing wrong though we all gave the lock a good examination.  There was a little leakage on the bottom gates, but this amount, even from a full lock no worse than many others these days. The gates moved easily and fitted well with all the paddles working fine, but had had no obvious recent attention. But how this could possibly be an 'emergency stoppage' God only knows. 

Whetstone Lock

Whetstone Lock however did need a bit of tender loving care, for though there was only a small amount of leakage out of the bottom gates approaching the full lock, there was an obvious problem with the cill on one of the top gates, as can be seen from the picture above.

Water was surging from the base of the gates, that would possibly point to a broken cill, but whatever it certainly needs attention, and perhaps could be called an 'emergency' under the circumstances.

It is scheduled for the normal weeks' closure from Monday 9th October.

Ervins Lock3Ervin's Lock

Seeing the never ending lush vegetation on the towpath side of this waterway we though it best not to go right up to Ervin's Lock that was in the process of repair, so attempted to moor beforehand, but try as we might, in the occasional clear lengths it was too shallow so just had to keep going hoping that we would find a space before the lock.

One thing for certain the old National Association of Boaters 'veg pedge' was a thing of the past under this regime.

Then joy of joy, just as we had just about given up being able to stop to await the lock opening at the stated 4pm, here came two boats heading towards us at 11.30am—the lock had been opened early! 

Irvins Lock stripsWhat was so annoying is that we had only just rung Cart to inquire when the lock would be open and were told 4pm, though it was obviously already open!  The woman was obviously reading the prepared script.  As there was still a lock to go before Ervins, it had obviously been open a while yet no one had bothered to update her.

Approaching the lock at last we saw everything had been cleared away, with two tugs and their barges—one at the top of the lock (pictured) and one below with a couple of men on the bottom barge, with Thomas asking if they had had a busy week, to be told: "Not too busy, just awkward.".

Thinking that Thomas was just a regular boater—during the recent re-paint he had purposely left off the sign 'narrowboatworld'—he further asked what work they had been doing, to which he was flabbergasted to hear the man retort: "We have been putting a couple of strips on the gates."

Ervins cillAnd that was that. Five days, with how many workers we do not know, to fix two strips on the bottom gates! There were two tugs, one van and two pick-ups at the scene, so though we saw just four people, we have no idea of the total required to fix those two strips—here's a picture above.

We well examined the lock. There had been no obvious work on any of the gates except for the two strips. The paddles had not been replaced and there was no sign of work on the walls or the bywash.

Yet the top cill wasn't in too good a condition, with the boat in the picture covering the worst of the leaks, that can be seen, but this had obviously either not been seen on the 'inspection' or had been ignored. But just how much did the installation of two strips cost? Obviously quite a few thousands.  £20,000 is possibly a good guess.

Seeing all the safety equipment on the barge at the top of the lock, installing this and dismantling would have taken a couple of days,which leaves two and an half for the work, as it was finished early.

Think what you will about these four 'emergency stoppages', but I believe that somewhere or other something is drastically wrong, and you can see why maintenance is getting so far behind and now millions in the red, for these days a great deal of money is being wasted on doing very little.

Victor Swift