The Tidal Trent, Part 2 and The Chesterfield Canal

  As agreed with the lockkeeper, Neil, at Torksey, we headed up to the area of the lock at around lunchtime on Thursday 7th July, ready to go through the lock. At about 2.15 p.m, Neil advised that there was enough water to drop us down onto the River. By this time, another narrowboat and a widebeam had appeared. Neil asked the widebeam to go in first, then us and the other narrowboat went side by side, then a smaller narrowboat tucked in behind us. We all dropped in the lock and three of us moored on the pontoon, the fourth, the small narrowboat, headed for Cromwell. It was a hot afternoon again so we disappeared inside the slightly cooler boat. We heard a lot of engine noise and saw that four huge cruisers had turned up to moor. The other narrowboat breasted up with the widebeam, with whom they were travelling, which left enough room for the four cruisers to squeeze onto the pontoon, two side by side. 

We were awoken before 6 the next morning by all the other boats on the pontoon starting their engines – the tidal flow was necessitating their departure. They all roared off in unison, heading to Cromwell,  and we were left in peace for another couple of hours. After Sal’s morning walk, we got the boat ready, got out the lifejackets and prepared for our own departure. Tony saw Neil, the lockkeeper, who advised that we left 15 minutes earlier than planned to give us a maximum window in which to enter West Stockwith Lock, as the depth of water and tides were making it tricky to be more accurate at the moment. We set off and had a fabulous trip – it was quite hot so a gentle breeze was very welcome and we diligently followed our River Trent charts so as not to ground in the shallow water. We didn’t rush, just a nice, easy pace but, of course, we were going with the flow of the river. The lockkeeper, Ian, at West Stockwith didn’t come on duty until 12 noon, so we hadn’t been able to speak to him yet, but soon after 12, we phoned to give him an update on our position. He said that we would  arrive a little too quickly – there wasn’t enough water yet to operate the lock at West Stockwith, so we said that we would throttle back and just pootle for a few miles. He phoned us about 20 minutes later to say that we should resume normal speed and that he was dropping two narrowboats out onto the River, then we could go in. We waited until the two narrowboats passed us, then put our foot down for the last few hundred metres. We were now going against the flow, although it wasn’t a fast flow and there was no struggling involved. We arrived at the lock entrance, which is at quite an acute angle, lined up the boat as indicated by Ian, then swung the bow in, crossing the flow of the water. This can be a tricky lock to get into – unlike Torksey, which has a long run up to the lock from the river, this lock entrance is directly off of the river, so the boat has to be steered in against the flow, getting the bow in and putting some power on before the flow of the river slams the stern into the opposite wall! Ian said that some boats actually choose to nudge the wall on the other side and use that nudge to steer in and to swing the stern round, but, luckily for us, the flow was such that, with a little burst from the bow thruster, we got in without having to nudge anything! He gave us 9 ½ out of ten. 👍🏻

I’ve uploaded a short video of our trip on the tidal River Trent on to YouTube – here’s the link –

With Tony still feeling fatigued with the after effects of Covid, and with it being quite hot, we were pleased to moor up in the basin to have a bit of a rest. We decided, though, to continue on for a short distance, so, after Sal’s afternoon walk, we set off and cruised another 1 ½ miles, working two locks. It was lovely to be back on a canal – we could see over the sides – and what a lovely view it was, too! It soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be a moor-where-you-like canal – the sides were quite overgrown and weedy! Unfortunately, we passed one decent mooring before we came to this conclusion, so didn’t pass the second! 

On Saturday, 9th July, we decided to carry on, mainly because we had virtually zero data signal. I walked to the local Co-Op for a few bits, then we set off. It is quite shallow and a bit weedy, so progress was slow, but it certainly was a very lovely canal! We moored in a gorgeous spot, with a little bit of shade for good measure, and within sight of a mobile tower across the fields – a good signal –  yay!!! 

We left our lovely rural mooring on Sunday,10th July, opting to leave early for a walk-and-go. However, Sal and I were walking far quicker than Tony was able to travel on the boat, due to the depth, so there was a lot of hanging about whilst he battled along. I caught up with another boat at a lock so helped them set it, but there was no sign of Tony when it was ready so I phoned him – he was still about 15 minutes behind because he kept dragging on the bottom and even had to pole under a bridge as it just wouldn’t move in gear! (When in gear the stern dips down further into the water, making it worse if it’s shallow, sometimes it’s best to just let it float and pole the boat along – like a punt!) The other boat was happy to wait for him, so he slowly made his way towards the lock. Once through the lock, the other boat set off, saying they would go and set the next lock and wait for us again. I was still quicker walking than Tony and made it to the lock before him again. We told the other boat to go ahead but they kindly insisted on waiting for him! Once he arrived at the lock, Sal and I got on the boat for the last half mile of the journey. We arrived at the visitor moorings at Drakeholes tunnel, having taken 3½ hours to travel for 2½ miles (with two locks). This would normally take us about 1½ hours!! It was a beautiful spot and nicely in the shade so we stayed there for the Monday, too, as it was forecast to be a hot day. Drakeholes Tunnel has a nice picnic area – a road and a layby made a good place for a Tesco delivery, which was duly organised!

On Tuesday 12th July, we set off for another walk-and-go. Some parts of this cruise were ok, some parts not! At one stage, we were completely grounded so Tony had to deploy the bargepole again, but, just to make matters slightly more entertaining, we also had to contend with a family of swans, the parents of which didn’t seem overly keen to share their “patch”. Interestingly, they had a lone Canada Goose tagging along with them – a nanny, perhaps? It was smaller than the now-quite-large cygnets, though! We traveled for 5 miles in total and moored at an absolutely lovely mooring next to a now-closed pub. Had the pub still been open, I don’t think we would’ve been so lucky! There was an elevated and enclosed garden area with a bench, with a lovely view across the landscape beyond, so we enjoyed sitting out on the bench and taking in the view. I think that you could see the hills of the Peak District in the distance? Sal was on her long line, just so she couldn’t escape under the post-and-rail fence onto the road but could still have a roam and sniff. It was delightful! Unfortunately, Tony had been suffering with a painful foot (we think tendonitis, according to Doctor Google?)  over the previous couple of days and it got to the point where he was unable to walk Sal very far, so I was on afternoon walking duty, too. We sat out on the bench and had our dinner but, as usual, I was inundated with flying wee beasties – time to break out my “princess” mozzie net! I had bought this late last summer but hadn’t used it yet. It is designed to go over a single bed to make a princess bed, but I thought it would make an excellent mozzie net. So, boat hook extended, princess net hung up, net around bench – job done! Did I care what I looked like sitting under a pink frilly and lacy net? No! 🤣😂

On Wednesday, 13th July, another walk-and-go was on the cards, and, thankfully, Tony had less troubles on this stretch, he managed to keep up with us, although we were just strolling, to be fair! His foot was so painful that he was wearing slippers, so it was good that we had a fairly easy journey! We got Sal on the boat at the lock (all the locks have names but this one is worth a mention – Whitsunday Pie Lock 👍🏻, how lovely!), which was just on the outskirts of Retford. We continued on into Retford and moored just outside the back of Aldi. We had a few Amazon bits to pick up from the Post Office and I also popped into Aldi for a few essentials. However, it wasn’t the nicest of moorings so we decided to move round a bit further. We went through one more lock and on the approach, a chap asked us if we had a magnet as he’d seen some kids throw a bike into the lock. I drained the lock ready for us to enter and the bike could be clearly seen in the bottom. We weren’t sure whether it would hinder us, so I told Tony to just poke the bow of the boat in and stop. He got the sea magnet out and we tried to fish for the bike. However, it didn’t seem to grab it (made of aluminium?) so we got the boat hook out. Unfortunately, I can’t have tightened the extending sections enough as the first section slipped out and into the water – doh! I continued to try to grab the bike with the magnet (some of it must be made of steel??) – it didn’t stick but it did get caught in the frame! I was able to drag it towards the front of the boat and the chap, having jumped down onto the bow of the boat, was able to grab it – and the section of boat hook – and pull it out! Yay! He was delighted as it was a virtually new kids bike and his son didn’t have one – he was really pleased to be able to give it to his son. It was probably stolen and dumped but he hadn’t stolen it and had retrieved it from the water, so he felt justified in keeping it. We weren’t getting into that debate, we were just happy to get it out of the lock! We moored a couple of hundred metres beyond the lock on a shady spot at the back of Asda. 

We stayed on that mooring for several days. Dave visited us on Thursday as he was (nearly) in the area on business, so he stopped nearby and had a meal with us, also bringing various supplies and our Silver Propeller Challenge plaque and goody bag! It was so lovely to see him in the flesh!! 

I had ordered some materials to make some fly screens – among the Amazon things I picked up, so I spent a couple of days sewing. I had seen the idea on Facebook – screens to attach, with magnets, to the outside of the boat, covering the windows and portholes so that they could still be opened but not let bugs in. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before! Tony also went on the train to visit his brothers and sister and their families on Sunday – it would’ve been great if I could’ve gone as well but we didn’t feel comfortable with leaving the boat unattended and it was an easy journey on the train for Tony to go by himself –  and, of course, there was Sal to consider – having her does complicate things, at times. 🤣 

Under normal circumstances, we would have moved on Monday but the forecast was for extreme hot weather. We decided to stay in Retford as we were in partial shade and we had no idea of the mooring situation had we moved. We did move a couple of hundred metres round the corner, though, as it was an even shadier spot. I had managed to book an appointment to have a long overdue haircut, so I walked to the hairdresser in sweat-inducing heat, arriving at the lovely cool salon as a hot mess!! 🤣 It was very pleasant to sit in the cool of the salon for an hour and it’s even nicer to have the hair off my neck again! Even though we’d moved the boat, the temperatures were still extremely uncomfortable! We were in complete shade until mid afternoon, but then the sun moved round, although still partially shaded by the trees on the opposite bank. It was so hot outside, though, so therefore hot inside, too! We have fans (more Amazon purchases!) and we close the blinds on the sunny side but it was still nearly 33°C in the boat. The temperature outside, according to our weather station, with the sensor in the shade, indicated over 37°C! Our bedroom remained at over 32°C until about 2.00 a.m, so really quite uncomfortable for those of us unused to the heat! ☀️🔥🌡️We managed to keep Sal fairly comfortable – she actually laid on the cool mat this time (viewed with great suspicion in the past 🤣) and tolerated a fan blowing on her as long as it wasn’t too windy! Her cool coat was a definite asset, too, which she wears quite happily. 

We survived the hottest day on record, Tuesday 19th July – but only just! 🤣 It was even more uncomfortable than the previous day – we saw temperatures in excess of 35°C inside the boat, even though we were in the shade – and even as late as 9 p.m., it was still over 34°C. Very sticky!

We were relieved that Wednesday, 20th July was forecast to be rainy but, unfortunately, in reality, it was another hot day, although not as bad as the previous few days. We had enjoyed our stay in Retford – it was a nice little town with every shop you could want within easy walking distance, with good walks around Kings Park, too, but we were eager to continue our travels. We set off, me walking with Sal, working two locks as we went. We jumped on the boat after the second lock. The water was so clear; the fish could be seen clearly and I enjoyed watching them whilst Tony steered. To anyone looking on, it might have looked odd – me hanging over the side and staring into the depths – it might have looked like I was going to be sick?? 😂🤣 We worked one more lock before we finally stopped on a visitor mooring at the end of a line of permanent moorings below Forest Middle Top Lock (some of these lock names get a bit confusing!). The sun was a bit hazy by this time and it was very pleasant to sit outside in more normal temperatures. Unfortunately, Tony upset a few wasps as he threw a bucket of water into the undergrowth after cleaning the roof – the wasps didn’t take kindly to the intrusion and a few of them formed an attack detail – one flying up the sleeve of his T-Shirt and stinging him in several places!! So much for the great outdoors, eh?

On Thursday morning, we needed water – the water point was just above the next lock – so we went through the lock and onto the water point and then Sal and I had a quick walk whilst the boat was filling, continuing the walk and working another lock on the way, once it was full. We jumped on the boat at a bridge and continued our cruise on a rather bendy section – a few sharp corners and hairpin bends. It was mostly ok but we did have a few tricky moments with it being rather shallow! We moored on a pleasant rural stretch just outside Worksop. 

On Friday, 22nd July, we were unsure how far we’d get. There was a notification from CRT stating that water levels were particularly low on a stretch between two locks going through Worksop – we just decided to see how we got on. In fact, we had very few problems and found the stretch in question to not be a problem at all. We stopped in Worksop to pick up some milk and to do an Amazon return, then continued on, having been advised by local boaters to not moor overnight in Worksop. It was a bit uninspiring anyway! We carried on for another mile or so and moored in Rhodesia. It was a bit noisy as the canal runs between two roads, but ok for an overnight stop. We were relieved to have made it there at all! 

The CRT had sent out another notification about the lock closure further up – it had been delayed by a couple of days due to the extreme hot weather and now wasn’t due to be open until the Monday. We decided that we’d still move up to Shireoaks on Saturday and to have a rest day on Sunday. We set off for the short journey of only just about a mile, but with five locks on the way. We arrived at the Shireoaks moorings to find that we had them to ourselves. It was another lovely area for walks, with the former colliery now converted to a country park, with a viewpoint giving 360° views – Shireoaks Pit Top. Over the course of the rest of Saturday and Sunday, another four boats arrived. 

On Monday morning, 25th July, we phoned CRT to get an update on both the lock closure and the water levels, needing to make a decision as to whether we were going to attempt to navigate to the end of the canal. We were assured that repairs were complete and that water levels were deemed sufficient for navigation, so, after our scheduled Tesco delivery arrived, we decided to go for it! We got ready and left at 10.30, with 13 single, two double and two triple (staircase) locks to work. Again, we had relatively little problem. We had to let a quantity of water down into a low pound, but that’s by no means unusual on any flight, and we did encounter a shallow patch, but we think that was shallow generally, as the water level looked ok in that pound. Several people told us that we wouldn’t make it to the top, but when told that we had asked the CRT and had been advised that the flight was navigable, they shrugged and walked away. Happily, the CRT was correct and we arrived, triumphant, at the top of the flight! Fortunately, there was space for mooring at the top so we decided to stop for a well-earned cuppa.  We were pretty exhausted – it had taken 5 hours. We decided to stay there overnight. (Technically, it was a lock landing but there was space for three boats, and only one of the other boats in Shireoaks had said they intended to come up the flight, so we felt quite at ease to moor there). 

We were still two miles from the end of the navigation at this point. We felt that we were so near to the finish line that we ought to go that last couple of miles. However, the stretch at the end is reservoir fed and the reservoir was critically low – we didn’t want to get to the end and get stuck! With more boats potentially arriving to go up the flight using the already meagre water, we thought that this might be a real possibility, so, on Tuesday, we decided to go early, get to the winding hole and the moorings at the end, walk up to the bricked-up tunnel at the actual end, then cruise back to the top of the lock flight. That’s exactly what we did. We cruised with few problems, turned the boat and walked up to the tunnel. We were very sad to see a large quantity of dead fish – in excess of 30 – due to an accidental raw sewage discharge into the canal earlier in the month BUT we’d done it – we’d made it to the end! We can take no credit for anything other than being lucky and in the right place at the right time, but we are very thankful that we were!! 

We returned and were back on our mooring at the top of the flight by 12.30, ready for our descent and return trip. We just have to do it all again, but in reverse!

On Wednesday 27th July, we started our descent back down the flight of locks. We had a relatively easy trip – if 23 locks can count as an easy trip – there seemed to be plenty of water so we didn’t even have to adjust the water levels between pounds. Not sure where it all came from but we were certainly very grateful for it! We arrived back at Shireoaks triumphant that we’d made it to the end of the navigation and back. At this point, there were still 28 miles and 24 locks to get back to the start – the cruise in hadn’t been an easy endeavour so we weren’t relaxing yet! 

On Thursday, we decided to have a rest day. We made use of the village chippie for dinner – it had quite limited opening hours and hadn’t been open on our previous visit, so we thought we’d give it a try this time. 👍🏻

On Friday, 29th, we set off, having planned a fairly long cruising day to get back to the other side of Worksop. A single handed boater followed us down through the locks so we helped him by opening the paddles to refill the lock as we left it. We discovered, at one point, that someone had left open a paddle on one of the lower gates, so we had a little trouble with a low pound, leaving us sitting on the bottom, but the boat coming behind us emptying his lock refilled the pound so we floated again. He got through the low pound as well so all was good! We stopped briefly in Worksop for a few bits then continued on, stopping on the same mooring as on the way in, having cruised for 4 ½ miles, and working 11 locks. 

On Saturday, the day started with a shower, but we decided to do a walk-and-go, nonetheless. We only intended to cruise for a couple of miles, so it made sense to walk it. However, it was quite slow going for Tony on the boat as it was still quite shallow and weedy, so it was more like walk-and-wait! The rain soon eased off and it turned out to be an interesting walk – firstly we saw a mole but, unfortunately, it was dead. I don’t think I’d ever seen one before. It was a lot smaller than I’d imagined – I was going to take a photo of it but, with it being dead, it didn’t seem quite right. We then came across a hare carcass. (I didn’t take a photo of that, either! 😳) I didn’t spot it at first as it was just bones but saw Sal having a good sniff at something – when I realised, I pulled her away but she managed to grab a thigh bone and crunched it up! It’s official, Sal will eat something that even the foxes have left behind!! 🤮🤮 To top this off, we rounded the corner just before the moorings and she found a lovely fresh fox pooh in which to roll – horrible dog!! 💩🤣 So, as Tony moored up the boat, I was on shampoo duty to remove said fox pooh! What a start to the day!! The mooring was better than we thought (we hadn’t stopped there on the way in) – it was very close to the A1 but not as noisy as we thought it would be. 

It was a rainy start on Sunday again but we still decided on a walk-and-go. We cruised for 5 ½ miles, working five locks along the way. We stopped mid way for lunch, then Tony and Sal did an afternoon walk-and-go, duly arriving in Retford. Unlike when we were there before, we were the only boat moored there this time, which felt a bit odd. There was, unfortunately, a rather nasty scum on the water right the way through the town – some of the locals thought it was a diesel spill but it was more like algae, but whatever it was, it didn’t look very nice!

On Monday, 1st August, Tony elected to do Sal’s first walk, then made a couple of trips to the Asda fuel station to get some diesel – there is no red diesel supplier on the Chesterfield Canal, so we had no choice but to buy some white diesel from Asda, filling the jerry can. Whilst filling the boat from the can, a chap from the Asda store came running up, asking if we’d seen a bloke carrying a patio set! 😳 There was a man who, apparently, stole these patio sets to order – this was the third one he’d stolen! He stashed them somewhere and came back for them later when the coast was clear. Bearing in mind that this was a huge box, we marvelled at how he even carried it in the first place, let alone where he’d stashed it – both Tony and the Asda chap searched in the bushes and in the area surrounding the store – no box to be seen anywhere. ☹️ With that excitement over, we moved the boat through one lock and moored outside Aldi. I did a quick stock up shop as well as picking up Sal’s prescription from the Post Office, having ordered it to be delivered Poste Restante there, only the second time we’ve tried this service. It all worked out very well, so we probably will try Poste Restante again in the future. Once all the shopping was packed away, we had an early lunch and set off, cruising for 2 ½ miles, working 2 locks, and stopped at a mooring on which we hadn’t stopped on the way in; it’s  always nice to stop at different places if you can!  I went with Sal for her walk and found a circular track and footpath walk on our app – they always look good on the map but are often, in reality, either virtually impassable or non-existent. The first part of the walk went well but then it started getting a bit more “off piste”! It was an extremely rutted farm track, overgrown with grass so you couldn’t see the ruts and, yes – I went arse over head and ended up sitting in a patch of stinging nettles! Sal came back – “what’re you doing, Mum??” and gave me a nice cuddle – she probably thought I was just having a bit of a rest! 🤣 I got up, scratched my nettle-stung parts and set off again, walking somewhat uncomfortably for a little while – ho-hum! At least no-one saw me!! 🤣On the way back to the boat, I passed a stretch of canal where there were a few plum trees overhanging the towpath, laden with fruit,  and on my return to the boat, told Tony about them. He went off with the boat hook to do some foraging and got a good haul, and they were lovely! You can’t beat a good English plum!! Whilst he was out, I heard a bird on the roof, it sounded like it was tap dancing! I went out to have a look – it was a racing pigeon having a stroll up and down. It fluttered down onto the towpath and was trying to drink from the canal, unsuccessfully. It was thirsty!  It flew back onto the roof, so I filled a bowl with water but it completely ignored it. As I watched it, it was leaning over the side of the boat, trying to “drink” the black paint as though it was water. I had an idea! I filled the frying pan with water and it immediately recognised it as a water receptacle, walked over and had a long drink – it must have water in a black bowl in its loft at home. It stayed out on the roof for another few minutes then took off and continued its journey, now refreshed.

On Tuesday, 2nd August, it was raining quite heavily, but as it was forecast to continue for some time, we decided we would carry on and move. This was a lock free stretch and we cruised for nearly 6 miles, stopping for water en route. We arrived at Drakeholes Tunnel in lovely sunny but breezy weather, the rain having passed. This had been a difficult stretch on the way in, so we were thankful to get away with a couple of visits down the weedhatch – but no grounding out or punting required!! 

On Wednesday, 3rd, we set off with some trepidation – this was the stretch that had given us the most trouble on the way in – it had taken us 3 ½ hours to cruise for 2 ½ miles and two locks. Happily, this time presented no problems and our journey time was 2 ¼ hours – what a difference an extra couple of inches of water makes! We moored on the lovely rural moorings only about 3 miles away from West Stockwith. 

Yesterday, we cruised the last section to bring us back to the start of this canal. Again, we experienced no trouble; it is still a little shallow and slow going but much better than it was! We are moored up in the basin at West Stockwith. We are staying here today and exploring this area a little more as we didn’t stop here on our arrival onto the canal, then we will complete Tidal River Trent, Part 3, tomorrow, Saturday. This will take us back onto the main canal network, ready to continue our investigations of the South Yorkshire waterways.