930 miles and 610 locks in 3 months

Created on 13/09/2017

Nb Lily May and her crew were awarded winner of the A P Herbert Trophy for the longest journey to IWA Festival of Water in Ilkeston. From 1st May to the August Bank Holiday weekend, Chris Howes and Christine Colbert travelled 930 miles through 610 locks. Christine Colbert describes the journey.

We are immensely proud to have won the A P Herbert Cup, first awarded at the inaugural IWA rally at Market Harborough in 1950!

East of England to the East Midlands

We left the Middle Level in April on the River Nene, crossed the Wash to Boston and travelled up the Witham to enter historic Lincoln in the face of driving sleet! By 1st May we had come down the Fossdyke Navigation and were waiting to enter the tidal Trent at Torksey. After a visit to Newark and a taste of its Civil War history, we turned back down the Trent and ‘did’ the Chesterfield which was at its glorious best, lined with bluebells and wild garlic (even if a bit low on water in places).

Yorkshire to North West England

We returned to the Trent at West Stockwith, then left it again at Keadby, taking the Stainforth and Keadby Navigation, and the South Yorkshire Navigations to Sheffield where we moored in the old industrial basin. Back down to the Aire & Calder, and the river Aire itself, before travelling up the Selby Canal, joining the ferocious River Ouse for magnificent York (where Chris boo-ed the Roman Legions as ‘oppressive invaders’) and to Ripon.

After retracing our steps down the Ouse, Selby Canal and River Aire, we travelled on the Aire and Calder through Castleford to the Calder & Hebble then to Sowerby Bridge and the re-opened Rochdale Canal. The ascent up the Pennines and journey across the summit were both breath-taking, even if the descent into Manchester was challenging.

After good moorings and a fascinating semi-subterranean journey through Manchester we joined the Bridgewater Canal, enjoying a festival in Lyme, before entering the Trent & Mersey Canal after a brief visit to Runcorn. Taking the Middlewich Branch, we joined the Shropshire Union at Barbridge Junction and travelled up to Ellesmere Port.

Our more or less perfect holiday suddenly took a turn for the worse at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. Chris was knocked off his bicycle and Chester Hospital instructed him to “do absolutely nothing for the next three months”. Easy said, but harder done when you’re over 220 locks from home! With nb Lily May offering easier to access facilities than our house, and considering the problem of having to get ourselves and Lily May back to the Fens anyway, we resolved to carry on but with me doing the locking while Chris offered handy advice from the helm.

Wales to South West England

So we chugged off back down the Shroppy, along the Llangollen across the unrivalled Pontsycyllte Aqueduct, up and down the Montgomery, and back onto the Shroppy past a festival in Audlem and to Wolverhampton, where we joined the Staffs & Worcs Canal. As Chris was unable to walk more than a very short distance our travels were speeded up considerably as there was little chance to stop and explore the places we passed.

We briefly came off the Staffs & Worcs to visit Stourbridge, before rejoining and travelling to Stourport. Then down the River Seven, through Worcester and into the truly fantastic Gloucester Docks and a fascinating trip up and down the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, with its many friendly bridge operators.

Photo: Chris piloting Lily May out onto the River Severn at Stourport

Race to IWA Festival of Water at Ilkeston

In Gloucester Docks we realised that an unexpected turn of events meant we had just about enough time to get to Ilkeston for the IWA Festival of Water, which we had booked when it was first announced but then expected to miss due to family commitments. So we took a quick dash back up the River Severn, along the River Avon from Tewkesbury through Evesham and Stratford, onto the Stratford Upon Avon Canal, the Grand Union, Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, and onto the Trent & Mersey at Fradley.

Before settling at Ilkeston for the festival, we went to Langley Mill on the Erewash to visit the bottom of the Cromford Canal and top of the old Nottingham Canal. The complete journey from 1st May to Ilkeston involved 610 locks, 930 miles and 545 engine hours.

Photo: Chris Howes receiving the A P Herbert Cup. Photo by John Butler

Next year’s IWA Festival of Water is at St Neots’ beautiful Regatta Meadows. As this is only a few days cruising away from our base on the Middle Level we have absolutely no chance of retaining the cup. Unless, of course, we take the scenic route via Hull, Lancaster and Bristol…

Journey Summary

  • 1 sea trip - across the Wash,
  • 5 tidal river sections - the Nene, Ouse, Severn, Trent and Witham,
  • 10 non tidal rivers- the Aire, Avon, Calder, Don, Nene, Ouse, Severn, Soar, Trent and Witham,
  • 7 narrow canals - Birmingham & Fazely, Chesterfield, Coventry, Llangollen, Montgomery, Staffs & Worcester, Stratford on Avon,
  • 11 wide canals - Aire & Calder, Bridgewater, Calder & Hebble, Fossdyke, Gloucester & Sharpness, Grand Union, Ripon, Rochdale, Selby, South Yorkshire Navigation and Stainforth & Keaby,
  • 2 canals which are variously narrow and wide - the Trent & Mersey, and Shropshire Union.