Over the fields and far away from a pot-holed lane winding south from Sawley to Kegworth, the Soar is on the last leg of its northward journey to the Trent. On its east bank stand the cooling towers of Ratcliffe Power Station. In these flatlands where Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire rub shoulders, they are visible for miles in every direction. Viewed from this gate on the lane, which is to say from the west, they overlook the marina, for now hidden, at Redhill.
It’s one of those crackling, late autumn days Britain does so well. Join us – Mrs C, the woofers and yours truly – on this eastbound odyssey.
To borrow from Andy Williams, we’re almost there.
Here as in many of its sections – see my highly acclaimed, River of Fear – the Soar merges with the vast canal system of the midlands.
Seemingly the shadows of willow saplings on iron barge, I believe these to be coded messages in Russian from Mr Putin. I’ll be conveying my suspicions through the appropriate channels.
Across the water from this little workhorse, squat and scruffy but oozing character, the much loved Redhill Marina Boat Lift – capable of hoisting seventy tons of vessel clean out of the water with less fuss than you’d make over a bag of shopping – is metaphorically spitting its hands and raring to do the biz on that converted barge; she of the gold trim on royal blue.
Pilgrims and Boatlift Believers come far and wide in the hope of catching sight of what we just chanced upon through sheer serendipity. Let’s cross the bridge – early nineteenth century or I’m a Chinaman – for a closer look.
As you can see, it’s been bought, borrowed, donated or stolen from an inland port in Suffolk.
The challenge is to line up tractor and trailer below dripping hull. I drove just such items for Sheffield City Council Recreation Department, back in the Callaghan days when public works had yet to be outsourced in the name of – ahem – greater efficiency, so feel obliged to declare a professional interest.
Beside myself with excitement I await the driver’s arrival, humming Bob Marley’s Tractorman Vibrations as I take arty shots to keep my eye in.
Brmm brmm – we’re ready to go! Watch the dude in Lincoln Green. I’ve dubbed him Robin. He’s our man and that purposeful stride speaks loud and clear to me. This is an artiste of the tractor, a pro at the pinnacle of his game. I’m confident of a smooth outcome.
I get close for the above shot but Robin’s rattled. Friendly but firm, he bids me go east to stand well clear of the action. I see his p of v, of course. He has his work cut out with the high precision reverse, without the added overhead of frantic eyeball-swivelling for potential roadkill. But I too have my needs. From the east I’ll be shooting into that low wintry sun.
With the lightning speed of epiphany, the solution presents itself. I re-cross the bridge. With sun over shoulder, and saucy ship now riding cowgirl to trailer, the snap’s a snip.
I’d be happy to stick around for the endgame, played out in the boat hospitals and cemeteries a few hundred metres south. But Mrs C, known for her low serendipity threshold, has had enough. Turning our backs to the scene, we wend our amicably looping way by riverbank, sown field and waterlogged meadow to the pot-holed, rust-gated lane from whence we came.
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