Sunday 30 September 2018

Look East: Day 17

We had a nice evening catching up with Kathryn, although The Navigation seems to have gone downhill.  It appeared understaffed, with queues at the bar, uncleared tables, and long waits for food.  The food itself was ok, but no more than that.

This morning, two boats started heading down then locks while we were still having breakfast, so we didn’t rush to set off.  It was 9 when Adrian walked down to set the lock while I set off on the boat.  We did the first couple of locks alone, but at Stoke Bruerne there’s always the chance of gaining a locking partner from the long pound.  As it happened, it was below the third lock that we joined another boat going down, a nice couple on a very old hire boat from Braunston.  After that, we started meeting boats coming up.

The locks took the usual hour and a half, and from the bottom lock to our marina also took the same amount of time — so it was 12 by the time we arrived.  After lunch, I drove Adrian to Milton Keynes station to catch a train back to London.  I’ve spent the afternoon doing odd jobs, such as topping up the batteries, and using cheap nappies to get the water out of the bilge that the pump leaves behind.

6 miles, 7 locks.  (164 miles, 122 locks)

Saturday 29 September 2018

Look East: Day 16

Another beautiful sunny morning — we really have had some great weather this week.  We set off at 8.30 and did the few miles through Bugbrooke and Nether Heyford to Weedon Wharf where we turned around, and returned to Rugby Boats.  We filled up with diesel (more than 100 litres, as it’s been a while) and replaced a gas bottle.  Setting off again, at Nether Heyford a boat set off just in front of us, and they had a very slow boat in front of them.  He virtually stopped when a boat was coming the other way, and at each bridge. The already slow bit through the moorings at Furnace Wharf were mostly done in neutral.  Fortunately the slow boat pulled over at the pub at Bugbrooke, where there was also a Gayton day boat full of pirates.

It wasn’t long before we and the boat in front caught up with Poshratz towing their butty, Bakewell (which used to be owned by Sarah and Jim), so another mile or so was done mostly on tickover.

At the bridge before Gayton Junction, there appeared to be chaos.  I always approach this one slowly as it’s on a bend, you can’t see much in either direction, and there are boats moored on both sides of the canal on the junction side of it.  As I came through the bridge a boat facing me seemed to be in reverse, while two other boats behind him were trying to get out of his way and were on my side.  It didn’t take long for everyone to sort themselves out, and we carried on across the junction towards Blisworth

At the tunnel we were following a boat through, and passed a couple coming the other way.  In the village, we gambled on there being a mooring in the sunshine beyond the cutting, and there was.  When the boat we moored in front of moved off, we pulled forward a length so we were no longer on the bend.  We washed and polished the towpath side, which now looks pretty good.  This evening we’re meeting Kathryn and going to The Navigation for dinner.

16 miles, 0 locks.  (158 miles, 115 locks)y

Friday 28 September 2018

Look East: Day 15

There was a surprising amount of activity after we moored last night.  Two narrowboats passed, heading for Weston Favell lock; another narrowboat turned up looking for a mooring, and breasted up to the boat behind us; and when it was practically dark a widebeam and a cruiser arrived for the lock — giving every impression they’d been racing along the river to see who could get there first.

This morning we left at 8, heading for Northampton.  Here is where the river is widest; the moon was still in the sky.

After a bit there’s a left turn onto a cut section, through a barrage gate.

The two locks here were in our favour and with the gates open, as was Northampton Town Lock.  At 9.30 we reached the entrance to the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union, and made our return to CRT waters, from those of the Environment Agency.

After the river, the canal seemed shallow and weedy, and progress between locks was slow.  The first lock was with us, the next two were full, and the fourth was empty.  Between there and the start of the Rothersthorpe flight on 13 locks we passed a boat, so knew that (unless there was someone going up ahead of us) the locks would be mostly in our favour — which they were.  The day was increasingly sunny, but still rather chilly.  It’s a very pretty flight.

At one lock a CRT chap and a volunteer were clearing weeds and generally tidying up.  They helped up with a gate or two.  Near the top we met Leon, who’s lived in a tent on the flight for nine years. He hopes to help boaters up or down the flight in return for payment in money or drink, but had picked the wrong end today.  As we got to the top, we had a couple of spectators.

We reached the top of the locks at 1pm, so had made pretty good progress.  Although 17 locks sounds like a lot, they all fill and empty quickly.  We carried on to Gayton Junction and turned right, having lunch on the move.  We boated until around 2, when we tied up just before the Ne w Banbury Lane Bridge.  This afternoon, we’ve washed and polished the towpath side of the boat, and tried to touch up the scuffs from yesterday.

10 miles, 20 locks.  (142 miles, 115 locks)

Thursday 27 September 2018

Look East: Day 14

We have done a long day today — but with fantastic sunshine and very pleasant temperatures, why not?  It was a little after 8.15 when we set off from Irthlingborough this morning.  A 14th Century bridge is the first landmark, and it’s a tricky one.  The navigation arch is off to the left and it’s on a sharp bend.  You certainly can’t see if anything is coming the other way.

The railway viaducts at Irchester looked great in the sunshine.  I was disappointed no trains went over as we approached.

We stopped at Wellingborough at the water point, to fill the tank, get a wash load started, and make a quick trip to the nearby Tesco.  Upper Wellingborough Lock is next.  It’s a manual lock with mitre gates at both ends; it was full, and the landing stage is so short Adrian had to get off at the bow.  In addition, the wooden edge is higher than the gunwales and too thick — so we’ve gained a collection of scuffs on the cabin side.  Once out of Wellingborough the scenery improves no end, with the river meandering under big skies.

Doddington Lock and Hardwater Mill looked even prettier today than they did in the early morning gloom last Monday.

At Doddington Lock itself, a boat was coming down as we approached.  There’s not much room below the lock and the landing stage is tiny, so once the boat started to leave the lock, I slotted in right beside him.  Apparently this was the wrong thing to do, as our cheery hellos were met with silence and a stare straight ahead.  Had I been in his position, I’d have signalled to an ascending boat to come in the lock — otherwise everyone is in everyone else’s way.  At Barton lock there are lots of ponies, and a foal (it may even have been the one we saw right on the lock landing last week) was taking it easy.

We’ve continued through Cogenhoe and Billing to Weston Favell, our last guillotine lock.  Just beyond are the Washlands moorings, which are a pontoon.  For the first time this trip, a mooring looked full — but the two boats already there shuffled back a bit so we could tie a stern and a centre line.  The bow is hanging off the end, but that’s not a problem.

The pontoon is only available for mooring between May and September.  The rest of the year it’s for emergencies only.  There are barrage gates at each end of the Washlands, as the area is used to store flood waters.  It’s clear the pontoon can rise an awful long way.  The view from the side hatch is pretty spectacular.  But although it looks remote, it’s actually fairly noisy here, as the A45 is just over the bank.

It was almost 5pm when we got here, so it’s just as well Adrian started making a chilli this morning, when the gaps between the locks were bigger.  It just needs heating up and some rice cooking.

15 miles, 13 locks.  (132 miles, 95 locks)

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Look East: Day 13

The flow on Harper’s Brook where we were moored last night seemed stronger than anything we’ve seen on the main river, so hardly were the ropes released this morning than we were moving backwards onto the river.  The Friends mooring there had beeen very very quiet and peaceful.  We were on the move around 8, as we had arranged to meet my Uncle John at Thrapston at 10; it’s about 40 minutes drive from where he lives.  We did Titchmarch Lock and continued to Thrapston, hoping there would be space on the moorings.  There was — and barely had we got a rope ashore than someone was saying hello to us.  With the sun in our eyes, it took a moment to realise it was Uncle John, early and waiting for us!  He came on board for coffee and a biscuit, and for the guided tour of Briar Rose.  A bit later Adrian headed into town for a couple of things; John and I headed off to check whether there was pedestrian access to the lock.  I’d had the idea that it would be nice to give him a little boat ride up the lock.  However, it turned out the only way on and off the lock island is by boat — so it’s just as well we checked!  We set off a bit after 11, with John taking some photos of us as we left.

The reaches either side of Denford Lock are lovely, with big skies, cows, and red kites.  Most of the cows disagreed with the weather forecast though.

A few of these locks are manual rather than automated.  Adrian has been doing the locks, as my shingles have made things too uncomfortable.  He’s not a fan of the manual wheels, though!

Woodford Church was looking rather nice just up from the river, as it twists and turns.

At Upper Ringstead Lock, there was a load of very thick lumpy duckweed on the water.  We went through it, and it just closes straight back up again.

We’d thought about mooring at Stanwick Lakes, but we were enjoying the sunshine and increasing temperatures so decided to carry on through the very deep Irthlingborough Lock to the moorings above.  The outlook is actually quite nice.

11 miles, 7 locks.  (117 miles, 82 locks)

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Look East: Day 12

Opening the galley blind this morning revealed a fantastic sunny, misty morning.  We’d lit the fire for the first time last night, so the boat was warm.  By the time we set off the mist had burnt off, the Sky was pure blue, and it was so still the water was like a mirror.

After Lower Barnwell Lock we pulled into Oundle Marina to buy a couple of bags of coal, some logs, and some kindling.  It seemed like a very friendly and well run place.  At Upper Barnwell Lock we spoke to a couple who were killing a couple of hours while the lady’s car was in for a service in Peterborough.  They’d been aiming for Barnwell Country Park, but had ended up at the lock by mistake, and thought it was delightful.  It has a large mill alongside.  Once up the lock we stopped on the landing stage where there’s a water point.  It looks rather unusual, but had a fantastic pressure so filling the tank took no time even though we’d started the washing machine.

There were rowers along the 2km marked course at Lilford, none of whom were looking where they were going.  At Wadenhoe Lock we saw the same EA guys as yesterday, painting the white lines round the lock.  Above the lock we met some canoeists.

A couple of cruisers also came past, and they’ve been back since we moored.  I guess they went to the pub at Wadenhoe for lunch.  A couple of paddle boarders have also been by.  We moored at lunchtime at the Friends mooring at Peartree Farm.  It’s a little triangle of land with trees, and we opted to go up the side arm, which is actually Harper’s Brook, as it was sunny.  The solar panel has been soaking up the sunshine, the clothes have been drying on the airer, I’ve been writing another boat test, and Adrian has been working on his accounts.  We’re some distance from any road here, so it’s lovely and peaceful.

7 miles, 4 locks.  (106 miles, 75 locks)

Monday 24 September 2018

Look East: Day 11

We should have lit the fire last evening, because it was freezing this morning!  Some of the grass on the bank beside the boat even had frost on it.  Consequently, we were up fairly early and set off at 8am.  It was a beautifully clear, crisp, sunny morning.

Between Perio Lock and Cotterstock Lock is a house which looks as though it’s been based on a cruise ship.  I rather like the big round window, which appears to be very deep and has a cushion lining the bottom half.

At our third lock of the day, Ashton, some Environment Agency guys were repainting the white bits down the lock sides.  We used the side they hadn’t yet painted, and while Adrian re-emptied the lock I reversed onto the moorings in the cut adjacent to the lock.  We walked in to Oundle, having heard that it’s a very pretty town.  It is, with lots of stone buildings, many of them belonging to Oundle School, and a large and impressive church.

The Talbot Hotel, on the left just up from the Post Office, is built of stone from Fotheringhay Castle.

The other reason for going into Oundle was to see a doctor.  I’ve been in pain for a few days, and the distinctive rash of shingles has emerged so I wanted to get it checked out.  We had to hang around for more appointments to be released, so first had tea and a cheese scone in a very posh ‘boutique brew bar’, then after a look at the church we chose another cafe for lunch.  Having secured an appointment for later in the afternoon, we went and found Waitrose.  It turned out the doctor has a narrowboat, which we must have passed the other day when we were in Peterborough.

5 miles, 3 locks.  (99 miles, 71 locks)

Sunday 23 September 2018

Look East: Day 10

It was raining this morning, so we had a very relaxed start to the day, not even getting up until 9am.  Ferry Meadows is a very nice mooring, and the park even had a useful huge bin, and recycling facilities, things in very short supply on the River Nene.  It was still raining lightly when we set off at 10.15.  I completely failed to see the cut from the lake to the river, and had to do a big u-turn when I realised I’d missed it.  The rain continued until we got to Alwalton Lock, but then up ahead we could see the end of the cloud and blue sky.  We’d been looking out for the steam train, and between there and Water Newton lock it passed us, with the engine going backwards towards Wansford.

At Wansford, the A1 is carried by a concrete bridge from 1929, which marks the old boundaries between the old County of the Soke of Peterborough, and the County of Huntingdon.

Wansford Marina is surrounded by some very smart houses.  One has a bath right in the window.  I suppose the chances of a boater passing as you get in or out are relatively small.

By now the sun was out, but the wind had got up, making getting to some of the lock landings after leaving the lock quite a challenge.  The locks have to be left empty with the guillotine gate raised, so it takes a while after going through.  After Elton Lock there are glimpses of Fotheringhay Church on the horizon.  That was our target for the day; there were two boats moored by the castle, so we went through the bridge and moored up by the church.  We’re expecting someone to come along with their legendary Golden Syrup tin to collect a £5 fee for the night.

Once secure, we walked into the very pretty village to see the church, and then down to the site of the castle.  Only the mound and one block of masonry remain, but it’s a significant site as it was the birthplace of Richard III and the place where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and beheaded.  There are plaques marking both events.

16 miles, 6 locks.  (94 miles, 68 locks)

Saturday 22 September 2018

Look East: Day 9

There was fortunately very little wind today, but it was overcast and chilly.  We set off about 8.15, retracing our steps out of Peterborough.  Orton Lock was our first uphill lock since Stoke Bruerne on Day 1 of this trip.  A little further on we turned left into a fairly narrow channel which leads to the very wide expanse of Overton Lake.

Several people had recommended the moorings on the lake, which is part of the Ferry Meadows Country Park.  There are a couple of pontoon moorings, so room for four boats.

We had visitors arriving, my soon-to-be-ex-Radio 2 colleague Kerry along with her husband and two boys.  It was great to see her as I’ll be missing her leaving do on Monday, and at least one of the kids enjoyed feeding the ducks and geese out of the side hatch.  They went off to ride the miniature railway and then visit the dinosaur museum in Peterborough, while we walked down to Overton Station on the Nene Valley Railway.

It was a steam day today, with the train pulled by Tornado.  We went first to Peterborough where the engine was moved to the other end of the train, and then back to Wansford.

We had lunch in the station cafe, then took the Swedish railcar to Yarwell and back.

At Wansford they also have a little garden railway, and a model railway in a train carriage, so there’s plenty to see.

We caught the train back to Overton and walked back down to the boat.  It’s been trying to rain on and off all afternoon, but it’s very quiet and peaceful here, especially now the visitors to the park have begun to go home.

3 miles, 1 lock.  (78 miles, 62 locks)

Friday 21 September 2018

Look East: Day 8

Yesterday evening turned into one of those unexpected boating pleasures.  Judy and Mark came round for a drink at about 5; a couple of hours later we decided they might as well stay for dinner, so between us we compiled a slightly strange meal of steak pie (from the butcher at Thrapston, provided by J&M), potatoes, and salad — followed by a crumble of apples and blackberries I foraged at Wadenhoe.  A number of bottles of wine were consumed, although we’re not sure what that number was.

Overnight, the wind got up again, and the boat was creaking and groaning on the pontoon.  This morning was very bright and sunny, and as the wind had dropped both boats set off at a bit before 8am.  The first lock of the day, Water Newton, is one of the prettiest, with a church as well as a mill alongside.  He best view of the mill (now houses) is from below the lock.

The wind increased as we passed through Alwalton Lock and then round the loop of Ferry Meadows Country Park.  The final lock, Orton, was being crossed by large numbers of school children.  One of the teachers told Adrian that the whole school was doing a sponsored walk.

The entry into Peterborough was much more green and leafy than I was expecting.  It’s not until you get close to the city centre that things look more built up, and there are some impressive railway bridges.

At Peterborough Embankment we stopped at the water point and started a wash load, and Judy and Mark also stopped for services.  This was where we’d part after a very enjoyable few days together, as they were booked to go through Stanground Lock onto the Middle Levels.  By now the wind was absolutely howling again, so we wait to hear whether they actually went through, or decided to sit it out until tomorrow.  After saying our goodbyes, we turned a moored up just along the embankment.  To be honest, it’s not the prettiest place we’ve ever stopped.  There’s a park, but it has a large population of Canada geese, and there’s a tented community here too; across the river is a building site, where large numbers of flats are going up.

We went into the city for lunch, and for Adrian to collect a new phone ordered online after the old one pretty much gave up the ghost.  We visited the Cathedral, which was free to go in and made little effort to guilt you into paying (although one of their donation boxes is equipped for contactless payments).  The nave ceiling is very impressive, as is the lantern tower.

Tim Peake’s space capsule is in the Cathedral at the moment and seemed to be drawing people in.

9 miles, 3 locks.  (75 miles, 61 locks)