Friday, 20 July 2018

What's all this wet stuff? And what's this skeleton?

… and I don't mean the River Nene. Yes, our first rain since the Crick Boat Show - and that was in May, almost eight weeks ago. I'll come back to the weather in a bit.

First, the boating. We left the lovely Overton Lake mooring after lunch, cruised past the long line of boats moored above Orton Lock and arrived at Orton Lock itself.

Next to the lock were two large adjustable weirs.

Downstream, on the left bank, was a strange white skeleton. What on earth …?

After spending more than a week on the Nene, where bridges have been a rarity, the approach to Peterborough is marked with a sudden flurry of railway bridges, foot bridges and a road bridge.

This railway bridge looks to have used rather a lot of iron. (The arches belong to the next bridge.)

Coming under the road bridge the Peterborough Embankment moorings appear on the left. The first boats seem to be long-term; we tied up just beyond the water point behind BCF boat The Lady Beth.

We weren't alone on our trip from the lake to Peterborough: Ally and Josiah came to visit today and made use of some of the facilities Ferry Meadows Country Park offers before enjoying the short cruise to the city.

I mentioned the rain. It was quite a gentle refamiliarisation to the wet stuff, starting with no thunderstorm but softly at first, gradually getting heavier. It began at 1800 and it is still raining at 2200. We understand that the Nene can respond quickly to rain; our plan is to leave this river on Sunday though Stanground Lock onto the Middle Levels. Meanwhile I suppose I'd better loosen the mooring ropes.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Weed cutter? Cable lifter? And the biggest basin we've moored in

On our travels today we encountered this strange paddle wheeled craft.

It was being operated under a white cable spanning the river ...

… and had fearsome-looking serrated fangs. It didn't seem to be a weed cutter and it seemed to be driven too fast to be looking for a submerged cable. Anyone know what it is?

That was some way into our trip today. Just after setting off we passed the castle mound and fenced-off rubble at Fotheringhay.

I told you it wasn't much.

More spectacular, some would say, was this house at Sibson.

We stopped for lunch on the EA moorings at Wansford, right by the Nene Valley Railway. Unfortunately no trains were running today, although one loco was clearly fired up.

Here is Jubilee on the mooring.

As we approached Orton we went past an interesting-looking turning off the main river. The OS map indicated it connected to a lake. Looking behind I could see a sign detailing all sorts of attractions, including free 24 hour mooring. We reversed back and turned up the arm to take a look.

Very soon we found ourselves indeed on a lake!

It's amazing! We crossed the lake and spotted two pontoons, so we tied up and revelled in the BIGNESS of it all.

This is Overton Lake at Ferry Meadows Country Park. The woman on the boat on the neighbouring pontoon was horrified that we'd come anticlockwise round the island as it's meant to be very shallow. I didn't notice. She has towed grounded boats off the shallows in the past.

There are lots of things for families to do here: Ally might visit tomorrow with Josiah. After tea we cycled round the lake but at different times: Jan went while I was changing the oil.

Apparently there is a bit of rain (what's that?) forecast for tomorrow. We are told that the Nene tends to rise quickly after rain, so we hope there's not too much before we get through Stanground Sluice in a couple of days' time.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018


Wow! What a stunning place Oundle is! The town centre seems to be built entirely of a warm-coloured stone - and half of it is Oundle School. For anyone going up to Oxbridge from there it will be like home from home.

Here's a shot of a typical street.

Similarly chocolate box is Fotheringhay, to which village we cruised today. This thatched cottage is called … The Thatched Cottage.

En route we saw the usual assortment of wildlife including dragon flies, damsel flies, demoiselles, fish, kingfishers and herons.

No sooner had we tied up at Fotheringhay than a woman strode up wanting her £5 mooring fee. I know people rave about this place, but I have to confess it didn't do much for me. As for the "castle", well, it's a grassy mound with a four feet high lump of masonry next to it. The church is impressive, and would be even more so without the scaffolding.

With the refurbishment work continuing we don't know if we'll be able to look inside the church in the morning.

Oh yes. We are getting bitten by gnasty gnats.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Archimedes screws up bank

First, our mooring last night by Nine Arches Bridge, Thrapston. Or is it really Islip, being on the west side of the bridge?

Brother David and sister-in-law Penny came today; they joined us as we cruised to Oundle.

Here's something you don't often come across on the canals.

The swimmers were enjoying themselves and said the temperature was 22.5 degrees.

A little later on we passed a huge Archimedes screw.

We were told that this was responsible for a bank collapse, leading to a buoy-marked shoal just below the lock.

We tied up at the Oundle Cruising Club, having previously checked this was all right. All very well, but we found that we couldn't get out onto the road. David and I needed to cycle back to Islip to collect our cars so we swung the bow across the river so we could jump off on the other bank, leaving Jan to manoeuvre the boat back to its mooring. To be continued.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Lock wheeling EA-style and two insects to identify

On the canals lock-wheeling is the practice of cycling ahead to set a lock, especially in a flight of locks. But not here. On the Environment Agency rivers a lock wheel is a means of raising or lowering a guillotine gate by hand.

The wheel at this lock, between Irthlingborough and Thrapston, started off being easy to turn, but gradually got heavier.

I needn't have bothered raising a paddle on the top gates to fill the lock.

We travelled through more picturesque Northamptonshire countryside ...

… and under the A14. We have crossed this many times by car, noticing the old railway viaduct alongside, and at last we have done it by boat. This will make this part of the A14 more interesting.

We tied up at the EA mooring just before the Nine Arch Bridge at Thrapston and went for a walk. We followed a footpath from Thrapston to Islip, crossing the river on a footbridge.

To conclude this post, here are a couple of insects. The first landed on my binoculars.

This stopped just long enough on the edge of a solar panel for me to grab a photo.

I call these helicopter flies as they look like miniature helicopters in flight. Can anyone identify it and the stripy one above?

The eyes are huge compared to everything else (sorry about the quality).

Somehow I managed not to take a photo of us at this good mooring; I'll try to rectify that tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A radial gate

After going to a service at Mill Road Baptist Church in Wellingborough this morning, and after lunch, we watered up and moved on to the EA moorings outside the former Rushden and Diamonds Football Club in Irthlingborough.

We encountered our first radial gate at Ditchford Lock.

There was no difference in operation; it just had a radial gate in place of the more common guillotine gate.

Top photo: lock empty with radial gate raised; next two photos: in emptying lock with gate raised a little.

There were some very fast craft on Stanwick Lake - this is the best photo I could take while steering.

This evening I cycled back to Northampton (17 miles!) and brought the car here.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Pressing the right buttons

Most of the locks we have encountered on the Nene so far have had a guillotine gate at the downstream side, with conventional "vee doors" as they call them as the top gates. The guillotine gate is operated via a control cabinet, unlocked by the Abloy key you need for these EA waterways.

Here I am lowering the gate ready to fill the lock ...

… and here my glamourous assistant Jan has taken over.

Typical Nene scenery.

There is a fair amount of weed, encouraged by the hot weather, no doubt. It often collects at the bow, where I shift it with a stick as we're going along. We collected this little lot just as we were entering the lock; it had cleared itself by the time we exited.

Today we made an early start from opposite Billing Aquadrome, tying up in Wellingborough at 1310. The flour mill is noisy!

Ally and Josiah came to visit in the afternoon; Josiah having great fun in the Splash Park. It has been more humid today, making the heat slightly less comfortable. It was nice to eat outside the boat, Ally and Josiah having stayed for tea.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Making a mistake at our first Nene lock

Well, this is it. After years of being mollycoddled on the canals (with some adventurous forays onto the rivers Thames, Trent, Severn and Avon, not to mention the Aire, Calder and Weaver)* we have said goodbye to our last narrow locks for some time and ventured onto the River Nene at Northampton.

Before I talk about that, though, here's a sunset photo I took from the boat at Grafton Regis last week.

We turned onto the Northampton Arm at Gayton Junction yesterday (was it really yesterday? It feels much longer ago. That's boating time travel for you) and enjoyed our descent through lovely Northamptonshire countryside.

We tied up just past the A508 bridge on the Nene by Northampton town centre on a fine wide stretch of placid river. A short trip to the nearby Morrisons ended up with us eating a decent meal in their café: we both had the lamb shank. I cycled back along the towpath to Grafton Regis to get the car, which I parked in a street in Northampton. We shall probably leave it there for quite a while.

For a town centre mooring it was very peaceful. Today we patronised both Aldi and Lidl, as well as returning to Morrisons. We also talked to Brian and Rosie of Nancy Anne. Brian says he reads this blog - sorry it's been so sparse recently, Brian! It was good to meet you. BCF friends Tony and Pat on Paws 4 Thought came alongside for a chat on their way to Northampton Marina. Like us, they are going to St. Neots, so I expect we'll bump into them again on the way.

This afternoon we thought we'd better make a start on our journey, so we untied and quickly found ourselves at Northampton Lock. Here I made two errors. Unlike on most canal lock gates, the telltale for indicating whether the paddle is up or down does not protrude from the top of the mechanism. It's cunningly hidden amongst the metalwork of the gate, so it's not instantly obvious if a paddle is open. After closing the bottom gate and filling the lock (all the locks seem to be left empty with a gate open), I opened a top gate and Jan steered Jubilee in. To start the lock emptying I opened a paddle. Jan seemed to be struggling to keep the boat steady ... which is when I realised that I had omitted to close the paddle in one of the top gates. Oops. With that rectified things became a lot calmer.

The other error? On opening the gate to access the lock landing below the lock the catch bit my finger. Ouch!

Approaching Northampton Lock

We should have stopped at the Northampton Washlands visitor mooring. It was getting near teatime and the mooring was free, but I thought we could get to another visitor mooring - marked as such in the £3 Nene guide - but they didn't seem to exist in real life. We finished up on a "wild" mooring just above Billing Lock opposite the huge Billing Aquadrome campsite.

On the way we spotted a group of children considering jumping from a water control structure.

Yes, they are the wrong side of the railings.

Oh yes, most of the locks we have encountered so far have an electrically-operated guillotine bottom gate.

That's all for now - and I still haven't told you about something REALLY exciting I did recently! But it's time for bed. It can wait.

*actually there are rather a lot of river bits we have done, but mostly with canal sections not too far away. The Churnet and Cherwell come to mind.