Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Meeting The Eel Catcher & a quick visit to hospital

Saturday 16th June

Our next stop was Peterborough where the moorings are pleasant and plentiful and only a few minutes walk from the town centre. 

Leaving Peterborough behind we made our way to Stanground Sluice, our gateway to the Fens. Here we had to go through a tidal sluice to enter Kings Dyke which is part of The Middle Levels that will eventually take us to the River Great Ouse.

Waiting to go through Stanground Sluice
As soon as we left Stanground Sluice the scenery changed. We were now travelling through a series of Dykes, Ditches and Drains which have been used to drain the Fens,  to provide arable land, since before the Civil War (see http://visitely.eastcambs.gov.uk/history/draining-fens). These man-made waterways are shallow, narrow and in the main fairly straight and surrounded by vast swathes of arable land as far as the eye can see with only the odd church steeple  or wind farm for interest.  After all this is the land of Big Skies.

Kings Dyke
In Well Creek we came across the Eel Catcher who told us it was a bad day for eels but the previous day had yielded many.  Back in mediaeval times eels were part of the local staple diet as well as a valuable income. I have since read about Peter Carter, the only commercial Eel Catcher who still uses traditional methods to catch eels on Well Creek. (see http://www.visitely.org.uk/walking/ely-eel-trail).  Maybe this is him!

The Eel Catcher
Our next mooring was in the little town of March, right next to the Fish & Chip shop.  That's dinner sorted then.

Mooring in March
Leaving March the vista really opened up, miles & miles of flat open land.   Bleak and empty apart from the Wind Farm, and boy does the wind blow across the fens. 

Wind Farm on Well Creek
At Marmond Priory Lock a lovely lady called Maureen acts as a volunteer lock keeper & has done so for over 30 years. She was telling me the story of how as young newly weds her & her husband bought the redundant lock cottage after the creek had fallen into disrepair.  Then in 1975 the route was revived, the lock repaired and boaters once again were let through.  Since then, first Maureen's husband and then herself have acted as volunteer lock keepers.  Now it really is a family affair with Maureen's daughter and now her 7 year old grandson helping boaters safely through the lock.
Maureen at Marmont Priory Lock
We stopped at Upwell on the Well Creek Trust mooring, which is very well kept.  There is a beautifully tended garden on the bank, growing fruit & herbs, which we were encouraged to pick for a small donation.

Teresa, Karen & Jan sitting in the herb garden.
It was a fresh, windy trip across the Fens to Salters Lode taking us onto a short tidal stretch before going through Denver Sluice and onto the Great Ouse. We had to wait for high tide and got in the queue with three other boats.  As we approached Denver Sluice we spotted Dave a very good friend, who lives nearby, up on the bridge to welcome us.  We spent the afternoon on board catching up with Dave & Grace before retiring to the Jenyns Arms for dinner.

Leaving Salters lode
 Wednesday dawned still windy and cold.  We decided to take a trip on our own up the River Wissy. It was very pretty, opening up to lake-like proportions at one point.

River Wissy
The river was very pretty and tranquil but very remote, we only passed one small village and then this great monster appeared in front of us!.

Sugar Beet Factory
We travelled 10 miles down the Wissy to Stoke Ferry where we moored alongside a caravan park and watched the cute little ducklings .............

Ducklings at Stoke Ferry
..... until I received a phone call from my sister-in-law.  My brother was on life support in Southend Hospital after complications set in when he was under anaesthetic for a dental procedure.  At this point he had not recovered conciousness.

Tony quickly arranged car hire for me for the following day.  Later that evening Gary regained conciousness but they were keeping him under sedation in Critical Care.  I set off for Southend on Thursday  while Tony set off on the long, lonely journey back down the Wissy and on to Ely on his own. I spent two days in Southend, stopping off at home on the way back to meet Tony in Ely.  It had taken us 5 weeks by boat to get to Ely but only 1 hour by car for me to drive from Leavenheath to Ely!!!  

Gary is now recovering & hoping to return to hospital for his next chemo session soon.  He's determined to beat the cancer which has invaded his body and is so positive about it all that I can only admire him.

Friday 12th June

Monday, 8 June 2015

Facing the Guillotine

Saturday 30th May 

As we left Northampton behind and moved onto the River Nene, pronounced Nen hereabouts, the sun was shining, the river wide and the scenery beautiful. 

Leaving Northampton behind us.
The locks though were a different story.  None of us had encountered Guillotine Locks before and to be honest were all a little scared of them. The name alone was enough to put us off even before we caught site of them.

Guillotine lock in the closed position.
We were travelling down the locks and all guillotine locks had to be left in the UP position. That meant that at every lock we had to lower the guillotine, raise the paddles at the other end to fill the lock to the level of the river where the boat approached the locks (as in picture above), open the gates & drive the boats in, close the gates, lower the paddles and raise the guillotine, to let the water out so that the boats would then be the same, lower level , as the river the other side.  

Open & all ready to drive out
Now the really scary bit where we had to drive the boat out under the raised guillotine!  Most of the guillotines were electrically operated but we still had to hand wind the gates, with some taking 75-80 turns to open or close the paddles and we did 10 of these on the first day!

Next day, Sunday, started wet so we had a late departure and travelled on our own.  We had earlier read a blog by another boat, No Problem, who mentioned an old customer of ours at The Thatchers, Chop Wales, who we knew moored his boats (yes he has two) in these parts, so Tony sent him a message on fb and arranged to meet him at Ringstead where we had a cuppa with him in the Woodford Mill Tea Shop, and he told us of his involvement with 'Friends of the River Nene' and recommended a mooring for the night in Woodford.

Chop & Tony in the Woodford Mill Tea Rooms
Chop & his unconventional mode of transport
We took Chop up on his recommendation & moored up at the FOTRN mooring at Woodford. We had trouble getting alongside the bank as it was very windy and blowing us across the river, however we eventually managed to get tied up.  The bank was very uneven but it had all been mown, we had it all to ourselves & the views over the Northamptonshire countryside were picturesque.

Woodford mooring
We followed the footpath from the mooring which took us through the very pretty village to the pub The Duke for a drink.

Woodford from the river
Monday 1st June dawned bright and sunny, a beautiful morning if a bit nippy.  We only had a short journey to our next stop Thrapston where we were to meet up again with Aria & Teezy. The town moorings were located just before the Medieval 9 Arch Bridge and very tricky to see let alone negotiate. 

Thrapston Town mooring
Soon Teezy & Aria joined us and we all moored up securely as the weather forecast was for 52 mph winds the following day!  By the evening there were 5 boats rafted up, all battening down the hatches against the strong winds.

All three in
 Later a friend of mine, Maureen, who lives nearby came by for lunch & we had a good catch up.

Maureen & Jan
Tuesday we stayed put while the winds raged and went for a walk along part of the Nene Way taking us round Islip and Thrapston and dined at The Woolpack in the evening.  The following day, having used up our 48hr stay at the Town moorings,  we moved just a short way to a mooring just below Islip lock which .we had spotted on our walk. Here we had our first BBQ of the holiday, sitting on the bank in the sunshine & enjoyed the sunset.

Tony G,Teresa, Jan, Tony A, Karen & Martin
Sunset at Islip
Thursday was a beautiful warm sunny day & we made our way to Fotheringhay, another picturesque village with a very imposing church overlooking the river.  The farmer here allows mooring  against his meadows for a very reasonable £4 a night which he collects in his old Treacle tin and assures us all goes to charity.
There once was a castle nearby ( only the mound and earthworks remain) which was the final place of imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scotts who was tried and executed in the castle in 1587.

Moored at Fotheringhay
Friday dawned dull & wet but it brightened up later and we made our way to Alwalton where we moored in a by-water, beside the lock, overnight ready for a final push into Peterborough on Saturday morning.

Friday 5th June

Since starting this journey at Hallingbury Marina we have travelled 184 miles and done 167 locks.  It has taken us 4 weeks and we could probably get home by car in about 2 hours!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Milton Keynes to Northampton

Saturday 23rd May 2015

 Aria & Teezy caught up with us while I was still at the workshop & set off again before I got back to the boat so we left immediately I returned. We had one lock then a very long stretch of lock free cruising.  Who'd have thought it would be so attractive through Milton Keynes, there are so many parks & lakes it could even be called tranquil in places.

We met up with Aria & Teezy,  all mooring together for the night between Wolverton & Cosgrove where many runners passed us.  We discovered they were on a charity run from Birmingham to London, over 150 miles, and running through the night with torches strapped to their heads.  Now that is dedication for you.

Milton Keynes  -  Who'd have thought it?

A rather attractive mural in Milton Keynes
Stoke Bruerne was our next stop, a popular tourist attraction with a set of 7 locks, a pub, shops and a museum.  It is always a very busy spot for boaters and we met up again with Paul & Margaret on Pussers Rum.  It happened to be Martin's birthday so we all had a meal in The Boat (pub) to celebrate.

Jan, Teresa, Margaret, Paul, Karen, Martin & Tony G at The Boat Stoke Bruerne
Before we left on this journey we had a new Axium prop fitted to improve performance & stopping power.  During our travels Tony had become increasingly worried because the nut kept working loose, so he had contacted a boat yard who agreed to have a look a it.  We arrived at The Grand Union Boat Co. yard Monday evening and Stan & Beryl on nb Rosedale let us raft up next to them.  Next morning the yard decided Aylmer needed to come out of the water.

Putting the straps on ready for the lift
16 Ton up and away!
There she goes
Our berth for the night
Having got her out of the water the engineer deemed the nut damaged.  Apparently it was brass and the thread inside had stripped so a new one was needed and as they didn't have one of the right size it had to be ordered.  It would be delivered by post.  Nothing for it but we had to spend the night on her on dry land, the second time in her short life, see 


The problem NUT!

Luckily the postman was kind to us and the new nut arrived the next morning.  It took the yard no time at all to fix it & have us back in the water and on our way.
We were now on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal & had 17 locks to do in 5 miles!  At the second lock we gave a ride to our own 'Rosie & Jim' in exchange for some help through the next couple of locks by the adults accompanying them.

'Rosie & Jim' with Mum Jane

This short stretch of canal links the Grand Union to the River Nene (pronounced Nen in these parts) and the beautiful, tranquil scenery makes the passage through these obstinate, heavy and difficult locks, all worthwhile.

Eventually the old Express Lifts testing tower comes into view heralding the town of Northampton our next destination.

The redundant Express Lifts testing tower

Arriving at Becket's Park in Northampton we were welcomed in by Stan & Beryl on nb Rosedale who we'd last seen at the boat yard.  The boys discovered a blues night at the local pub, the Malt Shovel, where I'm told they had great beers.  We spent a couple of days in Northampton whilst the heavens opened, interspersed with a few sunny periods when we nipped into town for the shops, market and a bit of sightseeing.

Tony Outside the Guildhall

Friday 29th May