Thursday, 8 October 2015

Middle Level Navigation, River Nene. Salter's Lode to Dog-in-a-Doublet.

Our first full day back on the Middle Level started with breakfast with Anne before she disappeared, followed by a roof garden re-assemble. Not everything went back up though; we still had a few low bridges to navigate and didn’t want to risk scraping the big box, so we left it folded flat and the bikes stayed in the well deck.

In the evening we went to Little Acre for Holly’s leaving-for-Uni party. It was lovely to be back at Little Acre, We’ve been pet sitting there and since we’ve been travelling we’ve spent more time there than anywhere else.

The next day Kim, Luke and George came to stay. 
We boated up to Outwell...
...then had a drive over to one of our old haunts – Baytrees Garden Centre near Spalding – where there were lots of animals and some slides which kept George happy while we wandered round looking at all the weird tat.

Sunday was another bright, clear day and we moved on to March, passing through Marmont Priory lock where Maureen, the lock keeper, thought that George was our grandson. We were incredibly lucky in March; just as we turned up a cruiser pulled out and we got one of, if not the best, mooring spots. Shortly afterwards eight boats turned up on their way back to Floods Ferry after a weekend cruise. They took up every spare inch of bank, and breasted up where they could, including outside of us. If we’d turned up 15 minutes later there wouldn’t have been anywhere free. For the rest of the day there was an endless stream of to-ing and fro-ing and jollification, here-we-go and there-we-go sort of thing. Around tea-time, with far more hale, heartiness and celebratory hooting than was absolutely necessary, the flotilla departed, leaving peace and tranquillity behind. In the evening Pete and Marion came to see us, they are friends  from 2cv land who used to be boaters back in the day; they gave us the Buckby can and mop from their boat which we are very proud to now have on our roof. It was the first time they’d been to Legend, and after we’d said goodbye to Kim, Luke and George, we had an evening of swapping boaty tales. With years of experience in the early days of pleasure boating they won hands down with the best story of the night; how they once got stuck in Ghosty Hill tunnel when they ran over a mini that had been pushed down an air vent. You can’t beat stuff like that.

After all the recent excitement it was nice to have a day with no plan. We found a copper kettle with a gas catching skirt in a charity shop in March that we’ve stowed away for use when our well-loved and very well used stainless one finally expires, but other than that Monday was a relaxing, lazy day.

Tuesday started bright and early with a visit to the clean and functional service block just the other side of Town Bridge in March. With the full things emptied and the empty thing filled, we set off towards Benwick, where we were pleased to see the pretty little visitor mooring empty.
We put our ‘Welcome - Moor Alongside’ sign in the window, we usually do that when there’s not much room, and at Benwick Legend took up the entire mooring.
In the afternoon Nb Suilvan with a single handing chap on board turned up on his way to March, so we tied him alongside us for the night. That evening we once more went for dinner with the lovely and so hospitable Ron and Rose who have helped to make Benwick one of our all-time favourite moorings.

There was rain forecast for the next day so we stayed put, however it didn’t arrive till the afternoon so we could have moved in the morning, but it meant that we could have Ron over to the boat for dinner as Rose was working late. Mind you, when the rain did arrive it was enough for the whole day, and we went to bed listening to it bouncing off the roof.

The following morning we set forth onto unchartered (for us anyway) waters.
We went through Lode’s End Lock on the level with both gates open...
 and carried on, through Ramsey St Mary and onward to Holme, with the channel getting shallower, narrower and weedier with each mile we travelled.
Not many boats come this way.

The chap who’d been tied up to us the previous night had been out here, but he’d got sick of clearing his prop and had turned back before the end. We were made of sterner stuff and, with almost as much reversing as forwarding, carried on right to where the water disappears into the reeds and willows at a little triangular clearing just before the railway line.

(Actually, as Legend was fifteen feet longer than his boat we couldn’t have turned round before the end if we’d wanted to!)
After pulling the front end round, pinning ourselves to the bank and pulling a washing-up bowl full of pond-weed out of the weed hatch...
...we went for a walk into Holme itself. On the way we discovered that although navigation was definitely not possible beyond where Legend was moored, it hadn’t always been thus. The lane we found ourselves on led us alongside the railway line to the level crossing at the edge of the village. High speed electric trains now whiz past the site of Holme Station, the only evidence that it was there is a sign on the track that has been left to mark the spot where historic steam trains can fill up with water. Behind where the station was were the remains of a loading wharf and a basin.
A hundred years ago there would have been horse-drawn boats and steam trains here; coal, grain, perhaps rushes and maybe even peat would have kept this quiet little village busy.
By strange and happy co-incidence we know two families in Holme, both from entirely different walks of life; Kit and Jessa from dancing with Pig Dyke Molly, and Janice and Neil from the Citroen 2cv club. It turned out that they lived within a stone’s throw of each other. We’d arranged for Kit to take delivery of some maps for us, so we went over to see him and catch up over a cup of coffee, then we rang Janice to see if she was in. As it happened, as well as being the only afternoon that week that she was in, it was also an evening when Neil could get home early, and she kindly invited us to dinner. We really do have some lovely people in our lives. After dinner Janice and Neil came back to the boat to have a look. We were moored in about the most inaccessible place we’ve ever been and it was quite dark by then, so it was rather brave of them to follow us down a track, through some shoulder-high reeds and down a very steep bank to our boat. It was even braver of them to go home again afterwards, but we think they enjoyed their visit. It was especially good to see them again after so many years and catch up on what they and their children have been up to.

Wifi ran out here, so the photos for the next part will get loaded later. The management would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused to your enjoyment.

In the morning we surprised ourselves by being up and moving at the crack of dawn. We were back up the weedy New Cut - pausing to pick some irresistible blackberries - through Lode’s End Lock and down High Lode to be once more in Bill Fen Marina by ten o’clock. We retrieved our car from Ramsey, transferred a ridiculous amount of our belongings into it, had a quick lunch, and then spent the afternoon driving to Pembrokeshire.
Our reason for leaving Legend in a marina and virtually moving house to another country for a week was because Mum and Dad had hired a cottage to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary, and had invited us to join them. Karen and Andrew were going as well so we were looking forward to a lovely family holiday on the Pembrokeshire coast. The cottage was absolutely gorgeous; spacious, clean, in a beautiful setting with so many little personal touches. There was even a resident golden retriever. We felt instantly at home there. Our week just happened to coincide with the Vintage Motorcycle Club Saundersfoot Rally; Dad is a member and they’d come in their three wheeled Lomax kit-car to join in with the runs, so we’d arranged to do our own thing most days and then have the evenings together and compare notes. Chloe and Shandy were in the country for a wedding that week, so they came to see us on Saturday which was really good of them as it was a long way to go. They stayed over on Saturday night then on Sunday we all went into Saundersfoot to see the bikes and cars lined up on the seafront.
On Monday we went over to the Gower Peninsular for a walk around the headland where we saw a pair of Choughs (as in ‘Fluff’) and had a paddle in the sea, followed by a visit to the Mumbles. We had a reminiscing stop off at Pembrey Airfield, formerly RAF Pembrey Air Weapons Range, which was where Dave - in a former lifetime - was posted for three years.
We had a visit to Tenby on Tuesday followed by a walk along the beach to Giltar point and round Penally firing range, where we came across these strange looking earthworks. We thought at first that they were part of the range itself, but discovered that they are the only surviving examples of practice trenches, which were dug in several places in the UK during the First World War to train soldiers in trench warfare before sending them to France. Quite an eerie place when you think about it.
We felt we’d missed out on a Tenby Crab Sandwich so we went back the next day with Mum and Dad to rectify this error. The Buccaneer provided the venue, and washed down with a pint from the Felinfoel brewery, very good it was too. The evening consisted of a chippy supper, Bake-off and rugby. Pretty good day, we thought.
We spent our last day with Karen and Andrew; out to St David’s for a wander round the very impressive cathedral, followed by a picnic lunch at Porthclais harbour and a walk around the headland. Lovely and bracing, and the home-made scones and clotted cream made it extra special.
The evening was very serendipitous, even by our standards. We’d planned to go out for a meal together as a last night celebration, but not actually booked anywhere. While we were in Tenby we’d picked up a leaflet advertising ‘Pint-sized Plays’ and there just happened to be a performance at the Mariners Arms Hotel in Haverfordwest, about twenty minutes from the cottage, that night. On our way home from St David’s we went through Haverfordwest and stopped in on the hotel, had a look at the menu and booked a table.
Well, the meal was excellent, the four sketches were brilliant and the whole evening was a tremendous success. A fitting end to a Llovelly Welsh holiday.
As we packed the cars on Friday morning we couldn’t believe how quickly the week had flown by. We all agreed that as we’d had such a good time it would be a good idea to do it again in the future, and there’s a VMC rally in Cornwall next year….
On the way home we stopped at Aberdulais near Neath to have a look round a National Trust Tin Works and the waterfalls that used to power them. Very interesting history lesson and a fascinating site. After that we had a quick peek at what’s left of the Neath and Tennant canals, we’d sort of had an idea to have lunch there but it was a bit industrial, so we got back in the car and made our way up the nearest mountain to a picnic site at the entrance to a country park, which was much better. After lunch we went for a walk through the park and round the reservoir before saying goodbye to Wales and heading back along the M4 back to England.
Anne had recently re-located to Bristol; whenever we’d seen her since she moved she had been extoling the virtues of the Gloucester Road, and all the marvellous wonders that were to be found therein. As we were to be crossing the Avon that afternoon it was the perfect opportunity to go for a visit and see what all the fuss was about.
The fuss, as it turned out, was completely justified. Anne’s new house is wonderful with fabulous views over the city and Gloucester road tuned out to be very good indeed. After a stroll down about half a mile of it, passing no end of eclectic eateries, we went into a tapas bar and, once we’d had some planning guidance from the waiter, had a delicious mixture of various dishes, and two bottles of riocca. Bliss.
Another early start got us breakfasted and out of Bristol, back to the boat with a load of shopping, then out of the marina and tied up again at Benwick by 4pm. Ron and Rose invited us round for a Chinese, which was lovely, but after a day fund-raising they were just as tired as us, so we said good night at about nine and came back to bed.
Retracing our trip across the Middle Level to the Nene next took us to Whittlesey where we got up at 4am to see the lunar eclipse, and where Anne came to see us and we had another tapas, (This time created by Ann-Marie and far superior to anything Gloucester road has to offer!) then before we knew it we were through Stanground lock and back on the river. From there it was thirty-seven locks up the Nene to Northampton and the end of our Eastern Adventure. However we hadn’t quite finished exploring; we still had one more bit of water to explore before going back upstream. At the end of Morton’s Leam, instead of turning left to Peterborough, we turned right and went another four and a half miles to Dog in a Doublet lock where the Nene becomes tidal. Boats can, and do, go beyond there and out onto the Wash, and we know people who’ve done it, but you either really need to know what you're doing with tides, proper charts and VHF radios, or you go with a pilot. And you need a powerful engine.
As we do not have any of the above we headed for the visitor mooring, however, when we got level with the pontoon we found a sign that said it was temporally closed and that EA were in the process of fixing it. Luckily the lock keeper was out mowing his lawn and offered us the lock landing for the night. He also said that the pontoon had been ‘temporarily closed’ for at least two years. Hmm.

We turned Legend round and tied up to the big concrete posts, happy in the knowledge that for us this was the navigation limit of the Nene; from here we were well and truly on our way back home.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Old West River. River Great Ouse. Earith to Salter's Lode.

It was raining when we left the EA floating pontoon at Earith and headed down the tidal section to Hermatage Lock. The only lull in the rain came while Legend was actually in the lock and sheltered by the bridge, but at least the lock keeper stayed dry. There was a short stay mooring just after the lock, so we stopped and waited for the rain to abate a bit before carrying on to the lovely GOBA mooring at Aldreth.
As soon as we got tied up, we lit the fire, put some beetroot on top of it, some potatoes in it, and were soon feeling a lot drier and warmer. Dave opened up the weed hatch to clear the prop and found all these little chaps sheltering under the back deck.
The next day was altogether better; there was washing, logging, beading and carving. We now have seem to have a family of Borrowers on the roof.
We left Aldreth and had a beautiful sunny day boating down the Old West River.
The water levels seemed a bit low, but we had no problem mooring at the Lazy Otter; there was only one other boat there so we got a nice straight bit.
On the cycle back for the car we found blackberries, apples and damsons to fill our saddle bags, plus some walnuts when we got back to the Otter.
Later that day there were thunderstorms and heavy rain, which filled the river up again and made us think that there may be a plan after all.

We had a small disaster at the EA moorings at Hundred Acre.
We had all the plant pots off the roof to dead-head and tidy them up, and in the process Ann-Marie accidentally dropped her silver Russian triple ring – the one she’d been using as a wedding ring since losing the real one in a lock - into the river. Despite dredging the bottom with the fishing net for hours, and bringing up no end of other stuff including about a hundred freshwater mussels, we never recovered it. With hindsight we should have checked the mussels for pearls and perhaps cut our losses, but having found out that eating them was a Bad Idea, they got chucked back in for the otters. With even more hindsight we should have got Ann-Marie’s wedding ring re-sized each year; since embarking on this outdoor, active life that we lead, she - and her fingers - have been getting steadily thinner. With each replacement it has only been a matter of time before some expansive gesture (or in this case throwing seeds for the ducks) has resulted in a short scream, a glittery arc across the towpath, and a sad little plop.

The following two days were a bit hectic. It started with a walk back along the floodbank past Stretham Engine House to the car...
...then a wifi session in Ely library which resulted in an on line order for new walking boots for Dave, and lunch in the Town House with Sarah and Neil, who’d generously agreed to take delivery of them. After that we went back to the library for a facetime chat with Frankie, then had a quick shop and a walk back to the boat. We pulled the pins and moved round the corner to Fish and Duck where we moored up alongside Mike’s boat, Nb Shanti. As a special treat for our Foodie Yank, Ann-Marie made a delicious meat and potato pie which we took aboard Shanti and had a lovely evening in Mike’s company.

In the morning, Dave did a long-promised oil change on Shanti’s engine. While he was down the engine ‘ole he found some distilled water and a new pair of drive belts that Mike didn’t know he owned so the alternators and the battery bank got a going over as well. We pronouncing Shanti serviceable and reasonably Yank-proof for the time being, and with many fond farewells pulled away and headed down river to Ely.

Over the last few years there has been an increase in demand for ‘Them’ to do something about the long standing abuse of the visitor moorings in Ely. The problem has mainly been a lack of enforcement and a belief (rightly or wrongly) that some stretches of the waterfront are ‘grey areas’. The number of boats that never move from the designated visitor moorings has gradually increased to the point that it has become difficult to find somewhere to stop. To alleviate the problem (from what we understand) Cambridgeshire Council has taken the initiative and adopted the entire riverfront, hired two Riverside Wardens and erected new signage, restricting visiting boats to 48hrs with no return for 48hrs and a £100 per day overstay charge. These new regulations were due to come into effect the day after we arrived and the absence of familiar boats was definitely noticeable.
After a visit to the services we tied our centre rope to the big ring on the wall outside the Maltings; not the perfect spot as it was a climb to get off, but before long the cruiser in front of us went home and we pulled forward making it much better.
In the evening we jumped in the car and drove over to Benwick where Martin and Yvonne just happened to be moored on Nb Evolution. After dinner we all got in the car and went to Whittlesey for the Straw Bear fund raising Ceilidh.
We had a rather late night.

We stayed put in Ely the next night and Anne came to join us for dinner. In the morning, despite a sunny start, we had chilly boating down to Littleport, marking the end of our summer adventure. In the afternoon we had a rather disappointing visit to Ely where the library was shut, Jewsons didn’t have any gas in stock, and Ann-Marie had a rather un-glamourous trip down the stairs in a bicycle shop. We felt that cake was due and swiftly acted upon that feeling, but even that wasn’t up to much. The evening made up for it all though; we went to Sarah and Neil’s for tea, Dave got his new boots and Ann-Marie got face painted as a fish tank by Grace.

The next morning, after getting our photo taken by ‘Ouse to Know’, (the twin engine, very capable-looking EA enforcement boat), we left Littleport and at Brandon turned up the Little Ouse to the marina. The marina was actually closed but the very nice lady sold us some cheap diesel anyway. (Well, cheap for round here.) That meant we had a full tank before embarking on our trip back up the notoriously unpredictable River Nene. There was just enough room to turn Legend round between the reedy banks and we retraced our steps to the main river where we turned downstream to moor up at Hilgay Bridge.
We’d planned a nice cycle back along some minor roads to get the car from Ely, but one of them was closed and we ended up riding down the busy A10, which wasn’t very funny, although we did find some parsnip and onion veggie road-kill. We took the car to Denver and reassembled the bikes again to ride back to Littleport. This time we were on a quiet back road along the river bank; far safer than the A10, but decidedly bumpier, so by the time we finally got back to Legend we were two rather sore and weary little boaters.

In the morning, after stopping at Denver to transfer all the roof tat into the car, we took the boat through the Relief Channel lock onto – well - the Relief Channel...

...and powered down the wide waterway to the floating mooring at Downham Market.
From there we walked back to Denver and did a car move to Salter’s Lode, which gave us a chance to have a look at the lock entrance and plan our approach.
Much good it did us – more about that later!
Back on board we carried on down the Relief Channel to Wiggenhall St Mary Magdelene where there was another floating mooring at what we thought was the Limit of Navigation.

(We later found out that the limit is another mile or so further on, so we’ll just have to come back and do it again!)

We really loved the Relief Channel, it’s like a secret bit of the Ouse. We reckon that when we come this way again – and rest assured Dear Reader, we will – we could quite happily spend a week or so on this bit of water. Hardly anyone comes down here, and when they do it’s usually just to go to Downham, so you have it all to yourself. There are three floating pontoons, all 48hr moorings, all with a tap and all near a pub, and if you’re into walking or birdwatching it’s a little slice of heaven. This little chap was sitting on the railing outside our window while we ate our breakfast, then he dived in the water and ate his!

Actually, ignore that. Don’t go there, it’s rubbish. You’ll hate it.

In the evening we strolled across the bridge to the Cock Inn in Wiggenhall. It is right out in the middle of nowhere and we half expected it to all go silent when we walked in, with just the faint rustle of tumbleweed and everyone staring at us, but it was really friendly and they had good beer and free wifi.

On Thursday we were booked through Salter’s Lode at 5:15pm, 15 minutes after high tide. The day started quite well with a lovely trip back up the relief channel, a stop at Downham for lunch and a spot of shopping, and an easy passage up the relief channel lock, where we had a look at the construction crew building the new fish-pass...

...onto the Ouse and round to the Denver Lock moorings to moor up behind another boat.
With about two hours to spare before our booking we had plenty of time to take all the plants down from the roof and prepare Legend for the tidal crossing and the low entrance to Salter’s Lode. Anne was working in Ely that day and, if she got away in time, was going to join us for the crossing.
At our allotted time the Denver locky opened up the guillotine gate and waved us in, but Anne still hadn’t arrived so we thought we’d have to go without her. However, just as we pulled onto the lock landing on the tidal side to wait for our turn down the tideway, there was a shout of “Wait for me!” and she came running across the bridge. We’ll gloss over the climb down the ladder onto the lock landing in a tight skirt and heels, suffice to say that she made it in the nick of time.
At 5:15 we got the message from Salters that they were ready for us, so we set off. Straight away we knew there was something not quite right. High tide should have been at 5:00, so we should have been travelling with the flow, but we were hardly making headway against a tide that was very obviously still coming in, and coming in fast. Apparently (and unbeknown to us) tide, despite waiting for no man, can just be late. And when it is late, it does its best to make up for lost time. It took us nearly half an hour on full throttle to cover the half mile from Denver to Salters. When we got there the tide was still against us, a situation that we hadn’t planned for at all. The entrance to the lock is at your 7 o’clock position (see the photo above, you come at it from the left.) and the usual procedure is to go past it, turn round and then come back against the flow to go in. All very well when the tide is going out. When it’s still coming in like the clappers, the second you try turning in any direction the bow gets spun round and you end up in the bank. To be honest, Dave panicked a bit. He got too close to the bank, turned too soon and we got shoved side-on onto the submerged mudbank with the nose in the tyre wall. It wasn't pretty, but looking back he was probably doomed no matter what he did. We tried reversing but it didn’t help, so Ann-Marie bravely climbed from the bow up onto the top of the very muddy wall and tied us to a railing, so a least we weren’t going anywhere else. Our hastily revised plan was to wait until it eased off a bit then have another go, however Paul, the Salters Lode locky, had other ideas as his tea was getting cold.
His suggestion was to back out, go down the channel and turn round, then come back in fast enough to use the boats momentum to make the turn and avoid being swept past. Which is what Dave did, and it worked – just. By that time the tide had eased a bit, but there was still a heart stopping moment as Legend rounded the corner and it looked like the back end wasn’t going to get in; another foot longer and we’d have been back where we started with a much bigger bang. As it was we added some of our paint to the great tyre wall, but we made it in one piece. Paul awarded Dave zero for the manoeuvre, but gave him one point for not losing his rag.

It was therefore with great relief that we exited Salters Lode Lock onto the lovely calm waters of the Middle Level and tied up on the visitor moorings. While the Lister ticked and pinged as it cooled down and Dave reassembled our roof garden, Ann-Marie rustled up a lovely lamb dinner which, after all the trauma, tasted even more fabulous than usual.

Monday, 14 September 2015

River Great Ouse. Godmanchester to Earith.

Hoping for a mooring, we moved the car to the common which lies between the Ferryboat Inn and the river in the lovely medieval ring village of Holywell. All the available mooring spaces were occupied, but as we weren’t coming back for a couple of days there was a good chance it could all change.

In the morning, as we approached Hemingford, we spotted two woodpeckers sitting on the fence – what a treat! To be fair, the woodpeckers were already spotted (to a greater or lesser extent) before we got there, so we really can’t take all the credit, but we did see them.

We crawled down the river towards St Ives, looking for the upstream entrance to the Wakes. We did find it, but it had obviously been unnavigable for a while, all overgrown, weedy and hardly visible. That meant that if we went in from the other end we’d have to back out, so instead we carried on to the Dolphin. We did a reasonable reverse into the arm and tied up on the pub side. A little while later a boat moved off from the other side and we thought it would be a good idea to shift over. It wasn’t. With an almost perfect demonstration of how to simultaneously fail at both boat handling and communication we got ourselves diagonally across the arm with the wind against us. We then had to endure the humiliation of a chap off a Tupperware boat pulling us in. Oh, the shame.
That evening we were treated to another fantastic St Ives sunset.
Although it was raining the next morning, the forecast for the afternoon was better, so after catching up with catch up we set off under the chapel bridge and downstream to St Ives lock.
As we approached the lock it became apparent that everyone else also had the same idea; the river suddenly filled up with boats from every direction and we just managed to snuck onto the end of the lock landing. While we were waiting another three narrowboats turned up. There was a lot of hovering and circling but in the end we managed to get all four into the lock together.

When we got back to Holywell the mooring situation hadn’t improved in our favour, so we retreated to the very lumpy GOBA site next door where we deployed the gang plank.
We had a fourth and final attempt at visiting Houghton Mill before it - and its tea rooms – closed, and managed to get there with an hour to spare. After a quick tour of the mill and a cuppa we bought two bags of their very good wholemeal flour and went back to the boat.
By the time we got there we’d also collected some blackberries and apples so a celebratory crumble was almost inevitable.

Diane came for a visit the following morning. There was baking followed by boating to and through Brownshill Staunch accompanied by Kingfishers and Grebes, then a trip on the tidal stretch where the seals were still happy to make an appearance.
This time we were the ones hovering and circling as we waited for the lock. Brownshill is one of several locks on the Ouse with rubbish dimensions. At thirteen feet it’s wide enough to throw you about, but not wide enough for two narrow boats to go in side by side, and at ninety feet long there's plenty of room for the water to slosh back and forth, but not quite enough for two full sized boats behind each other. It’s a bit annoying to say the least. We try to make the most of the situation by allowing boats that can fit in to jump the queue, an offer that invariably surprises them. We’re also happy to work a lock while we’re waiting so other people don’t have to climb the ladders. It quicker and safer for everyone involved but hardly ever seems to occur to anyone else.
The protocol on rivers is quite often “I’m alright Jack.” It can be frustrating when you come from the canals where crews are so desperate to help each other that too many cooks often spoil the best laid plans of captain and crew, and you regularly see a little crowd of boaters standing round a lock enjoying what we light heartedly refer to as a Windlass Party.

We took Diane seal spotting up to Earith, then turned round and went back to Brownshill. There was another period of hovering, which was easier as we were nose into the flow and the wind, then we worked Legend through the lock and stopped at the very peaceful GOBA mooring just above it.
We walked back with Diane along the flood bank... the Ferryboat where the cars were parked and had a very refreshing half of Rumrunner in the beergarden. We were tempted to stop for dinner, but somehow resisted.

Bright and early next morning we were back through Brownshill and moored on the floating EA pontoon outside Westview marina, exactly as we’d planned. We wanted to be there because we were off in the car to join Martin and Yvonne on board Evolution for the weekend at the IWA Northampton Festival of Water, and leaving Legend on a floating pontoon meant we knew it would be ok.

At the festival, after finally finding Evolution moored four boats out from the bank, we had a happy reunion with Martin and Yvonne...
....then we all went off to watch the Opening Ceremony, expertly performed by these two lovely people..
then followed the crowds into the grandly named Island Marqee for the quiz night. (We’d hoped it was going to have palm trees and a coconut strewn beach, but it just meant it was on the lock island.) We teamed up with Colin and Jane and their grandson Max from Nb Slow Gin and between us we pretty much cleaned up on the first three rounds. Round one was Pictures of Northamptonshire Waterways- Martin and Yvonne’s speciality. Round two was Films – It’s got to be very obscure for us not to have seen it, and round three, believe it or not, was Fenland Waterways! There were another three rounds after that; Art and General Knowledge brought us back down to earth a bit, but in the final count our team managed a very respectable fourth place, only four points behind the winners. Hurrah!

Saturday at Northampton was filled with excitement. In the morning we had a stroll round the town, followed by delicious cheese and biscuits on Evolution’s back deck while we watched the boat handling competition. We didn’t really understand what the objective was, but there was lots of reversing, most of which seemed to be aimed at a fender hanging from the footbridge. Anyway it was all very entertaining; right up until Yvonne got stung on her foot by a wasp. Unfortunately she’s allergic, so we thought it might be Epi-pen and ambulance time, but luckily the wasp hadn’t had time to get a lot of venom into her, and after a lie down she was soon feeling better.
Later on we attended a very interesting talk and slide show in the marquee about Sonia Rolt and the Idle Women – the waterways equivalent to the Land Girls in the Second World War. We already knew a bit about the subject, but it was fascinating to find out more.

After tea we were back to see Grandma’s Wooden Leg; a 60’s/70’s cover band, who were very good, but deafeningly loud, forcing us to retreat outside.
The music was followed by a raffle so while they were selling the last of the tickets we perused the prize table. Among the usual bottles of wine, bath salts and (because it’s a boaters raffle) tins of stern-gland grease, there was an innocuous looking envelope which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a £50 chandlery voucher. When the draw started the first ticket out belonged to a woman who leapt up, ran over to the table and grabbed a bottle of rosé; obviously not a peruser of prize tables. The next one was number 7, which was Dave’s! There was much celebrating, and we are now trying to think of something significant to buy to commemorate the occasion. We know that a chandlery is more than capable of swallowing £50 without trace, and Dave would  quite happily spend it all on rope that we don’t need, so much thought will be applied before we go anywhere near it.

That weekend Large Marge, with Laura and Alison on board was moored at Oundle. They had hoped to get to Northampton in time for the festival, but things hadn’t gone to plan and having discovered that there wasn’t a practical means of getting there via public transport, they’d reluctantly resigned themselves to not attending. That was until we offered to give them a lift. So, on Sunday morning, Dave whizzed off to Oundle and came back with two very happy Margees. We introduced them to Martin and Yvonne then we all had a lovely day looking round the stalls, eating Yvonne’s very tasty scones and polishing off the rest of the cheese and biscuits.
In the afternoon there was another talk and slide show; this time on Fenland rivers. We were quite surprised that after a whole summer living on them there was still an awful lot that we didn’t know. After that we said goodbye to Martin and Yvonne, although it wasn’t that sad as we were seeing them again a week later for a ceilidh in Whittlesea.
We drove the Margees back to their boat at Oundle marina, where we met Jaffa the parrot and they treated us to a takeaway from the Indian. Jaffa was very impressed with Ann-Marie and sat on her finger for most of the time; less so with Dave, who was completely ignored.

And they say parrots are a very good judge of character. Huh!