Monday, 22 June 2015

Great Ouse, Little Ouse, Lark. Brandon Creek to Ely.

From the EA moorings at Brandon Creek we went up the Little Ouse looking for the GOBA moorings that were marked on the back page of GOBA News as being at Botany Bay.  Just before the old stop lock there was a stretch of recently dredged river with a GOBA mooring sign, however when we pulled in we found the bank was far too soft and unstable to put hold a mooring pin. Give it a year or so for the dredged material to be stabilised by vegetation and no doubt it will be fine, but that wasn't much use to us then. According to all our maps and guides there weren’t any more official moorings till the end of the navigable river, so we had a go at pulling into a friendly looking bit of riverbank. That went as badly wrong as we should have anticipated; twenty minutes and a wet foot later we had Legend floating again and were able to continue.  Happily, half a mile further upstream, there was a beautiful GOBA site opposite the RSPB sanctuary at Lakenheath Fen.
Presumably that was the one the map was on about, just not where it said. Anyway, we had two very peaceful nights there, and a very educational visit to the sanctuary.
We really liked Lakenheath RSPB. The weather forecast was for showers all day, but the only real downpour came while we were in a hide watching a family of coots. During the day we managed to spot - and correctly identify - 2 Marsh Harriers, a Kingfisher, a Whitethroat, no end of Reed Buntings and a Cuckoo,
which neither of us had ever seen before. We also heard a Bittern, which we were very excited about.  
In the morning we had the side hatch open at 4:30 to hear the dawn chorus. We lay in bed listening to the boom of a Bittern, then went back to sleep till breakfast time.

At a more civilised time of day we woke up again, breakfasted and continued our travels to the most easterly point on the UK inland waterways network at Brandon Lock.

Actually, the navigable river continues for about a quarter of a mile beyond the lock to Brandon Bridge, but as Legend is 57’ long and the lock (or Staunch) is only 39’, our journey stopped there.

The forecast overnight had 45mph gusts, so we battened down the hatches and went to bed early.
The next day was quite windy too so we stayed put. About a month ago at Whittlesea, Dave had redesigned the big box so that the side panels came off, making it easier to get the bikes out. While we were at Brandon he put hinges on the end panels so that we can collapse it quickly and neatly for low bridges.

That evening we phoned Lauren as it was her birthday the next day. During the call, or perhaps shortly afterwards, we decided it would be nice to go down to Surrey to say happy birthday to her in person. Of course our car was still in Littleport, so the next morning, bright and early, we turned round - not easy with the wind going one way and the river going the other - and set off downstream with Dave on the tiller and Ann-Marie in the kitchen baking birthday goodies. Back on the Ouse we had a quick lunch break at Brandon Creek before mooring up at Littleport Station. After a quick shower we were in the car and heading south, arriving at Karen’s in time to go out for dinner with Lauren and all her immediate family.
Happy Birthday Lauren.

On the way home the rear silencer fell off the car; a quick search of the boot for something to improvise as an exhaust hanger produced a carrier-bag which, surprisingly, got us home. When we arrived we found Janet waiting for us. She’d dropped her daughter Katy off in Wisbech and had an afternoon to kill so she’d come to see us. We had a nice time catching up and swapping crafty ideas.

In the morning, after transferring the big tool box into the car boot, we moved Legend up the river a bit to the moorings outside the Swan Pub...
...walked back to the car and went off to Euro Car Parts in King’s Lynn for a new silencer. From there we went to Glen and Steve’s near Wisbech. Just before we left the boat we noticed that the warning light on our fridge was flashing, indicating an overheating controller. There wasn’t much we could do at the time so we kept our fingers crossed and drove away.

The reason for going to Glen and Steve’s was to pick up some tickets for the Ageon Open Tennis Tournament in Nottingham, which Ann-Marie had won in a prize draw, and we’d had sent to them because they were our closest friends. (Of course they are our closest friends wherever we are, but just at that moment they were geographically……oh, work it out for yourself.)

We’d also arranged - rather hastily the previous evening – to use their driveway to fit the new silencer. While Dave did that Ann-Marie, Steve and Holly watched some tennis on the telly in preparation for the tournament. When she finished work, Glen came home with a Chinese, so that was lovely.

When we got back to Legend, the warning light on the fridge was still flashing and things in the freezer were beginning to get soft. We pulled it out, cleaned all round it, switched it off and left it for half an hour then switched it back on again. Thankfully it started up with no problem, but we need to do something to stop it doing that again whenever the weather gets hot. After a search round the internet and some questions on a couple of facebook groups, we think the answer is to drill one or two holes in the floor behind it and fit a computer fan to draw cooler air from under the floor up behind the fridge when it’s running. So that’s on the list.

We’d planned our next move to Prickwillow on the River Lark, but after moving the car and walking back to Littleport we decided that it was too windy for boating, so we watched all the stuff we’d downloaded on the iplayer instead.

The next morning it was still quite breezy but nothing we couldn’t handle, so after filling the water tank we pushed off through the bridge and continued up the Ouse to the Lark. That makes it sound like a relatively smooth operation doesn’t it? Alas Dear Reader, the truth is not quite so rose coloured. Because the wind was keeping us on the mooring, we decided to swap roles; Ann-Marie took the tiller and Dave was on the front with the big boat pole to push us off. Dave however, forgot that along with relinquishing the tiller, he’d also relinquished command of the vessel, and made the unforgivable mistake of pushing off without the Skipper’s say-so. Didn’t even wait for a nod. In fact the Skipper hadn’t even started the engine or untied the back rope before he had the front right out in the river. There were some sharp words and a severe amount of grovelling.

It was a lovely day boating up the Lark and through Isleham Lock.


At the end of the navigation we found about 30’ of space on the end of the jetty outside the Jude’s Ferry pub.
It was a bit old and doddery, with one very small mooring ring, to which we gingerly tied our centre rope. We half expected to wake up in the morning on the other side of the river with big chunk of jetty still attached to the boat, but all was well, and despite being in a pub garden we had a very peaceful night.
After dinner we had a stroll further up the river bank towards Mildenhall.


The original head of navigation was at King’s Staunch.
In the morning we impressed quite a few other boaters by turning our 57’ boat in a river that was barely 40’ wide. We managed it by sticking the nose up the slipway so it wasn’t quite the magic trick it sounds, but it looked good all the same.

On the way back down Ann-Marie took the boat through Isleham lock...

...then we carried on down the Lark to Prickwillow, where we'd left the car..
It was a Monday so the Fenland Drainage Engine Museum was open. That was a fascinating place to visit with lots of history and some very big shiny diesels.

Also, as it is positioned between the land drains and the river, with windows at either side, it highlights how far the land is below the river level and how important the water whole pumping exercise is to the survival of everything in this part of the world.

The next day we went to Nottingham for our day at the Aegon Open Tennis Tournament. We’d expected to be wearing hats in order to keep the sun off while eating strawberries and ice-cream. However, we found ourselves wearing everything we’d brought including the emergency blanket, in order to not freeze. A task at which we failed. The tennis was really good though; our free tickets were for seats in centre court, right behind the umpire...
Dave waiting for the rest of the crowd.
...and we loved every minute of the four games we saw. We must confess that as we were so cold we bailed out a bit early and went in search of a chippy, but it was a really good day.

Back on the Ouse we moored at the Queen Adelaide EA moorings for a couple of nights before doing a car move and then boating into Ely itself. We arrived in the city with perfect timing; mooring is always a bit tricky in somewhere as popular as Ely and we’d come in hoping to use the sanitary station before mooring up, but there was already a queue for it. While we hovered in the river for a couple of minutes deciding what to do, the boat that had been on the water point pulled off and two plastic cruisers took its place. Never ones to miss an open goal, we decided that as we still had half a tank of water we could forgo the sanitary station visit and neatly snuck in where the cruisers had been...

...three boats away from the tap and less than 100 yards from the car. Bob-on!

The next day Anne was competing, along with other members of her firm, in the annual Dragon Boat Festival at the Peterborough rowing lake, so we went along to support her. Despite the intermittent drizzle it was a brilliant day. There were about 20 teams competing and each team had three races.  Anne’s firm was fielding two teams and her team were in the first race, so they didn’t get to see anyone else go beforehand; as a result it was a bit chaotic, not helped by Anne having the paddle in the wrong hands.
By their second race they’d sorted themselves out, they were beautifully co-ordinated and they did a lot better.
Unfortunately just after the finish line their boat capsized, but happily everyone got rescued.
Their final race was against the other PSF team, so it was very competitive and neck and neck at the finish. Terribly exciting stuff! We did lots of cheering! There was also free food all day, which made it ever better!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

River Great Ouse. River Wissey. Denver to Brandon Creek.

After all the antici…..pation, the tidal crossing from Salter’s Lode to Denver Sluice was all over in the blink of an eye – to a given value of “Blink” – not surprising really, when you find that you can see one from the other.
This is Salter's Lode.
Well Creek is on the right with Legend on the mooring. The lock is just in front of the cottage between the railings, and the Tideway is on the left with Denver Sluice just visible at the far end. 
This is what the tidal bit looks like at low tide.
And at High tide.

You have to wait until it's gone down far enough for your boat to get under those concrete beams before you can get out of the lock; on a spring tide that can be as much as two hours.
You've also got to wait until these little guys have vacated the lock gate before you can get in!

On the Wednesday morning - after we’d cried off the day before - the wind had dropped and the sun was peeking between the clouds, so when the Lock Keeper came out we gave him the thumbs up, cast off and gently edged into the lock. The paddles, or slackers as they're called around here opened up and we rose up to tide level.
 And up....
And up!
Ann-Marie kept the front away from the lock sides while the locky gave Dave some very useful advice about how to make the turn upstream once we were out.
There's those concrete beams.
 Looking back. There wasn't a lot of room for error.
The turn is tricky; you go out at an angle pointing downstream and then have to turn through a good deal more than 90˚ across a channel that is now 2 hours after high tide and going at quite a pace. At full throttle, with the rudder hard over, there was a moment of doubt when we thought we were going to go straight into the opposite bank, but then the back end got to mid-channel just as the front end went into the slower water and before we knew what was happening we were powering our way up river.
Half way through our very thrilling, but very short, sea voyage we passed another boat going in the opposite direction so the lock at Denver was open for us when we got there.
It didn't look all that open; those big sluice gates in front of us were definitely shut, but the lock itself is a much smaller affair and was on the left tucked in behind the bush. After exactly twelve minutes up on the tideway with Legend making the biggest bow-wave ever, we were gently going back down, and four minutes after that the big guillotine gate opened and the wide expanse of the beautiful River Great Ouse lay before us.
So, less than an hour after untying at Salter’s we were moored on the service point at Denver, none the worse for wear and wondering what all the fuss was about.
 Jane, who used to work with Ann-Marie at the farm, came to visit Legend the next day, so while they caught up on all the gossip, we had an old fashioned boat trip up the river and back, complete with tea and buns. Later on, after Jane had gone home, we set off again. This time we turned left onto the River Wissey...
and moored up on the Great Ouse Boaters Association(GOBA) moorings just after the railway bridge.

On Lindsay and Paul’s advice, we’d joined GOBA a few weeks previously. This was the first of their designated moorings we’d come across and it was lovely. There was a cuckoo in the woods, there were reed warblers in the reeds, and that was about all we could hear for two days. And as if that wasn’t enough, on the way there we saw a pair of Grebes with three chicks.
On the Saturday we moved on to the EA moorings at Hilgay, then jumped in the car and set off for Crick. Bob & Mandy had reserved a mooring for Matilda Blue while the Crick Boat Show was on and they’d invited us to stay on their boat, have a look round the stands, and join them in the marquee in the evening. Lindsay and Paul were going to be there as well, so even though there wasn’t anything chandlery-wise that we really needed, we were really looking forward to seeing our friends.
And what a great time we had! We had a fun afternoon mooching round the show with Lindsay and Paul; Lindsay scrounged four freebee coffees from the very nice people on the RCR stand, than half of us went investigating deep cycle traction batteries and hybrid diesel/electric engines, while the other half went poking about through all the jewellery and rainbow coloured harem pants. The band on the Saturday night; Murphy’s Marbles were brilliant.
Small World Moment. The percussionist, Clive, was a mate of ours from Citroen 2cv land!
We spent most of the evening jigging about and singing at the tops of our voices.
And we still managed to come home with a new solar controller that we didn’t know we needed.

On the way home the next morning we drove through a few showers, and then just as we pulled up in Hilgay the car’s alternator died. We decided the best course of action was to abandon it and not think about it until we got back, so when the skies cleared after lunch, instead of worrying about our broken car we had a very pleasant afternoon boating up the lovely Wissey...

past the enormous sugar beet factory...
and out to the limit of navigation at Stoke Ferry. Just before the end there is a GOBA mooring on the edge of a camp site, but it’s only one boat long so we were very relieved to find it unoccupied when we got there.
The next morning was Bank Holiday Monday.  Kim, Luke and George arrived for a joint birthday celebration and we took a picnic to Downham Market to watch the Carnival Parade. There were some stalls selling plants where we finally found some dwarf French beans for the roof. Back at the boat, after smuggling George through the camp site (which, unbeknown to us before we got there, had a strict Adults Only policy)...
we went up to the limit of navigation at Stringside Drain where we turned round and started back downstream. After a lovely afternoon boating down the Wissey in the sunshine with Luke on the tiller we moored up again at Hilgay, where our sick car was waiting for us. We consulted the Haynes manual, phoned a couple of motor factors, and devised a plan. By lunch time the next day, with the help of Luke’s axle stands and kind offer of a lift to King’s Lynn, we were mobile again. As soon as the boys had scrubbed up and stowed the tools we did another car shuffle to Denver and set off once more. In no time at all Legend was making a big sweeping turn to tie up on the EA 48hr moorings outside the Jenyns Arms.
We wrapped up what was left of their fabulous three tier Mocca Chocca Laté joint birthday cake...
and waved them off.
A bit of info about The Denver Complex. Ever since the Romans dug channels hereabouts in an effort to make the huge delta surrounding the wash more accessible, humans have been trying to hold back the forces of nature in Fenland. Various local schemes were proposed and tried over the following millenia, rivers were diverted and drains were dug, but nobody looked at the big picture and addressed the fundamental problem of flooding in the area. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century when Sir CorneliusVermuyden - a Dutch engineer - was employed by the Bishop of Bedford that things started to look like we might make a difference. He realised that it was necessary to get water from the west side of the area to the sea as quickly as possible in time of flood while still containing enough to make navigation and irrigation possible. His most famous works are the New and Old Bedford rivers; two parallel artificial drains shortcutting the Great Ouse from Earith to Denver, nearly 30 miles long and over half a mile apart dug with a flood bank on the outside of each. Control sluices at either meant that excess water could be stored, by allowing it to flood land between them before being releasing to the sea. Some of Vermuyden's plans were a lot more ambitious than the technology or resources of the time would allow and not all were as successful as he'd envisioned, however this tidal by-pass must have relieved a lot of the problems. One idea; a channel taking water from the three Lower Ouse tributaries straight out to sea, eventually evolved, in the 1960's, into the Cut-Off Chanel, a revolutionary reversible 100 mile long link to reservoirs in Essex. The confluence for all these man-made dykes, rivers and drains is Denver. There are 5 sluices in the complex and two locks and, while we were there, work was going on to create a fish pass between the tidal and non-tidal river. The place is fascinating; no matter what the weather is doing or how much rain has fallen in the East Anglia catchment area, constant monitoring allows millions of gallons of water pass through there every hour with barely an inch change in river levels. Most of the Fenland is below sea level, some as much as a meter, so it is easy to see how important the Denver Complex is.
After a quick trip into Downham Market where we got some new planters for the herbs and beans, we did a car move to Brandon Creek where the Little Ouse joins the Great Ouse then walked back along the flood bank. On the way back we got to see the baby grebes again.

It was only a week since we’d first seen them but they’d really grown and were practicing diving. We watched while daddy grebe caught little fish and fed them to the babies. That could have kept us occupied us all day long.
The next day Diane came for another visit. Before she arrived we took the boat around to the service block and filled up with water. We also went to empty the loo, but the Elsan was out of order (to put it mildly!) so we swapped our cassettes and made a few enquiries. It turns out that the only reliable Elsan on the lower Ouse is at Ely, which is not a problem for us, as we’ve got the car, but it doesn’t make life easy for boats having a summer cruise.

With Diane on board we set off for the very nice EA 48hr mooring site just past the Ship Inn at Brandon Creek where we’d left the car. On the way we had another check on our baby grebes. We’ll not see them again till August so it was a bit sad to say goodbye, we’ve come to feel very parental towards them.
There were two boats already at the mooring, so we had to tag onto the end with the back of the boat hanging off the pontoon. Diane and Ann-Marie had an enjoyable crafty afternoon before we returned her to her car. In the morning we took our car to Littleport and walked back. It should have been a quick 3 miles along the top of the flood bank following the Ouse Valley Way, however after about half an hour of bashing our way through tall grass, cow parsley and nettles along a path that only existed on a map...
we gave up and braved the verge of the busy A10 instead. It’s not often that we’d chose to do that, but the majority of the motorists were well behaved and we really weren’t dressed for jungle warfare.