Tuesday, 17 November 2015

River Nene. Grand Union Canal. Irlingborough to Norton Junction

  Our summer flowers had been looking a bit tired for a while, so the solid wooden mooring at Irthlingborough gave us the perfect opportunity to replace them. On the walk back from a car move we found some winter pansies and cyclamens in a little village shop, but we didn’t have much change so we only got a few. They look good and we need a lot more.

  We’d only planned to move Legend to Lower Wellingborough lock in the morning, but we had really good boating weather and there was rain on the forecast, so we changed our minds and carried on. We stopped in Wellingborough to use the services and visit the very convenient Tesco, then continued through Woolaston and Doddington locks before mooring up at the lovely Earls Barton.
  After two nights at Earls Barton we moved on, past the new marina at White Mills. We met the new manager who was moored just outside; he told us that they were due to  break through to the canal and start filling in the next couple of days.
  After Whiston lock we arrived at Cogenhoe where we met a huge bull.
 Luckily the farmer was there when we arrived; she told us that he was really docile and friendly, although he had been known to ‘nudge’ boaters in an inquisitively friendly sort of way. She tickled him with a stick to distract him while Ann-Marie closed the guillotine gate, but then drove off leaving us to work Legend through the lock while he stood on the lock-side looking enormous.  Mr Bull – as we referred to him, while bowing respectfully - was very cute (if one can describe anything weighing two tonnes with the power to spread one over quite a large area as ‘cute’) and he was more interested in scratching himself on the sign than anything we were doing, but if we hadn’t been formally introduced it’s debatable whether we would have got off the boat.
  Having waved goodbye to Mr Bull we set off through Billing, Cifford Hill and Weston Favell locks before mooring up on the floating pontoon at Northampton Washlands.

We moored here on our way down the river and loved it, so we were looking forward to a return visit. We weren’t disappointed; the Washlands is a vast flood catchment area, most of which is a designated nature reserve and as the sun went down geese, swans, coots, ducks and moorhens milled about on the wide river.
 A perfect end to a perfect boating day.

 The following day we made pumpkin and bat bunting for Halloween,
then took the Astra into Northampton for an MOT. Dave was expecting it to fail on suspension bushes as it has been a bit clonky of late, however the phone call - when it did finally arrive - brought good news. It had failed, but only on an anti-rollbar link, and the garage could have it sorted by the next day. Happier than we’d expected to be, we walked along the Washlands back to the boat just as dusk was falling.

  In the morning it was all go aboard Legend. There was baking and tidying up, just in time for a visit from Kim and George. They came on board at the Washlands and we had a lovely morning boating through Rush Mills and Abingdon locks before mooring up at Midsummer Meadows on the edge of Northampton. After lunch we walked into town and braved the crowded funfair lined streets looking for the hot chocolate shop that we’d been in with Anne in the spring. After trailing up and down we finally found the shop but – disaster – it had shut! We had to settle for Nero’s, which just wasn’t the same. Dave went off to retrieve the Astra, then he took Kim back to pick up her car while Ann-Marie and George found 101 things to do with a limitless supply of crunchy leaves.

  It was raining in the morning, but the weather forecast was hopeful, so we twiddled our thumbs for a bit, waiting for it to clear, then decided to put all the waterproof stuff on and set off anyway. As soon as we fired up the Lister the skies cleared, and we by the time we’d got through town lock and moored up it was lovely.
  While Ann-Marie did some housework and baking, Dave took the car and the bow saw up to Gayton Junction, where he left the car and walked back down the Northampton Arm, stopping off at various locations to make stashes of firewood, ready for loading onto the boat the next day as we made our way up the flight. On the way down in spring, we’d spied a huge ash tree that had come down on the off side of the canal, just out of sight, but easily reachable from lock 10. We hadn’t been able to get much at the time as we were heading into summer, plus the low bridges on the Nene and Middle Level meant that we wanted to keep the roof profile as low as possible. We’d found the tree while walking along a footpath that led off from one of the lift bridges, which meant that other people, (or more specifically other boaters) would have noticed it too, so we weren’t sure whether there’d be any good stuff left. To Dave’s surprise however, the tree was still there in its entirety and it was the footpath that had completely disappeared. Despite it still having the sign nailed to it saying that it should be left down as it carried a public footpath, the lift bridge was securely chained in the up position. This on its own posed no problem, - crossing the adjacent lock gates provided easy access – but once over the canal, what brought all but the most determined to a halt was the almost impenetrable undergrowth. Clearly, although it had been a perfectly usable path in the spring, no-one had been that way all year, which was good for us, as our ash tree had remained a secret, but rather disappointing for the walking public. Dave is made of sterner stuff, especially when there is free firewood to be had and before long there was a sizable pile behind a bush at the side of the lock, ready for transhipping the following morning.

  We shared our last evening on the river with Anne who was borrowing the west wing, then in the morning we were up at dawn and through the first lock on the arm by 7am. Although we'd had a fantastic summer on the rivers we were happy to be back to the familiar waters of the canals again. We dropped Anne off at Cotton End, where we’d left her car the night before, then after one last glance back at Northampton and the big Carlesberg brewery, we cracked on up the Rothersthorpe flight.
  The first three locks were fairly well spaced out, and we were surprised to find that the bottom gates and paddles were open on all of them. We’d passed a hire boat going our way that looked ready to set off and we assumed they’d set ahead and we were now pinching their locks, but when we got to lock 11 and the pound above it was totally drained we knew it was something more serious.
 The whole flight had been left with the bottom gates and paddles open. We still don’t know why someone would do that. If it was for mischief then it wasn’t particularly efficient; a lot of hard work with little - if any - effect, compared to what mayhem would ensue from leaving all the paddles open on the top lock, draining everything from Buckby to Stoke Bruerne and flooding the towpath all the way down the arm. All we can assume is that sometime in the night someone came down the flight and didn’t shut anything behind them, but it was all a bit mysterious. We put Legend in lock 11 then Ann-Marie went trotting up and down letting water down while Dave loaded all his wood stashes on our gradually ascending boat before navigating carefully across the still depleted pound. We scraped over the sill getting into lock ten, which must have dumped a pile of silt into the gate recess, so when we shut the gates they didn't meet. Dave had a poke about with the boat hook and we managed to get them close enough to hold water and carried on.
With help from a couple of guys who were taking two impounded boats up to Gayton to be removed from the water, and from the hire boat crew who were one lock behind us, we got to the top without losing very much time at all. At lock 2 we met Brighton and Nuneaton an historic pair that we'd met before. Happily this meeting went better.

 There was a lovely mosaic on the wall of the little house by lock 1, we couldn't remember it being there when we went down, so we think the local IWA branch, who have adopted the arm, must have made it over the summer.

 We stopped at the services for water then turned right at the junction and moored up in pretty much the same place where we’d been at Easter.
  We had thought that after a summer on rivers, where there aren’t that many places to stop for more than two days, we’d get to Gayton and not move for a fortnight, however if we wanted to go north then we only had two days to get up the Buckby flight before it shut for gate replacement.
  Karen and Lauren came to stay for a few days on the leg from Gayton to Norton and Lauren brought her hair dyes. That resulted in both Auntie 'Rie and her niece going out for dinner with purple and blue streaks in their hair.
  The following morning, in a bid to escape a loony who'd latched onto us the day before, we were up and gone before 10am. We boated up to Stow Hill Wharf, with Lauren at the tiller for a good deal of it.
 Once we got there we did a car shuffle up to Gayton and had a swift one in the New Inn before coming back to the boat and a stovetop chicken casserole.

The next day was Halloween and we had to make a decision; we either had to go up Buckby or go south towards Stoke Bruerne. We more or less tossed a coin and carried on Northwards. With Karen at the tiller we gently cruised up the very surreal stretch of the GU between the east coast main railway line on our left and the M1 motorway on our right.
 Large Marge with Laura and Alison on board was moored at the bottom of the locks opposite Whilton Marina, so we pulled over and went round to introduce everyone. They’d kindly offered to help us up the flight, so after some sustenance in the form of a bacon butty and a mug of tea, we set off up what Ann-Marie had previously considered to be the hardest lock flight in the world. The first time we’d worked Legend up it we’d both had to wind and push to get anywhere and it had taken ages. This time however, Ann-Marie was ably assisted by Karen, Lauren, Laura and Alison, as well as a lady from another boat which came into sight just as we were setting off.
 It all went without a hitch and we were up at the top in no time.
 While Dave and Alison moored up the rest of the crew went to the pub and got the beers in.

Later on, Lauren did the honours with the pumpkin.
Here's some Autumn boating pictures

Happy Halloween! 

Monday, 26 October 2015

River Nene. Dog in a Doublet to Irthingborough.

While we were at Dog in a Doublet, Diane came to see us for the afternoon and invited us to her house for dinner, where we met her husband Richard. After a very good meal we had a game of crib, an unusual treat for us - not many of our friends are conversant with the 'fifteen two - fifteen four and one for his knob' rigmarole that surrounds this terrific game.

The next day was the start of our trip back up the beautiful Nene.
The short hop to Peterborough embankment was full of interest with a kestrel, a harrier, little grebes, and a big flock of starlings as well as all the swans that we'd herded down to the lock the day before.
We arrived to find that the fair was in town and the embankment was  chock-a-block with big rides and caravans, however they were still setting up and it wasn't due to kick off till the following evening. Phew!
Mandy and Chas came over for dinner, lovely people and always the perfect guests, then in the morning we moved on to the Boathouse by Peterborough rowing lake.
Not many people know about this mooring, it's off the main river in a little backwater and we're not sure who, if anybody, is responsible for it. Although there is a jetty and posts to moor to, it's all a bit dilapidated, but the good bit is there aren't any restrictions.
This was perfect, as we'd got some work counting train passengers and we needed the boat to stay put for a week.
Our little jetty turned out to be quite popular with the locals who probably weren't all that chuffed about a dirty great boat taking up half of their fishing platform, but we all got along reasonably well and we felt quite safe leaving Legend alone while we went off to Cambridge and Birmingham to earn a crust.

While we were near Peterborough we went into Go Outdoors for a new gas bottle and came home with a new coat each. It's the cheapest gas, but there are pitfalls. We must stay away from that place.

The shift we did in Birmingham New Street was a revelation; they've completely revamped the whole place with a huge shopping plaza over the top and extra stairs and escalators down to the platforms. The work was easy; we were just counting passengers getting on and off, it was when we'd finished that it all went wrong. We were working on different platforms and when we went to find each other one of us went up the stairs as the other went down the escalator, then we did it the other way round, and to cut a long story short we got separate trains back to where we'd parked the car and it took over an hour before we managed to get back together. It's pathetic how upset we both were by this; after all we're both mature grown ups and both perfectly capable of using public transport without holding hands, but the relief we felt when we were reunited was palpable. Soft or what?

As two of our shifts were mornings in Birmingham, we arranged to go and see Kim and George on one day and Laura and Alison on Large Marge on another. George was extra cute and chatting away in his own language, although Kim was a bit stiff after writing her car off in a scary crash. Lucky people, we've seen the photos and it could have been a lot worse.

The Margees were moored in the Black Country Living Museum, just outside the Dudley Tunnel portal. Sadly we could only stay for an hour or so, but we had a great time. Jaffa was obviously overjoyed to see Ann-Marie, however we're still waiting for him to acknowledge Dave's existence.

After a week we left the Boathouse, returned to the embankment for a visit to the services, then carried on to Ferry Meadows, where we had the whole place to ourselves.
Waking up in the middle of Ferry Meadows Country Park is an absolute delight and one we'd been looking forward to ever since we were there in the spring.
There are no end of birds so the dawn chorus is fabulous and the other visitors don't start appearing till after breakfast. It's as if the whole thing has been put on specially for your benefit.
Sadly it's only a 24hour doings so the next day we shuffled on to Alwarton lock for one night...

...where we woke up to find the lock gates swathed in beautiful dewy cobwebs...
...then Wansford Station for two more nights.
As we worked Legend up through the guillotine gates we tried various different ways of positioning and tying it so that it didn't get thrown about when we opened the paddles. We found the best way was to stop with the back end next to the ladder, take the centre rope backwards to the nearest bollard and tie it off then open the paddle on the same side as the boat. This sends the incoming water across the bow and down the other side and makes the boat come forward. After about 4 turns we stop and wait for the boat to tension the rope which pins it to the side, then open it right up. On some locks the sill is exposed and the paddles are right out of the water so we go a bit more steady with them, but the principal is the same. The only thing you have to watch out for is that there's enough length in the rope to not pull the boat over when it gets up to the top.

From Wansford station we had two more days working in Cambridge so we didn't really get to see anything of the area, but we did get to see a couple of steam trains going over the bridge by the mooring...
 and we had a lovely walk back for the car along the river and past Water Newton mill.
Our next stop was the lovely Elton lock. In the morning before we moved we had a trip into Go Outdoors in Peterborough for a new gas bottle. This time we came out with a new head torch and a pair of lined walking trousers each. Cheap gas is becoming expensive.
We got to Elton lock just as it started raining, and by the time we were through it was getting worse. If everyone plays the game there's enough room for about five boats just above the lock, but a narrowboat and a cruiser had managed to fill it all up on their own. We could have made a fuss and got them to move but there seemed little point in everyone getting wet so we pinned and planked on the jungly bit.
We had a day catching up with boaty things; 'er indoors washing and cleaning, 'im outdoors wood chopping and stacking, followed by a terrific walk back to Wansford for the car. We drove back to the boat to teacakes and a whirly line full of dry laundry.

The next morning was sunny and there was rain on the forecast so we set off through Warmington, Perio and Cotterstock locks before mooring up in the mill channel just after Ashton.
EA were doing some work on the weirs and had dropped the water level so we had to be a bit careful, but we got through with no problem.
We were lucky; we heard a couple of days later that the level had been even lower and boats had run aground on the lock moorings.
We should have set off fifteen minutes earlier, as the rain caught up with us just as we got there, but we got pinned to the bank before it really came down.
We were about to set off the next morning when the rain started again and forced us back inside for more tea. When we did get going it was a bit damp but it didn't start raining properly until we were within sight of Wadenhoe lock, then it chucked it down. It carried on chucking it down all the time we were working through the lock and all the time we were mooring up out side the King's Head and only stopped when we'd finished.
Wadenhoe lock is rather daunting from downstream. The water flows over the top of the gates at quite a rate; in fact you don't have to open the paddles, you just shut the guillotine and let it full up, so when you enter it from downstream there's a respectable flow of water coming to meet you. All good fun!

Anne came to stay the night at Wadenhoe before going to her office in Peterborough the next morning and was good enough to treat us to a meal in the pub. The food was just as good as when we went there with Jon and Jenny in spring. She also brought us some pretty Autumn bunting which was a perfect fit for Legend's dining room window.
In the car the following morning we came across Aldwinckle village store which had some cyclamens and pansies outside; just right for a bit of winter colour on the roof. On the walk back we stopped there again for some gala pie and a punnet of satsumas to keep us sustained till we got to the boat.

Boating in the morning took us through Tichmarsh lock, where the Middle Nene Cruising Club were busy with their Autumn clean-up.
There was lots of painting going on, along with more ambitious stuff like tree stump removal and roof repairs. We love hard work and could have watched them for hours, but we had some serious cruising to do so we had to get on.

By ten o'clock we were moored up outside Islip sailing club and went up into the village for a jumble sale we'd seen a poster for. What we hadn't seen was that it was from 2 till 4 so we had to kick our heels for a few hours. We managed to hit the free wifi in the library and filled our iplayer then went back to the village hall and scooped a bag full of bargains. Part of our haul included some curtains made out of deck chair material which we're going to turn into cushions to go on top of the  boxes, and into foam filled window pads which will fit in the window frames at night providing extra insulation and helping to cut down on condensation. We hope.

After two nights at the sailing club we moved all of half a mile to the pretty little mooring by the Nine Arches bridge in Thrapston. In the afternoon we drove to the National Trust property of Lyveden and had a very pleasant three hours walking around and exploring.

It's an amazingly interesting building and the Autumn colours and a cream tea set it off perfectly.

We both had dentist appointments the following afternoon. As our dentist is in Southam, we'd arranged to meet Kim and George in Leamington in the morning. We had a walk through the park kicking through the leaves and chasing pigeons, although George didn't seem all that bothered in either, then we had a go in the toddlers playground which was great fun until Ann-Marie got dizzy and Dave fell off the bouncy horse.
In the afternoon the dentist told Dave that he needed a crown and Ann-Marie that he couldn't find any reason why she'd had toothache for the last few months. Not exactly the result we were hoping for.

We needed to get to Irthlingborough the next day, so even though there was rain on the forecast we donned the waterproofs and set off. As it turned out it was quite a pleasant day even though it took us through four of the six manual guillotine locks. These are operated by a big wheel that you have to turn through what seems like a thousand revolutions to shut the gate, then another thousand to open it again once you're through. No matter how fit you are they must use muscles that nothing else uses, because they really make your arms ache.

In the afternoon we cycled back through Stanwick Lakes to Thrapston for the car, then in the evening..... well it was back to the future day so it would have been rude not to.