Saturday, 1 December 2012

Nene Floods 4

According to the Environment Agency monitoring station at Lilford (just upstream from Oundle Marina), the river reached its highest point on the evening of Sunday 25th November. These photos were taken on the morning of 26th November and show the water covering the mooring pontoons, the bank and the car park at the marina. Mark, the Marina Manager, and his colleagues had been working hard overnight to check that all the boats were safe and slackening mooring lines, where necessary, under very difficult conditions.  When I called in again on the afternoon of Friday 30th November, the water had receded to almost normal and again the marina people had been checking that boats weren't hung up on pontoons, etc as the level went down.  Their hard work is really appreciated.  Many thanks!

The Oundle Mill Restaurant at Upper Barnwell lock wasn't so fortunate. It was completely flooded out and we feel really sorry for the owners, who had recently put so much time and money into restoring it. This photo (also taken on the 26th) shows the mill isolated in the middle of the river, which can also be seen cascading over the lock gates.  The relief channel, which bypasses the Upper and Lower Barnwell locks, just couldn't take all the flow and had burst its banks where it flows under the old stone bridge on the road into town, as can be seen in the last photo.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Nene Floods 3

Many readers of this blog will be most interested in canals and narrow boats, but the rivers also need some explaining.
Coming as we do from East Anglia, Patience has spent her recent years on the Ouse and tributaries and now the Nene (via the Middle Level). These river systems are not just for leisure boating but are primarily for water control. That's why they are managed by the Environment Agency rather than British Waterways / Canal River Trust.
Car Park, Godmanchester
This pic was taken in my office gardens in 2009 but the scene is the same today - except that there are gangs of men wandering around looking lost. The reason? They're building flood defences in the gardens bordering the river, but the floods have over-run their site, so flood barrier building has come to a halt. Halted by floods ....

You can visualise the north-south Grand Union Canal west of Northampton on the left, the Ouse on the right and the Nene and Middle Levels in the centre connecting the two sides.

The Northampton Arm leaves the Grand Union Canal at Gayton Junction and joins the River Nene in the centre of Northampton.

The River Nene then takes a twisting and attractive rural route through Oundle where we are moored and Lilford, our nearest EA measuring station, to Peterborough's Stanground Lock where it divides, with the northern channel becoming tidal as it crosses the flat Fenlands on its way to the sea. For preference, most boaters avoid the difficult tidal stretch and enter the quiet and often narrow Middle Levels.

The Middle Levels
are primarily a network of rivers, man-made drainage ditches and sluices intended to drain the low-lying area between Peterborough and Ely. They also offer a navigable route between the River Nene and the Ouse.

Nearly all the locks on the Nene have conventional mitre gates at the upstream end and a single vertically lifting guillotine gate at the downstream end. This means the locks can be used as additional weirs in time of flood, when the mitre gates are chained open and the guillotines lifted to allow the water to flow straight through. No navigation is allowed at these times.

So because in high water times the Nene is used to channel excess water out to sea, boaters must stay away - or else! The flooding that we see in some places such as Port Holme and the Ouse Washes is the planned flooding of low lying areas designed for this. The flooding of low lying houses built on the flood plains is an inevitable consequence of allowing inappropriate building. With an increase in serious weather events that can only get worse.
So the moral is, move your home up hill and leave your boat in a safe and caring marina, like ours, or you could find your house under water and your boat stranded in a field!
Either way, don't blame the EA if they prioritise drainage solutions above recreational boating....
Mooring at Thrapston Bridge on the Nene, November 25th 2012

Patience moored at Thrapston Bridge on the Nene, September 20th 2012
So thanks again to Oundle Marina for looking after Patience!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Nene Floods 2

Driving through Cambridge at Fen Causeway and also across Port Holme at Huntingdon I see a lot of water, but John alerts me to the floods which are hitting the Nene in a big way!
The EA is recording near record heights at Lilford tonight, November 25th:

and at Oundle Marina staff have closed the chandlery and are going around checking moorings.


Sunday 25th November. The water is very high in the marina and moorers may not be able to get to their boats. The staff & Environment Agency are out making sure that boats are not tied up too tightly. If you are coming to the marina today please do not put yourself or anyone else in danger.

We'll be OK at our pontoon in a safe basin, but how would you feel if you'd tried to save a few quid by leaving your boat at some godforsaken spot on the river?
This is Tewkesbury in 2007. From the M5 we clearly saw boats  of all kinds washed up and subsequently stranded on fields bordering the river at Tewkesbury.
 Later News ... "Lock mooring has become detached from Lilford Lock and is on its way down river towards Upper Barnwell Lock"
From Canal World Discussion Forum
And flooding pics here from ITV news.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Tanks and tappets

With moderately fine weather first thing, we motored over to Oundle marina to do a few more winterising tasks.  The diesel tank was topped up to reduce the likelihood of condensation over the winter.  We were reassured by Mark in the office that he pre-treats all the marina biodiesel, so we don't have to worry about any additives.  In the short journey to the fueling stage we managed to pick up a short length of rope (someone else's) around the prop shaft, although it didn't seem to slow Patience down too much.  We also noted that the o-ring on the filler cap needs replacing, so it was measured up to get a replacement.

Having returned to our mooring, it was off with the rocker cover to check the valve clearances.  According to the BMC manual. 1.8 litre engines with a 'later type' camshaft should run with a clearance of 0.014 in, measured hot or cold.  You can tell if you have a later type camshaft by looking at the side of the lower engine block - if it has ribs you have the later type camshaft.  Turning over the diesel engine to close each of the valves in turn is difficult, as the gearbox doesn't engage if there is no hydraulic pressure and you can't apply enough torque on the nut on the front end of the crankshaft to turn it.  In the end, we turned the engine over briefly on the starter and tried to avoid it firing.  Note for next time: this would be easier with the engine cold so that it doesn't fire. Most of the clearances seemed to be fine, but three needed adjusting to reduce the clearance to the designated 0.014 in.

We checked the gas fridge, which had been giving problems failing to ignite in the summer, but today seemed to fire up first time.  That may be because it's much easier to see the pilot light in the gloom of a winter's afternoon. We don't want to spend £500 or more on a new fridge if we can avoid it.

Finally, we measured up the effluent tank as a prelude to possibly investing in a resistance type depth gauge.  It's the one tank on board where a little technology would pay dividends.  Unlike the fresh water tank (which you can see into) and the fuel tank (which you can put a dipstick into), those solutions aren't a pleasant option for the black water tank!

Nene Floods

Popping across to care for Patience (see next blog) it became clear that there's an awful lot of water in the rivers around here.
At Huntingdon, Port Holme was awash and the race course was also flooded.
First the road leading to Oundle was partly flooded, then passing Barnwell Upper Lock we noticed water was pouring fiercely over the lock gates.
Further on, the marina levels were higher than usual but under the bridge at Oundle the river had burst its banks and was belting along at a great rate.
So once more, thank you The Environment Agency's  Floodline, with your warning:
Strong Stream Advice has been issued for the River Nene. Several locks on the River Nene are closed to navigation and are being used to discharge flood waters.

The Environment Agency strongly advises against attempting to boat on the River Nene. River flows are above normal and head-room at some sites will be restricted.

And thanks for your flood maps ...
... some of which are clearer than others!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fish and Duck

That's the marina and one-time pub at Pope's Corner near Stretham, not a description of local wildlife.
Patience was moored at The Lazy Otter, just up the Old West River from Pope's Corner, and we passed by often - sometimes wishing that we could pop in to have a pint - but unfortunately the old pub had been demolished before we bought Patience.
Here's a great pic of the old pub, closed in 2006.
  © Copyright Richard Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
and another ...
  © Copyright Fractal Angel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

However in the last couple of years the site has been cleared as if in preparation for new work, while the folks who liveaboard still cluster around the edges. It has to be admitted that some of the boats are not in great condition, but it does seem to be a community and one that has put down roots.
© Copyright Cambridge News. Picture 865352
Now there is a row as the owners want to upgrade and improve the facilities, but in the process they want to clear away the liveaboard community. Although they have given a good period of notice it's hard to think where the live-in boaters would move to. There's nothing available locally as far as I know.
I feel sorry for both sides - not to mention the fact that we would have happily frequented any new pub built on the site, as a short half day trip from our moorings at The Lazy Otter.
You can find more detail in two Cambridge News articles here and here.
Marina contact details are here.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Boat Stuck in River Nene

Since we moved from the Ouse to the Nene we've become increasingly aware of the unpredictability of the river and have faithfully signed up for Floodline advice.
Here's what can happen if you don't ... This is Ditchford lock near Northampton. But we note that Gurnamore got stuck on Thursday 1st Nov - and we received our flood warning at 9.35 on that day. Were the warning notices in place by the time they arrived? Had the locks already been "reversed" and the helmsman noticed too late? Here's a description on reversing locks, by the Environment Agency.

John has often quizzed me about "what I would do if ..." and here's a real poser.
The real answer is that you wouldn't set out if there is a Floodline warning and if the river is moving uncomfortably fast. I understand the owners of Gurnamore thought they'd signed up for Floodline but had not done so for the Nene. Perhaps this is a case for blaming the division between the EA and the CRT. Of course the Nene and the Middle Levels are used not only for leisure boating but also as a drainage system taking water from the East Midlands out to The Wash and surges of water are common. The EA has a different job from the CRT.

Evidently the boat was going downstream, west to east in this aerial view, heading for the lock to starboard then - perhaps because he was travelling too fast with the stream and would have hit the guillotine - slewed over to port, maybe hit the edge of the island and the force of the stream swung him round across the line of the green weir floats. Thank heavens he didn't keep on going ....
I feel sorry for the unhappy couple and their frightening experience, but am bound to say that if the water gets too fast or the conditions too challenging, it's far better to moor up and sit it out - even on the Nene, where good moorings are few and far between. Easy to say of course; tempting to plough on regardless; so hard to judge how fast the stream is while you're afloat; and if you're already scudding along at 6mph can your full power in full reverse actually stop you? I'm sure we couldn't stop in a straight line ....

* For more on this, including a video clip go to ITV News.
* For more pictures and for details of the two owners (who abandoned ship safely) read The Daily Mail.
* For details of the River Canal Rescue operation read this article.
* For detailed advice on coping with a narrow boat in fast river conditions read the thoughtful comments on Canal World. They are the best answers to John's quiz.
And anyone who thinks it's easy to cope in these conditions should read those comments very carefully indeed. There but for fortune go you or I ....

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Towpath Walking in Warwickshire

As previously mentioned, and as described in Four Blokes Who Do Walks,  we have strolled in persistent rain along the banks of the Stratford upon Avon canal near Henley-in-Arden.
the Stratford upon Avon canal is a popular cruising route and one on which Tom Rolt and Cressy made a memorable voyage in 1947, paving the way to the rebirth of canal travel as we now know it.
Most interesting is the design of the split bridge, split in the centre with a cantilever from the bank to leave a gap so that, in earlier times, the rope from the horse towing the boat, could pass through without unhitching.

This is an early canal, started in 1796, though currently not all the boats on it are traditional .... 
... this one, Maid of Fibre, being described as "A sanctuary for knitters".
Elsewhere there are more traditional sights, such as this bridge notice ...
... at Wootten Warwen Basin ...

... and the famous aqueducts at Wootten Warwen ...
... and Edstone ...

... where the boat seen here at the far end of the longest canal aqueduct in England (145 metres) seems fearful of crossing and has swung into the bank in terror!
Not far from here is the Golden Cross Inn at Bearley Cross, where we had a fine Sunday lunch before continuing along the canal and to the station at Wilmcote.

Towpath walking in Staffordshire

We not only boat, we also walk and you can see where we walk and how we're progressing towards our target of walking all the English traditional counties at our walking website.
So it was that we found ourselves in Staffordshire, near the well known canal village of Stone and walking to Salt. Much of the walk was along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey canal, so this was an opportunity for us to compare our eastern region with the traditional Potteries canals.
In summary we like the history, the towpaths and the way boats simply moor up anywhere. Just don't try that on one of the tributaries of the Ouse ....
From a bridge near Aston by Stone
Trent and Mersey at Salt - parallel to the railway
Bridge at Goms Mill
Goms Mill Bridge from the other side
None of these mile posts on the Great Ouse ....
Bridge 83, Sandon, by The Dog and Doublet Inn
Sandon Lock

The Trent and Mersey is a cross country canal intended to to link the Potteries in Stoke on Trent to Liverpool in the east and Hull in the west, which, via the river Trent, it does, curving south wards almost to Lichfield and back up past Nottingham to the coast.
There is a fair smattering of liveaboard boaters here, living more economically than the summer boaters who, like us, have stored their boats in marinas at some cost.
Often liveaboards create their own mutual support communities, but I was warned in all seriousness by someone who knows the owner of the skull and antlers boat (above) that he takes no prisoners and hates people photographing his boat. Fortunately he was either away or asleep when I passed.
It makes for an alarming spectacle. I could see no name on the side. I didn't leave a note ....

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


With the evenings rapidly drawing in and the end of the boating season looming, we spent a day servicing the engine and draining down the domestic water system. 
I obtained replacement filters (fuel and oil) from the excellent ASAP supplies and the oil (Morris 10W/40, recommended for canal boat engines) from the very helpful Oundle Marina Chandlery.  With the sump pump fitted to the 1.8 litre BMC engine, it's a relatively easy job to drain the old oil out into a can.  Taking out the old diesel filter is a bit messier as there is no drain plug on the bowl. There is no air filter element to replace, but I did clean round the air intake grill.  Finally I checked the belt tension and the anti freeze concentration (this was replaced last year).  I am planning to go back and check the valve clearances, as recommended by Calcutt Marine, but that can wait for another day. 
We also drained the water tank and as much of the pipework as possible.  Having experienced a cracked toilet pump valve block last year, the screws to the flange were slackened off to ensure no water remained in the block. The last couple of litres of water in the bow tank were removed with a bucket and sponge.  The inside of the tank is in really good condition with only a few rust spots visible.  The strategy of applying a coat of potable bitumen paint each year seems to be paying off.
We also fitted two replacement LED tubes in the galley.  These were obtained from the very helpful people at Campercare Products.  Although not cheap, they draw less current than the old fluorescent tubes they replace and are much brighter.  We plan to replace the other six tubes on a rolling replacement programme. 
It only remained to wander into Oundle for a pint and a steak sandwich at the Ship Inn in the High Street.  Job done!
[See also Winterising 1 ,Winterising 2, and Chief Engineer's Report - all previous blog entries on wrapping up your boat safely for winter]

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Making The Most of Moorings, Again

Last month, in Making The Most of Moorings,  I railed against the waste of riverside frontage where perfectly good visitor moorings could be provided for minimum effort and maximum gain by both local businesses (pubs and shops) and boaters.
Today, I feel just as strongly, having come back from a pleasant trip upstream on the Nene from Oundle to Irthlingborough.
Along the way we've spotted several places near Titchmarsh, Stanwick, Denford and especially Woodford, where moorings could easily be provided but nothing, it seems, has been done.
I'm not asking for a mooring at every pretty little place, (though maybe .... )

Naturally I appreciate that not everyone is positive to boaters and not everyone who owns a river frontage wants other folks' boats moored up on their patch. However,  I'm convinced there is a need and there is space for more visitor moorings on the Nene, where currently you can motor on for a couple of hours without finding anywhere to stop, and where there are pubs and shops within easy walking distance if only there was a mooring and a simple path. I'm not asking for water or pump outs!
Take Denford for example. A mooring near the lock is marked on my 2007 map but is there no longer. This could provide a really convenient stopping place to visit The Cock and have a meal. But I could find nowhere legitimate to stop, so we passed it by, £20 or so burning in my pocket.
At Woodford there is a huge length of river side, much of it once good moorings, but half of it proclaims Private (though no boats are moored there currently) and the other half is rough edged and with horses in the field. With grass rising up to the local church it has so much in common with Fotheringhay ...

... but instead of advertising it as £4 per night, or patrons only, or engaging the Environment Agency in some deal to make it a great mooring, we boaters have to pass by, a loss to The White Horse, The Duke's arms and the local supermarket.

I'm flummoxed! I know that at Isleham a rogue liveaboard made life difficult by over staying in a 48 hour GOBA mooring. I know that there could be maintenance issues, insurance questions, negotiations with private landowners and all sorts of potential obstacles. But really, is it so hard to have a local man with a spade or a farmer with a digger spending a day digging out a bed of reeds, smoothing the edges and banging in a few short posts, then creating a track from the river to the village?
At Elton, boaters flock to The Crown even though the riverside mooring is rough and we have to fight through the nettles to put down a gang plank. At Reach and Burwell much the same. In each case the attraction of the nearest pub wins out very time, with a crew of 2 or 4 or more likely to spend £20 per head per night.
It surely can't be for a lack of boaters. And there must be local rules, and therefore enforcement, about staying more than 48 hours. So why don't landowners and Parish Councils invest in a bit of riverside clearing - and why don't pubs pitch in with advertising? What am I missing? Surely it's win win?

Back Down The Nene

With the weather forecast to be a splendid sunny day today and foul rain tomorrow we aim to race home to Oundle in one go, as fast as poor Patience can travel (about 4 mph top speed before she overheats).
Dawn, autumn equinox, Irthlingborough
As predicted, after a bright and cold starry night the morning of the autumn equinox dawns clear at 7am with a touch of ground frost.
Early morning, autumn equinox, Irthlingborough
We leave early to make the most of the day. We turn in the river (only just - wouldn't want to be longer than 50 ft) and off downstream through the dappled shade and open fields on either side of the Nene. After some overcast conditions in the previous days the sun brings out the finest qualities of the river and we warm to it.
Willy Watt Lock

There are three or four boats on the river today, including one hire boat from Willy Watt marina which has some inexperienced crew. We help them out a bit before pushing ahead, through Titchmarsh Lock and, perhaps, the fleet of the Northamptonshire Royal Navy, ...
Naval vessel at Titchmarsh

... to arrive at Wadenhoe at 1pm to find the mooring at the King's Head full (not surprisingly on this fine day) so with our own sandwiches and a beer hastily made up in the galley we crack on, to arrive at Oundle by 3 pm - a really good pace, with Canal Planner estimating the 16 miles and 10 locks at 8 hours 15 minutes which we managed in 7 hours flat.
Patience at Upper Barnwell Lock

One reason for our speed, of course, is that there are so few moorings where you can pause and pop into a pub. A Great Shame!
On arrival at Oundle Marina we chat to new neighbours and learn that the marina has now been bought by new owners. The folks running the shop are delighted at the purchase and believe there will be a period of much needed investment. Sounds good to me - I hope the enthusiasm is catching.

Up The Nene Again (2)

Leaving our Thrapston moorings we continue upstream and pass Thrapston Mill.
This  marina was once a feature viewed from the A14 flyover but now it is an overgrown wasteland with warning signs:

 Even overlooking the typography of the signs (that massive U, and look again at that last N) this seems a great wasted opportunity for a riverside mooring, the management company being dissolved in September 2010. And sadly not the only missed opportunity on the river Nene.
We see this again at Denford, where a mooring by the lock has been withdrawn, and at Woodford where a perfect riverside mooring like that at Fotheringay, on the edge of a field below the church is no longer available. This simultaneously deprives the village of visitors to its pubs and shops and deprives boaters of a pleasant halt. It's a subject I'll return to later.
Slightly irritated we motor on, past Woodford Riverside where the marina is busy with diggers and building activity, which mollifies us a little, and the sinuous river and lovely views calm us down. A swan takes off with much pat pattering of webbed feet, a man walks his dog up a track through new stubble to a ridge with a single silhouetted tree ... these are worth remembering.
Now we come to Lower Ringstead Lock with its marina, called Willy Watt Marina. Even as I snigger at the silly pun I read that in fact the name originates as Willow Ait or Willow Island, the mill being listed in the Domesday Book, so I take back my negative thought. Read about the marina, today and the past at the Willy Watt Marina website. And beware the bridge immediately upstream of the lock - the weir is dead ahead so take the left hand channel!
 We pass Blackthorne Marina on our left though can see little of it, and now we're at Upper Ringstead lock with its manually operated guillotine lock which gives us a bit of upper body exercise rotating the large stainless steel wheel. Past the youth activity centre with hard-hatted youngsters screaming as they abseil from a wooden tower and it's nearly 1pm when we clear Irthlingborough locks and reach the exotically named Rushden and Diamonds mooring (being on the edge of this football club's stadium). Unfortunately for them their football club seems to be in receivership (I'm writing in September 2012, more info here) but fortunately for us, although the water and pumping facilities are closed, the well built moorings are just right.
As the predicted rain has arrived we batten down the hatches for a while until there is a marginally less wet spell and we trundle into the town. I am unimpressed by Irthlingborough, which seems a depressed place with a preponderance of kebab and pizza takeaways with pubs boasting "happy hours" and free pool. There is an interesting church tower (Church of St Peter - closed to visitors, haunted by youths in hoodies sheltering from the rain and squatting, smoking, on the rubbish bins like the caterpillars in Alice in Wonderland) but the move to China of the Dr Martens boot factory seems to have hit employment hard. The quirky fame of having had David Frost briefly teach at the local secondary modern school in 1958 cannot raise the town above the damage done to its architecture by nasty 1960's shops. This is a place in decline, without a pub we'd feel easy sitting in, and we avoid all three Chinese takeaways and both Indian takeaways to cook ourselves something substantial on the boat and provide our own entertainment reading improving books and Waterways World.
In retrospect we should have taken warning from the defaced signs at the lock - evidence of folks with nothing better to do (avoid your gaze now if you are of a sensitive nature).

In summary, a useful mooring when passing along the Nene, or I suppose as an overnight stay while watching Kettering Town FC, current residents at the football stadium (Kettering famously had Paul Gascoigne as their manager for just 39 days). Quite handy to visit Tesco's for provisions - but not recommended for holidays.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Up The Nene Again

After this frustrating year for boating, with strong stream advice and all, it was good to get back on the water again, setting out from our new home in Oundle Marina.
We planned three or four days, partly around the weather forecast and partly to explore the river and its pubs and villages.
The first section of only two hours is already becoming a favourite: Oundle to Wadenhoe through locks at Upper Barnwell, Lilford and Wadenhoe, ending up at The King's Head for lunch. All the locks are very scenic, the river is delightful, with fields opening out, trees closing in, Lilford Hall glimpsed between the trees ...

... houses with delightful gardens extending to the river, with little summer houses and dinky jetties and a very pretty bridge ...

just downstream of Lilford lock.
The King's Head and the church at Wadenhoe are well worth a visit - all within 2 hours boating from our base.
Suitably refreshed we motored on, through Titchmarsh, where the Middle Nene Cruising Club dominates the lock  but there are no apparent moorings for passers by like us.
On to Islip Mill Lock where we see the tallest bollards ever ...

... designed, we imagine, to cope with severely rising water levels.
On again to Thrapston, through their nine arched bridge and acutely right into some very pleasant moorings - and it's still only 4 pm.
Thrapston Moorings
The Nine Arched Bridge, viewed from upstream

Though the moorings are very close to the bridge, traffic at night is light and we are not disturbed by it.
Eating, however, is more of a problem. We inspect several pubs in Thrapston, none of which appeal unless you are keen on gaming machines, pool and karioke and though the Woolpack looks reasonable we opt for the ever so slightly pretentious Bridge Hotel which provides us with a few pints of Spitfire and excellent meals. We are satisfied to have paid more for better, though we think The Bridge's decor hasn't quite decided whether it's a wedding venue, a bar, a restaurant, a conference centre, a gentleman's club or a Maharajah's palace.
Thrapston itself seems a rather down at heel place. It has facilities for boaters in terms of supermarkets to stock up with but it feels tired and worn. John was intrigued by the remains of Thrapston Station and its railways and found this detailed explanation. He says:
The LNWR Nene Valley (Peterborough to Northampton) line station was on the site of Scotts (the summer house manufacturer) and the viaduct across the Nene was on the Midland Railway line from Cambridge to Kettering. The Midland Railway station is the one you can still see from the A14.
 The Nene Valley line is the one whose bridges (now footbridges) we kept passing under on the river.

Sections of the railway line seem now to be part of the Nene Way long distance route.