Sunday, 19 August 2012

Oundle to Wadenhoe

At last! A day that is warm and sunny, both John and I are free, and Patience is safely berthed at Oundle Marina. So, after all that strong stream advice, lousy weather and all, we set out for a jaunt a little way upstream to the pretty village of Wadenhoe, accompanied by wife Sarah and friend Angus.
The trip takes us out of the tight entrance to the marina (especially tight approaching from upstream) and quickly on to Upper Barnwell Lock where the Oundle Mill, now a restaurant, looks very fine though gives the impression of being rather exclusive. It describes itself as "a chic retreat", which isn't quite our thing, though Patience is happy to act as moving wallpaper for the chic retreaters.
Then there is a relaxing and very attractive stretch of river with varied views of fields, woodland, distant churches ... all very English on this wonderful sunny day.
Next to Lilford Lock, close to the Nene Way and popular with canoeists who hire from further upstream and wisely move their craft by portage rather than the lock, tempting as it may be. We don't want to crush a flimsy canoe with a 14 ton narrow boat as the water surges through.
Then through Wadenhoe lock and to the moorings immediately nearby at the bottom of the gardens of The King's Head.
So popular is it today, being the best weekend day for months, that the world and his wife are out enjoying the day. With kind and helpful advice from nb Dorcas Lane we manage to moor up alongside and are later joined by a hire boat, making it a triple sandwich.
Lunch is from the Paddock menu, served in the garden followed by a short walk uphill to the attractive church.
then we extricate ourselves from the triple sandwich and, thanking nb Dorcas Lane, we decide we will certainly return to the Kings Head. There's ample turning space outside the Kings Head and the lock is just yards away so you can choose your time to enter.
Return journey much the same (in fact many of the pics above were taken on the return), again attractive, warm, pleasant and the best of easy boating.All three locks at Upper Barnwell, Lilford and Wadenhoe are electrically operated guillotines plus the normal wound vee gates, so this is a bit easier than, say, Perio or Warmington where there is a fly wheel needing manual turning to raise the guillotine.
Incidentally more useful detail about locks on the Nene is provided at Sue's Blog.
Boating on The Nene is fun. At last!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Making the Most of Moorings

I'm thinking of starting a MMM campaign for landowners and Parish Councils to Make The Most of your Mooring places.  Why? Because I've recently noticed in the Middle Levels and The Nene that moorings are too few, and in several places they exist but are not signposted. This seems odd to me.
Naturally, as a boater, I'm keen to see more moorings, but I don't understand why, where there is a clear stretch of waterfront, the owner doesn't either bang in a few stakes and invite a contribution or offer the stretch to a boater for a longer term in exchange for a fee and a commitment to keep the grass down and not leave a mess.
There are several possible reasons for this, I imagine. For a longer term arrangement there's the risk that, once the boat is in place, it's impossible to get it to move on. This seems to have happened at Isleham where a liveaboard took over a GOBA mooring and simply refused to leave. In the end GOBA withdrew and the incident soured relationships and lost everyone a mooring.
On the other hand, between the signs saying Private, No Mooring, there are several lengths of bank where a simple sign says ...
This one is at Fotheringhay on the Nene, where I assume the beautiful view of the church entices boats into overnight mooring and they feel it is worth the small fee. Fine if there are also free moorings not too far away.
In these cases there is a cost, of keeping the grass down, and a risk I suppose that someone could damage their boat or themselves then blame the land owner. But I'd hope that more boaters mooring would translate into more business for nearby pubs and that the small print on the sign could absolve them of any responsibility. At Reach there is a fierce sign by the Parish Council, who could have left space for several more boats and worked in cooperation with the excellent local pub.
At Thorpe Meadow there is a fantastic mooring but no sign to it, even though the mooring is directly opposite the popular pub, The Boathouse.
So, all praise to The Great Ouse Boating Association (GOBA) who have worked tirelessly to track down and maintain suitable moorings on the Ouse. For a tiny annual subscription you too can enjoy these 48 hour moorings. So, who will do the same for the River Nene? I can't fathom what The Association of Nene River Clubs actually does in the way of moorings. Perhaps readers can help me?

Oundle at Last

Leaving Elton we pass through a lock at Warmington, and arrive at Fotheringhay. The beautiful church is smaller than it once was and the infamous castle where Mary Queen of Scots was murdered / executed is a mere mound with a single stump of stone - though with a tartan ribbon tied to it to remember her.
For me this is the classic view - Fotheringhay Church with Patience below. There is an overnight charge of £4 for mooring. Experienced local boaters are wary of strong currents in the central bridge arch and if looking for an undisturbed night's sleep, moor further downstream to avoid the noise of cars that hoot warnings as they approach the hump back bridge.
Eat at The Falcon a gastro restaurant with a good reputation - but check your reservation as Trip Advisor records several booking errors.
Now onward to Oundle, past lovely gardens with patios and garden houses though few practical moorings for visitors. What is it that landowners and local councils don't make the most of potential moorings to attract visitors? More initiative is needed, like GOBA with its 48 hour moorings.
Then it's locks at Perio, Cotterstock, Ashton and Lower Barnwell ...
John operates a guillotine lock with a fly wheel, one of several on The Nene.

... until finally, at 3pm, Patience enters Oundle Marina, her new home, with a warm welcome from Jacquie.
There's a (probably undeserved) sense of achievement at having finally arrived; a feeling of having succeeded despite the wind, rain and SSAs that made a 4 day journey into a 7 week trial. That's Patience. The last three days have been glorious. What a difference the sun makes!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Thorpe Meadows to Elton

Up betimes and the river is blanketed in mist. Two swans drift out from the cloud and glide upstream.
Breakfast over, we set off at 8.45 amid warm sunshine. Another good day lies ahead.
The broad Nene is lined with greenery; on paths alongside I glimpse dog walkers and cyclists who smile and wave. There are no other boats under way, only slow herons, splashing gannets and swallows that skim the calm surface of the water. This is tranquil and blissful.
Through Orton Lock, past the jolly huts and fancy cruisers of the Peterborough Yacht Club, like a 1930's Butlins, and under the triple arches of Milton Ferry Bridge. There's not a cloud in the sky. Then it's Alwalton lock and Water Newton, which is chocolate-box pretty and even had artists with easels painting the scene.

Shortly afterwards we pause for lunch at Wansford Station, home to the Nene Valley Railway and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Duncan poses with Thomas

On past Pat Buckle's boatyard, where Patience was born, through Wansford and Yarwell locks to Elton, where there are rough unmarked moorings just upstream of the lock. Why don't they advertise them better? They should take every opportunity to promote The Black Horse or The Crown, or Loch Fyne, but there isn't even a sign saying mooring is possible. FYI The Crown is nearest: from the moorings take the track to the village and bear left to the village green. For the others walk up Middle Street and turn right at the end of the road.
For us, The Crown provides a tasty meal and a good variety of beers before we stroll back for a brief taste of the Olympics and a well earned night's sleep. That was 7.5 hours for 15 miles and 6 locks, a tranquil journey through the best of English countryside on a calm, gentle and meandering river. The sun has shone as rarely before in this wettest of summers and we are happy with our lot.

The March to Oundle

Previous blog entries record our frustration at the weather and Strong Stream Advice blocking our route through the Middle Levels. Patience has now sat patiently at Fox's Marina in March (all thanks to them) while we wait for a convenient few days when our free time, the weather and the Environment Agency make it possible to head further west.
At last it comes, and on August 8th we are up early - in heavy rain - to set off for March, complete with newly painted pole, hook and gas locker lids. Paying for our stay we thank Fox's for their kindness, fill up with water and turn into the Middle Levels again. It's 9.30 am.
And so the expedition - as that's what it feels like, having turned from a 4 or 5 day cruise into a 7 week trial - moves into what we hope will be its final phase. All around people are talking about "going for Gold" at the Olympics and this is beginning to feel like our very own struggle to achieve. Mind you, I don't see Narrow Boat Cruising has much of a chance as an Olympic sport....
Most of the day is a repeat of our previous venture through the Middle Levels though once the early rain has cleared up the weather is far better. Today there is more sun, less weed, dragon flies but no more moorings.
At 3pm we arrive at Stanground precisely on time for our booked passage. A lock keeper is essential here as this deep lock is the border of the Nene and The Middle Levels, an essential part of the pumping and draining system of the east of England. Quickly through, we moor up at Peterborough quay at 3.30 pm
Peterborough surprises me. I think of it as an urban scrum with sprawling estates and endless roundabouts but here in the centre is a medieval market place and an ancient cathedral with similarities to Durham. It is also the burial place of Catherine of Aragon and the former burial place of Mary Queen of Scots.
After an hour in the cathedral we head back to the Quay, where there are plenty of moorings though the quay has shallow concrete steps which could cause problems of grounding if the river level rose as high as it has been this year. However our aim is to head for Thorpe Meadows, 1.5 miles upstream and up a creek off the main Nene. Curiously unsigned, (and called Peterborough Rowing Club Junction on Canal Planner) the creek is on the north bank. Go under a red bridge then past the  Rowing Club and the well-appointed moorings are at the end.
It turns out to be a great spot both for boaters and fishermen and we are thrilled to have chosen it - not least because there is a pub, The Boathouse, with good grub, just a couple of hundred yards away.
Patience moored at Thorpe Meadow with The Boathouse on the opposite bank
This was a good day. At last we are on The Nene and today we have travelled 18 miles with 2 locks in 6.5 hours. A good day's work and beautiful weather. At last!