Sunday, May 31, 2009

All at sea??

We're sitting here in Herbie on a gently falling tide, having been watching oystercatchers on the bank, and a seal which surfaced only yards away. "I thought you were on the fens" I hear you ask. Well we are - at Earith on the short tidal stretch of the Ouse between Hermitage lock and Brownshill staunch. Hermitage has a lock keeper, and he gave us a formal welcome to the Ouse. Very nice but strange as I thought we had been on it since we came through Denver sluice. Still I think this is now the Ouse proper, not messed about by artificial cuts and drainage systems.

We knew about the local seal, but didn't think we'd be lucky enough to see him/her. The whole place is teeming with wildlife. Apart from the seal and the oystercatchers, we've had a great swallow diving diplay, watched a tern divebombing for fish, seen a fox stalking rabbits, and of vourse the obligatory ducks geese and swans. This is the very edge of the fens and from tomorrow we'll be pulling south westwards away from them. Fascinating as they are we'll be glad to be somewhere where there is a view. Most of the last few days have been spent looking at grass flood defences.

Of course Ely was lovely, and before we set off today we looked round the cathedral, which was lit by erie shafts of string light through the upper windows and I got some good pictures like this one of the light from the famous octagonal lantern.

St Ives and hartford tomorrow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More fens - into Norfolk and down to Ely

The second day acoss the middle levels is a fair bit nicer than the first, and this was helped by an improvement in the weather. Eventually we reached the twin villages of Upwell and Outwell on Well Creek, which is a tiny waterway squeezing up the main streets of the villages and under extremely low bridges. Off came the chimney and the ends of the roof box and we just about got through.

At Outwell we found good overnight mooring in the tiny basin (room for two boats) on a hairpin bend in the river and acting on reputation ate from the local fish and chip shop. The couple moored next to us reminded me of characters from a TV detective - all white towelling bathrobes and gold bracelets and necklaces and glasses of wine. Nice enough though.

I was surprised when Kath announced that we were now in Norfolk, the extreme north west part of it, and the landscape certainly matched. Dead flat as far as the eye can see.

I was brought up in the Vale of Evesham and we used to like to think we were the vegetable garden of England, but having seen the Fens I have to give them the trophy. I've never seen such huge fields of produce. Apparently they supply most of the needs of Tesco, Sainsbury's etc countrywide.

Friday morning brought us to Salters Lode to await the tide before crossing the tidal Ouse and through the huge barrier at Denver Sluice. People get quite scared about this bit, and we did don our lifejackets, but when the time came the crossing was easy really.

After a celbratory pint at the Jenyn's Arms we tootled on to the mouth of Brandon Creek where we moored for the night outside the Ship Inn. The Norfolk border stops here.

Now its Saturday evening and we have spent the day in Ely, which was only a couple of hours cruise. The barby is lit and the sky is blue. More about Ely tomorrow.

The network for our internet doingle has been useless across the fens. Understandable I suppose, as the population is so sparse around here. I fear sending you photos will be impossible, but I'll try tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 1 in the ditch

Well, you have to pay for your pleasures, and today was the day to pay. Our trip across the first half of the Middle levels was very cold and damp. The wind is able to blow hard here because the landscape has few features. The drains on which we travel are long and straight and it seems to take ages to reach anything you see in the distance. >What landscape you can see is flat and seemingly barren, although obviously it is great for growing spuds and the like.

As for the notorious Briggate bend, I failed to negotiate round it without bumping into the far bank. I wish I could have a had a second go to regain my self respect!
We scraped under the bridges (just) without knocking off the chimney, and after several hours of slog, reached March. It's not a bad little town. On the way in you pass dozens of houses with end of garden moorings. Everyone seems to have one.

There aren't too many mooring spaces in the town centre, but we managed to squeeze in OK. Now I'm typing this by coutesy of the town library to save my dongle . Photos are uploading fast, so I'll squeeze in a couple more at the end. And at last a weak sun has appeared so things seem a little cheerier.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some pictures

Today we delivered Rick & Marilyn to Peterborough then cam eback here to Thorpe Meadows to awiat our appointment with the Middle Levels. Meanwhile I've repainted the port side gunwales, so the time isn't wasted.

This is all a bit deja vu, as the last time we were here four years ago, we had sunshine all down the Nene and rain across the Middle Levels, and sure enough it's due to rain tomorrow as we enter the fen drains.

This is what I have to resort to post to the blog over the dongle. People sit comfortably indoors while I wait patiently outdoors for the slow signal to post a picture. That's the laptop on the hatch cover at Irthlingborough. It's taking ages, so I'll post just this extra one for now of us in the pub garden at Wadenhoe and keep trying as the days pass by.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fotheringhay to Peterborough

Tonight we're at Thorpe meadows at Peterborough which is a rowing complex and a small lake off the main river and a mooring jetty for three boats. Another really hot day and once again a great journey. The Nene never lets you down from beginning to end in terms of scenery. Some of the mills by the locks are real picture postcard stuff. I would happily move here if I could afford it. Most of the villages have a very affluent look about them. Beautiful stone houses with large immaculate gardens.

Progress has been quick in terms of mph because the river is fairly deep and the boat purrs along easily at over 4 mph. The locks today though have been slow because of all the boats leaving the boating festival here. They were moored half a dozen abreast across the river. We've had to queue on a number of occasions. The current is very gentle at the moment and at lunchtime, having nowhere to pull in, we just tied the boat loosely to some overhanging willow twigs and she stayed put beautifully.

We keep meeting interesting characters, none more so than the old chap moored just along from us tonight. In his rich east Anglian accent we were instructed in what woods to burn, and told about how he nearly started a forest fire by setting light to down from poplar trees. Kath asked if we could stoke his old Jack Russell dog and he said "yes, just give him a stroke and then kick him up the backside to get rid of him!"

Rick and marilyn go home tomorrow and we'll stay on here for 24 hrs to get our breath back before our assult on the Middle Levels.

Dongle reception has been appalling so I'll post this now sans pictures and make an attempt to post a few separately.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Irthlingborough to Fotheringay

This isn't Constable country, but it looks just like it. Meadows, mills, grazing cattle, and yellow fields, not of oilseed rape, but of buttercups. Last night we moored at the end of the garden of the Kings Head at Wadenhoe, a chocolate box village as neat as a pin. The other boaters were friendly and the pub had a hog roast going AND a beer festival. What more can you ask?

Fotheringhay is probably the most picturesque mooring on the river, or anywhere really. Sitting here now on the riverbank with the church floodlit across the meadow I can't imagine a nicer place to be.

Luckily the river Nene is flowing really slowly in this fine weather, but plenty of other boaters we meet have stories of terrifying times when the stream is strong. Last time we came through here on Richard's boat we clouted Fotheringhay bridge because the current seems to go through it at an angle. We have to pass through in the morning.

We have some good photos to show you but the signal on the internet dongle is so wek here that I'm not even going to attempt to post them yet. I expect we'll get a good signal at Peterborough so I'll try again there.

They tell us that nearly 200 boats have been at a festival in Peterborough over the weekend, so its a good job we didn't press on that far. Hopefully by the time we get there tomorrow they will have cleared off and left us somewhere to moor. I think we meight do well to rest there for a day to let the pack get through the middle levels before we go across, because there are hardly any moorings there. Or we might divert down to Ramsey to kill the time .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cogenhoe to Irthlingborough - day 2 on the Nene

For those of you not lucky enough to have travelled the Nene, here's how it seems so far.

The river water gets clearer down here and we can see all the "cabbages" we float over. The Nene valley seems to widen although the river itself does not. In fact here and there it's very narrow. Then when the river is wide, some of the bridge arches are narrow. I like it a lot, because you never know what to expect next. Even the locks vary. Most are electrically operated guillotines, but there are handwheel operated ones, normal paddle operate gates, and a barrel gated lock which had the most fearsome flow through the top gate paddles I have ever seen. I'm surprised no-one comes to grief inside it. I was too gobsmacked to remember to take a photo of the maelstrom.

Most of the settlements here are well back from the river, presumably because of the liklihood of flooding. Only Wellingborough is actually built next to the river. We stopped in the park for lunch opposite the huge Whitworth's flour mill before heading out into the wilds again.

Tonight we are at Irthlingborough next to the Rushden and Diamonds football stadium and overlooking a pretty set of lakes typical of this area. There seems to be water, water meadows and water fowl everywhere you look. All the grazing cattle look very contented we were surprised to see so many piebald horses and ponies everywhere. They don't look lke they are suitable for riding, more like new forest poinies or gypsy horses. .

Moored near to us is a boat called Jerusalem, and it is one that we looked at with a view to buying four years ago but found it too small. The owner made us laugh because he was telling us about a mate of his who we had actually met last night at Cogenhoe. We got two versions of the description of the second guy's boat on two spearate occasions, the one glowing and the other derisory. Ah well, I expect it's something in between in reality.

Fragious day, calloo callay!

What a cracker! The Northampton flght and the first bit of the Nene are just as good as I remember them. We got up early and were on our way by 8am, reaching Gayton junction by 9 for a quick stop to empty loos and rubbish, then off down the 16 locks to Northampton.

These must be the quickest locks anywhere. The time from leaving one to leaving the next was sometimes only 5 minutes. The roar of the M1 comes and goes as we pass through its course and we see over the rooftops of the distant town as we descend the hill, which is green and pleasant like a country lane.
At the bottom we entered Northampton in the only heavy rain shower of the day, at last joined the river Nene and moored at the quay for supermarket shopping and lunch.

The sun came out as we set off again and we had a glorious afternoon cruising through the lush water meadows and negotiating the quirky guillotine locks which seem designed more for flood control than the passage of boats. It's a miracle that some of them ever empty because the water pours over the top gates as fast as we let it out at the other end.

In the space of one minute, as we approached Cogenhoe, we saw a bat, a fox stalking rabbits, a pheasant, and a family of geese and goslings. The fields swep steeply down to the river on our right, and on our left is the flood plain of water meadows full of buttercups.

Cogenhoe, our stop for the night was just like last time we were here, even down to the cows coming over to met us as we sat on the bank for our dinner.

Finally to end a perfect day we walked up the hill to explore the pretty stone built village (not cheap I would think) and discovered the pub had a quiz, which we entered and came last but one. As usual our downfall was film and pop music.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

on the move again

Off we jolly well go. After our break at Buckby, we moved back down the GU today ready to hit the River Nene tomorrow. Yes, Brian and Diana on Harnser, it was us winding at Weltonfield on Sunday, we were taking a group of friends for a very short spin in the rain. Sorry we didn't spot you.

Our temporary moorings at the end of Priscillas garden in Buckby Wharf have been lovely. She is such a kind person, and we have enjoyed her stories in her slow Ohio drawl, especially when she talks about the Bee Dubya workers on the canal. last night we invited her aboard for a drink to thank her, but she insisted on bringing the wine and some cheese too. Anyway we were able to do her a favour at the weekend by plumbing in her new washing machine for her.

Herbie now sports a third Buckby can bought from the little canalside shop at Buckby. Kath couldn't resist it. I would show you pictures but the bandwidth on our dongle here at Bugbrooke is useless. Tomorrow we have a long cruise to Cogenhoe on the Nene. Our calculations suggest it will take about nine hours or more. Rick and Marilyn are with us so we should get through the locks as quickly as it can be done, but my memory of Nene locks is that they take ages.

Pictures tomorrow if we get a good enough signal.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Final preparations

These pictures are from overnight moorings on our only previous trip down the river Nene, in 2005 on Richard's boat Bankside. The cow and chair I like because it's so surreal! Very soon now we're off down there again and I can't wait, although I don't expect such glorious weather this time - or to be lucky enough to see a steam train as we go under the railway.

Although we don't set off cruising until next Wednesday, we're going up to Rick's for this weekend and I won't come home again before we "sail" . When you plan to be away from home for a long time, there's so much to think about. Upcoming insurance renewals, car MoT (got that done today) etc as well as packing for the trip. On top of that we have been preparing a short musical item (I'll say no more) for Rick & Marilyn's party this weekend, getting the garden in reasonable shape, and so on. Luckily all our bills these days are standing order or direct debit, and Claire will be keeping an eye on the house and dealing with the post. Nevertheless we're bound to forget something.

My foot is a bit better this evening but I'm still hopping. Ibuprofen rules OK!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No news, an old haunt, and not so good news

Rick took Herbie out for a spin down to Bugbrooke and back to Buckby yesterday and it was all so smooth and uneventful that he declined my invitation to write it up for the blog on the grounds that nothing really happened. Well, that's never stopped me in the past! His idea was to introduce a couple of his friends to canal boating to see if they got the bug. It sounds like they had a nice day but failed to get bitten. Ah well.

Today I had to take my car in to reading to get a new windscreen on account of an unrepairable chip and a looming MOT. Having dropped off the car I had two hours to spare and decided to stroll the mile or so into the town centre for a coffee. On the way, I passed one of my old haunts from the 70s, the Wellington Arms in Whitley street. You may recall the original fly on the wall documentary "The Family". Well the dad and son used to go in there a lot. An unremarkable pub apart from the wonderful sign in the side passage leading to the gents. In bold letters set into ceramic tiles it says simply "COMMIT NO NUISANCE".

My right foot started hurting before I reached the town centre, and by the time I had searched for a bus to take me back to the windscreen place I was hobbling badly. Now I am home and am unable to put any weight on it at all. I recognise the symptoms as I have suffered them in the past but not quite so painfully. I think it is a condition known as Policeman's Heel and it usually goes away after a few days, although for some people iy is a chronic condition. I sincerely hope it stops hurting soon or our impending cruise might be less fun than it should be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Encouraging news plus admission of a gaffe

First the gaffe. Rick rightly points out ( re my previous post) that a busted lock gate won't stop any wide beam boats reaching Crick as they can't get there anyway because they would be unable to ascend narrow locked Watford staircase. Duh.

The good news is that some good friends of ours, Irene and John from our musical lives are also boating down the Nene and Ouse in June so we're going to try to meet up sometime. That'll be really great because their boat Rosie Piper and our Herbie have never met. Irene plays hurdy gurdy and like Kath, dulcimer, and John, like me, plays pipes although a different type in a different key. I don't know if they will have their instruments on board but it might make a good one night band if we get together.

If you spot Herbie moving over the next couple of days, it won't be us but Rick and Marilyn using it to demonstrate the joy of boating to some of their Buckby friends. Having seen the weather forecast I suspect "joys" might be a bit of an exaggeration :-)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My GU pub guide updated

I'm rather shocked to find that my updated list of pubs visited on the Grand Union has risen to 25, and that's only from Brentford to Bugbrooke! Plus of course two tea rooms.

You can see my very short write up on each here. In the interests of consumer research I have visited them all personally (sometimes on several occasions) and sampled their wares. In fact I have visited a few more that I haven't written up because I don't remember them that well. Had you asked me to guess how many pubs there were I would have underestimated by 50%.

It seems I'm easily pleased because I found something in favour of most of them. If you are either a) a strict traditionalist or b) someone who only likes posh pubs then you won't like them all.

Only one gets a thumbs down, that being the Fishery at Hemel Hempstead which although OK, is not family friendly and, worse, seems not to care when they run out of proper beer. If you find yourself moored near there for a night, walk over the road and get a 4 minute train ride to Apsley where you'll get cracking food and beer at the Paper Mill.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Big Boats Barred at Buckby and a very unusal boat at Whilton

Just how hard can you hit a lock gate when you are starting from stationary inside the full lock? Someone gave lock 8 at Buckby a hell of a whack in this way and now BW have sealed off that gate, so wide beam boats are barred from passing through until they fit a new balance beam. Bad news for anyone taking a wide beamer up to the Crick show at the end of the month unless it is fixed before then.

I guess the perpetrators tried to force the lock gate open with their boat. Even so it is quite a feat to do that much damage from a standing start and only a few feet to pick up speed.

I hope BW isn't working on it when we go down the flight in ten days time. We don't want our start to the Nene trip delayed. When we do go down past Whilton, we will pass again a boat with trees growing in it.

Yes this is actually a boat. Polystyrene I think.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Three days before the mast

Ahaaar me hearties! Our annual Norfolk Broads sailing weekend is over and I'm getting my land legs slowly back.

I'm pleased to report that I am no longer the holder of the bowsprit trophy (awarded to the person at the helm at the time of the most damaging incident) for I was merely on duty as movable human ballast at the time when a large motor cruiser struck us smartly amidships as we tacked into Ranworth cut. The trophy now rest on the mantelpiece of friend Bob. The collision was substantial and not a little alarming at the time. The ensuing damage to our boat was of deposit losing proportions unless the insurance company smiles on our hire boatyard.

We had very mixed weather wind wise, ranging from flat calm to very stiff gusts, thus bearing out the old adage of sailing being long periods of boredom interspersed with short instances of blind panic! I have a sunburned scalp from the calm bits, and aching hands from hanging nervously on to ropes as we leaned over trying to keep the water from rushing in to the boat in the windy bits. Kath wisely gave sailing a miss on Saturday when the wind was strongest and so she missed the crash and the most scary bits of the weekend. The boat traffic on the Bure is like a London street.
Most of the skippers on the hire cruisers haven't got a clue what to do as the sail boats tacking up river zig zag amongst them. Its a miracle we didn't get hit more often.

Anyway our large party all had a jolly time exploring Hickling Broad, Rivers Thurne and Bure, and Ranworth Broad. Those of you who know Hickling will be sad to hear that the well known Pleasure Boat Inn is closed and boarded up. However the rather fine Lion at Thurne was doing a roaring trade in food and beer all weekend so someone is making money in these hard times.

The boats we hire are called half deckers - open boats seating four people comfortably and having a fair amount of sail for their size. On Sunday we passed through a dinghy race and we were holding our own against a lot of them. Only the daredevil guys on Lasers and fancy boats with trapezes were seeing us off.
Here Kath tries to look calm as we whizz across Hickling Broad,

and Rick looks suitably masterful at the helm.

We have to row or paddle a bit here and there when the mast or sails are lowered, especially to get under the very low bridge at Potter Heigham. All part of the fun.

We're on land now for a fortnight before resuming Herbie's cruise, but Rick and Marilyn are taking her out for a spin, so perhaps I'll invite Rick to be guest editor for a day when he does it.