Monday, 28 September 2015

Old West River. River Great Ouse. Earith to Salter's Lode.

It was raining when we left the EA floating pontoon at Earith and headed down the tidal section to Hermatage Lock. The only lull in the rain came while Legend was actually in the lock and sheltered by the bridge, but at least the lock keeper stayed dry. There was a short stay mooring just after the lock, so we stopped and waited for the rain to abate a bit before carrying on to the lovely GOBA mooring at Aldreth.
As soon as we got tied up, we lit the fire, put some beetroot on top of it, some potatoes in it, and were soon feeling a lot drier and warmer. Dave opened up the weed hatch to clear the prop and found all these little chaps sheltering under the back deck.
The next day was altogether better; there was washing, logging, beading and carving. We now have seem to have a family of Borrowers on the roof.
We left Aldreth and had a beautiful sunny day boating down the Old West River.
The water levels seemed a bit low, but we had no problem mooring at the Lazy Otter; there was only one other boat there so we got a nice straight bit.
On the cycle back for the car we found blackberries, apples and damsons to fill our saddle bags, plus some walnuts when we got back to the Otter.
Later that day there were thunderstorms and heavy rain, which filled the river up again and made us think that there may be a plan after all.

We had a small disaster at the EA moorings at Hundred Acre.
We had all the plant pots off the roof to dead-head and tidy them up, and in the process Ann-Marie accidentally dropped her silver Russian triple ring – the one she’d been using as a wedding ring since losing the real one in a lock - into the river. Despite dredging the bottom with the fishing net for hours, and bringing up no end of other stuff including about a hundred freshwater mussels, we never recovered it. With hindsight we should have checked the mussels for pearls and perhaps cut our losses, but having found out that eating them was a Bad Idea, they got chucked back in for the otters. With even more hindsight we should have got Ann-Marie’s wedding ring re-sized each year; since embarking on this outdoor, active life that we lead, she - and her fingers - have been getting steadily thinner. With each replacement it has only been a matter of time before some expansive gesture (or in this case throwing seeds for the ducks) has resulted in a short scream, a glittery arc across the towpath, and a sad little plop.

The following two days were a bit hectic. It started with a walk back along the floodbank past Stretham Engine House to the car...
...then a wifi session in Ely library which resulted in an on line order for new walking boots for Dave, and lunch in the Town House with Sarah and Neil, who’d generously agreed to take delivery of them. After that we went back to the library for a facetime chat with Frankie, then had a quick shop and a walk back to the boat. We pulled the pins and moved round the corner to Fish and Duck where we moored up alongside Mike’s boat, Nb Shanti. As a special treat for our Foodie Yank, Ann-Marie made a delicious meat and potato pie which we took aboard Shanti and had a lovely evening in Mike’s company.

In the morning, Dave did a long-promised oil change on Shanti’s engine. While he was down the engine ‘ole he found some distilled water and a new pair of drive belts that Mike didn’t know he owned so the alternators and the battery bank got a going over as well. We pronouncing Shanti serviceable and reasonably Yank-proof for the time being, and with many fond farewells pulled away and headed down river to Ely.

Over the last few years there has been an increase in demand for ‘Them’ to do something about the long standing abuse of the visitor moorings in Ely. The problem has mainly been a lack of enforcement and a belief (rightly or wrongly) that some stretches of the waterfront are ‘grey areas’. The number of boats that never move from the designated visitor moorings has gradually increased to the point that it has become difficult to find somewhere to stop. To alleviate the problem (from what we understand) Cambridgeshire Council has taken the initiative and adopted the entire riverfront, hired two Riverside Wardens and erected new signage, restricting visiting boats to 48hrs with no return for 48hrs and a £100 per day overstay charge. These new regulations were due to come into effect the day after we arrived and the absence of familiar boats was definitely noticeable.
After a visit to the services we tied our centre rope to the big ring on the wall outside the Maltings; not the perfect spot as it was a climb to get off, but before long the cruiser in front of us went home and we pulled forward making it much better.
In the evening we jumped in the car and drove over to Benwick where Martin and Yvonne just happened to be moored on Nb Evolution. After dinner we all got in the car and went to Whittlesey for the Straw Bear fund raising Ceilidh.
We had a rather late night.

We stayed put in Ely the next night and Anne came to join us for dinner. In the morning, despite a sunny start, we had chilly boating down to Littleport, marking the end of our summer adventure. In the afternoon we had a rather disappointing visit to Ely where the library was shut, Jewsons didn’t have any gas in stock, and Ann-Marie had a rather un-glamourous trip down the stairs in a bicycle shop. We felt that cake was due and swiftly acted upon that feeling, but even that wasn’t up to much. The evening made up for it all though; we went to Sarah and Neil’s for tea, Dave got his new boots and Ann-Marie got face painted as a fish tank by Grace.

The next morning, after getting our photo taken by ‘Ouse to Know’, (the twin engine, very capable-looking EA enforcement boat), we left Littleport and at Brandon turned up the Little Ouse to the marina. The marina was actually closed but the very nice lady sold us some cheap diesel anyway. (Well, cheap for round here.) That meant we had a full tank before embarking on our trip back up the notoriously unpredictable River Nene. There was just enough room to turn Legend round between the reedy banks and we retraced our steps to the main river where we turned downstream to moor up at Hilgay Bridge.
We’d planned a nice cycle back along some minor roads to get the car from Ely, but one of them was closed and we ended up riding down the busy A10, which wasn’t very funny, although we did find some parsnip and onion veggie road-kill. We took the car to Denver and reassembled the bikes again to ride back to Littleport. This time we were on a quiet back road along the river bank; far safer than the A10, but decidedly bumpier, so by the time we finally got back to Legend we were two rather sore and weary little boaters.

In the morning, after stopping at Denver to transfer all the roof tat into the car, we took the boat through the Relief Channel lock onto – well - the Relief Channel...

...and powered down the wide waterway to the floating mooring at Downham Market.
From there we walked back to Denver and did a car move to Salter’s Lode, which gave us a chance to have a look at the lock entrance and plan our approach.
Much good it did us – more about that later!
Back on board we carried on down the Relief Channel to Wiggenhall St Mary Magdelene where there was another floating mooring at what we thought was the Limit of Navigation.


(We later found out that the limit is another mile or so further on, so we’ll just have to come back and do it again!)

We really loved the Relief Channel, it’s like a secret bit of the Ouse. We reckon that when we come this way again – and rest assured Dear Reader, we will – we could quite happily spend a week or so on this bit of water. Hardly anyone comes down here, and when they do it’s usually just to go to Downham, so you have it all to yourself. There are three floating pontoons, all 48hr moorings, all with a tap and all near a pub, and if you’re into walking or birdwatching it’s a little slice of heaven. This little chap was sitting on the railing outside our window while we ate our breakfast, then he dived in the water and ate his!

Actually, ignore that. Don’t go there, it’s rubbish. You’ll hate it.

In the evening we strolled across the bridge to the Cock Inn in Wiggenhall. It is right out in the middle of nowhere and we half expected it to all go silent when we walked in, with just the faint rustle of tumbleweed and everyone staring at us, but it was really friendly and they had good beer and free wifi.

On Thursday we were booked through Salter’s Lode at 5:15pm, 15 minutes after high tide. The day started quite well with a lovely trip back up the relief channel, a stop at Downham for lunch and a spot of shopping, and an easy passage up the relief channel lock, where we had a look at the construction crew building the new fish-pass...

...onto the Ouse and round to the Denver Lock moorings to moor up behind another boat.
With about two hours to spare before our booking we had plenty of time to take all the plants down from the roof and prepare Legend for the tidal crossing and the low entrance to Salter’s Lode. Anne was working in Ely that day and, if she got away in time, was going to join us for the crossing.
At our allotted time the Denver locky opened up the guillotine gate and waved us in, but Anne still hadn’t arrived so we thought we’d have to go without her. However, just as we pulled onto the lock landing on the tidal side to wait for our turn down the tideway, there was a shout of “Wait for me!” and she came running across the bridge. We’ll gloss over the climb down the ladder onto the lock landing in a tight skirt and heels, suffice to say that she made it in the nick of time.
At 5:15 we got the message from Salters that they were ready for us, so we set off. Straight away we knew there was something not quite right. High tide should have been at 5:00, so we should have been travelling with the flow, but we were hardly making headway against a tide that was very obviously still coming in, and coming in fast. Apparently (and unbeknown to us) tide, despite waiting for no man, can just be late. And when it is late, it does its best to make up for lost time. It took us nearly half an hour on full throttle to cover the half mile from Denver to Salters. When we got there the tide was still against us, a situation that we hadn’t planned for at all. The entrance to the lock is at your 7 o’clock position (see the photo above, you come at it from the left.) and the usual procedure is to go past it, turn round and then come back against the flow to go in. All very well when the tide is going out. When it’s still coming in like the clappers, the second you try turning in any direction the bow gets spun round and you end up in the bank. To be honest, Dave panicked a bit. He got too close to the bank, turned too soon and we got shoved side-on onto the submerged mudbank with the nose in the tyre wall. It wasn't pretty, but looking back he was probably doomed no matter what he did. We tried reversing but it didn’t help, so Ann-Marie bravely climbed from the bow up onto the top of the very muddy wall and tied us to a railing, so a least we weren’t going anywhere else. Our hastily revised plan was to wait until it eased off a bit then have another go, however Paul, the Salters Lode locky, had other ideas as his tea was getting cold.
His suggestion was to back out, go down the channel and turn round, then come back in fast enough to use the boats momentum to make the turn and avoid being swept past. Which is what Dave did, and it worked – just. By that time the tide had eased a bit, but there was still a heart stopping moment as Legend rounded the corner and it looked like the back end wasn’t going to get in; another foot longer and we’d have been back where we started with a much bigger bang. As it was we added some of our paint to the great tyre wall, but we made it in one piece. Paul awarded Dave zero for the manoeuvre, but gave him one point for not losing his rag.

It was therefore with great relief that we exited Salters Lode Lock onto the lovely calm waters of the Middle Level and tied up on the visitor moorings. While the Lister ticked and pinged as it cooled down and Dave reassembled our roof garden, Ann-Marie rustled up a lovely lamb dinner which, after all the trauma, tasted even more fabulous than usual.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Hmm mm. ... that's scary stuff. The staffs and worcs and the shroppie provide all the excitement I'll ever need. Safe journey onward xxx

Gloucester and Sharpness. River Severn. Saul Junction to Stourbridge.

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