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! 

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