Thursday 30 April 2015

River Nene. Wellingborough to Wansford Station

After the seclusion of the brick wharf at Wellingborough our next stop at Irthlingborough was a bit of a contrast. There is a length of very good visitor moorings just behind what used to be Rushden Diamonds Football Stadium.
The stadium is still there, along with all the other deserted buildings, but sadly Rushden Diamonds no longer exist. They were sponsored by Doc Marten’s who moved on, taking their money with them. The demise of the club also brought about the demise of the showers that boaters used to be able to access; on top of that we  found that the pump out and water points were closed due to vandalism. However, Irthlingborough is worth a visit,
as is Stanwick Lakes Activity Centre,
which made us wish we’d brought some kids along. So it’s a good place to moor, but all the stuff in the Imray Guide isn’t there anymore. After breakfast on Sunday, our second day there, we stepped out of the boat to go for a walk only to discover a gigantic car boot in full swing on the other side of the hedge. There must have been a thousand stalls spread over the various carparks and we hadn’t heard a thing!

Our next stop was Islip just before the lovely Nine Arches bridge (we could only count eight). That was a terrific place to be; a little backwater in a corner with a water point and some picnic tables.
There was another boat already there and there wasn’t really room for both of us, but Kate was very accommodating and let us tie our front end outside of her stern. She also told us about the local swimming pool doing half hour sessions for £1, which we happily took advantage of.
Anne came for a visit as she was passing. She has to visit her head office in Peterborough once or twice a month, and we love to put her up, she’s the perfect boat guest, and only having to travel half an hour to work is a luxury for her.
Since we left Northampton we have mostly been walking the beautiful Nene Way in order to reunite our car with our boat, but from Islip to Irthingborough there was a very handy cycle path. Had either of us actually been on a bike during the previous six months, an hour’s peddling would have been a doddle, instead, by the time Legend finally came into view we were both puffing and sore. Following the line of a disused railway it was fairly flat, goodness knows what we’d have been like if there’d been hills. It made us promise to try and use the bikes at least once a week for the car shuffle; that way it won’t be quite such a shock to the system.
There were lots of footpaths to explore around Thrapston and Islip and after our allotted 48 hours on the Nine Arches mooring we’d still got some we wanted to explore, so we performed the rather tricky reverse back out into the river, went through Islip lock with Kate & Co and stopped on the flood piling outside the sailing club about quarter of a mile further on.
We continued our watery wanderings to the beautiful Northamptonshire village of Wadenhoe
where we moored up on the edge of the King’s Head beer garden.
Our old next door neighbours Jon and Jenny came along to see us for the evening along with their son Adam and his girlfriend Mel. After a fabulous meal in the pub, they came back to the boat for a coffee. It was over three years since they’d been aboard and it had changed quite a bit so it was interesting to see what they thought of it.
Wadenhoe has other delightful surprises for the casual tourist.

However, on Saturday morning we managed to drag ourselves away and headed towards Ashton lock, passing Oundle Marina on the way. It was a beautiful day and there were a fair number of day trippers messing about on the river in little cruisers, one of which joined us in Lower Barnwell lock where we found out its new owners were not only on their maiden voyage but also in their first lock. We chatted amiably while we went down, hopefully putting them at ease whilst endeavouring to keep our 17 tonne steel brick from squashing their little plastic yoghurt pot, before waving them off down the river. When we got to Ashton we caught them up again; we were mooring up on the backwater before the lock, so we could have gone and helped, but it was one of the non-electrified guillotines and we didn’t want to deny them the experience of turning the big wheel through its 150 revolutions. It’s an important part of river navigation after all.
Ashton lock was another lovely place to be.
The mooring was really quiet, being as it was on a dead end backwater with Oundle a ten minute walk away in one direction and Ashton ten minutes in the other. Ashton is amazing. Every house is thatched, all the front doors and timberwork are the same colour and that beautiful honey coloured building stone is everywhere. So are the peacocks.
David was in Peterborough to see his mum, so he came for tea on his way home, and Mum and Dad were up near Corby for car club business so we met them in outside the Chequered Skipper pub for a chat and a cuppa before they went home.

When we walked back for the car we went through a culvert under the A605.

All those trucks and commuters that hurry down this road every day have no idea that this fabulous piece of art is just a few feet below their wheels. How many of them would care?  

When Ann-Marie worked in Peterborough over 11 years ago she made friends with Diane and they kept in touch after she left. Diane has always said she’d come and see us when we got closer, so we were really pleased when she did. She came aboard for the day when we moved from Ashton; we took her through Cotterstock and Perio locks, past Fotheringhay, and through Warmington lock to moor up on the bank just before Elton.
Diane is a keen walker and these were all places she knew well, so she gave us some local knowledge of where we were as we drifted by, while we gave her a different view of the familiar.

As we got further down the Nene Valley the Northamptonshire villages just kept getting better and better. The mooring at Elton was absolutely idyllic. There were beautifully atmospheric misty mornings
And every night we were treated to another stunning sunset.

Walking through the village was like stepping back in time. One of our walks from Elton took us through Fotheringhay,
where Richard III was born and where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded. All that remains of the castle where all this history took place is a large mound and a surrounding moat.

The view from the top is fantastic.  We don’t usually get all that excited by old churches, but St Mary’s in Fotheringhay is well worth a visit,
if only for the very well presented history lesson from the 14th century through to the war of the roses.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Anne’s daughter Cat and her fiancĂ© Ben have been living in Myanmar (Formerly Burma) for nearly a year. They were on a flying visit to the UK and it just so happened that Frankie and Harry were in the country as well so we left Legend at Elton and went up to Chesterfield for a party. We’d been looking forward to this for ages and it was great to see everyone.

We’d heard that there was a tree on the river bank in the middle of Wansford that it’s possible to tie to, but as we didn’t really need to visit the village we carried on through the impressive bridge,
to Wansford Station, where there is a very useful floating pontoon by the picnic site just below the Nene Valley Railway signal box.
As it was a weekend, we were treated to steam trains going over the bridge behind us and a very gorgeous passenger boat sharing the mooring with us between river trips.

Friday 17 April 2015

GU Northampton Arm. River Nene. Gayton to Wellingborough

We really love this river!

Halfway down the Rothersthorpe flight we’d spied a fallen ash tree so, being the water rats that we are, we’d made a little wood pile that we’d planned to collect while the boat was in lock 10 on the way down.
We’d just dropped down lock 9 when we noticed a hire boat with a full complement of windlass wielding crew on their way up. They were so excitable we couldn’t really delay their progress and despite Ann-Marie getting very assertive about lock protocol, we were in and out of 10 before you could say Jack Robinson.
No matter, lock11 was only a few steps further and our log pile wasn’t that big. Anyway we didn’t want to clutter the roof up too much if we were going to be using the gang-plank and the boat poles regularly.
Half way down the flight, the arm goes under the M1, which is fun.
At the bottom of the Northampton we had our first glimpse of the River Nene.
And went from this.
To this.
We'll not be back on a canal until we return this way in Autumn.

Our first River mooring was between South Bridge and Northampton lock. There’s a very useful Morrisons just there, in fact it’s a bit too easy; “Oh we’re out of milk, I’ll just pop next door and get some. And I’ll get some reduced hot cross buns while I’m there.”
There’s also Northampton town centre to go at, which produced a tray of pansies, some new mats for the rear counter, some fairy lights and a USB splitter. All very essential boating items.
Anne came for an overnight visit and chill-out, so we took her through the lock and down river to the EA floating pontoon mooring at Midsummer Meadow, about ¼ of a mile altogether.
Well you don’t want to rush these things.

The next day was Easter Sunday. We woke up to find that the Easter bunny had laid a trail of little cut-out eggs around the boat with clues on for Dave to follow, and had put a Lindt Bunny on Ann-Marie’s pillow. Easter chocolate in bed; it’s a religious thing.

After that we spent a lovely spring afternoon walking back along the Nene Way from Earl’s Barton where we’d deposited the car. At dusk, as we were just about to have our tea, we noticed a tiny plastic cruiser coming very slowly down the river towards us. At first we thought it was just drifting, but it turned out to be propelled by a little electric outboard hooked up to a couple of nearly flat batteries and a solar panel which took up most of the back of the boat.
Darren explained that he’d pulled his little boat most of the way from Birmingham and was heading for Wellingborough where his mum lived. He’d got no heating, no lights and not much else, so when he’d moored up we invited him to join us for tea as we’d got plenty to share. We’d also got the fire going so he got warmed up as well.
The following morning we put one of his batteries on charge and towed him through the next two locks to another EA floating pontoon at Northampton Washlands. Not a particularly big move but we really liked the view.
We’d thought that Darren would carry on but he proceeded to spread all his belongings out on the end of the pontoon to dry them all out. We wondered if we’d got a permanent tender, but the next day, with his solar panel in full sun, he set off through the lock and down the river.

We stayed another night and then, after sorting our boat insurance out for another year, backed off the pontoon and headed into our first guillotine lock. Once you get used to them, guillotines are easy peasy, but they look a bit daunting to start with.
By the time we moored up at White Mills we’d done five of them between us and we were old hands.
We Christened our gang plank at White Mills and decided that it’s a wonderful thing but a bit on the heavy side for wrestling back onto the roof before setting off, so we’ve decided to use the aluminium ladder on a day-to-day basis, as it fits across the well deck and is easily deployed, and keep the wooden plank for steep angles, or when a more permanent fixture is required.
The owners of the farm at White Mills have been given planning permission to open a marina and the lady came along to ask us what sort of things we felt were important and what would tempt us into stopping. We're really the wrong people to ask; in four years, apart from two blacking weeks, we've always been moored bankside, but they were very nice and we promised to come and see them when we come back.

Next morning wasn’t really a boat moving day but we did go through one lock to give us a beautiful view over the valley floor,
before moving the car to Irchester and walking back. This took rather longer than expected for two reasons. Firstly, to our dismay, we discovered that The Nene Way, despite being shown on our brand new 2014 OS Explorer map as crossing the river at Chester House, had been closed since 2011 when the footbridge was condemned. After a bit of discussion, we retraced our steps, walked through the very pretty and very popular Irchester Country Park and finally crossed the river in Wellingborough.

The second hold up occurred near Great Doddington as we walked beside the river across a sheep field. 
Although the boingy lambs were a distraction, it wasn't them that held us up.There were several sheep at the water’s edge having a drink, and as we got closed we noticed that one of them was up to its neck in the water. We don’t know how long it had been there, but it was completely water-logged and it had given up struggling. Dave grabbed a couple of handfuls of soggy fleece and pulled. It took all his strength to get it up the bank, but he did it. The sheep staggered around for a bit while the bulk of the water drained away then wobbled unsteadily up the field to join its completely indifferent companions.
It was a sunny afternoon, so we were hopeful that it would have dried out enough by nightfall to survive the experience.

Back at the boat it looked like it was going to be a warm evening with no need for to light a fire, so we thought it would be a good time to drain down the radiator and swap the Squirrels over. It went quicker than we expected and the new one was in place and all the plumbing back together again by bed time.
Our next boat move was to Lower Wellingborough Lock, via Wellingborough town moorings, where there’s a tap and an elsan, and where there’s a Tesco and a Screwfix, both within walking distance. We needed Screwfix for some high temperature mastic to give our new fire a proper finish. We’ve got some stove paint for the chimney too but we’ll wait until the summer to do that; it’s better if it cures for a while before you heat it up.

On the way there, as we boated past the scene of the previous day’s rescue, we were horrified to see two more of the stupid bloody animals in the water. This time we had to stuff the boat into the reeds and leap off before Dave could repeat his heroics while Ann-Marie hung onto the centre rope. One of the ewes was in quite a bad way and could hardly stand up but she managed to wobble off eventually. Once we’d climbed back on board we had to punt ourselves out into the channel again, and of course the wind picked up just at the wrong moment. By then it wouldn’t have surprised us if the entire Middle Nene Cruising Club had come steaming round the corner, but happily they restrained themselves and we resumed our idyllic meander through glorious countryside. Three sheep saved in two days. We think Farmer Palmer owes us big time.

We stopped just downstream of lower Wellingborough Lock on a handy brick wharf that we’d been told about by Martin and Yvonne.
What a fabulous place to be.


Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...