Monday 20 July 2015

River Great Ouse. River Cam. Upware to Ely via Cambridge.

First thing in the morning, outside the Five Miles From Anywhere, we awoke to find we had a visitor.
This is a Whooper Swan. They have a reputation for being aggressive, but it really is unjustified....
they’re just bolder and more inquisitive than the more common Mute Swans.

We had a couple of days back at Fidwell Fen and walked out along the droves and riverbanks under the huge fen skies. On one walk we were lucky enough to see a pair of Avocets wheeling around over one of the meres.
Very exciting! These are incredibly rare and at one time were officially extinct in Britain.

On our way to our next stop at Bottisham Lock we saw the Avocets again, plus a Heron and a couple of Kingfishers. At the lock we met Joan on Early Byrd...
who we’d seen briefly at Wicken Fen. She lives nearby and goes down the Cam and up Wicken Lode every week on her days off.  We stopped on the GOBA moorings just above the lock...
they’re a bit of a jungle but very peaceful. 

We were getting ready to go back for the car when we found that we didn’t have the car keys. This has always been one of our worst nightmares, if they’d fallen out of a pocket on one of our walks or dropped in the canal they’d be gone for good.  Luckily we have a spare, but when we got back to the car-park the car was unlocked, leading us to the conclusion that we’d left the keys in the door and someone had handed them in somewhere. It seemed too much of a coincidence that we would have left it unlocked and lost the keys on the same day. We phoned the nearby pub and the police, all to no avail and a week later, when Dave found them in the pocket of a jacket, it just went to show that coincidences are just that, and not impossibilities.

While we were moored at Bottisham we went off for a day working in Leicester. Our patch was quite near to Castle Gardens so on a break we went to have a look at the visitor moorings.
Leicester has got a bit of a reputation, but it looked alright to us. In a couple of years when we finally get there, we'll do what we usually do and trust our judgment; it's worked ok so far. Mostly. 

The following day we treated ourselves to a Grand Day Out in London. We were up at the crack of dawn and had our porridge on the back while boating to the visitor moorings at Clayhithe.
From there it was a quick walk to Waterbeach station where we hopped on a train and were in King’s Cross for 10 o’clock.
We had nowhere near enough time in the science museum...
Spot the 2CV 
Dave standing next to the Rolls Royce RB211 engine that his dad drew.

then lunch in Borough market, followed by a very interesting walk over Tower Bridge and through the city to the Regents Canal at St Pancras.

From there we walked along the towpath to Camden Lock where we bimbled through the Horse Tunnels until they closed. We got the tube back to King’s Cross where we hopped on the train home just before it pulled out. Perfect timing!

As we were now National Trust members it seemed a good idea to find other places to visit, so the next day we found ourselves in Anglesey Abbey – which is neither in Anglesey (It’s in Cambridgeshire.) or an Abbey (It’s a replica stately home, built on the site of, and including large portions of, a former priory.)

As well as the house and extensive gardens there’s a working water driven flour mill...
a fen with lots of explorable places, a very posh looking restaurant and a lovely little ice-cream trolley in the grounds.
 And the sun shone, and there were deck chairs.
We didn’t have time to see half of it and vowed - as we now get in for free - to go back another time.

Before we ventured into Cambridge itself we had a recce with the bikes to the limit of navigation at Jesus Lock. While we were there we bumped into Joan again – almost literally – who very kindly pointed out the visitor mooring sites in the city. It was going to be a bit of a gamble finding somewhere to stop that weekend as there was a huge fairground on Midsummer Common and all the permanent boats had understandably evacuated from there, and taken refuge elsewhere for a few days. (Elsewhere included the visitor moorings.) In we went anyway, through the very pretty Bates Bite Lock...
And onward upstream into the city.

We stopped for water outside the lido and had a good look at the opposite bank just below the lock. It seemed to us that there might be just enough room between the last boat and the ‘Thou shalt not moor beyond here’ sign so, hoping that it was deep enough, we pushed over to the far side.
Spot on. Lovely mooring, right by the footbridge over Jesus lock.

We downloaded ‘i-footpath’ onto Ann-Marie’s phone and followed an easy 2 hour tour of Cambridge, including the Backs, the bridges, the Fitzwilliam, the Conduit and lots of other interesting stuff.

In the evening we went to meet up with Anne who, by happy coincidence, just happened to be working in Cambridge the following day. We retraced most of our walk with her, then she treated us to dinner in the city. Fabulous!

The next day we visited the Fitzwilliam Museum which holds some very impressive collections of Greek, Roman and Egyptian tombs, pots, sculpture and artefacts, as well as hundreds of paintings, all within a magnificent building.

One of the few surviving Lidos from the 1920’s lies between the River Cam and Jesus Green. On such a blisteringly hot afternoon it was an opportunity too good to miss. We paid our £4 and pushed through the turnstile under the sign telling us that the water temperature was 24˚C. Upon entering the water we discovered that this was clearly not the case. However, after a few minutes hopping up and down, whilst making breathless squeaky noises, we conceded that our initial impression – minus 5 – had perhaps been a tad hasty and, once you got used to it and the circulation returned to your extremities, it wasn’t too bad.
Anne joined us after she finished for the day; how we laughed while she hopped up and down and squeaked. Later the three of us lay on our towels, soaking up the late afternoon sun and watching the wind in the poplar trees, surrounded by the many facets of semi-naked Cambridge.

There followed a steaming hot day boating back to Bottisham, a day working in a wind tunnel in Birmingham (the less said about that the better), then a day of manoeuvres which included the deployment of all our various transport methods. By teatime, the car was in a car-park in Ely, whilst the boat, the bikes, the shopping and ourselves were back on the lovely visitor moorings at Upware.
We also managed – as the following day was the fourth of July - to produce some Stars and Stripes bunting for our windows. (We had tried to find some in the shops but for some reason there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm to sell souvenirs of us getting our backsides kicked out of America.)

We think our home made efforts were far superior to anything we could have bought anyway.

Next morning, bright and early we put the bunting on the roof and in the windows and set off once more through Upware lock and up to Popes Corner. This time we turned right up the section of the Great Ouse known as the Old West River.
Many years ago, before the course of the Ouse was altered and it still flowed out to sea at Wisbech, this bit of river used to go the other way. Nowadays - although it theoretically flows west to east - it actually doesn’t go anywhere very much, due to most of the water on the Ouse flowing down the New Bedford River from Earith straight to King’s Lynn. This makes the Old West rather narrow and shallow, but quite pretty for all that. 
A few boat lengths along we tied up alongside Nb Shanti, owned by Mike, our American friend. He had a visitor – Nicole - over from California for a week or so and we’d arranged to have a joint 4th of July cruise up the river to The Lazy Otter. Hence the bunting. We don’t just throw this together you know.
Our little flotilla set off, avoiding the canoes and weedy patches to arrive at the GOBA moorings just before the pub a couple of hours later. We were lucky enough to slot into the only gap left, and Mike and Nicole tied Shanti up alongside us.
There followed a delicious lunch outside the pub.Later on, after a relaxing afternoon which may or may not have included napping, we combined our wares aboard Shanti. Mike’s contribution, an amazing chilled yoghurt and garlic soup, stole the show and all in all it was a terrific day.
In the morning we were treated to freshly brewed Californian Coffee, before our neighbours set off for St Ives. While Dave swapped the USA bunting for the Birthday Banners Ann-Marie put the finishing touches to a batch of sausage rolls and a strawberry & cream cake, so that by the time Lindsay, Paul and Happy Jack arrived we were ready for Paul’s birthday cruise down to Ely for the Ely Aquafest.
You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s some kind of plan to all this.
As if to prove that there really isn’t, we arrived in Ely just as the raft race was in its final stages. Festooned with vegetation and bunting, and about as far from ‘low profile’ as you can get, we came chugging down the river to the bend outside The Cutter, only to realise – too late – that that was where the finish line was. A buoy had been placed in the middle of the channel to mark the spot, but we didn’t see that; we were too busy wondering why there was a huge Gin Palace hovering in mid-stream. It was only as we passed it that we noticed that most of the passengers were very smartly dressed and wearing copious amounts of gold chains. We also noticed the bright orange raft coming towards us. Dave did a very hasty reverse and many, many times more by luck than judgment managed to not hit either the Mayoral Yacht, or the crew of the barely afloat HMS Sainsbury, or anything else as Legend backed out of the way. Not surprisingly, due to the frantic nature of the occasion, we don't have any photos, but we have no doubt that the many spectators lining the bank have hundreds.
After all the commotion had calmed down, we poured some more tea, handed the cake around again, and continued along Ely’s lovely river front where, quite unexpectedly, we found somewhere to moor. We thought we’d have to go straight through to Queen Adelaide and walk back, but we found another narrowboat to tie up to till the raft-race crews left the park moorings and then moved down to there. By six o’clock - and with impressive speed - the fair had vacated the site, and we had sat down to another perfect Ann-Marie creation – spicy red and green Thai – before saying a fond farewell to our fab friends.
It was lovely having you aboard Paul & Lindsay.
Happy Birthday Mate.

Friday 17 July 2015

River Great Ouse. River Cam. Cambridgshire Lodes. Ely to Upware

We used two separate moorings in Ely. The first was by the park at Willow Walk, which was nice but there was no phone signal and we got covered in willow leaves. The second one was at the bottom of Jubilee Gardens, right outside the bandstand.
There was better signal and on Sunday the Ely Cathedral Brass Band took up position and gave a concert. We sat on the boat roof and had front row seats. Well, alright they were back row seats, but when it started raining we were indoors and drinking tea before anyone else had got their brolly up.
The next morning we took the car to Upware - where there was a very convenient EA car park - and cycled back to Ely along National Cycle Route 11. We had a quick Wifi session in the library, picked up some engine oil from Wilkinsons and set off up the Ouse to Pope’s Corner where the Ouse and the Cam meet. We took the left fork onto the Cam then, after a couple of miles, turned left again, went through a rather smelly lock and entered one of the oldest waterways in the country.
The Cambridgeshire Lodes were dug by the Romans, primarily for drainage, but almost certainly for navigation, and are still used by boats today. Until relatively recently they were used to transport brick making materials, which means that there has been water-borne freight on man-made canals in this area for 2,000 years. That makes Brindley and co. look like a bunch of plagiarising newcomers doesn’t it?
Upware lock provides a 6” rise from the River Cam to Reach Lode under normal conditions, however with a guillotine gate at either end it can cope with any amount of level difference on either waterway. There is also a substantial pumping station there; no doubt things can get quite exciting after prolonged rainfall. The lock is only about 60’ long, although you could probably get a 62’ boat in if you went diagonally. That might not be such a good idea though; we think you'd struggle to turn anything longer than 60’ at the end of the Lodes. At 58' we found there was enough of room at Wicken and Burwell, but we had a look at Reach and chickened out. It's a long way to go backwards.  
Once through the lock we trickled past the permanent moorers to the visitor moorings just before the turn into Wicken Lode.
In the evening we had a very special guest on board. Three and a half years ago, when we were on the GU at the top of Hatton and just about to be frozen in for the first time, an American chap came walking by and struck up a conversation. He told us that he’d always wanted to move to the UK and live on a boat, so we invited him in to have a look and warmed him up with a cup of coffee. We swapped emails and we’ve kept in touch, and a couple of years ago he fulfilled his dream, bought a boat, took it to the Fish and Duck marina at Pope’s Corner and has been living there happily ever since. All the way over to this part of the world we’ve been looking forward to meeting up again, so it was with great pleasure that we had him round to dinner. We had a lovely evening with a delicious lasagne, lots of laughter and some blackberry gin.
By the time we walked Mike back to his car it was getting on towards dark; we waved goodbye and strolled back to the boat in the descending dusk. A beautiful end to a wonderful day.

The next morning Dave got on with Lister’s annual oil change. We haven’t got an engine-hours meter, but we reckon once a year should be ok. He’s getting better at draining it without getting it all over the bilges, so it didn’t take very long before it was all back together. Well it wouldn’t have taken very long if he’d not decided to give the diesel filter a tweak with a spanner to see if he couldn’t stop the occasional drip that was coming out of it. Unfortunately that was one tweak too many and he stripped the thread in the head unit.
There should be a thread in that hole.
Broken boat.
A few phone calls resulted in us driving to Jones Boat Yard in St Neots. To start with it looked like a wild goose chase, the only filter/separator units they had on the shelf were for modern Japanese high revving water-cooled engines, but a chat with the mechanic had him rummaging round the workshop, where he managed to find an identical filter head on an old Perkins.
Identical, apart from the crappy blue paint.

‘How much do you want for it?’ we asked. ‘Oh,’ he said ‘Just put something in the RNLI box.’ Result!
On the way home we stopped off in Earith to have a look at the tidal lock and found this happy little chap basking on the lock landing.
He’s a good twenty-five miles from the sea, so we think he probably lives there full time and annoys the fishermen by eating all the fish. Back on board, we had our new filter fitted and bled in no time, and we were up and running again.
You can’t beat an old engine.

In the morning we carefully turned under the wooden bridge and made our way down the narrow Wicken Lode....
to the GOBA moorings at the end in the Wicken Fen National Trust nature reserve.
There was already one boat there so we tucked ourselves in right at the end. The moorings are actually on Monks Lode, which has its source in the chalk hills above Newmarket. The water was crystal clear and full of little (and not so little!) fish. Once we were tied up we walked up to the visitor centre and after four years of promising, finally joined the National Trust. We spent the rest of the day wandering round the reserve.

There are several hides overlooking the fen and the ponds, there’s a wind driven pumping engine and numerous information boards explaining the flora and fauna to be found. When Frankie was in primary school her class came here and Dave came along as a helper, but he didn’t remember any of it. He was probably too busy trying to stop small, bouncy children falling in the dipping pools to actually notice his surroundings. We also walked round the fens and meres outside the reserve, which are just as interesting; it’s almost as if the animals and birds don’t know where the boundaries are.
From there we went back down Wicken Lode to Reach Lode and turned left towards Burwell. The navigable stretch gets narrower and weedier after the brick works that used ship their products out by boat, and terminates in a ‘T’ junction just behind the village pub.
We turned round there and tied half of Legend to the short stretch of EA visitor moorings, leaving just enough room for someone else to tie half of their boat to the other three posts.
Later that day we cycled into Newmarket, mostly along NCR 51, which took us right into the middle of town. We found Newmarket very interesting and very full of posh-looking people in posh-looking clothes driving posh-looking cars. Apparently we’d arrived on a race day and the world and his wife were out rattling their jewellery. We had a cuppa in Charlotte’s Tea Room and left them to it.

The following morning Mum and Dad came for a visit. With perfect timing they arrived just as the scones were going into the oven, then in the afternoon we went up into the village and had a look at the Church Fete. Mum found a plant stall which she was very pleased about, but we won, because we found some lovely little coffee mugs and a game of Scrabble, which we’ve been on the lookout for since we moved on board. We’ve been putting up with a fiddly little magnetic travel version which has not been ideal.  Ideal is Martin and Yvonne’s bigger travel version with a raised grid on the board that the letters fit into. The Scrabble Holy Grail in our opinion. We’d love one like that, and one day karma will find one for us; until that time a full sized one will do. Even though there is a Y missing.
We’d been looking forward to sharing the big skies and rivers with Mum and Dad, so in the morning we had an early start and headed off back down Burwell Lode to Upware.
On the way we saw a large brown Heron-like bird take off out of the reeds; after much discussion and a good look in the bird book we decided that it definitely was a Bittern. Very chuffed with ourselves, we stopped at Upware for one of Dave’s full English breakfasts, then went through the lock....
past the brilliantly named ‘Five Miles From Anywhere’ pub and down the Cam to Pope’s Corner where we turned round.
The idea was to come back to the pub, from where we could get to our car and moor up for night; as we passed it for the first time there was a goodly length of free mooring to be had and we wondered if we were doing the right thing, what with it being a Sunday and all. Predictably, when we got back it was rammed with white plastic. We sort of dithered around in the river for a bit, but no-one looked as if they were about lo leap aboard their gin palace and cast off, so we shuffled off a bit further up the Cam. Just round the corner we found the Fidwell Fen EA mooring that we didn’t know about. It was on the wrong side of the river but we figured it’d do until the Sunday Lunch Crowd cleared off and we could go back to the pub. The only slight problem was that there were already two boats moored up with a gap between them that everyone, aboard and ashore, was sure was too small. Everyone apart from Dave who was on the tiller.

There was an audible intake of breath as Legend’s 58 feet neatly slotted into a 57 foot gap, her front fender under the bow of a big cruiser and her back one snuggled up to the little narrowboat behind her.
Dave made it look very easy and nearly got a round of applause. Later on we went back and tied up on the now empty pub riverbank. Dad and Dave did the car shuffle, then after tea we waved them off and settled down to a cosy film. 

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...