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.

Monday 14 September 2015

River Great Ouse. Godmanchester to Earith.

Hoping for a mooring, we moved the car to the common which lies between the Ferryboat Inn and the river in the lovely medieval ring village of Holywell. All the available mooring spaces were occupied, but as we weren’t coming back for a couple of days there was a good chance it could all change.

In the morning, as we approached Hemingford, we spotted two woodpeckers sitting on the fence – what a treat! To be fair, the woodpeckers were already spotted (to a greater or lesser extent) before we got there, so we really can’t take all the credit, but we did see them.

We crawled down the river towards St Ives, looking for the upstream entrance to the Wakes. We did find it, but it had obviously been unnavigable for a while, all overgrown, weedy and hardly visible. That meant that if we went in from the other end we’d have to back out, so instead we carried on to the Dolphin. We did a reasonable reverse into the arm and tied up on the pub side. A little while later a boat moved off from the other side and we thought it would be a good idea to shift over. It wasn’t. With an almost perfect demonstration of how to simultaneously fail at both boat handling and communication we got ourselves diagonally across the arm with the wind against us. We then had to endure the humiliation of a chap off a Tupperware boat pulling us in. Oh, the shame.
That evening we were treated to another fantastic St Ives sunset.
Although it was raining the next morning, the forecast for the afternoon was better, so after catching up with catch up we set off under the chapel bridge and downstream to St Ives lock.
As we approached the lock it became apparent that everyone else also had the same idea; the river suddenly filled up with boats from every direction and we just managed to snuck onto the end of the lock landing. While we were waiting another three narrowboats turned up. There was a lot of hovering and circling but in the end we managed to get all four into the lock together.

When we got back to Holywell the mooring situation hadn’t improved in our favour, so we retreated to the very lumpy GOBA site next door where we deployed the gang plank.
We had a fourth and final attempt at visiting Houghton Mill before it - and its tea rooms – closed, and managed to get there with an hour to spare. After a quick tour of the mill and a cuppa we bought two bags of their very good wholemeal flour and went back to the boat.
By the time we got there we’d also collected some blackberries and apples so a celebratory crumble was almost inevitable.

Diane came for a visit the following morning. There was baking followed by boating to and through Brownshill Staunch accompanied by Kingfishers and Grebes, then a trip on the tidal stretch where the seals were still happy to make an appearance.
This time we were the ones hovering and circling as we waited for the lock. Brownshill is one of several locks on the Ouse with rubbish dimensions. At thirteen feet it’s wide enough to throw you about, but not wide enough for two narrow boats to go in side by side, and at ninety feet long there's plenty of room for the water to slosh back and forth, but not quite enough for two full sized boats behind each other. It’s a bit annoying to say the least. We try to make the most of the situation by allowing boats that can fit in to jump the queue, an offer that invariably surprises them. We’re also happy to work a lock while we’re waiting so other people don’t have to climb the ladders. It quicker and safer for everyone involved but hardly ever seems to occur to anyone else.
The protocol on rivers is quite often “I’m alright Jack.” It can be frustrating when you come from the canals where crews are so desperate to help each other that too many cooks often spoil the best laid plans of captain and crew, and you regularly see a little crowd of boaters standing round a lock enjoying what we light heartedly refer to as a Windlass Party.

We took Diane seal spotting up to Earith, then turned round and went back to Brownshill. There was another period of hovering, which was easier as we were nose into the flow and the wind, then we worked Legend through the lock and stopped at the very peaceful GOBA mooring just above it.
We walked back with Diane along the flood bank... the Ferryboat where the cars were parked and had a very refreshing half of Rumrunner in the beergarden. We were tempted to stop for dinner, but somehow resisted.

Bright and early next morning we were back through Brownshill and moored on the floating EA pontoon outside Westview marina, exactly as we’d planned. We wanted to be there because we were off in the car to join Martin and Yvonne on board Evolution for the weekend at the IWA Northampton Festival of Water, and leaving Legend on a floating pontoon meant we knew it would be ok.

At the festival, after finally finding Evolution moored four boats out from the bank, we had a happy reunion with Martin and Yvonne...
....then we all went off to watch the Opening Ceremony, expertly performed by these two lovely people..
then followed the crowds into the grandly named Island Marqee for the quiz night. (We’d hoped it was going to have palm trees and a coconut strewn beach, but it just meant it was on the lock island.) We teamed up with Colin and Jane and their grandson Max from Nb Slow Gin and between us we pretty much cleaned up on the first three rounds. Round one was Pictures of Northamptonshire Waterways- Martin and Yvonne’s speciality. Round two was Films – It’s got to be very obscure for us not to have seen it, and round three, believe it or not, was Fenland Waterways! There were another three rounds after that; Art and General Knowledge brought us back down to earth a bit, but in the final count our team managed a very respectable fourth place, only four points behind the winners. Hurrah!

Saturday at Northampton was filled with excitement. In the morning we had a stroll round the town, followed by delicious cheese and biscuits on Evolution’s back deck while we watched the boat handling competition. We didn’t really understand what the objective was, but there was lots of reversing, most of which seemed to be aimed at a fender hanging from the footbridge. Anyway it was all very entertaining; right up until Yvonne got stung on her foot by a wasp. Unfortunately she’s allergic, so we thought it might be Epi-pen and ambulance time, but luckily the wasp hadn’t had time to get a lot of venom into her, and after a lie down she was soon feeling better.
Later on we attended a very interesting talk and slide show in the marquee about Sonia Rolt and the Idle Women – the waterways equivalent to the Land Girls in the Second World War. We already knew a bit about the subject, but it was fascinating to find out more.

After tea we were back to see Grandma’s Wooden Leg; a 60’s/70’s cover band, who were very good, but deafeningly loud, forcing us to retreat outside.
The music was followed by a raffle so while they were selling the last of the tickets we perused the prize table. Among the usual bottles of wine, bath salts and (because it’s a boaters raffle) tins of stern-gland grease, there was an innocuous looking envelope which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a £50 chandlery voucher. When the draw started the first ticket out belonged to a woman who leapt up, ran over to the table and grabbed a bottle of rosé; obviously not a peruser of prize tables. The next one was number 7, which was Dave’s! There was much celebrating, and we are now trying to think of something significant to buy to commemorate the occasion. We know that a chandlery is more than capable of swallowing £50 without trace, and Dave would  quite happily spend it all on rope that we don’t need, so much thought will be applied before we go anywhere near it.

That weekend Large Marge, with Laura and Alison on board was moored at Oundle. They had hoped to get to Northampton in time for the festival, but things hadn’t gone to plan and having discovered that there wasn’t a practical means of getting there via public transport, they’d reluctantly resigned themselves to not attending. That was until we offered to give them a lift. So, on Sunday morning, Dave whizzed off to Oundle and came back with two very happy Margees. We introduced them to Martin and Yvonne then we all had a lovely day looking round the stalls, eating Yvonne’s very tasty scones and polishing off the rest of the cheese and biscuits.
In the afternoon there was another talk and slide show; this time on Fenland rivers. We were quite surprised that after a whole summer living on them there was still an awful lot that we didn’t know. After that we said goodbye to Martin and Yvonne, although it wasn’t that sad as we were seeing them again a week later for a ceilidh in Whittlesea.
We drove the Margees back to their boat at Oundle marina, where we met Jaffa the parrot and they treated us to a takeaway from the Indian. Jaffa was very impressed with Ann-Marie and sat on her finger for most of the time; less so with Dave, who was completely ignored.

And they say parrots are a very good judge of character. Huh!


New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...