Thursday 8 October 2015

Middle Level Navigation, River Nene. Salter's Lode to Dog-in-a-Doublet.

Our first full day back on the Middle Level started with breakfast with Anne before she disappeared, followed by a roof garden re-assemble. Not everything went back up though; we still had a few low bridges to navigate and didn’t want to risk scraping the big box, so we left it folded flat and the bikes stayed in the well deck.

In the evening we went to Little Acre for Holly’s leaving-for-Uni party. It was lovely to be back at Little Acre, We’ve been pet sitting there and since we’ve been travelling we’ve spent more time there than anywhere else.

The next day Kim, Luke and George came to stay. 
We boated up to Outwell...
...then had a drive over to one of our old haunts – Baytrees Garden Centre near Spalding – where there were lots of animals and some slides which kept George happy while we wandered round looking at all the weird tat.

Sunday was another bright, clear day and we moved on to March, passing through Marmont Priory lock where Maureen, the lock keeper, thought that George was our grandson. We were incredibly lucky in March; just as we turned up a cruiser pulled out and we got one of, if not the best, mooring spots. Shortly afterwards eight boats turned up on their way back to Floods Ferry after a weekend cruise. They took up every spare inch of bank, and breasted up where they could, including outside of us. If we’d turned up 15 minutes later there wouldn’t have been anywhere free. For the rest of the day there was an endless stream of to-ing and fro-ing and jollification, here-we-go and there-we-go sort of thing. Around tea-time, with far more hale, heartiness and celebratory hooting than was absolutely necessary, the flotilla departed, leaving peace and tranquillity behind. In the evening Pete and Marion came to see us, they are friends  from 2cv land who used to be boaters back in the day; they gave us the Buckby can and mop from their boat which we are very proud to now have on our roof. It was the first time they’d been to Legend, and after we’d said goodbye to Kim, Luke and George, we had an evening of swapping boaty tales. With years of experience in the early days of pleasure boating they won hands down with the best story of the night; how they once got stuck in Ghosty Hill tunnel when they ran over a mini that had been pushed down an air vent. You can’t beat stuff like that.

After all the recent excitement it was nice to have a day with no plan. We found a copper kettle with a gas catching skirt in a charity shop in March that we’ve stowed away for use when our well-loved and very well used stainless one finally expires, but other than that Monday was a relaxing, lazy day.

Tuesday started bright and early with a visit to the clean and functional service block just the other side of Town Bridge in March. With the full things emptied and the empty thing filled, we set off towards Benwick, where we were pleased to see the pretty little visitor mooring empty.
We put our ‘Welcome - Moor Alongside’ sign in the window, we usually do that when there’s not much room, and at Benwick Legend took up the entire mooring.
In the afternoon Nb Suilvan with a single handing chap on board turned up on his way to March, so we tied him alongside us for the night. That evening we once more went for dinner with the lovely and so hospitable Ron and Rose who have helped to make Benwick one of our all-time favourite moorings.

There was rain forecast for the next day so we stayed put, however it didn’t arrive till the afternoon so we could have moved in the morning, but it meant that we could have Ron over to the boat for dinner as Rose was working late. Mind you, when the rain did arrive it was enough for the whole day, and we went to bed listening to it bouncing off the roof.

The following morning we set forth onto unchartered (for us anyway) waters.
We went through Lode’s End Lock on the level with both gates open...
 and carried on, through Ramsey St Mary and onward to Holme, with the channel getting shallower, narrower and weedier with each mile we travelled.
Not many boats come this way.

The chap who’d been tied up to us the previous night had been out here, but he’d got sick of clearing his prop and had turned back before the end. We were made of sterner stuff and, with almost as much reversing as forwarding, carried on right to where the water disappears into the reeds and willows at a little triangular clearing just before the railway line.

(Actually, as Legend was fifteen feet longer than his boat we couldn’t have turned round before the end if we’d wanted to!)
After pulling the front end round, pinning ourselves to the bank and pulling a washing-up bowl full of pond-weed out of the weed hatch...
...we went for a walk into Holme itself. On the way we discovered that although navigation was definitely not possible beyond where Legend was moored, it hadn’t always been thus. The lane we found ourselves on led us alongside the railway line to the level crossing at the edge of the village. High speed electric trains now whiz past the site of Holme Station, the only evidence that it was there is a sign on the track that has been left to mark the spot where historic steam trains can fill up with water. Behind where the station was were the remains of a loading wharf and a basin.
A hundred years ago there would have been horse-drawn boats and steam trains here; coal, grain, perhaps rushes and maybe even peat would have kept this quiet little village busy.
By strange and happy co-incidence we know two families in Holme, both from entirely different walks of life; Kit and Jessa from dancing with Pig Dyke Molly, and Janice and Neil from the Citroen 2cv club. It turned out that they lived within a stone’s throw of each other. We’d arranged for Kit to take delivery of some maps for us, so we went over to see him and catch up over a cup of coffee, then we rang Janice to see if she was in. As it happened, as well as being the only afternoon that week that she was in, it was also an evening when Neil could get home early, and she kindly invited us to dinner. We really do have some lovely people in our lives. After dinner Janice and Neil came back to the boat to have a look. We were moored in about the most inaccessible place we’ve ever been and it was quite dark by then, so it was rather brave of them to follow us down a track, through some shoulder-high reeds and down a very steep bank to our boat. It was even braver of them to go home again afterwards, but we think they enjoyed their visit. It was especially good to see them again after so many years and catch up on what they and their children have been up to.

In the morning we surprised ourselves by being up and moving at the crack of dawn. We were back up the weedy New Cut
...pausing to pick some irresistible blackberries
...through Lode’s End Lock and down High Lode to be once more in Bill Fen Marina by ten o’clock.
We retrieved our car from Ramsey, transferred a ridiculous amount of our belongings into it, had a quick lunch, and then spent the afternoon driving to Pembrokeshire.

Our reason for leaving Legend in a marina and virtually moving house to another country for a week was because Mum and Dad had hired a cottage to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary, and had invited us to join them.
Karen and Andrew were going as well so we were looking forward to a lovely family holiday on the Pembrokeshire coast. The cottage was absolutely gorgeous; spacious, clean, in a beautiful setting with so many little personal touches.
There was even a resident golden retriever. We felt instantly at home there. Our week just happened to coincide with the Vintage Motorcycle Club Saundersfoot Rally; Dad is a member and they’d come in their three wheeled Lomax kit-car to join in with the runs, so we’d arranged to do our own thing most days and then have the evenings together and compare notes. Chloe and Shandy were in the country for a wedding that week, so they came to see us on Saturday which was really good of them as it was a long way to go.
They stayed over on Saturday night then on Sunday we all went into Saundersfoot to see the bikes and cars lined up on the seafront.

On Monday we went over to the Gower Peninsular for a walk around the headland...

...where we saw a pair of Choughs (as in ‘Fluff’)...
...and had a paddle in the sea...

followed by a visit to the Mumbles. We had a reminiscing stop off at Pembrey Airfield, formerly RAF Pembrey Air Weapons Range, which was where Dave - in a former lifetime - was posted for three years.
We had a visit to Tenby on Tuesday...
...followed by a walk along the beach to Giltar point...
...and round Penally firing range...
 where we came across these strange looking earthworks.
We thought at first that they were part of the range itself, but discovered that they are the only surviving examples of practice trenches, which were dug in several places in the UK during the First World War to train soldiers in trench warfare before sending them to France.
Quite an eerie place when you think about it.

We felt we’d missed out on a Tenby Crab Sandwich so we went back the next day with Mum and Dad to rectify this error. The Buccaneer provided the venue, and washed down with a pint from the Felinfoel brewery, very good it was too.
The evening consisted of a chippy supper, Bake-off and rugby. Pretty good day, we thought.

We spent our last day with Karen and Andrew; out to St David’s for a wander round the very impressive cathedral...
...followed by a picnic lunch at Porthclais harbour and a walk around the headland. Lovely and bracing, and the home-made scones and clotted cream made it extra special.
The evening was very serendipitous, even by our standards. We’d planned to go out for a meal together as a last night celebration, but not actually booked anywhere. While we were in Tenby we’d picked up a leaflet advertising ‘Pint-sized Plays’ and there just happened to be a performance at the Mariners Arms Hotel in Haverfordwest, about twenty minutes from the cottage, that night. On our way home from St David’s we went through Haverfordwest and stopped in on the hotel, had a look at the menu and booked a table.
Well, the meal was excellent, the four sketches were brilliant and the whole evening was a tremendous success. A fitting end to a Llovelly Welsh holiday.

As we packed the cars on Friday morning we couldn’t believe how quickly the week had flown by.
We all agreed that as we’d had such a good time it would be a good idea to do it again in the future, and there’s a VMC rally in Cornwall next year….

On the way home we stopped at Aberdulais near Neath to have a look round a National Trust Tin Works and the waterfalls that used to power them.

Very interesting history lesson and a fascinating site.

After that we had a quick peek at what’s left of the Neath and Tennant canals...

 we’d sort of had an idea to have lunch there but it was a bit industrial, so we got back in the car and made our way up the nearest mountain to a picnic site at the entrance to a country park, which was much better. After lunch we went for a walk through the park and round the reservoir before saying goodbye to Wales and heading back along the M4 back to England.
On our journey home our satnav took us through here...
Apologies for the rubbish photo, it says we're in Fairyland!

Anne had recently re-located to Bristol; whenever we’d seen her since she moved she had been extoling the virtues of the Gloucester Road, and all the marvellous wonders that were to be found therein. As we were to be crossing the Avon that afternoon it was the perfect opportunity to go for a visit and see what all the fuss was about.
The fuss, as it turned out, was completely justified. Anne’s new house is wonderful with fabulous views over the city...
and Gloucester road tuned out to be very good indeed. After a stroll down about half a mile of it, passing no end of eclectic eateries, we went into a tapas bar and, once we’d had some planning guidance from the waiter, had a delicious mixture of various dishes, and two bottles of riocca. Bliss.

Another early start got us breakfasted and out of Bristol, back to the boat with a load of shopping, then out of the marina and tied up again at Benwick by 4pm. Ron and Rose invited us round for a Chinese, which was lovely, but after a day fund-raising they were just as tired as us, so we said good night at about nine and came back to bed.

Retracing our trip across the Middle Level to the Nene next took us to Whittlesey where we got up at 4am to see the lunar eclipse..
...and where Anne came to see us and we had another tapas, (This time created by Ann-Marie and far superior to anything Gloucester road has to offer!) then before we knew it we were through Stanground lock and back on the river.
From Peterborough there are thirty-seven locks up the Nene to Northampton which would be the end of our Eastern Adventure. However we hadn’t quite finished exploring; we still had one more bit of water to navigate before going back upstream. At the end of Morton’s Leam, instead of turning left to Peterborough, we turned right...
...and went another four and a half miles to Dog in a Doublet lock where the Nene becomes tidal.
Boats can, and do, go beyond there and out onto the Wash, and we know people who’ve done it, but you either really need to know what you're doing with tides, proper charts and VHF radios, or you go with a pilot. And you need a powerful engine.
As we do not have any of the above we headed for the visitor mooring, however, when we got level with the pontoon we found a sign that said it was temporally closed and that EA were in the process of fixing it. Luckily the lock keeper was out mowing his lawn and offered us the lock landing for the night.
He also said that the pontoon had been ‘temporarily closed’ for at least two years. Hmm.

We turned Legend round and tied up to the big concrete posts, happy in the knowledge that for us this was the navigation limit of the Nene; from here we were well and truly on our way back home.

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