Monday 27 September 2021

River Witham. Fossdyke Navigation. River Trent (Tidal Section) Boston to West Stockwith.

   Five nights in Boston really wasn’t enough. We didn’t waste a minute but we could easily have stayed for a fortnight. To begin with we drove to Navenby where our old Morris side were having one of their first dance outs since the restrictions lifted. It was fabulous to catch up with them and considering how little practice they’d managed to get in they were really good and they were really enthusiastic which is what counts. We followed them around the village visiting Mrs Smith’s cottage and a couple of pubs followed by a workshop session where we joined in with a Much Wenlock dance and realised just how much we’ve forgotten.

   For the first time in three years we went to the beach. Before we bought Legend we did a campervan tour of France, Spain and Portugal (it starts Here) and spent most of it walking along beaches. We’ve missed having sand between our toes so we headed for the coast between Skegness and Mablethorpe and parked at Chapel Six Marshes.

From there we walked south along the big wide beach to the North Sea Observatory...

...then back up to Anderby Creek for coffee, before following the coastal path through the dunes to the car park.

 There were a few other folk about, but for the most part it was gorgeously deserted.

   The next morning Dave was up and out with our spare gas bottle for exchange at Buildbase as soon as they opened at 7am. They are handily sited right next to the lock, and as cheap as anywhere else for Calor Gas. After a quick breakfast we threw our overnight bag and a bunch of tools into the car and headed off for a busy couple of days away. First stop was Southam for dental check-ups, then down to Lechlade where Steve and Annemarie where moored on Andelanté. It was supposed to be just a social visit and a barbecue, but the day before Steve had rung to say they’d had a fire in the engine room, all the wiring and two batteries were fried, nothing was working and maybe we shouldn’t come. We’re made of sterner stuff than that.  We went armed with spare wire and hydraulic crimpers and by the time we got there Steve had got hold of some new battery cable and lugs and had got two replacement batteries on order. It must have been quite scary when it all went bang, nearly all the negative cable was completely gone, plus the tops of the two worst batteries.

Andelanté's engine room in bits.

Dave soon found the source of the trouble, which was a combination of things; primarily there was a corroded lug on the last negative connection, causing high resistance and heating up. Added to that a normal 110ah starter battery had been wired in parallel with five 125ah AGMs, making it work way beyond its remit, and finally, they’d just got a new washing machine and had inadvertently switched both that and their electric oven on at the same time. The six AGMs could have coped with the massive draw, but the cables were completely over-loaded and the high resistance joint must have lit up like a Christmas tree, which is what melted the cables and set fire to the 110. Once that was going a couple of 4L oil bottles had burst, spraying oil onto everything so Steve was really luck to manage to put it out. As it was he used all the fire extinguishers they had on Andelanté.

   It was a bit of a mess. They’d spent the morning cleaning up pulling the old wiring out, but there was still dry powder everywhere, everything was covered in black soot and there was about an inch of manky watery oil in the bilge.

   Dave got stuck in, and with him measuring and tracing cables, and Steve on the crimpers making up new links and lugs, they soon had the engine wired up and working again. There were still five of the AGMs in working order, so they were also able to get the domestic circuits operational without too much trouble. The 300a house battery isolator had predictably burnt out, so Dave bypassed it as a temporary fix with strict instructions to replace it as soon as possible. The battery monitor shunt had been kebabed as well, so Steve went on the net to find a replacement. Apart from that everything else was ok and we had them back with lights, pumps and inverter by about 3pm. Dave and Steve were both filthy after squirming round in the engine ‘ole, and Andeanté had no hot water, but it was a glorious day and the Thames looked very inviting, so after a bit of a soapy scrub and a dive into the river they both emerged all clean and shiny.

   A little while later on Dave realised that he’d dived into the river with the car keys in his pocket, which could have ended really badly, but thankfully we don’t have remote locking, and equally thankfully they were still there when he climbed out. Phew!

   On the way home we stopped off to see Mandy and Chas in Peterborough. They’d just got back from holiday that morning but kind enough to abandon their unpacking to have us for lunch. We had a lovely couple of hours sitting in their garden catching up on all their news.

   Back home, Dave went for a walk along the riverside to the tidal barrier, which is a bit like the one on the Thames and serves the same purpose. The tidal section of the Witham, from the Grand Sluice to the sea, is known as The Haven and is the home of Boston’s cockle fishing fleet, the last couple of which were just coming back into port as Dave walked past. The Macmillan Way long distance footpath starts in Boston and for the first few miles follows the bank of The Haven before branching off diagonally across the country to end at Abbotsbury in Dorset.

Boston Tidal Barrier.

The lock to Black Sluice, which will eventually form part of the proposed Fens Waterways Link beween Boston, Peterborough and Ely.

The next morning we untied from the finger moorings in Boston and set off back to Torksey and the Trent.

   Langrick Bridge was full and Dogdyke was on the wrong side of the river for car moving, so we ended up at Tattershall Bridge for the night. On the car move we drove to Coningsby to see the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor's Centre. The Lancaster wasn’t at home that day and the spitfire wasn’t due back until later so we didn’t look round the hanger, but the rest of the display was very interesting.

On one of our walks we got caught out in a thunderstorm. We knew that rain was forecast, but it came along an hour earlier than we expected and we were literally soaked to the skin.

The Viking Way through Southrey Wood, on of the few untouched medieval woodlands in the country.

A bit moist after the third downpoor

 Never mind, a hot shower and a bowl of soup had us feeling human again in no time.

On the leg from Kirkstead Bridge we were joined by Tim, a 2cv club friend who lives near Boston. He’d never been on a narrowboat before and had a really good time, steering most of the way to Bardney.

 The moorings at the town where we’d left the car were full so we carried on another half mile or so to Bardney Lock and walked back.

On the drive back to Kirkstead, we stopped for a wander round Woodhall Spa and a short spell in a coffee shop with Tim, before dropping him off at his car. He was very taken with the boat, Ann-Marie added him to our ‘moving email’ list and we’re sure we’ll see him again on our travels.

Dawn at Bardney lock.

A misty riverbank at Bardney 

We paused for a night at Washingborough before returning to Stamp End for a couple of days in Lincoln.

Back at Stamp End Lock. 

Evidence of a pair of lock gates further in the chamber, but the lock itself doesn't appear to have been lengthened.

The lock anchors and recesses (now filled in) are idendtical to the remaining pair, suggesting that at one time the lock had two sets of bottom gates. But why? Maybe to save water as a concession to mill owners further upstream?

   We visited the Usher Gallery...

A chandelier made from beach-combed plastic rubbish.

Lincoln's Glory Hole.

...and The Collection; a really interesting local natural history museum that tells the story of Lincoln and Lincolnshire from the ice age to the present day.

We also walked out from the city over South Common...

The Cathedral from South Common.

A Red Admiral on South Commom. the top of the hill to see the International Bomber Command Centre.

The spire at the IBCC. its height is the same as a Lancaster wingspan.

It's a beautiful, peaceful and respectful place, but like the RAF memorial at Runnymede, we found the plaques with endless lists of names of lives lost overwhelmingly saddening.

On the way back down to the boat we walked along the Riverside Path, which follows the Witham on its way into the city...

...ending at Brayford Pool. Then we said goodbye to beautiful Lincoln and went back through the Glory Hole...

...across Brayford Pool and back onto the Fossdyke navigation, heading for the Trent. We stoped briefly at Saxilby for water, then tied up on the visitor moorings before Torksey Lock.

Later on we walked up to the lock where we found Paul and Kay on Nb Maggie May who were stuck there for 8 weeks waiting for a new engine. They’d been involved in a rescue on the river of another boat who’s gearbox had overheated and lost power. They’d managed to get alongside and were towing them back to Torksey when their engine threw a big end. Somehow between the two of them they’d managed to get back, but it all sounded very scary. Torksey isn’t a bad place to be stranded without and engine; there’s toilets, showers and parking, Gainsborough isn’t far and there’s a really nice pub. Even though their situation wasn’t ideal, they were still in good spirits and it was really good to see them again.
Nb Maggie May. Stuck at Torksey for 8 weeks with a broken engine.

At 5 o’clock the next afternoon, after getting the boat river ready, we went through the lock and moored up on the tidal side with a bunch of other boats, ready for our trip to West Stockwith the following day.

   Coincidentally Graham and Dawn on Nb Countess Rose II arrived at about 7pm on their way up the river to Cromwell...

 so we had a very jolly evening with them; fish and chips in the pub, then back on board Legend for coffee.

First thing in the morning Countess Rose II and the other boats heading for Cromwell were off up the river on the incoming tide, or flood tide.

   We had to wait till 2 o’clock for the last couple of hours of the outgoing tide, or ebb, to take us down to West Stockwith in time to meet the flood just as we got there, so we could turn into the lock on slack water. Well, that was the plan anyway. As it turned out there were four boats going that way and despite leaving at 2pm as instructed...

Our little convoy leaving Torksey.

...when we phoned the West Stockwith lockie from Gainsborough he told us we were a bit early and we ought to tie up at the visitor pontoon there for a little while then leave in pairs 20 minutes apart so there would be time to turn the lock for the second boats. It took a good ten minutes to get all four boats turned in the river and tied up, which according to our calculations would have put us back on schedule, but we were moored on the inside and despite suggesting that we really ought to be leaving, we couldn’t go anywhere until the others went.

Preparing to turn at Gainsborough.

An unexpected stop at Gainsborough visitor pontoon.

 There seemed to be a spot of misunderstanding of the term “Little While” and the lead boats didn’t leave the mooring for another half an hour. By that time we’d all missed our window, the flood tide had been and gone at West Stockwith and was heading for us. The stretch from Gainsborough should have taken 20 minutes of gentle downstream cruising with the tide, instead we had an hour and a half going flat-out into the flood, eventually crawling up to the lock a full 2 hours later than planned.

The final few hundred yards into West Stockwith lock. Look at the flow on the left hand bank!

When we got there we were faced with a really hairy turn into the lock which is on the outside of a bend, so in the fastest flowing and most turbulent water and, from that direction, at a horribly acute angle.  It was like Salter’s Lode all over again, except this time Dave got it right. Stay about a boat length out from, and parallel to the wall, gradually dropping the power until you’re almost stationary, then when the bow is level with the far wall turn in sharply and put a spurt of power on. The bow fender will kiss the wall, as soon as it does, power on again and you’ll slip into the dead water in the lock entrance.

 It was a massive relief to be safely in the lock, we’d spent a good portion of the time coming down from Gainsborough wondering what plan B was, and our nerves were jangling. We were also rather annoyed because, left to our own devices, we would have been there just when we were supposed to have been. We’d split the trip into four legs and worked out how long each bit should take, so we knew we were going too quickly to start with and, after waiting for too long at Gainsborough, that we were then going to be too late. However, we’d never done the trip before and we were with another crew who had, so we’d bowed to their supposedly greater knowledge.  Still, we got there in one piece, the lock keeper was lovely and sympathetic, and as we got backed onto one of the finger pontoons in the basin the crews of the other three boats were all there to welcome us.

Turning in West Stockwith basin.

Moored up on the pontoon.

 It had been a long day, a hard day and most definitely a school day. But looking back we had to admit that we’d really enjoyed it and the sense of achievement alone had made it all worthwhile. Legend had performed flawlessly and once more delivered us to our destination, our brave little engine no doubt benefiting from the Italian tune-up on the way.

As dusk began to fall we gratefully snuggled in for our first night on the Chesterfield Canal.


Sunday 19 September 2021

River Trent (tidal section). Fossdyke Navigation. River Witham. Cromwell Lock to Boston.

At the beginning of our first foray onto the notorious Tidal Trent, the skipper of the little river cruiser who was sharing Cromwell lock with us asked us to go out first, as he didn’t have a copy of the charts and wanted to follow, in his words, “Someone who knew where they were going.” No pressure then.

You will be pleased to hear, Dear Reader, that our trip downstream to Torksey lock was happily uneventful.

Leaving Cromwell lock and the huge weir at the head of the tideway.

One of the now disused gravel jetties. There is no commercial trade on this section any more.

A warning sign for one of the Trent's notorious Sunken Islands. They are all well marked on the river bank and the charts, so easily avoided.

It was overcast and a bit breezy, but Dave managed to stick to the red line on the chart, and avoid all the sunken islands, sand banks and Hard Marle (whatever that is.) About three hours later, with the little cruiser tagging along behind like a faithful puppy, we rounded the final bend and turned into the short channel before the lock.

The very welcome turning into Torksey.

Torksey lock, open with a green light.

Torksey lock is a strange beast. It has clearly been extended at some point as it has two sets of bottom gates, plus a further set of higher flood gates pointing in the opposite direction. (These prevent a flooded river entering the canal). 

The original bottom cill is now in the middle of the extended lock and, at low states of tide, it can prevent deeper draughted (and on some big spring tides, all) boats from going through. However, there are plenty of pontoon moorings both below and above the lock for boats waiting for passage. When we radioed the lock on our approach, the lock keeper told us that there was about five feet of water above the cill. Barring Loch Ness and the Ribble Estuary, that’s deeper than almost everything we’ve been on in ten years.

The original lock looks quite normal with bollards on the lock sides...

The original part of the lock.

...but the extension has been shoe-horned under the bridge and isn’t quite in line, so the whole thing has a bit of a banana feel to it. Any boats in the extension have to use sliders as the keepers can’t get to them to take the ropes.

The lock extension under the road bridge, with the original gates in the middle. The cill is just under the bows of the cruiser.

 Talking of taking ropes, how many volunteer lock keepers does it take to put a rope round a bollard? The volunteers who were on duty when we arrived were rather new. The usual procedure for taking a rope from a boat in the bottom of a lock, is to lower a boat hook for the crew member to put a loop on, and then drop the loop over a bollard. We couldn’t believe how three people managed to make such a complete pig’s ear of this task, attempting to throw the loose end back down to Ann-Marie while Legend drifted in the breeze to the other side, until someone suggested pulling on the rope they had hold of. Hey, no one is born knowing everything, and every day is a school day for the best of us. They were really lovely, and more than made up for any lack of experience with their enthusiasm and friendliness, and after three hours of concentrated river boating it was really good see a smiling face.

Once through the lock we were on the Foss Dyke.

Leaving Torksey lock.

The very pleasant Torksey Basin.

Long and straight. The shape of things to come for the next couple of weeks.

     This navigation has a character all its own. It reminded us of the Middle Level, unsurprising as they are both primarily fenland drainage systems, and the surrounding landscape felt very familiar with big skies and vast horizons, but this waterway is far, far older. The conventional belief is that the Romans dug this channel and it’s quite easy to imagine the beat of a drum and the steady splash of oars as a wooden freighter, weighed down with its cargo of wool and grain, plies its way along the long straight sections. However, this conventional belief may not be all there is to it. This is worth a read. 

Saxilby was our first stop, reuniting us with our car. We had a couple of days there while we got the roof garden back under control...

Trimming back the strawberries at Saxilby.

...then set off on the straight high-sided trip to Lincoln, following Jane on Nb Olivella.
Legend and Olivella on the way to Lincoln

Getting weedier, but not a patch on what lies ahead.

Matilda Blue’s crew had told us that the navigation was a bit weedy, so finding parts of it covered in a green blanket and having to put the engine in reverse every few minutes to clear the prop came as no surprise. Pushing through the weeds slowed the journey down, but at least it gave whoever was steering something to do. The Fossdyke ends in Lincoln in Brayford pool where it joins the River Witham on its way from Grantham to Boston. The visitor moorings just before the entrance to Brayford Pool had one remaining space so we tucked in for the allotted 48 hours. Jane pulled Olivella alongside to breast up...

Legend and Olivella on Lincoln University visitor Moorings

...while she went to sort out a mooring in the marina, and we went off in search of Mandy and Bob. We found them moored on the other side of the city on the River Witham, having already been to Boston, and now on their on their way back to the Trent. They’d got tickets for a Neil Diamond tribute concert in the New Theatre Royal that evening, and although Mr Diamond is not really our thing, we all know the songs and a last evening out with our mates before we went our separate ways sounded perfect.

So, an afternoon walking round (or rather, up) Lincoln was followed by drinkies in the New Theatre Royal’s  Prosecco Bar, then nearly three hours sitting in a beautifully preserved 130 year old theatre, singing along to lots of familiar songs and an encore of “Sweet Caroline”. Marvellous.

Inside Lincoln's New Theatre Royal, waiting for "Hello Again" staring Neil(y) Diamond.

The New Theatre Royal, apart from being an absolutely fabulous building, has a fascinating history. It first opened in 1893 with a production of Charlie’s Aunt, and ticket prices that evening were 1s (5p). Since then it has hosted hundreds of plays, shows, musicals and films including, in the 40’s and 50’s, risqué performances from Paris, and a Greatest Showman style circus with performing animals and a trapeze act flying over the audience. It went bankrupt in 1976, after which it was taken over by Paul Elliot Entertainment. (Paul Elliot, in case you were wondering, is better known as one Paul Chuckle, brother of Barry. To you, to me.)

We emerged from the theatre at around 10pm into a city centre Saturday night zoo. It looked like a cross between a rave and a revolution with a huge swarm of noisy drunk people as far as the eye could see. There had been a suggestion of a post-concert drink, but all the pubs on the high street looked so terrifying that we just huddled together and got out of there as quickly as possible. We must be getting old; 30 years ago we’d have been in the thick of it.

The next day we moved the car from Saxilby to Bardney and discovered the Water Rail Way, which is yet another part of Sutrans NCR1, the 1264 mile (mostly)off road cycle route from Dover to Tain that we keep coming across.

One of the sculptures on the Water Rail Way.

In 1846 the Great Northern Railway leased the Fossdyke and Witham and used the waterway to help build their Lincoln to Boston line on top of the flood bank. The inevitable decline of the navigation followed the completion of the railway in 1848, and before long the whole navigation was silted up and unusable. Today however, in an ironic twist of fate, the waterway has boats on it once more and the railway, long dismantled, has become a very pleasant cycle route along the river bank.

On the ride back from Bardney we stopped to help a couple with a puncture. Years of cycling the tow paths has taught us to always carry a tool kit; the hedges get regularly flailed and one hawthorn spike can easily turn a pleasant afternoon into a long hard trudge. They were about 6 miles from where they’d left their car in Lincoln so were very grateful for our help. That afternoon we had a walk round the lovely Lincoln Arboretum...

...then down to Stamp End lock to follow the river through the city. At the bottom of the hill, by pure coincidence, we came across the people we’d helped who were just putting their bikes back onto their car. We were really pleased to find that the patch had held and that their day hadn’t been ruined.

Next morning we did some more exploration of the city; up Steep Hill and round the castle, the cathedral and Bailgate...

Inside Lincoln Castle.

Lincoln Castle entrance. The majority of the castle is free to enter.

Lincoln Cathedral.

Going back down to the city on one of the lesser used streets.

...then after lunch we moved Legend through the famous Glory Hole.

Crossing Baryford Pool.

The entrance to the River Witham.

After all that open water, we meet another boat in the narrowest part!

Diving into the Glory Hole

A view of the Lincoln's underbelly that only boaters get to see.

Out the other side and back in shopping central.

Moored up at Stamp end under the gaze of the Cathedral, but where is Matilda Blue? moor up at Stamp end, and to be nose to nose with Matilda Blue for the last time.
 However, when we got there we found Matilda stuck in Stamp End Lock.
There she is. Stuck in a lock.

    The day before, Bob and Mandy had gone for a little cruise with their son Ben and spent the night at Washingborough. When they came back that morning they’d gone into the lock, shut the bottom gates and begun filling it. They told us it took ages to fill, and once it was full the guillotine gate wouldn’t lift, trapping them and another narrowboat in the lock. A small queue of cruisers and narrowboats had formed on both sides...
River cruisers waiting below the lock..

..and a narrowboat waiting above it. You don't usually see this many boats all week.

...and everyone and their dog had tried pushing both buttons to no avail, so CRT had been called out. As it was a Sunday the probability of release before the next morning was slim, so Bob and Mandy had resigned themselves to a night in captivity. They’d invited us over for dinner and a game of something, and we couldn’t see any reason why that couldn’t still go ahead. Quite surprisingly, at 7pm a CRT van turned up and a very nice engineer rummaged about in the control box for a while. After the initial excitement, nothing seemed to be making any difference and we’d all given up hope of freedom again, when suddenly there was a whir of motors and, to a round of applause from the gathered boaters, the guillotine rose majestically from the depths.  The engineer stayed until all the boats had worked their way through, and told us that he’d be back in the morning to affect a proper repair and would help us through.

In the morning we pushed over to the lock landing so that we’d be ready when he arrived and found that the lock was working normally. Either he’d fixed it the night before, or it had re-set itself, whichever, we were through and off down the Witham before 9am in the morning drizzle. Because of the profile of the river, and the density of the vegetation on the banks, there is hardly anywhere where bankside mooring is possible. However, this really isn’t a problem as there are several very nice floating pontoons for 48hr visitor mooring. On the trip from Lincoln to Boston we moored on the pontoons at Bardney Village, Kirkstead Bridge, Tattershall Bridge and Langrick Bridge. There’s easy parking close to all of these places and we employed the cycle way to go back for the car, enabling us to go out visiting some of our old friends from when we used to live in this neck of the woods.

Here's a selection of photos from our trip.

The weed got really thick at Bardney Lock.

Under the disused railway bridge that now carries the Water Rail Way.

Moored up on the pontoon at Bardney village.

Some of the many eateries in lovely Woodhall Spa.

The famous Tea House in the Woods in Woodhall.

Woodhall Spa Clock Tower.

All that remains of the once huge Kirkstead Abbey.

Even as a ruin the masonry is breathtaking.

Nice and snug on the Tattershall Bridge moorings.

Tattershall Alms Houses.

The magnificent Tattershall Castle. (NT)

Inside Tatteshall Castle.

The view from the roof.

Approaching Langrick Bridge

The fabulous "Just one More" bicycle and coffee shop in Horncastle, with added puppies!

The site of the Northern Basin at the end of the Horncastle Canal.

Looking down the Horncastle Canal.

Arriving as tourist meant we got to see and do things we never thought of when we lived here. We visited Woodhall Spa, Horncastle, Tattershall Castle and Kirkstead Abbey, before finally arriving in Boston with the majestic St Botolph’s church, locally known as “Boston Stump” towering up at the end of the waterway. 

Pulling away from Langrick Bridge pontoon for another push through the weed.

You don't leave a trace when it gets this thick.

A clear bit of water makes a nice change.

Finally "The Stump" comes into view.

This is what a good day looks like.

Boston used to be one of our local shopping towns, we knew there was a river running through it, but we’d never been to look at it. The Grand Sluice was, and still is, vital to the local community and landscape. Before 1766 the River Witham was tidal for many miles inland, probably as far as Lincoln, and would regularly flood the surrounding fenland. Stopping the tide in Boston and controlling the river drained and reclaimed 11,000 acres of highly fertile farmland which, along with Vermuyden’s  Lower, Middle and Upper Levels, completed a hundred years earlier in the south of the county, lead to Lincolnshire becoming the Vegetable Garden of England that it still is today. The port of Boston flourished, with a rapid increase in trade and wealth, and many grand houses, warehouses and wharves can still be seen along the river bank. The Grand Sluice still lives up to its name; stoically carrying out its vital duties and keeping Lincolnshire out of the sea, while the thousands of people who cross over it in their cars every day only notice the rush hour bottleneck at the traffic lights.

Here's a few more photos from this trip.

Stamp End, Lincoln.

Before the ring road and the new by-pass, the A15 used to go right through Lincoln. Dave used to regularly drive a 38 tonne artic up this hill on his way to Immingham docks 

Having a Coffee at Stokes Café above the Glory Hole

Some more of the sculptures on the Water Rail Way. These two are made from wood.

Legend moored in the soup at Tattershall Bridge.

The other end of the Horncastle Canal where it joins the River Whitham at Dog Dyke.

The end of Kyme Eau, which eventually becomes the River Slea and goes to Sleaford. It is navigable about half way and there is a plan for full restoration 

So much duck weed. Millions upon millions of little tiny individual plants make up this soup.

The lock gates at Anton's Gout that lead to a huge waterway system north of Boston known as the Witham Navigable Drains. They are really only navigable in the spring before the weed takes over, and even then they are very shallow with limited head room and few places to turn. We reluctantly gave them a miss this trip.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

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