Thursday 31 August 2023

Nottingham to Trent Lock. River Trent. Nottingham and Beeston Canal

Nottingham Riverside Festival fairground on the north embankment of the Trent is reported to be a mile long, and as it goes from Trent Bridge all the way past the footbridge, past the War Memorial and on to the end of the recreation fields, we reckon that’s an understatement.

Every means imaginable of parting punters from their money is squeezed into a seemingly endless brightly lit corridor full of terrifying rides, fast food and games of chance, with a constant soundtrack of deafening music, screaming and the thunderous rumble of hot rubber wheels. The air is thick with the smell of fried onions and diesel and every now and then you catch the sound of machinery at the very limit of its design capabilities.

We love a good fair, somehow the possibility of dying from either salmonella or in a horrific pile of mangled metal and neon lights just adds to the frisson of excitement you get when you hand your money and your life over to a dodgy looking chap in a straw boater. We scared ourselves silly on the Cyclone...

 ...{they never went anywhere near that fast when we were teenagers), had a very tasty Greek Gyros each, and on the Saturday night went to the big top to see Sound of the Sirens play their set. Hanna and Abi were brilliant, as always, with lots of banter and audience involvement. We had a little chat with them at the merch stand afterwards and bought their new EP set.

We all had little treats from the fair, River got her hand henna’d, Ann-Marie got some beautiful new earrings, and Dave got a new 1920 half-crown wedding ring. At close of play on Friday and Saturday evening there was an amazing firework display on the opposite bank of the river, one of the best we’ve ever seen, and a fitting end to a truly brilliant weekend.

On Sunday had a trip up the river, past the County Hall steps...

... then set off up Meadow Lane lock onto the Nottingham and Beeston Canal. We joined all the boats heading back to their marinas after the weekend and had to queue for Castle lock, something we’ve not done for ages.

We carried on to Beeston where we moored up with double pins as we’d be leaving Legend there for a fortnight while we went to France. It was just a short walk up to the station where we caught the train back to Nottingham and walked over to West Bridgford for another of Karma’s treats, this time Cinema in the Park. Disney’s “Robin Hood” was on in the afternoon...

 ... followed by “Top Gun; Maverick” in the evening. Wonderful!

In the morning Dave set up our automatic plant watering gizmo while River got packed up and Ann-Marie made a goodbye curry. After lunch we went back up to the station and waved River off before having a mooch round town, then home for tea and a really early night with the alarm set for 2 o’clock to get us on our way to Stanstead.  

At about 1am we were wide awake and waiting for the alarm, so we got up anyway. The plan was to repeat the airport-parking-charge-avoidance wheeze that we’d deployed at Birmingham and find some nice, on-street parking by the nearest train station to Stanstead. We figured we must have found somewhere to park when Legend was moored in Sawbridgeworth, so we’d booked return tickets on the first train from there and given ourselves a spare half hour to find somewhere we were happy to leave the car. Sooner or later, our nomadic lifestyle, persistent habit of jumping on aeroplanes, and abject refusal to pay exorbitant parking charges, will result in us having a folder full of quiet - but safe - urban streets under flight-paths all over the country. We’ll publish it when it’s complete and make a fortune!

The trip to Jussas went perfectly to plan and by teatime we’d hugged everyone, met Keith and Ethnie, and were in the pool.

Dave had been round the big field with the mower, and t’Woods had rocked up a day earlier than expected in their motorhome with two of their grandkids. That evening we all went into Montendré to the night market; a huge street party that happens every Tuesday evening in the summer in the middle of town.

There were a good fifty food and drink stalls and rows and rows of tables and chairs. Jan and Paul are old hands at this so we were there early and bagged two tables before the crowds turned up. It was a brilliant evening, lots of wine and great food, lots of chatting and lots of introductions to lovely French people. Oh, and there was a fabulous Heath-Robinson three wheeled wandering musical thingy going around as well.

So perfectly French.   

Apart from visiting our Grandchildren and our ex-pat friends, the other reason for our trip was a big party. Paul and Steve are both 70 this year and they wanted to have a joint party in the summer. Having it on Janice’s birthday meant even more reason to celebrate and they’d invited about eighty people from all over the place. Because there were so many guests staying over, six of us were accommodated in a very palatial holiday home nearby. Dave wasn’t drinking, so he took over the role of chauffeur and had a great time driving either a 2cv or the bus back and forth each morning evening.

Unfortunately , a couple of days before the party, Janice tested positive for the dreaded lurgy and although she felt better by the big day, she still had two red lines on the test strip, poor lass. The preparations still went ahead, we collected tables and chairs from the Marié, put the
27 party tent up…

Paul: “Did I tell you this only cost 27?”

Everybody: “YES!”

… made cakes...

...and strung fairy lights all around the garden. Sadly, but understandably, by kick-off about two thirds of the guest list had dropped out, but the party was all outside and enough people still came along to make it a great evening. Paul got the big paella pan out and made a delicious ‘Stew with no name’ - a sausage and apple recipe that Frankie discovered and originally called ‘Sausage S
**t’ –  and served up with crusty bread it was a real winner. A good friend Denis is in a local band and they entertained us with Anglo French hits from the 60’s and 70’s.

They were terribly good, and got us all up dancing. It was a really lovely family and friends party.

Mirabelle plums were in season at the time so, due to the unwritten French rule of never turning up empty handed, the morning after the party we had about ten kilos of the things to deal with. Over the next  few days we took it in turns 
stoning a pile and making something with them, Ann-Marie produced a gorgeous mirabelle tart, a mirabelle and apple tart,

Jo and the girls made some mirabelle punch and a birthday cake for Jon. That evening was Pizza night, Paul made his signature dough, and Harry and Dave did the honours with the wood fired oven.

Great Fun.

For our last night in France we all went back into town for another night market. More lovely food, more happy people and more dancing to the band.

In the morning Dave did an early airport run with a bus full of bleary eyed party goers, then in the afternoon the two campervans packed up and got ready to pull out. Soon it was our turn, it’ll be next year before we’re back so there were lots of emotional goodbyes before we piled into the airport shuttle bus. Such a mass exodus was going to leave our little corner of France feeling really quiet for a while.

Another smooth flight and train ride back to Sawbridgworth, pie and chips in the car and a long drive home. Back at Beeston we found Legend safe and sound with added ripe tomatoes.

The Beeston parkrun course went right past where we were moored, making it the closest we’ve been to the start since Skipton. It was really big with about 500 people and quite claustrophobic at the beginning, but ok once it thinned out a bit, following the towpath and then back along Trent Valley Way. After that we set off for Cranfleet Cut via the services and the chandlery at Beeston lock. With everything emptied, filled and replaced, we cast off onto the beautiful river section up to Cranfleet lock. There were volunteers on duty at the lock so we were in and up and moored just before the railway bridge in no time. We cycled into Long Eaton for some painting supplies, then Dave got the sander out and keyed the right hand back panel ready for a second coat. By chance we had the gas locker open and noticed that it was a bit smelly in there. It turned out that the gas regulator was leaking, so until we could get hold of a new one we had to turn the gas off at the bottle when we weren’t using it. It wasn’t so much a safety issue, the gas locker is away from the cabin and vented at the bottom - just above the waterline - and as LPG is heavier than air it can’t accumulate to dangerous levels, but it’s expensive stuff and you really can’t afford to lose it.

In the morning Dave got the top coat on the panel, then went down to check out the pontoon moorings at Trent Lock. There was a space there, but by the time he got back and we’d got the boat down there, a little river cruiser had beaten us to it. We reckoned there was just enough room behind it to get most of Legend on the end, so we carried on upstream and turned round. What we should have done was come back past the pontoon again, turn below it and moor up pointing into the flow, but instead Dave decided to try mooring on the downstream leg. It very nearly ended in disaster, and it was only Ann-Marie’s quick mooring tactics that stopped us ploughing into the little cruiser. It probably looked quite slick from an uninitiated bystanders perspective, but it was much too close for comfort for us. There are very good reasons for not mooring downstream, the main one being that you have very little control of the boat. Dave has sworn to behave himself and heed the warnings in future.

We scaled up our design for the boat name using a grid on the back panel and Dave spent most of the following afternoon plotting it out. Half way through he needed a break from kneeling so we had a walk up to Sawley marina to get a new gas regulator. By tea time the design was finished, the gas was fixed and we’d had a cycle to Morrisons and come back with chocolate crệpes.

That’ll do donkey.




Tuesday 22 August 2023

West Stockwith to Nottingham. River Trent, Tidal and Non Tidal.

The tide times at West Stockwith meant we needed to leave about 12, so we had plenty of time in the morning for a wander down to the lock for showers and a chat with the lock keeper. We were in and ready at 11:30 and out onto the river as soon as the tide turned.

We shared the lock by Nb Dark Star who soon overtook us, along with five other boats which had come up from either the River Ouse or Keadby... it was no surprise to find that there was no room on the pontoons at Torksey when we got there. The protocol in situations like that is for someone to allow you to moor alongside them, and of course that’s what happened. In fact the first boat we got to kindly invited us to tie up, but it was slightly annoying to see that if everyone had moored closer together in the first place we’d have had plenty of room. Anything more than about 1m between boats is known as a Git Gap, and they seem to have got a lot bigger since Covid. Obviously, on pontoon moorings you can only tie up where the cleats are, but sharing a cleat, a ring, or a bollard is seen (by some) to be an intrusion, so you wind up with big - but not big enough - spaces all over the place. Most of us manage to park cars sensibly, so why we can’t do the same with a boat is a mystery. Hopefully we’ll soon get back to snuggling up and all will be right with the world

We were somewhat surprised when the Torksey lock keeper told us that we needed to set off at dawn the next morning in order to get to the end of the tidal section at Cromwell, and that the trip would be about 5 hours against the flow. We were expecting to have some help from the incoming tide but after studying the charts and tide times, we realised that any tidal assistance would be either in darkness, or too late to get us to Cromwell before the lock keeper went home, so dawn it was. We’d turned Legend round before tying up to the other boat, so it was easy to quietly push off and sneak away at 5:30, hopefully without disturbing anyone, and begin our long slog up-river. 

We got to Cromwell at about 11:30 after not seeing another boat all the way.

The pontoon above the lock was empty so we got a perfect mooring, then just as Dave was shutting the engine down, two boats came downstream and filled the rest of the pontoon up. Perfect timing. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the riverbank foraging blackberries and a giant puffball, which we’d never had before and can report that it was delicious and kept us in mushrooms for a week!

There had been a lot of rain in the Trent catchment area, so although we were now above the tidal limit, the next morning was another slow, up-stream slog against the flow. At Newark Nether Lock the lock keeper warned us on the radio that there was “a fair bit o’ fresh” coming across the lock approach, useful advice as it meant we could alter our course, turn late, and crab Legend sideways across the flow into the lock, avoiding any drama. We got a space on the Kiln pontoon in Newark and tied up for two days.

When we went into town there were crowd barriers all over the place and it was obvious there was something big happening.  It turned out that Karma had once more provided entertainment for us, this time in the form of the Newark Town Centre Cycle Races, which is not only part of the British Cycling National Circuit Series, but also the series final! So for the rest of the afternoon and evening we got very enthusiastic about bicycles.

It was a really tight circuit between the barriers round the narrow, cobbled town centre roads, and the speed the elite riders got up to was unbelievable, almost touching the barriers at every corner.

The town was rammed and the organisation was flawless, with lots of marshals manning the crossing points on the track so people could move around the town and get to all the pubs and restaurants that were doing a roaring trade. We found the whole event tremendously exhilarating, and went to bed buzzing with excitement.

In the morning we had a short walk over to Devon & Sconce Park for a very well organised parkrun, followed by a fry-up before t’Woods arrived with two of their grandchildren. We all went to the Old Bakery, which was becoming our favourite café, then walked round to the playground till it was time for them to go home.

Later on we took the car to Fisketon and walked the 5 miles back along the Trent Valley Way, stopping at the Fox Inn for some much needed sustenance in the form of an ice cream each. The walk, on top of running in the morning, took its toll on Dave’s Achilles and left him hobbling a bit and he’s going to have to take it easy for a while.

Karma’s treat for us on Sunday was a saxophone concert at the bandstand in the castle grounds. We took our chairs and a small picnic and had a lovely time listening to an eclectic mix of tunes from Moondance to the Pink Panther theme tune. Marvellous!

At about 4pm we said goodbye to Newark and set off, past the castle, through Town Lock and up the river to Hazelford.

The flow had calmed down a lot over the previous two days, so it wasn’t long before we were moored up below Hazelford Lock, watching the foambergs pile up below the weir in the opposite bank.

In the morning there was rain on the forecast for later on, so we penned up through the lock as soon as it opened and made our way to Gunthorpe, racing the ever thickening grey clouds. We managed to get through the lock and onto the visitor pontoon by the Unicorn pub just before the rain started. In the afternoon, Ann-Marie walked back up the riverbank to Fiskerton for the car while Dave did the monthly boat checks and rested his ankle. On her way, Ann-Marie called in on a chap who sells mail-order marine electrical bits and just happened to live on a boat near Fiskerton. Dave had emailed him and arranged for her to pick up some IP67 30 amp MC4 connectors, (or Waterproof Solar Panel Plugs to normal folk) which we needed to modify the wiring to the new panel since the wires to the previous one got cut. We still find it amazing that we live off grid, on a boat, often in the middle of nowhere, and yet we can organise stuff like that using nothing more than a telephone. Early 20th century science fiction writers barely scratched the surface of the info/techno revolution we’re going through and, personally, we can’t imagine how we’d cope with boat life without all the gadgets and connectivity we have.    

Our next mooring was Holme Pierrepoint, above the lock and just beside the white water rafting launch point, so throughout the afternoon groups of nervous looking corporate-bonding executives, screeching hen parties, or giggling scouts and guides would paddle past our window on their way to the rapids at the National Watersports Centre. There was an underwater shelf sticking out from the bank, so Dave tried tying a bunch of fenders together in an effort to keep Legend away from the edge. However fenders are slippery little suckers and don’t take kindly to being tied together, so it was a bit clonky in the night.

On the bike ride to Gunthorpe for the car Dave got a puncture, so Ann-Marie carried on while he mended it, and then drove back to pick him up. We parked in West Bridgford and rode back to the boat via the Nottingham County Hall steps to see if there were any mooring spaces. The Nottingham Riverside Festival was on the opposite bank at the weekend so we thought it might be a bit busy. How right we were; the steps were crammed with boats moored up to 4 abreast, plus some tents and campervans on the riverbank. It looked fantastic. We’d planned to be in Nottingham for the festival, in fact it had been our destination since we were in Yorkshire and we’d found out that Sound of the Sirens were playing in the big top on the Saturday night. Our choices were to either take our chances, hope someone would let us moor up alongside, and join in the melee on the steps, or go up onto the canal and try to find a mooring along there. As it was still only Tuesday we put off deciding what to do for a couple of days. The next afternoon we cycled back into West Bridgford for a mooch and came across “Lark in the Park” which is a mini festival aimed at kids. There were loads of stalls around the park, a Punch and Judy show, a clown, a Mr Whippy van and some drummers drumming. Despite feeling a bit self-conscious due to not having a small person-or-persons we had a fabulous time!

 After we’d cycled back to Legend, once more dodging the rain, t’Woods wandered over from their home in the camp site for the evening. We would be seeing them again in France the following week, which would be the first time their new van had been abroad, so there was much excitement about the coming trip.

In the morning we set off on the last leg into Nottingham, still not sure where we were going to end up.

Because River was coming to stay for the weekend and we wanted to be able to get the bikes on and off, being breasted up three boats out from the bank wasn’t exactly practical, so we’d resigned ourselves to going up the lock and mooring on the canal in the city. However when we got to Meadow Lane lock, we noticed that there was a space on the floating pontoon just beyond it, so we swerved in and tied up. Not quite the steps, but close enough. Plus we were on the same side as the festival and didn’t have to haul the bikes up the steps every time we needed to go out.

River arrived by train later that afternoon and we had a lovely time chatting before going for an evening stroll through the mile long fairground and festival site. There were three stages and some of the rides looked terrifying! It looked like we were in for a fabulous weekend!  

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...