A great day for paddling

Wednesday, 18th August: Oundle Marina to Denford, Northamptonshire: 9.9 miles, 6 locks
      Last night’s blog was dispatched under cover of darkness, but with slightly less drama than on the previous evening. Ken sat at one of the Oundle Cruising Club’s picnic tables, patiently waiting to catch space on a very busy network while I shuffled to and from the boat replenishing his coffee mug.
    As we pulled away from the bank this morning I glanced down and saw a very unusual item floating just under the surface of the water: a red-handled paintbrush, evidence of some touching up work that occurred yesterday afternoon.  Too difficult to retrieve the brush – and some guilt feelings at any unintentional pollution…
    Today has been Canoe Day. Even before we were ready to set off there was an intense bankside conversation. A couple (“maybe younger than us, a bit”) were preparing for their canoeing day: pre-positioning vehicles at Oundle and at Fotheringhay, to which place they intended to paddle in their open Canadian style canoe. They seem to be veterans of such exploits, as the River Wye and Great Barford to Holywell on the Great Ouse were also mentioned. Within half an hour we arrived at our first lock of the day.  As the boat rose in the lock (Upper Barnwell), round the corner came a canoe. Slowly it was tied up to the landing stage we would have used (!), a youth got out, lumbered to the lower end of the lock, surveyed the scene, returned to his fellow canoeists (grandparents?), and slowly, slowly they unloaded two blue barrels on the side, heaved out the canoe, dragged it along the lockside and eventually returned it to the water. I mention the dragging because later we came across a different way of canoe transportation.  At Titchmarsh Lock, with the same uncanny timing two canoes arrived as were rising. Out the crews got, blue barrels in view again – and then the craft were wheeled (yes, wheeled) past me to the lower lock end.  I couldn’t resist an enquiry: “Do you carry the wheels with you in the canoes?”  Apparently yes, supplied by the canoe hire company. But all was not straightforward.  Access to the lower landing stage is via a narrow path and a kissing gate.  How that family of four struggled to pass the canoes over the gate (the wheels of no use then!) I watched it all while poised with thumb on button to lower the electric gate. Not long afterwards a canoe approached on the water, being paddled – that is until the paddlers saw us, moved right into the undergrowth and hung on tight until we had passed.  There were some other paddlers too: this afternoon I walked across the water meadow to Denford village. Back streams and weirs provide a watery playground. Squeals of laughter came from two girls watching two younger boys paddling by a small dammed area, the boys shirtless but clutching large bath sheets around themselves.
    Enough said these last few days of Flypasts but this morning two very nostalgic sounds and sights:a Tiger Moth – and then a Lancaster.
    Our trip today has been through quiet countryside: the river snaking its way past mills, through meadows, sometimes giving broad views out towards churches and fine houses, at others the water tightly enclosed between trees. The locks at mills often have huge torrents of water spilling over the top gates, and foam quickly gathers around the bow from the turbulence. ! And then at Thrapston a sharp return to life’s mainstream, the roar of traffic across the A14. It extends between the M6 and the great container port at Felixstowe and as we passed under the bridge, above in opposite directions were speeding a Maersk container truck and a P&O Ferrymaster lorry. Contrast indeed between our respective pace and destinations. We’re moored a mile or so beyond it now, near Denford Lock. Here this afternoon Eureka! Watching Ken lowering the gate it dawned on me what the term “lock-wheeling” might mean – I’d always assumed it meant cycling between locks… Our evening meal was eaten in the ancient Cock Inn, the date of 1593 (or could it have been 1393?) displayed upon its front wall.
    Tomorrow, in no particular hurry, to Irthlingborough, to find a spot so the gasman can come and call…

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