Crowded footpaths…

Falklands Friend had dropped by for lunch and a long afternoon’s catch up before heading south on her last weekend. A 20 hour flight via Ascension Island will get her back to work – and to midwinter. As she left she pushed two packages towards us, one a Brunel booklet for Cleddau’s on-board library, the other a collection of walks cards for Cambridgeshire and East Midlands. So it was that in perfect walking weather on Saturday Boatwif and the Captain met a boat at one Nene lock and drank thermos tea beside another!

Castle Ashby was the start point of the 6.5 mile circular walk which was to meet the Nene at Cogenhoe Lock and follow the Nene Way towpath along until Whiston Lock. The walk’s first section was along a pavement, opposite gentle estate parkland.  Road traffic was slight but oncoming walkers frequent. A woman in football gear; a man in clerical collar; two soldiers; several youths; a Dutch serviceman. What was it about? Where were they going? “It’s a 42 kilometre walk,” one person offered. The Captain and Boatwif were none the wiser…

 Down through the hamlet of Chadstone, up onto the ridge, past a field of oil seed rape, where, in long views across an empty landscape, the only movements were the gentle drift of clouds and the soft flutter of a gorgeously patterned butterfly.

Across a narrow lane: here a Japanese walker was struggling to find his route… On towards a spinney, descending to a footbridge over a babbling brook.  But then there were more walkers, eager to overtake: two Dutch sailors; a foursome, the lead and back walkers bearing Austrian flags; some Danish soldiers; more walkers, singly, in pairs, a dog needing a drink. “It’s the Waendel Walk,” explained someone, “42 kilometres…”  (A thought enters the mind:  42 kilometres – that’s just over 26 miles… they’re all walking a marathon!) Red arrows pointed their way. Down the steep Jerusalem steps pounded the pair who had started five hours before, all walkers heading for Cogenhoe. By now the Captain’s words were ready: “We’re not part of you, we’re only out for a country stroll.”

At Cogenhoe the routes diverged, Waendelers striding west along a village loop, the Cleddau crew heading towards the river. And there it was, the holiday park of neat static caravans, the millstream behind the lock – and the cows. Cleddau had passed through here twice in 2010, bound to and from the Bedford River Festival, had moored twice on the meadow of curious cows. Despite high river levels a boat was rising in the lock, its crew under instruction for RYA qualification. A windlass wielder flashed a blue passport, a Skipper’s Licence; with this, he said, he commanded a 1940s Humber barge, a trip boat out from Beverley but today was about gaining his narrow boat stripes… The boat made its exit from the lock, the windlass wielders closed the top gates and then the bottom guillotine gate was raised, as is required on the Nene. Still the river waters, running downstream from the sodden Midlands,  surged over the top gates.

A mile further was walked, along the Nene Way, the river besides us, running fast. Memories stirred of gusty winds on a sunny day blowing across the open meadows, pinning Cleddau  against the offside bushes. At Whiston Lock lunch was eaten while more Waendeler walkers pounded or plodded past, by then only six miles left of their routes. We turned up to the ridge, heading for Whiston Church, a building of mellow stone which looks out across the broad Nene Valley. The tiny village was quiet, its church wide open to visitors. On our route took us, over the metal rungs in the churchyard wall, through fields and into a lane back to Castle Ashby. Three soldiers, each bearing weighty packs on their backs pounded towards us. And there, at the top of the last hill, in Castle Ashby, was a checkpoint, where from 10 am onwards water and food had been dispensed to the Waendel road walkers. “Yes, people come from all over the world for these walks,” said the checkpoint steward. “Doing it for years, they have.”

The last stretch of a varied walk returned us to the car just a few hundred yards from Castle Ashby House. Back home a quick Google explained all: a  Wellingborough-based walking festival now in its 33rd year, walk routes over a variety of terrains and distances!

So thanks to Falklands Friend Boatwif and the Captain had enjoyed a glorious new walk (of rather less than 42 kilometres) – and watched a boat going through a lock!

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