Day 10: Thursday 24th June – Bottoms Up

From Cogenhoe Lock to Denford: some fifteen locks, involving a great deal of hard work, and various attacks from nettles, thistles and wet ropes…
Overnight an invasion had taken place: the meadow we were moored beside had become inhabited by calm cows and their young.  Ken thinks they were Herefords (sign of a closet Archers fan.)  What was fascinating though was watching at extremely close quarters (say, about ten feet) a calf feeding from its mother.  It kept banging his nose and head into her udder, presumably to stimulate or to release more milk. Meanwhile I kept my finger on the guillotine gate press button and hoped not to antagonise any of the herd.
Early on we became aware of our greatest trial, huge swathes of weed, both under and on top of the water.  An upcoming boat at the second lock (from Huntingdon) had stopped seven times already this morning to unblock the propeller;  a local walker at one lock diagnosed the problem as low river levels and the weed cutter craft not having been used yet. Which brings me to swans (simply hundreds at Wellingborough, although usually the family pairs stick to their own territories). What have boaters and swans got in common? Both glide along the surface, in happy times with an air of tranquility about them. For both action is fierce below the water line, swans’ feet paddling strongly, engine propellers turning smoothly.  But sometimes you see swans feeding from the weedy river depths, their fluffy bottoms a pretty but comical sight. But boaters’ bottoms? Upturned too, frequently, unhappily, cutting off that weed which clogs propeller action – not quite so comical. Engine off, weed hatch inspection score for today: 4.
The river meanders its way roughly north-east; often there are lakes from old gravel workings and at Wellingborough a very large prison. But in one stretch both of us remarked on the river’s similarity with the Lower Avon. You never quite know what you will see round the next corner, as with the punters (equipped with straw boaters).
“A long way from Cambridge,” remarked Ken.
“Even further to go to Oxford,” was the reply…
Apart from the enforced stops at locks or for de-weeding we’ve not tied up today, so no prowling around Rushden and Diamonds football ground or browsing in the Doc Marten Factory Shop at Irthlingborough. We’ve passed Hunter’s Moon from MACCLESFIELD and another boat coming back from Bedford. After Irthlingborough Lock we arrived in the middle of an emergency, a girl in the water, dozens of canoes, hundreds of young people – but it was part of the planned activity.  Comments ranged from “Is that your house?” and “We fell in!” (from two very likely-looking lads) to “That’s a Tudor Rose,” (from one knowledgeable and observant boy).
Late this afternoon we passed a strange craft, the weedcutter stranded, seemingly strangled by its own weed. But a mile or so on at the next lock three Environment Agency chaps were mounting a rescue bid in a small outboard-engined boat to deliver hydraulic oil to the lonely weedcutter operator.
The dragonflies seem to have sprouted wings today and be flying higher above the water. Biology experts please e-mail me with further relevant information…Plenty of sheep and cows are to be seen in the water meadows.
So, now it’s time for a more refreshing “Bottom’s Up”: perhaps I’ll harvest some mint for a drop of Pimms…

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