Day 11, Friday 25th June: Beer and bikinis, a beatbox and a bloodbath…

Cruised today from Denford to Fotheringhay, a shorter day than usual, mooring up at about 1400.
The mooring last night was canine heaven, perfect for dog walking and dog swimming. Mid-evening, just about ten yards along the bank from us, a dog was plunging into the water time after time to retrieve large sticks (logs?) for its master; once he swam right across to the opposite bank, scrambled out, looked totally confused – and then plunged back into the water.
Today Cleddau‘s cruise has been on the The Middle Nene, where water is deeper, reeds are taller and lily pads bigger, (but still sadly no sighting of either a princess or of a frog!) More of the lily pads are showing tight yellow buds, with just one or two as yet displaying open flower heads. Islip is a stunningly beautiful village; in such tranquil landscape one can hardly believe that there is noise and conflict, hunger and torment elsewhere. This part of Northamptonshire is often known for its “spires and squires”. While we have not knowingly sighted squires we have often observed two spires at a time, slender, grey structures indicating small village settlements above river flood level. The river winds and twists – for nearly four miles it is within easy distance of Oundle, famous for its public school. On such a glorious day all forms of life enjoy the river, the horses and cattle drinking its water,  the canoeist heaving his canoe past a lock, and even horsflies emerged to enjoy themselves – on boaters’ flesh! Boaters and non-boaters alike are inclining towards bikini-style dress, though not so this correspondent!  At Ashton Lock we joined another boat, a first opportunity to share a lock since joining the river.  As the photos show some river locks require muscle and stamina – 200 turns to raise the huge gates, 200 to lower them… Young, enthusiastic, barefoot, beers in evidence, a beatbox (“i-pod stacking station”) on the boat’s roof but since mooring up behind us this afternoon they have proved good company, eager to hear Cleddau’s history and to learn boating skills from Ken.
It is perhaps time to reflect upon the relaxant qualities of water and music combined. Some days ago while still on the Grand Union we came upon what might have been a “water hippy encampment”: four elderly boats strung along the canal, washing drying on the hedge-line, bodies bent down together on the towpath and from somewhere, from one boat or another came loud music, accordion, a double bass, a jazz beat. On the roof of the fourth boat sat a huge speaker, wire trailing from it into the cabin below: the music was great, if not performed live.   But yesterday, turning a corner near Little Addington there on the bank sat a young man, strumming a guitar, a quad bike behind him. As for our beatbox crew, who had remarked in the first shared lock about the healthy-looking mint a Pimms was offered and eagerly received, much made of the very freshness of the greenery that adorned it.
As for tonight’s mooring, we’re alongside the remains of the motte and bailey castle at Fotheringhay, the place where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587. This location was top of my To Visit list. The castle remains are just a steep earth mound but the church is stunning, full of historical references,Georgian box pews, a highly painted pulpit and a wonderful fan vaulted ceiling.
Tomorrow to Peterborough: passage through Stanground Lock onto the Middle Level booked for Sunday morning.

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