Day 13: Sunday 27th June: Lost down the Drain…

From Peterborough (the River Nene) to Upwell (Middle Level)
It has taken much research to ascertain the navigable route from Macclesfield to Bedford and the Stanground Lock at Peterborough has long been top of the list of anxieties.  It is a lock that was lengthened but the cill of the previous lock remains and can prove a significant hazard to deep boats. Hence talk of ballast, bricks and batteries dominated the winter preparations while closer to the lock itself calculating how to be low on diesel but still to have enough to refill without altogether running out in the middle of the Fens was a more recent point of concern.  Passage through the lock itself, however, was smooth, aided by the reassuring presence of the lock-keeper (busiest day ever: 48 boat movements, her father before having once locked through 64 boats).
So onto the Middle Level, down now at sea level, long straight stretches of water before us but shallow depths and sunny weather encouraging rapid growth of weed.  Wind turbines and the two brick towers at Whittlesey dominate the skyline.  At one point it was a bizarre experience watching a car approaching, presumably on a road, but it seemed as if it was driving on water towards us! At the first lock out came the pristine new long-throw Ouse windlass, still with its barcode sticky label on the handle. But where to put it! The apparatus was different – and the winding of paddle (or slacker as it is known hereabouts) happened horizontally rather than vertically.  What’s more, the slacker head was encased in a trig. point shape pillar, so a very fierce stomach and back workout was had! Down we went – now Cleddau  (never a vessel designed for nautical adventures) was below sea level!
Hotter and hotter it got: wild flowers, swathes of poppies, ladysmock (?) and brilliant yellow flowers filled the steep banks. Where there were cars they were some twenty feet above our heads.  Wonderfully blooming roses scrambled against the otherwise ugly farm buildings. There were sounds from many waterbirds among the reeds, but few to be seen, apart from the mad low-flying ducks all though March – and a kingfisher, somewhere. Fleetingly a tortoiseshell butterfly glanced off the front deck mint.
On we went, down long straight channels, the only features the wind turbines that seemed to be stalking us. Occasionally another river or drain angles off the main course, though signposts are barely visible – or missing.  And that’s why under my steerage we began to progress down ” “Popham’s Eau” instead of recognising that a left bearing at Low Corner was the preferred route… Wide enough water available, thankfully, for a break and turn!
Another lock has brought us back up to sea level – but tomorrow we must comply with time and tide to get through Salter’s Lode.
When will you read this? So far achieving a signal has been largely due to Ken’s judicious waggling of magic wands inside and outside of the boat.  Here at Upwell we may not be so lucky. Two nights ago, internet access was achieved by superhuman effort: up to the top of the 50′ earth mound of the castle at Fotheringhay Ken toiled, my laptop under his arm. Other site visitors cast curious glances at him earnestly despatching our words. What would Mary, Queen of Scots, have made of the scene, if somehow, perhaps in Doctor Who’s Tardis, she had returned to her place of imprisonment …?

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