Down to earth at Irthlingborough

Thursday 19th August: Denford to Irthlingborough: 7 miles, 4 locks 

    It would not normally be a choice of mine to cosy up with a team of footballers, but here we are at Irthlingborough moored right behind Rushden and Diamonds Football Stadium, on a long bankside mooring, obvious to any stray gasman who should chance to drive into the car park tomorrow…
    This afternoon we walked from the moored boat up into the town. The footpath took us out to the main road, where we noted that to find our way back we need to return to the Nene Park Industrial Park. There was a roundabout and a road sign.  And that very road sign was pointing south – to Bedford. The A6 to Bedford! But we’ve been away for days! It it was twelve days ago when we left Bedford, we’ve been far away, almost out to sea and down in the Fens – and here we are back on our almost local patch! 
    Years ago we used to cross on the A45 from the Huntingdon direction and drive west this way: it always struck me then as a worked landscape, water-filled ditches, lakes formed after gravel extraction, open but uncultivated ground. The town is hard to define: some very old buildings including a manor house in Elizabethan style; a large contemporary single storey house with observation tower; lots of modern infill; a ghastly flat-roofed parade of small shops; a large but closed supermarket; an open Tesco Express; numerous Takeaway outlets; four Chinese restaurants; two Indian restaurants; two pizza places and one kebab house. And of course the Doc Marten factory (more of that maybe tomorrow). Just as well neither of us expected it to be scenically glorious…
    To the rest of today: it started well. Unhurriedly and unusually, by the time the engine roared into life, I was not only dressed but also booted and spurred, that is ready with camera in the lower pocket, Nene key in the upper pocket and windlass on the front deck. It was a sparkly sort of morning. We slid out past Denford and headed for Woodford Lock. Slowly the season wheels on: the lily pad leaves partly submerged, no lilies now. Tractors were dragging circular blades across the fields to break up the stubbly earth. A memory – the end of a noise and thrill-filled day at Farnborough Air Show, young men raving about the speed of the planes in the air and the wizardry of the gadgets on the ground, while the Daughter, beatific smile on face, said ” I’ve had a wonderful day, I’ve  looked at clouds all day long.” This was a day when clouds could be looked at. The sky was a vast blue board and the clouds white chalk drawings upon it. There were pleats and folds, cushions and pillows, snow plough tracks, darts, a castle with fortified walls, then two thin lines crossing each other – the cross of St Andrew, and even a hand in a glove, the thumb most prominent. The meteorologically trained see patterns of approaching weather, whereas I rejoice in the pictures in the sky.
    Two of the locks today were wheel operated, two electrically. Just after the Youth Activity Centre (canoeists and rafters on the water) comes Irthlingborough Lock. It is deep: it loomed before us. We are still going uphill and over the last couple of days we have found it better to hold the boat on the centre rope from the lockside. Ken climbed the ladder and the boat seemed a speck below him, a reminder of Castle Mill Lock near Bedford. The huge gate descended. Slowly the lock filled, the wind blew across the open ground, the boat obediently rose, then drifted across the lock – the second gate needed opening. My point: no two lock operations are identical – and always be prepared for the unexpected!
A postscript: those clouds are now leaking steady rain!

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