Heading up the River Nene

Peterborough – Wansford – Fotheringhay – Oundle: 25¾ miles, 11 locks

The boat had been moored opposite the old flour mill at Peterborough     for a couple of nights. Apart from boats, boaters and hire-by-the-hour pleasure craft    there are plenty of Canada geese around here. Often the honking squawk of a Canada goose passing the arched dock causes a loud reverberating echo…

Away from Peterborough on Wednesday morning, away from the jumble of Embankment-moored boats,   the Cathedral spires    and the Old Custom House,     home now to the Sea Cadets.

Under the railway bridges, assembly point on June 3rd for the Peterborough Yacht Club Platinum Flotilla, remember that? Out for the first mile or so through a green corridor,   past the skeleton of a shipwreck,    on to the massive Orton Lock.

So this was it – the first of the 37 river locks up to Northampton.

A young family watched every move with interest, including the fruitless winding up of a disconnected paddle on the towpath side.

Cross to the opposite gate…

Slowly the boat rose in the lock. The entire operation had taken near on half an hour. Was this a foretelling of a slow upward journey…?

The river loops around Ferry Meadows and before even the second lock had been reached there was another omen of things to come. At Milton Ferry Bridge a splash of water attracted the eye – swimmers were clambering around the bridge buttresses before throwing themselves into the water…  A hoot from the boat horn (a sort of “Look out for me. I’m coming through,” signal was largely ignored.

“You don’t want to get too close to the boats,” Boatwif said, trying to strike a balance between being a killjoy and issuing a serious caution…    When the sun is shining so constantly folk are drawn to the water, as if by magnetism. Two separate groups met (one kayakers, the other swimmers) had come from Stamford, South Lincolnshire…

Onwards, in scenery largely drained of colour apart from the frequent appearance of Purple Loosestrife

Here at Water Newton Lock, the third of the day, Boatwif and the Captain were distracted by the enthusiasm of three office workers on a lunch break watching the proceedings. Cleddau rose gently in the chamber – and Boatwif forgot to relock the guillotine gate operating box and re-pocket the keys… Urrgh!    

There are other distractions too, the vividly coloured kingfisher that took off from a low tree branch just in front of the boat and flew low above the water for a hundred yards or so…

Then there were the waders – a quartet of bikini-clad ladies of a certain age, standing up to their thighs in the river, just talking… It was still Wednesday, so this seemed a variation on the Beds Wednesday Health Gossip Walks…!

As Cleddau pulled in at the (luckily unoccupied) pontoon at Wansford Station a train rolled across the bridge above, a bear train, with a teddy bear waving furiously from one of the passenger carriages!

Tree cover provided a cool pontoon setting for an evening meal.

During Thursday, another blue sky day, Cleddau continued upstream, passing a water treatment works – isn’t the general population now much more aware of the importance of such infrastructure…?

Onward, under the Wansford bridges. Are there words like these visible on the A1 carrying bridge at road level? “Soke” means the right of local jurisdiction.

On to Wansford Lock. “It’s good to see someone else wearing life jackets,” said a boater from nb Soulbury. The boats crossed too quickly to establish whether their boat was a tribute to the Grand Union’s Soulbury Three Locks…

Then on the approach to Yarwell there was That Window, the source of a major distraction and an unintended diversion down a backwater on this summer’s outbound trip…

The weir was dry beside Yarwell Lock. In the heat leaves on the trees are crisping and curling, even willows seem to be struggling to get enough moisture. As the temperature rose a swan sat in solitude on the bank beneath a shady tree.

Elton Lock – or somewhere in Espa֘na…!  The swimmers here had to be persuaded out of the way. One young girl was hauled up onto the lock landing and eventually Boatwif was landed – to then tread carefully around the half dozen or so towels laid out, as if beside a hotel pool…

Up the steps to the lock-side, the entire lock operation to be watched closely by a different group of swimmers. They were two mothers and four teenage girls. “Ooh, this is so interesting. Can we watch?… Our River Welland in Stamford isn’t navigable.”

Across the fields the fine church at Fotheringhay could be seen. One final lock, and then a mooring against the steep bank. Athleticism (never a strong suit) had to be deployed to get up to the bank and to get out of the field! Meanwhile it required ingenuity to set up the gangplank and to shade the boat.

Tilly from Oleanna had inspected Cleddau a week or so ago; that night at Fotheringhay another boat cat slipped aboard (twice!) and made its acquaintance during a bankside dinner. (Note to self: set up visiting book for four-legged creatures…)

Fotheringhay Bridge as the sun went down.

From Fotheringhay to Oundle Marina (the last stretch on this leg) is 7 miles and 4 locks. What diversions or distractions might there be on yet another cloudless blue sky day…?

First was the arrival of a wide beam boat to moor up, fill up with water, wind (turn round) and head back the way it had come. “Oops, that was close,” said a lady from a cruiser nearby. It must have been a well-rehearsed manoeuvre as on reaching his permanent mooring the owner winded again…

Across from Perio Lock is a fishing lake – a plume of water suggested that the lake was being aeriated…

There’s a stunning riverside church at Cotterstock – river users get excellent views of the tracery on the East Window.

Being on the river is a Share Experience – share with the wildlife (a heron balanced on the reeds), share with the train of kayaks (helpfully keeping close to the right hand bank), share with the novice paddle-boarders, share with approaching craft, especially when they appear suddenly through a bridge-hole, share with other lock users. This last ‘Share’ proved fraught again at Lower Barnwell Lock. Two cruisers had come down through the lock, a crowd of teenagers were split between the lower lock landing and the upper lock landing. Great splashes of water indicated that this was serious jumping in fun… Unseen by the Captain from the stern was a metal ladder about half way along the lower lock landing which projected at an angle out from the side. The teenagers didn’t admit to it being anything they had put there but a boater colliding with it would not have been happy… While the boat rose in the lock the swimmers and jumpers concentrated their activities below the guillotine gate…

The sanctuary of Oundle Marina was finally reached – three nights here should allow for recovering the nerves, replenishing the stocks and dealing with the laundry…

And anyway, isn’t Oundle always a handsome-looking town? Arrays of chimneys, the crocketed spire of St Peter’s Church (which at 210 feet is the tallest spire in Northamptonshire), plenty of ornamental stone pinnacles, well-tended flowers and a War Memorial where 8 members of the  Oundle British Legion laid wreaths on Sunday to commemorate VJ Day.

Onwards and upwards on Monday, hoping to meet fewer lock side swimmers and novice paddle boarders…!

FOOTNOTE: Cleddau is heading to Crick marina in Northamptonshire for a winter mooring.                      

Miles and locks still to go to Crick: 62½ miles, 58 locks

2022 Monkton Moments*– 11

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

Monkton Moment* no. 11. Boater using the services at Oundle: “You must be from Pembrokeshire.”
“How do you know?”
“I come from Cardiff…”


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