Moist March

Remember dry February? It was proper outdoor paintbrush weather – the picket fence was wood-stained, the trellis was re-greened and the pergola too (until the green paint ran out…)

Then in came March, the wettest March in England since 1981, according to Met Office announcements…

 Cleddau and crew had made an Out of Hibernation cruise along the Leicester Line in Northamptonshire in early March (see here ). At the time winter works to repair the brickwork on a bridge and replace lock gates at the only Welford Arm lock had made a cruise into Welford impossible…

Then on 17th March another attempt to reach Welford was made.    It was a warm and sunny afternoon. What a joy it was to cruise along the canal with sun gently warming  the back of the neck! Briefly there was a rainbow to the north  – and blue, blue skies to the south.   Under the busy A14 – and past a fallen tree which blocked the towpath.

After a night’s mooring (somewhere in north Northamptonshire) Cleddau moved on. Neat lines up    and across the field slopes    indicated careful tractor work. How long will it be before there’s a recognisable crop?

Here was a colourful boat    – and here was Welford Junction. 

Right turn. The Arm should be open for boats now!

Here was Bridge Number 1,   its mortar and brickwork still looking fresh after its winter repairs.    Horses and sheep grazed in the fields,   and beyond a sliver of river was weaving its way along the valley bottom.

Welford Lock hove into view.    The canal narrows where there had once been a bridge – and beyond that, at the lock landing, sat another boat. And on the boat’s back deck sat a young man, cup of tea in hand, hoping for advice on how to get through the lock…

This Welford trip was for crew training – the Captain had to prove he could get off the boat to wield a windlass and deal with lock gates; Boatwif had to prove she could still steer into and out of a lock.

. “I’ve just been moving my boat along between Crick and Foxton,” explained the young man. “This is my first ever lock”. 

While Cleddau hovered in the bridge gap, the Captain became Lock Instructor.

Into the lock, past the recently fitted brand new gates. The Captain and the Novice did a grand job, Cleddau rose in the chamber (first lock since September 2022) and then the Captain re-set the lock for the Novice… may he have many happy times on his boat.

There are two small marinas    before the Welford Arm terminus. 

Once tied up beside the puddly, muddy towpath-cum-marina track     there was exploring to be done… The little village of Welford sits on the boundary between Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. The Pocket Park was bright with daffodils, Postman Pat was as smart and alert as ever, a blue plaque on a house with patterned brickwork attracted attention

(the wording deserves close reading) and despite the Parish Council notice the bus shelter serves as a recycling centre and book exchange.




The canal route was retraced a day later. The little river which passes under the road in Welford was much swollen from so much rain.  What starts as a spring on the fields near Naseby becomes the famous Warwickshire Avon, much viewed by Stratford-upon-Avon’s  thousands of visitors each year.

Back through Welford Lock     and under Bridge Number 1, back past the sheep to the Junction where with a left turn Cleddau headed south again.

A couple of hours later a pleasant overnight mooring spot was found.   The folding step bought in Oundle last year made disembarkation slightly easier.

The bridge ahead gave access to a patch of woodland; muddy paths, moss-covered tree roots, crisp leaf litter, frothy blossom – the colours, textures, smells and sounds of spring make the heart sing.

    Back along the towpath there was a spillway to look at, the high waters of the canal racing downhill to join a stream or fill a ditch.  

This sign was intriguing, a Living Milestone, perhaps marking a tree planted some time ago…

Though familiar now the final stretch of canal back to Crick still proved interesting: the blossom was frothier than three days earlier, there were some new boat names and a group of walkers queued patiently to climb a stile before heading up a grassy slope.

Approaching Crick Marina there was a decision to be made – to moor stern to the bank, as before, or bow to the bank… Stern to the bank is easier for electric hook up, bow to the bank is easier for filling the water tank. You’ll only find the best way by experimentation so a mooring bow-first was achieved, although as the chaps who had watched from the marina office later observed: “We saw it took you two goes to get in…”

Getting out stern-first will no doubt present a different challenge in a few weeks’ time…

Back on land there were three more watery moments in March (apart from the almost non-stop rain). Kempston Mill is the navigation limit of the Great Ouse. Nearby is a landing stage constructed last year for the John Bunyan trip boat had proved impossible to access as the water was too shallow. During January, however, when the river level was 280 mm higher than the mean summer levels, the trip boat crew had managed to come in alongside. Plans are now being discussed for a dredging operation in the area. (Information and photo from the BMK March 2023 newsletter).

Then on a weekend trip to Cheshire there were two further waterside moments.   Hare Hill is a National Trust woodland garden which contains two small ponds. It had been a while (almost twelve months) since Cheshire had been visited. “I suppose you want to look at proper hills,” Cheshire Mum had said – and a gaze over to Shutlingsloe (Cheshire’s self-claimed Matterhorn ) from Tegg’s Nose Country Park was a feast for the eyes indeed.

Heading back south there was a brief diversion to Bosley Locks – and there at Bosley Top Lock a boat was just about to descend in Lock 1, (so only 11 more to go to Bosley Bottom). There seemed to be some instruction going on and then after advising the helmsman to get back on his boat the windlass wielder explained – “It’s his first lock and he’s on his own…” It was good to lean against a Bosley gate again, to open it and then to close it.

So, first at Welford Lock, then at Bosley, March seemed to be bringing novice single-handed boaters out to test their boats and learn new skills.

A wonderful poem ‘The Fight of The Year’ by Roger McGough (see here) comes back to mind.

Winter’s out for the count 
Spring is the winner

are the final two lines. Here’s hoping Winter has now been defeated and Spring is truly on the way!

Boat miles: 24;  locks operated: 2

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2 Responses

  1. Pip Leckenby says:

    Glad you got to Welford. Postman Pat looks like he’s possibly had a make over since we last walked past him, I think he had a touch of wet rot!
    The mooring with the bench, well little bit further back, is what we call Houdini’s field. There used to be a gap in the hedge where we planted some mini daffodils in Houdini’s memory. She loved it there, so does Tilly. It’s also a very good place to meet up with other boaters and the handy bench acts as a good overflow table.

  2. Boatwif says:

    Hi Pip,
    First, Postman Pat in Welford has had a makeover – or more a regeneration. We detoured from the Leicester Line into Welford last May and I asked someone close by about the very recognisable figure. Here’s what I wrote in a blog then:
    ” A previous Postman Pat carving (chosen by pupils of the village primary school and fashioned from willow stumps), deteriorated so much that a village action group raised £2,500 in three to four months to have a hard wood carved replacement. (Source: a Postman Pat neighbour!)”
    So yes, both Pat and Jess are looking good!
    Between Crick and Welford Junction I think we spotted two (possibly three) lovely mooring stretches with black and white benches. And yes, there are certainly small daffodil clumps and some spring flowers beside a gap in the hedge!
    We plan to do another out ‘n’ back trip soon to Market Harborough so I’ll try to keep count of the benches!
    Sue/ Boatwif

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