Notes from the Nene

Northampton to Oundle: 35½ miles, 26 locks

From Northampton Cleddau was on the River Nene, pronounced Nen to rhyme with hen on the upper stretches, but Neen to rhyme with sheen from Thrapston to where it flows into the Wash beyond Wisbech.

There are three sources of water supply that converge to form the Nene at Northampton. Water levels on this river can rise quickly; nowadays navigation out of Northampton is via the Washlands    and through a barrage gate.    In times of high water the Washlands hold excess flood water.

So once past Northampton what’s the Nen /Nene like?

It winds and twists in big sweeps across the flood plain, although sometimes the bends are corkscrew tight with visibility impaired by fallen trees.

There are occasional intrusions from the modern world –such as holiday parks near Billing and at Cogenhoe, a railway line at Wellingborough, motor vehicles on bridges narrow and old, or crossing modern bridges  (the A14 at Thrapston). There’s a vast field of solar panels, and then the noisy Whitworths flour mill at Wellingborough…

Mainly though the river belongs to the wildlife, the gulls and terns that so distracted the Cleddau crew that the side channel to Rush Mills lock was missed, the swans on nests or on water, the greylag geese streaming ashore, the cows (mildly curious at Wollaston lock, bullocks galloping to a watering spot near Pilton), egrets over the shallows, shimmering turquoise-coloured damselflies and demoiselles skimming the surface of the water one hot afternoon, kites circling overhead…

It was nearly June – the lily pads appearing with small yellow flower heads pushing up above the water.

The further downstream you cruise on the river, the more glorious the scenery. Churches are often sited on higher ground. The spires are impressive, (though at Wadenhoe there’s a tower atop the church that suggests it might have had a domestic or defensive use…)

(“Not so interested in the technical bits,” Scottish Sis commented the other night, so if lock operation is not “your thing” skip the next section in green.)

Only a few of the locks have double mitred gates at both ends of the lock (similar to those on the Grand Union). By far the majority have double gates at the top end where the slackers (known on other waterways as paddles) are wound by hand with a windlass, but a tall steel structured guillotine at the bottom end. Most (but regrettably not all!) of the guillotine gates are raised and lowered by an electrically powered motor. To operate the motor an Abloy key is required to open the lock cabinet and then a Raise or Lower Gate button needs to be depressed. It’s not a fast business, either lowering the gate electrically or raising it. If being raised the guillotine lifts a short distance and then it is timed to pause for 2 minutes until it can be raised to full height.

However (and it’s a Big However!) at some locks the downstream gates are not automated so moving the gate is achieved by hand winding a large heavy steel wheel clockwise (down) or anti-clockwise (up). It’s a tough job, as these 6 year old twins discovered one day (Upper Ringstead Lock) – and even tougher when (as at Titchmarsh Lock) the motor for an electrified gate is out of action, lying on the ground, and there is absolutely nothing but human muscle and perseverance to raise the gate…

Are there other craft on the move on the Nene? Yes, canoes and paddleboards among them. (Two paddleboarders before 10am: “We’re paddling to Wadenhoe to earn our breakfast…”) There are folk who have moorings somewhere on the river but who are out and about, hopping between one favourite mooring after another. It was at Manor Farm rural mooring one early evening that lock companions through Doddington Lock quickly pegged out a windshield, whipped a pair of loungers off their bow deck and settled in for an hour of sunny rays!

A day or so earlier there was an urgency about a boat crew moving up through Weston Favell Lock. “He’s a retired vicar,” explained the skipper’s wife from the stern deck, “and he’s got to take a service on Sunday!”  No photo unfortunately of that boat, the name apparently a reference to Psalm 26…

It’s not only pleasure craft on the move – this was a tug pushing a dumb barge into Wadenhoe Lock. Ahead of the barge was a “boat mover”, a boatyard worker who in the summer months moves other people’s boats from A to B – or Z…

Four days after leaving Northampton Cleddau was approaching Oundle, passing distance markers for rowers   – and a multi-striped boat called 50 Shades…

Oundle It’s a small market town, its buildings constructed from “local Jurassic limestone with roofs of Collyweston slate”. It’s been visited before and never failed to impress, though on a dank quiet afternoon, interrupted only by a series of deluges, the street bunting looked ridiculously optimistic…

But then, the following morning, Jubilee weekend fast approaching, the street set was being dressed:

knitted covers for the dozen or so street bollards,

a policeman overseeing the pedestrian crossing, trees dressed in symbolic wraps, yarn flowers in yarn covered pots and two (knitted!) residents waiting either for the bus or for Saturday’s street party to start…!

After Oundle the river route downstream loops north and then east to Peterborough – and at Elton Lock about 6 miles from Oundle the river slides into Cambridgeshire.

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 218½ miles, 164 locks, 6 swing bridges, 4 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

Height drop from GU Leicester summit: 285½ feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 6

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

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

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2 Responses

  1. Jennie Gash says:

    What an amazing effort the people of Oundle have made to ‘dress the set’ ready for the Jubilee. I have seen many post box toppers on some crochet sites – most are works of art. The one thing we know the knitted people are not waiting for in Oundle is a taxi!! Enjoy the Jubilee weekend wherever you are. For us there will be a lot of time in front of the television as there is nothing planned in our neck of the woods. Jennie x

  2. Boatwif says:

    Hi Jennie,
    Re the “not waiting for a taxi” we were interested to note that it took 1 hour and 25 minutes (by boat) from Oundle Marina to the point where you could moor up and walk to Waitrose… As for grocery shopping on this trip we made do with topping up at a discreet little Tesco Express on the main street….
    As far as the Jubilee goes we have a large Platinum Jubilee Union flag, plenty of bunting and an intention to sound the horn at midday on Saturday.
    Sue /Boatwif

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