Passing through Peterborough

Peterborough to March,15¾ miles, 2 locks

Three nights were spent moored at the Embankment at Peterborough. There are far more attractive riverside mooring sites (just think of the River Avon at Stratford or Ely on the Great Ouse) but Peterborough was a pleasant place to restock supplies and to sit out what was predicted to be (and was!) a very wet day on Sunday.

You can see the Cathedral from the river;   it taking about 12 minutes to walk there from the further end of the Embankment moorings. En route you are likely to pass the Lido, an Art Deco building, opened in 1936.

From the river you can creep around the cloisters to reach Peterborough Cathedral’s front door on the West Front – or enter through the Great Gateway from the city streets. Just after midday tower bells ringing out drew the Cleddau crew through the Gateway. Were the bells being rung for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee?

There was the enormous Book, detailing key points in the Cathedral’s 900 year old history – and ahead was the reason for the bells, a very smart wedding.

It was a top hats and tails, military uniforms and swords, glad rags and grand millinery sort of a do…

Then during the afternoon a three hour long peal rang out from the bell tower – perhaps this one was a Jubilee salute!

The Norman Cathedral is a wondrous space. The nave has a magnificent painted ceiling. At the far end of the cathedral is an extension behind the High Altar. It’s known as the New Building – despite being constructed in about 1500 (only over 500 years ago then!) There is a wonderful fan vaulted ceiling here.

Famous names associated with the Cathedral include Katherine of Aragon (the first of Henry VIII’s six wives). She was buried here in 1536. Her grave, as is often the case, was adorned with a plate of pomegranates, an emblem from her shield.

Elsewhere is the site of the Mary Queen of Scot’s burial (1587).

A more recent name is that of Edith Cavell, the British nurse, who was executed in Belgium in 1915 for treason.

And what a fine setting the Cathedral was for a Choral Evensong, celebrating the Platinum Jubilee.    It was a very fine affair, attended by three Lords Lieutenant (Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland), two High Sheriffs and the Peterborough City Mayor, a fair smattering of local dignitaries and many representatives of local faith groups. How totally stirring was the first anthem, Zadok the Priest, a reminder of the Queen’s 1953 Coronation.

Hymns, anthems, prayers and a homily made it a very moving service; the Dean, the choir of 32 and the powerful organ created a magnificent tribute to the Queen on Jubilee Sunday.

So memories of passing through Peterborough are many and varied: bells, bunting, a bride, busy streets and shops for a diverse community – and the sea cadets who cheerily ploughed up and down the river for many hours…

Onward then:

Choice 1: Turn round and climb back up the River Nene to the canals (not yet)

Choice 2: Continue on the Nene to the tidal reaches of Wisbech and The Wash (no, Wash adventures are done and dusted)

Choice 3: Book a passage through Stanground Lock and proceed through the fens to reach Denver Sluice and the Great Ouse (option selected)

It was a mizzly Monday morning when Cleddau set off for Stanground Lock. The River Nene heading for Wisbech and the sea, bearing right for the Middle Levels (fens).

High viz jackets at Stanground Lock were being worn by Environment Agency staff (trainees?)

The Nene-side gates are operated electrically, although the gates to the Fenland Waterways were operated by hand by the very helpful relief lock keeper.

After the width of the Nene the channel ahead seemed much narrower. You are aware of vertical structures in big skies, the brick chimneys from the Whittlesey brickworks, the first of many wind turbines, the depot for tower cranes…

There’s a tight weave through Whittlesey and its notorious sharp corner.

Ashline Lock by Whittlesey Park proved a challenge: a padlocked gate to the lock side, the left open bottom gates very stiff to close, slackers (local word for paddles) wound horizontally, each one wound four times to fill and empty the lock – after which Cleddau cruised on, now below sea level

Fenland boaters met at Oundle had reported the installation of several new Environment Agency “wild moorings” – here’s one near Low Corner.

How the past has formed the present – the fens drained in the 1600s by a Dutch engineer, housing tucked deep behind dyke banks, the frequent World War 2 pillboxes positioned at bridges and at waterway junctions.

Onward Cleddau cruised, towards March, passing the Greenwich Meridian sign (looking a little rusty now…)

The mooring by the park in March has collapsed  but there was space beyond the town bridge. March is a small Fenland market town with plenty of floral displays (and a pretty car and some photogenic bicycles).    To  manage to pass through on a market day (Wednesdays and Saturdays) would be good, as the museum opens only  on market days. From the waterway and across the town the clock tower is a very prominent feature: it looms over the Market Square, the clock having been paid for by the people of March to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

A shiny sign on the wall by the Town Hall caught the eye – and the camera.

“Well, I’d never noticed that before,” exclaimed a passer-by.

“Neither had I,” said another.

Maybe it had been unveiled over the Jubilee weekend?  Maybe being a visitor snapping away with a camera encourages locals to look more closely at their own neighbourhood?

March is a half way point across the Middle Levels – despite the squabbling of the local geese population and the chiming of the Diamond Jubilee Clock up until 11pm, a decent night’s sleep was had, essential preparation for the final flog along the fenland drains to reach the tidal Great Ouse…

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 260½ miles, 177 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: 367½ 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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