Peterborough – it’s all in the timing…

          On Sunday morning it was an early departure from the pontoons in Ferry Meadows:

across the lake, along the channel and a gentle turn out onto the Nene, heading for Peterborough.  At the Yacht Club a long row of cruisers were tied in front of an equally long row of wooden cabins.

After Overton Lock came the canoe slalom

and then it was a smooth broad cruise towards the city centre. Visit the city by car and there is a smooth five miles or so from the A1 of swift dual carriageway before you arrive in the land of railways and shopping centre signs. It’s similar by river: broad, quiet, a bank side sculpture of a Viking ship,

trees, bushes  – and then the countdown of bridges starts.
          Railway bridges;

the ASDA footbridge;

Town Quay Bridge (0h! The narrow boat stranded by the floods),

High Road Bridge.
            Both boats were soon watered and moored up and the Tentatrice crew ready for their pre-booked hire car… fine timing.
           Early afternoon the Cleddau crew set off, first for ASDA (heaving with people – bad timing), then for the Cathedral Square. Now here was some good timing. A Heritage Festival

was in full swing:  a singer crooned tunes from the forties. Soldiers of the Napoleonic era guarded the Cathedral Gate. Inside the Close was a riot of colour and activity.

Cathedral choristers

picked their way past Romans

and the 5th Norfolk Regiment were eager to recruit.


A Crusader

encouraged visitors to explore more living history encampments. It was a hot afternoon

but while the Vikings dozed in their tents sailors from Nelson’s era drank, squabbled,


and fought. Ladies from medieval times worked with their needles;

a VAD Matron  from 1914 described her training and work.

You could try Roman food or feel the weight of Roman chainmail or watch the falconers.

             In the square outside the Cathedral Close soldiers from the Norfolk Regiment in Napoleonic times began their drill.

It was precise of course – and involved much pushing of shot into musket barrels before firing. Timing was not so good now – the repeated bangs spooked a Harris hawk who took to the trees in Bridge Street. At 4pm stewards were deployed to clear people out of the way as the falconer tried to coax the bird back to his arm.
              And at 2pm on Monday this was the scene in Bridge Street.
             “Come on Beauty, come on,” called the falconer, repeatedly.

So all night long the bird had remained in the foliage.

  A hundred or so passers-by were gathered beneath the trees.

  Calls, treats, temptations. No result. There’d be a movement, a flutter, then stillness. This was some stubborn – or shy – bird.
            Then came a breakthrough – the bird flew down from the tree, within a foot of its handler – (“ooh” from the crowd) and then was spooked by a pigeon (“aaah” chorused the crowd.)
             Now the bird had tucked itself up in a crevice

above a shop doorway.
              “Where’s the council? I need a ladder. Can someone get me a ladder?” shouted the now increasingly desperate handler.
             “I’ve got a ladder. I’ll get a ladder!” called a young man, diving into the adjacent business premises. Out he came, ladder held aloft.

A fine ladder it was, although far too short…
             Movement…the bird flew out of its cavity – and back into the trees.

            And so, at 10pm, according to the BBC news the waiting goes on…
            Back at the boat on Monday afternoon the Captain was hot but exceedingly pleased – one side of the boat had been washed while the roof had been washed and polished.
            After a cooling down period it was time for the next task – a proper shop at ASDA, just a potter by boat the half mile back upstream to tie up on the railings below the ASDA Footbridge,
            Ropes untied – heading out to mid-stream.
            A raindrop.
            Several more – and a torrent.
             For ten full minutes rain lashed down relentlessly. What good a lightweight waterproof jacket when the lower part of the body is unprotected? But duty cannot be abandoned, Boatwif staying at her post on the front deck, rope in hand.
            The Cleddau crew squinted and peered through the sheets of vertical water. The bridge and railings were identified  – and a mooring, wetly, was secured. That was an exercise in bad timing!
            Armed with the supplies list off went the Captain – once, and then a second time.
            Restocked Cleddau was turned back downstream. While out and about why not top up the water tank and service the boat? Job easily done in dry but steamy conditions.
            There was one final task: untie again and return to the mooring behind Tentatrice.  A blustery wind developed, the skies darkened, branches of the Embankment willows swung wildly. On the stern the Captain turned the boat to head into the mooring space. The winds became a squall.
            Strangled words from the back deck: “The wind’s taking it!”
           Where would the boat end up? Fifty yards further back? In front of Tentatarice? Alongside Tentatrice? The struggle continued – on the third attempt the Captain leapt ashore, rope in hand. Still the squall roared overhead pushing the boat back out into the river’s flow. Boatwif galloped to the rear deck to add engine power to the situation. Then, from the boat behind, out flew two angels. “Need a hand?” called the first woman. She grasped the stern rope. Her partner assessed the situation, clambered along the side to the bow to grab and toss a rope from there. The winds still roared. The Captain, still heaving desperately on the centre rope, twice came very near to an unplanned swim…
              Control and a safe mooring were finally achieved. Poor timing all round – it’s always folly to polish a boat as it brings on the rains – and in Monday’s case hereabouts, the squalls!
               Finally, a glance at the more conventional views of Peterborough:
               Its Lido

                and of course its magnificent cathedral.

with its gloriously painted ceilings

the tomb of  Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife
and the place where Mary Queen of Scots lay until her reburial in Westminster Abbey.

               Booking for entry to the Middle Levels via Stanground Lock has been made for Wednesday.

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