Upstream strategy

Wet, wet, wet it was, when Cleddau and Tentatrice left Peterborough on Sunday morning. What strategy would bring likely success? The target was overnight moorings at Ferry Meadow Lake (only two pontoons, mooring allowed for 24 hours only). En route the water tanks needed replenishment (would there be a boat queue at the water tap?) and supplies needed replenishing from ASDA (would the railings beside the store be free of other boats…?)

From their mooring nearer the water point the Tentatrice crew kept watch, and once a space became available, they pounced. Cleddau went alongside and when Tentatrice’s thirst was quenched the hose was redirected into Cleddau’s tank. Phase I achieved.

Tentatrice set off ahead for ASDA – and tied up next to the small gate in the railings.      Tentatrice First Mate went ahead with her extensive shopping list. For a second time Cleddau tied up alongside and The Captain departed with his not quite so extensive shopping list. When the Tentatrice Captain was needed for portering duties from store to boat, Boatwif took over Boat Dog responsibility. Once his owners were back on their boat Boatwif departed to aid the Captain in his carrying duties… By midday, in heavy rain, Phase 2 had been achieved.

Onwards then, the journey being a mere 3½ miles with one lock. There was all to win: a safe mooring in a stunning setting. The back-up plan would involve further cruising in poor weather to a lock side mooring, if there was space… And this is the nub of the matter when cruising on a river. Landowners don’t grant automatic mooring rights so sticking some mooring pins into a farmer’s field is not a normal option.

Back to the tale: the boats rose up through Orton Lock (vertical electrified guillotine gates at lower end, vee doors at the upper end). Less than a mile ahead just before the footbridge is the channel into Ferry Meadows Country Park.

The cut through to Overton Lake is possibly about 340 yards long   and then it breaks into a vast open water space. The mooring pontoons are on the far side, initially out of sight. The boats chugged across the lake, the pontoons coming into view, boats already moored there.  There’s an island to the right and masses of bird life. Two pontoons. Two boats tied up either side on one pontoon, one on the other. The gap between the two pontoons is generous – and so for the third time that day Cleddau and Tentatrice breasted up together.

Late afternoon, as the rain eased, one of the boats left, so Cleddau was moved into the empty space     Phase 3 achieved. Success! Timing and teamwork had won the day!

 Ferry Meadows Country Park is a series of lakes, woodlands, footpaths and play areas.   Time was short there – but a walk around brought praise indeed for the inspirational play areas      and the clean and clearly marked rubbish disposal areas. Would that getting rid of rubbish from boats was always as easy as this! To be able to post separated rubbish into large clean wheely skips is very satisfying.    Other areas take note!

What about the next overnight mooring? To Wansford on Monday, a Bank Holiday. Here there is a floating pontoon just below the Nene Valley Railway – would there be space on the pontoon?  Aim to arrive late morning then… It was 6 miles and 2 locks from Ferry Meadows to Wansford. – and there was no obvious back up plan.

The river flows through lush greenery and under fine stone bridges.    There were overhanging trees to be avoided, yellow buttercups in green fields to gaze at   and fine buildings to be admired.   Did the Music Fest in the pretty village of Water Newton get washed out by the Sunday rain?  Toilet facilities had certainly been provided.  

Near Sibson Airfield parachutists floated gently back down to the ground.  

Then Wansford Bridge came into view, a Swedish diesel rail car crossing the bridge,   returning to the Nene Valley Railway Station. No strategy success here as tied to the pontoon were two cruisers and a narrow boat. Cleddau pulled onto the offside bank and Tentatrice hovered mid-stream. If not the result of an effective strategy, good luck played its hand. The cruiser owners walked about along the pontoon, a cigarette or two was lit – and then both cruisers left. Success! Space for a pair of tied together boats. Further luck then, when the short narrow boat moved off too.

Safely moored up, the heritage railway centre became the focus for the rest of the day.    

There was a train ride to Peterborough and back,      towed by a Class 45 diesel Royal Tank Regiment .    


At Peterborough there was a strange sight, identified as a prototype of a tracked hovercraft train.   (See here for details). Back at Wansford there were engines to look at, such as Tornado (at Wansford for repairs)   and Thomas the Tank Engine (currently in the workshop).   

In this coach memories flooded back.  The nation was shocked in 1963 by the audacity of the Great Train Robbers:  this very travelling Post Office sorting office was the one targeted by the robbers on the train line running through the Chiltern hills.

Anyone remember too the poem that starts “This is the Night Mail crossing the border…” (Turn on the sound).

Was a strategy needed for the next upstream mooring?   No – head for Fotheringhay and moor on the meadow. The river winds under bridges   here the A1, here   Wansford Bridge; it passes grand modern houses   and a very pleasant caravan site. 

Prompt at 4pm on Tuesday afternoon there was a knock on the side of the boat. “Mooring man,” said a voice. The money man had arrived to collect his dues.   He apologised for the overgrown state of the meadow – and a day later the Tentatrice First Mate had an unfortunate descent very close to the water when the bank gave way…

Fotheringhay is a small and stunningly beautiful village, famous for its motte and bailey castle (the castle’s stonework having long since gone)   where in 1452 Richard III was born      and in 1587 Mary, Queen of Scots was executed. The plant adornments to the memorial plaque suggest that these days it is a place of pilgrimage… 

The Captain and Boatwif set off to investigate the very prominent church on Wednesday. It had been visited previously (in June 2014) but major repairs are under way and currently there is no access.   Fotheringhay village exudes wealth and order.        

It was noted that the smallest “cottage” had a double garage and another “cottage” had its own helipad…

A climb to the top of the motte offers expansive views of the meandering river,    the octagonal lantern tower of the church    and the farm buildings now converted into B&B accommodation.  

A further 4 locks and 7 miles saw the boats cruise on Thursday from Fotheringhay  to their next destination, Oundle Marina. Locks in these parts all have guillotine lower gates – but their operation is either via an electrically powered push button inside the lock cabinet (relatively painless) or via a hand spun wheel, an operation which is exhausting!      Wheel job locks so far – 3 with, it is thought, 3 more to go…

So, will Oundle town look any different from four years ago? It’s a 20 minute walk from the marina but in the spirit of investigation it’s one that will have to be done…  

Remaining distance from Oundle to Victoria Pit Moorings: 137 miles, 110 locks

Travel stats since April: 633 miles, 148 locks

Height gain from Peterborough to Oundle: 75 feet

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