8:00 am start, arrive Whittlesea 7:30pm – with a sizeable break at Peterborough
River Nene, Middle Level
24 miles, 8 locks
A wise man – possibly my friend Steven- said that there were two kinds of fun. Type One Fun activities are enjoyable at the time. A nice cup of tea and a biscuit, say, or opening the door in winter to be greeted by a blast of hot air. Type Two Fun activities are horrible at the time, but can be looked back on later and enjoyed, once they’re over.
Moments of today’s boating were Type One fun, like most boating is; but there were definitely moments of Type Two fun also!
We started off early at Fotheringhay in the early morning light mist, with the sun struggling to peek through the lit grey cloud. It was a lovely morning to be out boating, and we were soon flying down the Nene. We were booked through Stanground Sluice at 3pm, and Amy needed to visit the NHS walk in centre in Peterborough to pick up some medicine.
As we approached Water Newton lock, however, we could hear the rhythmic banging of piling taking place. Turning the corner, we saw the entrance to the lock and most of the river blocked by four pontoons supporting a digger with a piling hammer attachment on the end of the arm, a porta
cabin, and several Land and Water Ltd. contractors in hard hats, hi viz jackets, and life jackets. We thought we would have a bit of a wait, but they were very efficient; they used the arm of the digger to pull-up the spud legs that were anchoring the pontoon to the river bed, and a small tug manoeuvred the whole thing across the river to enable us to get in the lock. More contractors worked us through- despite leaving us in turbulent water at the bottom of the lock having left a top paddle fully open. No harm done, though, as the bloke responsible had a good natured ribbing from his colleagues.
Below Alwalton Lock, the whole back of the boat seemed to suddenly rear up. There was a particularly large sandbank in the middle of the lock cut where the main flow from the sluices joins on. However despite rising up a good few inches at the back, Willow soon dropped back having worked its way over the sand bank through pure momentum- 25 tons takes some stopping!
We were soon in Peterborough, and joined the great collection of bloggers moored to the waterfront- Sue and Vic of NB No Problem, Mo and Nessa from NB Balmaha- both of whom had come across the Wash from Boston (!) – along with NB Matilda Rose. Graham from Matilda Rose was off dropping off the car, but we saw Jill. After filling the water tank from the very large hose, Amy headed off to the Walk In Centre to collect her prescription, and I moved the boat off the water point and breasted up with Matilda Rose temporarily.
Annoyingly, the Walk In Centre was no longer right by the riverside. Amy had to walk a further 15 minutes to get to it, and our deadline at Stanground was rapidly approaching, as the relief lock keeper was heading off at 3:30 to attend to something else.
After letting Amy know what I was going to do, and that I would wait for her below the lock, at 3pm I took Willow down to Stanground, which is a short walk out of Peterborough. Stanground lock was lengthened in the late 1980s to take full length boats, but the old part is only 2’6″ deep. As Willow draws 3′ at the stern, we wouldn’t have got through. The solution is to go through backwards, and to reverse a mile to a wider part where a side stream joins on, so that you can wind.
I turned Willow outside the lock entrance and reversed in, and locked down with no trouble. En it was a case of reversing out of the lock and onto the lock landing stage to wait for Amy. The wi d was picking up, but we were determined to go.
Amy arrived back and we set off at about 4:30. It became Type Two fun fairly rapidly. Straight away, we realised that using the engine to reverse was very hard. Because the creek is so shallow, and the cross wind very strong, it was impossible. We tried different methods, including leaving the engine ticking over in astern gear and fending off the banks with the long shaft, but it just wasn’t happening. We resorted to tying several ropes together to so hat one of us could haul the oat backwards, and the other one could push off with the long shaft. We turned the engine on occasionally to push off the bank if we got stuck, but started making very slow progress, it progress nonetheless, backwards.
Morale was at a particularly low ebb when the end of the tow rope dangled in the water and ended up getting snagged in the propeller. Luckily, having reached under the counter up to my shoulder, and felt around the propellor, it wasn’t that badly snagged and I was able to pull it off the prop.
We kept on making slow but steady progress, although the long shaft snapped partly in half, and had to be splinted with a length of wood a d the ever reliable gaffer tape. In places we had to reverse carefully with the engine, as a small side creek and a swans’ nest prevented us pulling from the bank. Eventually we made the winding hole, just before 6pm, and were able to turn Willow and start to head down the shallow creek towards Whittlesea. Frustrating at the time, but we got through it and had a particularly well deserved cup of tea afterwards!
Once in Whittlesea, the next hazard was the infamous Brigatte Bend, a 90 degree corner lined with concrete on both sides. We knew Willow had come around it before, it that was about 15 years ago and were worried that trees and other vegetation could have grown up in the mean time.
Luckily, it was not a problem at all. I was able to put Willow into reverse which swung the forend around the corner and put the back end into a convenient recess, and we were able to make it around without touching the sides. However it is supposedly much harder in the other direction.
Once in Whittlesea we were able to moor up next to another boat- coincidentally also Cambridge based- NB Stourbridge, which is owned by another Conservator. After helping another boat breast up alongside us, Amy and I headed back into Peterborough, by taxi this time and far more rapidly, towards a city centre pub- because a bloggers’ gathering was in progress, and we could both do with a drink! After catching up with Graham and Jill, Sue and Vic, Mo and Nessa, and Michael from NB Anastasia. A very good time was had by all, I believe, before we headed back to Willow.