And we made it. Today was a fairly short and uneventful run down the Great Ouse to Twenty Pence marina, which will be home for the boat at least until next Spring or Summer.
So, that’s it. Sixteen days of cruising the waterways, from Slough, up through North London on the Grand Union canal, up and across the Cotswolds and down the other side, across to the River Nene and through Milton Keynes and Northampton, through the Middle Levels and the Fens from the River Nene to the River Great Ouse, and down to Cambridgeshire. It was a pretty epic journey. Not as epic as a round the world trip, or even Jenny’s UK circumnavigation, but pretty epic. Especially for a maiden voyage.
We shall be taking her out again for weekend cruises, but mostly the Winter will be repair and maintenance, some more carpentry, painting and electrical work, and a bit of plumbing.
We have no idea where we’ll be taking her next, but the British waterways are quite extensive. I’d like to do the Grand Union all the way up to Birmingham, but I’d also like to do the London canals; Reagent’s Park and Camden Lock, and I’d also like to do the Upper Thames, through Oxford and beyond.
I don’t know where we’re going next, but I know there will be more adventures.
A lazy day for the most part. We carried on through the middle levels to Salters Lode Lock, where we had to wait several hours for the tide to be right. The section of river between Salters Lode Lock and the Denver Sluice is tidal, and while it’s not a very long section, you do need to time the transit correctly.
The middle levels through Upwell and Outwell is very narrow, little more than a creek. The waterways equivalent of a single track unpaved road. It’s amazing to think that this little creek is the main, in fact the only, waterway linking the East Anglian waterways (Great Ouse, Cam, and others) to the rest of the country.
The remainder of the middle levels was proper Fen country. The fields had sunk to below the level of the river, leaving our boat as the highest point for miles around.
It took us much longer than expected to get through the lock; we had to wait nearly two hours for some seagoing boats heading for the Wash which took priority. Once through the lock onto the Great Ouse we cruised for an hour before finding moorings and stopping for the night.
There was an alternate route we could have taken which would have been slightly shorter and quicker; down the Hundred Foot Drain instead of the Ouse. Jenny has taken this route before, many years ago in a smaller boat, and said it was fun and exciting, so I vetoed it immediately. ‘Fun’ I can cope with (under certain circumstances and in moderation); ‘Exciting’ is not a term that should ever be used regarding cruising the waterways in a narrowboat.
Tomorrow, all being well, we should make it to Twenty Pence Marina and home.
An early start this morning (08:00, early for us) because we had booked a time slot of 10:00 to enter the Middle Levels.
The Middle Levels connect the River Nene with the Great Ouse. Entering and leaving is complicated because the Environment Agency go to a lot of effort to maintain the water levels, to prevent flooding. The levels were built to drain the surrounding land, to convert it from a malaria ridden swamp to productive farmland.
One of the ways they control the levels is to try to maintain a one-in-one-out approach to boats entering and leaving, which is why we have to give 24 hours notice to the lock keepers at each end if we want to use the locks. Which is why we had a timeslot for entering, and which is why we had such an early start.
We made it. We arrived at the lock on time, and after giving the lock keeper coin and answering their riddle, we were given two quest items and allowed entry.1
About five hours cruising took us as far as March, about half way, where we had planned to spend the night. As it turned out the moorings were by a main road, next to a pub, and far too noisy. So, after a quick walk around town to stretch our legs, we carried on to Upwell which is much quieter.
Tomorrow should see us through the Denver Sluice and onto the Great Ouse.
1 The riddle was “what is the registration number of your boat”? The quest items were a key to use water points and other facilities, and a winch handle to use the locks
Long day today. We needed to make it to Peterborough in order to be ready for our 10:00 slot through the Standground Lock on Wednesday. Yes, we had to book a slot in advance. We need to do something similar to go through the Denver Sluice at the other end of the middle level. It’s complicated.
But today is simple. Just a long cruise along the Nene. Lots ofdifferent scenery, the river changes all the time, from very narrow tree covered banks that make it look like you are going through a tunnel, to wide with reeds and bullrushes on either side that make you think of travelling the Nile (apart from the occasional drop of rain). We were pushing it a bit, not even stopping for lunch, just eating sandwiches on the go, but still found it relaxing.
Day two saw us cover much more ground. We made it as far as Islip, through some beautiful countryside including a number of nature reserves. Main roads were often not faraway, but hidden well enough by trees that if it were not for the map we would not have known they were there.
We did stop for another picnic lunch when Phil joined us at a lock.
When we transited from the Grand Union Canal to the River Nene, one of the things I was looking forward to were the electrically operated guillotene style locks. It turned out that theywere easier, since you only had to press a button, but much slower and more boring, since you had to stand there with your finger on the button for ten minutes while the gate ponderously lowered and then reopened.
Today we found something much worse. A manually operated guillotine lock. Just like the electric ones, but instead of holding a button in for ten minutes you have to turn a huge wheel for half an hour (Ok, half an hour including rest breaks because they are SO SODDING SLOW and HARD TO TURN). They incorporate the very worst of both lock types; physically hard work and really really slow.
Despite the great scenery I am coming to dislike the Nene.
Adventure Phase 2 was originally intended to be from Northampton to Peterborough, starting two weeks ago. We couldn’t find mooring space in Peterborough so we thought we’d go straight through to March, being the nearest alternate marina. Then we checked the map and realised that March was only one day away from our final destination to Twenty Pence marina, so we thought ‘what the hell’ and ‘full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes’ and decided to do the entire rest of the journey in one go, instead of another two phases.
And we started two weeks later than planned because two locks were out of commission, and we had to wait for them to be repaired.
And we started a day later than planned, today Saturday instead of yesterday Friday, because neither of us felt 100% and because of logistical complications involving getting an MoT for the car.
Luckily we are extremely agile in our planning and execution, so we adapted our plans according to changed circumstances, and here we are.
‘Here’ is moorings at Ditchford, just East of Wellingborough. A short day to help us get back into boating after a month resting. We had a picnic. Jenny cooked pizza in our Cobb oven. It was good.
We did it! Nine days of sailing sallying forth, twelve days elapsed, 77 miles, 97 locks, and we are now berthed in a marina in Northampton. Phase one complete.
The big thing today was transitioning from the Grand Union Canal to the River Nene. Which means paying another license to use another set of waterways, and having to use different keys and get used to different lock types.
The main differences we noticed between canal and river are: Rivers have no towpath, making it much more difficult to moor up in random places; rivers are (in most places) much much wider; rivers are harder to navigate because they have many more branches and tributaries and cul-de-sacs.
Oh, and Jenny fell in. We assumed one of us (at least) would fall in at some stage, and as it was our last day Jenny volunteered. Neither of us are entirely clear how it happened, but a little slip, a momentary lack of concentration, and she went in between the boat and the bank. No lasting harm, and once I’d stopped laughing I help her aboard.
So. Phase one complete. Phase two will be Northampton to Peterborough in a few weeks time, when we’ve recovered. For now I’m going to sleep. And drink.
(No, we haven’t sunk, I’m just slow in updating this)
Today, we had plans. We set of early(ish) to meet up with Tom and Phil at Stoke Bruerne so they could help us with the lock staircase. A relatively short staircase of 7 locks going straight down. Quick and easy with four of us, and a pub lunch (sitting outside with table service) at the bottom.
After that, We did the Blisworth tunnel. 1.7 miles of narrow pitch darkness. Luckily none of us seemed to be claustrophobic.
We left Phil and Tom to walk back to where they had left their cars while we sallied forth a little more.
After that excitement (and the pub lunch) I decided I needed a rest, but Jenny wanted to push on. So I had an afternoon nap while Jenny piloted the boat solo.
When I woke up I discovered that Jenny had managed the Rothersthorpe locks (a flight of 17 narrow locks) all by herself. These locks were very narrow, just wide enough to fit one narrow boat in. We had now entered a part of the canal system that larger double width boats couldn’t reach.
We finally stopped when it got dark, and moored for the night under the M1. Not quite the rural idyll that we’d gotten used to, but we were too tired to care.