Sunday, 23 September 2012

Making The Most of Moorings, Again

Last month, in Making The Most of Moorings,  I railed against the waste of riverside frontage where perfectly good visitor moorings could be provided for minimum effort and maximum gain by both local businesses (pubs and shops) and boaters.
Today, I feel just as strongly, having come back from a pleasant trip upstream on the Nene from Oundle to Irthlingborough.
Along the way we've spotted several places near Titchmarsh, Stanwick, Denford and especially Woodford, where moorings could easily be provided but nothing, it seems, has been done.
I'm not asking for a mooring at every pretty little place, (though maybe .... )

Naturally I appreciate that not everyone is positive to boaters and not everyone who owns a river frontage wants other folks' boats moored up on their patch. However,  I'm convinced there is a need and there is space for more visitor moorings on the Nene, where currently you can motor on for a couple of hours without finding anywhere to stop, and where there are pubs and shops within easy walking distance if only there was a mooring and a simple path. I'm not asking for water or pump outs!
Take Denford for example. A mooring near the lock is marked on my 2007 map but is there no longer. This could provide a really convenient stopping place to visit The Cock and have a meal. But I could find nowhere legitimate to stop, so we passed it by, £20 or so burning in my pocket.
At Woodford there is a huge length of river side, much of it once good moorings, but half of it proclaims Private (though no boats are moored there currently) and the other half is rough edged and with horses in the field. With grass rising up to the local church it has so much in common with Fotheringhay ...

... but instead of advertising it as £4 per night, or patrons only, or engaging the Environment Agency in some deal to make it a great mooring, we boaters have to pass by, a loss to The White Horse, The Duke's arms and the local supermarket.

I'm flummoxed! I know that at Isleham a rogue liveaboard made life difficult by over staying in a 48 hour GOBA mooring. I know that there could be maintenance issues, insurance questions, negotiations with private landowners and all sorts of potential obstacles. But really, is it so hard to have a local man with a spade or a farmer with a digger spending a day digging out a bed of reeds, smoothing the edges and banging in a few short posts, then creating a track from the river to the village?
At Elton, boaters flock to The Crown even though the riverside mooring is rough and we have to fight through the nettles to put down a gang plank. At Reach and Burwell much the same. In each case the attraction of the nearest pub wins out very time, with a crew of 2 or 4 or more likely to spend £20 per head per night.
It surely can't be for a lack of boaters. And there must be local rules, and therefore enforcement, about staying more than 48 hours. So why don't landowners and Parish Councils invest in a bit of riverside clearing - and why don't pubs pitch in with advertising? What am I missing? Surely it's win win?

Back Down The Nene

With the weather forecast to be a splendid sunny day today and foul rain tomorrow we aim to race home to Oundle in one go, as fast as poor Patience can travel (about 4 mph top speed before she overheats).
Dawn, autumn equinox, Irthlingborough
As predicted, after a bright and cold starry night the morning of the autumn equinox dawns clear at 7am with a touch of ground frost.
Early morning, autumn equinox, Irthlingborough
We leave early to make the most of the day. We turn in the river (only just - wouldn't want to be longer than 50 ft) and off downstream through the dappled shade and open fields on either side of the Nene. After some overcast conditions in the previous days the sun brings out the finest qualities of the river and we warm to it.
Willy Watt Lock

There are three or four boats on the river today, including one hire boat from Willy Watt marina which has some inexperienced crew. We help them out a bit before pushing ahead, through Titchmarsh Lock and, perhaps, the fleet of the Northamptonshire Royal Navy, ...
Naval vessel at Titchmarsh

... to arrive at Wadenhoe at 1pm to find the mooring at the King's Head full (not surprisingly on this fine day) so with our own sandwiches and a beer hastily made up in the galley we crack on, to arrive at Oundle by 3 pm - a really good pace, with Canal Planner estimating the 16 miles and 10 locks at 8 hours 15 minutes which we managed in 7 hours flat.
Patience at Upper Barnwell Lock

One reason for our speed, of course, is that there are so few moorings where you can pause and pop into a pub. A Great Shame!
On arrival at Oundle Marina we chat to new neighbours and learn that the marina has now been bought by new owners. The folks running the shop are delighted at the purchase and believe there will be a period of much needed investment. Sounds good to me - I hope the enthusiasm is catching.

Up The Nene Again (2)

Leaving our Thrapston moorings we continue upstream and pass Thrapston Mill.
This  marina was once a feature viewed from the A14 flyover but now it is an overgrown wasteland with warning signs:

 Even overlooking the typography of the signs (that massive U, and look again at that last N) this seems a great wasted opportunity for a riverside mooring, the management company being dissolved in September 2010. And sadly not the only missed opportunity on the river Nene.
We see this again at Denford, where a mooring by the lock has been withdrawn, and at Woodford where a perfect riverside mooring like that at Fotheringay, on the edge of a field below the church is no longer available. This simultaneously deprives the village of visitors to its pubs and shops and deprives boaters of a pleasant halt. It's a subject I'll return to later.
Slightly irritated we motor on, past Woodford Riverside where the marina is busy with diggers and building activity, which mollifies us a little, and the sinuous river and lovely views calm us down. A swan takes off with much pat pattering of webbed feet, a man walks his dog up a track through new stubble to a ridge with a single silhouetted tree ... these are worth remembering.
Now we come to Lower Ringstead Lock with its marina, called Willy Watt Marina. Even as I snigger at the silly pun I read that in fact the name originates as Willow Ait or Willow Island, the mill being listed in the Domesday Book, so I take back my negative thought. Read about the marina, today and the past at the Willy Watt Marina website. And beware the bridge immediately upstream of the lock - the weir is dead ahead so take the left hand channel!
 We pass Blackthorne Marina on our left though can see little of it, and now we're at Upper Ringstead lock with its manually operated guillotine lock which gives us a bit of upper body exercise rotating the large stainless steel wheel. Past the youth activity centre with hard-hatted youngsters screaming as they abseil from a wooden tower and it's nearly 1pm when we clear Irthlingborough locks and reach the exotically named Rushden and Diamonds mooring (being on the edge of this football club's stadium). Unfortunately for them their football club seems to be in receivership (I'm writing in September 2012, more info here) but fortunately for us, although the water and pumping facilities are closed, the well built moorings are just right.
As the predicted rain has arrived we batten down the hatches for a while until there is a marginally less wet spell and we trundle into the town. I am unimpressed by Irthlingborough, which seems a depressed place with a preponderance of kebab and pizza takeaways with pubs boasting "happy hours" and free pool. There is an interesting church tower (Church of St Peter - closed to visitors, haunted by youths in hoodies sheltering from the rain and squatting, smoking, on the rubbish bins like the caterpillars in Alice in Wonderland) but the move to China of the Dr Martens boot factory seems to have hit employment hard. The quirky fame of having had David Frost briefly teach at the local secondary modern school in 1958 cannot raise the town above the damage done to its architecture by nasty 1960's shops. This is a place in decline, without a pub we'd feel easy sitting in, and we avoid all three Chinese takeaways and both Indian takeaways to cook ourselves something substantial on the boat and provide our own entertainment reading improving books and Waterways World.
In retrospect we should have taken warning from the defaced signs at the lock - evidence of folks with nothing better to do (avoid your gaze now if you are of a sensitive nature).

In summary, a useful mooring when passing along the Nene, or I suppose as an overnight stay while watching Kettering Town FC, current residents at the football stadium (Kettering famously had Paul Gascoigne as their manager for just 39 days). Quite handy to visit Tesco's for provisions - but not recommended for holidays.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Up The Nene Again

After this frustrating year for boating, with strong stream advice and all, it was good to get back on the water again, setting out from our new home in Oundle Marina.
We planned three or four days, partly around the weather forecast and partly to explore the river and its pubs and villages.
The first section of only two hours is already becoming a favourite: Oundle to Wadenhoe through locks at Upper Barnwell, Lilford and Wadenhoe, ending up at The King's Head for lunch. All the locks are very scenic, the river is delightful, with fields opening out, trees closing in, Lilford Hall glimpsed between the trees ...

... houses with delightful gardens extending to the river, with little summer houses and dinky jetties and a very pretty bridge ...

just downstream of Lilford lock.
The King's Head and the church at Wadenhoe are well worth a visit - all within 2 hours boating from our base.
Suitably refreshed we motored on, through Titchmarsh, where the Middle Nene Cruising Club dominates the lock  but there are no apparent moorings for passers by like us.
On to Islip Mill Lock where we see the tallest bollards ever ...

... designed, we imagine, to cope with severely rising water levels.
On again to Thrapston, through their nine arched bridge and acutely right into some very pleasant moorings - and it's still only 4 pm.
Thrapston Moorings
The Nine Arched Bridge, viewed from upstream

Though the moorings are very close to the bridge, traffic at night is light and we are not disturbed by it.
Eating, however, is more of a problem. We inspect several pubs in Thrapston, none of which appeal unless you are keen on gaming machines, pool and karioke and though the Woolpack looks reasonable we opt for the ever so slightly pretentious Bridge Hotel which provides us with a few pints of Spitfire and excellent meals. We are satisfied to have paid more for better, though we think The Bridge's decor hasn't quite decided whether it's a wedding venue, a bar, a restaurant, a conference centre, a gentleman's club or a Maharajah's palace.
Thrapston itself seems a rather down at heel place. It has facilities for boaters in terms of supermarkets to stock up with but it feels tired and worn. John was intrigued by the remains of Thrapston Station and its railways and found this detailed explanation. He says:
The LNWR Nene Valley (Peterborough to Northampton) line station was on the site of Scotts (the summer house manufacturer) and the viaduct across the Nene was on the Midland Railway line from Cambridge to Kettering. The Midland Railway station is the one you can still see from the A14.
 The Nene Valley line is the one whose bridges (now footbridges) we kept passing under on the river.

Sections of the railway line seem now to be part of the Nene Way long distance route.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

It was nearly a world full of canals ....

In my village we recently held a display of local history materials on the topic of railways. But what caught my eye was the early section which pointed out how many canal projects were planned then cancelled when the railways became The Big Thing around 1830.
So to further my knowledge I bought "Shelford and The Railways" by our local historian, Helen Harwood and found that Great Shelford nearly got its very own canal but the planned route was eventually taken by the railway.
The original plan was to join up Kings Lynn, with its Fenland food crops, with London, via Cambridge, thus avoiding a coastal route with its dangerous seas.  The Great Ouse already joins Kings Lynn to the Cam and Cambridge and it was hoped that a new stretch of canal would join the Cam to the river Lea at Bishop's Stortford (now the end of the Lee and Stort navigation which, in the other direction goes right into London).
Surveys of 1779-80 and 1811 both included canalising Shelford en route from Stortford to Cambridge but neither could raise enough funds and the next attempts  were focused on railways - in 1822 (a direct replacement of the 1812/14 canal scheme), 1834 and eventually the railway reached Shelford in 1845.
The railway brought a different life to the mainly agricultural village. Not only did passengers pass through but the inhabitants of Cambridge realised they could live three miles further out, in the country, yet reach Cambridge conveniently within minutes by train instead of horse and cart.
As a result house building took off in Shelford and arguably never stopped. My house was built in 1902 and is just two minutes from the station on the Liverpool Street line.
And what would have happened if there had been a canal through, or round, the village? Would there have been a short term surge of trade which petered out in competition with the railway? Would Shelford ultimately have been a little place with no purpose on the route of a silted up canal? Or would I have Patience moored up just down the road, with ready access to London?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Stratford and the Olympic Site

This week I have been mostly at the Paralympics Village, which is a revelation to me. Along with the amazing wheelchair basketball, goalball and 5-a-side blind football we wandered the very attractive site including a walk by the river Lee. As we travelled down from Cambridge to Stratford we followed the Lee much of the way and one day I really would like to take Patience there. I've already walked the area around Ware and to see the way the Olympic builders have cleaned up the lower stretches whets my appetite even more (though I'm sorry for those liveaboards who were moved on by security concerns, and shocked by the amount the authorities wanted to charge for a couple of weeks mooring during the Olympics).
Anyway here is The Lee from The Village. I like it!

THe Royal Barge is currently moored here too:
But be careful not to fall in. Your chances of being thrown a life belt may be reduced by the mis-spelling at one of the stations ....
 Fine from this bank but ...
... a bit risky from here!