Day 50 – Middle Level Blues

Yesterday I booked passage through Stanground lock at 10.00 so first I went to the sanitary station in Peterborough, possibly the dirtiest sluice I have ever seen and only a little over 12 months since it was installed. Then to Asda for some veg for a curry. From peterborough Embankment it’s about 10-15 minute cruise to the lock.

The middle level drains were constructed to drain the fens for agriculture. They are managed by the Middle Level Commisioners primarily to keep the area from flooding and to provide irrigation water during the summer. The system was made navigable initially for agricultural produce to be shipped out and things like building material brought in. Later vast amounts of coal were shipped in to power the steam pumps that kept the fens dry. Leisure boating is way down their list of priorities. It shows.

The central section from Ashline Lock at Whittlesea to Priory Lock near Upwell is especially tedious because there is nothing to look at except flood banks until you pass through March in a cutting, and nothing after that. Mooring is not allowed on the floodbanks and in any case you wouldn’t go within 5m of them if you could avoid them because of the weed growth spreading out from the banks.

I planned to stop at Fox’s Narrowboats in March for fuel, but their Diesel pump is broken. I suspect there is probably enough ikn the tank to get back to Tempsford but I daren’t risk running out on the New Bedford tomorrow. So I’m moored in Outwell tonight (by the chippy, the veggie curry can wait) and have found out there’s a petrol station about ½ mile away. First thing tomorrow I’ll walk/hitch with my fuel can.

Day 3 and it’s going well

Last night was very cold. I went to bed early wearing most of my clothes, with the rest on top of the sleeping bag.  Slept well though and woke early determined to get an early start. Today was bright and clear but still cold. Left Outwell at 06.30 wearing 6 layers of clothes and got to Marmont Priory lock at 07.00. Opened the top slackers (paddles) to fill it. Noticed the bottom ones were padlocked and assumed the EA key would fit. Doesn’t.  Waited ’til 07.30 then rang the lock keeper’s bell. Waited a bit. Rang again. Found phone number.  Voice mail. Left message. Tried again. Called Middle Level Commisioners’ office. Not open ’til 08.30. Keeper arrived 08.20. She’d slept through the ringing. And the phone calls. Left at 08.48.

After that things went surprisingly well. I got to Ashline lock about 12.05 just as a narrow boat was leaving. Better yet there were two more waiting to come down and their crews were happy to work the lock for me to speed things up. I was out in 10 minutes. One of the blokes off one of the boats said Stanground was about an hour and a quarter. He was right. I tied up at 1.30pm, an hour early. Had lunch then hauled the sunlounger out onthe bank for a kip.

Roused by the lock keeper at 2.30 and locked through. Stopped at the sanitary station in Peterborough. Last year when we brought Seren across from Pershore we stopped at the same place.  The sluice for Elsan toilets is part of a public WC, which was surrounded by temporary barriers. Eventually we realised there was access round the side where there was a gap in the barrier. Twelve months later the fence is still there and there was one guy with his head down an access point . I checked the sluice was accessible and found the door open. There’s a new sluice and a new drain and a one metre gap between them. No pipe. I emptied the loo down the pipe.

Went shopping in Peterborough.  Bread and milk almost impossible to find but could have my nails done and hair cut twenty times over.

Not a great place to stay long, but a mile or so upstream is the start of a long riverside park inc Ferry Meadows, Orton Meadows and tbe bit I’m in called Thorpe Wood which has its own arm off the river with a landing stage and pub. According to my itinary from Canal Plan this is where I should stop on the fourth night, so I’m a day ahead. But there’s a lot of locks on the Nene and the N’hants arm, so that’ll slow me down.