Day 48 – Down to Oundle

I phoned EA at 8.00 and the river manager Ian Cook told me he needed to speak to te engineers, and they weren’t on site yet so he had no news. Phone back at 1pm.

So I went for a walk to Woodford village. It’s one of those chocolate box villages that Northants seems to specialise in, with TWO village greens. But only one small Post Office / general store. I got some milk and a few other bits and pieces and treked back via a different path taking through the middle of the allotments and past the ‘social housing’ tucked well away from the village greens.

It was only 10.00 when I got back so I was planning a long rest and abit of pottering about, but just before 11 a boat came upstream that I hadn’t seen go down, so I spoke to them and was told there were engineers on site at Denford helping boats through the lock.

I set of immediately in case they decided to lock up and leave. They were still there and while two younger guys did all the work I spoke to the senior engineer about the problem.

The basic configuration of guillotine locks is a large, heavy vertical gate counter-balanced by a large heavy slab of cast iron connected by chains over sprockets high up on the supporting framework. The problem is the chains are very heavy too (about 75kg apparently) so as the chain rolls over the sprockets one side (gate or weight) gets heavier and the other lighter. That’s a difference of 150kg between open and closed.

On the electrified gates that’s not important, the motor and gearing can cope with the change. On flywheel operated gates (like Denford) it’s an issue because there comes a point when the difference in weight between the gate and counterweight is enough to overcome the friction in the system and the flywheel can ‘run away’. Apparently at Denford the gate was too light compared to the counterweight so it was hard to close it the last few cm and it tended to rise too easily. They’ve applied an extra 50kg of weights to the gate and were testing it to make sure it was OK. Apparently it’s now hard to open but I had two big strong guys to do it for me. The long term plan is to electrify the last six gates, one over year over the next six years.

Nothing of interest to report after that, except that this stretch of the Nene is deficient in moorings. I passed several early on in the day but by afternoon there were none. Eventually I moored on a meadow just outside Oundle (the town doesn’t have a river frontage, probably due to flooding).

Need to stop for water at Fotheringhay tomorrow, I’d hoped to get there this evening but two more locks is too many. Meeting Linda for dinner at the Boathouse in Thorpe Meadows, Peterborough. Must remember to book passage through Stanground Sluice for Wednesday morning.

Day 47 - I've had better

Day 47 – I’ve had better

Now where shall I moor to remove weed from the prop?

Cruising slowly out of White Mills everything felt great. The water in the marina is clear and deep, Seren’s prop had been cleared, the cooling system was gurgling nicely. And then we came out onto the river. Or ditch. Shallow and very weedy. There are six locks from White Mills to Wellingborough and I was down the weed hatch seven times in that distance. Two of the locks, Wollaston and Upper Wellingborough were almost impossible to enter such was the thickness of weed that had piled up in front of the gates.

It took an hour to pass this lock

Downstream of Wellingborough the river was a bit deeper, the weeds further away. Only two more weed hatch operations during the afternoon.

The Nene locks are more varied on the upper reaches than I remembered. I mentioned the three ‘conventional’ locks in Northampton yesterday. After that there are eight normal Nene locks with electrically operated guillotine bottom gates. The Upper and Lower Wellingborough locks resemble thos at Northants though with better paddle gear. Ditchford Lock has a curved guillotine that rotates up/down in curved grooves in the lock walls. The only advantage I can see is that the lock tower is lower, below the level of nearby trees so perhaps it was installed to mollify some VIP who didn’t want his view spoiled. Higham Ferrars is another poining door lock and below that Upper Ringstead is the first of the notorious flywheel operated guillotines. Given that the fall in water level was about 0.5m raising and lowering several tonnes of steel lock gate seemed a lot of effort to little point.

Woodford lock is the next flywheel lock. I was just beginning to lower the guillotine when a bloke moored below the lock came to talk. He told me that the next lock, Denford, was closed, and there are already two boats down on the mooring. He himself was doing a spring clean before heading back up. I stayed above the lock for a hour or so until he came up leaving the gates set for me. I am currently moored just below Woodford. Tomorrow I phone EA and find out what’s happening.

Day 46 – Sarah & Family Visit

I’d arranged to meet Sarah & family at Weston Favell lock, near Northampton Boat Club. Last year we organised a meeting at lock by a club and although the club had visitor moorings it had no provision for visitors arriving by car. This time I stopped on the Washlands Mooring which is accessible by the Nene Way footpath.

Only three locks to do and a few miles cruising but I left early hoping to clean up the boat a bit while waiting. The first three locks on the Nene are traditional with ‘pointing doors’ at both ends, manually operated and very heavy. The paddles (or slackers as they call them down here) are operated by an enclosed screw mechanism and very low geared taking 70-80 turns to open/close.

The weed that plagued me on the lower Northampton Arm was evident here too but with plenty of to-ing and fro-ing on the gear lever I got to the mooring without resort to the weed hatch.

Milly & Georgie were delighted to see me, and Georgie has lost her fear of the boat now and was soon at the helm poking all the switches and twirling the wheel. I haven’t seen them for seven weeks and Georgie has matured in that time. She was proudly demonstrating how she can unscrew the top of a bottle to drink out of it, and screw it on again. No need for a special drinking bottle. Apparently her new word this week is ‘literally’. She claims not to know the names of kids at nursery but dropped into the conversation that they had a story about Tutankhamen.

They were breaking their journey to the Peak District where they are going camping so after a brief picnic lunch they left and I carried on through another five locks (typical Nene type with guillotine bottom gates) to White Mills marina.

More weed of course and I realised the engine cooling water flow was lower than usual. The exhaust note changes (more bark less splash/burble) and the exhaust fumes (right under the helmsman’s elbow) become more noticeable. There was still some flow though so I crept on keeping a close watch on the temperature gauge. One of the locks, Whiston I think) had a great mat of weed piled up in front of the gate. I bow-hauled Seren through that and into the lock then on leaving let the wind and current take us out of the lock and away from the weed before starting the engine.

One reason for stopping at White Mills was to use their laundry, the other to do something about the cooling. I checked the impeller (OK) and blew through the various pipes. Disconnected the feed from stopcock and opened it carefully. Just a trickle, so weed in the opening under the boat. Fortunately putting a pipe on the stopcock and blowing hard eventually produced a stream of bubbles from under the hull. With everything back together the water flow looks healthier and the exhaust sounds more normal. Hope there’s less weed tomorrow.

Day 9 – part 2

By recent standards today was a good day. The rain held until I got to Weston Favell Lock on the outskirts of Northampton. Then it poured and still is. I picked up several times but with a lot of back and forth with the gear lever managed to shake most of it off. I’ll check tomorrow morning before I leave.

Tomorrow we start on 17 narrow canal locks which will make a change from the wide river locks. Hope the weather improves though.

Day 9 Still on the Nene

The boat (Equinox) that couldn’t get through Doddington Lock yesterday morning did make it later in the day but Nick on Ebenezer and I decided to wait until today.

The rain stopped and the river has gone down quite a lot, even so there are advisory notices on the locks but we persevered through three locks to White Mills Marina. Filled up with diesel and water, and emptied the loo and bin. Put a load of washing on in the launderette so while that’s happening I’m writing this.

There is an area upstream known as Northampton Washlands, ie a vast low lying area of flood plain with flood barriers either end. During times of flood water from Northampton is stored there then released slowly. During such times the barriers prevent boats passing through. The manager at White Mills has phoned around trying to find out if the barriers are shut but no-one knows. Not even EA at Northampton Marina. There’s no advice on the EA app either. Nick has gone on ahead and will phone me.

Just discovered Equinox is going to Llangollen as well!

Day 8 - Nene, still

Day 8 – Nene, still

Last night was ‘interesting’. I was worried about relying on mudweights to hold Seren still against the wind and current so every time I woke I peered out of the window at the trees opposite to make sure they were still there. I needn’t have worried, by the time I came to lift the weights this morning they were well tangled in the weeds.

Seren may not have moved a significant distance but she surged back and forth and swayed side to side all night. And as she did the fenders hanging on the sides banged against the hull surprisingly loudly.

It poured with rain all night and this morning the river level was noticably higher, good news as it puts Seren’s prop further from the weed on the river bottom. There was a much stronger current too which had shifted some of the clots of weed floating around last night. After breakfast, and the discovery that the milk had gone off, I once more stripped and pulled the weed off the prop and shaft.

I heaved the rear mudweight onto the back deck, together with at least its own weight in weed. The front one I managed to get half out of the water and left it, and several kilos of weed, dangling. With the extra depth was able to pole Seren away from the bank and get her moving. She picked up some weed but we were able to make slow progress against the current to Doddington Lock. Passing a FOTRN mooring ‘Manor Farm’ with a narrowboat ‘Miss Molly’ moored there. From Llangollen according to the signwriting on the cabinsides

The guillotine gate was closed and I could see loads of hi-vis jackets on the lockside as I approached. I assumed it was EA closing the lock, but actually they were Amey staff. No idea why they were there but they were trying to help a bloke with a narrowboat in the lock. I tied up to the landing stage as they opened the guillotine. Turns out the narrowboat was trying to go my way, up river but the boater was unable to open the top gates against the flow of water over them. I backed away from the landing stage, he reversed out looking shaken and tied up.

There wasn’t room for both of us and Seren is short so I was able to turn her around and head back to Manor Farm I’m currently moored behind Miss Molly. Might go and introduce myself later and find out if they are really from Llan.

Which reminds me; I don’t use Facebook but at a GOBA meeting someone mentioned an FB group ‘Spotted on the Ouse’ so I had a nosey using fake ID. There was a post from a bloke with a tug-style narrowboat, Ebenezer, about to depart for Wales. Didn’t say where but Llangollen is most likely. I passed it moored somewhere near Wellingborough yesterday. I guess he’d decided to sit out the weather.

I suspect I’ll be sitting it out myself for a while.

Update; Ebenezer just passed. I shouted to the owner about the lock and suggested he stop here. I suspect he’ll be back.

Day 7 – Wet Again

It started raining again about 8.30 last night and was still raining this morning. I got all dressed up in several layers of warm clothes topped off with waterproofs and boots and set off.

Wellingborough was only one lock away from last night’s stop. There’s a riverside park with sanitary facilities for emptying boat loos, fresh water and bins. It was still raining and I wasn’t blocking access to the tap or Pump Out so I stayed.

Today is deadline day for GOBA News, ie the day when I work out who hasn’t submitted what they promised and start chasing them. It’s a free magazine for GOBA members, no-one gets paid so chasing people for work seems a bit harsh, but it needs doing. It was working out OK, getting some work done on a day when boating wouldn’t be fun. After 11.00 the sky lightened and the rain lessened and I was tempted, but decided to wait for lunch. Then it rained heavily again.

After lunch I got all dressed up again and set off. Last year when I went up the Nene I was stopped six times between Thrapston and Wellingborough with weed tangled round the prop. I’m a month later this year and a lot of weed had been cut, and the rain made the river deeper which helps. I was starting to feel that in my ongoing battle with the Nene I’d won one. And then I came out of Wollaston Lock into a section of river like a swamp with great clots of weed floating around and blanket weed spreading out from the banks.

Inevitably the prop fouled and with no power Seren drifted into the weedy bank.

Seren has a weed hatch at the back of the cabin, a sort of vertical shaft over the propellor. So I stripped to the waist knelt on the floor and started cutting and pulling weed away and throwing it out of the back door. Which meant leaving the door open and having the cold rain blow in on my back.

It took about half an hour. Then I got dressed, started the engine, selected forward gear and picked up more weed.

This time I poled Seren away from the bank as far as I could and deployed the ‘mud weights’ – basically lumps of concrete used on rivers instead of anchors. Then spent another half hour down the hatch, hoping that away from the bank I’d be able to avoid picking up more weed.

This time the River Nene wins. If anything the time taken to foul the prop was even shorter, about a second. So I chucked the mudweights out again closed the cockpit cover and retreated to the cabin. The heater is on, I’ve made hot coffee and just about thawed out.

Tomorrow I’ll flag down a passing boat and beg a tow to the next lock. There’s usually deep water at the landing stages so I can de-weed again and (hopefully) escape. For now it looks like a long night of radio and reading.

Day 6 - More manual labour

Day 6 – More manual labour

I’m officially a Friend of the River Nene, I paid £12 to join FOTRN (similar to GOBA) so I can use their moorings. Sometimes though I think the Nene and I are far from friends. Moorings, FOTRN or EA or other, are few and far between in the middle section but more plentiful after Pear Tree Farm where I spent last night. As a consequence I often face the dillema of stopping too soon when I could press on, or leaving it too late and finding the next mooring is hours away.

No need to open paddles at Titchford today

Today worked out OK I found a lovely meadow mooring at Great Addington at lunchtime and another near Wellingborough for the night. I wouldn’t normally stop for lunch I’d made sandwiches and a flask of coffee to keep me going but there were three more hand operated locks before lunch and I was shattered. I have a cunning plan for making a handle for them before I come this way again.

Somewhere on the Nene today

And talking of handles, I lost a lock windlass, the short throw one that came with the boat. At Higham Ferrers Lock there was a bunch of kids, aged 12-14 I think swimming and messing about. They got out and offered to help, so locking took twice as long as when I do it myself. They weren’t malicious just curious, enthusiastic and bit dopey.

Once we’d finally got the lock full and the gates open they started undoing ropes and pushing Seren away from the side. Before I’d got on. I used the windlass to hook a rope and pull it back, untangled the other ropes pulled Seren back again when one idiot pushed her off and in a melee I forgot to pick up the windlass. Shame really because it’s handy for some Nene locks where there is little space between the spindle and the lock beam.

Whitemills Marina tomorrow for Water, Diesel, Loo emptying – and a lock windlass. Weather permitting. Might make it to Northampton and get off this river, canals are a lot less hassle..

Day 5 - Still wet

Day 5 – Still wet

And frustrating. There’s a rule on the Nene that locks should be left with the top gates and paddles shut and the bottom (guillotine) gate open, ie up. That should mean anyone heading upstream like me can cruise straight into a lock.

Unfortunately someone had been before me and not followed the rule so the first four locks were set against me. By not following the rules the previous crew had:

Entered the lock, shut the bottom gate, opened the paddles to fill the lock, opened the gates and left, leaving the paddles open. Simples!

Following them I had to:

Tie up below the lock, close the top gates, close the top paddles, open the bottom gate, walk back to Seren and enter the lock, climb up the lock ladder and tie up Seren, close the bottom gate, open the paddles, open the top gate, get back on Seren and move her to the landing stage, get off Seren and walk back to the lock to close the gate on the near side, then walk down the lock over the bridge and back up the lock to close the paddle and gate on the far side, walk back to the guillotine gate and open it.

And three of the first four gates were the hand operated variety so I had to wind the gate up, down and up again each time. All in the pouring rain. I was not amused.

The bridge below Lilford lock

After Oundle things improved, it stopped raining and the locks were set right.

I cruised on to the Friends of the River Nene (FOTRN) mooring at Pear Tree Farm just below Titchmarsh Lock. Now for some GOBA editing…

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.