EPIPHANY’S TRAV­ELS

It’s time for the Slees to leave the East Anglian wa­ter­ways, but there’s still plenty to ex­plore on their way back to Braun­ston

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY FIONA & JOHN SLEE

The Slees find steam rail­ways and tank en­gines be­fore they leave East Anglian wa­ters

With an even­tual re­turn to Canal & River Trust wa­ters in a few weeks, we planned to stop in a cou­ple of places on the Mid­dle Level; but be­fore tack­ling the short sec­tion of the tidal Ouse be­tween Den­ver and Stan­ground, we took a quick trip to Down­ham Mar­ket on the straight Re­lief Chan­nel.

This chan­nel, reached through a lock at Den­ver, was built in the early 1960s for flood re­lief and runs par­al­lel to the Great Ouse, from Den­ver to Kings Lynn. Down­ham, an his­toric mar­ket town, is worth a visit if, like me, you en­joy learn­ing about history.

We had re­ally en­joyed our months on the Great Ouse, though parts were very re­mote from easy trans­port routes for med­i­cal ap­point­ments. Now we were to re­trace our jour­ney so, tim­ing our ne­go­ti­a­tion of Den­ver Sluice, the tidal Ouse and Sal­ters Lode Lock on the slack tide, we had no prob­lem en­ter­ing the Mid­dle Level’s Well Creek. The link nav­i­ga­tion, man­aged by the Mid­dle Level Com­mis­sion­ers, would lead us across to the River Nene at Peterborough. Our first stop would be at Out­well, moor­ing at Out­well Basin, the junction of the de­funct Wis­bech Canal, Well Creek and the old Nene. Here, one of the two churches in the elon­gated vil­lages of Out­well and Up­well has red an­gels in the roof, sup­pos­edly sup­port­ing it.

Up­well had an un­usual trans­port sys­tem un­til the 1960s – a tramway that trun­dled down the main road link­ing it with Em­neth. Ini­tially a pas­sen­ger

ser­vice, it re­verted to freight, with the lo­co­mo­tives re­ferred to as “me­chan­i­cal mon­sters”. These lo­cos live on, as W H Awdry, past vicar of Em­neth, used them as in­spi­ra­tion for Toby and Mavis in his fa­mous Thomas theTank En­gine sto­ries, still beloved by chil­dren all over the world.

We moved on to March, via Mar­mont Pri­ory Lock, where I picked up a rope on the prop: the me­tal hook at­tached made an aw­ful noise and I lost steer­age. John went down the weed hatch while the lock-keeper, Mau­reen, and I worked the lock. We were hop­ing to moor on the usu­ally busy March visi­tor moor­ings. We were lucky, tak­ing the last moor­ing, with boats al­ready there kindly shuf­fling to make room for us. I was sur­prised how large the mar­ket town was, with a shop­ping cen­tre close by and de­li­cious fish and chips just above the moor­ings.

From March, we made straight for Peterborough. We had booked with Tina at Stan­ground Lock, who warned that our ar­rival time might be af­fected as they were let­ting wa­ter down from the river into the Mid­dle Level. We ar­rived early but she was happy to lock us through and on to Stan­ground Back River – a short sec­tion lead­ing to the Nene.

Back on the river we moved to moor at Over­ton Lake again and take a trip on the Nene Val­ley Rail­way. Typ­i­cally, the steam loco broke down the day be­fore, so we had to make do with a diesel, but it was a good trip nonethe­less. The other place I re­ally wanted to stop was Fotheringay, as the church is worth a

Nar­row­boat Epiphany

visit. There was plenty of room and we had no prob­lem with pay­ing the £4 charge for an overnight stay. Steeped in history, the vil­lage is very at­trac­tive. Richard III was born at the castle (now only the motte re­mains) and Mary Queen of Scots was im­pris­oned and ex­e­cuted there. The Fal­con (em­blem of the House of York) pub was wel­com­ing af­ter a wan­der.

The Nene is a pretty river and although we were tak­ing less time over our re­turn, we still en­joyed the views and the twists and turns. We called in at Oun­dle Ma­rina for diesel, meet­ing nar­row­boaters who had been fol­low­ing us and our blog, as they too ex­plored the East Anglian wa­ter­ways. One of the pret­ti­est sec­tions is around Waden­hoe, with unof­fi­cial moor­ings be­low the church.

Is­lip Bridge is the low­est on the river; we had heard that boats had been un­able to get un­der as the wa­ter lev­els had risen af­ter rain. There are plans to re­build this foot­bridge in the next year or two, solv­ing this prob­lem. We ar­rived, hop­ing for the best and had no prob­lem, con­tin­u­ing on to Ring­stead and shar­ing the locks with another boat.

As we en­tered Wood­ford Lock, our throt­tle ca­ble broke; for­tu­nately, we had been en­ter­ing very slowly and John was able to stop Epiphany with the mid rope. Our for­tune con­tin­ued – our lock­ing com­pan­ion had some en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge and of­fered to help re­place the ca­ble – we carry a spare. Af­ter the en­forced stop on the up­per lock land­ing, we were able to con­tinue, re­paired and very grate­ful for help.

We had a cou­ple more stops be­fore reach­ing Northamp­ton – moor­ing at the dis­used Rush­den and Di­a­monds cen­tre, and then at Earls Bar­ton for two nights. As we reached Northamp­ton and the good moor­ings above Beck­ets Park, it was with slight re­gret that we were leav­ing the east af­ter five months of de­light­ful cruis­ing.

The 17 locks of the Northamp­ton Arm were ahead. A boating friend had of­fered to help us with the Rother­sthorpe flight of 13. I was glad to be back in nar­row locks – I find them much eas­ier and John does not have so far to walk.

We were soon back in the swing of things and, with Sarah’s help, the arm was not as daunt­ing as I had feared. Amus­ingly, as we en­tered the first lock, we were “clocked” by CRT and then, fur­ther up the arm, we saw two of their as­sets check­ers. Sud­denly, it felt less re­laxed than on the EA wa­ters. How­ever, this flight can be prob­lem­atic with low pounds, so it was re­as­sur­ing.

At Gay­ton Junction we turned onto the Grand Union Main Line to­wards the Buckby Flight and Braun­ston. We shared Buckby locks and made steady, if slow, progress to Nor­ton Junction.

Fol­low­ing the now very fa­mil­iar Grand Union to Braun­ston, we stopped just be­low the last lock to have our We­basto diesel heater ser­viced and bought a re­place­ment throt­tle ca­ble from the chan­dlery. Braun­ston was busy as usual and we had al­ready de­cided not to stop, apart from us­ing the boater fa­cil­i­ties.

Pass­ing un­der those fa­mous, white painted, iron bridges at Braun­ston Turn, we ar­rived on the Ox­ford Canal, south­ern sec­tion. The broad, shared five miles link­ing the Grand Union to the Birm­ing­ham Main Line at Nap­ton is such a lovely stretch, I wished we could linger. How­ever, with another four months on our Gold Li­cence, we were mak­ing for the River Thames.

Peterborough Town Bridge

Be­low Braun­ston Bot­tom Lock en route to the Ox­ford Canal

EA weed­cut­ter boat at Cot­ter­stock Lock on the Nene

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