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
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
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