Sunday, 30 March 2014

Off we go!

Smart new liftbridge halfway down the Northampton locks
British Summer Time started a day early for us when we put an end to our winter wanderings and headed eastwards on our 2014 cruise towards the Nene and the Great Ouse rivers.
And we did in glorious summer sunshine, losing layers of clothing by the hour and lockwheeling in tee-shirts by mid-morning.What a far cry from the weather only three days earlier when we'd been climbing the Braunston locks in a blizzard of hail!
The link from the Grand Union Canal to the River Nene at Northampton is down the 17 narrow locks of the Northampton Arm – the first 13 of them in a flight of less than a mile ending under the M1 motorway.
It's a relatively little used route and from memory of our past trips on it, could be overgrown with reeds, shallow in parts and generally rather shabby so it was good to see that things have generally improved. The locks worked, the reeds had been chopped back, a lift-bridge halfway down was smartly restored and painted and on a sunny day all was well.
Save for the drone of the motorway, it's a very rural stretch that drops into the vast floodplain around Northampton but it was a surprise to see how the town has encroached into this space since we were last here. A big new estate has arrived and is still being expanded in a mish-mash of houses, some of which would be certainly be attractive on their own but were cramped together like terra-cotta warriors in an emperor's tomb - a tomb with no gardens (not that you'd want to sit in one with that ever-present whoosh of m-way traffic.
New houses marching across the landscape as Northampton expands
Beyond the houses another rural stretch was more like the old canal we remembered, shallow and rubbish strewn with all the cut reed floating in the water and regularly tangling with the prop.
Soon, though, we were at the final lock by the Carlsberg brewery whose award winning design has not aged well, and then out onto the river. We hoped to find a mooring slot on the town riverfront to shop at the nearby Morrisons. It was always a popular spot to stop but not on Saturday: not a single boat was tied up. We wondered why.
Maybe because the whole area round the shops and waterside flats is an utter mess - rubbish everywhere and the few litter bins overflowing - cans, bags, even broken glass strewn about. All we wanted to do was shop and get out fast. Northampton – you and your council are a disgrace. The whole area is squalid.
We went through the first of the 37 Nene locks at Becketts Park and I remembered how much I loved them. Not. That fiddly little 'Abloy' key forever getting caught in the locks; the absurdly low geared hydraulic paddle gear that needs hundreds of windlass turns to raise and lower. Oh, groan.
It was now 4.30 and we were wondering where to moor. There's a floating pontoon in Becketts Park but it had no boats; just graffiti so we pressed on. No matter, the sun was still warm and we were still enjoying the trip and so was the boat, revelling in the deep, clear water.
Lockwheeling Nene style - finger on the guillotine button at Weston Favel
Some things might have changed since our last trip on the Nene but some hadn't - like the line of decrepit and semi-sunk boats before Rush Mills Lock. Overnight moorings are hard to find on this stretch of the river so we pushed on through the barrage gates that close off the town's washland flood storage zone when the river is getting dangerously high.
Out the other side and, with the sun dropping, we were thinking about a night spent on a lock mooring when we spotted a vacant visitor mooring at Northampton Boat Club, pulled up and were warmly welcomed.
A giant Morrisons pizza, a beer and by 9.00 pm all eyes on board Harry were closing after a day in the sun and 21 locks. Karaoke night at the boat club bar would not be getting the benefits of the Nb Harry crew!


  1. We have moored at the mooring pontoon by the park in Northampton with no problem many times. we have also moored on the visitor moorings just outside the lock on the flood washes.

    1. Glad to learn that Brian - it certainly didn't look very inviting this time. We were going to use the flood moorings but were timidly law abiding as the signs say emergency mooring only until May 1st. The boat club was good, though, and v. helpful.