Saturday, 5 April 2014

From internot to internet

Moored tonight at Wansford Station
 For the last two days we've been in a communciation black hole. Apart from the occasional feeble signal – usually found only by standing on the roof and holding the phone at arms length to the skies – 3G was reduced to 0G for virtually the whole time.
I suppose I could understand it when we were meandering through the rural depths of the Nene valley but last night I was standing on Wansford Bridge in the middle of the village getting barely a single 'blob' of signal.
So it's catch-up time. The stretch of river from Wadenhoe to Wansford shows the Nene at its most delightful. It's wider and deeper, largely countrified, though passing small, quiet villages of honey stone houses.
The locks still havae a few tricks up their sleeves though. 'Self-filling' locks are a commonplace on the river: water pours - thunders sometimes - over the closed top gates. We got caught out by this at Wadenhoe lock: as I opened the bottom guillotine the rushing water from the top gates slowly forced the boat out and the boss could barely hold it on the centre line. The boat also twisted across the lock, leaving me stranded on the lockside. As the guillotine opened, the nose started forcing itself through so no chance of shutting the gate again to regroup. Fortunately we managed to get the other centre line over to me and with the boat held with both ropes I finally got on board. Front and back ropes on vicious locks like this in future then.
Lilford Hall standing massively by the river
After Wadenhoe comes the enchantingly set Lilford lock, shaded by trees and with a large lockside house sporting Union Jack and Stars&Stripes. A handsome arched stone river bridge marks the arrival of Lilford Hall, the grandest house on the Nene. It is a magnificent building, though on a misty morning seemed daunting and austere. It must have made a scary sight to some novice young servant in days gone by. The hall had close links with the USA – Robert Browne whose teachings influenced the Pilgrim Fathers lived there for many years – but lay empty for 50 years after WWII until being bought by the Micklewright family who are engaged in a major restoration programme.
The river now swerves past Oundle which has kept itself at a distance from the vagaries of the Nene's floods. Two Barnwell locks sandwich Oundle Marina but the closest spot to the town is actually Ashton Lock, a mile or two further where there's a delightful backwater for mooring just 20 minutes walk across water meadows and footpaths to the town centre.
Oundle is even more affluent now than it was five years back. The town's shops tell the tale: an artisan baker and cake shop, local greengrocer and butcher, several coffee shops and restaurants, two or three of those curious places that sell pointless household and garden accessories...and of course a sizeable Waitrose.
Elephant grass – the crop that keeps on giving
Many of the fields beyond Oundle are planted with elephant grass which was being harvested as we passed. Its ten feet tall stems are used to produce biomass fuel. It's a remarkable crop: a perennial that re-grows for 15-20 years and needs no pesticides. The perfect crop for a farmer!
A couple more of the energy sapping manual locks and we were at Fotheringhay whose castle has a significant place in British history: the Yorkist king Richard III, loser of the Wars of the Roses, was born here and Mary Queen of Scots was executed here. Memorials to both are at the base of the castle mound. It's a haunting place whose hilltop affords a dominating view in every direction.

Memorial to Richard III and Queen Mary at Fotheringhay
Stunning views from the top of the castle hill
The river is widening now, with scarcely a hamlet intruding into the countryside around - until one reaches Yarwell Mill and its ugly caravans! Quite a contrast round the next bend, though, where a stylish development of modern houses has spread further along the riverside since our last trip.
We spent last night moored in a familiar mooring, roped to trees on a steep bank at Wansford. It's a scramble to get off the boat here - especially at night escorting the dog to its toilet - but a good spot in this elegant little village with its striking, multi-arched old river bridge. A handy mix of shops for the boater too – a convenience store cum post office, a couple of pubs, the posh Haycock Inn hotel, a bistro. Oh and a Vivienne Westwood boutique.
Today we followed the long, gentle curve of the river round to an Environment Agency 48 hour pontoon mooring hard by Wansford Station, home base of the Nene Valley Steam Railway. A trip to Peterborough by steam train tomorrow beckons.

1 comment:

  1. Big Boys never grow up!.....a ride on a ChooChoo. Enjoy Peterborough and maybe some Cathedral culture