Friday, 9 May 2014

Slowly up river

Gulliver in Lilliput: in among the plastics at St Ives
A meandering few days have seen us move slowly to tonight's mooring at St Neots. We left Westview Marina on Monday, having contrived to miss the owners, Les and Elaine, who'd set off an hour earlier to St Ives in their electric launch.
We set off in pursuit, glimpsed them moored in St Ives but by the time we'd found a mooring and walked back, they had gone! We'll have to make sure not to miss them on the way back.
It was Bank Holiday Monday and the river was alive with boats of every shape and size – most of them plastic, though. Being in a 24 ton steel narrowboat I felt a bit like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, trying to be very careful not to squash them.
Waits Quay water point nicely disguised as bollard
I don't knock plastic boats: we started boating in a little Freeman and boats like these are affordable family fun, unlike most narrowboats. But, boy, some of the bigger, flash looking plastics make one hell of a wake and do go absurdly fast.
I spent most of the day sneezing with what I thought was hay fever but which by Monday night was clearly the start of man-flu so on Tuesday I moaned, groaned and snuffled and we stayed in St Ives. I did test my reversing skills though, getting us stern first up the backwater leading to Waits Quay in the town itself.
On a cloudy, grey and blustery Wednesday we headed off. The river is at its most picturesque here as it winds past the pretty Hemingfords -  Grey and Abbots and then Houghton with its National Trust Mill. Pretty places to stop when the sun's out but not on a chilly inhospitable day.
Passing the pretty riverside village of Hemingford Grey
Huntingdon bridges, old and new
On through Huntingdon, whose old arched river bridge is dwarfed by the huge A14 bridge piers beyond. After this, the river makes a couple of tight turns and the navigation channel runs through a myriad of intriguing backwaters, the other side of which is the quiet and handsome old town of Godmanchester.
These narrow lock channels are something of a feature of the Great Ouse but none is stranger than the one at our next lock, Brampton. Here the lock is clearly in sight across the other side of a wide straight stream but the channel marker insists we turn left and go round a long narrow and shallow semi circle that brings us out at right angles to the lock landing. Apparently, as we later learned, the weir can run very hard across the straight entry route, hence the safety first alternative.
Spot the channel marker: I nearly didn't
I had marked Buckden Marina, a couple of miles on, as a likely source for diesel (it wasn't - it costs a crazy 129p a litre!) and as we edged to the jetty a figure came running from one of the waterside lodges shouting "what are you lot doing here!".
It was Nick, an old mate of ours from Streethay days who now lives there with his partner Pauline. And it turns out, he now owns a tug with a Lister JSM (the slightly newer version of our JP) engine. Cue mooring outside their home, a few hours reminiscing and talking about engines.
Yesterday's weather was dire so we took a day off boating and nipped to London on the train for a flying grandparently visit. Today has been much brighter, though with the sort of ferocious wind that has you looking nervously at every waving willow tree.
We haven't come far; through the small and narrow Offord Lock that's a historical bottleneck in busy times and then the much bigger St Neots lock where swathes of modern waterside houses and flats have replaced the old paper mills and industry of our last trip up here.
From here it's a mile or so through water meadows on one side and the sweeping gardens of large houses on the other and into the town. We are moored on a floating pontoon right by the town bridge, a few minutes from the shops, and with the pretty riverside park across the water. From the road, the town is a mass of rather bland housing development but the old centre still has a certain charm.
Tonight as we ate dinner we heard loud splashing outside - it was swimmers from the local Nice Tri triathleton club practising for an event this weekend. Think I'll stick with boating, thank you.
Triathletes practising on the river at St Neots

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