Navigating the Nene

June 18th, 2010

I woke up earlier than I’d expected this morning, having left my alarm set for 6am rather than the usual 7… anyway, I got two hours work done before Stanground Lock came to life and I was eventually locked through at about 9:30. I motored round the corner to the water-and-pumpout point and tied up. The Environment Agency, who look after the Nene, have kindly provided two pumpout units and a fresh water supply here. Oddly, the fresh water supply is from an old and knackered-looking reel-out fire hose rather than being just a conventional tap. Once I’d got the water tank hooked up I reached for the pumpout hose. A chap appeared and opened up the other pumpout unit and then called to me “It’s not working – I’m here to fix it but I’m waiting for Anglian Water to let me into the plant room”. Shortly after that the Anglian Water guy showed up, and Mr Pumpout discovered that the problem was a tripped circuit breaker. He reset it and I pumped out. This is the last free pumpout for a while – after this I’ll have to pay boatyards to do it…

I carried on working until about 1215, and then stopped for a bite of lunch before heading over to the convenient riverside Asda for some supplies – and then into central Peterborough on a quest for an odd-sized inner tube for my folding bike. The Power Of Google on my phone led my to Richardson’s Cycles, a helpful independent bike shop in the mighty Queensgate shopping centre, where they had both the obscure sizes needed for the Bickerton (its front wheel is smaller than the back one).

Peterborough is actually quite nice, especially now that they’ve built a smart new square with strange spurty water fountains in front of the cathedral. Strange to see a Norman cathedral in a city most people think of as a New Town…

Anyway, back to the boat and on up the river. I have to admit that my previous experience of the Nene was that it was hard work – but it was my first experience of rivers, there was quite a lot of current and all the (limited) moorings were taken up by boaters coming back from the IWA festival in St Ives.

Now, after the Fens, it seems a pleasant, placid river – wide and gently curving, with handsome old bridges and a gentle bucolic English landscape. This impression is reinforced at two of the settlements I passed, where mills and churches built from honey-coloured stone are reflected in the clear water.

The Nene navigation fell into disuse when a railway line was opened along its length, and the guidebook claims that by 1920 a small motor launch attempted to make the journey from Peterborough to Northampton but “had to be dragged overland in places”. Consequently, in the 1930s a big programme of investments were made and all the locks date from this period. They are big concrete-and-brick affairs, built in the days when Progress had no time for such niceties as environmental protection! Operating them singlehanded turned out to require some practice. Firstly, the locks are deep, and I had to tie a couple of metres of extension rope to my handling rope so that I could climb the lock ladder with the handling rope. The paddles are also extremely large, and the flows so violent that the boat can be pulled about quite violently by them. So, go gently! The convention on the Nene is to empty the locks and leave the guillotine gates open after using them, so lock passages take slightly longer than normal.

Anyway, three locks later I arrive at Wansford Station, which confusingly is not in Wansford but instead in a hamlet called Sibson about a mile away up the Great North Road, which is just within earshot. The EA have provided a lovely visitor mooring here on a large floating pontoon. The station itself is the headquarters and engine sheds of the Nene Valley Railway, from which steam trains run back towards Peterborough.

Tomorrow is a full day, hopefully to Thrapston if not further.

Day 7: Stanground Lock to Wansford Station, 11 miles and 4 locks.
Total so far 71 miles and 10 locks. Thesis now 5639 words and 25 pages.

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