A singlehanded weekend

June 20th, 2010

I’m in Wellingborough tonight, about two-thirds of the way up the River Nene towards Northampton, having spent the last two days making my way singlehandedly. I’d originally hoped to have company for this stretch, as there are a lot of locks, but that wasn’t the way it worked out.

Single-handed boating requires Being Prepared, so it’s just as well that I went to Scouts for all those years! In particular I find that I like to have a lot of stuff set ready on the stern deck: mooring pins, mallet, windlass, security keys, sunglasses, jumper and/or raincoat, glass of water and snack-foods that can be eaten with one hand whilst steering (e.g. apples, pears, biscuits).

On Saturday morning I went as far as Fotheringay. Two small highlights from this trip – one is Yarwell Mill, where there is a huge caravan site which also features a fair number of private moorings for boats. The Mill itself is adjacent to a lock. By the lock landing stages are large signs that say “Passing Boats: this is Private Property. No Water, No Toilets, No Rubbish. Overnight mooring by arrangement”. Charming! I’ll take my business elsewhere, thanks…
At Warmington Lock I encountered the first of the mechanically-operated guillotine gates (most of them are electric now, but some of the locks are so rural that there’s no electricity nearby). As I wound the handle countless times, a jolly group of ramblers passed by, said hello, and took photos.
After they had disappeared off across the water-meadows, I maneuvered Innocenti out of the upper gates and attempted to pull onto the lock-mooring. The strong cross-wind had other ideas though, and the boat ended up sideways across the lock entrance. I went and drained the lock and raised the guillotine gate (you have to reset the locks on the Nene to empty after use, which is particularly tedious when you’re on your own) and then attempted to get the boat off again. The combination of crosswind and side current to the weir stream almost defeated me, but I got round and the bows headed up-river. But there wasn’t quite enough turning-circle and we went aground. Bother! Ten minutes of poling and shoving later and off we went to Fotheringhay.

Now, if like me you were subjected to Elizabethan-period history at School, you might have heard of Fotheringhay. The castle was where Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots and eventually had her executed there. All that remains now is a lumpen mound – it was a motte-and-bailey castle – and a selection of rather fine stone buildings that once surrounded it. I’m surprised that more isn’t made of it – the castle site itself is still really a farm, and there’s one (rather smart) pub in the village where I decided to treat myself to lunch. I moored by the castle – there are nice mooring-posts and a sign saying “Overnight mooring £4, short stays £2” but no clue as to how to pay. I enquired at the guest-house near the castle. “Wrong house”, said the lady there, “you want the one across the road”. That was deserted, so I gave up and went to the pub. On the way, I met the ramblers I had seen at Warmington Lock, coming out of the churchyard. They were going to the pub too, and invited me to join them. They turned out to be a group of doctors who knew each other from an internet site, DoctorsNet, and who were meeting up in Real Life for a ramble and a pub lunch. A good time was had, and I excused myself at 2pm and went back to the boat.

I meandered on, finally stopping at Titchmarsh Lock at about 1930. There’s a 48 hour mooring there, but one end of it was occupied by a large weedcutter boat, and the other by a narrowboat that looked familiar. The other side of the river has a large basin occupied by the Middle Nene Cruising Club. I attempted to moor alongside the weedcutter, but with the crosswind it was quite tricky. As I faffed and struggled, the lady and gentleman from the familiar-looking narrowboat, Sunflower, appeared and offered to help. They turned out to be from Waterbeach – I’d seen their boat in and around Cambridge in the past. After a bite to eat, we were invited to join the club members in their bar, which was very convivial.

Day 8: Wansford Station to Titchmarsh Lock, 21 miles and 11 locks.

Today (Sunday) I’ve come to Wellingborough with a brief stop at Irthlingborough for lunch. No real excitement or drama, but the weather was better – getting sunnier and less windy as the day went on. The locks are becoming more frequent but with shorter rises now.

Day 9: Titchmarsh Lock to Wellinborough Embankment, 16 miles and 10 locks.
Total so far: 108 miles and 31 locks (and we’re still north of Cambridge, so not even heading in the right direction yet!)

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