Sunday, 21 May 2017

Almost at Nottingham

The heavy rain recently has speeded up the flow on the River Trent quite a bit.  So poor Leo has been working hard the last few days coming up the river.  We are now moored above Holme Lock on the outskirts of Nottingham.

We were glad we'd come up the tidal river as far as Cromwell Lock on Tuesday.  The weather on Wednesday was pretty awful.  We did walk into the village but the rain had set in by the time we got back and it carried on most of the day.  So we stayed where we were.

Helen decided to wash the sheets as we came up the tidal river to Cromwell.  As the weather wasn't conducive to drying the washing, we lit the stove and here's what the inside of Leo looked like that evening.

Thursday morning after the rain and wind was wonderful and very still.  Here is the view looking downstream from our mooring towards the lock.

We made the most of the fine weather to cruise the few miles upstream into Newark.

Here we are approaching the junction where you turn off the river onto the navigable cut through Newark.  Shortly after the junction you come to Nether Lock, which like all the locks up to Nottingham has a lock keeper who works it for you.

Newark is a very attractive town and we arrived on a beautiful day.  We sat at a cafe in the market place shown here and it was really too hot.  This was our first sign that it might be summer.

We followed a walking trail around the town which pointed out all sorts of curiosities.  One was this building which was the Castle Brewery.  It is no longer a brewery but is an attractive Victorian building.

Here is a detail of the carving in the pediment above the entrance.  It is a fine representation of Newark Castle.

There are two signs like this one either end of the ruins of the Castle.  What on earth possessed someone to put up a notice like this?  On Friday morning we had a guided tour of the dungeons in the medieval castle.  Suitably gory tales of how debtors who did not pay up and finished up perishing in a stone chamber with up to 60 similar people, a fair percentage of them dying and being trampled underfoot.  Not a pretty thought.  Some of the chambers we entered were only accessible by ladders.  You need to be fit to explore Newark Castle.

We liked this tactile plan of the town.  The River is in the foreground.

Here is a view of the castle from Town Lock.  Like the castle at Lincoln there never was a central keep but there were buildings against the inside of the curtain wall by the river.

This view  is from near our mooring and also shows the lovely arched bridge over the river.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we have come further up river.

Upstream of Newark is a huge unfenced weir at Averham.  We stayed well away on the other side of the channel!

We have a new plastic duck to add to our collection.  The nearer one is the latest addition.  We've called him 'Stampy' because we rescued him from Stamp End Lock at Lincoln.  Trouble is he needs a magnet on his bottom like the others.  Another job for Ian.

This stretch of the river above Hazelford Lock reminded us of the River Thames near Cliveden with steep woods coming down to the river.

Because the river is flowing faster than usual, approaching a lock (here Gunthorpe) entails cruising through the foam coming off the weir.  The flow also gets faster as you approach the lock and weir.

On a walk from Gunthorpe Lock moorings we came across this culvert where it looks as if two hands are buried.  Makes you wonder if the rest of him is attached to the hands. Obviously the builder had a sense of humour.

After the rain, we had a calm evening and this is the view from Gunthorpe Bridge.  Our mooring is in the distance on the left.

This is the view coming to Holme Lock.  At 12 feet this is a lot deeper than the other locks on the river.

A channel running parallel with the lock and weir creates a white water channel for canoes and rafts as part of the National Water Sports Centre.  It makes a diverting afternoon when mooring here, but I don't think we'll take Leo down here!

Like the ducks in an earlier posting, here we have a family of geese with Mum and Dad at each end and the kids in a line between them.

We are going to stay in and around Nottingham for a few days as we have arranged to see several friends living nearby.  After that we will be heading south away from the Trent valley on the River Soar.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Back to the Trent

We are now moored above Cromwell Lock which is the tidal limit of the River Trent.  So this post is a catch up to show how we got here.  Today it is pouring with rain and so I am catching up on domestic computer chores like the household bills.

Having come up from the Navigable Drains and back on the better travelled waters of the River Witham, we retraced our steps to Lincoln and to the River Trent at Torksey.

We often see ducklings messing about by the sides of the river with mum some distance away.  But we've noticed that when it comes to crossing the big wide river, mum insists that they all behave themselves and follow in a strict line astern.

We think this is a Spitfire, but it is possible that it is a Hurricane.  Anyway the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is at Coningsby which is close to the River Witham.  We were treated to a flypast of a couple of Spitfires while cruising up the river.

We moored near Woodhall Spa and cycled into the village.  This is the village sign which makes much of its old railway which is no more.  The sign however does not reference the fact that the village became a spa town when an exploratory coal mine produced no coal but found a mineral spring which was then exploited.  The village is like a smaller version of Tunbridge Wells and is very attractive.  We had tea at the Tea House in the Woods and bought fish and chips before cycling back quickly to eat it before it went cold.

In the morning a Roe Deer visited the mooring and this picture was taken from Leo.  These deer seem very common round here.  We've seen three on our short walk this morning.

There are two locks on the 30 miles of river between Lincoln and Boston which gives you an idea of how flat the landscape is.  Here is Leo waiting below Bardney Lock while we get the lock ready.

The second lock is Stamp End Lock on the outskirts of Lincoln and once up that the picture shows Leo coming through the city.  There were lots of people about because it was Saturday.

The river goes under some medieval buildings on a bridge on the High Street.  This is called the Glory Hole and the picture shows Leo approaching it.  Though clearance here is no problem for Leo, large and high cruisers cannot pass through.  

The other side of the Glory Hole you come out into a large lake called Brayford Pool where the Fossdyke meets the River Witham.  Here you are as likely to meet a large cruiser or trip boat as you are to meet a narrowboat.

We stayed two nights in Lincoln.  The Lincoln Festival of Cycling was taking place and we watched some of the races as well as having a lazy day on the Sunday.

We wanted to look round Ellis Mill but as you can see they are busy restoring its sails, so it was closed.  The mill lies on Mill Road which used to have nine windmills along it.  This is the only one left.

In between showers there was lovely sun and we spent several hours reading the paper and lazing in the sun on Sunday having done the tour of the Castle walls on Saturday.  Oddly Lincoln Castle, which like the Cathedral is on the top of a steep hill above the river, never had a central keep.  This chap is George III who looks rather smug despite his clothing of moss or algae.

Here is the view of the Cathedral from the Castle walls.  The view of the Cathedral dominates the landscape for miles around.  The landscape is almost flat for miles but the city is on a hill.

This view is across from one side of the castle to the other.  The tall tower is known as the Observatory Tower because one governor of the prison, which was within the castle walls, was a keen astronomer and he kept a telescope up there.

On Saturday evening the cycle race was the 'Uphill Dash'.  The cobbled road climbs at 1 in 6 up to the Cathedral and Castle and heats took place to climb it.  Each heat took just 35-45 seconds but it made for exciting viewing.

On Sunday morning was the women's elite race and in the afternoon was the men's.  We missed the women's (got up there too late), but saw some of the men's race which went  up the steep hill on each one of the 13 laps.

Here the riders have turned a sharp corner where the gradient is steepest.

On Monday we cruised back to Torksey where yesterday we set off up the last of the tidal sections of the River Trent to Cromwell Lock.  It was blowy and some long straight sections were a bit choppy, but we had little rain and all went well.  Glad we didn't opt to come up the river today.

About 12.30 pm the lockie let us down onto the river.  In this view Raggle Taggle is seen following us out of the lock.

This sign is at the end of the Torksey cut which joins the lock to the Trent. We turned left towards Cromwell.

One of the first sights on the Trent is Cottam Power Station.  You can see in front of us a yacht (with mast down) called Grace Mary which came out of Torksey Lock just behind the two narrowboats.  She is quite a bit faster than us, so soon overtook us.

This  top section of the tidal river is very bendy and there are more bridges than the lower sections.  This is Fledborough Viaduct.  The advice in our Trent Guide is to go under the "England" graffiti, but this has largely worn away.

At one point there were lots of cows by the river.  This picture also shows why you don't go round the inside of the bends.  It's a bit shallow.

This old windmill is at Carlton on Trent and is a welcome sign that you are nearly there.  In fact there are kilometre signs all the way up the river from Gainsborough so you should not be in any doubt.

Round the last bend you can see the huge Cromwell Weir which marks the tidal limit.  Tucked round to the right is the huge lock which lets you up onto the non tidal river.

Once the lock keeper lets you into the lock the gates close behind you shutting out the tide.  We shall not see tidal water again until we get to the Thames.

So, after a month on the water, we are heading south towards Newark and then Nottingham where we hope to meet some friends that live around there.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

From Boston to New York by Narrowboat - The Witham Navigable Drains

We've just come back from two days on waterways that are very seldom visited.  The fen drains north of Boston are open to boats that are prepared to be a bit adventurous.  Before we set off we spoke to Neil at the 4th Witham Internal Drainage Board in Norfolk Street, Boston.  He was very helpful and encouraged us to go.  They are keen to receive boats and will do all they can to assist, including being on the end of a phone if there are any difficulties.  Neil also asked that we keep him informed of where we are and of any problems.  The chief difficulty outside summer when weed growth may be a problem is the low clearance at some of the bridges.  We filled the water tank and filled a couple of toilet cassettes with water to provide additional ballast at the bow.  We got Leo's air draught down to 5 feet 10 inches.  A map from the Drainage Board shows the heights of bridges below 6 feet, so we avoided those routes.  Nevertheless one or two were passed with inches to spare.  See what you think when you've read this:

There was a lovely evening light looking up the river on Sunday evening when we were moored at Anton's Gowt a couple of miles short of Boston.
On Monday morning we came into Boston to shop, fill with water and empty the toilet.  In this view you can see the Grand Sluice which separates the tidal from the non tidal River Witham.  On the left is a lock that can connect the two to allow boats out to the Wash.  A railway crosses the girder bridge.  Behind is St. Botolph's otherwise known as Boston Stump.

We stayed on the visitor moorings at Boston on Monday evening, having had a chat with the drainage chaps.  On Tuesday we set off for our trip on the Drains.  There are 40-60 miles of navigable drains near Boston and we've now cruised about half of them.

Here we are going into Anton's Gowt lock which takes you down about 5 or 6 feet onto the drains.  This means you are cruising below sea level.  Below the lock is a gauge.  Summer levels on the drains are held at between +0.18 and -0.20 metres on this gauge.  When we passed it was at about +0.16 so near the top of this range.  Near the bottom the bridges would be easier.

Here you can see Leo coming out of the lock onto the drains.  There is no landing below the lock. The only way back onto the boat is via the long ladder on the left.  In the background is the Malcolm Inn where we ate this evening.  It is well worth a visit.

We turned left below the lock up Newnham Drain.  This was our first bridge and had reasonable clearance though the horizontal pipe beyond was tighter.

Newnham Drain is fairly narrow but the water was deep and very clear.  It feels very remote and the bird song is constant and delightful.

A trig point on the top of the flood bank is at 2m above sea level, so we were definitely below sea level.

Just before the culvert bridge you can see is a cross roads of drains.  We turned left on the West Fen Drain.

A little way along the West Fen we picked up a green lightweight tarpaulin round the prop.  It took some getting off, but this can happen anywhere on the normal canals.  It probably blew in from an adjoining field.

If you don't believe we cruised from Boston to New York, here is the proof, a road sign seen from the boat.

At Bunkers Hill a road junction sits over the Drain which goes through in a long culvert.  Our drain engineer, Neil, had mentioned that this might be a problem, so we approached very slowly.

This gives a good idea of the extent of clearance - a matter of inches both at the top and at the cabin sides.  A squarer shaped hull would not get through here.  Fortunately the profile of the tunnel is constant so that if you get in you will get all the way through.

Here is the view looking back - it certainly looks impossible.

A mile or so from here we were able to turn round, near the village called New York, at a junction with the Sandy Bank Drain.  Soon after the junction is a lower bridge on the map, so sensible to turn round here.

Here we are going forward into Sandy Bank Drain to turn round.

It being lunchtime we stopped for lunch.  We didn't moor, we just stopped.  Well you're most unlikely to see another boat and the current was very slight.  Ian got onto the bank to take this photo.

After lunch we went back through the low culvert and then carried on down the West Fen Drain past the junction where we had joined it.  The West Fen Drain is quite wide - you might even be able to turn our 57 foot boat in the channel.

At Frithville, several miles on, the West Fen joins the Medlam Drain which is huge, probably wider than the River Witham.  Turning here would be easy even with a full length boat.  This view looking back shows the West Fen to the left and the Medlam Drain straight on. The last bridge on the West Fen before this junction is very low, less than an inch over 6 feet.

This is the last bridge before the Cowbridge Lock.  Plenty of room at this one.

This photo gives a good idea of the width of the Medlam Drain.  At the junction you can see, left goes to a sluice and is not for boats.  Straight on goes to Cowbridge Lock.
 The lock is the left one of these three channels under the bridge.  There is no lock landing.  You have to nose up gently and ask Helen nicely to jump off the roof of the boat onto the lockside.  Only a CRT key is required to operate the lock, but the safety catch on the guillotine needed tapping with a windlass.

Here is the entry to the lock.  Cowbridge Lock takes the boat up a couple of feet onto a higher set of navigable drains.
 Here are the bottom gates which curiously have no balance beams.  You open them by pulling on the chains and close them by pushing with your feet and pushing or pulling with a boat hook from the boat.

The top gate is a guillotine worked manually with a handle.  It needs a lot of turns to lift it.

And this is where we spent last night moored on the outside of the lock.  There is a main road close by, but places to moor are very few on the Drains, so it had to do.  Later in the evening another boat turned up and moored opposite us, tied round the railing you can see, with the stern tied to an anchor thrown onto the bank.  Leo had mooring rings fitted to the lock side.

Today (Wednesday) we have continued our travels on the Drains going first up Stonebridge Drain.  To access this you turn left just after Cowbridge Lock.  To the right leads to the Maud Foster Drain which is a back route into the other side of Boston where you can moor by a high wall below the Maud Foster Windmill.  But we'd been that way before.

The Stonebridge Drain is fairly wide and deep.  Like most of the Drains it is very straight, mind blowingly so.
This Drain is overseen by the Environment Agency, not by the local Drainage Board.  The EA had agreed that some local anglers could put some booms across the Drain to catch the weed coming down.  We had to carefully detach two of the booms and feed the rope round the boat.  And then do it all again when we came back.  Not forgetting that landing someone on the shore is difficult.

We came to a second boom and, thinking that the flat bridge beyond this curved bridge was much too low, we tried to turn Leo below the boom.  Not quite possible.  A fifty footer might manage but not 57 feet.

After reversing some way looking for a wider spot to turn, a tractor driver stopped to advise us that we could get through the bridges and turn at a junction of drains beyond.  That meant moving the second boom, but so be it. Here you can see Leo heading for the second bridge beyond which is the junction.

Here you can see the two Drains behind us, now that we have turned where they join.  This turn was a bit shallow so not quite as easy, but no real difficulty.

And here we are heading back the way we'd come.

This is Helen tying the boom back to some trees, Ian having taken the boom round the boat.  Ian then poled the back end of Leo close to the bank to avoid fouling the prop and to let Helen jump back on. 

We decided to stop at Sibsey for lunch.  The only viable mooring was to tie Leo to the bridge.  The photo also shows that this was another low bridge.  In fact it seems to be lower in the middle than it is at the west side, so be careful with this one which is the Frithville Road Bridge.

Our main reason for visiting Sibsey was to see the Sibsey Trader Mill which unusually has six arms.  Unfortunately it was not open today.  It seems to be open Tuesdays and weekends. The village has a general store and a pub and is about half a mile from the waterway.

Here is the view looking up from below.  It is pretty tall and the sails come nowhere near the ground.
After lunch we rescued Leo from under the bridge and returned down the Stonebridge Drain and through Cowbridge Lock.  From here there is a shorter route back to Anton's Gowt Lock, along Frith Bank Drain.  It  is only a mile or two and curiously this is a very windy Drain - most of them are dead straight.  This view is just as we came back to Anton's Gowt Lock which is on the left.

So that is the tale of our adventures on the Drains.  Provided you have a fairly low air draught we'd certainly recommend a visit.  Plenty of deep navigable water and a very peaceful and remote couple of days cruising.

Our other possible adventure out on the tidal River Witham and up the Black Sluice is not going to happen.  The EA have reduced the level of the water in the Black Sluice for some work to be done. Although the work is finished they are dependent on some rain to bring the levels back to normal.  Rain is a rare commodity at the moment so we will have to leave this one for another year.

So our next cruising will be back to Lincoln and Torksey to rejoin the River Trent.  We've had our first proper summer weather today - hot and sunny.  Long may it continue.