Monday, 11 March 2019

Thinking about boating for 2019

Well the days are getting longer and thoughts turn to boating.  Leo is presently moored on the Middle Levels and while there we have had a new cratch and back cover fitted:

Here is the new back cover which really needed replacing.  The old one had a pole in the middle to hold it up.  This one has a bendy support above so that crawling in there is much easier.

And here is the new cratch cover:

Though we didn't specify this the side panel of the new one can be removed entirely and has no vertical zip by the cabin.  We've decided to try this new arrangement and see how we get on with it in practice.  Both covers were done by Titan Boat Covers based in St Ives.

So we're all spruced up and more or less ready to go.  However the intention this year is to first go on a 3 week trip to the Outer Hebrides (not with Leo) and then to start boating around mid May.  Our first jaunt then will be another adventurous bit of boating namely crossing the Wash from Wisbech to Boston.  This is a tidal crossing going out to sea for about 7 miles into the Wash.  We've thought about it before and visited both ends of the passage and now we've decided to go for it.  We've booked a pilot and all that is left to do is to check the diesel tank and change both of the fuel filters before we go.  We need clear weather and light winds so keep your fingers crossed.

If we get across the Wash our aim will be broadly to go north this year and we are thinking of the pennine crossings and another trip up to York and Ripon.  We'll try to catch some Silver Propellor points as we go.

We hope to see some of our floating friends on the water this year.  Our friends William and Daphne will be coming over from New Zealand to have their first summer on the waterways.  Their boat is called Jabulani.  Give them a toot and our best wishes if you see them.

We will be updating our blog during the season (the aim is twice a week) and also linking to Facebook.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Across the Tide to the Middle Levels

Last Sunday (16th September) we travelled from Denver to Salter's Lode on our way from the River Ouse to the Middle Levels.  We had done our pre-tidal waters checks, the anchor was ready, lifejackets donned.  We were ready.
This was our overnight mooring at Denver on Saturday night.  To the left you can see Denver Sluice with the lock on the right.  Under the trees there you might be able to spot a narrowboat on the lock moorings waiting to go through.  We were called for 11 am and went across there just before that.  Later more boats joined us so there were three narrowboats and a cruiser.  We waited quite a while as the tide was being held back by the strong southerly wind.  Eventually Leo and another similar sized narrowboat, Flying Pig, were allowed into the lock.

Once the downstream guillotine lifted we were first to leave.  Out against the tide we cruised with plenty of revs, past the mooring pontoon and then we stopped. The exit from Denver lock gets silted up very easily and we were stuck firmly on a mud bank.  We tried several times, going back and forth with lots of engine power but finally admitted defeat and retreated into the lock saying to Flying Pig "you have a go."

By now the tide had come in a little.  Flying Pig went out, got stuck but finally managed to get beyond the mud bank into the deeper river and they were off towards Salter's Lode.  So our turn to try again.  Out we came with lots of revs.  We got stuck but were still inching forward and then got through into deeper water too.  Perhaps Flying Pig had dug a furrow in the mud which Leo followed.  This view looking back shows the Denver Lock behind us and the (not entirely) floating lock mooring.

In this view looking forward you can see Flying Pig ahead of us with the mudbank above the water on their left.

Here we are out on the tidal River Ouse with Flying Pig ahead and a cruiser coming in from Kings Lynn heading towards Denver.

We slowed down to watch Flying Pig make the turn into Salter's Lode Lock.  This is a tricky manoeuvre as you have to turn almost back on yourself with the tide, thankfully not too strong today, coming towards you.  Last time we did this we hit the wall behind Flying Pig quite hard and had to repaint the bow afterwards!

Once Flying Pig had disappeared into the lock it was our turn.  The idea is to turn sharp left and come in alongside the tyres on the wall.  This time we didn't hit the wall and in two goes we lined up nicely.  Phew!!

This is the view looking into the lock.  The guillotine is coming down to pen Flying Pig in the lock which can only take one boat at a time.  We had to stay against the tyres which was easier than it sounds.

This shows Leo holding outside the lock.  With the fence on the port side and the tyres on the starboard you get some idea of the narrow hole you have to aim for coming off the tidal river.  Weed is floating up the river on the tide and you can just make out the remains of a mudbank here as well.
From this point it is simple to get into the lock and we were soon through and out on the safety of Well Creek.  We headed to Upwell for the night:
Wells Creek is much narrower and more like a canal than the wide rivers we have been travelling lately.  At one point Helen looked across to the fields on the right and asked "are those deer in the field".  Out with the binoculars and the zoom on the camera and here they are - three roe deer if we are not mistaken.

This bear was holding a salmon by the side of Wells Creek.

Between Nordelph and Outwell the Creek crosses an aqueduct over the Main Drain which goes to the sea near Kings Lynn.

Upwell is a delightful spot with roads and houses either side of the navigable waterway.  We celebrated our tide success with a pint in the Five Bells but we did not eat out as we were trying to empty the fridge before going home.

The church moorings at Upwell are beautifully looked after by volunteers and even include herbs for the use of passing boaters.  The flowers were still very colourful.
On Monday and Tuesday we decided not to follow the normal route via March through the Middle Levels.  Instead we wanted to cruise some new waterways for Leo using the Sixteen Foot and Forty Foot Drains which bypass March.
We came out of Upwell on Monday passing down through Marmont Priory Lock to the drains which are below sea level.  The main route through the Middle Level has signposts: the other waterways there don't have this luxury.  This one, seen through the reeds, shows the 'Link Route' to March to the right and our route to the left (it says Three Holes and Sixteen Foot).

This is looking back to the link route as we turned left onto Popham's Eau which runs in a dead straight line for two miles.

Popham's Eau was deep and weed free and the two miles soon passed to reach Three Holes, the junction seen ahead in the picture.  Here the Main Drain goes left and in a few miles reaches the aqueduct we had crossed the previous day, however you are not supposed to navigate that channel.  Straight ahead Popham's Eau is marked on our map as continuing to a weir at Nordelph but we could not see any sign of it.  Perhaps it is more of a staggered junction than is marked on the map.  Anyway we turned right onto the Sixteen Foot Drain.

Leo chased some swans down the Sixteen Foot.  There was some weed here but it wasn't really a problem.  And you can tell it was quite windy too.  Why are the drains called 'Sixteen Foot', 'Forty Foot' and so on?  Good question.  It is not to do with their width as the Sixteen and the Forty are much the same size.  A quick search on Google did not give me any answers.

Look, a boat!! And we're still chasing swans. In two days this was the only other boat we saw moving on these waters apart from three Middle Level weedcutting boats all stopped for lunch by a bridge.

These waterways are straight for miles and miles.  There were a lot of swans whose behaviour suggested they don't see many boats.

After ten miles with barely a bend the Sixteen Foot meets the Forty Foot and in this picture we have just turned right onto the Forty Foot.  The other way (behind Ian's head) is a continuation of the Forty Foot which leads Horseway Lock and then Welches Dam Lock and should give access to the Old Bedford River which is a non-tidal link back to a navigable sluice near Salter's Lode.  I've said 'should' give access because for more than 10 years Welches Dam Lock has been out of action.  The Environment Agency has so far resisted the pressure from boating groups to mend it.

This view is taken looking up the link to Horseway Lock.  It looked narrow and weedy.
There aren't really any moorings along the Sixteen and the Forty Foot.  However we managed to make landfall close to Leonard Child's Bridge for the night.

After a boisterous day, the winds died and this was the sunset on Monday night.
Sadly from here we cruised to our winter mooring and came back home by train on Wednesday.  Next year we will start from the Middle Levels.  Our choices from here back to the rest of the network are either to return up the River Nene to Northampton or to cross the Wash from Wisbech to Boston.  We have a whole winter to think about whether we might attempt that tidal sea crossing or not.

Our final stats for this year's cruising are a total of 829 miles and 471 locks which is less than some of our cruising seasons but more than others.  Given that we have had a long spell in the flat lands of East Anglia it is not too surprising that the number of locks is markedly less than usual.

We hope you enjoyed our blog postings for 2018 and will follow our travels in 2019.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Relief from the Wissey!

Our boating season is drawing to a close and we are now on the Middle Levels.  It's going to take a couple of posts to bring us up to date so this one tells of our travels up the last of the three Great Ouse tributaries - the River Wissey - and our cruise down the Relief Channel.  So here goes:

The confluence of the Wissey and the Ouse is only a mile or so upstream of Denver Sluice and we turned there last Wednesday off the huge wide River Ouse onto the tiny narrow Wissey.
This picture of the Wissey was taken soon after we turned onto it and gives a good idea of the scenery - tree lined and narrow but pretty deep so no difficulty navigating this river.

About half way up the Wissey the wild natural scenery dramatically changes at Wissington where a huge factory converts sugar beet into sugar.  The river flows round two sides of the factory.  This factory is such a landmark that we had already spotted it from the River Little Ouse.

Round the back of the factory several trees have come down making it difficult to pilot a narrowboat around the fallen branches.  We have reported this to the Environment Agency so hopefully they will remove the trees from the river.

Beyond the factory the river crosses two large lakes which appear to be deep enough to navigate anywhere from side to side.

Like the Little Ouse, the Wissey crosses the Cut Off Channel on an aqueduct.  Excess water in the Cut Off Channel can be sent north out to sea or south to reservoirs in Essex.  Clever stuff.

Here's a view from the aqueduct looking north down the Cut Off Channel.

We are now coming through Stoke Ferry which is close to the navigable limit of the Wissey, some ten miles from the Ouse.

The mooring at Whittington is free to GOBA members, which we are now.  The mooring adjoins a caravan site which was handy for emptying the elsan.  A board of rules greets visiting boaters which is a bit offputting, but the lady at the site was very friendly.  One of the rules is 'no children'.

In the afternoon we walked into Stoke Ferry which has a lot of historic buildings but now looks a bit forlorn with many in disrepair.  It does have a shop but the pub closed earlier this year.  Both churches have been closed.
On Thursday we went back down the Wissey to Hilgay which is only a couple of miles from the Ouse.
But first we had to go another half a mile upstream to reach the point where you can turn round.  This blue narrowboat had passed us half an hour before we set off and we met it broadside across the river.  It was being taken out of the water on a trolley pulled up a ramp by an enormous old army lorry.

When the lorry  revved up to pull the boat up the ramp there was a huge cloud of exhaust but peering through the smoke we could just see the boat moving towards the ramp.

It was touch and go for a while as the boat went up and then slid down the ramp, but eventually the tow worked and the boat went up leaving the river free for us.

Here's the view looking up the ramp with the boat on the trailer at the top.

Past the red narrowboat the river forks with a prominent drain to the left.  This is the point where boats have to turn as the river is not navigable further up.  The turn was not too difficult and even a full sized boat can turn here.

Here we are on our way back crossing the first of the two lakes near the sugar factory.

Here is rather a surreal photo Helen took looking through the girders of a bridge to the sugar factory.

Thursday was a sunnier day for travelling downstream and here we are approaching Hilgay where there are ample moorings on a meadow before the road bridge.

There is only one shop in Hilgay which is a butcher but it also sells fruit and vegetables, groceries and newspapers and we bought a wonderful pork pie, made on the premises.  The photo is of the long avenue of lime trees leading to the church.
Ian liked this fine carving on a gravestone in the churchyard.  It was dated 1891 but the carving looks as sharp as if it was done yesterday.

The Cut Off Channel runs parallel and close to the Wissey at this point so Ian walked up to have a look while Helen filled Leo's water tank.  It looks like a navigable waterway but this is not allowed and there is no navigable connection.
On Friday we returned to the Great Ouse but had one more adventure before going through the lock at Denver Sluice onto the tideway.
We've been trying for ages to get a decent picture of a Great Crested Grebe but every time you point a camera at one, they dive out of sight.  But this one stayed long enough to have its photo taken.

Here we are coming down the Ouse towards the Denver Complex.  To the left are the sluices and the lock that connect with the tidal River Ouse.  Straight ahead are the sluices that allow excess water from the Ouse into the Relief Channel that runs parallel to the tidal river to the outskirts of Kings Lynn.  And to make matters more confusing the Cut Off Channel as a sluice (not visible in the picture) which connects it to the Relief Channel.  It's all very complicated but basically excess water can be sent to Essex or out to sea by two routes.  The main aim is to prevent the Fens being flooded.  As for us we cruised up the right hand channel where a lock gives access to the Relief Channel.  

Helen is setting the lock for Leo.  It's all electric, both the paddles and the gates.

The lock takes boats down about 8 feet and out onto the Relief Channel.

This view is looking back, having come out of the lock which is to the right beyond the lock landing.  The sluices straight ahead connect the Cut Off Channel beyond to the Relief Channel.

These Egyptian Geese were on the concrete by the sluices.

If you think the Great Ouse is a wide river, you should try the Relief Channel!  When we eventually turned round about 8 miles downstream there was no need for a three point turn.

The Relief Channel is also very straight.  You can see a bridge in the distance but it might be two miles away.  However we were travelling at more than 5 miles an hour which is pretty fast for a narrowboat.  We don't know how deep it is: perhaps it is bottomless.

Although there is no navigation obstacle preventing you cruising to the edge of Kings Lynn, where the Channel ends in a sluice onto the tidal river, the last few miles are the province of a water ski club and other boats are not welcome.  So here at Wigginhall Bridge we were obliged to turn round.

This sign at the bridge makes clear that it is 'no entry' and 'turn round'.

There are three new floating mooring pontoons on the Relief Channel and we stopped at the one at Wigginhall, St Mary Magdalen for lunch.  We walked up to the church which was huge for such a tiny village and there is also a pub here - the Cock Inn - which does food.

We moved back after lunch to the middle mooring at Stow Bridge which is right by the Heron pub which had been recommended to us by other boaters.  This view from the road bridge shows Leo on the pontoon by the pub.  We did not meet many boats down here, though we were surprised and pleased to see Leaside Lass, a boat that we had last seen in Bedford.  We stopped for a chat with owners Esme and Brian as they were heading back to Denver that day. We also saw Fulbourne, the working boat last seen on the Lark and previously at St Neots.

I mentioned that the tidal channel runs parallel to the Relief Channel so we walked across to it from the Heron.  The tide was going out.  Somewhere in the distance is Kings Lynn and the sea.
The Heron was as good as we had been told with lovely food and good beer at reasonable prices.  We enjoyed our evening meal there and it was but a short step back to the boat afterwards.

On Saturday we came back up the Relief Channel stopping for a few hours at the third mooring pontoon which is within 10 minutes walk of Downham Market.  As well as some fine buildings, a hill (!!) up to the church and a market we also looked in at the Downham Discovery Centre.  This is a museum, staffed by volunteers, in the old fire station and is well worth a visit. Did you know about the Downham Market Riot in 1816?

Once back up the lock we moored at Denver ready for our passage through the lock onto the tidal River Ouse on Sunday.  But more about that in our next posting.