Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Out on the Fens - The Middle Levels

We've now completed our cruise down the River Nene to Peterborough and we are now on the flood drains that constitute the Middle Levels and connect the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse without the peril of going out to sea on the Wash.

On Friday we continued down the Nene passing through Thrapston which marks the change from calling the river the 'Nen' to calling it the 'Neen' which is more how it is written.

 This is the bridge at Thrapston.  Some of the bridges on the Nene area a bit tricky with the current in the river.

That evening we moored below the lock at Titchmarsh and went on a cycle ride around the neighbouring villages.

This is Wadenhoe Mill with a lovely clear mill stream and some fine large fish swimming around.

We followed a path across from Achurch to Wadenhoe and here is a view from a distance of Wadenhoe Church.

We popped in to the King's Arms in Wadenhoe which is a lovely village reminiscent of some fine Cotswold villages.  The garden of the pub stretches down to the river and, at the bottom of the garden, who should we see moored but Chris and Cliff on 'Tihso' who we met and spent time with in Liverpool last year.  It was good to catch up with them.  On Saturday we carried on downstream to Fotheringhay, where Mary Queen of Scots was executed.

Here we are passing Tihso on a wet morning on Saturday.

This waterfall over the top lock gates was not because of the rain.  In fact many of the Nene locks do this which makes filling the locks much easier.

Fotheringhay Church stands proud above the fairly flat lands round about.  It really is a splendid building.

 Here we are moored for the night just above Fotheringhay Bridge.  The grey cloud shows the rain that was about to arrive and duly did.  We watched the level indicator by the bridge carefully during the evening and night.  Fortunately the river only rose by about 5 inches so we could still get under the bridge in the morning.

Here you can see the river and bridge to the left , the tower of the church in the middle and the mound of the castle to the right.  There is nothing left of the castle now apart from the mound.

Here is the memorial to Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned in the castle and later executed.

Apparently Mary planted thistles presumably to remind her of Scotland.  Perhaps these were descendants of those she planted.

On Sunday we found a lovely mooring beside Alwalton Lock and on Monday we carried on to Peterborough stopping en route at Ferry Meadows, a park for the locals beside a lake with a link to the river.  You can take your boat onto the lake and there are pontoon moorings for visitors.

Being Bank Holiday the Nene Valley Railway was running and we went underneath just as the train went overhead.

Here is Milton Ferry Bridge a lovely ornate bridge across to the Ferry Meadows park.

Here is Leo moored on Lake Overton at the very nice visitor mooring pontoons.  Cars have to pay to park but boats are free for 24 hours!

Here we are setting out to explore the lake.  Looks like we are setting out to sea.

On Monday evening we were pleased to welcome Graham and Trina onboard.  They were tired after a day spent travelling but we were delighted to show them the boat and our home for the summer.  Graham was Ian's boss in respect of Union casework and the two have often resorted to a local ale house to discuss Union business.

On Tuesday morning we had only a short while to see the highlights of Peterborough.

This is the West front of the Cathedral seen from the Cathedral precincts which are secluded, quiet and delightful.

And here is the market building nearby.

Our time was limited because we had a morning booking for Stanground Lock which takes boats down from the river onto the Middle Levels.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  The river is usually the lowest point in a valley but this is the Fens and things are not quite like this.  Some of the Fens is below sea level, hence going down from the river level.  The Middle Levels is a collection of interlinking drains and ditches and old rivers that links the Rivers Nene and Great Ouse.  A few miles on you come to the town of Whittlesey and a very sharp bend.  Fortunately we knew this was coming and did just get round without touching the bank.

The water channel is very narrow and lined with hard sides.

Here is the sharp bend to the right and under another bridge.  Very tricky.

Whittlesey was a fine small town where we lunched at the local Wetherspoons for under a tenner for two meals and two drinks.

In the main square is a fine thatched building.  I admired this straw man on the top of the roof.

Here is the old town hall.  We were particularly struck by the arched doorways to either side of the entrance door.

Here is a detail from the picture above and you will see that the old fire engines (probably hand carts) went through the arched doorways.

So what are the Middle Levels like?  Well the country is pan flat, the waterways can be dead straight but not always and the towns seem isolated but interesting.  We left the main route through the Middle Levels to follow the old course of the River Nene to Benwick and Ramsey and today have come back to March where we are presently moored.

How's this for a straight waterway?  Some straights are only a mile long, others are six miles long.  The skies are enormous, trees are few and the water is amazingly clear down to 5 or 6 feet down.  You can see the fish clearly.

There are some low bridges.  This one just brushed the chives on the roof.  Some are only 5 feet above the water and we can't manage those.  So you have to be careful which waterways you follow.

With high banks along the waterway, we have found this is the best way to see the views.

Approaching Ramsey the channel got very narrow and we brushed through the weeds on either side.

Here Helen is watching Ian turn Leo in a very tight turning hole at the end of the waterway at Ramsey.  It is a good job that Leo is not a 70 foot narrowboat!

This is Leo on autopilot.  On the long straights only an occasional tweak is required to keep her on track along the waterway.

Here are the town centre moorings in March.  The prominent building with the tower is the Victorian Town Hall.  We are moored a little further out of town.

Tomorrow we will go further along the main route through the Middle Levels so that on Friday we can do the perilous crossing of the tidal waters to Denver Sluice.  This is only half a mile on tidal water but if we make a mess of it then the next posting will be from Holland.  However if we make it then we will be cruising up the River Great Ouse to Ely, Huntingdon and Bedford.

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