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Cruising in 2006

2006 was the year of the rivers, as we took a Gold Licence, giving us access to Environment Agency waters as well as BW. Here are the pictures to accompany Sheila's log.

January and February

The first two months of the year were very strange. We headed north from Braunston to a rendezvous with my brother in Newbold. My brother had recently retired and he and my sister in law were to celebrate in style with an extended holiday in New Zealand. I had agreed to house sit for them so I spent a large part of January and February on dry land in Knutsford. Without wishing to be ungrateful for the loan of a very nice house, I was quite uncomfortable living in a house after the best part of two years afloat. There was too much housework to do and I kept losing things because there were too many places to put them. I don't even want to talk about stairs!

Bruce spent the time single handing over a range from Brinklow to Braunston to Napton. He also received an introduction to a group of boaters in Braunston who play skittles at The Plough once a week. The Plough remains our favourite pub in Braunston.

The first weekend in February I rejoined Bruce for a long weekend to enable us to go to the Ownerships Show in Braunston. We had for several years helped out at the Ownerships Show either with moving boats around or showing people round. Although we had sold our shares we offered to come back and help in the future. We were a little indignant when we were told that outgoing owners often offered that but never did come back. Being determined to show that we did mean it we made ourselves available to move boats from Stockton Top to Braunston before the Show and back afterwards. It was also fun to see our old friends, fellow owners from the two boats on which we had owned shares and friends from previous shows.

After the show I returned to Knutsford and Bruce made relaxed progress north to meet me again at Hartshill at the end of February.

March

We moved slowly south to Alrewas, stopping for a couple of days at Polesworth where we discovered the pleasure of the walk along the towpath to Pooley Hall Heritage Park. There is a stiff climb up what is presumably an old spoil heap but it is worth the effort for the view from the top. We arrived at Alrewas at the end of the first week and spent the rest of the month taking it easy between Horninglow Basin and Tixall Wide. For me the highlight of the month was spotting a strange swan on the Trent and Mersey at Colwich. I couldn't identify it (no surprise there) but nor could my bird book so I had to e-mail the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust who told me it was probably a Trumpeter Swan that had escaped from captivity. Unfortunately it didn't make any noise when we passed it, apparently if you hear a Trumpeter Swan you are left in no doubt about its identity.

April

The first weekend of the month was spent off the boat when we paid a final visit to our house on Anglesey. We saw the tenants out, spent the weekend cleaning and left the house in the hands of an Estate Agent. Back on the boat with a clean bill of health from doctor, dentist and optician we were at last free to start boating seriously. On Friday 7th we left Alrewas heading south, noting our first sighting of ducklings of the year at Huddlesford Junction. Travelling via Fazeley, Hawkesbury Junction and Braunston we reached Leighton Buzzard on Friday 14th. That weekend we diverted to have a look at the restored Wendover Arm, a short trip but well worth doing. By Friday 21st we had reached Denham Deep, greatly assisted by our friends John & Nev Campbell joining us for the day at Berkhamstead and helping us with the locks through to Kings Langley. On Saturday 22nd we went into Willowtree Marina on the Paddington Arm for three nights mooring while Bruce travelled to Glasgow. It was a very pleasant Marina and considering how close it was to London it was surprisingly reasonable. We were plugged in to water and electricity and there were showers and a launderette available and best of all a book exchange shelf. In fact the only problem we had was that we were supplied with a key to get onto our mooring pontoon but not one for the main gates. Fortunately it was not long after nine in the evening when Bruce got back and rang me from the gate to say that he couldn't get in. I had to go round knocking on boats until I found someone with a key. Any other night the gates are open until late as there is a restaurant on the main quay but it is closed on Mondays.

By the end of the month we were moored in Paddington Basin and hard at work with the service team for Canalway Cavalcade.

May

I missed most of the action at the Cavalcade as I developed a heavy cold so I spent most of the time hiding on our boat and handing out radios, hopefully without cold germs. Bruce was well exercised acting as Bungle's assistant. {Bruce says: there's a whole bit I could add here about the Waterway Recovery Group, it's habit of giving people bizarre nicknames, and why George Eycott is called Bungle, but it would take far too long. Much better to go on a wrg camp and find out for yourself. Details on the wrg website} He tells me that he never realised how heavy electric cable is in wholesale quantities. The Cavalcade is a completely different event from Crick or the National. As it is a free festival mainly aimed at Londoners the atmosphere is very different from dedicated boat shows but extremely good fun nevertheless. The main moorings were in Little Venice with the boats moored stern on to the bank along the length of the basin. These moorings were very sociable but we had quieter moorings just down the Paddington Basin Arm in an area set aside for the service team.

On Wednesday 3rd we said goodbye to Paddington and set off northwards. We made good time to the top of Cowroast where we called in at the Marina there for a very expensive diy pump out. I was just making the difficult turn out of the Marina back onto the canal when I realised that Bruce who was supposed to be my lookout just wasn't looking. He told me afterwards that he had been distracted by a strange bird which he looked up and identified as a Redstart. I'm supposed to be the birdwatcher and I missed it completely, sometimes there's no justice.

As we were ahead of schedule we took a couple of days out to visit Aylesbury. This was pretty hard work but rewarding as the canal ends in a basin very close to the centre of the town. The basin is managed by the Aylesbury Canal Society who found us a visitor's mooring and made us very welcome. The narrow locks made a change from all the broad locks that we had been working recently. Back on the GU we still had enough spare time to spend a day moored at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes. Bruce made a day trip to Wigan to finish his work there and I did a bit of shopping.

By Wednesday 24th we were on our mooring at Crick for the Crick Boat Show and this year's was certainly one to remember. Although it was not actually raining when the Show opened on Saturday the ground was already very wet. As the day progressed some very heavy showers ensured that the ground was saturated. Walking round the exhibits was not impossible as there are so many gravel paths and temporary roads but it was very difficult for anyone who had come by car. There were tractors available to pull the cars out of the car park but even they were getting stuck. However it was all good natured and there was a good turn out considering the conditions. On Sunday when we got off Sanity to go to work there was a dreadful singed smell in the air which made us think that one of the previous night's barbecues had got out of hand. Someone that we met on the towpath soon put us straight. Apparently there had been a major fire nearby in a pet food processing factory. We were lucky not to have been evacuated from our boat in the middle of the night as toxic smoke had started to blow our way. The canal was closed as the Fire Brigade were pumping thousands of gallons of water per hour out of the canal to continue fighting the fire. The road from the M1 to the Show was closed as the water hoses were across the road. When we got onto the Show ground no-one was sure if the Show was going to open and there were no controls at the gates so exhibitors and the public were wandering in and out freely. Some level of normality was achieved by eleven, only an hour late which was quite a remarkable achievement. An emergency car park was established beyond the blockage and many people walked to the Show. Others had a long detour round country lanes to approach from the other side. It says a lot for people's determination to get to the Show that there were still plenty of visitors.

After floods on Saturday and fire on Sunday it was a major relief that Monday passed quite uneventfully and all agreed that it was a Show to remember but perhaps not for the right reasons. Tuesday we spent quietly watching the other boats leaving and catching up on our sleep so it was not until the last day of the month that we turned South again and returned to the Grand Union Main Line.

June

On Friday 2nd we left the Grand Union at Gayton Junction and set off down the Northampton arm. Pausing only at the Alvechurch base to buy an EA key equivalent to the watermate Key for BW waters, we worked down the narrow locks of the Northampton flight then looked for the moorings between locks 13 and 14 recommended in our aged Pearson's guide. This was the first of many problems that we experienced with mooring. There was no clear edge to the towpath and a mooring was somewhere that the crew could leap ashore. If we could get two lines ashore and the plank would reach from the boat to the bank then we were moored. Saturday morning we started early and completed the last few narrow locks down to the river.

Northampton has done a lot of work on its waterfront which is now pleasant enough but the Town Moorings under a very modern footbridge are distinctly inconvenient. We were basing our exploration on a very old Pearson's (the new ones don't cover the Nene) and Imray's guide to the Nene. They often disagreed but on this occasion the both recommended the Town Moorings. There was the usual problem that the mooring bollards were not in the right place but there were no alternatives of using piling chains or hooks so we ended up moored on a centre line and one end, not ideal but it worked. Then fenders were a challenge as the bank was above the gunwale and it was essential to protect the cabin sides. Where possible we tied fenders to the bank if that positioned them better than tying them to the boat but over the weeks we came up with some creative solutions, even driving in a mooring spike on which to hang a fender. Once moored at Northampton we were in a very convenient place for shopping. There was a supermarket close to the waterfront and only a short walk to the town centre. However we were not tempted to linger, we had been told of the improvement of security round the mooring with patrols and CCTV but the amount of broken glass embedded in the paving convinced us that there was still some work to do before we would feel comfortable mooring there overnight. Imrays held out various mooring possibilities further down the river so we worked down the Town Lock to the sanitary station and first moorings. The sanitary station was filthy and the floating pontoon that provided the moorings might have been as much as forty feet long! The only security for the moorings from the adjacent playing fields relied on the boats being out of sight because the bank was high above us. We moved on.

The next lock was Rushmills which Imrays said was shortly followed by more moorings. Like all the EA locks on the Fens waterways the sides were festooned with chains at two levels roughly corresponding with the upper and lower water levels in the lock. We were told these were required for Health and Safety reasons in case anyone fell in. Personally I suspect they were instituted by someone who makes a commission on the sale of blacking as they were most effective at removing paint and blacking from the side of the boat. The other ubiquitous hazard on EA locks is the gearing on the paddles. It commonly takes fifty or sixty turns of the windlass to raise or lower a paddle and if there is a problem it is impossible to drop the paddle quickly. This we discovered at Rushmills when one of the shackles holding the chains caught our hull and the boat hung leaning over to a sharp angle before she fell off and swung back sharply to the other side. I tried to drop the paddle as soon as I realised the boat was caught but I could make no difference. When I got back aboard the state of the saloon and galley had me in tears. All the books and photos from the shelves in the saloon were on the floor as was everything that had been on the worksurfaces in the galley. The galley floor was awash with a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, oil and French Dressing. It is to the credit of the builder that the damage was no worse as not a single cupboard door or drawer had opened. I only had time to make a dam out of teatowels to stop the mess in the galley reaching the books before I was needed back on deck to look for the promised moorings. These proved to be on the edge of the patio of a busy pub. Even if we could have persuaded the patrons to move back and let us moor the thought of providing extra space on which to stand empty glasses did not appeal so we moved on.

The next lock was Abington and Imrays and Pearson's agreed that there was no mooring between that lock and Weston Favell beyond. However immediately above Weston Favell there was an excellent EA mooring on a floating pontoon that was probably long enough for two and a half narrow boats. We moored with great relief and set about cleaning the galley.

The next day the scenery improved greatly and we found a mooring that had been recommended by other boaters but not shown in the guides. It was against the bank immediately above the lock landing and portage point for Earls Barton lock. It was what we came to call a meadow mooring, the bank is completely undeveloped but the edge is steep enough that the boat can be brought in alongside and moored on pins. We spent some time watching in fascination while a grass snake swam round in the lock exploring the walls and at one point sliding up one of the chains to take a rest in the sun. (That's what those dreadful chains are for!) All went well until 1.00am when we woke to find Sanity heeling over. A quick inspection showed that the water level had gone down and we were aground. Using the shaft to pole us off was unsuccessful so with no neighbours to disturb we started the engine and the combination of engine and shaft got us afloat again. We spent the rest of the night on the lock mooring, not something we would normally do but in the circumstances we felt justified. Relating our experience to local boaters we were told that we should call EA if that happens. They are able to adjust the river flow in that reach by opening and closing sluices to bring the level back up and all without leaving the control centre.

The next night we reached Irthlingborough where there is a lay by mooring with bollards, a hard edge and a full sanitary station. There was room for four or five narrow boats alongside but with the limited mooring on the river it seems only reasonable to expect boaters to agree to doubling up. Our next day took us to Thrapston where we found a very interesting mooring. On the left immediately above the lovely old bridge with multiple arches is the entrance to a little basin which can only be entered when travelling downstream. There is enough room to moor two narrowboats alongside and another two if they double up. There are picnic tables and a water point and being sheltered it is a real sun-trap. The fun comes when you leave. There is just room to wind a 60' boat at the entrance if the first mooring is empty but you can't tell when approaching from upstream if there is anyone moored there until you have committed yourself to entering. We were able to wind then it was relatively straightforward to boat out and turn back upstream until we had enough room to wind again and be in mid stream in order to shoot the bridge. It was suggested to us that it is possible to back out of the basin and then be facing the right way to shoot the bridge but we didn't fancy our chances. Even with a bow thruster I think it would have been very difficult to back out without the current taking the stern downstream and pinning the boat broadside across the bridge.

The following day we reached Oundle and moored in the mill stream at Ashton Lock. There was a long stretch of meadow mooring on the mill stream which was at right angles to the lock. The only decision to be made was whether to back in or out as there was no room to wind. It was quite a long walk from there to Oundle but well worth the effort. The school permeates the village centre which is full of lovely old stone buildings. We did find it rather an expensive village, perhaps the influence of the school.

The scenery was improving daily and we were blessed with good weather; we couldn't have asked for better conditions. The next day we had the delight of watching a red kite (the kind with feathers) soaring above the river.

Mooring that night was more difficult as we couldn't find any of the moorings shown in the guides. We had planned to stop in Wansford-in-England, because Bruce has always been taken with the associated story. {Ever since I read it in Fred Doerflinger's Slow Boat through England - Bruce} It seems a local character called Barnabee couldn't find his way home from the pub one night, and fell asleep in a hay cock. In the night the Nene rose and washed the hay cock plus Barnabee away. Waking in a strange place, he was afraid he'd been washed out to sea, and asked the first person he saw where he was. On being told "Wansford" he said "What, Wansford in England?" and it's been called that ever since. Well, it's a good story. Eventually we found a straight edged bit of bank and just stopped, near Wansford Station, the end of the restored Nene Valley railway.

Several people had told us not to miss the moorings at Ferry Meadows but it was a good thing that we had warning. Immediately downstream of Bluebell Footbridge there is a narrow channel off to the right but the only notice about it points downstream so we had to start turning before we could be sure that it was the entrance that we wanted. After following the channel a little way it opened out into a wide lake and at this stage of our cruise it was a novel experience to be crossing such open water in a narrow boat. We were very grateful that we had been told about it as it was a lovely mooring. The country park was quite busy by day but very quiet at night and the walking was beautiful.

The moorings in Peterborough have a mixed reputation. We moored well along the park near the sanitary station and were not troubled but there were a few drunks about at the town end. It was a pleasant short walk into the shopping centre which had a good range of shops in attractive setting. I was glad to pick up a remnant of net curtain with which to make a fly screen for our Houdini hatch. I wouldn't recommend summer on the Fens without one.

It was necessary to book passage through Stanground Lock though I'm not sure why. We felt that we could easily have worked ourselves through. We were on maximum draught for the lock but the water was clear enough to see the bottom which was actually a bit nerve racking. The lock keeper 'reassured' us by saying that if we couldn't get down forwards we could go down backwards as the lock had been lengthened and deepened at the Middle Level end. Since there was no winding hole for some distance it was not clear how this would help us. There was also the minimum of lock mooring on either side of the lock so it was not wise to arrive too early. There was a form to fill in for the lock-keeper before he would allow you out of the lock which largely duplicates information that BW already holds. It seemed an unnecessary formality to us, if the lock-keeper recorded our licence number as they do on the Thames then surely if they needed more info they could interrogate BW. As for the question "Where have you come from?", how is a continuous cruiser supposed to make a meaningful answer? In 2006 there was a bit of a bottleneck on the booking as the earliest was 10.00am and from all the people we spoke to it seemed that the latest was 3.30pm. This meant that it was not practicable to cross the Middle Level in one day.

We passed through Stanground at 10.00am and made a leisurely day to March where the moorings are rather buried in a cutting and a bit noisy but we had no problems. March was convenient for shopping and we found a very helpful bike shop overlooking the main moorings where we obtained a repair for our bike.

Although we had a whole day to get from March to Salter's Lode we were warned to leave plenty of time for what appeared quite a short run. This was sound advice as above Marmont Priory Lock the pound is very shallow and we had to crawl through at tickover to avoid the prop dragging in the mud. Much of the through route on the Middle Levels is straight with little variation in the scenery but we did not become bored in the time that it took us to cross. There were various interesting features, like the trig point on the highest ground which proved to be the bank of the waterway. There was also a wind farm with one windmill very close to the water. Like them or loath them it was an education to see one so close. It was huge. Then there was the marker for the Greenwich Meridian. There was also the challenge of getting under some of the bridges, several of which had headroom of only 2.1 metres. Our headroom is 2.05 metres and there was not a lot to spare. There was also a lot of wildlife to watch, best of which was a Marsh Harrier.

As we passed the Mullincourt Aqueduct we observed a bunch of lads in their late teens or early twenties cooling off by jumping off the top of the sluice mechanisms into the drain below. After some debate we decided to report this because although they were doing no harm it struck us as a particularly dangerous past time. The response we received seemed a little casual. We were told that since the lads were not interfering with passage on the canal they could be left get on with it. This seemed a bit strange but we subsequently saw what a problem there is on the Fens with people swimming in silly places. The attitude seems to be as long as they are not in the way or actively damaging the structure they can carry on as no-one has much power to stop them.

Marmont Priory is another keeper operated lock which we could easily have worked for ourselves, indeed the notices at the lock give instructions for self operation. However the notices do not explain how to remove the padlock and chains that the keeper leaves on the gates when she is not around. As at Stanground the hours are limited to the middle of the day.

We reached Salters Lode to find the best moorings that we had encountered on the Middle Level, three stretches of pontoons which would accommodate half a dozen narrowboats without doubling up. Following local advice we arrived before the evening low tide so that we were able to get out onto the bank of the tidal river and see where the deep water was. Having seen that, the lock keeper's instructions the following morning made much more sense. It was a good thing that our crossing was not delayed as there is nothing at Salter's Lode except a few houses. No shops, pub or anything so if the weather had delayed us much we might have been a bit hungry.

The crossing to Denver Sluice was exhilarating punching upstream against a fast flowing river and a strong ebb tide. There was no doubt that our boat could handle it but the contrast to the quiet waters of the Middle Level was striking. Off the tidal river again at Denver and there was another contrast, a wide slow moving river with plenty of mooring in the immediate vicinity and a sanitary station down towards the Relief Channel Lock. Again, no shops although there was a pub so no need to starve if we should be held up when crossing back.

We spent a leisurely week cruising from Denver to Bedford then the rest of the month returning and exploring the various rivers flowing into the Great Ouse. Mostly we moored on EA moorings which were very neat with hard edges, bollards and name boards which displayed the map reference of the mooring or we used GOBA moorings which were usually mown grass banks by hopefully deep water. It cost us £15 to join GOBA (Great Ouse Boating Association) for a year and we found it an excellent investment quite apart from our wish to support an organisation that represents boaters so well. Many of the GOBA moorings were in idyllic remote locations where we could enjoy the peace of the countryside. One such mooring is halfway up the navigable stretch of the Little Ouse, completely rural with not a house in sight. We just chased the cows off and moored on a hot sunny afternoon and stopped the engine to sit back and listen to the birdsong. Unfortunately what we heard at first was a band playing the Star Spangled Banner. Apparently USAF Lakenheath was not far away across the river although completely out of sight and they play their national anthem every afternoon at that time. Fortunately that was all we heard from them and it did not spoil a wonderful mooring.

Many of the Gt Ouse locks have been expanded sideways to accommodate more boats at once. They looked a little strange with one straight side and the other side D shaped and they did take a little longer to work in consequence (but who was in a hurry?) During the week the river was pretty quiet and there was no trouble finding a mooring. Suddenly at the weekend boats poured out of the marinas and it was a different story. We found it worked well to find a nice mooring midday on Friday and stay there until Sunday. Few moorings allowed a stay of more than 48 hours.

We went all the way up the Cam to the newly reinstated moorings below Jesus Lock. These we found fine for visiting Cambridge but we didn't fancy them overnight, the park looked too well used which suggested a noise problem if nothing worse.

Taking our courage in both hands we went up Reach Lode far enough to get into Wicken Fen. The guide books were confusing over the maximum dimensions possible in the lock into Reach Lode. We can confirm that a sixty feet narrow boat is possible on the diagonal. It was not my favourite lock as the person on the bank working the lock had little view of what was happening to the boat but when we used it there was only a shallow change of level so it wasn't too bad. The entrance to Wicken Fen is immediately at the end of the moorings above the lock and looked so impossibly narrow that we initially thought it was just a drain. It was a very slow process navigating the cut and we were very lucky not to meet anything coming down as passing would have been very diffcult. At the end of the navigation we had no difficulty winding but the GOBA moorings were empty at the time. If there had been boats moored it might not have been possible to get round. Having said how difficult it was to get there I must say that the effort was well rewarded. The location is fabulous. Even without going into the National Trust Reserve there is very enjoyable walking but I would recommend paying up and walking some of the paths in the reserve. They are well maintained, well explained and delightful. Our final cruise of the month took us back to the Great Ouse and into Ely where we were lucky to get a mooring as there was a local river festival over the weekend.

July

We enjoyed an uneventful cruise up the Lark as far as Isleham where the lock prevented us from going further. Then we tried the Little Ouse / Brandon Creek where the scenery and wildlife was every bit as good as the Lark. However the boating was a little more adventurous. Our first challenge was navigation. The guide showed Lakenheath Lode as a minor channel going off the the right as we went upstream. What we found was two channels of apparently equal importance, one straight on and one involving a ninety degree turn to the left. Fortunately we guessed correctly when we turned left but a signpost would have been welcome. We had heard a lot about the problems of weed on the Fens and now we began to see the real problem. Huge mats of soft green weed like cotton wool were drifting across the river. At first we could steer round them but as we approached the Cut Off Channel they began to stretch from bank to bank. It was the sort of weed that could not be cleared by putting the engine in reverse and I was becoming quite adept at the one handed handstand down the weed hatch while pulling quantities of weed off the prop with the other hand. At one point we came to a halt in mid channel with no suitable landing on either bank so we decided that it would be good practice to take the opportunity to anchor for the first time. This worked well and we cleared the prop without difficulty. Recovering the anchor was another matter. The anchor is heavy enough that I can only just lift it but we figured that in an emergency I would be sufficiently boosted by adrenaline to get it over the side. What we hadn't considered was getting the wretched thing back when the panic was over. I could not have attempted it and Bruce was pushed as the extra weight of the weed wrapped round the anchor and chain made a very heavy load. Added to that was the need to lift the anchor out to one side to keep the flukes off the paintwork. We eventually got away again without too much loss of paint and our persistence was rewarded as the weed was much lighter above the junction with the cut off channel. The final defence of the Little Ouse against us were the horse flies. In spite of the beautiful weather we had to don long sleeves and trousers to give us some protection. We then set out to reduce the problem as they seemed rather dozy so we put paid to quite a few. There was a rhythm to it. Swat the fly on your arm or leg, knock it to the floor, tread on it and sweep the remains over the side with your foot to feed the fish. We saw people doing this on many boats as we passed them.

Finally we explored the Wissey, for us perhaps the best of all the tributaries. We couldn't find the moorings at the top of the navigation. That was all taken over by commercial moorings for a caravan site. The junction for winding was beyond the site and when we got there a fisherman in a rowing boat was moored right in the middle of the junction. We were not very popular but we got round anyway. The best moorings on the Wissey proved to be the GOBA ones very close to the Great Ouse.

On Friday 7 we rang Denver Sluice to book passage to Salter's Lode on the Monday. We were told that there was plenty of water and no need to book. On the Monday we arrived on the lock mooring in good time and were soon joined by two other boats. Then just as the lock was being opened for business two more boats bustled up with their crews bossily shouting "We've booked, we go first" No-one wanted unpleasantness so they got away with it but it seemed strange that the control room was accepting some bookings and not others. In the event there was not plenty of water. One of the "booked" boats went first, then the other booked boat was fitted with the shortest of the other boats waiting as they were both under fifty five feet. We were then taken into the lock and the lock worked but we were kept waiting for quite a while as the Denver Lock turns round much faster than Salter's Lode. When we were eventually released we were asked to get on as quick as we could as they were going to "try" to get the last boat through. {The trickiest bit of the whole thing is judging when to make the turn to enter Salter's Lode lock. You are going downstream on a falling tide, and the lock cut also points downstream. The answer, as so often, is "Trust the lockie". He watches you approach, and gives a great shout of "Come on!" when you need to turn. Helm over, revs up, and round you go into the cut - Bruce}

It took us a few days to get back across the Middle Level as we didn't want to get to Peterborough too soon. Our daughter had rung us and asked if she could join us for a week as she had some holiday and needed some exercise. We suggested that she caught the train to Peterborough and she could work all the locks on the Nene before we dropped her at Northampton to catch the train home. She didn't really know what she had taken on but, bless her, she duly worked every lock up the Nene. It was hard work too as the weather was incredibly hot. We made a point of setting off early every morning so that we could finish boating for the day at lunch time. Then we looked for the nearest shade and loafed until late afternoon before trying to explore. Having a crew of three made the locks on the Nene much easier as one person could be on the bank working the lock while the other two could hold the bow and stern off the dreaded chains whilst still keeping the boat at the side of the lock to avoid being banged about.

We were sorry to say goodbye to Elanor at Northampton but when we finally turned off the river it was a nice change to get back onto narrow locks at last. Our final brush with Northampton was at one of the lower locks on the Northampton Arm which was being used as a swimming pool by some local urchins. A boat coming away from the lock towards us said that they would be no trouble as long as we gave them a handful of cigarettes. Even if we had any cigarettes aboard I would not have given any to bunch of kids who were probably still in primary school. So of course we had trouble working the lock. They couldn't stop us getting in as five or six kids trying to hold the gates closed were not going to stop the boat pushing them open. Closing the bottom gates was more difficult as they opened the opposite gate as soon as I closed one. However they didn't understand the significance of my lifting a top paddle a bit so the second time they tried that they couldn't understand why they couldn't open the gate any more.

We finally returned to the Grand Union on 23rd July after a memorable cruise, mostly enjoyable but with some hairy moments. Sanity lost more paint in those two months than in the previous two years that we had been living aboard.

We now had to head south for our next adventure and by the end of the month we had reached Rickmansworth.