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Spring 2006 trip to Newark, Lincoln and Boston.

Including Kyme Eau and the Witham Navigable Drains

The winter had ended with several weeks of miserable weather so we didn't set off until Good Friday (14th April) this year. We knew there would be 23 boats from Wyvern Shipping setting out that morning, so made sure we were well ahead of that Armada. Pausing only for a short 'pit-stop' to buy diesel and coal from 'Ascot' at Cosgrove, we made our way up Stoke Bruerne flight and experienced  the most fume-filled, unpleasant trip through the tunnel that I've ever known. The fumes were so thick that even an oncoming boat's spotlight was not visible until they were just over a boat's length away, and breathing in was to be strongly discouraged. If I'd known what it was like, I'd have waited until the next morning.

There was a long queue at Buckby; the 8 boats ahead of us kept juggling for position with their ropes and engines, determined not to leave any space between them and the boat in front; how ridiculous they looked! We went up in company with a hireboat that hadn't realised that they had accidentally overshot Braunston until they were nearly half way down Buckby. Clearly there's a need for a combined boat-handling and map-reading course.

The New Inn at Buckby has changed hands again and seems much friendlier than before, but their new chef hadn't yet arrived so there was no food until next week. We consumed several Frogs in protest (that's Frog Island bitter, delicious!).

Watford locks weren't too busy, but the lock-keeper said there'd been a queue of 21 boats the day before! I'd have turned back to the pub if I'd met a queue like that. Then we stopped for lunch at Edwards of Crick, now re-opened and serving wonderful meals once again.

We were disappointed at the new BW pub at Foxton. The beer was good, but the food didn't inspire us to eat anything other than a couple of rather pricey starters, and the service although friendly was decidedly over-enthusiastic as my plate (once) and my beer (twice) were whipped away before I'd finished. But the pub Kilby Bridge made up for it, as we had a couple of wonderful steaks there. It was absolutely pouring with rain now, in the middle of what must be the wettest drought on record, and I began to worry about the level of the River Soar ahead of us as I've often had experience of how fast it can rise.

 

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Daft speed limit through Leicester
Normanton on Soar is very pretty ...
... and so is Kegworth
In the middle of Nottingham
The sculpture at the old power station near Newark
Newark Castle is very impressive

There was plenty of water on the river through Leicester, just up into the orange sector of the marker boards (except those where the green and orange paint had peeled off to leave an all-red board which panicked us a bit until we realised what had happened) so we pressed on, carefully observing the 6.43 kph speed limit, to the Hope & Anchor at Syston where we did exactly that. Next morning the river was clearly up by a few more inches, and a call to BW revealed that it was still just navigable but probably wouldn't be for long. Sure enough by Sileby things were getting a little bit interesting, with the passage out of the lock and past the weir pool being more like a fairground ride, and we decided to moor at Mountsorrel where the pub is highly recommended. The river was now a good 6" into the red sector and another phone-call to Newark yielded the best advice BW have ever given us: "Go into the pub and enjoy their beer for a few days". So we did just that, and explored the very pretty village on foot as well. While waiting there in the sunshine as the river went down again, we were joined by Supermalc (who we were going to meet later in Lincoln) and Fuzzy Duck - both members of the Canalworld Discussion Forum that we subscribe to. While standing there enjoying a beer, we watched one ***** idiot reverse at (literally) full speed into Keeping Up; luckily no damage was done apart from some lost paintwork, but if Debbie had been pouring a kettle-full of water it could have been a different story as the boat tipped over quite alarmingly.

When the river had gone down again we had hoped to meet Pam Picket of Narrowboatworld on her boat Moonshadow at Kegworth, but the few days delay meant that our paths weren't destined to cross this time.

Had a bit of a panic at Nottingham, we couldn't see Sainsbury's at first but all was OK, it was still there behind all the new waterside flats they've built. But they have moved the Homebase unit quite a bit further away, so I had a long walk to buy a new bit of pipe to make a replacement window pole (Molly the dog had jumped on the old wooden one and broken it).

We had a great trip down the Trent. The river was quite quiet, and at every lock we were able to contact the lock-keeper on VHF and tell them of our imminent arrival, so that on every occasion the gates were open and waiting for us. We spent the night on the beautiful Hazleford Island, letting the dogs wear themselves out running everywhere knowing that they couldn't possibly run off (Molly ALWAYS runs off to explore otherwise, and Telford goes with her).

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Variety of boats in Kings Marina at Newark
Torksey Lock
Torksey lock has been extended under the bridge
Brayford Pool
Leaving Brayford Pool
Approaching the Glory Hole

We stopped in Kings Marina at Newark. You have to pay for your mooring, but it's quiet and secure (the main river mooring is opposite a very noisy scrapyard, and it was full anyway) with free electricity and a very cheap launderette so we find it useful. After a day wandering around the markets of Newark, we called up the lock-keeper to confirm the tides for the following day; high tide was just ideal, at lunchtime, and we would have a quick trip as it was the second-highest spring tide of the year (mental note, don't run aground because it will be 5 months before it's this high again). It was very windy so quite rough but we made fantastic progress down to Torksey where we met the same lock-keeper who had welcomed us on our previous visit 16 years ago (it had been his first year then). As soon as he was off duty we met him again in the White Swan pub and enjoyed several beers together.

The Fossdyke has gained lots of visitor moorings since we were last here but we decided to press on to Lincoln (with a brief stop for diesel and pump-out at the new Burton Waters marina, as the pump-out at Torksey had been out of order for a year but the Newark office hadn't known). The moorings in the beautiful Brayford Pool are somewhat derelict but we met Malcom (Supermalc) there who advised us that they would be OK for the afternoon as long as we moved away for the night. So after an afternoon in Lincoln we carried on through the amazing "Glory Hole" (lots of room for a narrowboat) to the typical River Witham pontoon moorings at Washingborough.

 

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Under the Glory Hole
Modern sculpture after the Glory Hole
Malcolm steering Wud-E-Nuff by remote control
A typical mooring on the Witham
The very high top gates at Anton's Gowt
The approach to Boston is dominated by "The Stump"

The following day we carried on to Chapel Hill, being joined by Malcolm on his boat Wud-E-Nuff as we passed Bardney lock. Being the Bank Holiday the river was unusually busy, with maybe 5 or 6 boats passing through the lock on the same day (normally there isn't that much traffic in a week). Malcolm was having fun playing with a remote-control steering system that he had built, which enabled him to steer from anywhere on the boat. We moored Keeping Up at Chapel Hill then (after tinkering for half an hour to get some oil pressure) set off up Kyme Eau on Wud-E-Nuff for a recce as there were rumours that South Kyme lock was out of action. Luckily the lock was (just) usable with care, so we returned to Chapel Hill for the night in preparation for an assault on the Kyme the next day.

I've described our trips on Kyme Eau and the Witham Navigable Drains on a separate page. I think you'll enjoy that page, there are some interesting pictures of these little-used waterways there.

And so we carried on down the Witham. It's a strange river indeed! Being near sea-level, they can only let the water out from Boston at low tide. Most of the time the river has absolutely no flow whatsoever, even less than most canals, and yet all the moorings are on pontoons because the level can change dramatically just like any other river (even more so if they can't let the water out); one day it rose by over 2 feet in under an hour, with no discernable flow; later that day there was a strong flow as it went down again.

Passing Anton's Gowt with it's unusually high top gates (to prevent the Witham from flooding into the Drains) we soon reached Boston. The cathedral (known as "The Stump" is most impressive as it dominates the approach to the city. We'd been looking forward to visiting the two markets at Boston but it was their annual Fair so the whole town had been taken over with a giant funfair which we thought was a shame. We had intended to stay a couple of days in Boston and then spend a couple of days exploring the Witham Navigable Drains, but the BW Sluice-keeper advised us that the hot two days were forecast to end in torrential thunderstorms the following night, which would result in the Drains carrying so much water that we wouldn't get under the bridges. So after an afternoon visiting the very pretty Maud Foster windmill (apparently it's most unusual in having 5 sails - I found it fascinating talking with the miller about the engineering aspects) we returned to Anton's Gowt so that we could spend the next day exploring the WNDs before returning to Boston. Here again we were joined by Malcolm for the day, and his local knowledge again proved invaluable. We had a fabulous day on the WNDs, followed by a great meal at Anton's Gowt before returning to Boston for a couple of days

 

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Maud Foster windmill
Maud Foster windmill and Maud Foster Drain
Glorious sunset at Boston
Low flying over the river
Really low flying over the banks
Scrap-metal cows on the bank near Lincoln

 After exploring Boston, including the obligatory climb of the Stump for the incredible views across the flat fenlands, we made our way slowly back upstream (except that there wasn't any stream). It was generally very peaceful except when the RAF were putting the Euro-fighter through its paces just above us, and very beautiful. The railway line that used to run from Lincoln to Boston has been closed, and made into either footpath or cycle-track all the way; most of the railway buildings have become private houses; even though I knew the line was closed (and there were no rails) I still felt nervous walking between the platforms and I kept looking round for oncoming trains. One house had even turned the old signal-box into a fabulous upstairs conservatory with amazing views of the river. Molly the Dog also enjoyed this route, as she went for a walk by herself and got lost for several hours; we think she fell into a drain and couldn't get out, for she was utterly exhausted and covered in mud when we found her with Telford encouraging her to keep plodding on back to the boat.

 

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Now you can live in an old railway station ...
... and even use the signal box as a conservatory
Lincoln Cathedral is very impressive on top of its hill
Back through the Glory Hole
"If you can read this you've just run aground"
Father-and-son pylons by the Ashby Canal

And so we returned back through the Glory Hole to Lincoln for a couple of days (mooring not on the Brayford Pool, but on the BW moorings beyond) and explored the truly magnificent cathedral, plus the castle which as an original copy of the Magna Carta on display, and the city itself. The road up to the cathedral is called 'Steep Hill'; it was a very hot day, and the road certainly felt that it lived up to its name.

Next stop was Saxilby. There are 3 pubs here - the Ship is basically a restaurant, the Sun is for young people and is a music venue; but the Anglers up the road sells real ale and caters for oldies like us. We found everyone there very friendly (as indeed we had at every pub in the area) and the beer was very very good (again, as it had been at every pub in the area). We needed gas and were directed to the DIY store; not, as we expected from the description, a giant warehouse of B&Q or Homebase, but instead a small shop reminiscent of Arkwright's store in 'Open all Hours'. They were on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the river, but that didn't stop them from selling Calor Gas ("Yes we can lend you a trolley but don't forget to bring it back with the empty bottle") as well as Red Diesel ("Yes we can lend you a 5-gallon can which you can carry backwards and forwards as many times as you like"). The shop was stocked with at least one example of absolutely every imaginable item of hardware, and I tried unsuccessfully to think of something they might not have. It summed it up for me when the proprietor (who of course knew I was on a boat) tried to sell me a second-hand lawn-mower when I brought back the trolley with the empty gas bottle. But they aren't open ALL hours - they close for 3 hours on Tuesday afternoons.

Two weeks after our arrival at Torksey, we were back there to catch the spring tide up to Cromwell lock. There was a new boat waiting there, who had neither VHF radio nor maps, and they were glad of our company for the trip. The journey was enlivened by our meeting a water-skiing race at one point; the wash from those power-boats really threw us around a lot, but with a good tide behind us we reached Cromwell lock in less than 3 hours despite having cruised only slowly, and carried on to spend another night in Kings Marina (and do some more laundry!).

We spent another day in Newark, and our complaint to BW there about the lack of a pump-out at Torksey was sympathetically received (I offered to fill in a scratch-and-sniff complaints card). The next day we carried on upstream in torrential rain, stopping for the night once more on Hazleford Island, before continuing to Nottingham. Once again it was a very easy trip, the VHF radio ensuring that every lock was open ready for our arrival, and we re-stocked at Sainsbury's before setting off for Trent lock the next day. The river didn't seem to be much higher than usual, but there was definitely a strong and increasing flow; a little way below Cranfleet lock Debbie came up to ask why we had stopped, but in fact we were doing 5 mph through the water against a 4.5 mph current. For a single boat coming up Cranfleet lock is easy if you know which paddles to open, but is truly dreadful if you don't, so I've drawn a picture for anyone who wants to know because it isn't obvious when you look at the lock.

After our disappointment with the BW pub at Foxton, we were wondering what the Steamboat at Trent Lock (also BW) would be like. We needn't have worried, it was wonderful. There was a superb selection of excellent beers, and the food was marvellous. Once again we tried to rendezvous with Pam Pickett but again failed. Everybody in the pub was really friendly, and we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening there listening to the rain outside. Next morning dawned fine and sunny, and the river hadn't risen any further overnight, so we set off upstream early in the morning and made our way on to the Trent and Mersey canal. A day later and we would have been stuck at Trent Lock for days, as the Trent flooded by several feet; a Dutch barge owner who tried to go out above Sawley got swept on to the weir and had to be rescued by helicopter.

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Stoppage at Atherstone
The offending cable
A good view of the top paddle culvert
Fluffy thing
Another fluffy thing
Ducks line-dancing on our roof (Five, Six, Seven, Quack)

Back on the calmer waters of the canal we made good progress to Fradley where we were surprised to find loads of good new moorings, enabling us to stop at the Swan for the first time in years. Atherstone was our next hold-up; a conduit had broken just above the top lock, so that an electric cable had floated to the top and everyone was scared to touch it. Soon it became apparent that it was one of BW's own cables, connecting to the sensor that measured how many times the lock was used. In no time at all BW had put in some stop planks and removed the offending cable with the aid of a sledgehammer and pickaxe. We and the rest of the queue were let through, except for one Canaltime boat bound for Alvecote who didn't want to do the locks in the rain and instead decided to wait for the stoppage to be put back on so that Canaltime would have to collect them by car at no extra charge. BW then closed the canal "until further notice" to dewater the top sections so as effect a proper repair and to re-hang a couple of the gates that were giving problems.

Finally we ventured up the Ashby canal again, to meet our friends Kay and Bill on n/b Secret and have a meal together at Congerstone, then it was time to go home again, arriving on 6th June after travelling 493 miles and 167 locks in the 7 weeks. It has been a fabulous trip, and we'll definitely go back to re-visit the peaceful river Witham in 2 or 3 years time.

 

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