Saturday, June 27, 2015

A fine day brings the boaters out!

It’s been a bit manic out on the river today, lots of boats of all shapes and sizes out and about. There were just two boats down on Wicken Fen last night, though, us and a lovely couple on a boat who’s name escapes me but it’s not relevant anyway as it’s getting a new one!
Phil and Eileen cruise through the summer months then lay the boat up and return to the land for the winter. We had a good chat this morning before we left.

Eileen, Phil and the dog Ria
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Wicken Fen moorings.IMG_5963
We should have spent more time here, there’s lot of fine walks in the area. Meg and I went up towards the village this morning to have a look at the windmill.

Wicken windmill, still grinding flour since 1813.IMG_5950

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Crystal clear water on Wicken Lode.IMG_5961

We cruised gently back along the lode, luckily only meeting one small boat on the way, and turned back onto Reach Lode under that Cock Up Bridge. IMG_5967

I think I know where the name came from. It’s easy to make a mess of the turn in or out!

We pulled in on the lock pontoon to fill with water as a boat was leaving Upware Lock. By the time we’d topped up the lock was resetting to act as a sluice, red lights flashing and sirens wailing warning boats not to enter. I was going to leave it to sort itself out before setting it for use again, but a local told me you can interrupt the cycle without problems. So we were through quicker than anticipated.

After the lock it was a right turn out onto the Cam and point the fore-end north towards Ely.

Well disciplined cygnetsIMG_5968

And a mess of greylag and Canada geese near the Fish and Duck MarinaIMG_5972

The local boater we spoke to at Upware said that we’d be unlikely to get a mooring at Ely today. On fine weekends the local marinas disgorge boats to head there for the day, so it’s likely to be full. So we planned to stop a couple of miles short, on the EA moorings at Little Thrapston. They were empty on the way up… but not so today. In fact, if a large cruiser hadn’t pulled out ahead of us, we’d not have got on here either. As it was we just slotted into the spot. Depending on the provision situation we’ll hang on here till Monday.

Locks 1, miles 5½

Friday, June 26, 2015

A cruise of contrasts…

Compare this…
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…to this!IMG_5934

We left the Old West River today at Pope’s Corner, but instead of turning north for Ely we turned south towards Cambridge.

Duck and Fish Marina
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The aptly-named riverside pub has been demolished, though.

We’re now on the Cam, 12 miles or so to Cambridge itself. But we’re not heading there this trip…
It was cooler for a start this morning, in fact we even had a little light rain just before 8 o’clock as I returned from my morning run.
The Cam runs wide and deep to Upware, passing under the concrete bridge at Dimmock’s Cote about half-way there.
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Just under the bridge there’s a Dutch barge with a tall wheelhouse. I thought “there’s no way that will go under the bridge”. A closer inspection reveals that it telescopes vertically. Neat huh?IMG_5924

Angus grazing…
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…and Kes huntingIMG_5920

At Upware, Reach Lode branches off to the left, around the corner and into Reach Lode (or Upware) Lock.
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The Lodes are ancient channels, possibly defensive ditches of Saxon origin, but more likely Roman drains. Lode is a medieval name for a waterway and there are 5 in Cambridgeshire, three of which are navigable to some extent. Burwell Lode has the longest navigable stretch, at 3¼ miles, Reach Lode is just under 3 and the shortest is Wicken Lode, leading to Wicken Fen National Trust nature reserve and the village of Wicken.

Mags comes out of Upware Lock, after I’d figured out how to operate it!IMG_5929
It’s used as an automatic sluice, so self adjusts to maintain the level in the Lodes. When we arrived both guillotine gates were slightly up, an absolute criminal offense on a canal. But we’re not on a canal…
Flashing lights and clamorous sirens warn of an impending automatic adjustment, apparently. All quiet today though, so after closing the upstream end we locked through as normal. It would reset itself if there was no boat traffic for 15 minutes. 

Just above the lock there’s a length of private moorings, then EA 48 hour ones just before what’s known as a cock-up bridge.

Looks alright to me…IMG_5931

It’s a tight turn in, but we’re about the longest boat you’d want to take up here anyway.

The lode is narrow and shallow, anything much above tickover and the wash would damage the bankside flora. And there’s a lot of it!
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We were dismayed to see three boats at the end already, two were breasted up, it's tight for space. But then one chap said they were leaving, and another would be following in an hour so we roughly tied up with the fore-end stuck out till we could move to a better spot after lunch.

Moored at the end of Wicken Fen
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I shared my lunch with a damsel fly…
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…while a Brown Hawker watched from the other side of the channel.IMG_5940

We came up here on the recommendation of Sue, NB No Problem. Thanks Sue, it’s everything you said!
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We can’t stay more than tonight though. Back to Ely tomorrow.

Locks 1, miles 5

Thursday, June 25, 2015

To Hundred Acres

Not the wood, we don’t expect to meet Pooh Bear here, we’re at the 100 Acres EA mooring near Pope’s Corner.
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It’s been an uneventful trip today, warm and muggy with light cloud cover rather than the clear blue skies of yesterday, but still dry.IMG_5867

Dobbin walked down to see us off, but not soon enough for the promised apple!IMG_5865
Next time, mate.

Soon after Aldreth Bridge we had to deal with the shallow winding section where a ran aground twice on the way up. Pleased to say no such trouble today.IMG_5872

There are quite a few Little Egrets along here, and I tried unsuccessfully to get a picture last week. They just don’t stay still long enough!
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Finally!IMG_5876

Bookends…
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Bullying, swan style
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After Twenty Pence Bridge we’re back on the straighter, deeper, more artificial section of the Old West. Unfortunately the flood banks are higher, too.




One that didn’t make it into the marina…IMG_5888


Bosky bit, unusual for this river, near the Lazy Otter.IMG_5892

Back to wide open spaces alongside the small marina. Good GOBA moorings here.IMG_5893

We pulled in at Stretham Old Engine to have a look, but it’s staffed by volunteers and therefore only open on Sundays and Bank Holidays. There’s not much to see if the doors are locked…
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Even Meg was bored!IMG_5897

You’ll need to click-to-zoom to read thisIMG_5898
Quick summary – The Fens are flooded marshland, drains cut and wind pumps installed to shift the water into the drains. Drying out land shrinks and drops below sea level and floods again. Flood banks built, better pump engines installed, bob’s your uncle.

Meg had a comfort break and a bite to eat, as did the human members of the crew, then we moved on, just over a mile, to where we are now.

You wouldn’t have thought that this guy…IMG_5906

…will grow up to look like this.IMG_5903

Aaah, cute coots!
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“♫ There once was an ugly cootlet… ♫”

Locks 0, miles 7½

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer’s back as we return to the Old West River.

We’ve had a fine day today, a gentle breeze, blue skies and warm sunshine.

We left the GOBA moorings on Noble’s Field at around half past ten, it took a bit of a shove to get the stern in deep water again. After the rain on Monday afternoon the river must have been up a couple of inches, and it’s gone down again overnight, leaving us sat on the mud.

Leaving Noble’s FieldIMG_5804

We passed through St. Ives without stopping, under the medieval town bridge. IMG_5805

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Looking back, it’s clear to see that the two southern arches (one is hidden) are different in design. During the Civil War Oliver Cromwell had these blown up to prevent King Charles’ troops advancing on London from Lincolnshire. They were initially replaced by a drawbridge before a more permanent solution, only with rounded instead of Gothic arches, was constructed.

St. Ives Lock is still dodgy, I think it’s something to do with the guillotine mechanism. So it’s staffed, making passage a doddle.

In St. Ives Lock
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Well I think it looks like a chicken!
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A pair of oyster catchers.IMG_5819
Inappropriately named, I’d suggest. They’ll not find many oysters there… And I daresay that they’ll eat them given the opportunity, but surely they don’t take much catching?

In the bright sunshine the damselflies and dragonflies where flitting about above the lily pads, looking for somewhere to deposit a load of eggs. One took a breather on our roof…IMG_5822

We had a rare treat when we arrived at the top of Brownshill Lock. A seal! We first spotted him in the lock chamber, then he surfaced just 20 feet away, took a look and dived again. Far too quick for the camera. We waited for him to come up for air, camera poised… and waited… and waited. Finally, 200 yards upstream against the reeds, a shiny hump broke the surface.

You’ll have to take my word for it, that’s a seal!
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The lock was open ready for us, so we quickly dropped down onto the short tideway section to Hemitage Lock.

Leaving Brownshill Lock and Staunch, and Sammy the SealIMG_5829
The seal is above the lock, so must have gone up with a boat at some point.

Cormorant wing drying
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The Old Bedford River, with barrier and sluice gates.IMG_5842

New Bedford River, navigable on the tide 20½ miles to Denver, then another 12 or 13 to King’s Lynn and the alternative access to the WashIMG_5844

Hermitage Lock.IMG_5843
I thought we’d miss the lock, the lockie was due to break for lunch at 1 o’clock. But a boat had just left and he saw us coming so he kindly dropped us down the 18 inches to the Old West River before knocking off.

The lock’s name comes from the 15th century. At that time the Bishops of Ely were responsible for a causeway and bridge here, and employed a hermit to look after them. The old Hermitage has long gone, as has the hermit. The EA employ the modern day equivalent…

We stopped for a bite to eat on the visitor mooring below the lock before pushing on the last 3 miles to Aldreth Bridge and what Mags calls “Dobbin’s moorings”.

Flat Bridge needs a little TLC
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Mum herding the nippers away from the hairy predator on the back deck of the passing boat.IMG_5859 No, not me, Meg!

There was one boat here when we arrived, but we’ve since been joined by a couple of cruisers.
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Dobbin was no-where to be seen, but Meg and I found him up at the gate near Aldreth Bridge. If he’s around in the morning there’s an apple with his name on it. Not till then though, I don’t want him hanging around all night!

Locks 3, miles 10.