A few days cruising, just us, Firecrest and nature. We were looking forward to a less exciting few days before we got back into Lincoln. We’ve had such a super time recently, we need a few days just to slow down and enjoy nature again. Leaving Dogsdyke, we cruised upstream along the River Witham taking in the peace and tranquillity. Sadly the beauty of the River was scarred by rather more than usual dead fish floating along the banks. A few questions to locals revealed that there had been a chemical spillage in the spring and 100 000 fish died. The river has been restocked but we dread to think how long it will take the whole ecosystem to recover. We’re not sure if the amount of duck weed is as a consequence of the chemical, but it was an un-nerving experience travelling through it.We wondered how it would affect the fish but were reassured when we saw this sole floating by.And what with the willow trees and hidden entrances to the Drains, on it did brighten what could have been a tedious journey.
The Packet Inn mooring is the perfect place to go and see the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, as that’s where they hang out. And from Monday to Friday volunteers will take you on a Hanger tour at RAF Conningsby. Being summer not all the planes are on base as they try to get out for displays, but we were lucky. The Lancaster was on the runway just about to take off on its way down to Southampton.
The Lancasters played a vital part in Britain’s war effort. They were the huge heavy duty bombers, capable of night flights, and often, if they had been hit, able to limp home on only 2 of their 4 engines. Sadly being part of a Lancaster crew was still one of the most dangerous places to be in the RAF. Out of the 7377 built, 3249 survived and only 35 completed more than 100 sorties. The crew of 7 had only a 15% chance of being able to bail out if hit, and due to the cramped conditions in the turrets, the gunners would often have removed their parachutes. Life expectancy of a rear gunner was rummered to only be 4 weeks, exposed and unable to escape they were very vulnerable. Unlike today’s stringent rules with supervised flying hours before obtaining a pilots licence, some of these men were lucky if they got 2 weeks training. Consequently a lot of the tragedies occoured when landing back on home ground due to sheer lack of experience. Probably the most famous Lancaster mission was delivering the Dam Busters bouncing bombs. The Spitfires were midgets compared to the Lancasters. They were the short range high performance single seat fighters. They often flew photo reconnaissance missions unarmed because they could fly higher and faster than the enemy. Their design was streamlined and although costing a lot more, the air force insisted on flat rivets because it allowed an extra 15mph. We wonder if some boaters realise this, as there is a trend for having raised rivets added to hulls purely for the aesthetics. Going 15mph faster might not actually be possible but going 15mph slower would have a very negative impact….
Although the Spitefires have captured the public’s affections, the Hurricanes were responsible for 60% of the enemy losses during the Battle of Britain. They were essentially a fore runner of the Spitfire using tried and tested cheaper manufacturing methods. They were straightforward and easier to fly, also easier to repair, but the agility and speed of the Spitfire was too beneficial to ignore. The Douglas Dakota was used primarily as a military transport plane but looks equally impressive when seen as part of the team.The BBMF has to undergo strict and rigerous maintenance throughout the year. The cogsand pistons gleam (or to be more corrct the Camshaft and followers, as pointed out by Steve and probably a lot of others who have kept quiet at my mistake, cheers mate)
And each time the planes are repainted, the colours of the various countries that played a part in the allies victory are chosen, this shows the Polish Boxing Bulldog. The French Spitfire is silver with the French Flag but this plane isn’t flying this season. The pilots also undertake many hours of additional training before they are allowed to fly any of the BBMF. There is only one Lancaster left in Britain that is able to fly and the RAF is doing their best to preserve it for as long as possible. It certainly gave us a huge thrill every time we saw it flying over. The deep rumble is quite unique. And as we were in Lincolnshire for nearly a month we got to see and hear it many times. It’s been a highlight of our summer and in true narrowboat life totally unexpected experience.
Boston marked the end of our journey east. We are now on the return leg of our great 2018 River Adventure. Time to visit all/Some of the places we missed on the way down. First would be Tattershall Castle. The 30 minute walk along Dogdyke was well rewarded as an impossing tower came into view, the one we had seen from Boston’s stump tower. Built in 1430 by Ralph Cromwell, out of 700 000 bricks, it was very unusual for the time, not because Lego hadn’t been invented, but because most grand buildings were built of stone. Of course, such a tower just begged to be climbed. Despite it being a NT property it didn’t feel over commercialised and the audio tour was well done and informative as it guided us, first down the 12 steps into the servants quarters, then up 149 steps through various floors, each one getting grander the higher we climbed. until we reached the roof. And oh what a viewLooking south east, we could see the white buildings of RAF Conningsby and the water park lake. And in the far distance, about 11 miles away was the Boston Stump.When we looked to the north west, Lincoln cathedral dominated the skyline about 20 miles away.Coming down the steps was much much easier than the Boston Stump, the handrail was smooth stone set into the bricks.One of the notable features of Tattershall castle are the 4 magnificent stone fireplaces. I reckon if they had been a bridge we’d have got Firecrest through with room to spare. We are lucky to still have the fireplaces, because the castle had fallen into disrepair and the NT declined to purchase the building. In 1910, just before it was about to be demolished, the fireplaces were sold to the Americans, but a local vicar contacted the philanthropist, Lord Curzon. He stepped in and purchased the castle for a few thousand, and demanded to know “where were his fireplaces”. After a bit of detective work he found they were sitting at Tilbury docks awaiting their passage. Luckily he had the funds, from memory about £5000 but definitely more than he paid for the castle. He was able to buy them back and he restored the castle at his expense before bequeathing it to the NT after his death in 1925 for all to enjoy.Across the moat, is Tattershall church,which has interesting tales to tell. You might be able to see the furnishings are draped with blue cloth. This is because the church is home to a colony of bats. Not just in the belfry, but throughout the whole church, and the evidence was clearly seen. Whilst I admire wildlife preservation, I think the novelty of bat poo in a well used building would wear rather thin in my opinion. But the bats aren’t the churches only claim to fameIt is where Tom Thumb is buried. He died in 1620 aged 101. I make no claims about this tales acurracy.
After an enjoyable day exploring, we decided to eat out at the Packet Inn, good food reasonably priced, but sadly it was to be our farewell meal with Ian and Cherryl. They had commitments to honour so needed to travel faster than us. We’ve learnt a lot about boating life from Ian and Cherryl. They have a wealth of experience and while we share a lot of the same dreams, Cherryl has written their story into a book called Dreams Really Do Come True
Give me a few years and maybe my inner author will make it off the blog and into paperback.
In Eric’s case it was simply “why not?” We have come so far, why not complete the trip as far as we can navigate. After all it is our plan to see as much of the country as possible. And I agree with him. Boston gets mixed reviews but as always we like to make our own judgement.
Ian and Cherryl would like to take Seren Rose out onto the Wash and around the coast, they wanted to look at all the practicalities before planning their big voyage.
Me? I’d done my homework and googled “events”. I wanted to attend the “fisherman’s feast festival” happening over the weekend. I was keen to find the TIC to pick up details, because there didn’t seem to be any posters advertising it.
Ian and Cherryl were first off the boat because they’d also done their homework and knew it was high tide at 10am so wanted to see the lock keeper. The Grand Sluice lock is a bit of a muddle to understand, it’s underneath the rail and the road bridge. And there’s particular ways of passing through depending on the time tide and size of your boat. They picked up a lot of useful advice and contacts, but we just observed, Unlike Seren Rose, Firecrest is a canal boat and although we could make her seaworthy, it isn’t something high on our priority list right now. But never say never, there’s usually a handful of intrepid travellers who do it each year.
Having done the boaty bit we set off to see more of Boston and find out what it’s all about. The TIC is in the Guild Hall. But funnily enough, they didn’t seem to know anything about the fisherman’s feast, but as I insisted, the website said it was on this weekend and the grand procession carrying statues of the Madonna to bless the fishermen, had taken place every year since the early 1910. The penny dropped and the smiles emerged. Wrong Boston. I’d looked at Boston Massachusetts, USA and there was no way we were taking our boats across the Atlantic for a fish and chip supper.But undeterred by my apparently common mistake, we had a good look around.
In 1390, the religious order of St Mary formed a guild for the wealthy wool merchants. Unusual for it’s time, it was a 2 story brick building, downstairs was the chapel and alter over which deals were struck. Upstairs were the banqueting rooms, to celebrate the deals. I looked somewhat surprised at this arrangement, but it made sense when the guide explained that deals done in church were made in the sight of God, therefore neither party dared renege on the deal.
At the time over three million sheep fleece were being exported which meant that other luxuries such as silk, fur and wine could be imported creating the opportunity for Boston’s fairs and markets to become an integral part of the town. Sadly over time, the value of fleece declined and the river silted up, until the agricultual revolution in the 18th century when Georgians revitalised the area and its waterways.
Today Boston still benefits from agriculture and has become home to a large number of Eastern Europeans. Sadly as manual field labour doesn’t command high wages, it has left Boston with a somewhat run down feel to it. Hence the reluctance of some boaters to journey this far. In our opinion quite sad because Boston has a fascinating history and some beautiful buildings. One thing it lacks is plentiful mooring for narrowboats which meant that we only stayed 2 nights, even though I suspected there was a lot more to explore.
Leaving Boston has to be carefully thought out if you want to go out onto the the sea, that nice deep river we saw at full tide, looks like this on the retreat. The Pilgrim Fathers also had trouble leaving Boston during the reign of Elizabeth I. They were a group of likeminded families, known as the Scrooby Separatists, who were being persecuted for wanting a more Bible centred faith as opposed to following the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer that Henry VIII had introduced. They had secretly arranged passage from Boston but were betrayed by the captain. Luckily for them, the people of Boston had some sympathy for them and although they had all their belongings confiscated they were only held under house arrest in the Guild Hall until they were sent back to their villages penniless. In 1620 they made another bid for freedom. On two ships, the Speedwell for passengers and the larger Mayfair for the essentials needed to build a new life in America. The Speedwell began taking on water before it had even left the British coast, the intrepid settlers had to set sail once more from Plymouth on board the Mayfair. But after 2 months at sea they made it, and built a new colony called Boston in honour of their starting point. I’m not sure if the Pilgrim Fathers would have approved, because of its Catholic roots, but some years later fellow immigrants to Boston Massachusetts began a festival called the fisherman’s feast, which I believe is an event worth attending.