Touring Britain, but not by boat

The forecast was dodgy so we decided to push on to Nottingham whilst it wasn’t raining, and I’m so glad we did. We we welcomed onto Victoria Embankment with flags, balloons and banners promoting the Tour of Britain. Thankfully not our own slow meander around the country but the high speed cycle tour, which was due to start from West Bridgford the next morning. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but there was a buzz of excitement as I pushed forward through the crowds. I’m not sure of the terminology but being a TV fan of the F1 Grand Prix, it felt like we were doing the grid walk.The car park had been turned into the paddock and the teams were preparing themselves for the race. Coaches and support vehicles all emblazoned with their team sponsors, cyclists, reporters and fans, all milling together, eagerly awaiting the start on the High street. I’d got a route map and knew that they were going over Trent Bridge twice, to do a circuit of central Nottingham and back again, so once the teams left the paddock I walked back towards the river and managed to get a prime position on the corner. Of course not being a true cycling fan I hadn’t anticipated just how quickly the peloton whizzed past.I’m fairly sure these are 2 of our British hero’s, Geraint Continue reading Touring Britain, but not by boat

Safely through Newark, but only just.

After some mindless hooligans spoilt our last visit to Newark we were a little apprehensive.  We delayed our entry into the town to avoid the weekend by using the Muskham Ferry patrons mooring. We anticipated they’d be quite tricky to get onto due to the river flow and the short angled pontoons. The easy solution would have been to go in bow first but you cant use the pub if you cant get off your boat easily, so that would defeat ths object.  Eric’s helmsmanship was well and truly tested, they don’t do reversing around a corner whilst going upstream in boat school. Thank goodness we’d chosen to arrive in the morning before the gongoozelers were watching, it took 2 attempts but we made it.  I made sure he was well rewarded and we fulfilled our “patrons duty” with several pints and a good sunday lunch.And before the anticipated weather change, I got to finish the shawl I was knitting and took advantage of the sunshine to wash and dry it flat on the roof.

Well replenished we set off to for the last few miles into Newark.

We steamed ahead towards the castle and in our excitement forgot to read the map, I mean what could be so hard to navigate, under the bridge and moor up on the right….Oops, when you have an 8 foot radio mast, it pays to to go through the middle arch with enough headroom. Luckily I don’t think the damage to the bridge was severe enough to stop the traffic. And it really was only the tip of the ariel that scuffed the already flakey brickwork.  Much relieved we moored up at Farndon and I went for a walk. One of the last remaining working  willow holts a is just off the mooring. Both a fascinating site for the number of varieties of willow trees, a haven for wildlife. This Comma Butterfly obliged me by posing for a photo.

Upstream, from Lincoln to Cromwell

When we travelled down the Trent, we were advised to book our return passage several days in advance so we could plan our journey to optimise the incoming tide, which we did. So as suggested We arrived at Torksey in the afternoon and locked through to the top side mooring pontoon.Someone’s got a sense of humour because the lock gates here are adorned with teapots. By evening a little flotilla had assembled, we all prepped our boats, checked the anchors and cleared the props, in readiness for the tide arriving at 9:45 the next morning. We were travelling with a small cruiser who would nip ahead quickly, a narrowboat with a “proper” engine, who didn’t believe we would have enough umph to make it, and a lovely single handed narrowboater, who had engine cooling issues, so was happy to have some company. In theory we should have been carried upstream by the tide which is stronger than the flow downstream, although we saw the water level drop turn and start to rise on the pontoon, we can’t say we actually felt like we were surfing. What we didn’t want to happen was for our journey to take longer than the tide because that would have meant we would be pushing against both the downstream flow and the retreating tide.It’s quite exhilarating going up the big wide river. We wouldn’t want to do it every day, but it makes a fun change.And I got to sit on the roof doing my knitting, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be decapitated by any low bridges. We were overtaken by 2 big cruisers who left Torksey after us, but as Cromwell lock can only open when the tide is right we all had to wait and go through at the same time. I think there were 7 boats in the lock this time. Firecrest had done us proud and we’re confident we will cope with stronger tidal flow in the future.And the cheery lockie waved us all through,

One of the things we have enjoyed over the past few months is the number of shore power electric points there have been along the river. Newark, Cromwell, Lincoln, Bardney and Boston. It’s meant that we’ve hardly had to run the generator at all, a real treat. Whilst the generator itself is reasonably quiet, the woodwork around it vibrates noisily and it’s hot, an advantage in the winter but not in the summer

Eric’s taken the opportunity to do some tinkering with the batteries, rebalancing them to enhance efficiency and longevity. We were very pleased when we cruised all the way from Lincoln to Cromwell which is about 30 miles and upstream on the tidal Trent. We took 3 days to complete this journey. It might not sound all that wonderful compared to some electric vehicles but we were pretty impressed that Firecrest coped so well on the power hungry river and we’re fairly sure we could have done the additional 5 miles onto Newark if we’d wanted to push on. But Cromwell is a lovely lock with more of those prized electric hook ups. The sun had come out and there were plenty of Blackberry bushes that needed my attention so we broke the journey to make jam.

From Newark to Torksey, via Cromwell

It’s only a few hours from Newark to Cromwell lock. but we had dutifully booked our slot to go beyond for 10:30 the next morning. This gave us time to make friends and chat to the other boaters about their experiences on tidal rivers. David and his wife from the cruiser Orchid and and Karen and Colin on NB Listers Lore. We were moored together overnight. Our passage was booked so we would go out at slack water-the period when the tide is neither coming or going. This meant that we would be arriving at Torksey just about the same time as the incoming tide. However we wouldn’t be able to pass through until the water levels had risen enough to cover the cill. The tidal river lock keepers are professionals as they have some big locks to oversee. They are extremely knowledgeable and very helpful so had advised us to take advantage of this for our first outing onto tidal water. Of course what it meant was that our first venture onto tidal water, was not. The tide didn’t help hinder or affect us at all.Our journey was calm and uneventful Until we came to the water skiers.
We had, by default, followed Karen and Colin since leaving Cromwell lock. They turned off the river onto the Fossdyke Navigation just before us. But this was where we said goodbye as they weren’t going through the lock, but mooring here overnight. Seeing the line they took and speed they went at, greatly helped our confidence and confirmed we had planned and acted appropriately. Hopefully one day we will be in the position to help guide and encourage other novices. We moored up after Torksey lock. And breathed a sigh of relief as we had ticked off a major journey on our narrowboat adventure. We won’t ever take the big rivers for granted. The conditions we experienced couldn’t have been more favourable. Let’s hope they continue when we make our return journey later this month.

A Fine Weekend at Newark

We approached Newark apprehensively because we had heard that there was a festival that weekend and all the moorings were taken. However, much to our great delight, we found the 14 day wall mooring alongside Riverside Park was completely free, and what’s more it was opposite the castle. I don’t think we have ever had such a pretty town mooring before. But a good job the townsfolk werent defending their castle because they also had a good view of Firecrest from their windows.

A quick Google search revealed a program of Morris dancing, folk singing and story telling going on throughout the town and in the castle. Assuming there would food as well, we set off looking for lunch and a bit of entertainment. We struck gold. Up the ladder, onto the park, over the bridge and into the castle grounds all in 5 minutes. The castle turned out to just be the remaining wall and tower, but was a perfect communal gathering place with a bandstand. The Morris dancers were jingling their bells and shaking their sticks, we got fish and chips and best of all, the Notts spinners guild was demonstrating. These were the people we had met the previous weekend at Greens windmill so recognising each other, Knowing my wheel is portable I scurried back down to firecrest to fetch it, as I was invited to join them for the afternoon. Most of the spinners had to leave at the end of the session, but Sue and Rob sat talking and as we watched the evening light creating the most gorgeous of reflections, our traditional folk evening appropriately ended up in the 15th century coaching inn, the Prince Rupert Pub.Try as we might Sue and I failed to identify the true Prince Rupert.

Being Seen and Heard

Having gone to the effort of doing our short range radio operator’s training back in May, now was the time to put our skills into use. Unfortunately that meant that Eric had to spend several frustrating hours cobbling together the wiring and an aerial. Although we had asked for it to be fitted during the build, we were told that narrowboaters wouldn’t need such extravengances. It was one of the items we mistakenly compromised on knowing we could add it later. Braidbar boats were not designed to have items retro fitted. Luckily wiring is something that Eric understands and his temporary fixes still tick all the safety boxes and some. And oh boy, were we glad we made the effort. Not only were we able to contact the lock keepers easily to ascertain if we were able “pen down”. But we were also able to hear what other boats were doing and plan accordingly. And ok, all this isn’t essential for the Trent and we could have made our contact by mobile phone, but for us, having that  reliability and extra source of information has made river cruising less stressful and more interesting. There’s a bit of a misconception that VHF radios are just for calling for help in an emergency, they’re not. They are an easy way to communicate, and once we’d got over our initial nervousness at following the protocols we quickly relaxed when we realised everyone spoke the same language, not everyone followed the prescribed protocols and most of all, no one minded.

River cruising is different to canal cruising. There are sandbanks and shallows lurking beneath the surface which mean the cruising channel can meander from bank to bank. The outer curve is usually deeper than the inner curve because of the natural erosion. The Boating Association publishes the Trent Cruising guides, an absolute must, for safe navigation. The cruising line is overlaid in red and useful information is highlighted.  River locks are operated by lock keepers and known as pens. So we ask to “pen” up or down. These locks are huge, hold a whole marinas worth of boats. This was Stoke Lock and besides us on the left, there were 2 wide beams 2 cruisers and another 2 narrowboats.

Having sorted our radio out. Eric also had to connect an appropriate navigation light. Boats travelling on tidal waters, including tidal sections of rivers, boats need to be seen in all conditions to avoid collision. The COLREG rules state that for a boat our length means having a mast headlight visable for 3 nautical miles, red port and green starboard side lights and white stern light visable for 2 nautical miles. (Disclaimer, there are more regulations and criteria than I have listed here) The logic being that although we might not choose to travel at night, tide times might make it necessary to be on the water at dawn, dusk or in poor conditions. A lot of narrowboaters simply choose not to venture into this territory, we’ve decided to explore as much of the system as practical so we’ve done our best to rig up a temporary mast. One day it will be sturdier and taller, but as we know we’re only going to be doing the very first section of tidal water between Cromwell and Torksey in very calm conditions it will surfice for now. Added to which, the river has so many bends chances are we can’t be seen in full daylight beyond half a mile so we’re happy.

Nudging up to Newark

Oops apologies for being AWOL for a few weeks. But don’t worry I didn’t sneakily take Firecrest joyriding down the rapids and we haven’t sunk like John thought; just busy enjoying ourselves. So I’m going to skip through the past few weeks with just a few photos until I’ve caught up with myself. We’ve been travelling downstream from Nottingham to Newark.This rather non descript side arm besides the Nottingham EA building is actually the lock entrance onto the Grantham canal.  At this point it doesn’t go beyond the the length of the lock, but work is on going to restore the whole navigation. And if and when it does open we’ll certainly be back to explore. One of the drawbacks of big river cruising is the lack of pedestrian bridges, this is Radcliffe rail bridge, with 4 cruisers hurtling towards us. We’ve come to the conclusion that cruisers generally hunt in packs and their challenge is to get from one lock to the next as quickly as possible. Pootling, obviously isn’t in their vocabulary. Having said that, it isn’t a criticism, because if we had lived beside the Trent we might have had a cruiser,  a narrowboat is not the obvious or most appropriate form of river transport, just as we don’t think cruisers are the ideal for canal cruising. We’re finding the scenery along the river quite different to the canals, beach life is the thing.And in some sections, desert life seems the current norm. River levels are low but at least cruising hasn’t been restricted because of lack of rain, like some sections of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Actually despite us hitting 30 degrees some days, we’ve had the benefit of a few heavy downpours and quite a few cloudy days. On the whole though, the weather has been fantastic cruising weather.

Perhaps not in a narrowboat

Time to move on from Nottingham and make our way downstream towards Newark . The plan was to lock hop-or as I kept saying “we’re hop locking” mainly because we’re true codiwomplers and we like to travel slowly. Until, that is, we arrived at our first lock and I saw this little off shoot from the river… Holme Pierrepoint which is where the National Water Sports centre is and I saw the white water rapid run…oh boy did I want to have a go, but Eric insisted that Firecrest was too long to take the turns and twists. Can’t think why. So while he stayed on our mooring, polishing the brass, I went to find out how I could get my adrenaline rush. Frustratingly the event they suggested would be suitable for me, a complete novice, wasn’t available until the weekend and I knew we’d have moved on by then. So I kept my dignity intact and just enjoyed watching others risking life and limb. The whole site has several activities on offer, a proper mile long rowing lake, an adventure lake/river and the rapids, plus some land based activities, high wires, climbing walls and obstacle courses. I could easily have spent another day here watching it all. Eric has promised we can come back one weekend. But is still insistent that Firecrest won’t be joining me.

Boating in Bridgford

Victoria Embankment is a great place for people watching and an even better place for boat watching. Although I think Roger the anchor man had been at it a bit too long and had forgotten to come down for his dinner. There were the large. Several huge floating gin palaces came past, full of happy people, the later the hour, the noisier and flashier the lights, but they were travelling sedately so didn’t cause firecrest to rock, so not a nuisance at all.Not like these maniacs on their hover speedboat. They were ‘playing’ with a jet skier, racing round like Vettel drawing donuts. Don’t get me wrong speed can be great fun, but they weren’t wearing life jackets and the consequences didn’t bear thinking about if they had crashed into each other. And they created a huge wash. There were a lot of rowers or skullers, I’m never sure how to tell the difference. Some were obviously in training with coxes with microphones and coaches on bikes racing along side on the bank.Some like the Dragon boats looked ready to take on the speed boat.Some just prefered to sit with a fishing rod watching the world go by. These girls had brought their picnic so stopped paddling for a bit to eat.I chose to wander into town, West Bridgford is the rather attractive town separated from Nottingham by the river. About 5 minutes walk from our mooring, I found the thriving buzzing high street. Lots of rather nice street cafes, not that we could afford to ‘take lunch’ in them.  And itC turns out to be where one of our best friends was born, and his parents had married at the parish church, St Giles.I went to the Sunday morning service and received a warm welcome, Bridgford is lucky to have such a lively thriving parish church. Definitely one I’ll return to. While we were moored here, our friends Ian Joy and Kate joined us. Trad sterns aren’t the best place for 5 people to stand whilst cruising so we let the fellas do their stuff at the helm.

Trent’s Bridges

On leaving the Beeston Canal we were planning to turn north and head downstream but a couple of people had said Victoria Embankment was a nice place to moor. So we came through lock 1, and turned south to go upstream instead. There is about 2 miles of navigable river before we would have to turn around.  Passing by the Nottingham Forest football ground, and under Trent Bridge itself. Now it’s a beautiful 3 arch stone and iron bridge, painted in blue and gold, built in 1868. The first was built in 970 but I couldn’t find any photos. The second built in 1156 had 20 stone arches and a chapel dedicated to St James. But they continued to be destroyed by flood. Here the river is now contained by concrete steps on either side, which not only greatly widens it’s flood volume, but makes Victoria Embankment a very attractive place for us to moor and a real asset for the local community. It was packed with people from the County Hall taking their lunch breaks.Sir Jesse Boot, founder of Boots chemists, had the  memorial gardens built on this section but sadly they have suffered from lack of maintenance, so despite these impressive gates, the gardens were weedy, and the grand rockery was starting to fall apart. But the grounds are expansive and beyond the formal gardens are fields that double as a car park for the nearby sporting venues.You can conveniently cross over the river on a suspension footbridge known as Wilford Bridge. On Thursday we looked out to see hordes of people doing so because the most famous sporting venue here is the Trent Bridge cricket ground. And England were playing India. The atmosphere was party like all day so we couldn’t have guessed from the demeanour of the crowds going home who had won. We could hear the roars of the crowd cheering. I took a photo in the morning for a family who were obviously of Indian origins, so I asked who they were supporting- mum and dad instantly said India, the children England. India won. This was taken from Wilford Bridge. The flood lights and curved roof on the right are the the Trent Bridge cricket ground. The green roofs are the County Hall. Notts Forest FC is behind the scaffolding on the left. And that’s the bridge itself on the left. Firecrest is the 7th boat from the right. Perhaps the sunshine has helped but this has proved a very sociable mooring, one we will use again. Lots to explore.