The Stump, what a view.

The good folk of Lincolnshire certainly like to make a statement. And just like Lincoln, our first sighting of Boston was the church, St Botolphs.  Known affectionately as “The Stump”.  This towering beacon guided us along the river to the visitor moorings, where a fellow boater said “….you do know you can go up to the top….” of course I didn’t need telling twice.  Despite the clouds, the forecast suggested this would be the clearest day for the best view. So with my eager accomplice Cherryl, we persuaded our boys that it was only 220 steps and off we went. Only 220 steps indeed, we were both looking for the oxygen cylinders by the time we got to the top. But then we realised it was the view that claimed the breath taking prize. We were able to stand outside on all 4 aspects of the tower. Looking down we could see the market and some of the grand Boston properties built in its thriving heyday. And if we followed the river west, in front of the Grand Sluice, Boston lock, (under the rail bridge) the tide had retreated revealing uninviting mud going out to the estuary, but Seren Rose and Firecrest were moored safely upstream in non tidal water.Looking straight out we could see over to the Norfolk coast and the in/off shore windfarms (we’re still debating which term is correct).To the north was a “proper” 1820s windmill, this is one of the largest still operating in England. Looking to the west were the great, soon to be redundant, cooling towers of the coal power stations on the Trent and medieval Tattershal castle. On a good day you can see over 30 miles and Lincoln cathedral but it was too hazy for us.I don’t usually like heights but the stone balcony encased us safely. We had climbed 145 feet up, the remaining 100 feet was closed to public access.Coming down was harder than going up, narrow spiral stairwells are good for the defending soldiers wielding swords. Ian and Eric obviously didn’t meet the enemy as they practically flew down. Cherryl and I took a more ladylike descent, and emerged triumphant and in need of a cuppa-provided by a very pleasant cafe in the church. St Botolphs seems to be a very welcoming and inclusive church. Lots of beautiful architecture but more importantly full of people.There were several community activities going on, the local art club had an exhibition, there were some spinners and knitters creating a WWI remembrance display of red poppies, there was a replica of St Botolphs being made out of Lego, a wood carving group working on church restoration, a cafe and a large second hand book area. The following day I had the joy of attending an organ recital, but sadly as we only had 2 nights in Boston we missed taking part in any of the many Christian worship activities also advertised.

Hurricanes, Typhoons and the BBMF

Moving on from Lincoln, we were travelling together with our friends Cherryl and Ian down towards Boston. It was a journey that took us a few days. Our first night was at Bardney Lock. The visitor moorings, with electric hook up, are about a mile away from the village, so as we’d arrived quite late we didn’t stop to investigate. The further East we travelled, the thicker the duck weed became, the swans didnt mind but not much fun to cruise through.  Combined with the retaining levees, it wasn’t an exciting journey, until we heard a rumble and a roar in the skies above us. As we looked up, we realised a hurricane had just passed us. Not the windy variety, but we were directly under the runway flight path from RAF Conningsby.  We had to work out which way to look as both the Hurricanes and Typhoons had come and gone before we heard them, but always seemed to fly in pairs, so if we missed one we knew there’d be a second close behind.  I’m not to sure we would like to live so close to the airbase, but we were only too pleased to be able to moor up at Dogsdyke, within walking distance of the base. Of course it would have been rude not to take advantage, so we all went exploring. There’s a viewing mound just outside the perimeter fence for all the enthusiastic plane spotters, one or two armed with radio which we assumed allowed them listen in to air traffic control, so they knew what to expect. The runway was still quite a distance away but it didn’t stop the excitement build as we realised not only were active RAF Typhoon and Hurricane squadrons based here, but also it was the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, BBMF.  Not only were we watching the modern, super fast and noisy, we were being treated to a close up of the only flying Lancaster bomber, The Dakota coming into land, And one of the Spitfires flying overhead. What a privilege, having missed most of the fly past over Lincoln’s 1940s weekend, we were now getting our very own personal air display of this magnificent part of our heritage.

As we fell into bed that night, we chuckled to ourselves that today had turned out to be yet another unexpected adventure. We had no idea that we were going to be treated to such a spectacle.  And no idea what would surprise us tomorrow.


Going down the Glory Hole

We had heard fearsome things about the Glory Hole in Lincoln, would it swallow us whole? would we be spat out alive on the other side? Would we have any paintwork left after our transit? Despite the many connotations of the phrase, no one is quite sure of the specific reason it became known as such. In the middle ages it was known as the “murder hole” due to the accumulation of debris that collected there, including dead bodies! Ian and Cherryl were more worried than us because Seren Rose is a true “Fat Boy” with a wheelhouse, which they would have to collapse to allow them through. With a close eye on the weather, cause they really didn’t want to get rained on with their roof down, Seren Rose set first. Waving goodbye to Brayford Pool and entering the River Witham.This twisting narrow passage takes us under a thriving shopping street and a magnificent medieval building which is now the home of Stokes coffee house. Ironically this awkward passage is actually called High Bridge. It has a fascinating history. Built by the Normans in the 12th century  It is England’s oldest stone bridge still in use to have occupied medieval buildings on it. Then it was our turn.First we had to pass under the modern road bridge, with its slogan “Where have you been” inscribed across It. Then we saw the hole…. It certainly looked ominous as we approached.And more like a tunnel than a bridge. We’d never have guessed what was above us. If we hadn’t walked across the bridge first. Once through the Glory Hole we breathed a sigh of relief, the only casualty being one of Seren Roses fenders, which Cherryl was able to fish out with their boat hook. Lincoln has embraced it’s waterways and tried to prettify a 20th century shopping centre with hanging baskets and a stunning millenium sculpture called Empowerment. Sadly this area has a deprived feel to it. As well as the busy shoppers and tourists, it’s sheltered walkways attract quite a number of drug addicts, homeless and unemployed people, who looked anything but empowered. My moral conscience is always troubled when I see such hopelessness. I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to live on a narrowboat the way we do. And we do bring pleasure to many,As we dutifully wave to our admirers on the next bridge.Farewell for now Lincoln, we will be back to explore the rest of this magnificent city next week.

Celebrations in Lincoln

Lincoln knew we were coming, so had laid on some entertainment.  Combining a 1940s theme and the RAFs centenary year, the town had gone vintage, packed with service personnel and folk in costume. I suspect a lot of it was the genuine article, though not all RAF or 1940s. There were quite a few Yanks over here helping the party go with a swing. There was live music, big band and swing with dancing. We were treated to a lesson on doing the Lambeth Walk at an open air tea dance.And a pipe band to help with the flingI thought Eric had taken a shine to the dancers but he had his eye on this rather fine vehicle
Ian and Cheryl fancied this one in green.While I was in stitches over the fancy bunting. And wondering where I’d be now if my nurses uniform hadn’t been the functional trousers and tunic it is today.
Of course with it being RAF weekend, we were treated to fly pasts by a Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. Unfortunately despite the blue sky it was quite windy so they arrived earlier than advertised, which meant we didn’t get a really good view of them as we were cloistered in the cathedral quarter. Poirot and his friends offered to go and find them for us but they were enjoying the pink fizz too much. Away from the cathedral quarter there were more stalls and a display of RAF fire engines on the waterfront.Although we weren’t sure if this guy had suffered 100% burns, was the Michelin Man, Stig or wearing his uniform.In the evening, events switched venues with the party atmosphere moving to the waterfront with street food and music. The grand finale on Saturday was a firework display set off from the island in the Brayford Pool, which we got to enjoy sitting on the roof of Seren Rose with Ian Cherryl and their family, Tony and Jo. And 5 minutes afterwards it started to rain.

Mama Mia, here we go again

Not quite again as this is the first time we have been to Lincoln, but it won’t be the last. However, as we pulled into our moorings at Brayford Pool the clouds thickened and threatened. Blissfully naive we set off to pay our dues only to get drenched within seconds as the heavens opened and dumped enough rain to refill the beleaguered canals.We cowered under the trees then scampered back to the boats, to phone the harbour master who was happy for us to pay him the next day. Of course rain like that doesn’t last long but it was now damp and chilly.  As we could see the Odeon cinema on the waterfront, we decided to go and see Mama Mia HWGA, not quite as good as the first film but still a good sing along.In good spirits our movie singalong soon changed films, no prizes for guessing what our rowdy chorus line became, and that was before we’d opened the bottles. Bradford Pool is a harbour managed by the BP trust and we were to be charged £15 a night to stay. Having suffered 3 nights of mindless intimidation in Newark we were quite happy to pay for secure gated city centre moorings so we could be in the thick of it without fear of being taken advantage of by non boaters. The Cathedral providing us with an equally impressive backdrop to our mooring.

Brayford Pool was originally a natural lake that became the heart of the settlement that grew up here. Lin, meaning lake and Don meaning foot of the hill became Lindon. The Romans arrived in the first century and recognising potential when they saw it, dredged and widened the river Witham to make an inland port of quite some significance. The town and its thriving wool industry prospered, helped also by the Romans building the Foss Dyke connecting the area to the River Trent. The Romans left in the 5th century and the Vikings took over 500 years later, when Brayford acquired it’s name, Breit-ford, where the River is wide and fordable.

As the wool trade declined in the 13th century, so did Lincoln’s fortune, but in the 18th century it became an industrial trading wharf, full of warehouses, mills and malthouses, with all the accompanying businesses. But the steamboats and sailingbarges were superceeded by the railway and sadly the pool silted up. In the 1960s there were proposals to fill it in and create a car park. Thank goodness they didn’t as it’s now a thriving lively waterfront. With “parking” for boats like us.

Straight on the Fossdyke

Once we’d come through the lock at Torskey we back onto canal waters. Anchor away, aerial down and life jackets back in their bag. The Fossdyke Navigation is thought to have been built in 120AD by the Romans, making it the oldest canal still in use in Britain. It was built to link Lincoln and the River Witham with the great River Trent.  It felt safe and comforting at first, although in true Roman fashion, straight for mile and mile and mile. And with this being the Lincolnshire fens, the countryside is low lying and flat so prone to flooding hence the levees either side of us which also meant very little change in scenery. We did however see two Braidbar boats, Essence, No 94, has a mooring here. And No 102, Up Spirits who we didn’t manage to speak to as we were both manouvering as we passed. And this boat, which although had a certain design flare, we could tell from it’s livery that it was definitely not a Braidbar.  We’d been advised that Saxilby was a nice place to moor. And we have to agree it was, we stayed a few days here, and had a steady stream of neighbours in all shapes and sizes. Some only stayed a few hours, just long enough to nip up to the chippy and take advantage of the picnic tables to enjoy lunch. We chatted to everyone, especially as I’d taken the opportunity to sit outside with my spinning, always a good conversation starter. We struck up what was to become a good friendship with Cherryl and Ian. (Yes two Cheryls… one with 2 Rs one with only 1…) They have a beautiful dutch style barge with a wheelhouse perfect for socialising. We did have to confess to a degree of boat envy. Seren Rose is not Ian and Cherryls first boat. They’d already spent many years cruising the whole system on their narrowboat, and now they are now looking at exploring new waters. Maybe one day we will do similar. Their enthusiasm and zest for life is infectious, and like us, even though they have lived this life for many years, each day is still an adventure. As we were both going in the same direction we shared this next bit of our adventures together. While we were in Saxilby, Eric took advantage of seeing a physio who’s consulting rooms were opposite our mooring. He’s had a painful shoulder for quite a while and she confirmed it was a frozen shoulder. He’s got a long list of exercises to do, but although it’s improving already it could be a slow process. We loved the stonework on the frontage.Travelling in convoy with Ian and Cherryl we headed off towards Lincoln.It wasn’t long before the cathedral came into view, promising us an exciting weekend ahead.


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 week away

Having left Eric safely moored in Newark, or so I thought, I caught the train back to Suffolk so I could enjoy some precious mum and daughter time. Heather and I had booked our annual outing to indulge our creative souls. We were going to Fibre East; a 2 day extravaganza and shopping paradise for yarnies like us. We have a thriving and exciting independant fibre industry in this country and although it might not be going to make many millionaires, it makes a lot of people very happy. Sadly commercial sheep farmers have a hard time making money out of selling fleece due to the cost of shearing etc, and a lot of the yarn we see in shops is imported acrylic. Which I hasten to add has it’s place in the knitters world, it’s cheap cheerful and accessible. But if you are prepared to pay a bit more, you can get soft easycare woollen blends. But still being commercially dyed the colours are precise neat and tidy. The past 20 years and the advent of online sales has seen small independent companies, often kitchen table affairs grow, preparing, spinning and dying fleece and fibres in an array of colours way beyond the rainbow. And as knitting is now a hobby craft done for primarily for pleasure not just to keep the family warm and clothed, using exquisite quality materials just adds to the pleasure. And yarnies are sociable people, we ply our craft in small social groups, where we “knit and natter,” we join guilds to learn and help teach our skills to others and we recognise that we are healthier, happier and more content when we are immersed in fabulous fibre. Both Heather and I dye spin knit crochet and play with felt. Heather also weaves. And for us acquiring “stash” is an important part of the enjoyment. We’ll often buy a skein purely because the colour shouts buy me buy me. And because handproduced yarns and fibres aren’t cheap we rarely buy enough for a big garment so they sit in a colour candy box waiting for just the right pattern. And this weekend lived up to our expectations. Not only did we meet friends from around the country, including Martina from narrowboat Burnt Oak, and several sellers who work from their narrowboats. Heather also met friends who combine their hobbies, who are glass lamp workers as well, like she is.We were very restrained this weekend knowing that storage on a narrowboat is limited and I am trying to work on a one in one out principle, and that Heather was on course to have enough fibre to add a layer of insulation in the house. We both came home happy.

Sadly the same couldn’t be said for Eric. Our perfect mooring, beneath the castle, within easy walk of all the essentials, turned out to be too tempting for the local hooligans. And as we’d had to moor against the wall the roof of the boat was parralel with the towpath, it was just too much of an invitation to the thoughtless, that they found it amusing to jump onto Firecrest and run along at 1am in the morning. Other boaters had their ropes untied. The police were called and the flashing lights scared the villians off. Eric was equally scared and along with the other boaters moved to what they thought was a safer mooring. Only to have more trouble the next night, and again after another relocation for a third night running. We have repairable damage to the boat, but the damage done to our confidence has been huge. Boaters will always be more vulnerable than those inside bricks and mortar, and what seems to be petty intimidation to the hooligans, potentially has serious consequences to the boaters. We weren’t impressed with the police support. The culprits ran and hid, which seemed part of the game and certainly no deterrent not to do the same again to the next lot of boaters. On a positive note, we spoke to other boaters who had never had any trouble in Newark and likewise we have been moored where the doomsayers had warned us about areas that we felt safe in. We won’t let 3 nights trouble spoil the many many that have been idyllic and perfect.Eric eventually found safe harbour a couple of miles upstream. Close enough for him to be easily cruise back into Newark to collect me when I returned from my jaunt.

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.