Pottering Aound Peterborough

An Explosive Greeting

Leaving Peterborough Boating Centre and emerging from the Back River onto the Nene we slipped under Frank Perkins Parkway and moored up on the embankment, near to the various services and in bright sunshine, just after noon.

Five minutes after our arrival a police car turned up and parked on the grass a couple of hundred yards upstream. Two officers got out and soon began to move people away from a boat moored down there. More police arrived along with many yards of cordon tape and a perimeter was established to hold back the small crowd that inevitably gathered. Over the next hour a few more police arrived and the perimeter was gradually expanded to the point where we thought we were going to be asked to move away ourselves. We gathered that two of that new breed of angler, the magnet fisherman, had managed to lock onto a second world war spigot mortar bomb. This seemed to be confirmed when an army bomb disposal team from the Royal Logistics Corps arrived on the scene.

The Start Of An Ever-Expanding Cordon


Royal Logistics To The Rescue

The Offending Article

It ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Two hours after it started, the offending article had been safely removed and the cordon was being taken down, just as Sue arrived back from the supermarket to ask what was going on. Down here, a little away from the main town, it had attracted very little attention. Passers-by would stop and watch for a few minutes and then move on; no great crowd gathered. Perhaps this is because this was the second one in three months and bomb fatigue has set in. I even forgot to take photos so these should be attributed to the local newspapers. One guy seemed to be there all the time, sitting against a tree in the shade and watching closely. It turned out he was the owner of the boat moored right next to the focal point of the bomb disposal activity. Other boats moored too close to the scene had been asked to move but he had not been on board at the start and was not allowed back on when he returned. He must have had quite an anxious hour or so!

Once the excitement died down, it was a hot afternoon spent sitting in the shade of the trees and taking advantage of being in a city to order parts and supplies from Amazon for delivery to the local locker.

Overton Lake

Monday morning brought a little flurry of maintenance tasks. There was plenty of weed gathered round the prop to be retrieved through the weed hatch. The occasional and irritatingly inconsistent ejection of engine coolant had recurred, although now, as we had the end of the overflow pipe sitting in an empty milk bottle, there was no mess to clear up, just a lot of head scratching. We bled the skin tank again and also topped up the batteries, which we now realise need about half a litre of distilled water every couple of weeks, before we were ready to set off around ten thirty.

An overcast start had given way to hazy sunshine as we set off westward and as we passed the far end of the embankment by the Grain Barge we spotted "Lily May" moored up against another boat there. The guide books we had been using on the Great Ouse and the Middle Levels had been written by her owner, Chris Howes. His preface enjoins the reader to say 'Hello' if he is spotted en route, so we obliged with a hail as we cruised past and he seemed to understand.

Passing through the Town Bridge and by the Asda superstore we were heading upstream towards two fairly low rail bridges when we were hailed, ourselves, from the left bank. A guy walking along the riverside path shouted for me to raise my arm as high as I could as we passed under the railway bridge. He managed to explain that he had a boat with a mast and wanted to see if he would have to take it down when he came through later. We did as he asked and he seemed pleased with the outcome.

It was a nice cruise as the sun continued to burn through. We went through Orton Lock and slowly passed the long stretch of Peterborough Yacht Club to arrive at the entrance to Overton Lake, inside a Country Park, a little past noon. Turning into a narrow channel we emerged into the lake and identified the two pontoons, across the expanse of water to our left, offering free twenty-four hour mooring for about four boats. They were completely empty so we were able to turn and reverse in to the berth of our choice watched only by the ducks and some Canada geese that had been sunbathing on the end of the jetty.

Ferry Meadows

The mooring here is a jewel. The lake is set in Ferry Meadows Country Park. The pontoons are marked for moorers only and chained off although not locked, as such. Nevertheless they feel reasonably secure but are also very close to the Visitor Centre, car park and Café, of which we took immediate advantage to go and get some lunch.

Mooring On Overton Lake At Ferry Meadows

Returning to the boat, we saw we had been joined by none other than 'Lily May'. We had a chat with Chris Howes and he naturally wanted to know how we had got on with his guides.  We were able to say, quite honestly, that we had found them useful and largely accurate, allowing for the constantly changing world they describe. He hadn't also written the guide to The River Nene, from the same publishers, with which we had found a number of issues on the way downstream. A conversation with that author might have been less complimentary. Chris was very friendly and told us a fair bit about what he had been doing on a long trip this season. Luckily his kettle boiled, so we were able to break off and go for a walk around the Country Park.

To the west of Peterborough Yacht Club, the Nene takes a long meander north, through Milton Ferry bridge and back south to Alwalton Lock. A series of water meadows hugs the inside bend of the river and within this loop, a group of lakes form a rough horseshoe within which nestle the main park area and its facilities. As well as the Visitor Centre there is a Lakeside bar & farm shop, sailing club, Nene Valley railway station and all manner of other activities and attractions. This central area was certainly very popular although it didn't feel too crowded.

Ferry Meadows

Heading off from the boat we set out along the lakeside and then beside the channel to the river. We crossed the river, climbed up beside the golf course and then followed a trail above the river bank round to Ferry Meadows bridge, where we crossed back over. A wide loop round Gunwade Lake took us back to the mooring on Overton Lake again, via a pint in the sunshine at the Lakeside bar. A really nice walk, with good paths and an enormous variety of wildlife to see on the way.

We rounded off the day with a barbecue in the evening sun, the first this year I think, making use of the excellent benches with built in barbecue grills thoughtfully provided by the Nene Park Trust.

Back On The Embankment

Sadly, the mooring at Ferry Meadows is restricted to twenty-four hours, although the two of us remained the only visiting boats overnight. Chris Howe had said he liked to cruise in the dawn time and particularly when there was an early mist. Extensive condensation covering the outside of the boat suggested that there would have been a lovely, misty, early autumn dawn. True to his word, "Lily May" was long gone by the time we got up, as was any mist, as such.

The sun warmed things up very quickly and it was another lovely day. We stayed for part of the morning but planned to be back in Peterborough for lunch. As we were about to set off, Sue announced that the freezer had stopped working and the contents were showing signs of beginning to defrost. For us, the world of electrickery is the land of the blind and with no one-eyed man to take the role of king, we settled for the blind leading the blind. I rummaged about here and there in the fuse cupboard and dismantled the dinette to look at connections behind the freezer. Although I found nothing that looked as if it should need fixing, I did end up very close to the freezer and felt the vibration of the motor running. A quick check and we confirmed it was working after all. Our best guess was that, as it was very hot in the cabin by now, it may have a cut-out and stop if it was over-heating. Right or wrong it seemed best to leave well alone now and after that we didn't have any further problems with it.

We reassembled the boat and got on our way. Re-tracing our route was uneventful, other than an encounter with the local angling club's water bailiff, who had much to say about the type of cruisers who were moored illegally close to Peterborough, their drug habits and related business dealings. In fact, he had so much he wanted to share that he followed me up and down the lock side to get it off his chest.

We were back on the Peterborough embankment before one o'clock. It is an all concrete embankment with rings cemented into it but not, in this case, where they needed to be. After a bit of head-scratching the only solution was to bang a mooring pin into a gap in the stone coping. It could have been a bit tricky while holding the boat against a fresh breeze blowing it away from the bank but the owner of "Smudge", moored just in front, was kind enough to hold the line for me. The paintwork on his boat looked impressively shiny, good enough to be freshly painted in fact. When I asked, however, he assured me it was years old and just treated with car wash and wax products. He sounded quite casual about this but his wife rather undermined his relaxed posture by revealing that it was the work of many hours, undertaken very often.

I collected some of the parts ordered from Amazon on Sunday and sat in the shade attempting, without success, to mend a punctured hosepipe. In the end it just resulted in having to order a new one and accidentally starting a "Prime" trial, yet again, in the process.

The other strong recommendation we had received from "Trade Winds II", when we were last here and on our way to the Fens in August, was the Grain Barge, a floating Chinese restaurant moored up by the bridge. We decided that we would give that a try tonight and it was pretty good but we didn't think it quite lived up to the superstar billing it had received.

Separate Ways

The shilly-shallying on the Nene and the return to Peterborough were all because Sue had arranged to meet her sister and sister-in-law for lunch. With one coming from Diss in Norfolk, another from Cambridge and Sue being close to Peterborough, they had decided Bury St. Edmunds was a good place for them all to reach by train. Sue left for the station just after nine and I was left to my own devices for the day.

It was another fine, hot, sunny day but with a slightly stronger, cooler breeze. A great opportunity to wash the starboard side of the boat to start with. We really needed a more specific plan for the trip back up to Northampton, so that occupied an hour or two before wandering up into the city for a good look round the centre. They have a Lido, which was in great demand that day with long queues.

Peterborough's Popular Lido - Who Knew?

Across the busy road from there was a peaceful haven in the Bishop's Gardens

The Peaceful Haven Of The Bishop's Gardens

which led to a walk around the Cathedral precincts where I came across an entertaining statue of 'The Lord Of The Dance"

Lord Of The Dance

The Cathedral grounds have a lot going on, including a busy café and they open out into Cathedral Square right into the main shopping centre and the Long Causeway. There are some fine old buildings round the town square but the Guildhall was being worked on so you couldn't really get a good view.

Peterborough Guild Hall

It was the perfect day to sit outside an Italian restaurant and enjoy beer and pizza in the sunshine before heading back to the boat. Thanks to my accidental Prime account the new hose was ready for collection on the way and I could sit in the shade setting it up on the hose reel.

While we had been moored here, on and off, in the last few days, we entertained ourselves watching the antics of what we took to be local boaters. They seemed to have taken up semi-permanent residence on the embankment, sometimes holding impromptu parties on the bank, sometimes moving back and forth along the river, aboard craft in varying stages of decrepitude. The common thread was loud music and the sharing of unidentifiable bottles. One such boat had cruised past a couple of times, a fibreglass cruiser occupied by a woman of a certain age, stuffed into swimwear more suited to a teenager. Today, from the comfort of my deck chair, I watched in fascination as the aptly named "Strumpet" approached, very slowly, upstream. She was being towed by a small motor boat that was hopelessly inadequate for the task, belching black smoke from it's overworked outboard. Obviously feeling that her presence at the helm would be redundant, the eponymous owner of the boat stood, somewhat precariously, on the starboard gunwale at the bow, cooking sausages on the open flame of a camping gaz stove on the roof of the cabin.

"Strumpet" Preparing Lunch On The Go Before Disaster Struck

Sure enough, just a little way past where I sat, the little engine that could decided that it just couldn't any more. There were a few minutes of frantic activity as the sausages were abandoned to their own devices and the chef, casual demeanour shattered by events, scrambled down the side to the stern deck and tried to work out what to do. Neither vessel had any means of gaining control against the wind and current other than to throw out an anchor or hope to drift onto the shore. In the end the brave little outboard was coaxed back into life and they puttered off in a cloud of smoke to complete their journey which, fortunately, was only a few hundred yards further. Presumably, once there, someone was going to help get the "Strumpet" operating under her own steam once more.

Having missed all this excitement Sue returned at around six o'clock, so around nine hours for lunch!

Back On The Move

The best of the weather seemed to have run its course, with heavy rain overnight and a rather hazy, damp start. After a morning with very little movement we were ready to move onto the services when "Coventina" pipped us at the post. We staked our claim in the queue when another boat suddenly appeared and had a cup of coffee while we waited. Eventually we were on the move by about eleven-thirty, once again heading west through the town bridge and under the railway to Orton Lock. We passed Monday's mooring at Ferry Meadows and continued on as far as Wansford Station, where the EA pontoon was again completely unoccupied. Despite a couple of short showers the afternoon had improved with some sunny spells and by the time we moored up it was quite pleasant again.

The station was quiet that evening but before we set off the next morning there was a lot more noise and activity. We could see a train but couldn't work out where it was on the tracks above us. It turned out to be a huge steam engine being delivered by road, presumably part of a restoration project for the Nene Valley Railway. It took a fair amount of backing and filling and plenty of shouting to get it turned into the sidings there but they managed it in the end.

Latest Train To Wansford

As things calmed down we set off again, heading for Fotheringhay Castle and the camp site king. On the last stretch to Fotheringhay we passed through Warmington Lock by Elton Boat Club, an area we had walked around when we came through on the way down. We were surprised how much had changed in the intervening six weeks.

All Change In Warmington

A new footbridge had been constructed, tracks had been re-made and even Castle Farm had done a bit of smartening up along the way. The camp site there was much busier with tents and camper vans and we moored below the bridge this time, just by the castle mound. Last time the owner had popped up within minutes to collect his fee. We were a little disappointed to find it took them nearly two hours to come and get it today.

Around Oundle

On the way down we had decided we wanted to spend some more time looking round Oundle. We left Fotheringhay about ten o'clock, on a rather grey morning. We were well prepared for the low bridge and the swift current on this occasion and made it through without incident, despite the curve ball thrown by a group of wild swimmers that appeared in our path just as we approached. We found more swimmers and canoeists on our way upstream, which made us realise that it must be Saturday again, before we passed through North Bridge and moored up against the high bank there at around midday.

Sadly, we had just missed the Farmer's Market, which was busy packing up by the time we reached the Market Place but we had some lunch at The Greedy Piglet café and a good look around the centre. It seems a lovely little town dominated by the Oundle School, a boarding school still governed by the Worshipful Company of Grocers of the City of London. As well as the presence of the ancient school buildings many of its pupils, presumably boarders engaged in Saturday school sports activities and having nowhere else to go, were wandering about in full school uniform. A real throwback to an era I thought had long passed.

West Street Oundle

There were  lot of small, independent shops, with some grand buildings and stone cottages that all blended well together, apart from a small row of absurdly fake stone-clad abominations that really stood out. Presumably, they must have slipped through while the chair of the planning committee was asleep at the wheel.

Strangely Out Of Place

The little museum at the far end of West Street was well worth a visit, packed with small local detail and a staff of elderly but eager curators keen to impart their extensive knowledge.

View Down To Oundle Museum

Having taken the opportunity to stock up at Waitrose and the Co-op with a variety of things that the likes of Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco just don't have, we rounded off the day with a visit to the Tap & Kitchen, which seemed as well run and busy as it was in July. I tried a pint of the Heisenberg again, which was excellent but I felt that, as a point of principle, I should order a second one before returning to the boat, just to eliminate any lingering uncertainty.

North Bridge Oundle By Night

Posted in Cruises, Long Haul, Parting Shot.

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