Saturday 21st August: Irthlingborough to Cogenhoe Lock: 13 miles, 10 locks
Apart from the slight leak from the waste water pipe under the bathroom washbasin (a broken seal) and a broken tree, thankfully the breakages have not been ours. Last night, at the lock behind us, I fell into conversation with a pair on a boat they were moving from Leighton Buzzard (Southern Grand Union) to Norfolk, onto Brandon Creek, off the Great Ouse. Shortly into the trip they had to have a sleeve installed on the prop shaft; later they were stalled for three days while a replacement prop shaft was fitted at Gayton. They've gleaned since that the reputation of the broker from whom the boat was bought is extremely dubious. Fraught looks on their faces. Today we have shared a few locks with a pair on a job moving a boat from Ely to Whilton Marina for brokerage there; again a boat causing concern ("not enough ponies under the deck") and eventually they stopped for emergency repair, but are now moored behind us, prepared to limp on again tomorrow. And then we came upon the New Zealander, last seen at Oundle, head down in the front deck, the problem - rust on the bow thruster. Such tales, and those of others finding boat surveys alarmingly revealing, remind you that the image of trouble-free floating and boating is beguiling - and might be misleading!
But our day has been one of simple pleasures and constantly changing sights. Early on each bridge seemed in strong contrast to the last: a medieval one, a modern road bridge, railway bridges, footbridges, a pipe bridge, then Ditchford Lock which is unusual for its radial gate. We wended our way past the juvenile swan colony at Wellingborough, past the coal store and the flour mill, up past the prison on the hill and our route became far more rural, climbing towards higher land. Restful scenes of sheep on a hillside, white geese in a field, occasional butterflies, hay bales, a glimpse of dainty flower baskets beside a garden hut, swans preening themselves on their nest. There was sweet birdsong, a cockerel crowing, the sound and smell of running river water, wind through the hair, branches bouncing above our heads. After midday the grey cloud began to break up, the sun caused sparkles on the water, approaching boaters waving and smiling. Strange shapes loomed then: a sand quarry. Open water, flatter land - and the wind gusted, teasing trees and boats alike. A hesitation to avoid a plastic bag, another gust, and wind into the willows, not once but twice. Leaves on the deck, twigs on the gunnel, then blown in again, this time a large branch snapped. Were we grounded, trapped with Toad in the Willows? One further inch forward and tree and boat would have been locked in mortal battle. Several gusts, reversings and manoeverings later we emerged, intact, although Cleddau speckled with twigs, leaves, foliage, some even thrust inside via the side hatch.
Now we're safely moored above Cogenhoe Lock, sound effects changed from wind to thunderclaps and geese in flypast mode.
(Tomorrow to Northampton, pausing at the services area to rid ourselves of two black bags of rubbish and then to restock at Morrisons).