Tuesday, 17th August: Fotheringhay to Oundle: 7.5 miles, 4 locks
You might be surprised to see Fotheringhay Bridge appearing again: well, last night it fulfilled an unexpected role. In days of yore (that is about sixteen years ago when first we had this boat) communication with the world beyond canals and rivers was via the one "brick" or mobile phone we had; it used analogue technology and had a relatively short range. Now we cruise with two mobile phones, a laptop and two dongles, so that we can keep in touch with the wider world. And so we do: while writing Sunday's blog up on screen popped a moving picture of two laughing and chatting children, one gurgling and dribbling baby, held in a pair of arms. The Californian clan were calling, webcams on! (The sound connection was hopeless but that's another tale.) What joy to be in touch as little or as much as one chooses - provided there is a signal... Readers of the blog of Day 13, Sunday 23rd June, may remember the reference to Ken climbing the very steep motte at Fotheringhay to achieve a signal on the laptop. Here we were again, words composed, photos chosen, ready to climb the motte. We crossed the tussocky meadow, heaved ourselves over a high slate stile onto the village end of the bridge. The Captain (also Comms Officer) espied a tower of red lights beyond the trees, an aerial. We walked to the centre of the bridge, opened the laptop, balanced it on the parapet, the river below. A car crossed; other vehicles passed; in the twilight two mad people gazing into a computer screen, right in the middle of the bridge...! But success: a signal. Emails received, blog dispatched. I am not sure yet which was more stressful: the possibility of the laptop slipping into the water or of the boat drifting downstream at Denver!
Today started with a loud chugging and thumping noise as the weedcutter, moored inconveniently on the downstream landing stage at Warmington Lock yesterday, was passing upstream. At our first lock, Perio, there it was again. But the Environment Agency operator of it was charm itself as he wound the wheel (thank you, thank you), let water in and opened the gate. He is due to retire soon after 43 years - I wish him a long and happy retirement. At the next lock the boaters coming towards us were returning to Ramsey on the Middle Level, to over-winter, having been all the way up to Skipton. Here, as we pulled into Oundle Marina for fuel, we were greeted like long lost friends by the New Zealand pilot with whom we'd shared words and water at Denver on our outbound trip. With tongue very firmly in cheek, he strongly advised us not to go into the Ship, a pub in the centre of town. " You just won't like it!" he claimed.
Our timetable now is being determined by an appointment with the gasman at Irthlingborough on Friday afternoon. Despite numerous enquiries no-one on the Macclesfield Canal could name a qualified gas engineer prepared to service our gas boiler. We enquired again at Bedford - and were given a name who suggested we contact him once on the Nene. He works a wide area, but obviously we have to moor where he can reach us by road.
Oundle Marina is probably a former quarry; it's large and also the place where Fairline Cruisers are manufactured. We're moored on the river bank side, about a fifteen minute walk from the town. It's an old Northamptonshire town, dominated by a slender spire of the parish church and by the public school. Many of the buildings are substantial, with fine doorways and bay windows. Several archways leading to open yards beside the pubs suggest it was formerly a coaching town. The stonework is largely that lovely soft golden colour and throughout the town hanging baskets and floral displays abound. The finest looking shop frontage was indeed the busiest shop - Oxfam - whereas the more expensive and designer shops seemed short of stock and of customers. As for the parish church, right beside Oundle School, it has been refurbished in a light and sympathetic style.
Things Noticed today: another very fine air display, by hawks (birds, not aircraft), soaring and diving and weaving over the treetops and then high up, almost to base cloud level. A mating dance? A second curiosity was a crop of very thick green foliage, bamboo-like, sunflowers being grown alongside. Experts who can enlighten us please get in touch.