Monday 16th August: Ferry Meadows, Peterborough to Fotheringhay, 15.75 miles, 6 locks
We sat on the front deck last night as the sun was setting, much relieved at the eventual departure of a little cruiser which had repeatedly done over laden and raucous music-blasting trips around the lake. Still a kite was being flown above the meadows and the sky and water warmed to glorious golden and pink colours. A mother duck supervised her brood from the neighbouring pontoon; the swans continued to display their clean and fluffy bottoms - and then the display happened. The Canada geese arrived in wonderful formations, feet down to do water ski landings - most impressive. Other flypasts today: two heron, in separate locations, taking off and landing again as if in slow motion, their great flappy wings and gangly feet belying their precision touchdowns; flypasts by aircraft: a Hawk and later three Harriers; there were the lightly fluffy cotton balls whirling and twirling above the water; later, after mooring up, a bee and two wasp-like insects were buzzing, flying around, then settling on willow herb flowers on the bank's edge.
A further flypast that was narrowly avoided was "the smalls" attached to the spinning clothes drying frame that nearly took off in a strong gust of wind!
But what of the boating? A conclusion reached by about midday was that the Nene is not for novices, certainly not in strong winds. The turn out from Ferry Meadows back onto the main river course became a five point turn (wind and water flow). At one lock the key to the electric panel wouldn't operate so a screwdriver was deployed. At another the technology was still of the wheel turning variety, with confusing instructions about the release key and a stubborn pushlock. At Yarwell Mill the flow over the top gates was so fierce that the boat could not be held straight to await the following boat. Then a strong left turn was required to come in at the landing stage, impeded by wind and millrace over the weir... But worst was Warmington Lock. Arrival on the landing stage was blocked by the floating weed cutter. Some gymnastics to clamber aboard, squeeze under the rails and get off onto the bank proper. As the boat rose in the lock the strong wind across the fields and the current over the weir kept it off from our side: how we battled to hold it then to get it out of the gates and again hold it while the guillotine gate was wheeled back up. Only a short landing stage, no bollard where needed. Situation resolved when the Captain applied brute strength to the rope - and 'O' level Trigonometry to set up a triangle of forces, thus locking the boat alongside...
So now we are moored on the meadow, directly below the church, having passed the famous motte the other side of the bridge.
When not applying muscle or ingenuity the mind wandered to the river's past. A diagram in the Peterborough Cathedral exhibition had indicated the river as a transport system for the stone from quarries, conveyed in barges, man-hauled by ropes. Many of the bridges are dated: Wansford 1795, Elton 1875. Here at Fotheringhay, so a notice in the churchyard says, the first bridge was built in 1498 but Queen Elizabeth 1, mindful of Fotheringhay's strategic position, provided funds for the stone rebuild in 1573.
To finish with two lighter moments: short of human spectators today nonetheless our antics were observed at Elton by a very large herd of cattle which crossed the lock behind Ken. One cow was slow, got separated, went into the wrong field, ended up on the wrong side of the river.
And thereabouts one of those "Is it a Welsh boat?" shouted conversations.
"Yes", replied the Captain, "we're from Pembrokeshire."
"Well I'm from Neyland." And we throbbed off in opposite directions. (Readers with Pembrokeshire knowledge will "get that", as with a similar occasion, at Henley, finishing with a "Well I'm from Monkton."
Tomorrow to Oundle...