Saturday,14th August: Upwell (Middle Level) to Peterborough, 22.9 miles, 3 locks
As you enter the Middle Level at either end notices instruct you to book passage 24 hours ahead for your exit point. This is probably a means of balancing water levels. We were asked to sign ourselves out at Stanground (Peterborough) today, but as the lock keeper sagely said "it's not that they are worried about boaters being lost forever in the reeds it's more concern about the moles and water rats...!" Lost we very nearly were mid-morning: high, high banks, no visible features, a sea of weed and a junction, the only sign faded, mostly shrouded in reeds - and that was behind us. I'd already decided a periscope would aid navigation; we were below sea level (doesn't any self-respecting submarine have a periscope!) and the force of rain added to the sensation of being underwater. The banks are so high for much of the route and the land so devoid of settlement that we might as well have been beneath the briny waves. As to the being lost in the Sea of Green Weed episode: a discussion was had, some reversing and revving happened, the map was referred to (no help!) and a decision (more a guess) made!
It had been a very early start so as to meet the 3.30 slot given us for Stanground Lock, but additionally we didn't want to spend the day trailing other boats. We were flummoxed, however, to discover at Marmont Priory Lock that the lower gates were padlocked. What time did the lock open? It was only just after 7.30 am. A phone call after a while to the lock lady. Hadn't we read the booklet? She had a boat booked to go through at 9 am. Profuse apology - and she finally appeared, looking less than charmed. Tales of our trip to Bedford though softened her demeanour as she'd heard rave reviews of the Bedford Boat Festival from others passing through. She repeated her Nan's optimism about the weather " Rain before seven, dry before eleven", (a saying that proved only partly true!)
Released from the lock we were free to meander on towards March, a town where shops and houses seem to appreciate the watery passage that weaves below it. There aren't very many bridges over the waterway but they are all rather low - or extremely low (when even this writer has to bend the knees or duck the head). As on our southbound journey the huge wind turbines created an uneasy feeling - their very tallness and their silence in such a flat landscape is perturbing. Some structures in Upwell and elsewhere had a wonky look, as if the land has tilted a degree or two. Frequently pillboxes were positioned on the dykes, an East Anglian World War 2 anti-invasion stop-line. A surprise moment: a Rotary Club Millennium Project: a sign marking the Greenwich Meridian line. One house caught our attention: extension-itis in four different types of brick. Occasionally a vehicle roars past on the top of the dyke; occasionally a fisherman is perched in a little boat, hidden in the reeds, but mostly vast skies, wide waters, tall reeds. At one place there was an unexpectedly tidy marina - and a short narrowboat, called The Last Cast, and emblazoned on it the words "Born to fish, forced to work", words which seem a fitting summary for our observations of the Fens.
Tommorrow - some time in Peterborough and River 2 of the Return Journey, up the Nene towards Northampton. It could take some days!