Monday, 24 February 2014

Very flat, Norfolk*

           “What shall we do tomorrow?” mused the Captain. Before even a single prospect had crystallised in Boatwif’s mind he answered his own question. “Let’s go and see the sea - let’s go to King’s Lynn.”
            So that’s why on Saturday the car bowled out beyond Huntingdon, past Warboys and dipped down onto ever so flat Cambridgeshire. The A141 road across the Fens sits on an embankment above the land. There are few hedges, fewer trees but a fair number of wind turbines. The sky is a huge expanse, high above vast sweeps of flat and almost featureless agricultural land. Out we drove, heading north east, past Chatteris and March, over dead straight drains, catching occasional glimpses of wide rivers channelled between seriously steep dykes.
                Welcome to Norfolk, Nelson’s County proclaimed a roadside sign. Surprisingly there were orchards, one overgrown, abandoned now, others neatly pruned. Trees became more frequent. Then the outskirts of King’s Lynn was at last reached. The Captain was bewildered, temporarily, by sheer visual overload: the width of the River Great Ouse, the sight of a medieval stone archway to the town, the huge retail parks on either side of the town’s ring road, railway lines... then the way into the town was found.
              “To see the sea” was the Captain’s shorthand for seeking out King’s Lynn’s new moorings. A 30 metre floating pontoon was installed last July, so this was an advance recce for a possible boating adventure. Would it, could it, be possible to cross the Wash to Boston after Bedford’s July River Festival?  To boat from North Norfolk over to Lincolnshire? A Wash crossing can be done via Peterborough and Wisbech... but would a King’s Lynn-Boston route be simpler...?
             Car parked there was a walk to the water side – through a park, past town defences
and the fifteenth century Red Mount Chapel,
to busy streets – and the Custom House
(now a Grade 1 listed building which houses Tourist Information). Here then was the waterfront, a statue of local boy George Vancouver
(a recognisable name, surely) overlooking a small dock and the river frontage.
             There had to be a stroll along the river side: here the Great Ouse is distinctly tidal, the water on the ebb during early afternoon. Not far upstream, alongside wonderful buildings, are the newly installed moorings.
The floating pontoon is accessed via a security coded gate and ramp. Water is available and an electricity card can be bought to provide an on board mains supply. The moorings (priced per boat length) are bookable via the Tourist Office (whose personnel explained that the arrangements are based on practice over in Wisbech).
              After a wonderful lunch in the cafe at Marriott’s Warehouse
further exploration of this lovely town had to be done. A throbbing amusement fair
made viewing of The Tuesday Market Place rather a challenge but the Saturday Market Place provides plenty of visual splendour.
There is St Margaret’s Church (now King’s Lynn Minster).
Here, nearly twenty five years ago, we had attended a military memorial service.
Memories resurfaced...
               Opposite is the striking-looking Trinity Guildhall,
(early 15th century). You creep around these old streets, marvelling at the age
and at the detail in this one-time Hanseatic port.
Mission all but achieved (moorings checked out, but what about the sea?) the next day saw a first visit to Castle Rising, about four miles further north. Here a staggeringly impressive Norman keep
is surrounded by massive steep earth works
which rise 120 feet above dry moats.
               On then to Hunstanton and a sand-blasted, seaweed-churning stroll by the sea. No ‘Kiss me quick’ hat would have stayed perched on a head in the on-shore blasts.  At the end of the esplanade are the famous striped chalk and carrstone cliffs.
It was busy in Hunstanton on Sunday: dogs were being exercised, cyclists and skateboarders were out in numbers, walkers were well wrapped against the winds while hardy wind surfers skimmed across the waves.
Is this standard turbulence for the Wash, one wondered...
              Back home then, via a drive through the Sandringham Estate and a sighting of a Norfolk lavender field.
              Objective met: we had seen the sea – but as for “very flat, Norfolk”, Cambridgeshire seems much flatter!

*Caustic lines between Amanda and Elyot in Noel Coward’s Private Lives (1930)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Two throttles...

              While the wild weather continues to whip across the UK Cleddau remains safe and dry in her shed at Stoke-on-Trent.  Is she the driest boat on the system this winter...?
              Up the M1, turn left on the A50 for about 30 miles, right at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, continue for about three miles – and arrive on Newcastle Street at Stoke Boats.
              So, what progress in the last fortnight? There was much techno talk about the need to strip out previous generations of electrical cabling, about the need for exact length cables between batteries and alternator and about the intricacies of providing dual throttles for the respective extremely left and extremely right-handed helmswomen.
             The engine instrumentation is now built into a smart wooden frame,
though there is still more woodwork to be done in the engine room.  Obscured under the piles of now redundant wiring on the stern counter
are the fittings for the Captain’s Perch (that being top of Techno Son-in-Law’s Wish List).
              To get into the boat it’s still access by step ladder by the bow (which now has the extra protection of a third rubbing strake).  It’s a steep clamber
but once up on the front deck it was apparent that the lid of the water tank on the front deck is back in place.  Inside there was a harsh reminder that much sorting out will need to be done...
            Down the back, as requested, two additional shelves have been installed to maximise storage beside the airing cupboard
and a flush grab handle
fitted to the door between engine room and bedroom.
              After so many months with Cleddau resting snug in her shed the prospect of floating again, of cruising again, seems a little closer. Notebook, pen and tape measure were produced. What exactly is the diameter of the portholes? (11 inches / 28 cm).  And what is the depth from lining edge to window glass? Well, well, 1 inch / 2 cm less in the bedroom than the portholes in bathroom and corridor – and that is because, so explained the Captain, the earlier (front end) refit used solid pre-cut foam insulation behind the wooden lining whereas the Stoke (rear) end of the boat has been insulated with spray foam which is thinner and therefore has given slightly more room in the bedroom. These smartly lined portholes deserve some new porthole bungs, hence the measuring exercise.  Just think, in those early days of boat ownership (way back in 1995) darkness and privacy were achieved by scrumpling up newspaper bundles into the portholes...
              The UK needs some relief from the wild winds and lashing rain... Dry weather is essential for the shot blasting and subsequent blacking of the hull. Somehow it doesn’t seem as if Cleddau will be emerging from her cocoon just yet!

               Before driving back to Beds there was lunch at Westport Lake,
where at the water’s edge even the Canada geese
looked thoroughly fed up with the rain from above and the mud underfoot!