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The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for May 14th, 2010

The Odyssey 2010: Day 14

Posted by indigodream on 14 May, 2010

Wednesday 12th May

Stayed put in Ashton!

The view from our window at the Ashton moorings....

I’m a couple of days behind with the blog so this is actually being posted on our way back towards Northampton – we’ve had to turn back towards the Grand Union. There’s nothing wrong with the crew, the boat or the river – we’ve just run out of time. We’re ‘gutted’ (as the Welsh rugby players so eloquently say after yet another defeat), especially as the comments we’ve had about the lower reaches of the Nene are making us really sad that we can’t explore it further this year.

But the Nene is a fine wine and we’ve been glugging it as if it was cheap lager. It’s a waterway that deserves better and we simply don’t have the leisure to make the best of it at the moment. It seems mad now that we thought we’d get to Cambridge – mind you, we started out a day late and we’ve been stopping at 5pm whereas we’d normally cruise ’til 8pm at this time of year – it all adds up. I’ve also picked up a work contract with an end of May deadline which has put a crimp in our available cruising days – aaarrgh!

So, we knew we’d have to turn back on Thursday lunchtime at the latest – this would barely get us into Peterborough. Our plans for today were also complicated by the fact that when Richard cycled back to Islip for the car, his hastily repaired bike became poorly sick and needed some work at the nearest bike shop which was Bristows in Peterborough. Pubs were not open so he managed to get back to his car unassisted. It was gone 11am when he got back so we reverted to a plan B – keep the boat at the Ashton moorings but use the car to explore the surrounding areas.

The Nene looks very different in Wisbech; the buildings are 'the brink' mainly georgian; the scaffolding holds up the remains of a fine old building recently destroyed in an arson attack.....

We were spoilt for choice, really, but decided to try to follow the Nene out along its tideway and visit Wisbech, which was, at one time, an important sea port. It’s a long way inland these days, though there is still a large marina there, making the best of the tidal flow. I have to say that being in this part of the world is as good as being abroad – I have no idea how to pronounce most of the ancient place names and the locals keep correcting me 🙂

So it’s Wis-beech not Wis-beck…….

As we drove towards Wisbech the fens suddenly became apparent – the land suddenly flattens out as if someone’s been at it with a celestial smoothing iron. The Nene changes it’s character drastically here – it becomes a drain – dead straight with high banks and, as it was low tide, a strip of muddy water at the bottom. It must be quite a sight at high tide – it looks as if the river comes up a long way in its narrow channel.

The road itself has the feel of a out-of-season seaside resort, with a series of slightly tacky sheds and chalets housing a range of businesses from roadside cafes to a large ‘adult’ store just after a sign advertising a bird auction. We were taken with one cafe which displayed a large sign “don’t look back in hunger” just after their entrance – they’re working hard to keep their business open – good for them!

Wisbech itself is not a marvel for visitors but it does have a quiet interest. Once again, the layers of history have settled on the town like the silt in the estuary. But as silt bring wealth it can also bring stagnation. My overall thought here was that you can clearly see where Wisbech has come from but it’s hard to see where it’s going…..

The church in Wisbech is ancient and an unusual construction - the air inside is coold and dry, as if no-one has breathed much in there for 100 years.....

Still, if you get out here, there’s an excellent Tourist Information Centre and an especially informative leaflet featuring a walking tour of the town which takes you around the most historical buildings. There’s been a settlement here for centuries – the church is particularly interesting as part of its boundary is the ancient sea wall. It’s surrounded by a sea of roads now and it’s hard to imagine that waves once lapped what is now a pavement kerb.

We enjoyed our walking tour, and lunch in the dog-friendly cafe ‘Etcetera’. Today’s greyhound story is that of a young woman who crossed the road to talk to Blue and Lou. She’s a greyhound fan and although her circumstances don’t allow her to have one of her own, her friend owns two retired racers. The lady we spoke to has a proprietorial pride in her friend’s hounds – she went to the Great Greyhound Gathering and proudly told us that one of the dogs had won the ‘best bitch’ class in 2009. Blue and Lou enjoyed an expert fussing – they are very good when take them around towns and are very tolerant of people who approach them.

After the walking tour we had a little drive down to the port area to see what’s left. Although the current river wall must be a good 20 feet high, there are extensive flood defence works going on here – interesting, particularly when you look at the Environment Agency’s flood maps here. Because of this a few riverside roads are closed – this complicated our exploration but we did get to see a few living industries – mainly timber but also a huge ‘British Sugar’ building (and possibly factory). We couldn’t work out whether cargoes were still being carried by river to these waterside industries – there were a few mobile cranes around. A big chunk of land has been earmarked for mainly residential development down in the port area – the hoardings feature old photographs of the port in action – we really enjoyed looking at these in passing.

There is a big Premier Foods building here – they own the Hovis factory at Greenford – more on that when we get back there in June! Premier Foods has a cute ‘mnemonic’ for their Wisbech operation…








Sweet! Though they do have at least one rogue – tonight’s news had an article about five arson attacks that have occurred in the town in the last four weeks – the one has effectively closed the Brink – a historic road flanking the river.

The United Kingdom coat of arms in the church at Wisbech; the monarch's motto translates to "God and my right"; the other motto belongs to order of the garter and translates to "Spurned be the one who evil thinks"

We headed back to Peterborough to pick Richard’s bike up from the very nice people in Bristows – they’d managed to fit in Richard’s bike, done a lot of work on it to include a new pedal, new crank, new bottom bracket and a new wheel which mounted up to a rather large (but not unreasonable) bill but still cheaper than buying a whole new bike. If you need a cycle shop round Peterborough then Richard is happy to recommend Bristows. We didn’t feel up to exploring Peterborough so we had a drive around Ashton and Oundle instead. Both are charming but Oundle, being the larger settlement, was fascinating. It’s a beautiful town with soft yellow limestone buildings – it reminded me of the Wiltshire market towns on the Kennet and Avon, Marlborough in particular.

We got back to the boat around 6pm – we’d had a good day. We though of eating at the Chequered Skipper but it was dark and deserted at 5.45pm – a look at their website confirmed that they don’t open until 6pm. By that time we were back at the boat and I couldn’t be bothered to go out again. We ate on board and had yet another early night – we may not reach Cambridge on this holiday but we will surely have caught up on our sleep and that’s no bad thing……

Today’s Trivia

Today’s trivia is very trivial because I chose to look into the British Sugar plant in Wisbech. On our trips along the Thames and Severn estuaries, we’ve seen that sugar is imported on large ships from cane growers in the tropics. But that won’t be the case here – British Sugar specialises in beet sugar which is grown locally. They claim that their beet travels an average of 28 miles from farm to processing plant. The Wissington plant is outside King’s Lynn but I can’t find any reference to British Sugar in Wisbech, though the building is huge and unmissable. British Sugar have also diversified into bioethanols and various other products. Articles in the Farmer’s Guardian suggest that relations between the giant British Sugar Group and local farmers aren’t always easy; sadly I think that’s an eternal struggle – like the tide and the shore….

I’m interested in sugar because our home garden produces abundant crops of fruit, especially plums, and I make LOTS of jam every year. According to the oracle (i.e. my mum) beet sugar doesn’t give as good a set as cane sugar – I’ve got no scientific proof for this but I never risk it as getting my jam to set is an arcane rite at the best of times! However I did find this article which suggests that there is a difference – interesting!

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