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The Odyssey 2010: Day 17

Posted by indigodream on 21 May, 2010

Saturday 15th May

Irthlingborough to Billing Aquadrome

A little rummage along the Irthlingborough moorings...

We had a wonderfully quiet night on the Irthlingborough moorings – we slept so well that we didn’t notice the departure of the other boats moored behind us!

It was the most wonderful morning – that icy wind had finally gone and we cruised in warm sunshine. I let Richard do most of the helming today while I just sat and soaked in the weather. He particularly enjoyed navigating the arch of the old bridge at Irthlingborough – well, he’s quite right, you do need a few revs to get the best control from the helm!

I’ve actually operated a few locks on this holiday! The first of the day was Higham, where I needed some extra equipment – a dustpan and broom to sweep the broken glass (probably a lager bottle) scattered around the lockside. Despite many metres of glass-free path, Blue had his usual magnetic attraction for trouble and walked straight into the glassed area. Luckily he didn’t cut himself – now that’s a first! The radial gate at Ditchford is fascinating – watching the mechanism swing ponderously into place is almost hypnotic, as is the deep thrumming as the escaping water sets off a deep vibration in the whole mechanism. Gosh, I did two locks in a row – I must go and have a lie down…..

There’s a big factory just upstream of Ditchford – it’s an unexpected variation from the watery landscape of old gravel pits. As always, we wondered what it was and did a little digging. I was surprised to find that it’s a ‘rendering’ plant which processes mainly poultry waste. It apparently produces something called ‘feather meal’ – I never imagined it but apparently fresh poultry feather can be processed to a relatively high protein cattle food. Apparently it’s not very palatable – no s£$%!!!

Rendering plant....

The idea of it made me feel a bit queasy, but that’s just stupidly sentimental reaction – we’re not vegetarians and our dogs surely eat a ton of dog food – we know that meat comes from animals. I think it’s a good thing that all parts of the animal are used – it would be a notorious waste of life otherwise. Anyway, the factory belongs to a company called PDM which specialises in ‘by-products’ and has quite an interesting profile. I get the impression that while other companies do the tasty stuff, PDM quietly takes care of the rest. It seems that nothing is wasted – what can’t be processed is used as a renewable energy source.

They must run a very clean operation, there’s been no hint of a smell either time that we’ve passed by – I might have expected one. On the other hand, the plant is just upstream of a large sewage works which had a distinctive and overwhelming aroma in the warm sunshine…..

We’ve seen more ponies/horses along the Nene than in any other part of the country. I say ponies/horses because I’m not sure where the dividing line is. The creatures around here are relatively small, shaggy with veiled manes and tails that brush the ground; they have large fringed hooves that look as if they’ve been borrowed from their Shire cousins. I wondered what they’re used for – they look too stocky for riding but too small for ‘freight’. It would be nice to think that they’re just kept for grazing but I don’t suppose that’s an economic option. When I found out about the rendering plant I had a horrible apprehension about their fate but it is a poultry plant…..

Local ponies - the waterside grass is far too sweet to abandon just because there's a narrowboat going past!

It’s been nice to have a second look at the landscape – the substantial pile that we noticed on the way down is definitely Chester House. We thought it was being restored; but it looks as if it has been restored but the work was destroyed by a fire. It’s publically owned and it sounds as if the council need to make a difficult decision on how to use the hard-hit taxpayers money – to restore or not to restore – that is the question!

Our destination for the day, and for the week, was Billing Aquadrome. We rang to book a visitor mooring and, once you get past the infernal automated answering service, the real people are exceptionally pleasant and helpful.

Note: Billing Aquadrome’s infernal automated answering service does not have a separate option for the marina – choose option 6

With our mooring sorted, we stopped for lunch at Wellingborough Embankment. We took advantage of the nearby Tesco store – hot chicken all round – yum!

Sand extraction....

We’ve seen a little more traffic on the water today – nb Sextant going downstream at Wellingborough and, below Earls Barton Lock, a bright red narrowboat with a crew wearing matching bright red hats. Mind you, on Sunday I was wearing a royal blue ensemble which harmonised perfectly with Indigo Dream – we narrowboaters are such a stylish lot 🙂

Ooh, we passed by the sand plant again. On the way down we’d noted that it seemed like very fine sand – it is! They mine silica sand round here. Looking at the plant, we wondered whether the sand was extracted as a wet slurry. I never did find the answer to that but I did find that Linatex, which has a sign on the sand plant, specialises in making rubberised hoses for mining (among many other things). The mine itself has apparently recently received permission to expand – the scheme was largely unopposed – interesting! While I was digging I also found the Earls Barton village website – enjoy!

We weren’t in any rush to get to Billing Aqaudrome – Val, one of their ultra-helpful ladies had everything organised so that we could pick up the relevant key cards from the park’s security gate, which is manned 24-hours. The marina manager had given us directions to the pontoon so we were sorted.

This is the road bridge (below Billing Lock) the turn is immediately after the bridge - between the bridge and that green bank you can see through the navigable arch...

We bobbled up the river, taking photographs of the prison and other features that we’d missed on the way down.

We kept Blue and Lou on board at Doddington Lock – the downstream lock landing has unfenced access to the road and lock cottages, though there’s a well-fenced field on the other side where they could have a rummage. This is where Blue did his escape artist act under the fence on the way down. The dogs weren’t bothered at being confined – Lou has turned down a rummage at every lock – when we forced her off she just lay straight down on the grass; Blue has been game for a little rummage but has been very anxious about flies so he hasn’t stayed out for long either. We did miss an opportunity for a greyhound gathering at Doddington – there was a delightful black greyhound being walked over the bridge. Richard had a brief chat with the owner  – the grey’s racing name was apparently “have a little hope”, though I haven’t been able to find it on greyhound-data – shame – we’re always on the hunt for Blue and Lou’s ‘family’. Lou raced in Mildenhall, which isn’t a million miles from here – wouldn’t it be nice to bump into some of her half-siblings….

That's the entrance to the aquadrome on the right...

Sue’s guide (nb No Problem) warns that Billing Aquadrome is ‘difficult to get in to’. The marina manager had told us to turn right into the entrance immediately after the road bridge. I think the most difficult part was actually accepting that it is the very sharp right turn immediately after the bridge, yes, that turn, between the pub and the bridge, there’s isn’t a turn after the pub, are you sure, uh, yes, probably……..

Despite the dialogue, we didn’t miss the turn and Richard did a good job on the helm. It is offputting though – you turn right into a narrow channel which opens out briefly into a small basin with a lively flow from the millstream on the left then there’s another narrow channel – we weren’t at all sure we were in the right place – there are no signs for Billing Aquadrome here. But then the channel suddenly opens out into a huge lake with the marina pontoons huddling at the far end. We headed for the visitor moorings on Pontoon B – the nearest to the far bank. When we got a little confused, the friendly local residents were quick with directions. It’s a tight fit – the pontoon ‘fingers’ are only 12 feet long and Indigo Dream, at 60ft, makes the whole visitor mooring look like a toytown model marina!

And there's Billing Aquadrome marina....

We moored up not far from the gate and went off to find our welcome pack. And it is very welcoming here – the staff are so helpful, the residents are pleasant and the welcome pack is full of useful information. This is a very unusual mooring though – it’s a bit like mooring at Butlins! There is a large visitor centre with a leisure pool complete with large flume, a funfair and the show tonight was a 70s night. There’s a minature railway round the site and several bars and restaurants. It’s a perfect family mooring – if you’ve got bored kids on board then moor up here for a few nights!

We ate at the on-site Chinese restaurant near the entrance and enjoyed a great all-you-can-eat menu for £12.90 – we did our best but even we were defeated after two round of starters and a round of main courses (you order up to five dishes at a time but you can order as many ’rounds’ as you’re capable of eating). Although the food was plentiful and delicious, there were very few diners there – the Chinese is relatively new and I hope that they’re able to survive as a business.

Lou on the way home - it's been a very busy week for the hounds 🙂

The 70s night was in full swing as we walked back to boat – being the old fogey that I am, I worried about the noise. It does travel across the water, but we were so tired that we didn’t notice it once we got on board and we had a fine night’s sleep in this most secure of moorings.

We’ll be leaving her here for the next fortnight – we’re off to Paris for the rugby next weekend (Heineken Cup Final) so we won’t back on the water until the Bank Holiday. I’m hoping to persuade cousin Denise to come up and stay on the boat next weekend while we’re away – her 13 year old son would love the aquadrome.

We’re planning a little visit to Crick – I’m wondering whether to wear an Indigo Dream T-shirt (or maybe just a discreet badge) so that readers we haven’t met yet can come up and say hello. Hmmm, maybe the fact that I’m walking around with Blue and Lou, undoubted stars of the blog, will be enough of a giveaway 🙂

Photoblog:

View from the Irthlingborough moorings....

The other view from the Irthlingborough moorings...

The Irthlingborough bridges - tricky curve into the navigable arch but not a problem in this time of low flow - just remember your revs!

A woman's work is never done......

Wispy willow....

Escaped convict - that oilseed rape is taking over....

Isn't that beautiful....

Large sewage works below Ditchford lock - you really need a scratch 'n sniff screen to properly appreciate it!

Lou looking cute at Ditchford Lock (1)....

Lou looking cute at Ditchford (2)

Lou thinking about moving from Ditchford lock - surely not!

Blue inspecting the works at Ditchford...

Mummy's boy - greyhounds do like to come in for a lean now and then...

There fine viaducts were built at the same time - one for freight and the other for passenger trains

Definitely Chester House - I wonder what's happening to it now....

Modern prison just outside Wellingborough - still looks grim to me though...

Looking back at the lovely mill buildings at Doddington Lock

We like these safety signs at the locks - shows that someone's taking care. The grid references are particularly useful - especially if you needed the emergency services...

Perfect colour co-ordination!

The moorings above Earls Barton Lock - highly recommended by Sue of nb No Problem and Leslie from Caxton (and all the dogs!)

Part of the panorama at Earls Barton Lock....

Now did I take this at Earls Barton Lock or White Mills Lock - pretty view anyway...

Traffic!

This merry boat had at least 12 young people on board (but sadly no-one in charge!). We wondered how they'd all fit inside to sleep but then we realised that by the time they'd been swept off the roof by low bridges it wouldn't be an issue 😀

Shimmering afternoon...

Are these dead tree stumps of just irregular posts that have been 'planted'?

The guillotine are such monumental structures yet they fade into the landscape within minutes of cruising away from them.....

Moorings above Cogenhoe Lock...

3 Responses to “The Odyssey 2010: Day 17”

  1. Minnie said

    Difference between horses & ponies? Height! A horse is over 14 hands (a unit of 4″) + 2″ … the measurement is taken at top of withers (point where neck & shoulder meet). Those are piebald (probably) ponies of Irish cob origin & likely to belong to travellers.

  2. Sue said

    Hey Sue I am drooling here, your pics are wonderful.. I think I need to go back next year. It’s adiction you see!

    The entrance to Billing is not too bad from the direction you entered, it is when you are travelling downstream, if you are not careful you are through the bridge before you realise you missed it.. I’ll change that on the Nene Pages over the weekend to make that clearer.

    For sure we will venture into that lake the next time, it sounds great, didnt realise there was so much going on over there.

    Enjoy your break in Paris, I am now drooling again knowing you are going to the Heineken Cup Final!

  3. indigodream said

    Hi Minnie, thanks for that – if these are traveller’s ponies then there are LOT of travellers around here somewhere – no sign of people but there seem to be ponies in almost every field!

    Hi Sue, the Nene has been fab, all the better with your guide!

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