Indigo Dreaming

The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for June 3rd, 2010

The Odyssey 2010: Day 18

Posted by indigodream on 3 June, 2010

Sunday 30th May

Billing Aquadrome to Stoke Bruerne (long pound)

Awkward angles to exit the aquadrome....

I said yesterday that nothing much could dent our pleasure in cruising. I was proved wrong today – the WIND made for a hard day’s cruise and by the end of it I was thoroughly fed up at being blown off lock moorings that I wanted to reach and pinned on to the ones that I wanted to escape – aarrgh.

We left the aquadrome quite early, having said goodbye to the friendly ladies in the visitor centre and collected the deposit for our marina key card. We almost prolonged our stay – a gale blew up as we were getting ready to leave and it was a bit of a struggle to get out. We just needed to move straight ahead from our pontoon – no chance – it was sideways or nothing. In the end Richard had to hang onto the centre rope until the very last minute before leaping onto the helm; in the meantime I was at the front with the pole trying to pin the bow for long enough to get us moving forwards. This worked and Richard grounded the front, swiveled the back around and reversed off – aha, now we were in a straight line and heading for the narrow channel between the long narrowboats moored on the visitor pontoon and the shallow bank opposite. But the wind had other ideas, it just caught us and grounded the middle and back – aaaaaargh aaargh! There followed an anxious five minutes of jiggling around while we tried every trick in the book to get Indigo Dream away. The security guards on the traffic gate were very interested in our lack of progress but we got out before they sent in the heavies to help us!

The next tricky bit was the turn from the marina onto the river – it is a tight turn upstream but we were pleasantly surprised that the recent rain hadn’t really affected the river levels or flow – phew.

We knew that Billing Aquadrome had filled up for the weekend but we hadn’t realised the full extent of the site until we got onto the river. The campsite alone stretched from Billing Lock up to Clifford Hill Lock and beyond – the right riverbank (looking upstream) was filled with a tent village, make that town, no, it’s a tent city…..

But it looks better from here!

The dogs were so tired today – they both got off for a brief bobble at Billing Lock, we forced Lou off at the next and she pointedly laid down on the grass and refused to move. That was it for her – she didn’t get off the boat again until we were off the river and on the Northampton flight! Blue had a rummage just for show – I think he’s pulled a muscle in his back – he hasn’t been so active this week. This meant that he got lifted onto the boat where there was a big step – he wasn’t happy! He was even more unhappy to be kept on board above Weston Favell Lock, but the ponies were right by the lock moorings – one of the stallions did a little dummy charge towards the boat when he saw me mooring – we all stayed on board!

It was a fine sunny day with blue skies and puffs of clouds scudding along at supersonic pace! It was so windy. This wasn’t an issue when we had some forward momentum but it was a right pain at the locks when the boat was utterly at the mercy of the wind. I came to grief at Clifford Hill lock – I just could not get her into the moorings above the lock – I got the stern in but the bow just got blown across the river. In the end the best I could manage was to reverse the back into the jaws of the lock and let the boat rest on concrete edge where the wind put her. The only other alternatives were to let the wind blow me onto the weir or just move on upstream and leave the entire crew at the lock – aargh aaargh arrrgh!!!!! Richard, who was emptying the lock and opening the guillotine behind was alternately laughing and rolling his eyes – he seemed to think my plight was hilarious. Let’s just say that I was NOT amused…..

Oh, we didn’t get anywhere near the weir, the crew boarded safely and with a bit of grunt from Richard pushing us out and a fair few revs we got away ok…..

To add to the day’s stress, there were lots of rowing boats on the stretch above Weston Favell lock (which is marked as a canoe slalom on the plan). I did blow the boat’s horn at one who had his back to the boat and was rowing straight across the river towards us! He looked very shocked but I don’t think it would have ended well if I’d let him row straight into us! We kept a sharp lookout as the canoe slalom goes straight downriver across the turn to the navigable channel. There were some kayaks horsing around there – they got neatly into the left hand side as we passed but I was very anxious – 16 tons of narrowboat with 60 feet of ‘sail’ in high winds slowing down on a lock approach isn’t the most responsive of beasts!

The turn onto the canal is quite acute - I was very tempted to go further upriver - I don't think I'd have got very far!

We stopped off at Midsummer Meadows to do another pump-out (surprisingly the red light was on). Richard did a thorough job – well, it is free! The pump ‘handle’ was broken – we need to report that to the Environment Agency, but a few lengths of duck tape held it all together so that we could finish the job. Richard picked up a weirdo here – an old man with a walking stick who followed Richard up and down the ramp haranguing him about something or other – I think he doesn’t like the environment agency, or was it the local council, or possibly it was boaters he didn’t like – maybe he just didn’t like anyone – Richard stopped listening after the first 10 seconds and I stayed out of the way inside! The Waterways World feed had a link to this article – perhaps it was Mr Little which would explain some of the rant.

We got to Northampton in good time but I was anxious about the long trek uphill to Gayton so we didn’t stop to shop this time. There were a few boats moored at the town moorings – the river’s obviously been a bit busier over the weekend, though we’d only seen one boat on the move during the morning.

We met the second boat of the day at the lock off the river – it’s worth keeping a lookout as you can’t see the lock from the turn. We snuck onto the lock moorings while the other boat came down – Richard went up for a chat and found out that they had a five day river licence but weren’t sure of where to moor. We gave them our print-out of nb No Problem’s excellent guide – we hope they have a good time on the river. Luckily the entrance to this first lock is in a bit of a cutting and we managed a neat swap as I moved into the lock and they moved onto the lock moorings to pick up their crew. That was the last of our non-wind-assisted cruising!

We worked our way steadily up the flight with the dogs coming off for a bobble now and then, but often missing a lock or two and having a rest. Our lock entries were variable, the combined forces of the bywashes and the wind made for some interesting challenges; hovering in the lock jaws while Richard closed the top gate was just out of the question, though it worked well where the lock moorings were placed where the wind wanted to put us 🙂

I was feeling more than a little grumpy by this time – other boaters (moored up), passersby and fishermen kept saying “lovely day”, and so it was, “Grrrrrr, b”££$% wind” I replied…..

But we had a few bright moments. At Lock 14 we met a couple walking with their two young granddaughters. The girls hadn’t seen a canal before so they were entranced at the sight of a narrowboat coming down the lock and delighted when Indigo Dream then came up. Grandad and Grandma so reminded us of our old friends Steve and Margaret (owners of nb North Star ) that we invited them on a little cruise to the next lock. They were delighted and the girls, Sophie and Faith, were ecstatic. They ran from end to end of the boat – they loved the novelty and were fascinated with every aspect. Blue and Lou huddled on the sofa out of the way – ballistic six year olds are definitely on their ‘least favourite’ list! Our impromptu guests came up the next lock with us, experiencing their first rise in a narrowboat. We dropped them off at the top of the lock – they’d had a great time. Grandad and Grandma were lovely people – they can come again; Sophie and Faith had the obscene amount of energy available to all little kids – they can come on board again if they’re tranquillised, or maybe tied to a chair 😀

We noticed with fresh eyes how pretty this flight is – by now the surrounding fields were a fine tapestry of daisies, buttercups and purple clover. This time the roar of the wind in the trees drowned out the traffic noise from the A43!

That's a low pound...

From lock 5 upwards the water levels took a drastic dive – I have no idea why. At Lock 5 the pound was down by about a foot; between locks 3 and 4 it was down by over 18 inches and there was barely enough water in the pound to keep Indigo Dream moving. The long pound at the summit seemed to be down by a couple of inches – that’s a LOT over the several mile length of the summit stretch.

We hadn’t noticed on the way down, but apparently Lock 2 is a listed structure – there was a planning notice on the lock gate – BW have had to apply for permission to put a hazard warning sign on the lock!

We reached our target destination of Gayton Junction by 5.30pm – we’d had a very efficient day’s cruise. But it seemed a bit early to stop. Our decision was made when we spotted that the boat adjacent to where we’d planned to moor had a cat conspicuously curled up on its front deck. On we went…….

We decided to press on to Stoke Bruerne – either just past the tunnel, to the long pound, or, at a stretch, to below the bottom lock.

After so long on the virtually uninhabited Nene, the Grand Union mainline was a shock. Boat after boat came our way – amazing! Where do they all come from? We must have seen more boats in 5 minutes then we have done in days on the Nene.

Big smiles from Adam - he likes a bit of locking!

Just as we got to the Blisworth Tunnel my mobile rang – it was Adam and Adrian from Debdale ringing to arrange a meeting on Sunday. Alas, I had to cut them off as we went into the tunnel. We had a very slow passage through Blisworth – we caught up with a boat that was taking it’s time going through, much to Richard’s frustration. But in the end the slow pace worked in our favour. As we emerged into daylight I noticed two men waving from the towpath – ‘how kind’, I thought, but then I realised it was Adam and Adrian – they’d driven down from Crick to meet us. It was so great to see them – they’re such good company. I cheered up immediately!

Now, what to do? There was a mooring space just outside the tunnel but it seemed a shame not to cruise now that we had guests on board. We headed off to Stoke Bruerne, keeping our fingers crossed for a mooring space in the long pound. We quickly dropped down the first two locks – what a difference an experienced crew can make!

Although there were many boats moored in the long pound, there was a generous space left for us and we moored up for the night. The wind had dropped a little so we all headed off to the Navigation Inn for supper. It was mild enough to sit in the garden with the dogs; once they’d turned on the outdoor heaters it was positively balmy. They were full of stories about the boats at Crick which was great – with two wet dogs and no intention of buying another (narrow) boat we thought we could not justify going round the showboats so had missed out a bit there.   We had a great evening – Lou and Blue love Adam (they ignore Adrian – no idea why!). Towards the end of the evening Lou was making sheep’s eyes at Adam and begging for a fuss in the most endearing way. He kindly obliged…..

We made loose arrangements to meet up with Debdale’s crew on the next day and headed off to the boat. Our sociable evening had wiped out the stresses of the day – result!

Today’s Trivia

The Carlsberg brewery - can you see the viking longboat in the design?

Well, it has to be the Carlsberg brewery – gateway to Northampton – you can’t miss the enormous building complex and the warm smell of the barley mash.

Although there’s been a brewery on this site for some time, the Carslberg brewery is relatively recent. It was first built in 1970 when Carlsberg decided to reduce its transportation costs by brewing it’s Danish Lager in the UK. According to an article in ‘Concrete’ magazine in 2003, the original building was commissioned to be the best in modern danish design. The main building is, apparently, based on the shape of a Danish Viking longship. Now I didn’t notice this when I passed by – do have a closer look yourselves. I was more taken by the tall fermenting towers and whatnot that seem to have sprouted around the main glass facade. It sounds as if the site’s been expanded many times since 1970 so maybe the orginal design concept has been buried along the way.

As lager is basically malted barley, hops, yeast and water I did wonder what’s the difference between the brands (and there is a difference!). Carlsberg have their own species of yeast – Saccharomyces carlsbergensis which has been in use since the original lager was brewed in 1847. The Carlsberg website is a mine of information – something for drinkers to look at between matches during the World Cup season (or all the time for us as we have no interest in football) 🙂 A big surprise was Carlsberg Special Brew – I associate the 9% lager with street drinkers (all the drinkers that have been moved out of the more reputable parts of Northampton, in fact!). I never realised that it was originally brewed in 1950 to commemorate Winston Churchill’s visit to Copenhagen – it was developed with ‘cognac notes’ to appeal to Churchill’s taste (cognac was apparently his favourite drink). I never imagined that Special Brew would have such a refined history.

I knew I’d be looking at Carlsberg this week, so how fortuitous that Radio 4’s “Making History” programme covered the history of british lager in its broadcast on 25th May!  It seems that the brewery in Northampton really is recent – the first lager (as opposed to cold pale ale!) was brewed in Wrexham in 1882, but this claim to fame is hotly disputed by a brewery in Shepton Mallet! Wrexham lager is no more – the brewery (which was owned by Carlsberg) was closed in 2000 thought the brand name was sold to a local man for £1 so it may be revived one day! The locals seem very proud of their lager, even though it’s no longer made – there’s lots of information on the Wrexham borough council website!

Anyway, a chap from CAMRA did explain that the word ‘lager’ meant ‘storage space’ (a little like our word ‘larder’). What distinguished lager from traditional ales was that it was slow-conditioned in very cold conditions (historically in deep caves) and also the fact that it was filtered – this gave it a longer shelf-life for transporting to the hotter parts of the empire……


'tent city' at Billing Aquadrome...

Bit close to the edge??

Lou's MO at today's locks...

This fine fellow charged at us above Weston Favell lock before retreating, satisfied.....

This big building outside Northampton is like an old film set - the facade (which you see round the next loop of river) is complete but it's hollow at the back!

Open floodgate on the Nene at Northampton - we're pretty sure this was closed on the way down, but then again it has been raining!

The Northampton flight has top rummaging for greyhounds...

Interesting - I'm not sure what was done but the surroundings are green and pleasant....

busy busy.....


It is a pretty flight.... (but watch the paddles at Lock 11!)

Cyclists beware - the towpath is uneven in places....

The grass is always greener (or should that be the rabbits are fatter!) on the other side of the canal.....

Looks like they've been busy at Gayton Marina.....

This boat name is an acronym - can you work out what it is?

Now we'd be glad to update our first aid training on this boat.....

Some of the ground paddles spit - a lot!

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