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Archive for August, 2019

The Odyssey 2019: Day 10 (Part 2)

Posted by alexgreyauthor on 29 August, 2019

From sea to sandbank

In the last post, I mentioned “RAF No. 4” – this was an important marker as it pointed the way to the sandbank where the convoy would beach for an hour or so while the tide turned.

Again, I’ll let the photos tell the story, but I have to say that the sandbank was quite magical – quiet and pristine with fine, white sand and clear waters. I enjoyed walking along the beach collecting seashells and paddling in the rippling wavelets. Some crews had a swim, others sat and chatted – I could have stayed there for hours but the incoming tide son let us know that it was time to move…

Photoblog:

RAF No. 4 – it’s a tall item and though it looks close here, it took a surprising amount of time to get to the sandbank…

I believe this is a doughnut shaped man-made island- it has a reservoir in the centre.

By this time we’d been at sea for several hours and the land is starting to look unreal πŸ™‚

I can’t remember what this is!

RAF No. 4 – at this point you realise how big it is and why it’s a really good idea not to bump into it!

Another useful landmark – one to avoid!

The seals were astonished to see so many narrowboats – I was a bit sorry to disturb them as they’d been basking on the sandbank

Our private beach – for an hour…

So pleased that we were able to get aerial photos – the view is spectacular and gives a real sense of scale πŸ™‚

 

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The Odyssey 2019: Day 10 (Part 1)

Posted by alexgreyauthor on 27 August, 2019

Boston and out to sea

I’ll split our Wash adventure over several posts because we have so many photos, and it was a great experience – not to be rushed!

Saturday 22nd June

We came back to the boat on Thursday feeling a bit more optimistic than when we left. We had a smooth trip up by train and then enjoyed the convivial atmosphere on the visitor pontoon. The rain had finally slackened off and it look hopeful for our Wash crossing on Saturday. It was good to have a day in hand to get the boat ready and generally chill out.

Leaving the CRT visitor moorings in Boston – they were a fine safe haven while the Witham was in flood.

For a change, the tide on Saturday favoured a late-morning departure – although there’s something magical about dawn cruising, I do love a lie-in! The convoy assembled at the lock in our assigned positions to wait for the “level” – we’d have a short window when the tide and river levels matched and we would all be able to cruise through both open gates. There would be no time to mess around once the lock gates opened. However, the tide kept us waiting, it was over half an hour late, causing us a little bit of anxiety about arriving at Wisbech after dark. It was such a lovely day, it was Midsummer, we were all equipped with steaming lights, we stopped fretting!

There I was thinking that this was our last view of the Boston Stump, little realising that it’s visible for miles – from land and sea πŸ™‚

I think I’ll let the photos and videos tell the tale now – I’m not sure that there’s any narrative that would cover the thrill of being at sea with friends in perfect conditions. We were mid-convoy – nb Doris Katia, our lead boat, was carrying Darryl, our pilot, while we carrying his “assistant”, Patrick, a retired lifeboat coxwain with years of experience in these waters; we were also equipped with AIS, online charts and all the printed charts from the briefing, so there was little chance of getting lost.

 

 

 

Photoblog:

The convoy assembled in good order – imagine those mooring bollards under water and covering half the roadway – that’s how high the flood water rose when the tidal sluices were closed!

Going through on the level – no time to waste…

In the shadow of the Stump – it’s a shame it was shrouded in scaffolding.

There were a lot of gongoozlers – the convoy was part of the weekend’s entertainment πŸ™‚

More gongoozlers πŸ™‚

The tidal channel through Boston is narrow and has a few obstructions to look out for…

Although “obstructions” are easy to see, navigating through them can be tricky when the river/drain sluices are creating currents with the tide, though we had a smooth passage.

This ricketty railway swing bridge is, astonishingly still in use. The channel (on the right) is well signposted, but it’s worth watching out for that cable on the left – it would make a right mess of a narrowboat and its crew!

I can’t imagine this swingbridge in action, with a laden freight train passing over it!

Leaving the Port of Boston and its fishing fleet behind…

Now it feels like an estuary as we say goodbye to Boston

Now we’re at sea! In all fairness, the convoy skips from estuary to estuary, and were never very far from shore….

Although it is easy to play “follow my leader” in convoy, each boat has to be aware of where you are and be mindful of the navigation buoys. – binoculars are essential!

There are some fearsome sandbanks to be avoided, but I was so tempted to get a little closer to see the seals – I’ve never seen so many in my life πŸ™‚

Blue!

Boats in the blue – ahead…

Boats in the blue – behind…

Patrick, our cheery mid-convoy pilot, he was a great character πŸ™‚

The Stump, visible again as we wended our way through the navigable channels towards the sandbank where we would sit out the tide.

RAF Number 4 – the sighting of this distinctive buoy is where I’ll leave this first edition….

 

 

 

 

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The Odyssey 2019: Day 9-ish

Posted by alexgreyauthor on 26 August, 2019

Boston

Thursday 13th June

 

 

I was really looking forward to our holiday on board and to the convoy’s Wash crossing at the weekend. But we had an anxious week as the rain became biblical and the rivers became unnavigable – first the Soar, then the Trent, the Witham and finally the Nene.

Boston visitor moorings in a rare gap between showers πŸ™‚

By this time, all of the other members of the convoy had rushed to beat the floodwaters and were moored in Boston. Nb Coracle was brested up to Indigo Dream in the marina and we were glad of it. They had been on board all week minding our lines. When we moored up on Monday, we tied the back rope to a mooring cleat on the fixed pontoon, nice and level for stepping from the boat; the bow line was tied round a tall pole. After the first night, our neighbour slackened the aft line, then tied the back rope to the next level, then to a tall post; the front line neared the top of the post and had to be moved to a cleat on the high bank. They watched anxiously as the levels shifted up/down by five feet as the EA tried desperately to control the floodwater coming down the Witham.

Here’s how it worked:

  • High tide – sluices closed – fresh water coming downstream has nowhere to go so the river level rises by several feet; on Thursday, this meant that we needed a gangplank to get off the mooring; over the weekend, the banks were completely submerged, stranding the boats. The flow stops and the river is calm (flat water).
  • Medium/Low tide – sluices open – fresh water is now being discharged onto the tideway; flow in the river becomes dangerously fast but the water level drops by several feet.

And looking upstream…

We had to work on the Tuesday and Wednesday, but we were getting increasingly anxious about the boat. We had a typically convoluted plan for Thursday – Richard would get the train up to the boat and I would follow later after I had dropped the greyhounds off – they were going to stay with Archie and the rest of the Beanz in Suffolk while we crossed the Wash. There was little benefit in having a car in Boston if the Wash crossing went ahead, so I parked up in March train station, not far from where we hoped to end our holiday. Although the drive to March was immensely slow, the train connections to Boston worked well. Nonetheless, it was past 5pm by the time I arrived and the rain was still pelting down.

Water levels were still quite high when I arrived so the pontoon was submerged; this meant creeping across our brand new combination gangplank/ladder which was solidly anchored to shore by a bag of coal! An hour or so later, the river level had dropped and we could step out onto the pontoon. We set out for the pub but then disaster – I was stomping along the grassy bank in my sturdy walking boots when I thought it might be less slippery to walk on the timber pontoon – my mistake. I slipped and fell hard onto my shoulder, the one that I’d broken at the Crick Boat show back in 2006. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t think it was broken so we carried on to the pub.

Although it was lovely to meet up with our boating friends, many of whom we hadn’t seen since our last convoy in 2015, there was an air of gloom. It was highly unlikely that we would cross the Wash on Saturday and it seemed that it might be a week before we got a fair weather window for the crossing. Nonetheless, we all agreed to attend the official briefing (a great strength of St Pancras Cruising Club convoys) the following night and make a go/no go decision at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

We wended our way back to the boat, consoling ourselves that at least “steak night” in the pub had provided a decent dinner at a reasonable price.

Friday 14th June

When you can’t see a silver lining, you can always rely on a rainbow πŸ™‚

We had a pretty bad night’s sleep on the moorings – high tide was at 3am, so we were up and checking the lines as the river level rose and overtopped the bank. We weren’t the only ones to be worried – some convoy boats were moored on centre lines to short fixed pontoons – this meant that they heeled over when the levels rose and their centres needed to be loosened or cut. The spirit of the convoy was great and everyone looked out for each other.

However, the priority at the next flat water would be to move the boats moored in the marina onto the public CRT moorings – floating pontoons which would be much safer. But my first job of the day was to catch a cab to A & E at Boston Pilgrim hospital to have my shoulder checked out. Several hours later, an x-ray had confirmed that I had not broken any bones but they suspected severe soft tissue damage and immobilized my arm in an old-fashioned triangular bandage sling. I was feeling very sorry for myself when I got back to the boat and was very anxious about getting on and off the boat via a gangplank or a slippery pontoon with only one arm for balance.

Luckily, Simon from nb. Scholar Gypsy had been busy with his tape measure and had written a mooring plan which would enable the whole convoy to move onto the CRT’s floating pontoons. This involved breasting up with three boats between each pair of short, but floating, pontoons, which worked perfectly. As soon as the sluices were closed and we reached flat water, all the convoy boats in the marina moved swiftly to the pontoon. It was such a relief to be on a safe mooring, then, to our delight, it actually stopped raining for a few hours!

Our leader, Andrew Phasey from nb Doris Katia, hadΒ  arranged for the crews to congregate for a safety briefing and supper at the riverside Boston Cafe. A lot of work goes into these briefings with detailed information about convoy communication as well as charts and a presentation from Darryl, our pilot, with the key navigation hazards.

The Boston Cafe did us proud on the food – they’d prepared a delicious middle-eastern feast – the dessert (baked peaches with greek yogurt, honey and toasted nuts) was particularly luscious!

We didn’t stay out late as we needed to be awake early to check the go/no go message – although conditions did not look favourable for our crossing, the decision was left to the last minute just in case the weather suddenly improved overnight.

Saturday 15th June

We got the “No Go” message at 6.30amΒ  – a combination of factors including the rivers Witham and Nene being closed to navigation and predicted force 5 winds on the Wash meant that our passage was scuppered on many different levels. We had a lie-in!

We knew that Andrew and Darryl were busy perusing the weather forecast for the rest of the week – at first we thought we might get across the Wash on Tuesday, but a mid-week crossing meant that many boat crews couldn’t come. The crossing was postponed to the following Friday.

We had booked the entire week off but we decided to head for home on Sunday – Richard could go in to work for 3 days and save his holidays. I would have done the same, but my shoulder was so painful that I wouldn’t have been able to work; however I could book some time with a physiotherapist and start my recovery.

The weather improved in the afternoon, so Richard practiced flying his drone in anticipation of getting some aerial shots of the convoy on the Wash. There was some adverse comment about the drone so after that it seemed best to limit flights.

Encouraged by the almost blue skies, we had a mooch around Boston on Saturday evening, but getting caught in an apocalyptic thunderstorm and getting drenched while looking for a place to eat put the tin lid on the weekend! We ended up taking shelter in the Church Keys restaurant and wine bar in the shadow of the Stump (not to be confused with the Church restaurant round the corner). The service was delightful and the meal was enormous, so that lifted our spirits. It’s worth noting that they stop serving food at 8pm, though the wine bar stays open until 1am.

Sunday 16th June

We weren’t the only boat crews to “abandon ship” today – we joined a little group of boaters on the train, having cleared the fridge of a week’s food (a shame to waste it, but we didn’t have shore power and every other boat had a full fridge!). The CRT moorings do have a water point (now under flood water when the sluices were closed!) and useful rubbish bins.

It really did feel like “one of those” weekends – the trip from Boston to Grantham was fine, but our next train to London was jam-packed (standing room only) and soon after we boarded it actually broke down and we were on stop for ages before it limped in to Peterborough where we had an unexpected change.

It all took ages and by the time I got home I was suffering from a major sense of humour failure – some holiday this was proving to be 😦

 

 

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The Odyssey 2019: Day 8

Posted by alexgreyauthor on 26 August, 2019

Southrey to Boston

Monday 8th June

We’re gonna need a bigger brolly…

We had a very peaceful night on the mooring, but Alex woke me up at 5am with an urgent need. Luckily, since the days of Ty, who was too scared to wee during the day, I sleep in my clothes, so it didn’t take me long to get out with the hounds. So close to midsummer, it was already light and although thick cloud had moved in overnight, the promised rain hadn’t arrived. I had hoped for a quick in and out, but poor Alex had the dire-rear – he’s such a clean dog he gets very distressed and panicked over finding a place in long grass where he couldn’t be seen – this took some time!

By the time I got back to the boat, I was wide awake and gave some thought to setting out and trying to outrun the rain. In hindsight, this would have been a good idea, but I’ve never been a morning person and went back to bed! I slept so deeply after that, I didn’t notice the boat behind us moving to the pontoon across the river.

Alex needed to go out again a few hours later – that time we actually got up and prepared to move. The heavens opened just as we cast off and that was that – it rained all day long, varying in intensity from bucketing to biblical – lesser torrents were not available!

We had installed a new cissy boater gadget in anticipation of the forecast rain – an umbrella holder which slots onto the tiller. We unearthed an umbrella and although the placement wasn’t idea, it did go some way to keeping the rain off our faces.

Richard took the first shift while I stayed indoors with the dogs – there is never any likelhood of their getting wet! I was a bit worried about Alex being unwell as the river banks are steep and lush, with little prospect of mooring. Luckily he wasn’t too bad, and it was easy to fit in stops at the frequent mooring pontoons along the river. We passed the moorings at Kirkstead and were very g;ad that we hadn’t pressed on last night – they were jam-packed!

Hurrah, the Boston Stump – it’s visible for miles so we weren’t quite as close to the end of our rainy day’s cruising as I’d hoped.

It was a miserable morning’s cruise – it really wasn’t far to Boston, but we suffered a sense of humour failure as the hours dragged on. The Witham is impossibly straight and is vibrant with plant and bird life, but the weather made it impossible to enjoy them. After a couple of hours on the helm, Richard came in to dry off and I took the helm for the next shift.

The Boston Stump was a welcome sight, but the flatness of the landscape plays tricks with your eyes, and it was far longer from first sighting to mooring up at the Boston Gateway Marina.

We’d booked a mooring at Boston Gateway because we were afraid that the public CRT moorings would be full. We also made an assumption that the marina would be safer! We’d been allocated an online mooring which made it relatively easy to offload the greyhounds. We got the boat packed up, but we were not carrying much home as we planned to be back on Thursday – the first day of our almost fortnight holiday. Richard called a cab from the excellent Acorn Cab Company, with the intention of collecting his car from Newark and coming back for us. But he discovered that the taxi driver was willing to take dogs so we all piled in. It was just as well, the rain was incessant and the journey back to Newark was slow – having a dog-friendly taxi had saved us at least an hour on our journey home.

The weather slowly improved with every mile that we traveled south as we moved away from the weather front that was to dump two month’s worth of rain over Lincolnshire over the next two days…

 

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The Odyssey 2019: Day 7b

Posted by alexgreyauthor on 3 August, 2019

A beautiful morning after yesterday’s storm -waiting at Newark Nether Lock

Newark to Southrey (River Witham)

Sunday 9th June

By Sunday morning the storm had blown over and we were greeted by a crystal blue sky and brilliant sunshine. We set off early, hoping get through Cromwell Lock onto the Tidal Trent as early as possible. We’d been in touch with the lock keeper during the week to check the tide times, but after the week’s rainfall, especially yesterday’s storm, there was 4′ of fresh water coming downriver and we could basically transit the tideway whenever we wanted!

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Muskham Ferry – the pontoons still look short and precarious!

However we had a blip – we knew from the radio chatter yesterday that Newark Nether Lock had a problem, but the news was that one gate was operational so we’d be fine. However, the issue with one lock gate meant that the “self-service” function was blocked by the clever electronics so our early start was wasted. We got in touch with Cromwell Lock to warn them we’d be late and set about reporting the ongoing fault. I have to say that the lock is very picturesque, so there are worse places to wait, especially when you have a fine latte and a Danish pastry in hand. We didn’t have to wait long, a van full of engineers turned up and they helped us to get the lock ready and started letting us down; the lock-keeper turned up shortly after and were soon through, all be it through the one functioning gate.

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Saffy diligently reading the charts on the Tidal Trent…

We dashed down to Cromwell, waving to the moorings at Muskham Ferry, where we’d spend a memorably precarious night the last time we came this way. We met another of our convoy compatriots at Cromwell, old friends nb Flora Dora, who’d overnighted on the fine lock landings. We locked down together then had a glorious cruise down the tideway. We were very careful to follow the navigation notes, though the sheer volume of fresh coming downriver meant that we were highly unlikely to run aground. The fresh water coming off the river was flowing fast enough to negate the flow of the incoming tide, so we flew downriver and arrived in Torksey way before they had enough water over the cill to let us in.

We moored up and took the hounds for a mooch – there is a lovely walk along the embankment high above the river. We got a real feel for the flow of fresh water when a widebeam that had left the Torksey moorings heading for Cromwell was barely moving aginst the flow – it was painful to watch. We went back to the boat and Flora Dora soon caught up with us and moored behind us on the pontoon. We waited – there was no rushing the tide.

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While Alex maintained a 360 degree watch πŸ™‚

Eventually the tide rose high enough to cover the cill and the lock keeper let us in. Getting set up in Torksey lock is a bit of a palaver, the lock keeper is meticulous in checking that the boats are properly secured. I sighed at the delay, but when he opened the paddles and I saw the fierce turbulence I was grateful that he’d taken the time to ensure that we were safe.

We left nb Flora Dora at Torksey, they were mooring there for a bit, but we wanted to cruise until dusk and make the best of the good weather – this was the only one good day in an unremittingly dreadful forecast for the week to come.

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A more unusual sight for a narrowboat…

Indigo Dream was soon on new waters – we’d cruised as far as Saxilby in 2011, but hadn’t made it to Lincoln, though we had visited the city by train. I was excited to see Lincoln by boat, but I was a little disappointed. Maybe it’s because we’ve become used to more tranquil waters, but the commercial bustle of Brayford Pool did not appeal at all. We enjoyed the transit through the Glory Hole which seems to marks the boundary between new and Old Lincoln. There are moorings beyond the Glory Hole – they are fenced off with railings with all too infrequent gates which can be opened with a BW key. They really did not appeal as the path between the boats and the railings was terribly narrow and it would have been a nightmare for maneuvering the hounds. Not that we wanted to stop today, but we squirreled the information away for the future.

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Approaching Lincoln’s famour Glory Hole

Stamp End lock came as a surprise – it is a guillotine lock which, from upstream, is virtually invisible – only a small strip and two yellow markers about the size of a table tennis bat stick out above the waterline. It was very dingy when we were there – the water had abundant trash including several syringes – charming.

It seemed to take a long time to get out of Lincoln, it has a fringe of industrial units and I looked forward to getting past it’s dingy suburbs. However, when I looked back towards the city proper, I was surprised to find that the best views of the Cathedral are from this end of the Witham. In fact, the cathedral dominates the landscape for miles, the land here is so flat! The cathedral must have been so imposing for visitors (and marauders) coming up the Witham.

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Lincoln’s Catherdral dominates the landscape from the East

Once we got out into the countryside, River Witham was delightful – the sheer diversity of plant and bird life is astounding. There are regular mooring pontoons and there seemed to be plenty of space – the only exception was Kirkstead, but we didn’t make it quite that far. We did have a quick pitstop for the hounds at Washingborough; the moorings here are lovely, surrounded by beautiful countryside and flanked by a very fine house. It was a converted train station, as we found out later. The river must have felt very different when there was a railway on its banks. At this point it was too early to stop cruising, but it would have been a delightful place to spend the night, though we’d have had no rest if Saffy and Alex had spotted the station house cat prowling around.

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Delightful moorings at Washingborough

There are few locks on this section, so Bardney came as both a surprise and a welcome feature! There are visitor moorings above the lock and also some lockside services. I’ll just make a note here that when I picked Richard up from the lock landing below the lock, there was a BIG step down onto the boat – I’ll tell you why this is interesting when we get to Day 8!

By now, late afternoon was beginning to melt into early evening, with the westering sun providing plenty of light for cruising; but the reflections on the syrup smooth waters were a gateway to a night’s dreaming. The waterway is wide, deep and generous,Β  yet it’s just a tiny ribbon in the Ascot-worthy bonnet of the enormous skies hereabouts. It is almost impossible to think small thoughts under those big skies, almost impossible – as the level landscape rolled on our, our thoughts turned to supper and pubs!

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Below Bardney Lock – remember this view – a few days later, the lock landing was submerged by flood water!

The moorings at Bardney Village were an option, but it’s not that enticing from the waterway, the landscape being dominated by a huge sugar factory. Unlike the exotic Tate and Lyle Wharves in London and Bristol, this one processes sugar beet, a major crop in the fertile fens. We loved the look of the moorings at Fisketon; the village itself is a bit of a trek from the river, but the moorings give access to a lovely nature reserve – the greyhounds would have loved it! But it was still early so we pressed on..

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Beautiful reflections at our overnight mooring and yes, this photograph IS the right way up!

The next stop was Southrey. There are mooring pontoons on both sides of the river, looking downstream, the one on the left hand side offers access to the village, the one on the right to what we thought was a riverside pub. We rang the village pub first – they were not serving food that night, so we opted for the right hand bank. We had hoped for a pub meal, but we were surprised to find that although there are pub signs on the bank and on the side of the big white building, they are just mementos of a bygone era. The pub is now a private house!

We considered moving on the Kirkstead, but it was 7pm and it would have been quite late to eat by the time we arrived there (assuming that the pubs served food that late on a Sunday, many don’t). We moored up and I cooked on board. The absence of pubs is rarely a tragedy as there is usually at least one meal and several night’s worth of beer on board. We have enough wine, donated by generous guests, to float the boat!

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Perfect!

The moorings were so quiet, with good dog-walking along the top of the bank heading downstream. Saffy and Alex were quite tired, so we didn’t go far – just to the sluice and back (the river has lots of drains and tributaries with their attendant control mechanisms.

Note for other dog-walkers: There is a cattle grid just beyond the sluice control building – this would be a leg-breaker for a running greyhound!

We took some photos of the beautiful sunset, admiring the reflections on the broad, deep waters. It had been an epic day, but we were a bit sorry that it had come to an end. We couldn’t have anticipated that we wouldn’t see the sun again for the best part of a fortnight!

Photoblog:

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A rare landmark on the Trent upstream of Muskham Ferry

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Alex and Saffy taking the tidal water in their stride

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Saxilby – beyond this point we were in new waters πŸ™‚

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Brayford Pool in Lincoln – there were plenty of visitor moorings available but we didn’t fancy the bustle of the city today (and there was great benefit to cruising further while the weather was fair).

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Take heed of these warning lights as you approach the Glory Hole…

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…Because there’s not much headroom under there!

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Luckily we had Alex on watchdog duty so we were fine!

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There were loads of visitor moorings (14 day) beyond the Glory Hole, but that path is narrow and the gates are infrequent so we didn’t like the look of them, especiallly with hounds.

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There are some wonderful sculptures on the footpath that runs alongside the Witham downstream of Lincoln

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Imagine sailing up the Witham from the Wash and seeing that powerful edifice on the horizon – Lincoln Catherdral is quite magnificent

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More wonderful sculptures

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The enormously appealing Fiskerton Fen moorings – we’d like to cruise the Witham again and spend more time in these beautiful and tranquil places

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