The Middle Level Spy Network

Thursday (it said on the ship’s chronometer), and after washing off the mud spatters, we left Upwell for March, and maybe further. About an hour and a half out of Upwell lies Marmont Priory Lock. Usually womanned, when we’d headed the other way it was unattended, and we narrowly managed to stop some boaters draining Well Creek. This time, on making the requested courtesy call, the lady lockkeeper said “You must be the narrowboat that came through Salter’s Lode yesterday…” Didn’t know they actively kept tabs on boat movements through the Middle Levels: perhaps they’re an obscure branch of MI5.

Anyway, the lock was all set up for us, so in we sailed. There’s a road bridge crossing the middle of the lock. It’s quite low over the lock sides, although not a problem to boats on sitting lower on the water, and it’s liberally festooned with “Mind Your Head” and “Low Bridge” signs. With the lockkeeper selling home-grown fruit and veg there was a certain amount of running around finding money, shopping bags, retrieving Biggles from going walkabout etc. Here are the results…

Marmont Priory Lock Bridge: 2 Bob: 0

Nursing a sore head and setting off for March, we realised that we needed to book a passage through Stanground Lock as they require a minimum 24 hour’s notice. “Wondered when we’d hear from you…” Tina the lockkeeper said. Spy network still working then! Turned out that for “sound technical reasons” the latest passage available on Friday was at 13:00, so the plan to overnight in March was abandoned, and replaced by a plan to overnight in Whittlesey, keeping fingers firmly crossed that there would be space on the minimal visitor moorings at the leisure centre.

Arriving at the joys of Ashline Lock (definite contender for our least favourite lock – a real PITA), the visitor moorings just beyond appeared occupied, but on closer approach there was just enough room for us to squeeze on the end. We’d intended to explore the town, but by the time we got there it was getting a bit late, but we had a quick wander, and did find Vesuvio: a splendid Italian Restaurant that was cheap(ish) and cheerful, with excellent food, and – unsurprisingly, in the circumstances – pretty mobbed on a Thursday evening. Well fed and watered, but having failed to see any Straw Bears, we wandered back across the playing fields in pitch dark… the nights are drawing in with a vengeance.

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