If It’s Friday, It Must Be Peterborough

Tina the Stanground Lockkeeper had said that from Whittlesey to her lock was an hour and half, so the Captain issued an edict that we would cast off at 11:00 at the latest to make our 13:00 lock passage, with half an hour’s slack for unscheduled problems. The crew thought that if they got up early, there might be time for another quick look round town before leaving, but with a cold overcast morning and too much to eat and drink the night before one of the crew didn’t manage to report for duty until 10:45…

We cast off at exactly 11:00.

The first thing you come across after the leisure centre moorings is very narrow channel with concrete walls, running for about half a mile through the old part of town. There’s also 90° plus bend, rumoured to be tightest/narrowest bend on the whole system. Apparently people have got a 70ft narrowboat through, but we wouldn’t fancy trying. 58ft with bow thrusters was quite enough of a challenge. The navigation notes suggest putting someone ashore to check for oncoming traffic, but as we’d noted coming the other way, (a) there isn’t anywhere safe to do so, and (b) there isn’t anywhere safe to take them back on board. Ho hum…

Just out of town and back on the wider drain, we came across a narrowboat pottering gently along in the opposite direction. “We’ve been going slowly because Tina said you’d be leaving about now, and we didn’t want to meet you on the narrow section… there are a couple more behind us”. Clearly the Middle Level grapevine is in a class of it’s own.

And as predicted, we made Stanground Lock/Sluice at exactly 12:30, with Tina waiting for us and the lock all set up. Once in the chamber, she asked for our top rope, shook it out of the fairlead and tied it up to a bollard well back on the lock. “Put the boat in tick-over forward; it will hold you on the chamber wall when I open the paddles”. And it did. Not a technique we’d ever come across before… we always put a top rope ashore going uphill on wide locks, but not to motor against. Clearly the Middle Level lockies have a different attitude to the Environment Agency ones on the Great Ouse and Thames: they insist not only on roping up front and back, but the engine off as well.

And so, as the lurid green duckweed of summer turns into the plasticene-brown sludge of autumn, we said goodbye to the mysterious Middle Levels with its drains, high banks, big skies and sluices, the old River Nene and the fens, and slid imperceptibly onto the new River Nene.

Mooring up on a reasonably goose-crap free bit of Peterborough Quay in time for a late-ish lunch in town, it was time to take stock…

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