Monthly Archives: September 2015

Aerial Company – Part 2

Another thing we noticed once we were on the Middle Levels, right the way through to Peterborough, Wellingborough and beyond on the River Nene, was that we were nearly always in sight of at least one Buzzard, or a Red Kite, and quite often more of each. Even if you couldn’t see one, you could usually hear the plaintive mewling of an aerial buzzard. Plenty of sightings of Kestrels too: they must all like the habitat along the Nene.

Buzzards quite often sit on a fence post or telegraph pole or riding the thermals relatively high up, while Red Kites are usually seen wheeling around on the air currents rather lower down. You sometimes see them perch quite high up in a tree, but not very often. So we were very surprised to see three Red Kites who were circling together all decide to go and fly into the same tree. Where’s Peanut’s Charlie Brown when you need him?

One minor puzzle was a bird some distance away that looked very much like a Red Kite perched in the top of a tree, except that it seemed to have a white head. The chances of us spotting a dwarf American Bald Eagle in Northamptonshire are remote: we can only think it was a partially albino or leucistic red kite – a quick Google suggests they do exist. (You can get partial albinism in other birds so I guess it’s not that impossible.)

We’re Boating Backwards to Kittyhawk

Living – during the winter, at least – near Heathrow, we’re used to the almost constant appearance of airliners in the sky, either arriving, departing or overflying up high in the airways. Out in the wild flatlands of East Anglia (you can see why they build loads of airfields there during WWII) things are a bit different: you are well away from major civil airports, and the upper level airways that carry the transatlantic traffic North West and out across the Atlantic to North America.

We hadn’t noticed a great deal of anything while heading out over the Middle Levels to Ely, but there again, it was fast approaching August Bank Holiday Weekend. Heading back down the River Great Ouse from Ely was a different matter. With several nearby RAF airfields providing bases for the boys in blue and their USAnian brethren, there was hardly a moment during the day when you couldn’t see, or at the very least hear, one or more state-of-the-art fast jets passing high overhead, growling around.

As we passed back through back the Middle Levels they seemed to get lower and noisier: near March we saw several lower fly-pasts and something fast-ish seriously buzzed Upwell and Outwell (or maybe Outwell and Upwell).

Petering out as we approached Peterborough (no pun intended), moving on – as the River Nene wanders in an almost complete circle round Sibson airfield – the only aerial traffic was a steady succession of spam-cans, a couple of light aerobatic jobbies, and the occasional parachute dropping aircraft climbing out to rain people. In fact, moored at Wansford Station we saw a spam can doing basic aerobatics, and a shower of parachutists hosing down before  0830Z – must have stronger stomachs than Song & Dance’s crew at that time of the morning.

Moving away – eventually – from Sibson, the next day the only airborne traffic we noticed were a pair of Spitfires heading South (probably aiming for the Battle of Britain bunfight at Goodwood) and a De-Havilland Rapide (who was probably not).

The next day, all we saw was a biplane with the distinctive De-Havilland tail but wings longer than a Tiger Moth. With rumours on Facebook of a Fokker Tri-plane being spotted locally, at this rate we were fully expecting a visitation from Orville and Wilbur themselves by the end of the weekend.

Invisible Boundaries, Hedgehogs, London Buses and a Conflagration

Friday morning dawned clear and still, so with some reluctance we dragged ourselves away from Wadenhoe, back over that stretch of the Nene heading for Northampton where we were somewhat challenged to find moorings suitable for Sir to access the whole wide world outside.

Still Morning, WadenhoeStill Morning, Wadenhoe

We stopped for shopping and lunch at Thrapston, squeezing into the visitor moorings which are in a sheltered by-water (read almost inaccessible) just by Nine Arch Bridge. Going in nose first and breasting up on Bones (not the one owned by Oxford Canal blogger, magazine columnist and DIY disaster area Mortimer Bones, who we’d spotted earlier this year) left the problem of extraction to later.

Nine Arch Bridge, ThrapstonNine Arch Bridge, Thrapston

We didn’t manage to find the exact boundary where the River Neen becomes the River Nen, but a charming café courtyard did have Fran hankering to try on another clog-dancer’s hat.

Clog Dancer Hats again

Even in virtually nil wind and not much current, extraction of Song & Dance  from the moorings – manoeuvring backwards out through the two 90° bends to get back onto the river proper – was a complete fiasco. Why can’t we have a proper Captain to take control when things get tough? Anyway, after several close encounters of the wrong-arch kind, and several more of the buttress kind, large amounts of swearing, and a several reminders of why rubbing strakes are called rubbing strakes, we were on our way. Good job we’d only had coffee for lunch, not Guinness or rocket fuel cider.

We decided to lick our wounds at Woodford, where we we’d found decent moorings and a cheap pub for dinner before, courtesy of the Friends of the River Nene.

On our way back from said dinner, the chief cook was walking over to a cat she’d nearly been unfaithful with on the previous visit, when we were nearly run down by a hedgehog scurrying down the centre of the road. Seemed quite unfazed by the cat, and vice versa  and stopped for a mutter before deciding we hadn’t any food or drink to hand.  Then, a hundred yards or so down the road, we came across another one, albeit a little shyer than the first. Don’t see a hedgehog for five years, then two come along together…

Walking in the pitch dark through the field down to the boat, we stumbled over a young lady fly-posting the Friends of the River Nene billboard, as you do. Seems she runs a paddle-board school, and they were having their annual party/BBQ/whatever at the weekend. Strange time to be wandering around in the dark woods putting up posters, though.

Then, while chatting, we spotted – about a mile or two across the river – what looked like a bonfire or something flare up. Looked like a seriously out of control conflagration: big hay rick or something worse. We couldn’t imagine that no-one had spotted it already, but just in case, our new friend made some phone calls to likely farmers. Anyway, there soon appeared to arrive some brightly lit vehicles – it was quite a way away – and in fairly short order the flames seemed to die down.

Wonder what will happen tomorrow…

Sundials and British Summer Time

After all the photo-shoot excitement and a medicinal Guinness, another wander round Wadenhoe village seemed appropriate. Wadenhoe itself is a positively delightful estate village rising up from the River Nene.

Wadenhoe ChurchJubilee Sundial

Wadenhoe Village from the churchWadenhoe Graveyard

River Nene from Wadenhoe ChurchWadenhoe Church

Unusually, the church is rather away from the village, up on a hill with superb views over the local area. It also sports a Jubilee sundial showing the correct time (in Universal Time of course), two Green Men and this rather glum chap. The sundial also points to the other five Northampton churches visible from that spot.

Wadenhoe CottagesClog Morris Dancer?

Getting carried away by the sunshine, lovely cottages, Green Men and Guinness, the chief cook came dangerously close to morphing into a Northern Clog Morris person but was saved by her refusal to forgo her nice new comfy deck shoes.

Wadenhoe MillDSCF3268

Wadenhoe MillWadenhoe Mill Ford

At the other end of the village from the church, there’s a rather fine mill and accompanying buildings, and the vehicular access (as opposed to pedestrian access) to the field and Nene Way path was the longest ford we’ve seen.

BST SundialAlpaca, Wadenhoe

Not sure what the lonely Alpaca was doing (maybe there’s a song title there somewhere), but the splendidly converted old barn not only had lots of plants for sale, but a sundial strangely set to British Summer Time.

But hey, who’s arguing? 16:00L or 15:00Z, the barn also did splendid cream teas with bilberry scones, and naughty cakes too. Result!

Sunshine and Deck Shoes

Sunshine might have been promised, and a chill-out day planned, but an very autumnal misty moisty morning started the day. We didn’t meet a man all clothed in leather, but we did find one with a nice line in leather shoes.

Misty Moisty Morning

The sun soon came out as promised, and Sir went exploring until the dogs showed up.

Biggles explores the pub gardenKing's Head Mooring

River Nene at Wadenhoe

The first officer was busy mixing up some paint to do some much needed touching up when a chap came up and said “We’re doing a photo-shoot  of some deck shoes for our catalogue and web site: could we use the back of your boat?” We said “Sure”, made them a cup of coffee and let them get on with it.


After shooting on and around the back deck they departed saying “Ta everso” and left us each with a very nice pair of smart leather deck shoes each (that would appear to retail at about £60 a pop). Shame they didn’t have two pairs to fit the Captain…

Egrets, Training Wheels and a Dovecot

Following the excellent lunch with friends on Monday, we were rather taken by the Kings Arms at Wadenhoe and their moorings, so we’d planned on staying there overnight and partaking of dinner. It’s not a  fancy gastropub with prices to match: it’s just a beautifully situated village pub with large splendid gardens running down to the River Nene, that does home cooked pub food really really well. No fanfares… you could easily walk past the front door and miss it entirely.

Wednesday morning dawned a somewhat overcast, so leaving Fotheringhay wasn’t too much of a wrench.

Despite muttering earlier that we hadn’t seen many little egrets, we soon came across a pair of them… having some kind of punch-up. Then we came across some rowers that seemed to have toddler training wheels on their boats. Another new experience!

Training wheels on a boat?Training wheels on a boat?

On arrival, we established that we were welcome to stay on the pub moorings for a couple of nights, and given that the forecast for Thursday was hot and sunny, resolved to have a chill-out day and explore Wadenhoe properly rather than just rush around before dinner.

Wadenhoe DovecoteWadenhoe Dovecote

Wadenhoe DovecoteWadenhoe

However, wanting some peace and quiet himself, the Captain chucked us out for a short pre-prandial walk, where we stumbled on an old C19 dovecot, complete with built-in rotating ladder for servicing the roosts.

At Last: A Wander Round Oundle

Having cruised round and round Oundle on the way out to Ely without ever visiting it, after the quick drive through yesterday we decided we really ought to visit it properly. A prompt departure from Fotheringhay saw us mooring up in the field near (whisper it gently) Waitrose for a wander into town and lunch before relocating once again to those nice moorings by Ashton Lock.

A pleasant market town, utterly dominated by the school and its students. Co-educational, they seem to have solved the “how short a skirt can I get away with wearing” issue by having all the ladies wear baggy pinstripe long trousers: a very distinctive look.

The weather was a bit dull, but a few piccies… somehow managing to miss any of the myriad students rushing from class to class.



DSCF3216Hidden courtyard

Talbot Hotel, OundleOundle

Pavlov’s Cygnets and Boatpeckers

We’d made Fotheringhay by Monday 7th, and some dear friends who we hadn’t seen since they relocated from the Isle of Mull to Northamptonshire managed to find the boat. After an critical inspection and n introduction to Sir, they whisked us off to The King’s Head, Wadenhoe which is also on the river, but a day or more further upstream. After an excellent lunch and catch up, an inspection of the pub’s moorings, a lightning whizz round Oundle’s Waitrose (so that’s what Oundle looks like!), and tea and buns at our friends new home, we arrived back at the boat having had a busier day than we had had for many weeks.

Pavlov's CygnetsPavlov's Cygnets 

Swimming grandly past were parent swan and three teenagers. The second we opened the side hatch the youngsters executed a smart right turn and paddled up to the hatch ready to be fed. Close the hatch… off they swim. Open it again… swift about turn and back to the boat. Talk about a Pavlovian response!

And if the birds that peck wood to wake up insects and provide sustenance are called Woodpeckers, why aren’t these ugly ducklings called Boatpeckers? It’s not uncommon to be woken up by these chaps pecking away on the boat by the hatch, then demanding food with menaces.

Here’s a tip chaps/chapesses: when the hatch opens and a lady is present, try to avoid hissing and looking dangerous!

Mary, Richard and a Maypole

Fotheringhay Castle was where Mary Queen of Scots was executed. Depending on which plaque you believe, Richard III was either born in Fotheringhay Castle or Fotheringhay Church. Maybe the church was once part of the castle.

Fotheringhay ChurchFotheringhay ChurchFotheringhay Church

Sitting proud, tall and vertical on a rise, when you go inside it seems rather smaller than one was expecting… then you see the model that shows it used to be twice as long, and much more in proportion – there was a parish church and a collegiate church on the end, and the latter is no more.

Painted Pulpit, Fotheringhay ChurchYork Chapel, Fotheringhay ChurchFotheringhay Church: Maypole

There’s a very impressive C15 painted pulpit, a small chapel devoted to the York dynasty, and a maypole.

Can’t ever recall seeing a maypole inside a church before.

Floating to Fotheringhay

The loose plan to meet up with some friends on Monday looked like coming to fruition: they lived a couple of miles from Fotheringhay where there are plentiful moorings, even if the farmer is PDQ in coming to collect a mooring fee. So, bidding farewell to the steam trains, we pottered on up river, through some lovely countryside.

Approaching Fotheringhay

Perched on a small hill, Fotheringhay church stands proud above the landscape, even if it doesn’t quite do the “Ship of the Fens” bit that Ely Cathedral does.

View from Castle MoundView from Castle Mound

View from Castle Mound

We moored right under the rabbit hole and badger sett riddled mound that is all that remains of Fotheringhay Castle, even though it was an important place in English and Scottish history. Having been largely demolished in 1630, it isn’t much to look at, but there are splendid views from the top, although the Captain ran out of puff halfway up.