Category Archives: Middle Level

2022 Back To Exploring

Time for the annual round, a long post so sit back, put your feet up and enjoy.

The New Year kicked off with winter maintenance in the house. Having two hallways proved time consuming refreshing the woodwork and patching up the worst of the wallpaper. But this was broken up with weekly walks to see the sea. I resumed work on the development showing of #unit21 for Dark Horse and a Christmas present of a cheese making kit proved very tasty in creating my first ever Yorkshire Curd Cheese Cake from scratch. I plan on having a second go at this soon!

In February work progressed in Huddersfield towards opening night, the floor painted, final costume fittings and then the set and lighting added. All while Mick serviced our life jackets and Tilly grew more and more bored of life in the house.

Once the show was opened we had a trip down to London to catch up with the London Leckenbys for a belated Christmas, on our way back we visited Oleanna. When ever we could we visited Blue Water Marina to do jobs and have a pack up lunch. The stove was reblacked, walls washed down and cupboards sorted through.

Then at the end of February, Mick and I left Tilly in charge of the house, we packed enough clothes and food for a couple of days boating and headed to Thorne to move Oleanna through Thorne Lock before a winter stoppage began. Blimey it was chilly out there, but wonderful to be back afloat and moving Oleanna to Goole. Now we were all set to move back onboard and have a few weeks of pootling about in Yorkshire.

Back at the house we made it ready for the first of this years lodgers. Our boat Christmas tree was retired into the back garden where we hoped it would thrive, this of course was before we knew a drought was on it’s way! Tilly said goodbye to the dragon that lives up the chimney, left Seville and Valencia to look after the house before having to endure the car trip back to boat life.

After a few days sorting ourselves, including having one of Joan’s gluten free Chinese takeaways, we unplugged Oleanna and backed out from our mooring at Goole Marina (Boat House). We spent the next three weeks bobbing about between Pollington Lock, Doncaster and Goole. Maintenance jobs were ticked off the list.

Alistair did engine and weedhatch jobs, Frank joined us a couple of times to do carpentry jobs, our galley drawers no longer have a life of their own, the covers had a good scrub and a spray of Wet and Forget to help them keep clean.

In March I’d set myself a charity challenge, to knit as many pairs of socks in the month as I could. Nine pairs knitted for people in return for sponsorship, I also got a very generous donation of yarn from Lisa on NB Summer Wind.

Our plans had had to change as Thorne Lock still hadn’t closed, but was about to! Plans to visit York and West Yorkshire were abandoned, we’d bought ourselves a Gold Licence for the year so wanted to make the most of it. So on March 24th with all the jobs done we turned our backs on Goole and set off into the sunset to see where 2022 would take us, all three of us grinning from ear to ear.

We made our way to Keadby ready for our booked passage on the tidal River Trent, the fast route south. A phone call from a boating friend in need of support meant we’d be doing our best to make use of the spring tide to reach Cromwell in one go despite the weather forecast. We spent a couple of days doing what we could to help in Newark before we needed to be on the move again.

On upstream to The Trent and Mersey keeping up our cruising hours and Tilly hoping we’d stop with enough time for her to explore each day before cat curfew.

Up to Fradley then onto the Coventry Canal, we played leapfrog with NB Free Spirit for a couple of days.

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, up the Curdworth Flight then a turn left onto a section of the Grand Union we’d not been on before at Star City. Up Garrison Locks, Typhoo Basin and then the Ashted Locks where we now have the measure of that Tunnel! A mooring space at the top of Farmers Bridge had our name on it. This was handy for a road trip to swap lodgers and for visits to the dentist. It also meant we were in shot when a group came to jump the top lock!

Fast forward to 6:15

Our route out of Bumingham saw us through Edgbaston Tunnel, down Lapworth followed by Hatton. A pause was needed for Tilly’s annual visit to a new vet, the one here the closest to the canal we’ve visited so far, also handy for The Cape of Good Hope!

At Napton we joined the Oxford Canal and headed for Braunston, pausing to stock up on goodies from the butcher. On the Grand Union we made our way up over the hill and started our descent down The Long Buckby flight back towards tidal waters.

On the 1st of May we turned left at Gayton Junction onto the Northampton Arm dropping down the flight to the River Nene. We’d only been this way once before and that was when we’d just bought Lillian (NB Lillyanne) back in 2014. We bought ourselves a second Abloy key, showed our Gold Licence to the chap at Northampton Marina and started our journey down stream, time to explore.

A decision was made to head down to Peterborough taking note of places we’d want to visit on our return journey. We worked our way through the guillotine locks, many button operated and others with the wheel of cardiovascular overload.

Tilly loved many of the moorings apart from those in Peterborough where crowds surrounded the boat and meant returning from shore leave was impossible for several hours.

In two weeks we reached the end of the river at the Dog in a Doublet Lock. Here the river becomes tidal, we’d save that trip for another time and turned back upstream to head for the Middle Level.

Here we wanted to explore all the drainage channels, but decided we’d do that on our return too. So we took the direct route and crossed the low lying waters in three days arriving at Salters Lode on Mick’s birthday. The levels out on the tidal stretch of the Great Ouse needing to be just right to get through the lock, turn and head upstream to Denver Sluice.

A lovely GOBA mooring was found on the River Wissey and eventually the sun came out for a birthday barbeque, we’d made it to the Great Ouse.

The remainder of May was spent exploring the River Wissey, Ely and The Little Ouse. Brandon Lock sits at the most easterly point on the connected navigable network for boats Oleanna’s size. Sadly a build up of silt stopped us from getting her bow into the lock, but we did get her as far east as was possible, ticking off the fourth point of the compass.

There was a trip to Hull Truck to meet old friends at a gala evening followed by a meet up with Micks family back in the Fens. At the end of the month we got to know Neil the seal at Ten Mile Bank moorings as he basked in the sun and took sunset dips in the river.

The Jubilee was seen in at Denver, we lit our guiding lights as a Lancaster Bomber flew overhead heading to see the Queen. The Relief Channel gave us a good mooring to be able to have a trip away to celebrate Dawn and Lee’s 50th Birthdays in Scarborough, we went as Wallace and Gromit and won an Oscar!

Another visit to Ely to see the Cathedral, Farmers market and meet up with Heather from NB Bleasdale, the first of many this summer. The River Lark was explored, the end of navigation reached with a handy mooring outside a pub.

We headed for the Cam, our paths crossing for the first time with Ken and Sue from NB Cleddau. Then onwards in to Cambridge where we visited colleges, ate chilled medication and had a day trip to Duxford so that Mick could sit in the pilots seat of a Trident 2, a seat his Dad had sat in on many a flight.

Oleanna squeezed along each of the three Lodes, Wicken, Burwell and Reach. Wicken Lode a magical place and a day visit to Anglesey Abbey with it’s wonderful gardens.

Then we headed onto the Old West a river with a very different feel than the Ely Ouse. A pause was needed when we reached Earith for us to have a tour of Heathers new to her boat GT. Once off the tidal water we were on a different Great Ouse again. Here St Ives, St Neots and Hemingford gave us sunsets, D shaped locks, huge meadows and wonderful towns and villages to explore.

As the temperatures started to rise I needed to do some work. Cruising happened in the mornings, my Panto script and sketches were done in the shade of what trees we could find. White sheets were bought and we hoped for a mooring with shade for the really hot days that were to come. Tilly took to lying on the floor and we took to wearing wet t-shirts to help us to keep cool. Thankfully the hot blast only lasted a couple of days then the temperature dropped and we could continue to head upstream.

July 21st we reached the navigable limit of the River Great Ouse, having to reverse some distance to be able to turn round and return to Bedford for the River Festival.

Here we met up with Ken and Sue, Jennie and Chris from NB Tentatrice and Heather again. Plenty of things to see, do and hear. The boat parades, raft races, vintage cars, all sorts kept us busy for the two days.

Now at the end of July we alternated the days between cruising and my work. More beautiful days cruising and more wonderful sunsets, one day off to visit Cambridge for some more chilled medication and to see the Hockney exhibition.

August saw more hot days. Trips to London to celebrate birthdays, panto meetings, catch up with best friends and travellers over from Australia.

On the 15th August we crossed back from Denver Sluice to the Middle Level having really enjoyed our three months on the Great Ouse. Now water levels were a worry along with having enough time to reach Oxford for me to go to work in October. We made the decision to come back and explore the Middle Level another year, maybe we’ll cross The Wash to get there!

By the end of August our progress up stream on the River Nene slowed to a halt. First one lock broke then another two ahead of us. We’d recently been accepted to join the Reflections Flotilla on the Thames to mark the Queens Jubilee in a few weeks time, now that time was ticking away.

When we did get moving again we had to make up our cruising hours. With the news of the passing of the Queen we didn’t know if the flotilla would still be going ahead, we carried on at pace waiting for news. Back up the River Nene, turning onto the Grand Union, working our way southwards. The news came through that the flotilla would go ahead, but now in remembrance of the Queen.

With a couple of days to spare we squeezed into the Eco-Moorings by Islington Tunnel. Two days of catching up with family and more friends over from Australia before we joined boats heading along the Regents Canal towards Limehouse Basin. An afternoon of activity saw numerous narrowboats festooned with white lights.

On the 24th of September the Thames barrier was closed and we all headed out of Limehouse Lock up stream to Chelsea where we clung onto buoys until the early evening when the flotilla started to muster.

Getting on for 150 boats all displaying white lights got into formation and headed down stream. Crowds stood on the illuminated bridges and Tower Bridge opened up in a royal salute as we passed underneath. What a truly amazing day.

Now we had to head towards Banbury, back round the Regents Canal as a leak in the engine bay needed testing on the calm waters of the canal rather than the tideway. By the time we reached Brentford we were confident with Oleanna’s engine again. On the Thames Tilly got a birthday present of a night on a Cliveden Island. Sadly we got an unexpected present on our arrival in Oxford, a second red line on a covid test! Panto painting couldn’t be put off so we made our way gradually up the Oxford Canal keeping our distance from people at locks and taking maximum doses of paracetamol.

A week of painting in Banbury before I moved to Chipping Norton to stack up the hours over the next four weeks getting the 50th anniversary panto ready. Rendez Vousing with Oleanna at weekends in Banbury and Coventry kept me sane. Mick had to single hand across the summit of the Oxford Canal to avoid the first of the winter stoppages.

All three of us were back onboard by mid November, covid free and vaccinated. We took things slowly now, time to rest up, meet friends, gather family and pootle towards Christmas. Our 20th Anniversary was celebrated with a Chinese takeaway at Alvecote Marina, a planned stop which ended up being extended due to plummeting temperatures. The canal froze, there’d be no moving the outside for Tilly!

Temperatures lifted dramatically and the ice just about vanished in a couple of days, we could now be on our way to Christmas. Alrewas was a good place to spend the festive days, a very good butchers and a village with lots of character and humour.

Bookings in the New Year had been made for passage on the tidal River Trent for us to reach Yorkshire, but this would not be. The Trent had risen before Christmas, Cranfleet Flood Gates were shut ahead of us, so no New Year at Hazelford Lock. Instead our alternator played up and we sought out a mooring to hook up to and see in 2023.

This year we’d been wanting to explore again. This year we cruised miles of new water, made new friends, got too hot, got iced in, got stuck, got to be in the first illuminated flotilla on the Thames for 300 years. What a great year it has been.

So our vital statistics for 2022 according to Canalplan are

Total distance is 1249 miles, 6½ furlong and 555 locks . There were 88 moveable bridges of which 29 are usually left open; 156 small aqueducts or underbridges and 18 tunnels,  a total of 7 miles 2 ¼ furlongs underground and 8 major aqueducts.

This was made up of 227 miles, 1 1/2 furlongs of narrow canals; 363 miles, 2 furlongs of broad canals; 85 miles, 5 furlongs of commercial waterways; 269 miles, 1 furlong of small rivers; 234 miles, 7 1/4 furlongs of large rivers; 69 miles, 6 furlongs of tidal rivers; 176 narrow locks; 232 broad locks; 54 large locks; 2 locks on major waterways.

731.7 engine hours

1156.1 litres diesel, 5 (although we’ve got 1 empty now) gas bottles (used for central heating as well as cooking), 28.5 litres oil, 3 oil filters, 1 fuel filter, 2 air filters, 1 water pump, 2 new belts, 690kg coal, 1 overnight guest twice, 6 packs Dreamies (not enough!), 56 friends, a record breaking 41 Mrs Tilly stamps of approval (4 in one day!), 15 pairs socks, 2 shows designed, 9 lodgers, 2 lots gluten free puff pastry, 9 supermarket deliveries, 30 boxes of wine delivered, 2 lost unicorns.

Thank you all for joining us on our journey. Wonder where we’ll get to in 2023?

Levels. 20th August

Ashline Visitor mooring to Peterborough Embankment, River Nene

Pulling back

Alarm set for early o’clock, breakfasted and ready to push off before 8am. NB Per Angusta were ready too, as we were booked to go through Stanground Lock first they backed away and let us lead the way.

Soon we were at the sharp bend by Briggate Bridge. Coming the other way this had been really easy, but today with the increased flow it proved quite a challenge.

It may look like a handbrake turn

Mick swung the stern over to start to turn the 90 degrees. Across the bend Oleanna ground to a halt, silt below was stopping our progress right on the bend. We would need a run up, thankfully NB Per Angusta wasn’t too close behind. We managed to back off a distance and then went for it. Oleanna rose up, listed, the engine given more wellie to counter act the strong flow and try to ride over the silt. She worked hard and gradually worked her way free and around the bend. As we pulled away I kept an eye on the boat behind, the dazzling sun inhibiting the view.

It looked like they had a similar problem, getting so far and then having to back off again to give it another go, we hoped they got round as the bend soon vanished behind us.

A flash of blue, then another. We had an escort, two Kingfishers guiding us across the last few miles of the Middle Level. The pair darted ahead as soon as we got close, resting up to make sure we caught up again before they headed onwards. Then when we reached the end of their territory the braver of the pair sat and watched us go past before dashing back to find their mate.

A field of sunflowers all in bloom, cranes ready to move cranes, the brick chimneys and the aroma of chips, we were getting closer to Stanground. We were early.

We pulled in on the lock landing. Tilly checked the notices, no mention of cats, but woofers were certainly not welcome here. It looked good, could we tie it up for the rest of the day? The answer was no as Tina the Lock Keeper arrived ready to lock us through.

Tina ready for us, Alley Cat keeping an eye on our bow

The bottom lock gates were open, the top sluices/slackers/paddles open too producing the flow we’d been pushing against for the last couple of days. Tina walked up to the top gates, closed the slackers then came and waved us in requesting we passed her the centre line on the off side.

Oleanna was tied to a bollard, Mick told to put her in forwards gear and just to keep her there whilst the lock filled. A slacker was raised the level started to rise along with Oleanna. With just a couple of inches to go Tina released the rope. She warned us of a big build up of weed above the top gates, best course of action would be to power on through it, the wind last night had nudged most of it towards the electric sluice but there was still a big patch for us to push through.

Peterborough here we come

We thanked Tina, the gates opened, a distant view of Peterborough Cathedral just visible with a rainbow flag flying high. Time to leave the Middle Level for the River Nene. Yes there was a lot of duck weed, but we’ve been through worse at Selby. We were soon clear of the slightly browning weed, the first of the boats coming the other way just arriving, ready to go straight into the lock.

We passed another couple of boats, one NB Petroc. I knew I knew the name, bloggers, well the previous owners were bloggers.

Left please

With need of some shopping we turned left at the junction, pulling in soon where there was a gap before the services. Here it was obvious the level was up, the bottom step covered with an inch of water, but the mooring rings and bollards were still reachable. Mick did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the back and paddled to pass our ropes through rings and we were soon moored up.

A touch of paddling required

We’d made it to the Embankment before 10am, got ourselves sorted and were in time to join the end of the Saturday morning Geraghty zoom. Then it was time to make shopping lists, Mick would head off to stock up on food whilst I got on with work.

Tilly was given the afternoon for shore leave. Although we got quite loud protests at our mooring skills. They really are a worry leaving a good chunk of watery outside between Oleanna and the proper outside! I had words then did my calculations and leapt to dry land.


Tilly jumped a good 10- 12 ft to the second dry step. The chap on the boat behind put his dog on a lead, owner and woofer watching Tilly’s every move and listening to her complaints. They tied this outside up before, it was rubbish then. Now it’s even more rubbish as it was so far away and a cat should not have to get wet paws, after all I’m told not to fall in! Well at least the trees have got more than a comb over now. Only one thing for it, more cat napping in my escape pod today.

Don’t know why I went to all that effort, it’s rubbish round here!

Mick headed back into town to pick up a few items for me, just in case things as I doubt there will be many suitable shops along the River Nene for model making supplies. He returned with black card and some silver gift tags, the later will be useful to suggest fairy lights.

During the afternoon I heard back from Abi regarding Petiti, the troublesome scene. One of the versions I’d sent to her yesterday had been based on my original idea and this is the one that came out on top! It still needs a bit more work, but it is the direction we will now be heading in. If only we’d stuck to it in the first place I’d have saved a lot of time, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

One scene down, too many to go

Todays aim was to get Piccadilly Circus painted, by 7pm I’d achieved my goal, well apart from painting a locksmiths barrow. In previous years when painting the sets I’ve managed to draw the scenery out by hand. This year I will be seeking the assistance of a projector, overhead or digital, which will speed the drawing process up no end.

1 lock, 5.19 miles, 1 lumpy bend, 1 engine at full tilt, 2 Kingfishers, 1st through, 1 keeper cat, 1 left, 1 inch above, 9 inches higher than last time, 28 shaggy trees, 4-0, 1 pride city, 1 disappointed cat, 1st solution approved, 1 designers assistant, 1st scene painted.

Quite A Flow. 19th August

Angle Corner Rural Mooring to Ashline Mooring

Not being able to go through Stanground Lock today we had a choice, to stay put on the rural mooring (24hr mooring) or move on and be that bit closer to Stanground for Saturday morning. We chose the latter to cut down on the cruise to get us there for 10am.

Middle view

We un-flung our ropes off the big posts, crossed over Angle Corner, no other boats in view, then I headed back to work below whilst Mick pushed against quite a flow towards Whittlesey.

Fresh air!

A temporary method of holding the mesh in place meant I could have the side hatch open today, Tilly wasn’t too bothered as she was busy having her morning nap, dreaming of Mrs Tilly stamped moorings in the middle of nowhere with no woofers and an abundance of friends.

That’s flowing well

After an hour of work I came back up top ready for Ashline lock. Up ahead we could see the flow coming round the bywash, would this pin us to the lock landing?

At the lock a chap had just arrived and was walking over to the weir with a handle, presumably to adjust how much water was coming through. The lock was full, so required plenty of turns to the slackers for it to slowly empty. Chatting to the chap he said that the Middle Level had been struggling for water for much of the summer, so they were glad of any water they could get, and blimey it was thundering round the lock. Just to raise the lower level by an inch would take time as the drains stretch off in many directions for miles.

Will Mick be able to get her moving?

With Oleanna in the lock Mick passed a rope up to hold her to the side. I started to wind the slackers up. Round and round the windlass/key went. 78 times and 60 times. The force of the water coming into the lock nothing like that going round the bywash. It took forever to fill, almost time to have a morning nap ourselves! Good job we’d roped up to stop her from being bashed about all over the place!

Nearly at the top, only another ten minutes to go!

We pulled in behind NB Nina on the moorings. Gave Tilly six hours, knowing that she was unlikely to make the most of her time, due to the number of woofers and the lack of friendly cover.

Back at work I concentrated on a few versions of my troublesome scene. By the end of the day I had three versions, here’s hoping Abi takes to one of them, I know which one I prefer.

Mick sat out at one of the picnic benches and had a go at mending the water pump that he’d removed yesterday. He thinks it’s sorted again, we’ll see!

Around 7pm a boat pulled up heading towards Stanground. With no space left on the mooring we offered for them to breast up to us, which they accepted. They are booked for 10:15am at the lock, so both boats will be up and off early.

1 lock, 2.67 miles, 1 straight on, 1 fast flow, 1 pump mended for the third time, 1 unimpressed cat, 1 very VERY slow filling lock, 1 woofer neighbour, 3 versions of Petiti, 1 designer with her fingers crossed.

That’s Not Meant To Be Wet! 18th August

March Visitor Moorings to Angle Bridge Rural Mooring

As I picked up the few things that end up on the floor alongside my side of the bed this morning, I noticed a little glistening under the front steps. Then I remembered that yesterday I’d nudged the mat that lives at the foot of the steps and had noticed a few faint lines on the floor, I’d immediately put this down to the floor needing a good sweeping. Then I remembered that whilst the washing machine had been on yesterday I’d heard a slightly different noise as the machine had been filling. One should always make a comment about such noises, but one doesn’t always get a convinced reply back, so one doesn’t always mention things. I have the better hearing of the two of us, well Tilly most probably beats me but she rarely says anything we can understand.

Delving into the depths of the steps

Everything was lifted up off the floor, the mat lifted to reveal a puddle that capillary action had been holding there. The lids of the steps were opened to reveal a very wet area. Either the water pump was the cause or we had a problem with the water tank! We’d prefer the former if we had a choice.

How many nappies and water pumps does it take to fill a step?

The water pump was turned off, water was mopped up and nappies put under the steps to soak up more as we had our cuppa in bed, we’d not be moving on as being in March might prove useful should we need to purchase things.

Just have to see how the floor dries out

The kettle was filled and my paint pot before there was no water left in the pipes. Mick tinkered away inside the steps. It looked like the main body of the pump was leaking. Under the steps there were several spare pumps, which had been bought last year when Mick had found a leak. These pumps were known to have a possible problem when bought (long story, being sold cheaply I think we ended up with three), Mick had put two of them together and come up with one that would possibly be problem free, this would do for the time being.

The pump that was leaking today was the one that had sprung a leak last year, Mick had mended it and it’s lasted us nine months, so not bad. The pump was turned back on, fresh nappies put beneath it, a fan positioned to help with ventilation, Tilly locked out of the bedroom.

I worked away whilst Mick headed out to the shops. We needed a few nails to make the cat proof screen for the side hatch along with some staples to attach the mesh with. We’d run out of damp crystals so more of those were bought, two big bags to refill our containers.

Thank you March

By lunchtime we were convinced that a temporary solution to the leak was working, we decided to move on and out of town, hopefully so that Tilly could have some shore leave. I stayed up top until we’d passed Foxton Marina, having a nosy at all the numerous sheds and things that people have in their back gardens.

A group of young lads were hanging about under a bridge. We engaged in conversation, only for one of them to throw what turned out to be a none existent stone at us. We both winced unnecessarily.

The going was slow. Weed, the occasional blast of reverse needed. Mick had his instructions. After about an hour to go right, then another hour and we’d reach the rural mooring we hoped to moor at, I would continue to work below.

Hanging gunnel garden

The occasional look out o the windows showed a narrowboat with tomato plants along it’s gunnels, several ripe ready for picking. I bobbed up top to make sure Mick made the correct turn and then carried on working below.

Mick matching the sky

My work wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped today. That one scene (Petiti) still being a problem. I’m not convinced by the current solution, but need to come up with a better one. This along with not trusting Tilly to be able to work with the hatch open meant that inside the boat was getting very stuffy and fractious.

Angle Bridge

Angle Corner came up and the posts we wanted to moor to. We pulled in and quickly realised we’d not be getting off here. The depth was not sufficient to get close to the mooring poles and our plank not long enough to reach dry land. If we let Tilly out we’d not be able to get to her should there be a problem, so much to her annoyance shore leave was cancelled.

Our posts to tie to today

During the afternoon Mick had called ahead to Stanground Lock to see if we could book a passage through tomorrow afternoon. This would not be possible as at the moment there was too much water in the River Nene. Instead of the excess water being allowed to run out to sea it was being sent down onto the Middle Level where it would be of more use. Tina said we’d most probably notice a bit of a flow, this was obviously why our progress had been a touch slower than expected.

Against the bottom not the side

Along with the extra water, they had problems with weed on the Nene side of the lock, they’d had three boats get stuck there today. A booking was made for Saturday morning when hopefully the Nene would have returned to more normal levels.

0 locks, 8.33 miles, 1 puddle, 1 broken water pump, 1 stripy floor, 10 litres crystals, 1 scene not good, 1 model box requiring more mending than originally thought, 1 stroppy cat, 2 temporary measures, 2 much water ! who’d have thought it.

PS The pork pie from Upwell, was reasonable but had a few bits of gristle, it won’t be going on the must stop and purchase list of pork pies.

Marching Onwards. 17th August

Church Bridge Staithe to March Visitor Moorings

Water proof dusted off

The water tanks were dealt with before and during breakfast, then we were on our way just after 9am. Back in May we’d been wearing waterproofs along this stretch, in fact we’d got that bit wet when we’d crossed from Salters Lode to Denver, maybe that was the last time it had really rained. Today they were back on, only for the occasional light shower this morning and to help keep us warm.

We passed many a lovely looking house in Upwell. A couple are for sale. The Old Bank House with it’s six bedrooms, double garage and gym for £500,000. The house on Rectory Road we’d spotted three months ago, another six bedrooms dating back to medieval times, a swimming pool, 3 acres, outbuildings and an ironing room! All for £880,000, don’t think the sword collection is included though.

We hadn’t previously been aware of William having connections to the Middle Level!

Apples everywhere

Marmont Priory Lock is now looking very autumnal, apples hang from the trees by the lock cottage. The lock needed filling 58 turns on one paddle, then to empty it I only bothered turning each slacker 50 times, knowing they’d need winding down again!

Now the lower level is that bit wider and deeper, speed no longer left behind on the Great Ouse. We passed the New Pophams Eau and the Twenty Foot River, places waiting for the next visit to explore.

Wind turbines, Grebes and reeds were soon replaced with houses and back gardens with sheds as we approached March.

Found on our prop

We’d heard that when the levels had dropped several boats with home moorings had moved themselves to the visitor moorings in March for deeper water, meaning that there wasn’t much room, we kept our fingers crossed as a stop here was necessary. But thankfully as we rounded the bend in front of the clock tower there was space for three boats our size. Just a shame the prop also got fouled as we came in!

March floral display

First thing was to pick up the other model box which had been sent from Chippy, then see if the box it came in would fit the one I already had to send back to them. The model once unwrapped was slightly crumpled, requiring a bit of shoring up. I’d made this box a few years ago and it seems to be the one that is sent out to designers, so has been used a few times and is now showing it’s use along with being in a slightly squashed box. A bigger box would be needed to send the model box back.

The furthest south they come

After lunch Mick headed off to Sainsburys to stock up on food whilst I paid a visit to Boyes, their furthest south store. Sadly the things I was looking for they did not stock, so instead I headed back across the river to West End DIY. Here I found everything I needed. Some thin timber to help shore up the model box, slightly thicker timber and some mesh to ensure the side hatch will remain a one way hatch in hot weather. They were also in the process of filing the shelves with stock and had a shopping trolley full of cardboard boxes to choose from. Thank you West End.

Back at the boat I adjusted the cardboard to fit the model box and printed off labels for it to be posted back to Chippy. Mick returned with plenty of shopping. There had been wood cat litter which had distracted him from Tilly’s need for Odour control litter. A second visit to Boyes and Sainsburys meant we now have plenty of litter and oil for the next engine service.

Green and red were added to my panto portals, still cream and some gold to go before they’ll be finished. And as always I’ve changed my mind about some of it!

As we headed for bed tonight the local geese started to make a right noise. It looked like two of them were having a serious disagreement, one trying to either rip the others head off or drown it, whilst the other twelve of them all stood round honking ‘SCRAP SCRAP SCRAP!! Sadly no teacher arrived to pull them apart, we’ll see if there are fourteen of them still in the morning.

1 lock, 7.2 miles, 2 straight ons, 3 boats worth filled by the end of the day, 1 bumping hire boat, 21mm x 21mm, 12mm x 12mm, 25mm square mesh, 1 cardboard box, 2 varieties of litter, 1 bored cat, 14 geese, 2 model boxes swapped, 3 hours not enough work done today.

In America We Have Bigger Narrowboats! 16th August

Salters Lode To St Peter’s Wharf, Outwell, Well Creek

Yesterday a third boat crossed over from Denver, NB Watt Way with Anita, her dog and cat onboard. This morning she was nowhere to be seen, she must have pushed off early and it being an electric boat she had quietly passed us without waking us.

Bye Salters Lode

The day started off cloudy, heavy grey everywhere. In distant fields we could see clouds rising up. Was this caused by a tractor ploughing through the dry earth? Or wind catching dust? Or a fire? We couldn’t decide what it was but with no smell of smoke it was likely to just be dust.

No boats moored at Glady Dacks. Quite a few fishermen, one asking if there would be any more of us today, not until the next crossing or boats heading eastwards. Soon afterwards we came across the first east bound boat, a hire boat from March.

The blue house

Slow going on the Creek, shallow and narrow we pootled along. This gave us time to think about the coming weeks. The need to be near transport for my final model meeting, hire car to get up to Scarborough to do a turn around. We’d also planned on exploring the Middle Level and taking our time climbing up the River Nene as we’d come down quite quickly. But with the next three weeks being full of work for me, any time we’re not moving will be spent working, not good for wanting to explore the areas.

The old windmill

I made a suggestion. Instead of trying to work and explore, which won’t work and any pleasure out of each activity will be lost with concern over time or feeling like we’ve missed something, I suggested that we leave exploration to the next time. In a couple of years we could get a gold licence again and come back to spend time earlier in the year before school holidays and weed takes over. It would also give us the excuse to cross The Wash to get here. Mentioning The Wash swung it for Mick. We’ll just need to find a boat to do the crossing with. Anyone fancy it 2024?

We passed the blue house, the windmill, sunflowers drying out for seeds. Over the Middle Level Main Drain. A house called Riverside Dreams seems to have shut off the world, locking their dreams behind a big brown fence!

A moving boat!

30 Downham Road looks like it is straight from a theatre stage, a set John Godber wouldn’t require to be broken down anymore. I wonder who lives here other than the skeleton sat in the window today.

Spooky house

Round the sharp bend after St Clements Church. We took note of the fish and chip shop number, but sadly they don’t do gluten free.

Pork pie freshly cooked today

Narrower and shallower still we slowly progressed ducking under the bridges until we came alongside the wharf by St Peter’s Church. This would do us for today. With what looked like a butchers above we went to have a look to see if they had any pork pies. It being Tuesday the pies were about to go in the oven, they’d be ready for purchase at 4:30. Mick returned for one, we’ll let you know what it was like tomorrow.

Our mooring tonight

Behind St Peter’s we spied a brick tower. It turned out to be in the grounds of Welle Manor Hall rather than in the church yard. It used to be a tower at the former entrance to a courtyard, the 30m tower is all that is left now, built circa 1480.

Octagonal tower

The afternoon was spent tracing the designs onto my panto portals then carefully painting in the black. These will be the most time consuming part of the set. I’ll make some big patterns so that I can just draw round them to help save time as most bits are repeated at least four times.

During the day we had a few short showers. A lady with an American lad came for a chat, she said they’d had two inches in March (the place not month). She asked the boy if they had such boats as ours in America, ‘Yes some, but in America we have bigger Narrowboats’!

We had rumbles of thunder in the afternoon and a short shower, but by the evening rain came properly. The almost forgotten sound of rain on the roof, it almost made us turn the TV off to listen.

0 locks, 5.98 miles, 1 boat passed, 1 skeleton, 0 shore leave, 1 pork pie, 0 fish and chips, 2 portals blacked, 1 very achy hand, 1 cruising plan for two years time.

Goodbye Great Ouse. 15th August

River Wissey GOBA mooring to Salters Lode, Middle Level


Still with water to get we were on our way quite early. We knew there was little chance of being able to wind before we reached Hilgay, we’d tried a couple of months ago and now with the levels lower and more reed growth there wasn’t even any point in trying. A dog stuck it’s nose out from the stern of the narrowboat nestled into the bank as it’s owner yawned as we passed.

It was a little bit tight turning by the water point rather than heading a bit further on to the official winding hole, but Mick managed in the end and we were soon moored up by the water point, filling up and having breakfast.

No Longer Hilgay Bridge

A new blue plaque on the bridge shows off it’s new name and a chap walked back and forth watering the flowers.

Black dots of birds

Back to the junction with the Great Ouse where we turned right, time to head to Denver for our crossing at midday. The birds are starting to gather overhead, readying themselves to head for warmer climes!

It’s falling in the water!

The two long stretches of EA moorings are still fenced off as you approach Denver. Today the notice regarding Littleport Station Road EA mooring dated January 2021 was rescinded and the mooring we’d been staying on recently is now officially open again. It sounds like piling work was carried out there and it looks like something similar will need to happen at Denver to get the banks stable again.

Last photo on the Great Ouse

Denver Sluice came into view, we pulled up alongside NB Poppy May to make sure we were all ready for our tidal crossing. The anchor has been attached and ready to be deployed for months now, the well deck just needed a bit of a tidy up, excess items put into the shower. Then we waited and chatted with Angus and Julie (I think) from Poppy May.

Waiting for the tide at Denver

A few years ago they had brought their boat onto the Great Ouse, now they were heading back towards C&RT waters, so this would be the first time for both of us heading downstream with the tide to Salters Lode.

The Lock Keeper arrived and started to empty the lock, he came for a chat. He would lock us both through at the same time, no need to worry about sand banks lurking under the surface. We were to lead the way with NB Poppy May following a short distance behind. One boat would be heading towards us. We would head straight into the lock and Poppy May should turn in towards the lock and wait by the guillotine gate for their turn. At 62ft long they were on the border of requiring the river to be on the same level as Well Creek.

Heading into the lock

The gate opened and as we went into the lock we turned and said our farewell to the Great Ouse. We arrived on the 20th May and now twelve and a half weeks later we were leaving.

Waiting for the gate to rise

A cautionary tale of ropes and loops and locks was told to Julie who then proceeded to pull her rope all the way through the big riser at the bow. The bottom guillotine gate was lifted just a bit and cloudy silty water started to swirl around the bows of the boats. We were going up several feet onto the out going tide.

Thumbs up, we were on our way to cross the half mile of tide, the ebb pulling us out towards Kings Lynn. I stayed at the bow knowing a rope may come in handy at Salters Lode. Up ahead we could already see the boat heading for Denver, we passed and carried on down stream.

There’s the lock!

There were a few houses on the west bank, one with quite a lot of washing out. Was this where the lock was? Or was it just that bit further on round the next bend near the next house? A chap sat on a chair watching us approach. I shouted back to Mick that this was the lock. ‘Are you sure?’ Fairly. As the chap stood up from his chair I could now see the LOCK sign, but I checked anyway. ‘Yep this is it’. Just in time for Mick to start to make the turn. With the tide going out we’d been told to head straight for the lock and not to turn to face the out going tide as we’d end up dragging along the tyre wall.

Breath in!

The approach to the lock is narrow with a wooden fence helping to guide you in. Mick turned, a blast of bow thruster to avoid the starboard side from hitting the bank and into the lock we shot. Full power to stern! We’d not touched the side. Phew!

Mick chatting to Paul the Lock Keeper

At the bow it had seemed a lot calmer than our first ever turn in at Selby, but I believe the atmosphere was a touch more at the stern.

Oleanna happy as always

Now we dropped down on to Well Creek. A quick discussion as to where to aim for today. The moorings on the Middle Level tend to be 36hours, not helpful for having a full day to work for me. The next couple of places we’d be stopping at will not be cat friendly either, so we decided to stay put and moored up on the landing a short distance away from the lock.

Moored at Salters Lode

Tilly got to have a good explore round. She wasn’t that impressed, less so with the pontoon surface. Every step had to be checked twice, then the gathering swallows swooped down on her, angry at her existence.

Template for my model with a stretching cat

Work came out and I concentrated on my painted ironwork for the portals. Part way through the afternoon however my right hand started to ache a lot. Yesterday when we’d pulled up on the Wissey I’d done something to my hand whilst moving a fender. It had been painful for a little while but eased off. Today it warranted some pain killers and an early stop to work, not something I’ll be able to do every day.

I’m going to end up like a waffle if I lie on here too long!

As we watched the TV this evening Tilly decided that she’d head out again for a twilight check of the surroundings. Thankfully today the one way door returned to being one way. We did our best not to laugh out loud as Tilly crashed into the glazing and slid down onto the floor. Not deterred she tried again, clinging on with her claws for a while before giving up and heading into the bathroom to check on the new doorway there. Of course this was also glazed!

2 locks, 5.24 miles, 0.5 miles tidal, 2 rivers, 1 creek, 1 right, 1 left, 1 full water tank, 1 load washing, 1 holey outside, 2 many birdies, 2 portals closed, 1 farewell to the Great Ouse, 1 left handed mouse.

44 Miles As The Crow Flies. 26th July

Bedford GOBA Mooring

A full work day for me, the drawing board was brought out early and took over the table. Mick made himself a little office in the cratch with a chair and his tablet, not sure what work he was doing!

Tilly was given nine hours shore leave, she made the most of it along with coming back for Dreamies and the occasional kip when the area got a bit too woofery.

Considering there were quite a few boats at the festival over the weekend the river has been very quiet, a cruiser came past and has moored up at the other end of the GOBA moorings. Everyone must have headed of on Sunday afternoon or on Monday before we came out of the marina.

All the sketch drawings ready for model making

At 2:30pm it was time for my next production zoom meeting. Mick headed off to pick up some things we’d forgotten from Tescos whilst I settled down with Gemma (Production Manager), John (Writer of this years Panto and Artistic Director of Chippy Theatre) and Paul (the new Technical and facilities Director at Chippy). The talk was about all things set. With the lateness of everything we are having to cut some corners, so there simply won’t be time to get quotes for the build, but a slot has already been booked with the builders who have built the last few years. The budget is up on last year, but then so are prices for materials. I’m trying to reuse as much as possible and poor Paul has been rummaging away in the Attic store trying to find things. I now have rough design dead lines to meet.

Last night we started planning our route towards Oxford for me to go to work.

The quick way

As the crow flies Bedford is 44 miles from Oxford from where I’ll get the bus to Chipping Norton to start work.

A look at Canalplan first gave us the quicker route via Braunston, Cropredy and Banbury. 235 miles, 125 locks, taking nearly 106 cruising hours. This route at the moment has been short of water, like many places, and wouldn’t make the most use out of our Gold Licence.

Via Braunston

Another look at Canalplan with a route via Brentford. 339 miles, 198 locks, 157.5 cruising hours. This would make use of our gold licence and hopefully should the drought continue the Thames may have more water than the Oxford Canal.

Via Brentford

We use Canal plan to work out where we’re likely to be on certain dates and roughly how many hours we should be cruising a day. With this latter plan, it works out to be just over 2 hours a day to arrive in Oxford with plenty of time before I go off to work. But with me working every other day (48hr moorings on EA waters), that will mean we need to be doing at least four hours on days when we cruise.

This doesn’t account for any exploration of the Middle Level or taking time on the River Nene.

We’d best get moving!

0 locks, 0 miles, 8 hours drawing, 1 indoor office, 1 cratch office, 9 hours feline exploration, 1 useful meeting, 1 white card date in the diary, 1 cruising plan to try to stick to, 1 annoying fishing family right by our bedroom long after dark, 2 boaters ready with buckets of water in case their fire gets out of control!

Sunday on a Tuesday

What A Relief! 3rd June

Denver EA Mooring to Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen EA Mooring

Mushrooms ala Mick

It felt like a Sunday today, so with not much in the fridge except mushrooms Mick cooked them up and we had them on a couple of slices of toast for breakfast. Then it was time to move on, we couldn’t dally as we needed to find a suitable mooring.

Denver Sluice

Around Denver there are all sorts of structures, sluices here there and everywhere. We headed over to the east towards the Relief Channel Lock. Here two sets of pointing gates drop you down onto the Relief Channel, the lock is fully automated, despite the instructions suggesting you need a windlass.

Time for the Abloy Key of Power, our key ring is getting a touch full. A boat had just gone down the lock, so the bottom gates needed closing then the lock filling for us to enter. This lock is a slow filler, thank goodness you don’t have to keep your finger on the button! It is also a slow emptier the slackers/paddles only moving by about foot, so you have to be patient as your boat slowly drops the 2meters. It was nice to be changing height again, but I have to say I miss working locks.

Going down!

Vermuyden back in the 1640’s, proposed works to help relieve the Ely Ouse of extra water, but it wasn’t until 1964 that the Relief Channel and Cut Off Channel were constructed. The Cut Off Channel diverts waters away from the Rivers Wissey, Little Ouse and Lark in times of flood by partially closing the rivers. The extra water runs towards Denver where the Impounding Sluice joins it to the Relief Channel, taking the waters 11 miles further downstream before it joins the Tidal Great Ouse near Kings Lynn.

Turning below the lock, Cut Off Channel behind

In 2001 the lock connecting the channel to the River Great Ouse, above Denver, was constructed and three sets of visitor moorings added.

The Channel is wide, deep and fairly straight. Today it was windy out there. Swans took off in front of us hoping to loose us, only to find we’d catch them up again, necessitating another take off, time and time again, until they either diverted their route to behind us or over towards the tidal river.

Downham Market moorings chocka

The first mooring at Downham Market is long, able to hold quite a few boats. Today it was very full, good job we’d not been wanting to stop there today. Our guide book suggests that there is more to the town than just Haygates flour mill, which sits alongside the channel. The town used to be renowned for it’s butter market, moving large quantities up to Cambridge on the river.

Not many bridges around here

The next mooring follows at Stowbridge close to a pub. Today two narrowboats filled the pontoon busy with boat chores, everyone waved as we waved back. Another half hour north we passed under a footbridge where a canoeist lolled with his back to us, we moved over so as not to disturb him.

Would there be space for us?

Then the next and final pontoon at Wiggenhall St Marys Magdalen came into view. There was the cruiser I’d seen at the lock and what looked like a narrowboat, would there be space for us? As we got closer we could see there were two narrowboats breasted up. To our relief a lady came dashing down the ramp and untied the inner narrowboat and starting to pull it back towards the cruiser making space for us. The wind didn’t help us moor as the bow kept being pushed towards the bank which in turn pushed the stern out, but we got there in the end, Oleanna’s bow over hanging the pontoon.


The lady from the breasted up pair was very chatty, offered us a lift to the pub tonight and introduced us to Freddie her Irish Terrier. He wanted to come and say hello, but immediately got distracted by a scent, Tilly! Blimey Tilly smelt soo good, he was all over Oleanna as Tilly watched on from the Houdini shelf. She had been hoping that the friendly cover could be explored, but being on a pontoon the health and safety committee had already made their decision. Now with Freddie sniffing the air at the open window where Tilly sat, only an inch or two away, their decision was reinforced!

It took Freddie quite a while to actually be able to see Tilly through the glass. At that moment their noses were less than an inch apart with a sheet of glass thankfully between them, Tilly now three times her normal size! Freddie was immediately put back on a lead and taken inside his boat.

Finishing touches, including some clamping

Summer clothes were retrieved from under the bed a smart shirt brought out to be washed. Winter clothing was not fully stowed away, but that will need to happen before I start on my panto model as my clothes cupboard is where I store it away from feline jaws. Then it was time to finish off my project. Fittings, securing, wires twisted, glue applied, foam added for comfort and a final fitting. All was finished and ready.

Relief Channel on the left, Tidal River Great Ouse right

Time for a walk over Magdalen Bridge which crosses the Tidal River Great Ouse, the tide was out. Down stream of here lies Kings Lynn and then The Wash, which if crossed with the aid of a pilot would take us to Boston and then further north on the River Witham. That trip will be for another time.

A fine looking church

The village was covered in bunting as to be expected. The church sitting proudly in the centre. A fish and chip shop round the next corner smelt good, but I returned up Prophets Lane which led to the river bank and back across the bridge to Oleanna where there would have been just enough room for another boat to breast up alongside us.

Quite a full pontoon

A couple of weeks ago I asked if the Middle Level was as low as we could get on the network. A few days later Paul from Waterway Routes replied with this answer.

The Middle Levels between Ashline and Marmont Priory Locks is maintained at 35cm below Ordnance Datum (approximately seal level), although the level will vary a little after rain etc. The Relief Channel summer level is approximately 98cm below Ordnance Datum (sea level), although this level isn’t maintained particularly accurately so you could be more than a metre below sea level at times.

So we are now the lowest we can be, below sea level!

Swimming below sea level

1 lock, 6.9 miles, 1 right, 1 left, 3 moorings, 2 boats pulled back, 1 Freddie, 3 times bigger, 1 last mooring space, 2 relieved boaters, 2 fixings, 2 fittings, 1 project complete, 1 fridge just about empty.

It’s All Topsy Turvy Around Here. 22nd May

GOBA mooring River Wissey to Ten Mile Bank GOBA Mooring, River Great Ouse

Last night we went to sleep with a Sedge Warbler singing it’s heart out. This morning it was still seriously going for it. He’ll keep going until he finds a mate apparently!

No need to get going early today, in fact no real need to get going. Instead we had a good read of our Saturday newspaper with a cuppa in bed and then enjoyed a Mick breakfast. The hash brown had to be made without egg to bind it together today, but it held itself very well.


Tilly had a good ninety minutes shore leave, although one of the other boats on the mooring had a dog which every now and again necessitated a rapid return to the safety of the boat.

Just gone midday we pushed off and headed to where the Wissey joins the Great Ouse, here we turned left/upstream/southwards. The Wissey narrow and over hung with trees whilst the Great Ouse was wide and shimmering in the occasional bit of sun we had.

On the west bank a lady was out for a walk, young child in a pushchair who kept waving and on a lead a white pony who walked along at heel obediently.

Funny chimneys round here

The flood banks are quite high so we didn’t get any views, just the occasional tree and house popping up from behind the grass banks.

We pulled in at Hilgay Bridge to top up on water and put a load of washing on. There were two boats on the mooring in front of us. One a Black Prince hire boat, the chap noticed what we were doing and came to look at the tap. The people from the cruiser came for a chat, they were out to give their boat a good clean, but kept being distracted from their jobs.

River higher than the surrounding fields

Up on the bank the lay of the land just isn’t right. The surrounding fields lower than the river with the big banks between. Yes I get that the land was drained for agriculture, the water put into the river. But how did the river end up being where it is, it has to have existed before the land was drained. Were the banks raised so that it could accommodate more water? I think I need to revisit my Geography A level!

It’s all topsy turvy around here. Going down onto the Middle Level then up onto Tidal waters then down again whilst going upstream! All wrong!

Oleanna’s occasional blue eyes today

Simon Judge responded to our question from the other day regarding the lowest you could be on the waterways. Here is his reply

The relief channel could be even lower. It’s worth noting that the Old River Nene used to flow in the direction you are travelling, ie downhill towards Upwell.  The lock at Marmont shows how much the bottom section was lowered in 1850 or so when the main drain was built.

I do think Mullicourt must be the lowest aqueduct on the system …

PS the stretch to the south west of Lode End lock is lower than the main section when the lock is in use, but is not at a lower level below sea level if you see what I mean!

Can I have some trees please!

We continued a while southwards to the next GOBA mooring at Ten Mile Bank. Not much of a view from the river, just high grassy banks. But climb to the top of the bank and you can see for miles.

Outside a Whitethroat sang it’s heart out, getting a touch louder and quicker when Tilly arrived! She was given the afternoon to pounce in the long grass as our washing dried on the whirligig and I got out my project again. More circles cut, even smaller than last time and wire featured quiet a bit too!

0 locks, 4.27 miles, 1 left, 1 sparkling river, 1 full water tank, 7 sets of circles, 76 pounces, 1 topsy turvy world!