We meet handraulic guillotines


Another early start this morning, not straight onto the river, but via a postbox to send an urgent birthday card. We walked past the ghost of Rushton and Diamonds, with sad weeds around the turnstiles.

We had a shock at the first lock. We were used to electrically operated guillotine bottom gates. This lock had a LARGE wheel for manual turning – a great deal of it. I elected to operate the wheel. I am still quite nervous of driving the boat. Helming suddenly seemed more attractive. I am now developing my helming skills fast!


This is the electric version. The handraulic model involves 150 turns to lower it, and then another 150 to raise it. We have met 4 of these today out of 12 locks.

I lost another lock windlass (the lock winding handle) so am in disgrace. We went into Oundle Marina to get diesel and two new handles, and another Nene guide to replace the one Dugald threw into the lock. An expensive replacement programme.

The entrance to Oundle Marina is like Jerusalem’s Eye of the Needle, and Dugald made it look easy – very irritating

This river remains a glorious experience, it is crystal clear, alive with fishes and birds. We have seen red kites; yellow wagtails; a kingfisher; swallows swooping around old mills; and thousands of dragonflies.

Tonight we are made up to the bank near some cattle. It feels like Bearley Farm, and that’s not bad.

The magic Nene

At 7 o’clock this morning we set off down the Nene river towards Peterborough.

Louis (Nb Madam) told us the Nene was exquisite. He is right.


We have wound our way through 16 miles and 16 locks to arrive at Irthlingborough. Intriguingly we are moored alongside the Rushden and Diamonds FC, Dugald is puzzled as to how David Bell – now Sir David – came to support them.


We have had a day of loss.

Dugald spilt my tea in the cockpit while I was winding locks. Clearing it up, he managed to flip the invaluable Nene guide into the lock. Later, I left my very special alloy lock key at one of the locks. Score: 1 all.

This river is a delight with birds and animals and trees – and very few boats or people



Leon starts us off

We arrived at Gayton Junction on Tuesday afternoon and a decision. Carry on going North, or turn east towards Northampton, and eventually Cambridge? Adventure suggested Cambridge. We turned right.

We walked along the towpath to the top lock of 17 down to Northampton. We met Leon at the top lock, and we arranged to meet him at 8 the next morning.

Leon gets a mixed press, but we found him both entertaining and very helpful.


Leon took us firmly in hand and sped us down 17 locks to Northampton. He moored us safely at the town quay and went on his cheery way. We will be calling him on the way back.

Dugald went off and snapped the architecture of Northampton, while I slept.


The first week

The first week flew by, we covered a further 70 miles, working our way through a further 75 locks, 3 swing bridges and a tunnel.


I collapsed in a heap at the end of each day, exhausted. I began to wonder if I would ever stop feeling tired. The events of the last few weeks, and the energy required to wrap everything up had obviously drained me more than I realised. Dugald somehow seemed to be on zoom, up with the lark as usual, and managed to drag me along with him.


We shared locks with some characters, and passed the usual eclectic mix of boats and their people.



In Leighton Buzzard we passed Wyvern Shipping, a hire boat company, and saw Marigold the first narrowboat we hired 21 years ago at Easter. We had horizontal sleet and snow over the weekend. Dugald and I got the bug, but the children were underwhelmed. Further canal holidays followed (without the children). During one of our ’10 year planning sessions’ we decided that we wanted a narrowboat to travel the canals in our retirement. So we evicted Dugald from his flat in Kennington and bought Ginger Bear for him to live on in London. We have often taken wrong turns, that one we seem to have got right.

We Cast Off

Leaving homeThe lead up to this trip has been long. Dugald has been counting the days to his retirement from the Civil Service for months, and is looking forward to pastures new enthusiastically. I have been slightly more hesitant, I am not enthusiastic about stopping the work I have done for the last 40 years, but I am tired of working long hours, and need a break to get fitter. So is it just for 3 months, or for good? We had 3 days between leaving work, and leaving our mooring. They were filled with leaving parties, a university reunion, our 40th wedding anniversary and finally drinks at our mooring. It became clear to us the final ‘morning after the night before’, that keeping up that level of partying in your 60’s is much harder than in your 20’s. We planned to leave our mooring at 11am on the Tuesday morning, and eventually got away at 2pm having loaded fresh provisions, collected washing, lifted half our plant collection onto the roof along with our bikes and Ginger Bear. We took a deep breath, and set off up the Grand Union canal from Brentford (2 locks off the Thames) towards Uxbridge. Going up the canal rather than out onto the Thames always requires an extra draw on the energy tanks because you go almost immediately into the Hanwell flight of 8 locks. We arrived at Uxbridge at 8pm exhausted, 11 locks and 8 miles later. Quick supper and fell into bed.