Wadenhoe: Wednesday 9 May, 2018

The reception has been dire all along the Nene so far – so blogs will come thick and fast when they come.

We’re at Wadenhoe this night, moored up at the King’s Head alongside Whisper. Last night her owners told us that the next lock – Titchmarsh …

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… is broken, so we might be a while on this stretch.

We had our meal at the pub, and then wandered up to the most delightful little Church, dedicated to St Michael and all Angels, on a hill above the river. Here’s our photo, as we chugged away the next morning.

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The bell ringers were in that evening, and were very welcoming, encouraging us to have a go. So we did.

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The Church appeared to be surrounded by the mounds of a mediaeval village – perhaps decimated by the Black Death? The living village is beautifully cared for, with a Wadenhoe Trust, and various small businesses – but no shop we could find. The pub got busier and busier, as we returned to TLA.

Mooring these floating tanks is a delicate business. I’ve found the best way is to parallel park by a gentle use of forward gear and reverse, with the tiller angled towards the bank. Every time we go through a lock, we need to leave the bottom electronic guillotine in the up position, so as Viv does that, I bring the boat in on the upstream landing. Mostly I manage. At Lower Barnwell Lock I didn’t. The bow swung out, and carried on swinging, caught by the head wind and the current of the river. With stern already secured, I ended up straddling the river across the top of the lock. Viv laughed and laughed. I wondered what on earth to do. And warned her if she took any pictures, she’d be dead. She did, and she isn’t. Thankfully there was no one around to enjoy my terrible plight.

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The other six locks we did this day were uneventful, on a river where we saw only two other boats coming down stream. We’re getting the hang of it – a routine which is beginning to look like we know what we’re doing. Except of course, when the boat ends up wedged across the river.

The day had begun in drama too. Viv’s two dogs, Molly and Sid, are great company.

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Sid refused to come for a jog with me – little tyke – and as I returned him to the boat, Viv was shouting, as she lay in her nightie, stretched out, trying to reach Molly who had fallen in. Molly has only three legs, having lost one last September when a car hit her. Viv was worried that she couldn’t swim as a result. She can – and with a bit of scruff-of-the-neck lifting, was back on dry land.

We stopped for a break at Fotheringay – disappointed that the Church is cloaked in scaffolding (see above behind Viv and Molly). It should look like this:

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That’s where we moored …

So we enjoyed a coffee at The Falcon, writing post cards to Peter – a continuous letter to be – and we climbed the castle mound where Mary Queen of Scots was executed, and Richard III was born. With views to die for, there are worse places to meet your end. Or meet the world.

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Artist’s impression:

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We’re in Northamptonshire – but only just. Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire are over the border and Bucks not far away. This is so different to the Middle Levels, or the Great Ouse. There there are meadows and woods all around, and church spires everywhere you look. Prickwillow feels like an age in time and place away.

The swifts have arrived! Saw 5 on this Wednesday 9 May.

These are enigmatic birds – they spend all their lives in the air, only landing to nest – hence their generic name, apous, ‘without feet’. They even mate on the wing. They feed on insects, particularly spiders that float up on warm air, and bathe by flying slowly through rain. The daily average distance a swift covers is 500 miles, and the top speed recorded is 69.3 mph, with only a diving peregrine faster. Each bird weighs only 40g. The age of the oldest ringed swift is 21 years; the average UK life span is 5.5 years.

They are not flourishing though – the rate of decline over the last 20 years is 47%. The most significant factor in that decline is the destruction of nesting sites. Swifts are nest-site faithful, so it’s devastating when the sites they return to are destroyed, or the holes blocked up, or … the church is covered in scaffolding. I really hope the scaffolding comes down soon on Fotheringay tower – because I bet that’s a great place for the swifts to nest.

I love them – wheeling and screaming above, scything through the air.

We’ll put boxes up at St Michael’s Workington, in hope for swifts. All churches should.

Oundle deserves a mention – though we didn’t stop. The church tower seemed to be there, wherever we looked, as we swung around bends in the river.

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