Home to Yardley

Yesterday, we finished our River Nene trip with a short trip down the Stoke Bruerne Flight to Yardley Gobion. We managed to pair-up at the second lock with a Alvechurch Boat that we out for a long weekend. They were helpful but our experience reinforced our hypothesis that the efficiency of a crew at locking is inversely proportional to their number, in this case seven crew.

Jules Fuels boats ready for autumn deliveries at Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock
(motor Towcester & butty Bideford)

Our DAB/FM/AM radio had been playing up with poor erratic reception on all channels. On investigating back at Yardley Gobion I discovered the magnetic base of the DAB aerial, which had previous served for many years as an aerial for mobile phones, had corroded away and obviously reached the end of its life. When I removed it FM reception improved dramatically (separate aerial). The DAB aerial was probably making a connection to earth and upsetting the whole radio. I ordered a replacement on-line.

Must start planning my other winter boat maintenance jobs - oil change, getting small damage to cratch cover repaired, engine service and of course touching up those hull scratches caused by locking. For the first time for a while we also need to replace lost windlasses - two.

Up the Flight and a Feathered Friend

The flight in question is the Rothersthorpe Flight on the Northampton Arm. On, Friday we tackled the seventeen locks that join the River Nene to the main line of the Grand Union. We continued our journey bring back Albert to its home base at Yardley Gobion. The weather was kind with mostly sunny periods and clear skies and with only a few clouds obscuring the sun, more of which later. It was also calm which always makes tackling locks that little bit easier.

We left Northampton Marina around 9:30 and headed under South Bridge to the first of the CRT locks. Looking back large cranes were at work on the new University of Northampton Waterside campus. Maggie is fascinated by tall cranes and how the operators climb their enormous towers to "go to work".

Reedy section on the Northampton Arm

The first section of the arm, as you leave Northampton, is a bit industrial but you soon move into a wider valley of with urban fringe. Some sections of the canal above Lock 2 are reedy and two boats would have difficulty passing but its no more difficult to navigate than, say, the Aylesbury Arm and the reed makes a the it feel more rural, Around Lock 3 we saw NB Kali depart from must have been their overnight mooring. We followed them up the flight for the rest of the morning - about two locks behind.

Around Upton Mill it became a little cloudy and we were treated to one of my favourite meteorological phenomena - a sun dog. I have reported on them before so I won't go into great detail but they are rainbow-like phenomena. At one time this sun dog was actually brighter than the sun which was obscured by a particularly black cloud.

Sun dog (centre) and sun (right) near Upton Mill, Northampton

Lift bridge and Lock 13 Gates, Northampton Arm

Just after Lock 13 you pass under the M1 in a cavern. There are many places on the canal network where canals are crossed by motorways, under Spaghetti Junction on the M6 for example, but none are quite like this. It can be gloomy place in dull weather but in bright sunlight it is less intimidating.

Under the M1

We then got into "the thick" and climbed out of the valley towards Gayton Junction. 

Albert's fore-deck getting a good wash in a lock with leaky gates

We managed well with no problem until around Lock 7 when we found a low pound. However, this apart from from some bottom gates that refused to stay closed this was our only problem. We got to the top lock in time for a late lunch (2:30). 

Being the first week-end of school half term we found a number of hire-boat crews being instructed by Alvechurch staff before taking over their boats. After a clear run through the tunnel we found Stoke Bruerne reasonably quite but it soon filled up with hire-boats, It looks like they will get good weather for their holidays.

We are used to ducks begging for food around the boat, an occasionally they visit on the bank-side, but unusually when we looked out of our galley window we found a very friendly moorhen on the towpath looking right in to our cabin. 

Our visitor at Stoke Bruerne 

We of course fed him and Maggie found out that he would eat from your hand! The next morning he turned up again, this time on the water, and with some friends. I fed him some oats (porridge for breakfast) from my hand. We often feed ducks, and occasionally swans, from our hands but this was our first for a moorhen.

Our friendly moorhen on the water

On the move to Northampton

After days of no rain and falling river levels, it rained over the weekend and the news from the Environment Agency was better. We decided that Thursday (Oct 20th) was a good day to get on the move again. The levels in the White Mills Marina were slightly up on the levels we found a few days ago and we had heard that a fully laden fuel boat had come downstream. The weather was dry, although there were showers around, and there was an autumnal feel to the day.

As we left White Mills we found another boat was going upstream - a 69 ft Gardner-engined boat called Kali. Together we worked the locks up to Northampton. It all went well and we had no problems with water levels up to the Washlands. At Weston Favell lock we met an Environment Agency launch going downstream - in the launch was our contact who I had been talking to over the last few days. He reassured us that today was a good day to be on the move

On the river near Cogenhoe

He was right, there was plenty of water in the shallower parts of the Northampton Washlands but when we reached the canalised section between Rush Mills and Abington Lock it was very shallow with levels down over a foot. A boat coming the over direction warned us about rocks just below the surface.

Northampton Washlands

We got to Northampton just before 3:00. Arriving at Northampton Town Lock we found it much changed from our recent journey going downstream. Contractors have been working for sometime on the new Waterside Campus of the University of Northampton. Whilst we were "away" they had installed the steel work of a new pedestrian bridge across the River Nene. It curves its way across several arms of the river from Beckets Park. My photo from the lock doesn't do the bridge justice but it might be one of the earliest since we were told it was only installed on Wednesday. What you can see is part of the steel box-section that will support the deck.

New bridge at Beckets Park (Northampton Town Lock)

Because we arrived at a reasonable hour at Northampton Marina we took a stroll into town and visited Northampton Museum which features the shoe trade. It's a fascinating museum with some amazing shoes on show. A notable exhibit is the recently donated pair of size 21 Nike trainers found in a petrol station and unclaimed. They are enormous - can't be many with shoes that size!

There were also the Addidas spikes worn by Chris Chataway when he combined with Roger Bannister and Chris Brasher to run the first under four-minute mile.

Chataway's Addidas spikes

River Nene Low Water Levels

The wide River Nene near Northampton

Its not unusual to have navigation problems on rivers because water levels are high and currents are strong. What is rare, so far as we concerned, is the situation we now find ourselves in. Unable to navigate on a river because of low water levels.

We have had a glorious weeks boating on the River Nene with dry weather. Water levels have been low, streams slow and bridge heights generous. All was going well until yesterday when we heard from the Environment Agency (EA) about the levels of water in the Northampton Washlands area. It appears that the wide broad river upstream of Weston Favell Lock had become seriously shallow and levels were still falling making life difficult for boats to get to and from Northampton. This area is part of the extensive flood relief schemes near the town that store water and reduce the risks of flooding.

Albert draws around 30 inches of water. A week ago we found it difficult going downstream across the Washlands into Weston Favell Lock, picking up lots of weed around the prop and having to negotiating our way through the shoals before we reach the flood gate just above the lock. The thought of trying this again but with water levels even lower made us concerned. The problem is that getting stuck in the broad Washlands would not be trivial and the EA informed us that they no longer have the facilities to recover any stranded boats. They advised not proceeding but as normal "it's up to you".

We have therefore called a temporary halt on our return to Yardley Gobion and are at the new White Mills Marina near Earls Barton. The staff there are very helpful and friendly and are similarly concerned about levels. It will need to rain in the River Nene catchment before we can progress further with any confidence. At the time of writing the EA haven't yet issued a navigation notice but we have heard that the Northampton Boat Club have boats "sitting on the bottom". Deciding when it is safe for us to proceed may be tricky. We will need to keep contacting the EA and hope for rain.

Boating is always an adventure.


We left our moorings at Islip and headed upstream towards Northampton. The weather was bright, and the wind lower than yesterday, but clouds and colder weather were forecast. Close to Woodford lock we saw the local hunt out complete with hounds.  As we were about to leave the lock NB Yarwood approached. We had a chat and decided not double up at the next lock because they had already agreed to share with a following crew. They did however help close the guillotine gate and gave us a useful tip - you can use a screwdriver to as a temporary handle, replacing those long since removed on spurious health and safety grounds. 

Manually-operated guillotine lock 

We haven't met many boats on the move but today at two locks we met boats going downstream. One when we unfortunately had already dropped the water, but the other luckily just as we were about to leave the lock.

As the day progressed, as predicted, the clouds rolled over and the temperature dropped. Close to Irthlingborough an aerobatic team were on a training flight, I had to be careful not to be distracted.

We moored up at the "Rushden & Diamonds" moorings again and had a late lunch. This was followed by a walk into Irthlingborough. It doesn't have the charms of Thrapston. We also had to walk past the disused Nene Valley stadium which reinforced our gloom about what used to be superb moorings. Having said that, the view across the nature reserve is attractive and there is plenty of room for boats.