Down the River by H E Bates

Having recently spent an idyllic holiday on the River Nene, I revisited a book we have had for some time. H E Bates, the famous novelist came from Rushden and wrote an evocative book about the rivers of eastern England "Down the River". There are several editions but ours is the 1987 (50th anniversary) edition which has illustrations by Peter Partington.

The book is based around two rivers, the Nene and the Great Ouse and is full of wonderful descriptions of the wildlife, flowers and people living alongside. 

Our copy has an inscription by Maggie's father Hugh, "To a family who have the luck to live between the Two Rivers". He was referring to the Chapter titled The Twin Rivers ad the fact that we live between the Two Rivers and we agree that we are lucky living in this area. With the inscription and its memories we particularly treasure this copy.  

Black-headed Gulls - we saw a lot recently near Woodford

A Lock


There are chapters on fishing, wild flowers, water mills, and otters but unusually there is an interesting chapter on lace-making. The villages in South Northamptonshire have a long history of lace-making and we live opposite a row of cottages that was a lace making "factory".  We can relate to the stories Bates relates about the craft because our village has similar. The history of how the art arrived in our part of England is retold and this is important. .

There are a least two other editions with first edition, published in 1937, having wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker. However, the 1987 edition is widely available through the usual second-hand book sellers for around £12.  Its a good read and the illustrations of the edition we have are charming.

Researching for this post has convinced me that we must also get a 1937 edition because it is illustrated with wood cuts - I love wood cuts.

Northampton, the Arm and Home

We sorted out our overnight mooring fee at White Mills on Wednesday morning (29th) and then had a pump-out so we were not "quick out of the blocks". It was an interesting manoeuvre getting out of the marina with a stiff wind against us but we managed to reverse pretty well. As we left the marina we met NB Alfred coming out of the lock. manouvre. We met this boat before at Aston Marina - it  is owned by a syndicate. It is a 67ft Steve Hudson tug with a Gardner 2LM engine so its not your average time-share boat. At one time is had a Greeves 2YWM engine. 

The family on board were taking her (Alfred) to Northampton so we shared locks all day swapping turns to set them up. We made a good team. 

Locking with NB Alfred

By late afternoon we had reached Northampton Marina. We moored up there overnight but took the opportunity to take in another tapas meal at Les Olives in the town.

Northampton Riverside

On the Thursday (30th) we left Northampton and went up the arm to Blisworth. 

Flag Iris on the Northampton Arm

An IWA working party were litter picking and carrying out maintenance in the first lock. Good to chat to our marina-friend Geoff Wood who was organising the team. They were doing a great job. Luckily the weather was good. 

Locking up the Northampton Arm gives you a sense of achievement when you get to the top. Mostly it was plain sailing but a couple of the pounds were low and a couple of locks had very hard paddle mechanisms. 

Lock under M1

Hovel at the top of Northampton Arm

We turned south at the junction and then moored up for the night in Blisworth village not far from Candle Bridge. We went for a walk to the Royal Oak but didn't stay to eat. We found it a bit disappointing.

On Friday morning (31st) we went through Blisworth tunnel, meeting only two boats, and then went down the Stoke Flight. CRT volunteers were assisting and encouraging lock sharing. We shared with one boat for the first two locks but then they moved ahead to share with a single boat in front so we then shared with a single boat who came down behind. That boat was single-handed so we (I) did most of the locking apart from the occasional help from a volunteer. They were a few site-seers around who wanted to chat and some motor homes had set up for lunch just below the Northampton Road.

Blisworth Tunnel Northern Portal

Emerging from Blisworth Tunnel

We paused by the bottom lock for lunch and reached our home moorings at Kingfisher Marina mid-afternoon. When boating we usual have car parked at the marina but this time our car was at White Mills in Earls Barton so we walked home to Potterspury over the fields. There is something satisfying about walking home to our village rather than driving. The barley in our local fields had grown whilst we had been away. In case your wondering, we picked up a car in the village, travelled to Earls Barton to pick up our car, unpacked Albert and then returned home. A great boating trip.

Walking home from the marina

Irthlingborough and Earls Barton

On the 27th and 28th and May we continued retracing our steps heading home to Yardley Gobion. On the Monday (Bank Holiday), our intention was to have a short day. We covered little ground and moved from Woodford to Irthlingborough. While we were on the move the weather continued warm and pleasant

Maggie trying her hand at a Manual Lock (Upper Ringstead)

We tried mooring up on the Friends of the River Nene moorings at Stanwick Lakes but unfortunately we were too deep drafted (or to put it another way the moorings were too shallow). Either way we failed to moor up so we moved on to the familiar ex-Rushden & Diamonds moorings. 

Irthlingborough Lock

In the afternoon we walked over to Stanwick Lakes which was busy with families enjoying the sun. As we left we had a rain shower and got wet since we failed to take any wet weather gear with us. However, being warm it wasn't too unpleasant.

The next mooring there was a lot of low cloud be it stayed dry for most of the day and we travelled up to Wellingborough for lunch and then on to New Mills Marina for an overnight mooring.

Fishing Heron


Dark clouds near Wollaston

As we approached White Mills Lock our friend Edward passed over us in a Sky Arrow aircraft. He is part of a syndicate and is building up to getting his PPL. He saw moving boats (but not ours) and he was little more than a black shape against a grey sky. But having said that, a rendezvous between a narrow-boat and an aircraft is pretty unusual.

Sky Arrow passing over Albert

We moored up on the visitor moorings at White Mills for the night. Unfortunately the Boat House cafe is closed on Tuesdays.

Moored up at White Mills again

Almost as soon as we arrived we were befriended by another thirsty racing pigeon. It was also a bit peckish so we fed it some duck food we keep on board. The markings of this bird were particularly attractive -  under its wings were bright flashes of red and its neck was iridescent. 

Another off-course racing pigeon.


On the Sunday of Bank Holiday (26th May) we left Oundle Cruising Club (OCC) visitor moorings to head upstream. Our intention was to make the short trip to the moorings at Islip. We have moored there on occasions before, including for lunch on our way downstream.

Upper Barnwell Lock

We took on water just above Branwell Lock and the cruiser moored up at OCC came through the lock as we waited by the tap. They pressed on. Although generally dry there was some rain in the air and it was a bit windy.

Wadenhoe Lock

We returned to Wadenhoe Lock and found (as I reported earlier) that the owners of the Kings Head had placed a series of Private Property signs around the site. It was very unclear what there attitude was to mooring but I presume it was negative.

Friends of the River Nene Moorings

The Friends of the River Nene Moorings (FORN) at Wadenhoe were busy with preparations for a barbeque. It was too early for us to stop since we were aiming for Islip. At Islip we were to be disappointed. On the moorings below the lock two boats were moored up with no crew on board either. There was room for us if they had adjusted their positions but with no one on board we couldn't do much about it. We went up through the lock and as we did so a working boat winded just above the lock landing. The next possible mooring was the "end of garden" FORN mooring just above the lock. This was occupied and we began to realise that Bank Holiday Monday was putting pressure on moorings. We next looked at the moorings just above Thrapston Bridge but the working boat (and another) had got there first. We had to press on.

We went on through Denford Lock and then found a small narrow boat (Merlin) following. We waited at Woodford lock and we went through together. The way the man on Merlin span the wheel of the manual operated lock was impressive. It helped that he was tall, young and athletic since he could grasp both sides of wheel.

NB Merlin

Above the lock we let them overtake since their aim was to get to Ringstead. We approached the FORN moorings at Woodford and they were also busy - on the way downstream they were empty. We did manage to persuade the other boats already there to let us sneak in between them and overlap bows. Not an ideal situation but "any port in a storm". The other crews were very friendly.

Cramped mooring at Woodford

Sunset at Woodford

Because of the unusual mooring arrangements we didn't leave the boat to explore Woodford, although we wish we could have. We did however have a good night's mooring. 


On the morning of Saturday 25th May the sun was again shining gloriously and we woke to the sound of a friendly (?) swan pecking at the side hatch. It hissed a little but didn't put his head into the boat as some have.We gave him some "duck" food - I hope it wasn't too demeaning. 

We decided that it was time to head home. We went downstream below Fotheringhay bridge to turn since turning upstream of a bridge can be a bit tricky. Our winding point was about half a mile towards Elton and Warmington Lock. Moving upstream we passed the site of the famous Fortheringhay Castle. Coming upstream we appeared to have somewhat of a better view.

A Morning Visitor

Fotheringhay Church and Castle Mound (right)

Site of Fotheringhay Castle

The plan for the day was simple, a short trip to Oundle to moor at the Oundle Cruising Club and then explore the town. The clubhouse is between the Upper and Lower Barnwell Locks and has some handy visitor moorings. I had noticed them on our way downstream but discounted them on the basis that there were some good moorings at Ashton (wrong of course).

Oundle Cruising Club with visitor moorings

Alfresco Dinner at the OCC

 The welcome we got at the club was exceptional. The volunteer staff at the bar were very accommodating and helped us get the best out of our afternoon in Oundle. We had a stroll around the town, did some shopping, had coffee and topped up provisions at Waitrose. We even discovered a wonderful plant nursery/florist called Foxtail Lilly - they are well connected to the RHS and even manage to stage pop-up Shakespeare plays.

Foxtail Lilly


On Friday 24th may we parted company with our travelling companions for the last two days (NB Critical Point). They were intending to put some miles behind them as they headed for the Middle Level. In contrast our intention was a short journey to some moorings we had used before at Ashton which is close to Oundle. The moorings were in the latest copy of Pearson (2018) so we were confident of a finding a suitable mooring.

Once again the weather was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze that was moving the barley crops. The trip down to Oundle was idyllic with few other boats on the move.

Lilford Bridge

Lilford Hall

The magnificent Lilford Hall could be seen through the trees and we were soon travelling over the Oundle School Rowing course which has marker posts every 500 m. 

Oundle School Rowing Club Stage

We took on water at Upper Barnwell Lock by the mill which is sadly no longer being operated as restaurant. and then after Lower Barnwell Lock we took the long loop around Oundle towards Ashton. 
Barnwell Mill

Ancient "Graffiti" on Barnwell Mill

The spire of the church at Oundle is visible for ages and because of the meandering river it appears in unexpected directions - a bit like the radio tower at Worleighton on the Oxford Canal. We reached our anticipated moorings by mid afternoon with the plan of walking across the field to spend the rest of the day in Oundle. Our plans were not to be because the moorings along the feeder channel to Ashton Mill were closed and tree felling was in operation. Some large unfriendly signs greeted us. Chatting to a man in a 4 x 4 visiting the site it appears the bank needs stabilising. 

Closed moorings at Ashton

With this set back we had no alternative to head on towards Fotheringhay where we were more certain of finding a home for the night.

St Andrew's Church, Cottersock

Racing Pigeon at Perio Lock
At Perio Lock we found a forlorn racing pigeon, complete with rings on both legs that was obviously thirsty. It kept lookingh down into the lock at the water. We tried unsuccessfully to  provide it with water from a bowl.

Fotheringhay Bridge

We finally reached Fotheringhay just before 4:00 PM and moored up just above the bridge and below the magnificent church. Chatting to the farmer as we paid our mooring fees, it appears that the magnificent vane on the top of the church spire has only just been restored. Its gilding was glinting brightly in the the afternoon sun. there cannot be many finer mooring spots than this.

Fotheringhay Mooring

Newly Gilded Falcon Weather Vane on 

 We walked up into the village and had dinner in The Falcon Inn. It was busy.

Royal Connections

Sunset at Fotheringhay


Wadenhoe and the Closed Pub

This is the first of a series of catch-up posts of our River Nene last spring trip. I started with the intention of regular posting on our trip but found that downstream of Irthlingborough our mobile internet reception was so patchy that it wasn't feasible.

One of the delights of the River Nene has been mooring up outside the Kings Head in Wadenhoe. We have had some happy times so on Thursday May 23rd we set off with the possible aim of mooring up at Wadenhoe. We had heard that the pub was closed for refurbishment but there was some talk of the moorings still being available. The weather was warm and sunny and we teamed up for the second day with NB Critical Point.

The reach at Woodford was spectacular in the glorious sunshine.

Woodford Church

We soon reached Denford where there are a couple of un-electrified guillotine-gated locks. They require a lot or work to operate so it was handy that we had two crews to share the load.

Manual guillotine lock

We negotiated Thrapston Bridge and went through Islip Lock and passed under the pedestrian bridge just downstream of the lock that for many years was a pinch-point for navigation but is now thankfully not a problem since they replaced it with one that has a much greater clearance. 

Approach to Islip Mill and Lock

Islip Lock

Islip Footbridge

Both boats moored up for a late lunch just downstream of Islip and then headed off towards Wadenhoe. It wasn't long before we arrived at the delightful Titchmarsh Mill and Lock which is home to the Middle Nene Cruising Club - a great location for a mooring.

Titchmarsh Lock

On the approach to Wadenhoe we found a wild swimmer. This reach appears to be a popular location for swimmers who regularly meet in the Wadenhoe Village Hall Car Park. 

Wild Swimmer at Wadenhoe

Wadenhoe Church

We did manage to moor up at the King's Head in the same spot that we used some years ago with NB Critical Point mooring close by. We joined a cruiser and another narrow boat that unfortunately deemed it acceptable to block the water point. The Village Hall was being used for the European Parliamentary Elections - not exactly busy with such a small electorate.

Mooring at the closed King's Head

We were visited by a security guard just after we moored up and he was happy for us to moor there. However, we later (on our return journey) saw more signs go up around the site and no boats tied up - it probably means that they have now decided not allow mooring. What a shame. Let's hope the King's Head gets quickly refurbished and opens again. The pub its location are a treasure and worth travelling some distance to get there.

During the evening a steam launch from Titchmarch came and turned by Wadenhoe Lock - a wonderful sight.
Steam Launch Sunbeam at Wadenhoe

It was a highly memorable day travelling through some  idyllic river scenery with some glorious weather.