Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Onwards and backwards

After some hemming and hawing, we decided this morning that we would make the assault on Holme Fen, that tiny outpost of the Middle Level that has defeated better boaters than us (but that was in the summer when it was weedy). There’s a plaque you can get, you see, for reaching four obscure corners of the Middle Level. We’ve already – all unknowing – done two of them (but sadly neglected to get our card stamped, or whatever form of proof the plaque distributors require).

I was dispatched to Ramsey for provisions (milk and a toothbrush for Baz) while he got his first lessons in starting, running and generally caring for the engine, as he hopes to come up later in the year with some friends … The Co-op, as befits a sound socialist outfit, of course wasn’t open on Boxing Day, so I went up to Somerfield. Ditto, the Guardian wasn’t published, so I bought the Telegraph. Jim has a bit of a soft spot for it as it was the family paper he read as a boy; as a fully paid up Guardianista I find it rather amusing, if occasionally disturbing. Well, there were two (sympathetic, natch) articles about private schooling, and a big feature about how hunting is making a comeback. The thing is, every time I buy the Telegraph, there are two sympathetic articles about private schools and a big piece about hunting. Does this mean that it’s like it every day?

So, we left the marina at half past twelve, about half an hour after leaving the berth … it is quite tight – and we were on our way, through Lodes End Lock (level, gates open but loosely chained together, and all contained within a locked compound with spikes and everything – now what’s that all about?) for the first time, up the Nene Old Course, headed for Holme Fen. There was mulled wine mulling away on the back cabin stove, gradually transmuting into mulled ale, as the day wore on and the wine ran out, and the greatest success of the day (that tells you something of what’s to come) was our dinner: all yesterday’s leftovers mixed up in a tin and stuck in the oven of the back cabin stove, and eaten on the move. (Only recommended for vegetarian leftovers, I think, perhaps, although it was so hot even turkey would probably have been OK.)

At about two o’clock we turned onto the New Dyke, which is marked on the map as having a turning place at the end, which is (as far as I know) at Holme Fen. Trouble is, we never got as far as the end. After an hour during which the channel got satisfying narrower and shallower, making us feel really intrepid, we encountered a tree across the channel. It was, to be honest, only a little tree, but it was getting very shallow there too, and after two attempts we decided that we weren’t going to get through. So of course we had to reverse back to the junction, which is every bit as much fun as it sounds. Including an unsuccessful attempt to wind in a little (too little, as it turned out) branch channel, it took us an hour and three quarters to get back to the junction of the New Dyke and Monks Lode, where we have stopped for the night, as it was getting dark.

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