David: Impressed with the Nene

Published: Friday, 23 September 2016
WE SPENT the last part of our summer trip on the Nene and I was impressed with the general condition.

All the locks had freshly painted top gates and everything worked. The only maintenance issues were a couple of locations where shallows had had to be buoyed off, pending dredging. Unlike the Thames where the all too common buoys are red or green to indicate which side to pass, those on the Nene are for some reason yellow, so it is not always clear what to do. We even came across a weed cutter at work, although we did not find weed a significant problem.

Pump-out facilities disappeared

One respect in which the Nene has deteriorated since our last visit is the provision of pump-out facilities. There used to be four free ones, at Northampton, Wellingborough, Irthlingborough and Peterborough. The Northampton one has entirely disappeared, as they are building a new bridge where it used to be.

Wellingborough is still there, but now has to be paid for with a token, which you obtain by ringing a number for somebody from the EA to bring to you, which seems rather over elaborate. The Irthlingborough facility closed when the football club went bust in 2011, and there is not even a water point there, though it is still one of the best visitor moorings on the river.

Only Peterborough still functions for free and the only other pump-outs are in marinas, which are few and far between and some are quite difficult to access by narrowboat, being designed for cruisers.

Very welcoming

As usual on the Nene or any other river, moorings are not easy to find, especially for narrowboats, although we did notice some new ones which have been developed by the new Friends of the River Nene and are much to be welcomed. We did find that the boat clubs on the river are very welcoming, even to narrowboats and will find you an overnight mooring or a longer stay for no more than a modest donation to their funds.

Now that most of the bottom guillotine gates are electrified, cruising the Nene is a lot less daunting than it used to be. Sadly, there is no sign of the remaining manual gates being converted and their operating wheels are a major pest, now that they don't have handles, these being eliminated on health and safety grounds.

There is still a requirement to leave the locks empty and the guillotines raised, a rule which I don't really understand the need for. I think it may date from when there were no proper landings below the locks and you needed to be able to go straight into the lock. Nowadays all the locks have proper landings and I would query whether it is necessary to leave them empty any more. The rule does not apply to those locks which have conventional mitre gates at the bottom, so it cannot be simply to prevent the use of the locks as swimming pools.

Changed back imperial measurements

Years ago the Environment Agency metricated the speed limit signs on the Nene to read 11.2kmh.  I was pleased to see that they have all been changed back to read 7mph—is this a first benefit from Brexit? Perhaps CaRT will stop quoting boat and other measurements in metres and go back to the much more flexible and easy to understand Imperial units.

Even in August the river was very quiet—I think we only shared a couple of locks in the entire trip. I would encourage more people to cruise it; unlike the Severn or the Trent where there is not much to look at, the Nene banks are low and the countryside is very attractive—not like the Fenland flats of the Great Ouse. Even the cruise down to Dog in a Doublet was not without interest—there is a decent visitor mooring there and the pub has reopened.

Grand Union complaints

Back on the Grand Union we were once again faced by heavy vegetation on the towpath edge, often preventing mooring in otherwise suitable locations. The level of complaint from all sorts of directions, including the IWA, about this is becoming deafening and there is a double page spread in the October Waterways World about it.

CaRT's 'National Environment Manager' responds with a lengthy waffle saying how much more they are spending on the issue, but failing to explain why some canals, e.g. the Shroppie, are almost perfect, whereas others, e.g. the Oxford, are appalling. I strongly suspect that the problem is inadequate checking by CaRT of its contractor's work. Given the number of saplings growing at the edge and their size it is all too clear that the job has not been properly done in many areas for years, probably since British Waterways first put the job out to contract.

David Hymers