Monday, 6 April 2009

Beeston to Cranfleet

An early morning departure through the lock on a calm, misty morning. Picking T up is easy and he hops aboard as we push past the stone jetty. I have cleared the rear cross-bed so that we have access through the interior of the boat; it’s just too dangerous to use the gunwales on an open river above big weirs. I am also conscious that we do not yet have any life-jackets and the gunwales do not have non-slip surfaces. The engine motors up nicely although I am convinced it is misfiring under load.
The languid Trent seems benign enough, but the GPS shows we are moving very slowly. I spent last night reading up everyone’s comments about this stretch so stick to the left bank. All is quiet on a Monday morning, and we motor on past the Attenborough Nature Reserve. This great network of managed wetlands has become one of Britain’s best known bird migration centres and one of the very few places one can see bitterns. I am hoping we will have time on the way back to spend some time there.

The left bank is lined with willows and ash, while the right bank holds an eclectic linear community of river-dwellers. There is no road access on this side, so the houses – of all kinds and shapes and sizes – are constructed with whatever is brought across by boat from Beeston. Several houses have developed a long way beyond the wooden shack, and have seen the services of good architects. One particular house, on long stilts, is particularly impressive: no expense spared. Its roof rears up at the front like a sail and swoops low at the rear; the pale wooden beams glow in the sunshine. Just doors away, others are content with rusty caravans.

The cool water sluices past us as we continue round the bends. The River Erewash, one of the Trent’s smaller tributaries trickles in through the Attenborough reserve and big steel flood gates. A steady procession of mums walk the riverside path on the flood berm – it’s not really a towpath when it is behind trees so much of the time.

The big river narrows noticeably at the village of Thrumpton, where the remains of a stone wharf indicate the location of the former ferry. Nowadays there is no crossing between Sawley and Clifton, other than the old Midland Railway line near Trent Lock. As the tall trees close in on the dark waters, a curious sign suggests that we go straight ahead while those heading downstream move over to the right bank. Why? There is an obstruction in the water but there would seem absolutely no room for downstream traffic to squeeze between it and the bank as the signboard suggests. Curious.

The Cranfleet Cut appears ahead of us and we slow down onto the pontoon. A small cruiser is inconveniently moored two-thirds of the way along it, and the current from the Trent curving away here pushes us towards it. Most narrowboaters take a lot of care to avoid the GRP cruisers, but it is surprising how a small number of cruiser owners seem to deliberately put their boats in harms way.

A gang of helpful BW maintenance men help us up through the Cranfleet Lock and we slowly emerge past the lovely little marina – maybe just 20 boats moored miles from anywhere. We pass a collection of residential boats and tie up for lunch.

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