Four weeks ago we came through Stanground Lock, off the River Nene and onto the Middle Levels and so on to the Great Ouse and all it tributaries. Whilst we could have spent longer exploring the countryside, we have tried to stop at the towns and villages on the way getting a flavour of the way of life, the people and lifestyle of the fenlands.
This morning we stopped at Whittlesey after going through Ashline lock.
Ian was working the lock, I got Tacet in
by the skin of my teeth very skillfully steering through the strong bywash at the entrance to the lock.
The lock is fenced off with locked gates keeping people, other than boaters who have a key out. I often wonder how long it will be before all locks are made ‘safe’ in this way.
We were joined by nb Pacemaker, there’s just room for two on the mooring behind the leisure centre.
Whittlesey is a busy market town, home to McCains frozen chips factory, with large wind turbines, visible for miles around, powering the site.
The Market Place, located in the centre of Whittlesey, is still the site of the town's market, held every Friday. A right to hold a weekly market was first granted in 1715. Because of the nearby city of Peterborough, the market is no longer of so important to the town. A traditional country auction is now held regularly under the Buttercross too.
The Buttercross is in the centre of the Market Place, and dates back to 1680. This was originally a place for people to sell goods at market. In the 1800s, it was considered useless, and orders were given for the building to be demolished. It was only saved when a local businessman donated some slate tiles for the roof. Today, it serves as a bus shelter, and is the town's most famous landmark.
A traditional town custom is the festival of the Straw Bear…….
It is peculiar to this fenland area, and traditionally happened on Plough Tuesday, following Plough Monday (after Twelfth Night). A man or boy was covered from head to foot in straw and led from house to house where he would dance in exchange for gifts of money, food or beer.
The custom died out for a while but has been brought back into being by the Whittlesea Society. It now happens on the second weekend in January and the ‘Bear’ parades through the streets with attendants and musicians, and followed by a variety of traditional dance groups performing along the route.
The pubs are filled with live music and a barn dance is held before the straw bear costume is burned on the Sunday. (photo taken from google images)
On the way to Stanground Lock we caught up with a young chap steering a small narrowboat of original design, powered by a small outboard motor. He was just creeping along and we offered him a tow.
He accepted very quickly and gratefully, we then found out it had taken him a week to get from Denver! So we saved him a bit of time and got him to the lock, he was heading for the boatyard just above the lock, so not far to go after that.
In the last couple of miles the banks get less high and we get to glimpse Peterborough Cathedral across the fields, and for the first time for a while we passed houses with gardens stretching down to the water’s edge.
And so we returned to the Nene and Peterborough.
10 miles, 2 locks