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1948 Holiday on the River Nene   1949 Building the Ninx 1949 Leigh on Sea to the Medway 1950 Leigh-on-Sea and Benfleet

1949: From Peterborough to Leigh-on-Sea


In my last article, I described our holiday on board the small motor-boat and how we enjoyed cruising.

“The Puffin” was a converted ship's lifeboat, 23 feet long and with a beam of 7 feet. The cabin measured 6' 6" by 9', so you will realise that it wasn't very large.

My brother David, had secured a job in Southend so was eager to return to Essex. He sold his home in Peterborough and arranged for his furniture to be transported by road but when it came to “The Puffin”, that was a different matter! To bring his ‘pride and joy’ south by removal van was out of the question and he was very loath to sell it. What he needed was a volunteer crew!

Geoff. and I were delighted to help - little realising the adventure that lay ahead. On 28th August 1949, we travelled to Peterborough and that night slept on board a motor torpedo boat which was used as the H.Q. of the local Sea Scouts and of which David and his pal were officers. No doubt they were all going to miss his company and friendship.

The following morning dawned sunny and warm and we were up early to wave goodbye to all David's friends. Needless to say, David had done his homework regarding the forthcoming trip. All the necessary ‘gen’ concerning locks, tides etc. had been thoroughly investigated so we had full confidence in his ability to achieve the object of the exercise - to get “The Puffin” to Leigh-on-Sea.

Having left Peterborough early and making good progress, we were able to tie up “The Puffin” near Alwalton Lock and to think about breakfast. As we rested and gazed up at the fields, we noticed what we thought to be many mushrooms growing amongst the grass. Geoff. bounded up the slope, to harvest them. We kept shouting instructions to him, “Over there”, “Over there” ........ but each time he was disappointed and returned to the boat empty-handed. What looked like delicious mushrooms from. the boat proved to be white paper bags littering the field! We tucked into eggs and bacon. Thus began our epic voyage. Geoff. still has the original log and it is from this that I have gleaned details of our adventure.

We made good going and moored the boat the first night at 10 p.m. and pitched the tent.

MONDAY Up and away at 6 a.m., passing through Thrapston Lock where we refuelled, obtained fresh water, used the Boat Club amenities and found ‘the natives’ very friendly people. Later in the day, we experienced our first hazard. I thought we had hit a field but, in reality, it was a dense patch of weed. David donned his swimming trunks and dived in to free the propeller, By now, the River Nene had narrowed considerably and progress was almost at a standstill.

This stretch of water had probably not been in use for years. The next lock proved very difficult to manoeuvre; a large spanner was needed instead of the usual handle. It took half an hour to negotiate this obstacle but, slowly, slowly we travelled on lock after lock. At White Mills Lock we decided to ‘call it a day’ so retired for the night at 8 p.m. before entering a branch of the Grand Union Canal.

TUESDAY Rise at 5.45 a.m. Very heavy dew and mist. We weigh anchor and proceed to Northampton Town Locks. This was very tricky because the lock was only 7' wide and the boat got wedged. The rubbing strake was removed and we managed to get “The Puffin” through.

We then commenced to climb 17 locks, each one manned by a lock-keeper. On reaching the summit, we were 274' above sea-level. At Gayton Yard we were given two souvenir books about the Grand Union Canal. The next obstacle loomed on the horizon n but as we approached the Blisworth Tunnel, we girls were in blissful ignorance as to what lay ahead! David had phoned to make sure that no other craft was approaching from the opposite direction. As we entered the black void, I must admit that I felt more than a little scared. The searchlight was switched on but it dazzled too much so we had to make do with a couple of torches, shining a beam on either side. The tunnel was 1¾ miles long and approximately 12' wide; very low and of course, very wet. Ella and I were extremely thankful to see the proverbial ‘light at the W of the tunnel’. It had been a most exciting day. We moored for the night it ten o'clock.

WEDNESDAY Proceed to Cosgrove and then on to Fenny Stratford and Leighton Buzzard. A very long day. Moor at 9.30 p.m.

THURSDAY Journeying on lock after lock and reached Tring Summit. Commenced the ‘down-grade’ not realising that we were draining all the water. At the base of our descent, we discovered two barges had gone aground and others were lining up. The female skipper of the first barge told us in no uncertain terms and in the sort of foul language we had never before heard or likely to hear again, exactly what she thought of us!

Evidently, the barge folk were not used to private craft using THEIR CANAL. (what changes have taken place since those far-off days!) However, once the barges were afloat again and able to continue their journeys, all was forgiven and they waved us Goodbye. That night, a little black kitten came aboard - surely a good omen.

FRIDAY Up at 5.15 a.m. Leaving the furry visitor behind, we journey on, in spite of heavy rain. We passed through Berkhampstead and Boxmoor but the rain became so intense, we were glad to shelter under a bridge for minor repairs. The day was very dark and gloomy but we knew that we had to reach Norwood Lock before Saturday - the last but one lock before the OPEN SEA.

SATURDAY We are behind schedule. Re-fuel. Ahead, we are confronted by a large collection of barges all berthed for the night How to move these craft to enable us to reach and negotiate the last lock, THAMES LOCK? David steered “The Puffin” while Geoff. with a couple of on-lookers managed to get the barges swinging. I remember hearing one of the locals say, “Watch out. Let’s hope the boat doesn’t get crushed like an eggshell”. Not very reassuring! As anticipated, when we entered the River Thames, the tide was out. It was 2 p.m. before we were able to proceed. This gave us time to re-fuel, freshen up and have a well-earned rest. David then had to pay the dues owing at the Toll Office.

With the in-coming tide, we prepared to leave Brentford and head for the open sea. It was our first experience and we were unprepared for the rocking and diving into the waves as “The Puffin'” punched the water. We arrived at Vauxhall Bridge at high-tide and, with the tide now ebbing, we were almost carried along and steerage became difficult. We passed under all the London bridges, Tower bridge, of course, being the last.

We were now looking for a suitable place to berth for the night. We secured the boat between two barges at Blackwall - not an ideal spot but the best we could find. The heavy swell and strong wind coupled with the wash of passing vessels, caused “The Puffin” to roll badly.

Ella, little Margaret and I came to the conclusion that we had had enough of life an the ocean wave and would leave the rest of the voyage for ‘the boys’ to complete. We decided we would get a bus and train home from Barking. So, finding our way from the river via a goods’ yard, we made our way back to Hadleigh where no one was more pleased to see us than Mother.

She greeted us with “Why didn't you write?”. We tried to explain that we had barely seen a shop, let alone a pillar-box during the course of our voyage and, anyway, we had no time to think about letter-writing. After lovely hot baths, we fell into bed. The remainder of the saga is related by ‘the boys’.

SUNDAY Settled in the tent for the night at Blackwall, they awoke every hour, intending to leave at day-break. The “Royal Eagle” came so close at one point, it nearly lifted “The Puffin” out of the water. Soon after this scare, they watched as this large pleasure steamer was grounded. “Serves you right”, ‘the boys’ muttered! Knowing that they both had to resume work on Monday, they set off in darkness and used navigation lights for the last homeward stretch. Passing Tilbury, the sea became increasingly choppy but, nevertheless, Geoff. managed to brew tea and to make egg sandwiches. They passed Canvey Island and arrived at Leigh Old Town at about lunch-time to wade ashore. GOOD OLD LEIGH MUD!

And so ended a journey of well over 200 miles involving no less than 141 locks and passing under more than 300 bridges It was front-page news in the Peterborough newspaper headlined “OVERLAND BY BOAT”.


Go to Allan's Page Our Home Page Canals Home Page 1940's Home Page Go to Deb's Page
1948 Holiday on the River Nene   1949 Building the Ninx 1949 Leigh on Sea to the Medway 1950 Leigh-on-Sea and Benfleet