Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article Tyro on the Trent is the copyright of Jim Shead A trip down the tidal river. First published in Waterways World October 1995
Tyro on the Trent
"We tried to go down the Trent last July but it flooded and we were stranded at Torksey for a week". "The gravel barges in front stopped, we tried to pass and we found that the barges were aground and we were too". These are typical of the remarks provoked by the statement that we were going down the Trent to Keadby, so it was with some trepidation that I, a first timer on the Trent, anticipated the voyage.
We had a gentle introduction to the river, joining it at the junction with the Soar Navigation. Having just come down the Soar from Leicester the Trent did not appear to be much different, but of course this was the tame, locked, section - not the tidal Trent of the boaters stories. Cranfleet Cut, which formed our first three-quarters of a mile, was positively canal like. At Cranfleet Lock we met a local boater who advised us to moor by Sainsbury's in Nottingham. This proved to be good advice as there are visitor's moorings with rings, a boat yard, restaurants and a bar as well as the shopping facilities. At this point the navigation is the Nottingham Canal not the River Trent, which is not navigable through the city. The rest of the Nottingham Canal was abandoned in 1937 but this section was taken over by the Trent Navigation Company.
At Nottingham our daughter, Rosemary, and her friend, George, joined Beryl and me for a weeks cruise. In the afternoon we moved the boat to moor outside the Canal Museum, so that we could meet them in the centre of the city when they arrived. After showing them our new boat and having some refreshment we set off through the last lock on the Nottingham Canal and out on to the Trent again. We reached Holme Lock to moor for the night, this is an interesting spot as it is right beside the white water canoe run, part of the Nottingham's National Water Sports Centre.
The next day we went through Holme Lock, the first of the big Trent Locks, operated electrically by lock keepers and controlled by traffic lights. At each lock the keeper would ask where we were going and radio ahead to the next lock keeper. The lock would then be ready for us when we arrived. This is real luxury boating. Another feature of the Trent is large signposts, rather like motorway signs, showing the routes to locks and the position of weirs and obstructions. We stopped at Gunthorpe to do some shopping and moored on a floating pontoon, which forms the visitor's moorings and is only accessible from the shore by way of gate secured using a British Waterways key. Gunthorpe is a neat and tidy village with three pubs gathered by the river and a Post Office and general store combined keeping its distance some way down the main street. After Gunthorpe the Trent continues through open countryside with some occasional villages visible from the banks. There are few suitable places to moor but one of these is at Fiskerton, a delightful village that looks down on the river from the top of its high flood wall.
At Newark on Trent we were joined by our elder daughter, Angela. We moored just below Newark Town Lock, opposite the castle, a picturesque setting but a place where the top of the concrete banking protrudes several inches threatening the boats side above the gunnels. This called for some improvised fixing of fenders before we could leave the boat to visit the town. Newark is a pleasant town with old fashioned shops in narrow streets and a market in the central square, as well as the usual multiple stores and a supermarket. It also has a good selection of pubs, including one on the river in a converted grain barge.
The next day we soon reached Cromwell Lock and the start of the tidal Trent. I asked the lock keeper about the tide and he said we could go straight on to Torksey, our planned stop for the day. We made fast progress on the 14 miles to Torksey, the junction with the Fossdyke and one of the very few places to moor on the tidal Trent. Our only problem so far was hitting one of the submerged islands that are the main hazard to navigation on this stretch of the river, but we were soon off with little difficulty. After passing the island we looked back and saw a warning sign for craft going upstream, we must have missed the downstream sign, for although all these submerged islands are marked the signs are fairly small compared to the "motorway" signs we had seen on the non-tidal river. Power stations seem ever present on the Trent, there is nearly always at least one in sight, but the scenery is rural and there is plenty of wildlife to see - heron and great crested grebe are particularly common. Passing Besthorpe Wharf we saw a gravel barge being loaded, these barges form the major part of the river's commercial traffic.
At Torksey we moored on the floating pontoon which is provided for transit craft just before the lock that is the entry point to Fossdyke, built by the Romans in the second century and therefore a contender for the title of the oldest canal in the country. I consulted the Lock keeper about the final 27 miles of the tidal Trent and he told me we needed to leave at 7.30 next morning to catch the tide, and warned me of the shallow points on the river and of the currents around Keadby Lock where we had to turn off of the Trent onto the Stainforth & Keadby Canal. He also advised us to turn the boat in case there were a lot of boats moored the next morning when we needed to turn back on to the river from the entrance to the Fossdyke. We took his advice, although with our boat moored alone, no passing craft and several empty mooring stages, it seemed unlikely that there was going to be a rush, but by the evening all the mooring places were filled and boats were double moored.
The next morning was grey, but otherwise fine weather, as we set on the final leg of our trip. Following the lock keepers advice we pushed on against the tide for the first hour, the tide would turn to assist us for the final part of the journey. Every navigation marker on this stretch of the river seemed to be topped by a cormorant. We passed several large gravel barges which caused us to bounce up and down in a way that, although common at sea, is not usually experienced on narrow boats. However a NRA boat coming up the river managed to create even more wash than the gravel barges.
Before we got to Gainsborough I spotted an animal on the river bank which, as we passed it, could be clearly seen to be a large seal, lying on the grass like an over-weight sunbather, one flipper in the air as if giving a nonchalant greeting. Perhaps this is a common sight on the Trent but I found it amazing that a seal should have come about 30 miles up from the Humber, and even further from the open sea. Gainsborough is of interest being the only large town on the tidal Trent and it has some waterside buildings which formerly supported its trade as a port but now appear forlorn and neglected. About five miles on at West Stockwith we saw the lock gates that mark the start of the Chesterfield Canal, a waterway we hope to explore on some future trip.
Arriving at Keadby at 12.15. I followed the advice I had received at Torksey to the best of my ability, turning right in a complete circle to enter the lock against the tide, but this did not stop me giving the lock a hard bang, luckily the front fender took the shock so there was no real damage done. Of course the Keadby lock keeper told me exactly how I should have done it - after we were safely in the lock. Even after this advice I felt that what I really needed was more practice, however I will save that for my next trip down the Trent.
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