Saturday 26 September 2015


Last night's sky and its calm reflection promised fair for today's trip through to Newark – our last on tidal waters for a long time, probably. But what would the day itself actually hold?

The first thing it held was a view of a pot / teapot collection, tucked in at the side of Torksey Lock. The opposite gate (also unused) held a collection of pots and pans.

The second thing it held was fog. This was, after all, 7 a.m. during a high-pressure spell towards the end of September. But, for all that it was natural, it was extremely disconcerting! This section of the river has obstacles which are problematic for the unwary or the inexperienced.

When Erin Mae's bows are thrusting forwards into the mist, and you can't judge the line of the bend in the river that you know is just ahead, it's a little worrying. You can't pull over into a lay-by. You can just about judge how far you are from the banks. You keep your eyes and ears alert for anything large (or anything at all) coming the other way. You hope you've chosen a suitable line to take to avoid the invisible shoal, but there are no guarantees. You're cold, and the next boat back in the convoy is following your lead, in so far as he can see it.

No photos from that particular hour before the sun finally dispersed the mists, of course. Pictures of white haze don't look too good on a blog. But eventually they were dispersed, of course, and everything began to look a bit more cheerful.

Classic bits of pastoral scenery as we came past Carlton-on-Trent and North Muskham.

And eventually, through Cromwell Lock and Nether Lock, we came to Newark.

The visitor moorings were decidedly disappointing. Just one short section against a floating pontoon and the rest against a harsh, hard wall with bollards but only the occasional, badly thought-out ladder to get onto terra firma. It was a major feat of mountaineering to get my best beloved's replacement knee onto solid ground, still in one piece, and still attached to the rest of her body. It was an even greater achievement to return her safely to the boat's interior after a saunter around Newark.

But what a saunter that was! Newark seems to owe its existence to being at the point where the Trent divides into two. Great North Road engineers, centuries ago, figured that two smaller crossings were easier to construct that one larger crossing. Newark became a gateway to a crossing.

That also, of course, meant it was likely to be fought over in times of trouble, so it's hardly surprising that the castle is basically a rather attractive ruin. Large bits of it were blown up during the Civil War (Newark was a Royalist town) and large amounts of what was left were removed by the population whenever stone was required for a new house or a pigsty or something.

But the pièce de résistance was the Town Hall, which we wandered into almost by accident, seeing a sign to a museum and art gallery as we entered the old Buttermarket. Going up in the lift we encountered Andrew, a guide to the museum, who proceeded to give us, in effect, a completely personal and hugely entertaining tour of what was on show. The art gallery was an interesting collection of works by well-known artists  who came from Newark.  The museum was essentially a civic collection of things related directly to the town, so included regalia, and a mace, and samples of the Newark siege coinage – diamond-shaped coins minted from the silver of the church and the gentry to pay the garrison at Newark in 1645 / 1646, and so on. Andrew took us to see the ballroom – a stunning space by any standards, and showed us other interesting rooms and objects.

Some of them told a story, of course. This was the Proclamation Stool, which was simply a stool in the mayor's office from about 1800 to 1820. But when the rider arrived from London with news of the death of George III (he'd been on the throne for 60 years, remember), the mayor grabbed both the Town Crier and the stool, and ran out into the square. The Town Crier cried "Oyez", etc, and the mayor stood on the stool and proclaimed the death of the old monarch and the ascension of the new one. And that is the use, in fact the only use, to which the stool has been put ever since. It stands there, with a brass plaque commemorating each transition for the announcement of which it has provided a platform. We reckoned there's room for about four more. Hm…


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