Length:  ?? km / ?? miles
Catchment:  ?? km2 / ?? miles2 

The River Kym isn’t shown as navigable on the waterways maps.  In fact, they say, definitely, “not navigable”.  But it is.  The “Kier Hardie” was 45 feet in length and 7 feet and a bit in beam, and he’d been up and down this river quite a lot.  It isn’t easy mind.  There are some tight corners and some seriously overhanging trees, and quite often you’re steering from the stern with no visual clues as to what’s happening at the bow; nothing but your faith in your own knowledge of the river or, if you’re lucky, the cries of your crew from the other end.

“Fuck..” “Jesus..”          “Look out...”

“What’s the matter...”

“Bloody branches...  They’re sweeping us off.”

“That’s okay, that’s normal.  Let me know if there are any boats suddenly appearing.”


You have to compensate for the bends and the narrowness by driving the bows into some of the low hanging foliage.  The crew sometimes think you’re doing it simply to wind them up.  A narrow boat steers from the stern so the bows have to be kept tight to the navigable line and the stern has to be exageratedly swung about to achieve this.  Novice crews sometimes feel quite bitter on this stretch of the river.

They approached the A1(M) motorway; the Great North Road.  It passes over the river on great thick pillars of concrete and steel.  The bridge is screened by yet more dense willow.  He knew roughly where the concrete pillars were, but only roughly.  He certainly couldn’t see them as the bows entered the willow face.

“Make sure we don’t hit the bridge,” he shouted.

He heard more expletives.  Mostly from Sarah and Eileen.  Richard was simply nattering away with an incessant stream of advice.  He was actually quite calm.

He throttled well back, but he couldn’t take it right out of gear or they’d be stranded for another 30 minutes waiting for forward gear to engage again.  Everyone on board felt they are heading for an uncertain destiny a shade too fast.

They were half way through the willow.  He heard them shouting about barge poles and fending off.  There was a soft crunch.  Ahh, that’s not too bad, he thought to himself.  As the stern emerged from the willow, he could see the bows well under the bridge and bravely being pushed off the left hand pillars by the urgent crew. 

“Don’t push too hard,” he shouted.  “It’ll swing too far over and hit on the other side.”  His voice reverberated under the cold bridge. 

He got a couple of exasperated glances, and a few comments.  They too reverberated.  What an atmosphere.  You could reach up and touch the bridge from the deck.  He did this.  It’s good luck to touch bridges as you go under them.  It was cold, clammy, gritty.  Vague sounds of traffic passing over muffled through.

The boat was lining up nicely for the exit on the other side of the bridge which happened also to be a fairly sharp right hand turn.  He was fending off the stern now.  The others were beginning to compensate for their earlier desperate exuberance.  They glided beautifully through, out from under the bridge and exquisitely around the right hander.  Everyone eased up.  Smiles all round now. 

There was a straight stretch coming up as they passed through, of all things, a golf course.  He always got stick here.  Some r-soul inevitably offered helpful advice along the lines of “You’re not really supposed to be on this river you know.”  To which he would inevitably reply, “Well, you’re not really supposed to be anywhere in England, are you.”

On this occasion, the golfers were too far away to disturb them with helpful advice.  They and their jolly carts were trotting round the more distant greens.  If they spotted the boat, they’d gawp for a bit.

The sun was warm.  It was pleasant.  The stress of his separation from Bluefields had eased up.  His broken and useless dreams now lay on the other side of the Great North Road.  He was on his way to his new job; new career; new life-style.

Past the main part of the golf course, the manicured slopes and troughs, the river bank turns wild again.  More reeds and weed, more overhanging trees, occasional action from the ducks.  It’s a bit wider here; not so stressful on the crew.  It’s also quieter.  He could hear Richard boring Sarah and Eileen to death with some excruciating detail about some horrifyingly insignificant trivia.  He wondered if he should save them.  Naw...  Let them sort it out.

They came to a bend in the river where he usually had to turn the boat when he was heading back to Bluefields.  This is because this is the last point in the River Kym where a 45 foot boat can possibly turn.  The form is, drive the nose of the boat hard into the muddy elbow in the river just here, throw the helm hard over, and with the engine full on, swing around, scraping the opposite bank with the stern, struggle against the force of the overhanging trees, and when the stern has swung clear upstream of the bow in the mud, hit reverse and hope it comes free.  Might have to rock it from side to side a bit as the engine labours, just to help the engine extricate.  Then you motor up the rest of the way in reverse.  Quite tricky in a narrow boat.  They don’t steer very well going backwards.

Well, he won’t be doing that again.  He suffered another pang as he realised that even this tortuous manouvre was now part of the hole which Bluefields was leaving in his life.

Where the Kym eventually joins the Great River Ouse, there is a marina.  The marina has moorings for plastic boats along the bank of the Kym as well as along the bank of the Ouse.  The moorings along the Kym make the final stretch even more exciting.

The Kier Hardie was about nine tons of steel.  When a steel narrow boat strikes a plastic boat, it is more than just embarrassing.  It is often terminal for the plastic boat.  The good gin swilling citizens peered out, concerned, as the travellers hove in to view.  You could see concern confusing their features - contempt being what they prefer to convey.  Narrow boats don’t have much material status.

His crew was on the alert.  He’d briefed them fully on the dangers here.  The Kier Hardie was going as slowly as he could manage.  The added complexity was that, if by mistake he should slip it into neutral here, there was every likelihood that the momentum would carry them broadside into two or three of the buggers.  But he was a practised hand, and they made their way by without mishap.

At the mouth , just opposite the marina, is a little island.  There are buildings on it, but he’d never ever seen a sign of human life there.  For one thing, the seasonal floods submerge it regularly.  You can see the flotsam and jetsam high in the bushes as you glide by.  Lovely little island, but not for people.  Just as well really.

The island presented them with the choice of turning left or right to join the main channel.  They took the left, and his crew looked carefully both ways as they entered the main channel.  Naturally he was gambling that no one was coming.  The gearbox being what it was, he couldn’t really stop.  Mercifully, they shouted an all clear and the boat headed downstream for the first lock about a mile away.

Taken from "Farewell to Bluefields - A Chronicle of Defeat"  - Henrison Martin