Day 19 – Gainsborough to West Stockwith

Miles walked: 5.5

Weather: Mainly sunny, but cold and windy

One reason we were glad to push on to Gainsborough last night was there was an Aegir predicted for this morning. We’d been thinking that given our laggardliness, we weren’t that likely to get up in time to walk from Marton to Gainsborough in time to see it. But even we could manage to see it if we were on site.

The Aegir is a bore – like a tidal wave coming up the river. It’s named after the Norse god of the sea. The Vikings invaded down the Trent, and a lot of the place names round here reflect that influence. They used to say that the Aegir was when the sea god was angry. And that he would take three lives a year.

A big Aegir can be 5 feet tall, and travels down the river ‘at the speed of a galloping horse’ (thank you again, Mr Fort). It’s caused by a big tide coming in, magnified by the funnel of the Humber Estuary. The Bristol Channel does the same funnelling for the Severn Bore.

I’ve read in lots of places that the Trent and the Severn are the only two rivers in Britain with a bore, but according to wikipedia, there are ones on loads of British rivers. It’s just that the Severn and the Trent ones are the largest and most reliable.

The Trent Aegir varies in size and the Environment Agency has a handy prediction chart on their website. Aegirs vary in size from one to five stars. In the whole of 2012 there were only one or two star bores predicted. Today’s was supposed to be a two star. The EA chart said it should come at 9.52am, but every local we spoke to said it would be an hour earlier than that.

We came down for breakfast at 8am, expecting an Aegir at 8.50ish. Ross finished eating quickly, and went upstairs to pack, planning to come back down for 8.50am. At 8.40am I was just mopping up my egg, when the guesthouse woman shouted, ‘It’s coming!’ from her kitchen. I could hear a sort of rumbling noise. I ran through, and we both leaned over her sink to watch a swell of water travel upriver, sloshing and breaking at the bends. Locals 1, Environment Agency 0.

It was maybe a couple of feet high. Two things surprised me about it. One was that the front looked more like a swell, a rise in the water. It didn’t break like a wave. The other was that the water behind the front, while not quite as high as the wavefront, was much higher than the water ahead of it. It wasn’t like a wave travelling along the river, it was like a higher step of river barrelling upstream.

You could see how you wouldn’t want to be out in a canoe on it.

Ross was disappointed to miss it. I tried to reassure him it hadn’t been that impressive. We finished packing and frantically googled for places to stay in West Stockwith (where we were due to perform at 3pm), or a few miles further on from it. We discovered that the Waterfront Inn, where we were due to perform that afternoon, did B+B. We phoned and they said they had been doing up a new room and it might be ready in time. ‘We’re hanging the curtains now’. We felt like the Queen.

West Stockwith is only 5.5miles on from Gainsborough, so we had plenty of time. Of course this meant we could go for a cup of tea. We headed into Gainsborough, where Reeds Coffee Shop had offered to host an event. Sadly we’d already arranged West Stockwith when we heard from then, but I’d said we’d pop in on the way and do something little if there were people around.

There were no customers in the coffee shop when we arrived, but they gave us a lovely (free!) pot of tea anyway. The sun was shining (despite the cold wind) and they were so nice in the coffee shop, that we warmed to Gainsborough a lot. A few people came in and we eavesdropped on their chats about the Aegir. Mainly they discussed how the predictions this year are totally off, when last year’s were really good. ‘I bet they’ve got a new man doing it’, was the diagnosis.

Heavy rain was predicted for the next couple of days, and Ross had left his waterproof at Mum and Dad’s. We headed further into town to look for a charity shop. Gainsborough Market Square was a lot nicer than our wanderings last night had suggested. Although there were still a lot of dead pubs and derelict buildings. Several people we spoke to later said, ‘You should have seen it ten years ago – it’s so much better than it was.’

I found an amazing fringed cardigan in one shop, which I decided was appropriately storytellery, and light enough I could bear the extra weight of carrying it. I have a bit of a charity shop addiction. Ross found a semi-waterproof jacket, with bright yellow arms (‘I look like I’m disguised as a wasp!’), and we had a nice chat with the staff about the Trent and the Aegir.

We set off to see Gainsborough Old Hall, pausing outside the shop to argue about the best way to get there. The woman from the charity shop saw us looking at the map and came out to help. She walked round the corner to show us the way and point out other sights of interest. People in Gainsborough were really so nice. Occasioning, of course, more smugness about the North from Ross.

Gainsborough Old Hall was a striking timber-framed Medieval manor house. We decided this was the perfect setting for Ross to play Greensleeves on his ukelele. There’s a little video of him doing that below.

We set off, eventually, for West Stockwith, and strode along in the sunshine. We arrived at the Waterfront Inn at 2.30 and they immediately made us a lovely cup of tea. It’s set looking out over a marina and feels like the seaside. We loved West Stockwith.

Karen and Stu, the couple who ran the pub, were so kind and welcoming. From the first moment we arrived, locals were coming in for a quick pint to catch up and have a chat with them. They were all interested in what we were doing and happy to tell us stuff about the history of the place and the life of the river in times gone by.

Ross immediately declared West Stockwith his favourite place we’d visited. Of course we later discovered it’s actually in South Yorkshire – the only place we’d been that was in Yorkshire. He’s such a Yorkshire snob.

It turned out that when we set up the performance time, they’d thought we would be going on somewhere else later that evening. In fact they’d have preferred us to do it later when more people were around. I can’t properly remember the conversation we had when setting it up, it was a shame we hadn’t all realised this then and could have scheduled things differently. We discussed it with them and agreed to do it later on when more people were around, but of course there wasn’t a chance to let lots of people know.

We chilled out and wandered around, exclaiming at how nice West Stockwith was in the sunshine. About 7pm we started the show, to, admittedly, a small audience. One couple in particular though were really supportive and interested. They came to talk to us afterwards, and bought us drinks, and they were utterly lovely.

She used to be a local news journalist, we talked about how your balance your responsibility to journalism with your responsibility to your humanity. He was born in a Leeds terrace, but joined the army at 18, became an engineer, and did well for himself.

They’re both retired now, and clearly still totally in love. She’d grown up in Lancashire, but moved this side of the pennines to be with him. They bickered about who’d swept who off their feet. They have a pet blackbird who they rescued as a fledgling from the neighbour’s cat. ‘People think I’m eccentric, but I don’t care at all.’

Once again I thought what a joy it’s been to meet some of the people we’ve met doing this. It’s really been all about the people.

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