21 giant watery steps…

Monday 27th June: Rowington (Grand Union) to Saltisford Arm, Warwick, 6 miles, 21 locks

The heat yesterday, the weather forecast for today, the presence of the Dutch barge moored just three hundred yards ahead and a secret ambition of the Captain’s to boat at dawn lead to an alarm clock ringing at 5am… On the radio the World Service was still broadcasting.  At 0535 the engine was eased into life and Cleddau crept past the other boats moored nearby.

 The rising sun was still low in the sky but the birds were soon awake and singing invisibly in trees and bushes. Boats had side hatches and doors open, to draw inside any coolness the night had brought.  On the back deck of one boat a golden spaniel was sound asleep; there was not a twitch or a snuffle as Cleddau passed.

Stillness. No dog walkers; no fishermen. Then just before 0630 along the towpath stumbled three figures. Three young men, not heading for any boat, but carrying camping gear and musical instruments, were making their way northward. No conversation was exchanged – but Boatwif wondered whether these were the wandering minstrels whose travels from Kent to Wiltshire she had been aware of a year or so ago…

The Shrewley Tunnel appeared: 433 wet yards of it. Drizzle and drip, drizzle and drain all the way through!  Sometime after that the Captain allowed a breakfast stop. Then at around 0730 the first of the Hatton 21 locks appeared. Still no-one about. The top lock cafe was firmly shut until 9 o’clock. A notice requested boaters to travel through the locks together so as to conserve water.  There would have to be a wait.

Within ten minutes a boat hove into view, galloped into the lock – and we were off.   “This’ll be a hard morning,” murmured an accented voice. Cleddau’s lock companions, South Africans, are on a UK “gap year”, six months house-sitting and six months of boat rental. The lady started her lock routine and then without pause the boats progressed down the hill to Warwick! At the bottom the Captain gleefully remarked on the absence of heavy rain. “Yes, just burnt to a crisp,” was the swift response. 21 deep Grand Union locks smoothly worked by four senior personages! Triumph at the 2 hours 50 minute time temporarily masked the thirst and exhaustion felt by all…

Together the boats cruised into the Saltisford Arm, a stretch of about three hundred yards run by a Trust and where residential boaters enjoy pleasant and peaceful moorings. Space permitting, there is free visitor mooring for a first night, £4 per subsequent night.  The area is secure, water and other necessary facilities are easy to access – and heart’s desire for long-term boaters, there is an excellent laundry room. Freshly laundered bedding tonight!

After lunch and showers there was time for an afternoon stroll into Warwick. Dazed with fatigue and humidity the Cleddau crew inspected the church*, a bookshop and a coffee shop.  Iced tea in a cooled room brought some relief. When seafarers reach land they see things with unblinkered eyes:  for days there have been no sightings of those modern humanoids with slinky oblongs pressed to their ears while their mouths move expressionlessly, yet here they were again in an urban environment. Odd, too, the sight in Sainsbury’s: customers in flimsy T-shirts, but staff members all clothed in fleecy, long sleeved tops to withstand their air-conditioned store!

Will tomorrow bring rain or shine? Humidity or breeze? What other strange sights will there be as Cleddau continues downhill for two more locks then starts uphill again at Radford Semele…

Tomorrow to Leamington Spa, then on to moor near Fosse Wharf.

Most unexpected sighting in St Mary’s Church: in a small oratory chapel, an altar cloth, used during the Queen’s 1953 Coronation . 

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