Saturday 25th June: Wilmcote to Lowsonford, 7.5 miles, 9 locks
After heavy rain yesterday evening and during the night it was bound to be a soggy start today. Just after 9am Cleddau’s engine was started – just as sixty walkers were trooping down on to the towpath to start a 20 mile charity walk. For the first mile or so Cleddau shadowed the black T-shirted pack. Gradually the pack began to spread out along the towpath as faster walkers romped ahead.
“Just what charity are you walking for?” the inquisitive Boatwif enquired from the front deck.
“Cure Leukaemia,” replied a walker. “We’re from Moseley, Birmingham, linked to Moseley Rugby Club.”
“Moseley? Why I have a cousin there. She lives in …” and Boatwif gave the name of her street.
“ Why, that’s just around the corner!” exclaimed the walker.
While still reflecting on this curious coincidence a rattle started, not that dissimilar from yesterday’s. A call to the back deck. “You take control,” hissed the Captain. “I’m pulling the hatches up.” An exposed engine at your feet while trying to steer is a hazard generally to be avoided. (Worse, though, is to have that experience while running on a fast flowing river, as happened on the Thames three years ago). The noise persisted: weed hatch job. Cleddau was pulled in to the bank, Boatwif standing in the wet grass rope-holding, walkers trailing past. But nothing of significance was detected down the weed hatch. So, engine on again and the cruising continued. Still the rattle persisted: the Captain prowled around the back deck, listening and sniffing, sniffing and listening. No alteration to performance – but the rattle remained. Talk of boatyards… talk of causes. Gloomily the conclusion was reached that this may be the beginning of the end for the gearbox…
At the next lock a little more information from the Rugby Club members: every year an annual charity walk, in recent years British Heart Foundation and Air Ambulance have been their charities. Today’s walk is in memory of the club coach’s young daughter, who died aged eight from leukaemia. And yes, the Rugby Club is “just round the corner” from Brum Cuz’s address.
On we cruised. Just before Wootton Wawen two day boats waited for our lock. Quiet and demure were the crew of the first; the second though were amongst the most dastardly, most swashbuckling, band of pirates ever encountered. Eye-patches, bandanas, swords, moustaches. Then a female voice addressed us: “ It’s a pirate’s life for me. Have ye got any rum?” Our ships pass, theirs into the lock, ours towards the aqueduct. Relief that Cleddau was not boarded as surely her crew would have been outnumbered.
It was at Wootton Wawen that the next charity group became apparent, these, on bikes and Action Aid for Children the motif on their red T-shirts. “ National charity, Barnardo’s re-named,” was the explanation.
The cruise continued. Around a bend we came to find a work boat floating free at its stern. Cleddau crept past, towards a narrow bridge hole. An approaching boat crept through the bridge hole, around Cleddau, inched past the workboat and went on its way. To the rescue went the Captain, Boatwif left in charge, under bridge 50, only horseflies for company, while he scrambled across a muddy bank and onto the barge to try to secure it. Success at the second attempt.
The rattle had steadied, lessened – then, it is thought, disappeared! Was its cause a rogue attachment of some form of debris to the hull?
A fine mooring at Lowsonford, right opposite the inviting Fleur de Lys pub. When last we tried it, a December Sunday some years ago, Relief Captain and his Mate were with us, but then roast and only roast dinners were available. We left.
Last point: during an afternoon walk further along this pretty canal, ducks and fungi and barrel-roofed cottages very apparent, Boatwif came across a BW lengthsman poking around behind a lock gate with a large pole and scoop. A chat: he optimistic about the changing status of British Waterways from government agency to charitable trust, greater scope for volunteer involvement.
Is this the Big Society or just people following their own interests?
Tomorrow to Shrewley Tunnel, on the Grand Union Canal.