Jump, jumping; jumper

Friday 1st July: Just north of Weedon to Stoke Bruerne, 12 miles, 0 locks

                For a straightforward lock-free stretch of waterway today’s cruise still seemed to involve a fair amount of jumping on and off the boat. First there was a quick stop at the One Stop in Weedon, the village shop reached via a very steep set of woodland steps down to the churchyard. Here in the lovely mellow brownstone church the ladies were busying themselves setting up for this weekend’s Patronal Festival.

                Next jumping off point was for topping up the diesel tank. (Fuel price enthusiasts who want to know diesel prices and the rigmarole associated with “self declaration” should apply to the Captain for a separate tutorial). We cruised on through rural countryside, never far from the Virgin trains hammering up and down the west coast main line. Where last year we had watched a flock of Canada geese drill their juveniles here again were the geese, though this year smaller in numbers. Past Bugbrooke Cleddau cruised, where still the Grumpy Old Git sign hangs in a tree and on past a boat harvesting energy from both sun and wind… Sun, clouds: jumper on, jumper off; jumper on, jumper off. At Anchor Farm the lambs looked well grown, the sheep content. Horses grazed in a series of paddocks. Jumper on, jumper off.

                Gayton Junction was reached where a narrow canal descends 17 locks to Northampton. An easy place to service the boat, so off jumped the Cleddau crew again. A solo cruiser owner, just off the River Soar, sought advice about the River Nene. Advice on this subject given for the second time in two days…  Departure from Gayton was rather inelegant, hastened by the arrival of Moonshadow also needing water. Both boats fought the the wind gusts…

                Then, finally, truly, Cleddau was passing under Bridge 48, no options ahead other than the Blisworth Tunnel. A van driver paused on the bridge and watched us through with a wave. It may be fifteen or so years since Cleddau last passed through this long tunnel (3,057 yards, that is 2,795 metres of it). Navigation guides record this as the longest navigable tunnel in Britain; there are five ventilation shafts and from these a heavy dousing can be felt! To the crew’s relief there were no oncoming boats. The Captain delivered his briefing: at the tunnel entrance Boatwif was to jump off the bow and secure a good mooring spot. The daylight from the edge of the tunnel grew bigger. The boat crept out; Boatwif prepared to jump. Cameras flashed. A phalanx of gongoozlers had awaited a boat’s arrival. “How was it?” shouted a voice from the towpath. Oh, er, prepare a sound bite. “ Fine, not as wet as the Harecastle, just at the ventilation shafts…” Boatwif jumped off– and walked up the towpath with her interrogators, crew from a 14’ wide boat, its passage booked through the tunnel at 8am tomorrow.

                Who could resist an afternoon amble towards Stoke Bruerne?  Boats lined the towpath, a trip boat plied up and down to the tunnel. The museum shop and cafe had a few customers, the Navigation pub a few more. But as ever the real action was at the locks. Top lock was being filled; the lock below was being emptied. Into lock 2 came two boats, one a Braidbar boat, the lonely lady lock slave a Northamptonshire vicar. The second boat spilled out women, one wearing a pretty pink sash. So many women, such little help. The boats rose, the gates opened. Out went Mrs Vicar’s boat, out went the other. Down from Top Lock came two other boats, one crashing and banging, bow-thrusting, still crashing, until both were inside lock 2.  But on the opposite bank a bear, or so it looked, was being rolled in a towel…? One of the women had  taken a dunking: jumped? slipped?  pushed? Mrs Vicar hastened back from Top Lock: no, the women were not ready to continue, so on she and husband went.  And the pink sash, viewed later, was to be worn all day: Forty but naughty… This evening two other boats with all women crew have arrived: sailor hats, plastic glasses of wine, the odd cigarette, the second one bashing into every other boat down towards the museum. Will all women parties be the next group to be barred from hiring…?!

                An intriguing exhibit lies next to the Top Lock, it’s a boat weighing machine capable of weighing up to 40 tons and originally located near Cardiff Castle. A return to the boat via the woodland trail up to the tunnel brought back memories of the last walk here, the Cheshire One a minute bundle tucked inside her father’s coat. Then we trudged through snow – but by tonight it was jumpers off all round!

Tomorrow – to Wolverton.

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