Six Locks before Breakfast … and the Mystery of the Missing Boat
0640 departure from Braunston Turn to maximise travelling in the cool of the day (that was the theory!)
It was fascinating passing through the stretch at the bottom of Braunston locks as so many work and traditional boats are tied up, presumably in readiness for the big Traditional Boats Rally this weekend. The locks were quiet, but the gates heavy; eventually we reached the top, cruising past a row of moored boats, the most wonderful smell of frying bacon and bread coming from one. (It was 0815, the alarm had gone off at 6am and we still hadn’t had breakfast!) Braunston Tunnel is within a couple of hundred yards of the top lock; we were waved down by a British Waterways workman and told to moor up until the wide boat, which had booked an 8am passage, emerged. It didn’t… and it didn’t, so after a radio conflab with the equivalent BW guy at the other end we were waved in.
A light approached us: “Are you the wide boat?” I shouted.
“No,” came the reply, “but there’s a boat behind us.”
“Are you the wide boat?” I shouted again.
“No.” Again a reply. ” But it’s a fibreglass boat”.
The crew of said boat used a boathook to steady themselves against the tunnel roof as we passed by.
We reached the other end, relieved not to have either met “Wideboat” head-on or to have carried out a mega-reversing procedure.
And the missing boat? Confusion: BW was expecting it to go east -west, instead of which it was sitting at Brauuston waiting to go west–east!
On reaching the next locks some four miles later we were puzzled to a small crowd of bodies all in high visibility jackets moving around the top lock: what a bonus, they were volunteers from the Buckby/Whilton Lock Flight Association set on painting the lock gates; equipped they were with windlasses as well as paintbrushes and they were keen to use both! The following six locks were slow but sociable. Travellers on the Milton Keynes / Rugby / Stoke rail route will recognise this stretch. Indeed, an information panel at one point refers to the rail, canal, motorway (M1) and Roman Road (A45) in that area.
Some interesting names of today: Cabbage Cottage and Toad Hall (lockside cottages near Buckby). Boat names new to me: Claret (and you can guess the boat’s main colour) and Fluke, which made me think of a mishap, a stroke of luck – and, wasn’t it the name of a 1950’s cartoon character?
If I were to expand on animal tales of today, well, there’d be the stygmatised young swan harshly warned off another pair’s cygnets, or the bankside Canada goose class, fluffy infants all sitting quietly, as if at story-time, guarded by two adults, the adolescents meanwhile doing supervised exercise class further along the bank, or the disobedient ducklings running away from a disgruntled mother – or the story of the sheep stuck on a bridge…
We paused at Weedon for a token restock, difficult when the High Street contains antique shops, a bridalwear shop, a pram stockist and a shop for “Boarders”, whether skate, snow or surf boards I could not distinguish… I had to ring for a boat taxi – but that’s another story.
As for tonight, we are moored up on new waters, to us, on the Northampton Arm, just above the top lock. Mooring was akin to a Kennet and Avon experience, undergrowth, gangplanks in the water, thorns in the flesh – but now we’re here it is pleasant and out of earshot from the roaring road traffic. Northampton is about five miles and 17 locks down to the east of us.