Whose space is it anyway?
Sunday 26th June: Lowsonford (Stratford Canal) to Rowington, Warwickshire (Grand Union), 3.5 miles, 10 locks.
By mid-evening on Saturday two Anglo-Welsh hire boats out of Wootton Wawen had moored in front of Cleddau. Their crews were travelling together, a British family and folk from Monterey (California) and Oregon.
The destination for today was never to be far, but to secure a position above the famous Hatton Locks (21 in a single flight). It was as the Captain went to untie the boat at about 9am that the two hire boats pulled away from the bank. We paused for a while, then set off. At the first lock, only some 200 metres from the mooring, number 2 hire boat waited to ascend. It did.
Cleddau waited for the water to be dropped before taking her place inside the lock. As the boat rose it was apparent that there was trouble ahead. Beyond the lock the hire boat was thrashing about, its nose in the offside trees but no appreciable movement happening at the engine end. The would-be steerer edged along the gunwale to the front, grabbed the long pole from the roof and started to push. Maybe the boat was aground, stuck in the shallows. Somehow the boat was brought alongside the towpath. “I’ve got no prop wash,” proclaimed an American voice. “Does that mean there’s weed on the prop?”
“Not necessarily,” said Boatwif, hurrying off to fetch the Captain with his greater expertise. Various checks; weed hatch up. The skipper of the accompanying boat arrived. Further consultations. Conclusion: phone the boatyard.
Cleddau cruised on, at the next lock met by the crew of the first hire boat, British and Americans disconsolately working paddles and gates, though not for their expected craft.
The Stratford Canal winds on, quietly. Then a distant sound, initially like waves pounding a beach, transformed into traffic sound. This was the roar of the M40. First trip along this canal had been in pre-motorway days. What a shock it had been to come across it years later, crossing the canal between locks 26 and 27. It is a vile intruder in pastoral tranquillity. And as Cleddau rose in lock 27 she was made to feel the intruder. A duck, a female mallard, hopped onto the back hatch, gazing Boatwif straight in the eye. Would the duck realise her mistake? No. She pranced about on the red hatch, then took her waddle, her promenade, right to the front, from where, still perched on the roof, she supervised the Captain as he completed the lock operation. As the boat moved out of the lock the mallard hopped off, glad, it would seem, to reclaim her waters!
Round the corner the traffic roar began to fade. Up started vigorous birdsong, at full belt the birds asserting their right to this patch of Warwickshire. On they sang, a full midsummer choir.
The last few locks to Kingswood Junction are closely spaced. Suddenly the water ahead widens into a lake. Here the South Stratford meets the North Stratford and a tight canal cut leads through to join the Grand Union. Just beyond the South Stratford top lock is the water point and sanitary station. Moored there was a narrow boat, not using services – but having a picnic! That boat became surrounded, behind it Waltzing Weazel from the Grand Union needing the sanitary station, in front of it Cleddau needing access to the water point… Reluctantly, oh so reluctantly, the skipper gathered up the children playing in the field behind, and surrendered the space. *
A wide swing was needed to get Cleddau through the cut to the arm that leads to the Grand Union Canal. At the end of it is a bridge-hole, water of the Grand Union at right angles to it. What a shock then to see the bridge hole blocked by a, was it a liner moving forwards, a cream coloured block of flats, horn hooting too? Is this the Kiel Canal in northern Germany…? Cleddau turned right, following now this mass of steel. At every bridge and every bend a horn was sounded (three blasts each time). It left a wake, and Cleddau followed, creeping on tickover, bearing just the squealing of its bow thruster. Sage voice from offside moored nb Aunty Elsie: ““He’s driving it with a bow thruster, not using the rudder…” Such little spare space on this broad canal when a Dutch barge is in motion.
The heat rose; the pace slowed. A pleasant mooring place beckoned. The afternoon snoozed past.
Later the Captain had a bright idea, harvest some mint for a Pimm’s. At Fladbury Lock last Sunday a volunteer lock keeper had espied said mint: “For Pimm’s?” she’d assumed.
“More for green mint tea in these winds,” Boatwif had replied.
“Give me Pimm’s and a jumper,” was her swift response. Tonight, it’s Pimms (without jumper), and towpath space taken up by picnic table and chairs for an outdoor dinner!
Tomorrow to the Saltisford Arm, Warwick
*Flagrant abuse of a British Waterways by-law: thou shalt only moor at a water point to use the services!