Wet Warwick World Cup
Saturday, 26th October continued the theme of the last few days – very wet. The rain which had been drumming on the roof all night showed no signs of stopping and the towpath was essentially a narrow muddy ditch just a few inches higher than the canal itself. At this point we were just outside Warwick and could easily have got as far as Stockton Locks, a few minutes walk from our house, if we wanted to push it all day. We didn’t. Instead we had planned to get through Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa, which are virtually conjoined, then stop opposite the church at Radford Semele for the night and move up to Long Itchington on Sunday.
Being just at the top of Cape Locks we would have to work through them as soon as we left and we realised that one thing we did have going for us was an excellent wi-fi signal, with a Rugby World Cup semi-final kicking off at nine o’clock in the morning. Watching TV at this time doesn’t feel quite right somehow. Under the circumstances, however, it seemed sensible to settle in and watch the match before setting out, by which time, hopefully, the rain would have eased off. As we all know, it was a fantastic performance from a side that had clearly reached the top of its game at exactly the right time to see off the All Blacks 19-7. This would surely have been more but for some dodgy video replay second guessing and a couple of missed kicks. Even then if we had not messed about with the lineout at just the wrong time it would certainly have been a whitewash.
Not knowing then, as we know now, that England had peaked too soon and would offer a sad shambling failure in the final a week later, we could bask in the warm glow of an unexpected victory for a few days. Just as well as, at the end of the match, the rain was undiminished and we needed all the warmth we could get as we headed down through the locks. Thankfully, there were only these two locks for the day and by the time we had reached Tesco Warwick at the Emscote Road Bridge the rain had at last stopped for a while, allowing us to moor up and do a last bit of shopping.
The Curse of the “Harry Hudson”
Our idle fellow travellers of the day before will have had to get up early and move on, whatever the weather, as their boat was due back at Kate Boats in Warwick early on Saturday morning. The turnaround must have been very swift as we were just about to finish lunch and cast off again when round the sharp left-hander under Bridge 46 came a very long narrowboat which pulled over and attempted to tie up behind us on the part of the off side bank intended to provide a buffer and a passing place for boats negotiating the tight, hidden bend.
We didn’t think too much of it and carried on down through Leamington Spa, now almost as familiar to us from the land as from the water. we got to Radford Semele in renewed afternoon drizzle by about half past three. This is a lovely spot in the summer with the canal sitting above a nature reserve, the River Leam running through that to the North and a fine, old church dominating the high ground opposite, to the South. The church looks as if it has stood there undisturbed for centuries and, indeed, parts of it date back to the eleventh century and Domesday. It turns out, however, that the whole thing was completely gutted by fire at Easter in 2008. The current building was restored and re-opened in 2013, looking much the same as it always had outside but with a considerably updated interior.
Sunday morning was quite the contrast. Temperatures dropped to 2°C overnight with a thick frost over the whole boat but the sun rose in a clear blue sky and stayed with us all day. The frost soon melted away and with a busy ten locks to get through over the next four miles the exercise was bound to warm us up.
We got up through Radford Bottom and the first two Fosse Locks and passed the “Harry Hudson” again, moored at a water point. As they were just about to reel in their hose, we said we would wait for them at the next lock. There was a lot more traffic around today. Some of it might be due to people who had been stuck indoors for days taking advantage of the weather but a good deal of it was going West, coming towards us. It mainly consisted of boats hired from bases at Stockton and Napton, which had presumably picked up their boats either on the Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and were out for the half term week.
We waited at Fosse Top Lock with the bottom gates open. A boat arrived to come down and we told them we were waiting for one boat on the way up. This was the correct thing to do, in order to conserve water by working the lock once for two boats, rather than have to empty and fill it twice to travel singly. It was the right thing to do but nevertheless, as we continued to wait for “Harry Hudson” to appear, the delay extended and the atmosphere became increasingly tense. At last she hove into view and slowly approached the lock while we stood by to receive her and close the gates to begin operation.
There is something about this boat that seems to suppress the eager, co-operative spirit you usually find on the canals. The new crew were far younger and more sprightly than the previous complement. One middle aged man seemed to be in charge. A woman, presumably his wife, was on board. There was one boy on the roof who seemed to want to get involved and at least four teenage girls sitting in the well deck at the front. Despite this wealth of youthful muscle and energy only one person left the boat to open the paddles on their side and everyone else stayed on board.
This pattern was repeated over the next four locks, with just Bracken and I trudging on alone, once the first lock was closed, to get ahead of the boats and start filling the next lock, into which, once we had opened the gates, the “Harry Hudson” would then serenely sail. At one point the matriarch began to remonstrate with the girls, threatening sanctions if they didn’t leave the cabin and come outside immediately. “At last”, we thought, “these idle adolescents are going to be put to work”. It turned out, however, that she was just annoyed because she wanted to take a group photo of them on the boat with her iPhone and they wouldn’t co-operate, being too busy pulling one another’s hair.
The last set of locks, the Bascote Staircase, requires double the turns of the windlass to raise and lower the middle paddle and as we approached that I decided enough was enough and told them they needed to get the boy off the roof and put him to work on their side of the locks which, in fairness, they did. We let them go first up towards Stockton as we wanted to top up with water on the way but also because we wanted to get rid of them at that point.
A mile further on, just after one o’clock, we found ourselves a space just past the Two Boats Inn at Long Itchington, moored up intending to leave the boat here for a few days and took ourselves off to the pub. Here we were able to sit comfortably out by the canal, basking in unaccustomed sunshine, over a couple of pints and a steak and stilton panini. A pleasant lunch stop to mark the end of our journey before strolling home to fetch the car.
The Final Leg
We were due to take the boat into Calcutt Marina for the winter on the first of November. Looking at the forecast, however, Wednesday, 30th October, looked a lot more promising than Friday so we spoke to them and arranged to go in early. In the meantime, we visited the boat daily, collecting things to take back to the house and doing some maintenance on the boat itself.
Wednesday actually lived up to its billing. Fortified with a hearty breakfast at The Buck & Bell we set out about eleven o’clock in brilliant sunshine that lasted well into the afternoon. Some complicated logistics were involved to ensure that, having moored up for the winter in Calcutt Boats about five miles away, we would have the car there to bring us home. Nonetheless, it was a fine day for a cruise, even with another ten locks between us and the marina entrance. By now, the half term hirers were well on the way round their various cruising rings so we had a pretty much uninterrupted trip and a CRT lock keeper all to ourselves to help us on our way.
With Stockton Top lock behind us that should have been it for the day but we needed to make sure the diesel tank was full and to get a replacement for the gas cylinder that had run out in the middle of preparing our evening meal at Merry Hill. That meant going up through the first two locks to reach the service wharf, turning round and coming back down the same two locks to reach the marina entrance. For once the wind, which usually complicates any attempt to manoeuvre in the open water of the basin, was fairly light and we were able to reverse into our berth without mishap. Now all that remained was to shut down the water and gas, turn off all electrics except for the battery charger and head home for the winter.