A 3mph mercy dash...
THE LEAD LETTER, entitled SpectatorSport, ( CB, April) reminded me of a trip we took many years ago.
Back in 1977 in the early days of leisure boating, my family owned a 50ft narrowboat which was moored at Gayton in Northamptonshire. We were living in Norfolk, so it was a bit of a journey to get to the boat.
My mother had to go to Paddington hospital for a medical appointment. Obviously, going by car or train would have been far too sensible, so we decided to take her by boat.
We set off late on 28 September, getting through Blisworth tunnel and into Stoke Bruerne before it got too dark. This pretty well set the pattern for the rest of the journey, the starts getting earlier and the finishes getting later. Most days we managed 40-70 lock-miles, even though the locks were broad Grand Union ones.
We arrived at Paddington at 2.30pm on 2 October, just in time for the appointment. While mother was getting her maintenance, Dad and I maintained the engine.
As soon as Ma’s feet hit the deck, we set off back homewards, mooring at Bulls Bridge long after dark. We had a deadline to get home – I think I was due back at work, so we had to keep moving. We did get a telling-off by the lock-keeper at Cosgrove when we went through his lock in the pitch dark at 11.15pm.
It was autumn and the nights were down to freezing. That kind of trip needs a lot of sustenance – I can still fondly remember the seemingly endless stream of soup, bacon butties and mugs of tea that kept appearing through the hatch.
It was during one of our night-time locking stints that I had a close call when pulling the boat in to the side of the lock. I ended up doing a backwards somersault over the edge of the lock, but had the exceptional good fortune to land on my feet on the roof of the boat. In a broad lock with full paddles on, it could have been a whole lot worse and was a clear warning about boating in the pitch dark on a freezing night when you are dog-tired.
We finally arrived back in Gayton at 3pm on 5 October, having completed an exhausting 174 miles and 145 (broad) locks in seven days with a crew of three. Not the kind of journey you forget in a hurry.
My photo shows our boat on launch day at Gayton in 1975.