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Af­ter the wide open spa­ces of the river Avon, David Johns re­turns to more fa­mil­iar (and nar­rower!) ter­ri­tory

Canal Boat - - News -

David Johns heads back to the Cut af­ter his river cruise. With help from a few friends

Spoiled. That’s what I’d been. Ut­terly spoiled. And by what? One word: width. Oh, and an­other one: height. Ac­tu­ally, now I think of it, all three di­men­sions.

That’s rivers for you. Seven days chug­ging serenely up Shakespeare’s Avon with a fur­ther cou­ple of days be­fore that down the Sev­ern and I’d be­come ac­cus­tomed to chan­nels so vast that you could couldn’t see from one side to the other! (I may be ex­ag­ger­at­ing slightly)

It cer­tainly felt like that once I’d gone back onto the canal at Strat­ford, specif­i­cally when I moved off the moor­ing to exit the basin and head North. If you haven’t done it be­fore then be aware that there’s a very low road bridge over­head with the pas­sage just wide enough for one nar­row­beam craft.

Af­ter my river trav­els this sud­denly felt weirdly cramped. I breathed in, ducked, and made it, thank­fully hav­ing re­mem­bered to take down the TV aerial be­fore I set off. That bridge is closely fol­lowed, round a cor­ner, by an­other one with the first lock on the other side. Moor­ing to go and set that lock, I grounded on the shal­low depth, caus­ing me to re­call wist­fully the many feet of un­fet­tered wa­ter that had been be­low the hull only a day or so be­fore.

How the lower Strat­ford likes to tease boaters com­ing off the Avon! Those low bridges kept on com­ing, the sin­gle locks were tight and for good mea­sure a smat­ter­ing of nar­row brick bridges also pep­per the canal, my fel­low boaters’ sur­prise at the tight­ness also be­ing ap­par­ent, largely from the big chunks taken out of the brick­work.

I’m not moan­ing, hon­est I’m not; it was just a shock and a re­minder that I needed to switch back to “canal” mode and steer with a bit more pre­ci­sion than of late. Soon enough, like rid­ing a bi­cy­cle, it all came back and a nor­mal level of nav­i­ga­tional com­pe­tence was re­stored (you can make up your own mind as to what that level is).

Let’s men­tion those locks again briefly. A sin­gle gate spans the bot­tom rather than the more con­ven­tional two half-gates. I’d read that this made the canal rather awk­ward but as far as I was con­cerned this was a de­light. Be­ing a solo boater, the fewer gates you have to muck about with

- and the less jump­ing pre­car­i­ously from one side of the canal to the other that you have to do - the bet­ter. Bring on sin­gle gates to all the nar­row canals, I say.

It’s a bit of an odd one, the south Strat­ford. Quite pretty, lots of coun­try­side. A long aqueduct - my first! - at Ed­stone, go­ing over a road and a pair of rail­way lines. Yet the locks are plen­ti­ful and once you get above Pre­ston Bagot rather equally spaced out so that you’re nei­ther cruis­ing for any dis­tance nor get­ting up through a flight. It’s a bit stop-start but on a pleas­antly sunny day it’s an ami­able way to pass the time.

So good was progress in fact that where I’d planned to split the re­main­ing 17 locks over two days, I in­stead made a rare Her­culean ef­fort and fin­ished the lot in one, helped by al­most ev­ery sin­gle lock be­ing empty on my ar­rival and in many cases an­other boater com­ing out to leave the gate open for me as well. Be­fore I knew it - well, mid-after­noon ac­tu­ally - I was back at Lap­worth which I’d come through on the pre­vi­ous year’s cruise so this was now fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory; al­most home in fact.

Switch­ing chan­nels at the junc­tion, my path was now down the Grand Union to­wards War­wick, Leam­ing­ton and ul­ti­mately back to the Braun­ston area. Af­ter travers­ing the in­vari­ably soggy Shrew­ley Tun­nel, there was just the small mat­ter of Hat­ton’s 21 dou­ble-width locks to over­come.

For this I en­listed Crew - the won­der­fully en­er­getic and ef­fer­ves­cent Anna and Kath, two fel­low video-blog­gers and nar­row­boat live­aboards (search for “The Nar­row­boat Ex­pe­ri­ence” on YouTube to see their chan­nel) who even drove up from Lon­don to help me out.

That spirit of com­mu­nity and a ready will­ing­ness to help a fel­low boater is one of the most mar­vel­lous things about nar­row­boat­ing, do you not agree? I’ve lost count of the times that peo­ple, many of whom I’ve never met be­fore and likely won’t meet again, have of­fered a hand at one thing or an­other.

I re­call when I be­gan my canal life one of the queries of­ten re­ceived was about how tricky it would be to cruise alone and truly it hasn’t been hard at all. Cer­tainly I’m in good health and quite able to do any ob­sta­cles en­coun­tered so far on my tod but in many in­stances I haven’t needed to. Thank you, lovely peo­ple of the cut.

With three of us aboard - and an­other lovely day, thank­fully - the locks were despatched with rel­a­tive ease and the boat moored for a night at the Salt­isford Arm. We even had time to pop into War­wick for a late lunch and a chin­wag.

With the crew de­parted I was solo once more the next day and onto the home stretch, round War­wick, through Leam­ing­ton and out into the coun­try­side. Here I had one of those weird co­in­ci­dences you only seem to get on the canals when I promptly met an­other boat vlog­ger, Tony Saxby (“It’s A Nar­row­boat Life”). It lead to an amus­ing mo­ment as we both stood with one hand on the tiller, the other wield­ing a video cam­era, film­ing each other as the boats crossed side by side in a lock pound. Nei­ther of us had known the other was go­ing to be there; for 2,000+ miles of canal, the cut surely is a small world!

I’d for­got­ten how many lit­tle batches of locks there are be­tween Leam­ing­ton and Cal­cutt but the good for­tune from the Strat­ford seemed to have fol­lowed be­cause lock af­ter lock was dealt with in record time.

That said, there was an alarm­ing joint ven­ture with an­other boat in some of them; their method of lin­ing up in a lock was to go full tilt into it (and I re­ally do mean get­ting quite a lick on) un­til the bow smacked into the cill, rais­ing the boat up and out of the wa­ter and then crash­ing back. I was gen­uinely open-mouthed watch­ing this and thanked my lucky stars each time that I went in sec­ond each time.

I can’t imag­ine this tech­nique finds favour in the CRT Hand­book Of Good Boat­ing but it was amaz­ing to watch - and it made me feel much bet­ter about any time I’ve ever gen­tly bumped the end of a lock.

Look! There’s the newly-dug out and re­stored arm at Wil­low Wren Train­ing, still await­ing its first moor­ers when I went by. Ahh! There’s Wi­gram’s Turn again, as I heaved on the tiller for the sharp left to­wards Braun­ston.

The end of The Big Cruise of 2017 ap­proached as first Braun­ston’s church and then the fa­mil­iar dou­ble-humped bridge came into sight. This did not mean a chance to sit back and take it easy of course. One thing you learn quickly about nar­row­boats is that the list of main­te­nance items that need to be dealt with is never end­ing. So it was that bilge re­paint­ing, black­ing, a stove chim­ney re­pair and many other tasks would have to be com­pleted in the com­ing months.

More on those in the next in­stal­ment here in Canal Boat; un­til then, you can watch my ad­ven­tures in video at www. Cruis­ingTheCut.co.uk or chat with me on Twit­ter (@ Cruis­ingTheCut).

Moor­ing at Wilm­cote

Moored at Salt­isford again

I en­listed crew to help at Hat­ton!

The ap­proach to Shrew­ley Tun­nel

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