Those big dou­ble-width locks give David Johns a run for his money with cen­tre­line in hand

Canal Boat - - Contents -

The boat’s be­gun wak­ing up ready for Spring. I know this be­cause on the hand­ful of rather delightfully sunny morn­ings we’ve had re­cently, I’ve been roused from my own slum­bers by the now fa­mil­iar sound of creak­ing and groan­ing as the warmth stretches the met­al­work of the hull and with it, the tim­ber. I fondly like to imag­ine it’s the boat yawn­ing and reach­ing out its limbs af­ter snooz­ing soundly through the win­ter hi­ber­na­tion.

Very soon it’ll be want­ing a nice break­fast of freshly-poured diesel with an oil chaser then it’ll rat­tle into life, rar­ing to go on voy­ages into the unknown - or at least some­where down the Grand Union maybe.

The only thing that puts me off that par­tic­u­lar trip is all those dou­ble-width locks. Be­ing based in the Mid­lands means I’m spoiled with all the easy to use nar­row locks and every time I meet a big­gun it’s a bit of a shock to the sys­tem, es­pe­cially as I’m trav­el­ling solo.

I can’t re­mem­ber where I got this method from but wide locks are now ap­proached by com­ing slowly in close to one side, throw­ing the boat into neu­tral at the last mo­ment, then jump­ing off - taking the cen­tre­line with me - and run­ning up the stairs be­side the lock.

Whip­ping the line up and over the gate, and over any cracks in the con­crete cop­ing stones which al­ways seem to want to tug at the rope if it falls into them, the trick then is to whirl the line once around a bol­lard and gen­tly brake the boat whilst pulling it into one side. Af­ter that it’s sit­u­a­tion nor­mal, close the gate, do the pad­dles etc.

It’s not that hard and I’m sure it’s good car­dio ex­er­cise but it’s a bit more huff­ing and puff­ing than trundling gen­tly into a nar­row cham­ber and idly step­ping up off

the roof in the full­ness of time.

Per­haps the CRT could em­bark on an am­bi­tious 21st cen­tury pro­gram of lock en­hance­ments whereby a gi­ant wa­ter­proof bar­rier, the length and height of the lock, could emerge on huge pis­tons from one side of the cham­ber to di­vide a wide lock into two sin­gles upon de­tect­ing the ap­proach of a nar­row­boat, es­pe­cially a sin­gle-handed one?

Or maybe some sort of huge bal­loon could in­flate to take up one side of the lock rather like those things you get to save wa­ter in a toi­let cis­tern. Just think of all the wa­ter that would be saved in a lock!

What’s that you say? De­stroy­ing the charm of the canal’s in­dus­trial her­itage? Pah, I sup­pose you’re right. I’ll just have to buckle down and mus­cle up... but first, an­other cup of tea with a jammy scone. Now that’s what I call civil­i­sa­tion.

Speak­ing of which, stay­ing in­side over the long win­ter months ap­pears to have re­moved my canal man­ners. Walk­ing down the Buckby flight a few days ago on a gor­geous sunny morn­ing, there were all man­ner of other folk en­gaged in the same pur­suit. Dog walk­ers, boaters, ram­blers and oth­ers came by and... hor­ror... I al­most for­got to say hello or nod my head in cheery ac­knowl­edge­ment. It was as if I was liv­ing back in town where the head-down, don’t-make-eye-con­tact ap­proach is com­pul­sory. The shame!

Also shame­ful were the oc­ca­sional bags of dog poo, care­fully wrapped and tied but then left ‘hid­den’ behind a canal mile­post. Who on earth does this? What mind­bog­gling rea­son­ing goes through their tiny heads? Take it away and bin it, you grotty ver­min.

On a far more pleas­ant note, how lovely to meet one of the many rov­ing canal traders dur­ing the walk. Some­where about half­way up the flight was The Cheese Boat, en route to Braun­ston and look­ing for­ward to hav­ing a new pram hood in­stalled.

We had a quick chat as the lock filled. It went some­thing like this: Me: “Ah, you’re the cheese boat!”. CB: “Yes. What do you think we sell?” Me: “Errr ... cheese?” CB: “Cor­rect! You’d be sur­prised how many peo­ple ask, de­spite the big sign on the side.” Me: “Blimey. What do you say to them?” CB: “I tell them we sell ba­nanas”

Now that’s ex­actly the kind of sar­casm I like so it set me in a chuck­le­some mood for the re­main­der of the stroll.

At the bot­tom of the flight all the top gate pad­dles had been left up by a boat full of young lads, clearly novices on the canals. I know it was them, firstly be­cause they were the last boat through there and se­condly be­cause they left an­other one up fur­ther along as I walked past later. This I pointed out, along with the only half­closed gate, caus­ing much ar­gu­ment be­tween the crew as to who should have done it, why they hadn’t and what a numpty - their word - they were.

The er­rors would soon have been rec­ti­fied by a hand­ful of craft go­ing the other way but it seemed rea­son­able to high­light the is­sue so that any fu­ture pound-drain­ing in­ci­dents might be avoided. Bet­ter yet, it gave me the pre­cious op­por­tu­nity to “tut” loudly and shake my head wist­fully in the man­ner of a mariner who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. For a brief mo­ment, I felt like a proper boater.

Di­vert­ing very slightly - but bear with me, there’s an ad­mit­tedly ten­u­ous link - a fort­night or so ago was my mum’s birth­day. I took her to a pan­tomime in

Worces­ter for a bit of a laugh. It was Aladdin in which, of course, our hero finds a cave full of trea­sure.

For boaters, Aladdin’s cave is surely “the chan­dlery”, its shelves stacked high with all man­ner of gleam­ing goods cry­ing out to be pur­chased. There’s one at the bot­tom Buckby lock, next to Whilton ma­rina so of course a quick visit en­sued. It would be rude not to, hav­ing walked all that way.

Was I a mag­pie in a prior life or is every boater this drawn to shiny, glint­ing things even if they don’t strictly need them? New lamps for old! (LED, of course). Who of us doesn’t want yet an­other bilge pump? And surely every nar­row­boat de­serves a new set of bat­ter­ies?

Whoah! Put those down. There was no way I was walk­ing back up the lock flight with three leisure bat­ter­ies cra­dled in my arms though per­haps that would be just the mus­cle-building ex­er­cise I need for those afore­men­tioned wide locks.

How­ever, on the sub­ject of bits and bobs for the boat and just be­fore I fin­ish for this month, reg­u­lar read­ers of this col­umn - if there are any - will surely be over­joyed to hear that my stove chim­ney now has a brand new lid and this time it’s been se­cured by two sub­stan­tial ju­bilee clips.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, I can’t help but no­tice that th­ese two sup­pos­edly stain­less items seem al­ready to be de­vel­op­ing a fair bit of rust so quite how long chim­ney lid num­ber 4 will ac­tu­ally sur­vive re­mains to be seen.

If such mat­ters grip you with an­tic­i­pa­tion then be sure to fol­low my jour­neys on­line at www.Cruis­ingTheCut. or check that your sub­scrip­tion to

Canal Boat is all up to date so you never miss a mo­ment.

Win­ter sun at Nor­ton Junc­tion

Early sun­shine and it’s time to rise

Those chim­ney clips are al­ready rust­ing

Big wide locks keep you on your toes

Looks like we made it to Ni­a­gara Falls

The sun stayed low in the sky on this trip

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