Braunston or Bust!

Now picture the scene… you’ve gone to bed, and are just settling down to a well earned night’s sleep when the boat unexpectedly rocks, and you hear a noise.

“Something is on the boat.” Says the Captain. “Check it out.”

I slip out of bed, creep cautiously through the galley and the dinette, then I hear it too… a kind of grumble, followed by a ripping, tearing sound. Whatever is on the bow is big.

My heart beating in my ears, I approach the bow window. Bravely, I peer out through the curtain and see a monster! A huge, hairy, ginger-ish monster. It turns to face me, it’s mouth full of teeth, it’s eyes serious.

“Go on, get out of here!” I shout through the window, but it’s no good the monster turns back to its quarry, a bag of rubbish we’ve accidentally left out on the bow.

Being the solid sort of acting first officer you all know me to be, I timidly rattle the bow door, then accidentally push it wide open, confronting the monster face-to-hairy-snarling-face.

“Scram!” I shout, not being able to think of anything else in the spur of the moment, but it’s enough – the monster leaps off the boat and high-tails it down the tow path, to who knows where?

I return to the Captain and say, “did you see it? That huge monster was tearing into our rubbish, but I scared it away.”

“I saw a cute Alsatian running off down the tow path, wagging its tail,” the Captain looked at me, with only one eye, the other closed as though refusing to wake up, “ if that’s what you mean?”

And that’s how last night ended, I’d like to say that the thought of the rubbish-eating monster / inquisitive pooch kept me up all night, but the truth is I was too tired after the long day we’d had, and soon fell fast asleep.

Morning came around all too quickly, and with it so to came the daily engine check ritual. Check the oil, the water, and then twist the greaser until it won’t twist any more, finally lift off the weed hatch and inspect the prop.

This inspection takes the form of thrusting your hand into cold and dirty water, feeling around everything metal you can touch, and pulling out anything else that shouldn’t be there.

Today it was just weeds, but quite a large pile of them. Considering the boat hire engineer said not to bother, I’m glad that we do. If left, this sort of thing can only cause trouble in the future.

The sun, somewhat absent of late, was out in full force this morning which meant that both the Captain and I put our hats on, and very fetching they were too, if I do say so myself.

We set off promptly, knowing that today was going to be another long one, and cruised the cut (which is what canal boaters call the canal itself) for several hours before arriving at the junction to the Welford arm of the Grand Union. Canals are made up of various tendrils, called “arms”, some are more popular than others. The Welford arm is just a little offshoot, that takes about 45 minutes to get from top to bottom.

We ate breakfast on the move, ham and cheese croissants today, and made good time.

The SSO spent half the time inside on the bed, avoiding the heat of the sun whenever possible.

There is only one lock on the Welford arm, and we managed to arrive just when the gongoozlers turned up, so the Captain and I put on a bit of a show, I operated the lock whilst the Captain drove the boat smoothly into place. It was a text book operation (which isn’t true for some of the locks later in the day).

Welford Wharf sits at the end of the arm, and is where we stopped for water and to use the bin (finally getting rid of the remainder of the bag that the late monster tore apart).

The SSO and I went for a walk, whilst the Captain filled the boat with water and made friends with the local swans.

After this, we set off back up the Welford arm and on to the next leg of our journey – heading to Braunston tunnel.

This part of the day, let’s call it lunchtime, involved eating on the move – I prepared my obligatory canal boat pizza.

I’d just popped it into the oven, when the SSO decided it was time to hop off the boat and perform a perimeter check of the towpath. The Captain volunteered to go as well, after all it was just a quick jaunt along the towpath, two minutes tops. We’ll all be back in time for lunch.

I drove the boat, making sure to stay in time with the Captain and the SSO as they marched along on solid ground, I was poised and ready to pick them up as soon as they gave the signal.

The pizza was starting to smell delicious in the oven.

One problem with the canals around here is that the there’s quite a lot of foliage growing along the edge of the water, making it impossible to pull over or moor up. This exact problem became quickly apparent. I couldn’t even see the Captain, the reeds were so thick and tall. How would I know where to pick them up?

The scent of warm cheese and tomato started to emanate from the galley. Mmmmm. Ten minutes was all it needed in the oven, for pizza perfection.

On they walked, and on the weeds grew.

Five minutes passed.

Seven minutes passed.

What does burning pineapple smell like?

Ten minutes passed.

Finally, there was a break in the weeds, and I could pick up the rest of my crew.

The Captain swiftly hopped into the galley whilst I continued to drive, and came out with… a perfectly cooked pizza, nothing burned, not even singed.

After lunch, I drove us through Crick tunnel. It was just as drippy and wet this time around.

Our final set of locks for the day arrived: Watford Locks. This is one of those “red before white…” staircase places, and it was the Captain’s turn to operate them whilst I drove the boat.

Unlike our earlier lock demonstration at Welford, this was a little clumsy – I swear one of the large stones at the entrance to the first lock jumped as I bashed straight into the wall. Not my finest effort, but no one was watching, so it can remain our little secret.

The Captain got into the swing of it, and even found time to make friends with the volunteers that escort you through the locks. In fact, she had such a good time chatting away that when we arrived at the final lock, by the time she’d finished talking to the volunteer and started working, the lock was already empty and she hadn’t even operated a single paddle, the work just went on around her.

From here all we had to do was keep cruising and we’d eventually end up at Braunston tunnel, our final destination for today.

We passed through the tunnel without incident and moored up just on the other side, perfect.

As I write this entry our little haven of peace has just been interrupted by some “noisy neighbours” who don’t seem to understand that you don’t have to run your engine just to keep the lights on.

Even the SSO couldn’t believe someone would turn up so late, and so noisy!

You can imagine, as we once again approach bedtime after a long day, just how pleased the Captain is with that.