We’ve gotten used to the cold starts (it was -1° this morning), but finding the plank frozen was something new, and not a particularly welcome beginning to the day. Walking the plank is precarious enough without the added bonus of slippery ice!
I turned the plank over, walked gingerly across (with my camera in my hand). I risked life and limb to take a few photos of the spectacular misty golden dawn – it was worth it. After that the Captain brought Jerry across the plank for his regular morning stroll. The Midshipman was not a fan of either the plank or the low temperature, but he did everything he needed to do, and got promptly back on the boat.
We all had a very large, and extremely delicious breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, beans, black pudding, the full works), which set us up for the day. Jerry, he went straight back to bed, and curled up in his blanket, still not quite happy with the overall temperature.
Today was always going to be a bit more adventurous on the water than most of the other days, purely because of the number of obstacles we had to overcome.
The first was Ashford Tunnel, at 343 metres it was a relatively short journey underground, but it was very low – so much so that we had to crouch down on the deck to avoid banging our heads. The Midshipman was not a fan of the dark.
Then there was an electric drawbridge (which I very nearly crashed into, as I hadn’t checked the map properly!)
I handed the tiller to the Captain and leapt with all my strength onto the tow path, I really wanted to be the one to operate the electric drawbridge – it involved stopping traffic, pushing buttons and a general feeling of importance. Brilliant.
Of course, it didn’t help that I left the keys in the lock machine as we chugged merrily away. Remembering my error, I was back on land and casually removing the keys from the machine, hoping that no one noticed. Which, of course they did – three people, all with cameras, were watching me as I skulked away. I must remember not to do that on the way back down again.
After the electric drawbridge, the Captain had a chance to operate a manual drawbridge, the Midshipman and I drove the barge. I saw a lot of flailing arms and heard a bunch of huffing and puffing, plus the phrase “never again” as I took a sip of my drink and smoothly pased beneath the small upright bridge.
Somehow it ended up being my turn again when the next drawbridge came along.
After a while we made it to the one lock of the day (though we would be going through it in both directions before the day was done), and the Captain, despite all previous mutterings, decided that she was going to do this lock single handedly – it can’t be that hard after all? So off she went, skipping along, swinging her windlass without a care in the world.
I drove into the deep lock, it was already empty and ready for me. The rear gates swung closed with lightning speed, the Captain really was trying to prove a point, and doing a very good job of it. The sluices on the front gate equally sprang to life and rapidly poured water into the lock with a velocity unheard of by a single lock worker.
It was only as I floated gently upwards that the truth came to light. The Captain had enlisted the help of two burly young men! All she actually did was close one of the rear gates. About an eighth of the work required to operate a lock.
Remember that: the Captain had the help of two others when she operated Lock 69.
The journey towards our end goal, Brecon, carried on at a steady and uninterrupted pace. The sun was out in force now, Midshipman Jerry started sunbathing and remained there for well over an hour (even the squirrels weren’t enough to grab his attention now).
We reached the Brecon Basin (the very end point of the canal), to a crowd of onlookers, several of whom were filming us. The Captain, keen to show off our skills, performed a pinpoint accurate turn in the small basin, and lead us back out to our pre-spotted mooring location. We tied up with such precision and professionalism that it surprised us both. Let’s hope it looked good on camera.
Brecon is a small town, and whilst there are museums and a theatre to occupy visitors, we wanted to stop at the cathedral, to take a look at some of the ancient architecture.
After a short walk from the canal, we made it to the cathedral entrance. It transpired that the dean was a fan of dogs and so Midshipman Jerry was allowed in with us. He was very well behaved.
Jerry may not have been overly bothered by buttresses and stained glass windows, but he was certainly a big fan of the ice creams we shared afterwards.
With our one goal in Brecon done, we headed back to the boat and started our drive south, which involved a kind of afternoon tea (there were scones and cream and jam) as we travelled.
Before long Lock 69 appeared again. It was my turn this time, and all the way up to it I was hoping for some burly assistants to help me. No such luck, instead I ended up helping two others on their way, by operating most of the lock for them, and then had to repeat the process to get our boat through.
Remember what I told you earlier? The Captain had the help of two strangers and did little of the actual work, I on the other hand had to help two strangers and do double the work! Clearly I am staff not management.
We chose to moor up early after that lock, to make the most of the sensational afternoon sun, and perhaps just relax a little – take our time, read a book, do a crossword. That sort of thing.
Our peace was shattered fairly quickly by a family of first time narrowboaters who swept past us, crashed into the nearby bridge, then spent twenty minutes trying to get through the bridge, only to fail and spend another twenty minutes attempting to turn the boat around.
The Captain went over to offer help, partly to be a decent citizen but mostly to try and usher them away from our idyllic mooring spot.
Help was not required, it seemed, despite all evidence to the contrary. Not even when the boat hook (a small pole that usually remains untouched on the barge roof) went tumbling into the canal.
“They’d better not moor up near us,” decreed the Captain. Only for that exact thing to happen just moments later. “I came on holiday to be away from people!” She sighed. “It’s like bees around a honey pot, and we’re the honey!”
As you can imagine, we upped mooring pins and made our way further south to yet another secluded spot. This one actually turned out to be better than the last, as we have a rather pleasant view of Pen-Y-Fan out of the window. So all’s well that ends well.