So, we’re back! That’s right, the Not So Famous Five are back on the barge. For those who may not know, here’s a quick role call: Captain, First Mate Elaine, Chief Engineer and Entertainment Officer Trevor, Jerry the Security Officer, and Me – the dogsbody’s dogsbody (or Ship’s Boy to give me my official rank).
This time we are attempting to complete the Avon Ring in almost half the time it’s “supposed” to be done. Right now I have no idea if we’re going to achieve it, but it’ll be fun finding out.
The day started somewhat greyish and somewhat dampish, but that didn’t put us off. The Captain had prepared everything, the car was packed throughout the week leading up to today, a long list of items checked off. Nothing could go wrong. So it was to my great surprise and shock when, not long after our departure, I had to turn the car around. It seems that we (the royal “we” that is) forgot to pack any shoes for the Captain!
Our second departure was more successful, and we were finally on the road.
Before meeting up with Elaine and Trevor, the Captain, Jerry, and I had planned a quick stop at Hanbury Hall,a National Trust property near Worcester. It was a good place to stop, especially as we were a couple of hours too early to pick up the boat (just imagine how early we would’ve been if we’d left on time this morning).
After exploring the old house, with its huge frescos and dimly lit rooms, And the nearby parkland, where Jerry made some new sheep friends, we made our way to Alvechurch Marina.
Here we at last met up with the rest of our crew. We all unpacked our bags, and between the five of us used up all of the little trolleys the marina could spare.
Elaine initiated the official 2019 duck food study, by throwing some scientifically engineered duck treats at a pair of birds hanging around the Marina. Initial results proved to be very positive and it’s time to take this study out into the wild.
Whilst the girls dealt with the marina staff (including watching the lengthy safety video, and taking a safety quiz), the boys watched a local troupe of Morris dancers, men and women alike performing their strange dancing ritual in the pub car park next to the marina. Each dancer’s face was covered in soot, which is apparently a mark of respect for the mining industry, not some middle England racist protest as one American narrowboat hirer next to us thought: “in the US they’d be arrested for that” she said to no one in particular.
It’s expected that a Ship’s Boy should follow Captain’s orders without question. After all, the Captain knows best. So when I was told to write our names on the water bottles, I did just that. I put all four of our names on the bottle, but for some reason the Captain still wasn’t happy.
It turns out that she wanted just one name per bottle, so that we could easily identify whose it was. Ah well, you can’t say I didn’t follow the instructions.
After about an hour’s wait at the marina, we were finally on the boat, everything packed away to the Captain’s specification, and it was time to get the Herring Gull, our mobile home for the next week, on the move.
With the journey under way, and the gentle putt-putt of the engine mixing in amongst the birdsong it was time for scones and cider. A fine combination and no mistake.
We’d just finished the afternoon tea session when we came upon our first excitement on this canal: Wast Hill Tunnel. At almost 3,000 metres it was a long tunnel. It took 30 minutes to get from one end to the other, though it felt longer. Fortunately it’s wide enough to fit two boats side by side, so we didn’t have to queue up to go in.
We motored on, as we needed to get as far as possible today, passing through another short tunnel, almost missing our turn at bridge 72, and passing beneath a set of guillotine lock gates – the only ones in the country – though sadly they are not in use any more. They’re fixed open.
We had been told by our local expert (the Captain’s father) that it would be impossible to run aground around here, as the canals have been so well dredged. I can confirm in no uncertain terms that this is not true. Trevor managed to find a way to do it. I had to pole us free before we could move on.
This first day didn’t really have any locks for us to operate, but Elaine did get to halt the traffic and raise an electric drawbridge. Which was cool.
Having spotted a cider-based pub, we decided to call it a day there.