You’ll probably be hearing the tale of the wellies in the shower for decades to come, I certainly know that I will. Always remember you heard it here first.
I made a promise to my crew mates to clean something up with you, dear reader. As I have not been entirely truthful with you. Actually, cleaning something up is how it all started…
It transpires that I may have made a huge mistake yesterday, in trying to clean myself and my dirty wellies in the shower at the same time. All that happens is you have a terrible shower, your wellies get soaked inside and out, and no one will ever let you forget it. No one. Ever.
However, given how action packed today became, wet wellies were the least of our worries. Read on…
The Captain had planned for us to drive to Bradford-on-Avon and wind the boat in the same place as last year (see our Bath to Bristol adventure for more on this). The only snag was that we didn’t know if the boat would fit in the winding hole.
The promise of a full English breakfast if we were successful was inspiration enough for us to make sure the boat would turn.
We arrived at Bradford, pushed the nose of the Ross’s Gull right into the corner, and with some encouragement from Trevor we did indeed manage to get ourselves facing in the right direction.
We arrived back at the same spot we’d moored last night, tied up once again and enjoyed a hearty breakfast. The sun was shining, all was peaceful and serene. We were ready for the day ahead. Or so we thought.
As we arrived at our first lock, we quickly learned that the canal was going to be busier today. Clearly the sunshine was bringing everyone out to play. The lock was full of water, and in the favour of an approaching boat. No problem, the rules of the canal say that this oncoming boat has right of way over us. Simple. All we have to do is wait for them to enter the lock, help them through and then it would be our turn.
Of course that boat actually has to enter the lock, to make this all happen. So it was a little surprising to see them tying up at the lock landing and just standing there. Waiting. I’m not really sure what they were actual waiting for?
I’d just managed to convince them to enter the lock when something appeared on the horizon. Oh joy, another boat heading this way.
Given that these locks are big enough to take two narrowboats, the rules also state you should get as many boats through in one go as you can. It’s all about conserving water.
Just like the first boat, this second boat was full of first timers.
I think it’s great that people are keen to try their hand at narrowboating, but honestly some people should just stay at home.
“You’ll need your poles out, girls!” Said a very forthright man from the stern of this second hire boat, to the two women standing on the bow. His tone of voice implied I’ve done this hundreds of times before, but his actual words showed he didn’t have a clue.
Looking for all the world like a Viking invasion this boat ploughed into the lock, weapons drawn.
Only to discover that poles are both completely pointless within locks (there’s no room to get any kind of leverage), and are in fact really quite dangerous. How they didn’t break a window or smack someone on the head, I’ll never know.
Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.
The next interesting encounter came when we spotted two boats that had drifted across the canal, giving us no room to get by.
The owner of these boats, let’s call him Mr Aladdin-Trousers (as he was wearing some kind of pantomime get up), flatly refused any kind of assistance, despite clearly struggling to wrangle his two loose boats back under any kind of control.
We offered him a push, to help send the bow of his second boat back towards the towpath. He didn’t seem to understand what the word push meant, so the Ship’s Boy gave a very clear and concise explanation:
“I will take my hands, place them on your boat, and shove.”
But no, Mr Aladdin-Trousers wouldn’t have any of it, so we chugged on by at tick over and left him to fend for himself.
It was around this point that we picked up a boat heading in the same direction as us, The Poppy, crewed by a lovely older couple, Jeffrey and Barbara (I’m not sure if those were their names, but they just looked like a Jeffrey and Barbara) who were giving narrowboating a try.
Jeffrey was a man who knew how to rock a set of bushy eyebrows. They were truly exceptional.
Trevor did his best to secure a free meal on the Poppy by helping get them through the various swing bridges we encountered. Barbara seemed quite up for it. But it was not to be, as fairly soon after joining us, they stopped. Mooring up behind us as we headed towards yet another lock.
The Ship’s Boy had been driving for most of the morning, and was doing a great job of controlling the Ross’s Gull. He had to demonstrate extreme patience at this next lock. We all did.
Just as with the first lock of the day, the water was not in our favour, and there was a boat heading towards us. Almost heading towards us, I should say. It was weaving all over the place as the girl who owned the boat tried to get it under control.
The boat was in a bad way, as was its owner.
The Captain went to see if she could help, only to end up enlisting Trevor into pulling the boat along the canal, into the lock and out the other side. The pair of them did a great job taking control of the situation. The poor girl who owned the boat looked shell shocked.
She barely spoke, but the little information we did get revealed that she’d owned the rickety boat for 3 months or so, and in that time the engine had stopped working and she was using a tiny electric motor instead. This motor was nowhere near powerful enough to keep the boat under control, especially on a windy day like today.
We helped her as far as tying up on the far side of the lock, and pointed her in the direction of the nearby town, to get some proper help.
We progressed quite well for a while after this, and made our way back to the Caen Hill lock flight. On any other day, this would be the pinnacle of the adventure but after the morning we’d had, it was actually something of a relief.
We travelled through all the locks with yet another companion, the Dundas and her crew from Essex. They were another family crew, most of whom had never been on the canal before. They were enthusiastic, if inexperienced and between us we came up with a pretty efficient system for working the locks.
The Captain drove, Elaine and I worked one side of the locks, the Essex crew worked the other. Trevor and the Ship’s Boy pressed on ahead and prepped the next locks for us.
Both boats entered and exited the locks together.
The whole thing worked like a well oiled machine, not even the rain could put us off our stride.
Nigel the aggressive swan at Lock 32 was the only minor problem. He is very protective of this particular stretch of canal, and he spent a few minutes staring down both boats and threatening to join them in the lock – which would’ve been a very tricky situation to resolve. Fortunately, Nigel saw sense in the end and moved off, allowing the two boats to pick up the pace once more.
We filled up with water just after Lock 50, the top of the Caen Hill locks, and I popped over to Sainsbury’s for some emergency supplies.
The Captain and Elaine started a new scientific study: Rat Watch.
They kept a close eye on a family of scurrying rodents who had set up home by the water point.
After this it was just a case of finding somewhere pleasant to moor up, and we could call it a day.
I mean, we did have a couple of kitchen fires and managed to ground the boat. But we don’t need to dwell on that, do we?