The Last Lock

It has been a very quick adventure, and we’ve tried to cram in as much as we possibly can and this, our last full day, was no exception. The cramming started at breakfast with a mountain of scrambled eggs (plus sausages, bacon, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, and potato cakes).

Feeling rather full, we set off. The plan for the day was to get off the River Avon, back onto the Kennet & Avon Canal, take Carol Ann past Brassknocker Basin, press on up to Bradford-on-Avon, before turning around at the nearest winding hole and mooring up somewhere quiet.

It was a simple, though ambitious plan.

As ever we were lucky with the weather, the heat in the day kicked in quite early, beneath a clear blue sky. This prompted a lot of pale legs to suddenly appear on deck. I resisted for as long as possible, but in the end even I caved in and put my shorts on. It really was scorching – in September!

We chugged our way back along the river without incident and somehow suddenly found ourselves at Bath locks, a series of six locks that mark (in our direction) the end of the river and the start of the canal.

Bath Deep Lock (or the “concrete coffin”, as we’ve heard it described) is the second deepest lock in the country, and it was equally as impressive today, as it was when we first came through it. The windlass winch mechanism for opening the lock gates was still stiff and difficult.

We implemented our tried and trusted approach to flights of locks, with the SSO and I heading off to the next lock, whilst the Captain and Trevor worked the current lock, and Elaine drove the boat through them all. It’s a good system, and it worked well through Bath locks.

There were a lot of gongoozlers (people observing what was going on) but we made good progress.

Working locks takes a lot of energy, especially when you’re out and about on a surprisingly hot early Autumn day. To remedy this, the Captain rustled up a bowl of delicious nachos – to get us through to lunchtime.

After Bath locks, there are a couple of swing bridges, but fortunately we didn’t have to operate either of them. The first was manned by the crew of a little cruiser boat ahead of us (they held it open and allowed us to overtake them). The second, however, was operated by about half a dozen children (aged ten and under I would say), who pushed the gate open and then thrust a fishing net in our faces demanding payment. Honouring their ingenuity, Elaine gave them a coin or two.

Lunch came in the form of the now traditional barge pizza. I made them, but the oven wasn’t really up to the job. The result was edible, but most of mine (and the Captain’s) was donated to the very grateful SSO who lapped it up.

To work off some of this food, Elaine, the SSO, and I took a stroll along the tow path. It was full of people – you really wouldn’t know there was a worldwide pandemic going on – and the canal was chocked full of boats.

On foot we overtook a set of hire boats, all crewed by men on a stag-do pub crawl (narrow boats are generally slower than walking pace). At this point in the day they were reasonably sober, though one of the boats was towing a pair of less sober lads in their canoe.

We carried on walking until we came to bridge 174, our designated pick up point. We knew we’d have to wait for a bit and there was a convenient bench by the bridge, so we sat down and watched the world go by.

The stag-do convoy eventually caught up with us, there were a few more empty tins of beer scattered across the roof of their boats by this point.

Our Carol Ann should have appeared a moment later, but she was nowhere to be seen. Maybe the Captain and Trevor had given up, and moored up for the day without telling us?

We waited some more.

Eventually she arrived, and the Captain explained that they’d had some fun and games of their own – some bad driving by the stag-do crew had forced Carol Ann into the hedge on the far side of the canal!

With the whole of our crew reunited we pressed on, overtaking the stag-do when they moored up at the next pub. They were positively “tipsy” by this time.

Our next stop was our final lock of this trip: Bradford lock.

We knew it was likely to be busy at this popular lock, but we had no idea just how busy until we arrived!

As we approached, we saw lots of boats moored up. They weren’t all waiting for the lock, surely? Yes. Yes, they were.

We were at the back of the queue, and the scuttlebutt from those waiting around was that the queue was two hours long. We didn’t have enough hours of daylight left for a two hour queue on this side and who knows how long on the other (remember we just wanted to do the lock, turn around and come back down again).

There were no volunteer lock keepers, meaning it was down to individual boat crews to work the locks (most of the boaters at this stage appeared to be hire boaters). This was definitely not the most efficient way to do things. Elaine came up with the idea of helping people through the lock, and so off Elaine and I went, windlasses in hand, to try and create order out of chaos.

We managed it though, by simply working the lock on behalf of everyone else. This meant that we could get them through at our pace rather, than waiting around for everyone to figure out what to do.

It was a little bit like speed dating, meeting and chatting with new people ever 15 minutes. Absolutely everyone we met was pleasant and full of friendly chat. We saw something like eight boats through the lock by the time Carol Ann appeared.

We were joined by Mr Pink Shirt and his crew towards the end. He had been doing sterling work keeping the queuing boats in order below the lock, and had chosen that exact moment to relieve us of our lock duty. He even held the lock open for us as we turned our boat at the winding hole (which was immediately after the lock) to head back down the canal. Thank you Mr Pink Shirt!

All in all, we worked out that we’d saved everyone at least an hour of queuing time just by taking charge of the situation – which meant that we had enough daylight left to travel far enough to moor up in a quiet patch of countryside.

We saw the stag-do boaters one last time, they were all looking rather worse for wear. They’d clearly enjoyed their slow pub crawl.

We carried on, enjoying a beautiful golden sunset. Eventually we found the perfect spot. We had enough energy left to eat lasagna and play a few rounds of Uno, before call it a night.

A foggy morning greeted us on our last day. We had to return the boat by 9AM, and so had a quick breakfast (cereal and croissants) before setting off on our final leg of this adventurous weekend. This gave us just enough time to reflect on all the things we’d experienced over the past few days – and got us all the more excited for our longer trip in this area next year. That’s right, we’re not quite done with this canal yet… but you’ll have to wait for a little while before we can carry on cruising.

Thank you all for following along,

Until next time!