We woke up in Worcester, ready for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, beans, and potato cakes. We also had a bit of breakfast surgery to attend to.
Every year the Captain sustains some kind of boating injury, and this year it was a splinter in her hand. With the aid of a torch and a pin, Elaine sorted it out.
I drove the first section of the day, an hour long trek up the Severn to our final lock on this river (but far, far from the final lock of the day). The lock itself was huge, and operated by a little man in a hut. Once we were through we carried on, eventually taking a sharp right turn and found ourselves on the Droitwich Canal.
Being back on a canal made us all very happy, perhaps Jerry most of all as we could stop the boat almost anywhere to let him off to answer the call of nature. Not something we could do on either of the rivers.
The Droitwich Canal was pretty, but uneventful. It was only restored to working order around a decade ago. There were a few locks, and a small staircase but nothing too difficult. Really this stretch of canal was just a way of getting us to the main event of the day: Tardebigge locks. But we will get to that.
After completing the Droitwich Canal, we turned left onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which began in slightly more dramatic fashion with an incredibly low bridge (made all the worse by the low bridge warning signs that dangled even lower than the bridge itself), followed by a double lock – where the top gate of the bottom lock is the bottom gate of the top lock. The two locks joined together.
At one point we had some assistance from a pair of local volunteers, friendly people. The Captain was especially welcoming of their sage advice on how to enter and exit a lock.
We took on water shortly before Tardebigge, partly because we needed it and partly because it gave us a chance to prepare ourselves for the upcoming flight of locks.
30 locks. In a row. The longest flight of locks in the country. This was really what this whole holiday was about. The guide book says to allow 7 hours to complete this section of the canal. We initially had it in our heads to complete it in half that time, until we met a particularly boastful old man, let’s call him The Liar, who said he’d completed it in 2 hours 40 minutes. That’s averaging just over 5 minutes per lock, including travelling between them.
That’s fast. Very fast. But we saw it as a challenge nonetheless. Could we complete 30 locks in less that 2 hours 40 minutes? Were we slick enough, fit enough, and stupid enough to try it? Let’s find out…
We started the first Tardebigge lock (confusingly numbered 28, but stick with me it’ll be okay), at 1600. The clock was now ticking.
We had our system worked out. I would scout ahead and prep the locks, Trevor would drive the boat with assistance from Jerry, whilst the Captain and Elaine did the hardest job of filling and closing the locks.
At Lock 33 (our sixth lock on the way up the staircase) we passed another boat coming in the opposite direction. It was crewed by a group of old men, it had taken them most of the day to get this far, but they just slowed us down. At this stage we were averaging 7 minutes a lock, which was too slow.
Fortunately that one boat full of crusty sea-dogs would be the only boat we saw for the rest of this challenge. We picked up the pace and carried on.
We reached Lock 44 (the halfway point) after 1 hour and 20 minutes. They put us slap bang on time to match The Liar, but matching wouldn’t do. We wanted to win!
Time became a blur, as lock after lock passed by. At one lock I saw a man pumping water from the canal into his garden (is that allowed? I don’t know), at another I made friends with a very goofy collie dog who wanted nothing more than to splash around in the water. On and on we went.
And then, just as time was running out, the last lock came into view. Lock 57 is officially the end of the flight of locks. It was there, tantalisingly close… but no time for dawdling. I ran back to the previous lock to assist with getting the boat through. Like a slick formula one team, we were a blur of action. Come on!
And then, with great relief we were at the final lock, but there was no time to breath, no time to think. No time left on the clock.
With a solid clunk, we closed the final lock gate and checked our watches. We knew we were close to our target. Close to beating The Liar. But had we done it?
Our final time was: 2 hours 37 minutes. We’d beaten our target by 3 whole minutes!
We were hot, we were sweaty, we were victorious.
We were also hungry.
We showered on the move, and moored up at Alvechurch. Which completed our circle – we were back where we started. The Avon Ring, done.
We set out on this epic journey not knowing if we would complete it. We made plans and contingencies, in case we had to turn back. We knew our point of no return. We understood that attempting to complete a trip that most people do in 2 weeks in just 7 days was foolhardy, but we did it anyway, and have now officially completed the Avon Ring in just 4.5 days.
But our trip is not over. There is room for a little more. A whole new chapter is about to start.
Trevor and I hopped into Alvechurch to pick up some fish and chips, our hard won victory meal, and came back with a new crew member: Officer Cadet Harry, who is going to spend a couple of days with us learning the ropes.
He settled in straight away, although I think adjusting to life on a narrowboat is going to be something of a culture shock for him.
Stay tuned to find out more.