The Shortest Day

I should start by warning you that this entry features the ripping of clothes, bodily functions, and definitely has a sting in the tail. As much as you may disbelieve what you are about to read, I promise you, it is all true… (some might say “you couldn’t make it up!”)

Knowing how busy Braunston Locks can get (there was a two-hour long queue yesterday lunchtime), we chose to get up and get going early today.

We were filling the first of the six Braunston locks before 06:30.

But it’s ok, as we had planned for this to be our shortest cruising day, so the early start simply meant a nice early finish.

It was my turn to operate the locks (as the Captain took this duty on the way up), but half way through nature called and I needed to visit the smallest room on the boat, and so the Captain and I swapped (that’s the bodily functions element of the story out of the way nice and early).

Given that we only had 10 locks for the whole day, it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.

It took us about an hour and a half to progress through all six locks which is not a bad rate really, especially for two people. We both tried operating two locks at once (emptying the first, with the boat in it, whilst simultaneously filling the next in anticipation), but this proved to be too stressful so we stopped doing that.

After the locks we carried on our journey, our end goal was to travel up the Oxford Canal (attempting to avoid the busiest parts) to Hawkesbury Junction, where we would spend an hour or so on the Coventry Canal, before ending up on the Ashby Canal.

On our way the Captain spotted one of her many Instagram followers by the name of “Jules Fuels”. The Captain has a side line in posting beautiful canal photos for the world to enjoy, check her out here).

Jules and his team drive a series of working barges up and down the canals, delivering fuel to boaters who need it. A very useful service.

Hillmorton Locks was the next event of the day, and again the Captain chose to operate the locks (as I did them on the way up).

The Hillmorton lock gates have something deep to say

These locks are a little different, in that they’re dual locks – two single locks side by side – and you can use either to go up or down.

I held the boat in the pound (the pool of water between locks) and waited to be ushered into whichever lock we were using. There was a busybody in the middle of the three locks (and I don’t mean a volunteer, as they have so far actually been quite helpful), which didn’t please the Captain, and made my wait in the pound longer than it needed to be. Some people just think they know best, even when they don’t.

With Hillmorton complete, 9 of our 10 locks for the day were done, and it wasn’t even late morning.

Our shortest day was going well. Though this wasn’t to last.

To get to the Ashby Canal, we had to travel for quite some distance north on the Oxford Canal, passing the place we hired the boat originally.

We also passed through Newbold tunnel, which was just a short stint in the darkness as it’s only 207 yards long.

Given that this was our shortest day, we even had time to moor up and have lunch. Our lunchtime location of choice was a place called All Oaks Wood, which was a pleasant and shady place to stop. Perfect on such a blisteringly hot day as this.

This is Cathiron Road, next to the canal in All Oak Wood

After lunch (nachos) we pressed on, this stretch of the journey contained a couple of notable highlights: we passed under the Fosse Way at one point (it’s Bridge 30 on the Oxford Canal, if that helps?), and there was a very rickety, hand-operated swing bridge over an especially narrow section.

The closer we got to Coventry, the grimier the canal became, though I guess that’s to be expected given the built up, urban nature of the canal system in places like this.

At Hawkesbury junction, we passed through our last lock of the day. It’s something called a “stop lock”, which basically means the water level only changes a few inches from one side to the other, but it used to serve as a divide between two competing canals (back in the day when the canals were purely a commercial / industrial endeavour). In our case the competing canals are the Oxford and the Coventry.

We were helped through this canal by a very friendly boater who was heading in the opposite direction.

I know what you’re thinking… there was a warning at the start, and yet everything so far seems so… normal. Well, trust me, it gets more and more unbelievable from here on in.

As soon as we turned onto the Coventry Canal, and I mean the very second we turned, the clouds rolled in, the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. Prior to this, it had been a scorching day without a single cloud in the sky.

It took another few minutes for the spitting to begin. Suddenly we were accompanied by the unwanted drip-drop-drip of unforecast rain.

The SSO, who had spent most of the day inside the boat to avoid the intense heat and direct sunlight, was now inside the boat avoiding getting wet.

The rain didn’t last long, but it was followed by several bright and impressive flashes of lightning, which was enough to make me question whether sitting in what is basically a tin can on water was really a safe place to be.

Thankfully I never did get my answer, and instead the storm broke, and we soon made it to our last leg of the day: the Ashby Canal.

The turn into the Ashby was tricky, but the Captain pulled off a short, smooth, showboat of a manoeuvre, turning us around without breaking our stride. It was perfect.

As it was our shortest day, all we needed to do was moor up and relax. Enjoy the evening.

Unfortunately, Ashby had other plans for us.

We tried mooring four or five times, but the canal was too shallow (lots of this restored canal appears to be critically shallow) and we couldn’t reach the towpath, not even with the plank.

Each time we tried, another boat would come along from the opposite direction, meaning we had to back up, pull out of the way, move forward and try again. This happened four times in a row. This is a quiet and supposedly little used canal, we’d barely seen a boat on it – but come mooring time they suddenly appeared.

It was around this time that the clothes malfunction happened – as I stretched to get back on the bow, with one foot on the boat as it slowly pulled away, and the other still on the bank there was a riiiiip as the seam in my shorts gave way.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the next attempt was worse. We got as far as banging the pins into the ground this time, when I accidentally disturbed an underground nest of sleeping wasps with my mooring pin!

They were not happy at all, several hundred of them flew out as a warning. I received six hasty stings for my transgression. I’m not afraid to confess that I ran away as quickly as I could, it took a while for the disgruntled creatures to leave me alone.

I may be writing this in a slightly uncomfortable state now, but the stings have been treated as best as possible, and I don’t appear to have reacted badly. So that’s a stroke of luck.

Needless to say we didn’t hang around there for long, and I will definitely be more careful when knocking in mooring pins from now on.

Someone somewhere was telling us that the Ashby Canal was not for us, but we perceived.

Our next and final mooring place wasn’t perfect, but it is wasp free so that’s a bonus. We do, however, need to use the plank to get on and off the boat.

The SSO wasn’t so keen on the plank, so he jumped the gap instead

All of this late in the day adventure meant that our shortest cruising day somehow ended up being the longest so far. We moored up in the end at 20:30.