As Day 1 of moving ebbed away we both fell asleep quickly, despite the speeding trains passing close by on the West Coast Mainline. Although the trains did little to disturb me, I was woken in the night by Willy clambering around the boat. He was desperately removing hatches and doors, trying to find a leak. Willy had, unbeknown to me, been woken in the depths of the night by the sound of water. In one of those midnight horrors he had decided the boat was about to sink. Worried about us going down he had started his heroic investigation wearing only his rather unattractive underpants. He was determined to find -and no doubt plug (the mind boggles with what)- a hole in the hull. As I gradually became aware of what was going on in the gloom, it was hard not to laugh. I allowed him to continue his frantic search before mumbling that the sound was caused by canal water lapping the hull. (My time on-board dive boats had finally paid off!) I couldn’t help but wonder if we had sunk whether he would have ended up on the towpath in only his dodgy pants…
Our second day en-route to Welford started well, feeling buoyed by the previous day. We began to relax and to enjoy the countryside.Bird life was prolific and we had a number of kingfishers help lead the way. These beautiful birds were only visible as a flash of iridescent blue flying in parallel and close to the water. At Weedon Bec giddiness set in and we decided we needed more supplies. Luckily, the map in our Pearson Companion Guide had a Tesco Express marked just off the canal. Emerging from the tow path onto the main road we acted as though we had been away from civilisation for weeks. In a zombie daze we dodged the traffic to cross the road. We readjusted to ‘normal pace’ by visiting a couple of antique shops and then geared up for a ‘busy’ Tesco express. (Two elderly women buying bread, and a youth with a can of red bull.) Having stocked up with wine, cheese and extra bread, all of which were unnecessary apart from the wine, we wandered back to the boat. After a quick lunch in the sunshine we set off again towards Buckby locks. It was at these locks that we nearly came a cropper and saw the best and worst of boaters.
Moving towards disaster
We waited at the bottom of the locks in the hope another boat would join us, but none arrived. After quite a wait we decided to go it alone. On the previous day Willy found it hard to control the boat in the locks. In an attempt to help my cunning plan was to tie the boat on to a lock bollard.
Cunning it may have been, but really as stupid as a true Baldrick plan. This was a rooky mistake on two counts. Firstly, the centre rope on my boat had been tied with equal lengths of rope on either side of the boat. As a result the rope was not long enough to reach to the bollard and back down to Willy on the boat. Secondly, as any seasoned (or sensible) boater will tell you, you should never attempt to securely tie up in a lock. If a boat is tied it could be ‘hooked’ on the lock walls and begin to tilt. In our case, as the water began to fill the lock, the boat moved and the short rope unravelled. The rope hit the water and began to snake around in the turbulent lock. The danger now was the rope becoming wrapped around the propeller.
Wonder Woman to the rescue
At this point a woman, a fellow boater, who had appeared as I was working the paddles began squealing ‘the rope’. Reminiscent of a Norman Thelwell school mistress caricature she stood holding forth at the opposite end of the lock to Willy. Willy, of course could hear nothing, standing on the loud, one cylinder, thumping engine, in a lock filling with gushing water. School Ma’am didn’t move any closer, nor change her falsetto pitch. I watched as the rope seemed to be magnetically drawn to the propeller.
In those split seconds I (in my head at least) morphed into Wonder Woman. My cape flowing and gold tiara glinting as I ran alongside Willy on the boat and yelled to cut the engine. Willy still had no idea what the issue was, but did hear my Wonder Woman instructions. The situation could have resulted in a snagged propeller and serious damage. Willy was shaken by the incident, not helped as the woman demonstrated little empathy and continued to berate us. Unfortunately, School Ma’am brought out my worst inner naughty child, and I was glad to get out of the lock and see the back of her. I do hope that now when I meet newbies I am a bit more helpful and a little less arrogant!
The silver lining of this entire incident was another boat coming up behind us. Despite having witnessed the rope incident they were happy to share the next 6 locks with us. The family on-board lived not far from me, and immediately set about helping us learn. They were on their brand new, fabulously shiny, timeshare boat. Their beautiful boat reinforced the shabbiness of mine! The family had a lot of boating experience and it was a pleasure to move along the Grand Union with them towards Welford. Once through the Buckby locks we turned right at Norton Junction onto the Leicester line.
We were completely exhausted when we moored up at 5pm and yet again collapsed in a heap. The concept of going to a pub or doing anything other than eating and sleeping didn’t enter the equation. In our living dead state we looked on in awe, and with incredulity, when as darkness fell a boat helmed by an Antony Worrell Thompson look-alike passed us. Anthony at the helm had a large flagon of wine on the go, and waved at us jauntily. We could only aspire to such laid-back behaviour.
Day 3 – Watford Flight
Next morning our new-found friends passed us early heading for the Watford flight. We quickly followed, not realising the flight is made up of single-width narrow locks. We must have reached the locks just before 8am, and immediately set about helping each other through the bottom lock and then the staircase flight.
Half-way up a CRT (Canal and River Trust) volunteer came and reprimanded us for not checking in. ‘Hadn’t we seen the sign?’ he demanded. ‘Err no,’ we responded. ( I am still convinced that we arrived before the signs were out.) Luckily for us we had set the paddles in the correct order and made it to the top without incident. We did feel like naughty children – and as he only had a go at me and our fellow female boater I couldn’t help but wonder at the gendered nature of the telling off! I must admit that since then I been through the Watford flight on a number of occasions and as a single-hander have been very grateful to the CRT volunteers who have taken me through without stress.
To Crick and onwards
After Watford our giddy euphoria set in again as we felt we were now on the home straight. We faced only one more lock, just outside of Welford and one more tunnel at Crick. Unlike the Blisworth tunnel we didn’t encounter another boat moving through. Bizarrely, this seemed to make Crick tunnel more difficult. The water was dead flat and reflected on the walls of the tunnel. This merging of walls and water became quite disorientating and so we just chugged down the middle. Our reward for managing both tunnels, without death, was to stop at Crick. There we enjoyed an ice-cream and sat outside marvelling at yet another canal bridge. This bridge awe became quite a thing during the three days. Each bridge took on more impressive characteristics and we actually had conversations about why X bridge was better than Y bridge. I now embarrassingly understand why there are websites dedicated to photos of canal bridges. They are peculiarly attractive.
Although we were now on the final stretch we still had a number of hours cruising to do along the Leicester Line. This particular stretch is surrounded by some lovely countryside, made up of rolling hills and woodland. Occasionally roads cross over the bridges leading to nearby villages. Despite having left Norton junction before 8am it was 6pm before we made the final turn down the Welford Arm. I am sure there was a fanfare as we turned, and the horses in the adjacent field did a special dressage performance for us.
Just as Cosgrove Marina has its lock climbing barrier Welford goes one better. It has a narrow entrance (formerly a swing bridge) and a lock before a sharp turn into the marina. In the lock pound the challenge is the wind, which blows across the fields and hits boats side-on when they try to tie up. Although a small lock, it serves a notable purpose, as once through the lock we were at the highest point of the Grand Union canal.
A short stretch of canal and finally we were at the entrance to the marina. Turning in the winding hole to make it through the entrance we then had another 90 degree turn once inside. We crept around the edge, then made two more 90 degree turns before finally reaching my new mooring. One of these turns required passing, rather than hitting, my neighbours’ beautiful boat, but somehow we made it. Of all we had gone through I think this final part was the most nerve-wracking. After all these were the people who I would meet and see on a regular basis! Finally moving was over, and as the giddy euphoria returned, and the dolphins once more sang, it was a great relief to arrive at my home mooring and to declare with triumph no-one had died…