Back Then Right Now

Moored near the steam pump and windmill, the man from the boat in front came to ask if we were leaving in the morning, and perhaps we could buddy up in the locks. We had to admit we were not and were just planning to stay another day and visit the windmil. It can be a hard choice. We had a two day mooring so stayed for the two days. He stayed chatting a while anyway, until his wife and dachshund returned.

Once underway ourselves, we were delighted to see kingfishers a few times, looking particularly brilliant in the bright sun. It had been about three weeks since we had seen one then there several in one day. The strong sunlight also made it easy to see that there was a plentiful supply of suitable fish in the water. They do like to patrol a particular patch. We can’t be sure if we saw three or four kingfishers or if we saw the same one moving forward much faster than us.

I recognised some spots from being on this stretch before and at one I was surprised that I recognised some ducks at exactly the same spot as I had seen them before. I had remembered seeing someone feeding Muscovy ducks under the bridge when I was driving in the other direction and here they were again. There are no fences and surely they can swim or find a nice grassy spot to lie but here they were again by the bridge. Perhaps they are shade seeking ducks.

Muscovy ducks below the bridge

Approaching a lock I was distracted by the sight high up in a tree of an egret. Being very high a good picture was difficult but it did stay on the branch,though its head twitched around. They like to be near water but I have only seen them a distance from it either in a field or high in a tree. I can’t believe they are fishing from up there. It flew off as we pulled in at the lock bollards with a rasping croak.

The locks are spaced in a steady trickle, rarely worth walking between them, but there will be another one in about a mile all the way. We managed to buddy up with one boat who were casting off while we were approaching a lock and asked to join us. The couple who owned the boat were experienced but their daughter was new to it and keen to have a go but was only going to do that one lock then she was leaving her nine year old son with his grandparents for the day. He was being put through his paces and being carefully taught by grandma. He came over and helped with the gate on my side. Grandma was certainly strong and knew what she was doing but walked with a stick so took care getting on and off the boat and they didn’t do any walking between locks so went at a gentle pace. Still they would catch us up by the time we had got the lock set, or had to wait for other boats coming out, and got inside. We met one of the Bruce boats, that are adapted for disabled passengers with ramps and lifts. I told the lad that one was drivable with a video display and controls like a video game so someone who couldn’t use the tiller or stand up could still drive. He reckoned he would be quite good at driving that kind of boat. He was getting involved in catching ropes and pulling the boat as well as working the locks. Later the woman asked if I was a teacher. I hadn’t done much demonstration so wondered why she thought it. She said it was the way I spoke to him. She had taught home economics herself.

They were only doing a day trip and turned back while we stopped for lunch. We continued on to Hungerford and caught up with a different Bruce boat. We couldn’t buddy up with them as they are too wide but had a bit of an exchange with the crew when we were waiting to get through.

Approaching Hungerford Shane went to see if there were any good moorings beyond the lock as it was quite crowded there. I drove past the man who had hoped we would share locks with him two days earlier. He said they hadn’t found anyone to share with and ended up alone and in the mist, as they had set off early. It had been scorching later so I hope they had time to relax in the sun. He was still smiling anyway.

We managed to squeeze in between a wide boat and a small grey boat. Shane decided to go to the shops and I sat out the front knitting in the sun. I noticed the chap in the next boat wore a leather old fashioned biker helmet. He made his way towards the boat and asked if I he could sit down on the boat and then he asked if I was female and sounded pleased I was. As he settled himself on the side of the boat he asked again if I didn’t mind him sitting there and then asked if I was married. He seemed a tad incoherent and slow in responding to remarks. He said he used to be in the army and was a Hell’s Angel until a bike accident where he lost his eye. I wondered what else might have been damaged. He said the other eye wasn’t too great anyway and with shades on it was no wonder he wasn’t seeing me very well. He did manage to work out that I was knitting and he proffered advice about where to go for the use of toilets and a shower. We didn’t really need those. He was keen to show me the boat he was living in, encouraging me to go and look inside but telling me he would stay on the grass and that I was quite safe. I wondered again if he was very used to people being untrusting of him. He seemed to be the more vulnerable and he told stories that suggested others mistreated him. Some others along the path certainly knew him and stopped to ask after him so people were trying to look out for him. Sadly it seemed like someone was selling the boat he was in and telling him he would be homeless. He is due for an operation this week so I hope he is not homeless then. Shane told me he had seen him lying on the grass with an empty wine bottle beside him earlier on. He seemed to be sobering while chatting to me. He had a very fine ornament on the roof and he was most amused that I asked for a picture of it.

Cock on a hot steel roof

The next day as I passed his boat to go for fresh bread, I heard his radio on. Further ahead the Bruce boat had got moored up. I was pleased to see the Bruce boats being used as a while ago we had been told they were not used very much, but we saw Rebecca a few times over the last few days. The group was different each time but the crew was the same. The next day when we had stopped near a water point, they came up to use the water. Shane wondered if we were in their way since he had heard them talking about getting water but seen no sign of them doing so. He asked if there was a problem and there certainly was. They couldn’t find their hose. Shane got ours but they had another issue that they couldn’t get the cap off their water tank. I went to get our tool for opening it but meanwhile they had managed with a fifty pence piece. Coins still come in handy! The next hitch was that the end of our hose didn’t fit in their tank so had to be held there. I held it while a crew member sought another end piece but that didn’t help so Shane got our other hose that had only the pipe exposed with no extra fittings. We swapped them over and they were very grateful and relieved we had more than one hose. They had a further problem that one of their crew had a faint or dizzy turn and they were waiting for his wife to collect him as they couldn’t risk him being unwell on the boat and falling over. As they drove off the driver gave us an update and called out to us that the man’s wife had come and picked him up. One crew member down but another problem sorted out.

We ventured in the afternoon to the village, it was very hot, but there was also ice cream and a short shaded walk in the woods brought us to a group of three pregnant cows. stood and her bulging midriff was churning with in utero activity. It was little wonder that all three were not very lively themselves.

We were moored beside a lock and in the morning, Shane went to ready the lock while I cast off, but a woman and child with canoes appeared at the water’s edge just in front of Bartimaeus. If they were about to plop in the water then I should let them get out of the way, so I paused untying for a few minutes. The woman had her back to me so I couldn’t easily engage without interrupting and I could hear instructions on how to paddle so that was important. Shane opened the gate and I reckoned they might be a while on the safety brief so I cast off anyway. By the time I was moving they look ready to start but she said “It’s okay we’ll wait for you.”

The first few locks had no other boats about. Later we passed the same Bruce boat again coming the other way with a new group but the crew recognised us and greeted us warmly. I wondered if they had a replacement crew member today. As I was driving towards one lock Shane thought he was seeing another Bruce boat ahead of us. I thought it was similar, certainly a wide boat but not quite the same. Then we recognised it as the horse drawn boat we had met before coming the other way. The horse was grazing unhitched by the lock, and was getting a wet tea towel draped over his head to help cool down.

The boat was waiting to get into the lock so we queued behind. They told us that they were going in then turning round on the other side of the lock and coming straight back. We moved the boat forward when they went in and then went to spectate along with half of their group who had disembarked. We got to see the manoeuvring of the boat rope hauled by the the horse handler while Monty continued to graze, then he came back after arranging the ropesto take the Monty over the bridge. He didn’t lead by the head but followed behind holding on to the long straps that went over Monty’s back. Monty was hitched to the boat and while the front end was steered towards the opposite bank, Monty pulled the back end round to turn it. Monty was oblivious to the squeals of the passengers being driven into the foliage. He was unhitched and brought back over the bridge to graze again while they worked the lock.

It looked hard hot work for the handlers and they weren’t getting their break there for sure. A Swedish group helped us through as they were waiting to come the other way and had also enjoyed the spectacle. They have been lucky with the weather for their trip.

As the morning wore on I was getting very thirsty and tired. Shane let me drive as we approached a lock as it was less tiring. A boat was moored just beside the lock bollards and I was slightly worried about steering in to the side to drop him off and also not hit the boat. I went to get the rope to tie it off and thought there was extreme water flow as Shane had opened a paddle and the boat was moving backwards faster than I could hold it. I shouted to him but he was crossing the lock away from me and I realised it was the lock water, as it was going the other way. I had somehow neglected to bring the throttle to neutral and it was in hard reverse that I had done to stop the boat before getting off and it was heading towards the moored boat. I ran back and jumped on the back in the nick of time before the lock landing neat verge ended, ramming it into full forwards when it was inches from the boat. We didn’t bump. I really did need some refreshing.

At Newbury we tied up and as I was putting the rope through the spike, a man walked passed with a trolley and said hi, then “you had me worried there back at the lock!” I said I had given myself a fright too. He said “No worries!” He didn’t seem in the least bit cross.

We lunched and had ice cream in town where a Portuguese man regaled us with his life history having asked permission to sit beside us and have a smoke. He had married a Scottish woman. He recommended an independent cafe. We have had quite a few conversations with different European nationalities with the Dutch trainee miller at the mill, a Swiss party at a lock a day or two ago, the Swedish group who we chatted with at the horse lock and the Portuguese man in Newbury, where I stocked up on extra summer wear and look forward to meeting more and being the foreigner abroad. As they say, a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. Shane is keeping Bartimaeus company, and he now has a tip for a friendly cafe nearby.

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