We had tickets booked for a train to Edinburgh for Thursday afternoon. With strikes on Wednesday and Saturday, I’d guessed that would be the most reliable time to travel. On Thursday morning we were just a short distance from the Hawkesbury Junction where the Oxford Canal meets the Coventry Canal. Just before the junction we reached the stop lock. This has an official fall of one foot, but seemed nearer six inches to me.
As we approached we met a boat emerging, so they were able to drive on and we could drive straight in. Before we’d even started operating the lock a woman appeared saying they were coming the other way, so we could leave the gate open on exit. This made it one of our fastest and easiest lock operations. The stop locks are left over from the days when canals were owned by competing companies. The deliberate height difference would make it hard for one company to use the water from the other canal, and it also forced boats to stop so that tolls could be collected. These days they are as much of a relic as rail tickets that can be used on only one of our state-run railway companies.
Most boats at this junction do the 180° turn to continue their north-south journey. We instead did the gentle zig-zag to head in to the centre of Coventry. Immediately after the junction we went under a footbridge and admired the first of a series of artworks along the canal.
The route less travelled can sometimes be tricky to navigate. I was aware that we had a deadline, so I was grateful to find that we were able to make reasonable progress – the canal must be reasonably well dredged. Fairly soon we passed Coventry Stadium. I noticed that there was a long section of canal lined with mooring rings there. Some of the Commonwealth Games events were due to be held at the stadium that weekend, but not a single boat was moored up.
Bridge 8 was an uninteresting concrete arch on a corner. I had no difficulty lining up for it, but as the bow went in to the arch it reared up and slewed across the canal. I cut the propellor in case it caught on whatever was under the water. The cabin roof at the bow end was perilously close to scraping so I used a burst of reverse and then pushed my hand against the bridge to protect the stern end. I switched on the bow thruster so that I could use it to extricate ourselves.
The main casualty of the grounding was a tub of cumin. Despite me providing fiddles (rails) on the kitchen shelves, Clare had placed this tub on top of other containers, so it was not protected.
We still don’t know what was under the water, but we approached the rest of the bridges with more caution, and with the bow thruster powered up! We ran over a similar obstacle in another open section of canal, but that caused less panic and no loss of culinary ingredients.
We reached the terminus of the canal and turned in the basin. This is another silver propellor location, so we were careful to record our presence next to the statue of the canal’s builder James Brindley, the first or last of the artworks.
A passer-by on the towpath struck up conversation with us after we had moored up. On hearing Clare’s accent he told us of his own heritage. He had recently visited his family home in Montrose and a number of other places we all knew further up the coast. He clearly didn’t think being sent to Coventry should stop him talking to us.