There was a threat of showers during the day, so when the day started with blue sky and sunshine we decided to get going while it was good. I didn’t put on as many layers as I had last week, but I put my raincoat on just in case. The air was cold to start, and the first few miles were lock-free. My hat and gloves came out of my pockets fairly soon.
Just as we reached the first of the locks that pepper the rest of the South Stratford Canal the batteries came to full charge. I turned the diesel engine off and handed control to Clare. I’d remembered the configuration of this lock from travelling the other way. There is a road bridge with a narrow channel next to the lock, so Clare could put the nose of the boat in there and drift up to the gate. I went through the inside of the boat and out of the front door. I could then go via the roof to the bank, in just the right place to operate the lock.
We made steady progress through the locks, which were mainly set our way. The locks are sufficiently spaced out, and the towpath of varying quality that I sometimes rode between the locks. I was particularly keen to do so on the section I remembered Clare paddling through. In fact the level of the canal has dropped noticeably – that section was no longer flooded.
The additional exertion of walking and working locks, combined with the warmth of the sun warmed me up. It wasn’t long before I was down to my T-shirt – first time this year.
These locks are infamous for their poorly placed by-wash. These create a strong cross-current just before the entrance to many of the locks. One choice when driving in is to approach very slowly, and struggle to keep your line. Scraping the nose is almost inevitable this way. The other option is to arrive at cruising speed with a fast turning propellor. The boat is then deflected less, and the steering is proportionally stronger. It’s impressive to watch, though it does require confidence. Clare did a mixture of the two depending on the state of the lock on approach.
At some point in a lock or under a bridge we must have hit a protruding brick at some speed. It looks as if the brick came off worst, though we should maybe touch up the paintwork sometime. (I was driving some of the time today, neither of us know who was driving when this happened.)
When we stopped for lunch the sun was shining and the birds were singing, it seemed a shame to go inside. I remembered Barry Cryer’s story of the two old blokes on a bench. One says “It’s nice out!”, the other replies “I’ll get mine out then!” So that’s just what I did – I got my table out.
There was a sprinkle of rain after lunch, so we sat it out at the top of a lock, but after ten minutes the sun came back out and we carried on. At one lock I noticed a nearby road sign that seemed to be a summary of the places we had visited recently – only Stratford was missing.