Despite her initial concern about her strength, Clare had managed all the locks we did yesterday. I could probably have turned some of the paddles a little faster, but it would not have made an appreciable difference to our progress through the flight. Today, we were starting a little earlier, but we had a few more locks to do. On some other flights, Clare has been disappointed not to do the entire set herself if she’d got close to doing that. Before we set off I checked how she felt about these – I interpreted her answer as “not determined, but optimistic”.
We started well, Clare had opened the first gate, and got the next lock ready before I’d finished coiling the ropes. So the first pair of locks went very smoothly. The next group are very close together, so Clare was able to repeat the trick of leaving me and Bartimaeus rising in the lock while she went ahead to open the next gate. Usually I hopped off when I was high enough to open the gate, and then drove out and in to the next. Meanwhile Clare was getting the miles in by walking back to tidy up the previous lock before catching up and closing the gate behind me before setting me rising again.
In similar circumstances, I would probably have been running around, but Clare was happier walking. I took advantage of the slower pace to try to minimise my use of electric drive. We had left Saltisford with the batteries fully charged, and had not gone far enough to justify running the engine. There were a few volunteers out on the lock flight, and Clare did get some help towards the top of the flight. Nevertheless finishing the top half of the Stairway to Heaven in time for an early lunch is a fine achievement.
We moored up at the water point immediately above the top lock. The hose supplied with the boat is 20m long – slightly longer than the boat. It is often essential to have this much hose, and occasionally we could use a little more, but we can usually moor up much nearer to the tap. I’ve bought a new hose that is only 7m long – which is a requirement when filling the water while on the River Thames. As a bonus it can also be joined to the other one (when not on the Thames!).
This was our first use of the newly acquired hose. It was a little reluctant to uncoil at first, but was much easier to handle than its longer cousin. When we were full, it was also much easier to drain, coil and stow it. Draining the hose could be important, we’re expecting some cold nights before we next use it again. Water freezing in the hose could easily destroy it.
We moved off the water point on principle. We weren’t expecting any other boats to appear, but that is often just when they do! We only went a few boat lengths and moored up to have lunch in the cafe again – it seemed too close to ignore.
After lunch, I wanted to drive a few miles to charge the batteries. We hadn’t run the diesel engine since November, so I was a little anxious. I made sure to give it the full ten seconds of pre-heat and the engine burst in to life on the first turn – fantastic. We set off for a slow cruise in the sunshine. The air was still very cold, but there was hardly any wind. Once or twice there were a few flakes of snow in the air, but it never came to anything.
By the time the batteries had reached a good voltage, Clare had taken over driving. I’d just said we could now stop whenever we wanted as we reached an embankment I’d noticed before with open views both sides. We stopped.
I spent some time clearing some of the accumulated leaf debris from the gutters. I am always surprised at how much can gather on what is essentially a flat plate. That job done I went inside, but a glance at the view reminded me just how mucky the windows were too – inside and out! Clare offered to clean the insides if I did the outsides – deal! It didn’t take us long, and soon we could appreciate the view from inside too.
The sun was sinking low in the sky by then and the temperature was starting to drop further. The late afternoon colours gave way to an unspectacular sunset. A beautiful full moon rose on the other side of the boat soon after – just a smudge in the photos we tried to take.