The canal reservoirs in the South are at about half the capacity that they were at this time last year –some are virtually empty. There are restrictions on the hours of usage of the major flights of locks to make people share locks, and so that boats going up swap with boats going down. There have been teams of volunteer lock keepers recruited.
We spent the night at the bottom of Stoke Bruerne Locks waiting for the flight to be unlocked in the morning.
|Heading up Stoke Bruerne Flight|
At five to ten the BW man arrived to unlock the gates. So, we set off immediately with another boat that had arrived behind us an hour or so earlier. As we started off up the flight a BW trainer with a team of volunteer lock keepers arrived having walked down from the top. They shadowed us the whole way up the flight, with the trainer explaining how to work the locks, how to let water down into a pound that is low, and all the other things that the volunteers will need to know while they help in their role of tackling the drought conditions.
|Training the volunteer lock keepers|
The trainer explained clearly and patiently, but we were surprised that none of the volunteers actually seemed to know very much already. We had made the assumption that they would all be experienced boaters, but clearly not. Locks can be dangerous places, so the volunteers will need to work calmly and safely, but we and the other boater travelling with us were surprised at how slowly they were being trained to do things. Paddles were going up very slowly, it seemed to take ages to get the gates open and the boats out of the locks. It is a difficult thing, BW has to make sure that the volunteers are trained to work safely, but we could see potential arguments developing in the future with experienced boaters being told that they can’t work locks as quickly as they are used to doing.
Into the tunnel – this time I stayed in the cabin, instead of sitting on the tug deck with a lantern. I got the washing up done, then washed down the ceiling and a lot of the cabin walls. I felt very virtuous, like a real boatwoman.
|In Blisworth, a provisioning stop|
A quick stock up of milk, cheese and butter at Blisworth, then on through many miles of lockless canal. I put a couple of baking potatoes into the oven, turning them occasionally, and checking their progress. After two hours we had some of the best baked potatoes I’ve eaten in ages.
We took turns at steering, with Alan getting a cheeky ‘Slow down!’ from Dominic Miles at Stowe Hill Wharf. Shortly afterwards a small boat did a U-Turn in front of Sickle – sticking his arm out and just turning across our bows. Obviously he doesn’t have much idea of what it’s like steering an old boat, but Alan managed to pull up in time, and avoid hitting him broadside. In Weedon we passed another friend from the Canal World Forum, Keith (Jelunga).
|In the queue for the locks at Whilton|
We stopped at the bottom of the Whilton/ Buckby flight of locks, immediately behind another boat on the lock landing. Once tied up I got busy cooking, although I haven’t completely got the measure of the stove yet. I didn’t have it quite hot enough and the food was a long time before it was ready.
We only have one battery, which we cannot allow to run low in the evening with running lights, etc., otherwise we won’t be able to start Sickle in the morning, so we don’t stay up late. To be honest, I am tired after a very busy term, so I’m likely to just fall asleep on the side bed, and have to get up to go to bed later. However, we were surprised that as we were midway between the West Coast Mainline and the M1, each only a couple of hundred metres either side, that it was far quieter than we would have predicted.
Stoke Bruerne Bottom Lock to Whilton Bottom Lock
Miles: 15.6, Locks: 7
Totals for extended trip....
Miles: 32.4 Locks: 8