Wednesday 24th May; Kingswood Junction to Hockley Heath bridge 24
Yesterday as the sun went down a cloud of willow fluff was illuminated as it floated through the air. Unfortunately the little golden fragments don’t show up well but I could probably have convinced a small child they were fairies.
We were on our way by about half past eight. Dave came up the first lock which brought Chuffed onto the North Stratford, while I disposed of the rubbish and set the first of the Lapworth flight;
and then came round to join me. The weather was glorious and quickly getting very hot.
The swans which nest at the small fishing lake had hatched 8 chicks a few days before. The chap fishing there told me that one had got swept down the overflow into the moorings below and he had retrieved it with his landing net. The family had now gone off down the canal somewhere and we didn’t see them. At the next lock was a smartly dressed gentleman wielding a windlass; as soon as he spoke I realised he was the American who lived in the cottage at the top lock and used to help out on an unofficial basis. He is now an official CRT volunteer but today was on his way to a doctor’s appointment – but had his windlass with him in case he met a boat. He brought the unwelcome news that several boats were ahead of us, but we did have his help for a couple of locks.
Lock 15 has been rebuilt and is now more than 2 feet shorter than it was. You can see this by the position of the ground paddles and the shape of the towpath edge.
At lock 16 I had a bit of a problem; first the top gate would not open properly, then I couldn’t close it. It was sticking half way, was difficult to get moving again and just didn’t feel right. I thought I’d report it, what with half-term coming up, but couldn’t get a signal this low down the flight.
I had to turn every lock until finally, In the thick of the flight, we met our first boat coming down. It was NB African Queen, owned by a couple who had retired from a forestry business in Tavistock and moved on board. It is one of the last boats built by Steve Hudson.
Also in the picture is a gentleman who was cycling up and down the flight with an expensive-looking camera. He lived not far from the Huddersfield Narrow canal and was down for a conference in Birmingham that afternoon so was taking the morning off.
As we rose up lock 8 a boat was descending the one above. The pound between the two is on a bend and very short. It’s not the way Dave would have done it, but the owner insisted he should bring Chuffed out of the lock so his boat could go straight in. Easier said than done; the steerer was not able to do it without nudging Chuffed. But only gently.
Then Jeremy, the American volunteer, returned from his appointment and helped us up the next one before going off home. He is no longer in the top lock cottage, but still lives locally.
We decided to complete the flight before stopping for lunch and went through the first of the lift bridges as well before stopping for lunch opposite the moorings at Swallow Cruisers. I opened the side hatch to the sweet scent of red clover.
How long before the contractors come along and chop their heads off I wonder? I finally managed to get through to CRT to tell them about the potential problem at lock 16. We went on to find a quieter and shadier mooring for the night, which we did a few hundred yards past Hockley Heath at bridge 24. It was a lovely spot, far enough away from roads and houses to be fairly quiet.
There wasn’t much boat traffic, though a CRT workboat went by pulling floating debris out of the water.
Dave spent the afternoon doing some rubbing-down and painting type jobs. I cooked a curry so it would only need heating up again when we came back from a welcome beer in the Wharf garden back at Hockley Heath. Meg enjoyed the walk in the cool of the evening too though it was still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.
19 locks, 2 manual lift bridges, 3½ miles