Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Honey Street to Great Bedwyn

The party had gone on long into the night at the Barge Inn and at the campsite next door. This morning all was quiet save for a few early birds who were packing up their gear. I watched them as they moved about gingerly, as if any sudden movement or loud noise would have made their head explode. It had obviously been a good night.

Yesterday at Devizes we had stopped for a chat with a family from New Zealand, a young couple with their uncle and aunt,  who were heading up the same way as us. At Wootton Rivers we cam upon them again. Here are the last four locks that take the canal up to the summit pound, and they were waiting for the first one to fill as we approached. 

"They're indulging me, " said the uncle as we sat on the back of the boats whilst the others took care of filling the lock. "I wanted to go through the tunnel. Who knows when I'll get another chance?"
It meant they were on a tight schedule as, due to low water, these locks were closed at three in the afternoon. "I'm sure we'll make it," he said optimistically. 

We have been surprised by how many visitors we come across from New Zealand, Australia and North America on the canal system, it  seems to be an increasingly popular holiday destination. And everyone we spoke to told us how much they loved it. 

With all hands to the lock we made good time up the flight and then pressed on to Bruce Tunnel. Its only a dinky one, lengthwise, by canal standards, a mere 502 yards long, but it takes a good few minutes to navigate through, and I could see why he was keen to do it. We took photos of them exiting the tunnel behind us to email off to them, sharing email addresses as they executed a turn at the winding hole above the Crofton flight which takes the canal down to Great Bedwyn south of Savernake Forest.

The first couple of locks were uneventful. Then pandemonium broke out. We were coming through the third lock when a chap rushed up to the lock. 
"We're all on the bottom down there!" he said. ""When you've come through I'll have to let another lockful of water down." 

The wife of the chap at the lock asked frantically where her husband was. "We're tipping right over!" she said. We went to help her hold a rope. 
"He's letting more water down to try and float you off," I explained.
The woman from the other widebeam came along the towpath. 
"Its those two down there," she said grimly. ""They've been at that lock for half an hour, they don't know what they're doing. My husband has gone to have a word."
We looked down the canal to the next lock where a smallish narrowboat had just gone into the lock. A man on the bank was gesticulating and we and could hear a lot of shouting going on. After a while he came storming back.
"Bloody idiots!" he exclaimed. "They haven't a clue what they're doing. They've opened the bottom and the top paddles at the same time. This, of course, had the effect of allowing the water simply to wash though the lock. No wonder they were grounded. 
"We only stopped for a cup of tea," the chap groaned. "Now we're going to be here until tomorrow."

"We'd better tell them to wait," I said, heart sinking. We can't let them go on or we'll have to waste another lockful of water. Mick gingerly edged the boat along the very low pound, scraping along the bottom the whole time. At the lock the culprits were still faffing about. They were a couple in their sixties. He was clearly ex-army, it stood out a mile. He was shouting and blustering, the way men do when they have made a cock up but can't admit it. She was looking weary, but in a way that showed she was used to this sort of thing. They had picked the hire boat up in Devizes and clearly had no idea whatsoever what they were doing.

"Do we have to share locks with bloody Colonel Blimp?" I hissed to Mick.
He nodded glumly. "Yes I think we do, we can't risk them going alone. The whole effing canal will be empty, he's a complete disaster area."

The worst thing was, although he clearly had no idea what he was doing, "the colonel" refused to listen to anybody else. As soon as one of us tried to show him anything he would  say, "yes, yes I know I know," before going on to completely fuck it up. Even worse, he would insist from charging around the lock, shouting and waving his arms about like a demented hippo.

And so, together we limped down the canal to Great Bedwyn where we moored both boats up for the night. Great Bedwyn only has two pubs so it was hardly surprising that we ran into the two of them later in the evening. 
"Oh hi," said Mrs Blimp, clearly delighted to see us. "Thank you so much for your help today. I don't know how we would have managed without you!"
"Oh that's ok,"I said. "It's difficult the first time you go boating isn't it."
"Oh it's not the first time," she said. "Last year we did the Warwickshire ring."
I looked at her in disbelief. 
"And um, any plans for next year?"
"We thought we might try the Thames."
I made a mental note to look out for them on news at ten.

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