Narrowboat Adventure #1: Learning the ropes

Narrowboat Adventure #1: Learning the ropes

Tuesday 1st February 2022

When we tell people that we have hired a narrowboat for three months the responses vary from “Are you completely mad?” to “Great, could we come too?”.

Matilda falls somewhere in between. Robert felt the need to plan national holidays to pass the time in lockdown when travelling abroad was a distant dream and Matilda absentmindedly agreed without necessarily believing it would ever happen. 

Yet here we are at the start of February having our familiarisation session on The Duke from David Dare.

Welcome to The Duke

Fortunately the sun shone brightly on this endeavour and we set off in unseasonably glorious warmth which made it seem less of an insane undertaking. 

Originally we had planned to travel just a short distance and go through three locks but the sunshine made us bold and we tackled another eight before the light started to fade. You can tell who is wrapped up warm and who is in shirtsleeves doing all the hard work. 

We moored overnight close to The Blue Lias pub. When Matilda scouted ahead for mooring spots at about 16:45 the pub looked very closed so we moored on the opposite bank, a little further down. Matilda felt she, at least, had earned a nice cold beer and we set off to find a hostelry which would provide such liquid refreshment. As we strolled past The Blue Lias (named for a type of dinosaur) we saw the gleaming welcome of lamps in the windows and felt no need to go further. Here we learned that we could have actually stayed at one of The Blue Lias’ own canal side moorings.

We plan to take advantage of this convenient location when we pass back this way. 

Mooring pub for Tuesday 1st February 2022: The Blue Lias, Stockton.

01/02/2022 – Miles: 5.69 – Locks: 11

Route map for Tuesday 1st February 2022.

Wednesday 2nd February 2022

The following morning we set off early. Twelve locks and three and half hours later, having not passed a single boat up to this point we came across Sally and Pete about to exit a lock in a 70 foot long narrowboat [The Duke is a 57 footer] looking for a turning place. Although currently living on a narrowboat, Sally and Pete’s home was shorter and they hadn’t taken this into account when planning their route for a day out with friends. Matilda overheard them talking about turning round at The Blue Lias. She knew that this was a good three and a half hours both ways so they would never manage this in the remaining daylight. They decided to stay in the lock where Robert and The Duke joined them. There was talk of reversing all the way back but as the water in the lock rose, so did the sense of canal camaraderie and Robert offered to steer for them. 

Robert guided the two narrowboats, tied together, along the canal, through two locks, to the closest turning point.

Robert was due to undertake some remote tutoring at 14:00 so we moored up in time but unfortunately he found he could not make the connection and the session had to be re-scheduled. About ten minutes after setting off again, Robert spotted a communications mast and checking his phone at the helm, found he had full signal and 5G. So we will now be looking out for masts to help to identify a good stopping point for the regular tutoring sessions.

Having moored on the opposite side of the canal from the pub The Cape of Good Hope, Matilda informed Robert that she had no intention of walking back over the top of a lock gate, in the dark, after a swift half and wearing varifocals and that they would both have to go the longer route via a real, solid, well-built bridge.  

Mooring pub for Wednesday 2nd February 2022: The Cape of Good Hope, Warwick.

However, when we strolled to the pub, pre alcohol, using the short cut over the lock gate we were pleasantly surprised to find that this particular lock gate has guard rails on both sides. We checked and the one at the lower end of the lock has the more usual single one.

A rare lock gate with double hand rails.

So, presumably there have been some post-pub, alcohol-induced, lock-related accidents in the past and safety measures have had to be put in place. We were happily able to hold on with both hands as we returned to cook supper.

Night time at The Cape of Good Hope, Warwick.

02/02/2022 – Miles: 9.97 – Locks: 14

Route map for Wednesday 2nd February 2022.

Thursday 3rd February 2022

We set off early again as we had the flight of 21 locks at Hatton to negotiate [each one of these large locks takes approximately 15 minutes to negotiate] and we had planned to meet Robert’s parents at the top so that his father could spend some time with us since Robert’s parents had previously owned a narrowboat. Robert was most taken with the name of one of the bridges and unfortunately Ugly Bridge rather lived up to its title.

Ugly Bridge, Warwick.

The locks on Grand Union Canal are double locks but some of the paddles are very difficult to lift and Matilda initially settled for opening only one side.

Part way up, after about five locks Robert spotted another narrowboat following us up the flight and realised that they would be having to empty all the locks before filling them again. He therefore walked back to ask if they wanted to travel in tandem. This meant more muscle on the locks and although both gates were opened we made swift progress.

Looking down the flight of locks there are views back to St Mary’s Church, in Warwick

Just before the top of Hatton Locks we met Robert’s parents and his father joined Robert aboard while his mother helped with the last few locks. She then drove her car to Lapworth and walked back down the towpath to find us. Robert’s father helpfully warned us that Shrewley Tunnel is known for being quite wet inside so Matilda went in to put the kettle on while the gentlemen endured the drips. The smaller higher tunnel was for the horses who usually towed the boats.

396 meter Shrewley Tunnel [opened 1799].

Although the men would generally lie on the top of the boat to ”walk” it through the tunnel, Shrewley Tunnel is too tall for leg power and there are chains along the walls which were used to pull the boats through.

The goats in a field beside the Tom o’ the Wood pub were nonchalantly sitting on the tables and watching the canal go by. It was fortunate that Robert saw his mother waving from the pub car park and we were able to moor up for Robert to conduct one of his tutoring sessions whilst Matilda and the in-laws went for a coffee and a chat in the Tom o’ the Wood.

Setting off again, Matilda opted to walk as there is limited space on a narrowboat – narrow being the operative word. We dropped Robert’s parents at Lapworth junction and moored up then walked a short distance along the towpath to The Navigation Inn and agreed with the landlord that we could use it as a changeover stop the following morning.

Mooring and handover pub for Thursday 3rd February 2022: The Navigation Inn, Lapworth.

All being well, we have just over a week away from the narrowboat for a trip which we had pre-planned and will return with lots of additional items, including Ralf the dog, which we have identified as being useful [Ralf is unlikely to be useful].

03/02/2022 – Miles: 8.03 – Locks: 21

Route map for Thursday 3rd February 2022.

Complete Route Map:

3 Days – Miles: 23.69 – Locks: 46

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

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