Narrowboat Adventure #2: Return to The Duke


Friday 18th to Monday 21st February 2022

Having swapped the warmth of Italy and the comfort of a spacious room at the Savoy Hotel in Rome for a seven foot wide narrowboat with considerably less floor space, Matilda is once again questioning her sanity. 

We reunited with The Duke and our friends Liz and Martin who had been aboard whilst we were away, accompanied this time by Ralf, our Lakeland Terrier and Storm Eunice. Although this is not a name which exudes menace, Eunice added about four hours to the drive up to our rendezvous at the Cape of Good Hope, near Warwick. The motorway was at a standstill, first while a fallen tree was cleared from the carriageway and then for a lorry which had been blown onto its side across three lanes. Thankfully it looked as though the driver had been rescued through the windscreen. After that the M40 was closed completely but as our Sat Nav had helpfully offered an alternative route we were at least able to continue along A roads with Ralf, who is not particularly used to car travel, becoming increasingly desperate in the back.

When we finally arrived, it was enough just to swap over and have a meal in the Cape of Good Hope together before turning in for an early night while Liz and Martin left to fulfil various family commitments.

The following morning Ralf woke early. Matilda discovered how much more effort it takes to get a visually-challenged Lakie who is out of his familiar home environment off a narrowboat for some quick bladder relief than it does to let him out into the back garden. Finding the light switch was the first challenge before getting dressed, putting on waterproofs and wellies and then finding the flotation aid and lead for Ralf before unceremoniously hoisting him over onto the bank, via the useful handles on his life jacket.

As she walked, Matilda remembered that they had no milk for the morning coffees as this had been omitted in the otherwise extensive packing. She found a local Co-op open which seemed over-staffed for 07:15 on a Saturday morning as there were two people outside sweeping and another came to welcome her in and pet Ralf. One of the sweepers kindly took charge of Ralf outside and the milk was purchased. Thank heavens for ApplePay on an Apple Watch as Matilda had not thought she would need cards or cash when she left the narrowboat at the crack of dawn. 

There is a spreadsheet [Robert is so obsessed with planning that he has a spreadsheet for everything] which details our proposed route for each day as well as the number of locks, the number of miles and furlongs we will travel, the hours of motoring time and, of course, the pub we will moor near. As we were up early we thought we should crack on. This was Ralf’s first experience of travelling on the narrowboat and he seemed unimpressed with Robert’s explanations about the principle of locks [maybe Robert needed to do a PowerPoint].

The sun was trying to break through the Storm Eunice clouds as we went up the locks . . .

. . . and then through the final staircase lock at Bascott.

We moored up to prepare for the evening and this included lighting the diesel stove. This is temperamental to say the least and the high winds had played havoc with the draw, making it smoke and go out several times as we were cruising. At one point the cabin filled with smoke, the smoke detector went off and we were surprised that Ralf slept through the whole thing. In fact Robert had to check that he was breathing in case he had been overcome by smoke/carbon monoxide inhalation. When we had our familiarisation session we were told there was a knack to lighting it and keeping it going. There certainly is. [Bear in mind we have an identical Squirrel Mørso with a back boiler at home, albeit solid fuel not liquid so are not complete novices.]

We stopped at The Blue Lias again, this time using one of the pub’s own mooring sites. Unfortunately Robert then discovered that dogs were not allowed except in the garden or the corridor and was therefore “forced” to pop in for a pint on his own to fulfil the “customers only” requirement while Matilda took Ralf for a short walk. Robert is not usually so keen to abide by such rules.

The Blue Lias – the hostelry for day four

19/02/2022 – Miles: 9.97 – Locks: 14

The route for day four

Once again awakened early by a Lakie’s bladder, and having been hissed at by swans who, like Matilda, thought it was too early to be up, we set off. Storm Eunice was now morphing into Storm Franklin and the wet and windy conditions were not conducive to taking many photographs.

The cast iron bridges at Braunston, before the storm

However, we did meet a very congenial group of fellow narrowboaters. Initially one walked his dog past us as we were entering a lock and tried to set the next one up for us. They had moored at the top of the flight and he was checking how many locks were in their favour before deciding which route to take. We were in the first lock at Calcutt when they caught us up and we completed the rest of them in tandem. As there were four of them, they kindly let Matilda get back on The Duke and finished up the final lock. The only downside was that at some point during the day, Matilda lost one of her gloves.

Later Phil Thomas messaged to say that the Keynsham Crew were in The Admiral Nelson, a pub he had recommended to Robert as they chatted going through the locks. However, by this time Storm Franklin had also joined the party, and The Admiral Nelson was a bit of a walk for us so Matilda and Ralf opted for the warmth of The Duke, and Robert only walked as far as The Boat House.

The Boat House, Braunston – the hostelry for day five

20/02/2022 – Miles: 8.78 – Locks: 11

The route for day five

The stove is still proving temperamental and Robert thought using the just he cowl from the chimney might help to counteract the downdraft from the high winds while we are going along.

We will see if this works. . .

. . . as we travel during the day.

Hillmorton Locks come in pairs now as a second one was added to reduce congestion. Locks four and five seem to have been recently renovated and have watery maxims on the balance beams, which appealed to Matilda.

As we approached they read Working water climbs carefully down.

Looking back we saw This door makes depth captive for a while. The locks also seemed to play music as we were leaving – see video of the day – the sound is made by the water, not the lock gates.

Our mooring place for the night was on the outskirts of Rugby, near The Barley Mow which it was good to see was a BritStop location. There was another convenient Co-op nearby and we were able to stock up with food and water.

The Barley Mow, Rugby – the hostelry for day six

21/02/2022 – Miles: 11.41 – Locks: 3

The route for day six

Route Map:

6 Days – Miles: 53.84 – Locks: 74

Video of the day:

Water music at Hillmorton Locks

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