The big day had arrived. I was going to take the boat out of the marina for a whole week all by myself. Well not quite all by myself. Barely ever actually by myself. But let’s not diminish the achievement with the details.
The grand plan was to go up the Erewash Canal to Langley Mill, where the canal ends, then to Nottingham and finally back home. It’s unlikely anyone is ever going to write an epic poem about the trip, but it might be worthy of a haiku. Or a moderately humorous limerick. (Stay tuned for poetry developments.) I had advertised on facebook for crew members, and a combination of willing volunteers and gentle-ish cajoling on my part meant I had company for every day of the trip.
Sawley Marina to Gallows Inn, Ilkeston
7.5 miles travelled, 8 locks completed
Crew: Sam and Keyleigh
It started off grey. The cheap diesel pump was closed (and I refused to pay full price for the fuel). As always, I underestimated how long it would take me to get to the rendezvous point with the crew. But my creeping sense of ‘maybe-this-wasn’t-the-best idea’ (foreboding seemed like too strong word) was alleviated by the kindness of strangers.
I really don’t like doing Sawley Lock, single-handed or otherwise. It’s an electric lock, so is not physically challenging to operate (which could not be said of many of the week’s locks). But there is very little space to moor up once you are river-side and the prospect of trying makes me nervous. However, as Double Fracture was sinking towards the Trent (in the acceptable lock way, not the unacceptable drowning of my home way) a man and his grandson appeared. Did I mind if they did the rest of the lock so he could show his grandson the ropes? I subdued my urge to kiss him with gratitude, and went for a nonchalant ‘Sure, if you want to.” It was a lovely feeling to rev the engine out of the lock, knowing the clean up was being taken care of.
I met the day’s crew at Trent Lock, and the first of the week’s tutorials was given on lock operation. (I don’t think content or delivery improved over time). And then we were there – on a whole new canal. Unchartered territory. So I knew nothing about the low bridges that punctuated the canal, and the mapbook I was using did nothing to warn me. You could argue that hazard perception is equally important in driving a narrowboat as it is in driving a car, and that I should have given the pregnant crew member more than a few metres notice that her head was about to be knocked off if she didn’t jump off the roof pretty quickly. (The anecdote ends happily, with body and head still attached the other side of the bridge.)
After a leisurely lunch and a couple more locks, I waved farewell to my crew (who had children or something to look after) and ventured forward for the only substantial single-handed part of my trip. The canalboat gods were on my side – the sun came out and all four of the locks I took on that afternoon were already empty. One of them even had the gate open so I could float straight in – it’s one of my favourite sights on the water. (My absolute favourite sight on the water is the duck which had a feathery Elvis quiff. My mission for the rest of the week is to spot other aquatic life that resembles popular musicians.)
By far the prettiest building I passed was the old Springfield Mill – a former producer of Nottingham lace. A dog-walker volunteered further information about it – it used to be owned by a bloke called Hooley, who once sacked his entire workforce on a whim. His son Ernest was a financial fraudster. It’s now expensive flats, and looks particularly lovely in the sunshine.
The dog walker kept pace with Double Fracture for a little while (he had to slow down to do so) and we only parted ways when a lock appeared on the horizon (then he really did have to be getting home). As a continuous-cruising old hand, he did his best to impart his knowledge to me, an occasional-cruising novice. I needed to be wary of the folks in Langley Mill – they were a judgemental lot who could get passive-aggressive if you looked at them wrong. And he wouldn’t moor near Gallows Inn if he were me – very rough round there. As I sipped my lime-and-strawberry cider, I was going to point out that I grew up in the mean streets of West Bridgford and could probably handle myself. But I didn’t want to intimidate him with my tough background, so kept it to myself.
I moored at the Gallows Inn that night as planned. And nodded in a polite but steely way at the dozens of runners who passed by the boat that evening, just so they knew I was not to be trifled with. I think they got the message.
This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Alcohol’ by Brad Paisley.