Our penultimate day. Having made good time round The Ring and looking as though we’d complete the trip with a few days in hand, there had been talk aboard of using our extra time diverting down the Aylesbury Arm and back. However, even our captain seemed to be looking forward to a change so we opted for the straight shot home.
A narrow-boating friend of ours used to say of cruising on the canals, “4 miles an hour, 4 locks an hour”. It’s a common epithet. These days, I’d say that the “4 miles an hour” has been blown out of the water by the sheer number of moored boats now strewn along almost every stretch of the canal. However, given a little fortune, I think the expectation of 4 locks an hour, i.e. 15 minutes through each one, can still hold true.
Today is Francine’s birthday [happy birthday Francine] and, having rejected a diversion to Aylesbury, our plan was to cruise from Berkhamsted to Grove Lock just south of Leighton Buzzard, only a mile or so from Juniper’s home boat yard with Wyvern Shipping. This is a trip of just 15 miles but there is a daunting total of 26 locks en route. A swift mental calculation suggests that we’d spend some 6½ hours just locking up and down. In the unlikely event that we could cover the water at 3 mph past all the obstructions, we’d be adding about 5 hours cruising suggesting a total time of 11½ hours. That’d make us late for Francine’s birthday meal with friends at the other end. Nail-biting stuff.
After a night at our pleasant Berkhamsted mooring, we hit the water at 8:30 AM straight into the first lock, after which we stopped for water. With Juniper’s debugged hose reel, our fill up took a mere 10 minutes instead of the best part of an hour. Just think, had we fixed it earlier, we could’ve saved a whole day. 😀
We didn’t encounter any traffic earlier in the trip and progress through locks was about as swift as it can get, especially with the lock team of Franco and Francine walking ahead preparing more closely separated locks in advance of Juniper’s approach. Lunch time saw us near Marsworth and the Red Lion pub. Capt. Virginia generously decided that his tiring crew deserved a lunch break so we moored in a suitable gap. Welcome though the break was, I couldn’t help but think, “yikes, we haven’t got time in hand to stop”.
After a pint and a bite, we resumed locking down towards LB. Quite soon we bumped into the back (not literally) of a broad-beamed lunch-cruise boat also locking down with a bunch of diners on board. Delay. Fortunately this delay was short because after one lock it pulled into its home base at Pitstone Wharf.
A closed swing bridge appeared on the horizon. I grabbed the CRT [Canal and River Trust] key and hopped ashore with Francine. This was not a powered swing bridge but a manual one, however. Francine and I shoved it round, paused as Juniper went by, then shoved it closed again.
Potential disaster struck: we came up behind another broad-beamer locking down and locking down very slowly, at that. The vessel was effectively being operated single-handed, its female crew member seemingly unable to help in any constructive way. Whilst knocking oneself out for another might seem over generous to some, I had a vested interest in helping this floating roadblock’s progress in order to speed our own as much as possible. I helped get him through before getting Juniper through.
The situation repeated itself at several more locks. “How much do you charge for this service?”, asked our unwelcome travelling companion, jovially. I smiled and threw into our conversation the information about a dinner reservation this evening for my wife’s birthday. “Oh, mustn’t miss that”, he said, continuing to impede our progress.
Mercifully at Slapton, just two locks before the Grove Lock, we rounded a corner to find the broad beamed boat mooring up for water. My double-locking would hopefully now be over, as would any further delays.
Time was running out so the ladies showered underway. Some straight cruising time remained so Franco also managed to grab a shower under way, although potentially two more sweat-inducing locks still remained. I say potentially because we need not necessarily go through Grove Lock itself, depending upon the availability of mooring above the lock.
As we approached our destination at the end of a rather fraught journey, two pairs of dinner friends, enrolled to help Francine celebrate her birthday, had wandered up the tow path to welcome us. The sight of them was very welcome and made our homecoming feel like returning after a round-the-world epic. At 6:30 PM we moored above Grove Lock for a pre-prandial glass of fizz and tension-releasing natter. Stopping short of Grove Lock, we’d actually done 25 locks in about 10 hours, including a lunch break, though I’d personally done four or five of those locks twice each courtesy of helping our obstruction make progress. I’ll claim 30 locks in one day. 😉
Re-joining Juniper by clambering back over the lock gates in the dark was an interesting experience – good job we hadn’t had too much to drink. 🙂