Warwick Ring, Day Seven

Day Seven, Kingsbury Water Park to Atherstone, 8½ hours, 15 miles, 14 locks = 29 lock miles.

We didn’t realise on setting off at just after eight this morning just how important it was to get moving and then maintain that momentum.

All became clear at Atherstone locks just after one o’clock, when we learned that because of the current desperate water shortages, this critical flight opens only at 0830 in the morning – and closes, more crucially for us, at 1600, to preserve water in this driest canal year since the legendary English summer of 1976 (when we read, in a local newspaper, that at Foxton Locks not far to the East one could walk across the dry canal bed.)

As it happens, the angels are smiling again, and we contrive to begin the Atherstone locks at pretty much the precisely perfect time to reach the top on the dot of four. In fact, with literally 60 seconds to spare, although the charming couple who occupy the Lock Cottage at lock one tell us that British Waterways do do a last-minute sweep of the locks before the top gates are padlocked for the night, to make sure that no-one is just tackling the final five locks above number six.

To anyone planning this route, at least as long as the water is as low as it is at the moment, bear in mind that locks 1, 6 and 11 are padlocked at four o’clock.

British Waterways recommend that boaters begin the locks at midday, on the basis that it takes four hours to complete them. We managed them in two–and-a-half hours, with a very lovely boat heading up before us and setting the gates for us. But, better not to risk it – and be appraised that the locks on this flight fill VERY slowly.

Otherwise, it’s been a pretty hard locking and driving day, great fun, and stupendous weather again. One of the hottest days of the year – not right, not right at all. But lovely, of course. Sue and I have to bite our lips when a skipper coming down the other way complains as we pass that British Waterways need to get a grip on this situation.

Er, no. The problem is lack of rain, and that’s very probably climate change that’s doing it. BW are doing their best to manage an increasingly worrying situation. Still, people being people need to blame someone, so I guess  the carping is to be expected.

Talking of carp, interesting sign spied near the top of the Atherstone locks a little further on, which illustrates some of the changes in England brought about by the immigration from Eastern Europe of the past decade.

The sign warning that fish in this canal, if caught, MUST be returned to the water (and, therefore, not eaten), is in English, Polish and Russian. I recall that The Sun newspaper once ran a rather nasty anti-immigrant front-page headline accusing East European asylum-seekers of capturing and eating swans. That one wasn’t true, but English canal fish do appear to have been having a rougher time of it.

Otherwise, as we relax with a glass of wine in the warm setting sun, a curiously uneventful day. Food for thought, perhaps, from a passing couple driving the Mother of All Narrowboats, complete with hydraulic steering and, we are importantly informed, a hugely sophisticated system of underfloor heating.

Apparently, he and his wife only recently took delivery of the boat, and are now needing to find a buyer since he, after signing the boat contract, was diagnosed with cancer and has had to have a shoulder rebuilt, while his wife on the back, delicately manoeuvring her complicated steering wheel as she struggles into the lock, has had to have a second hip replacement.

And, the boat cost a cool £170,000 – perhaps even half a million, as we learn from someone else further along our route who has also heard the story.

All this we learn within two minutes of our lock conversation starting. Such is the nature of boating – you may not get to know each other’s name, but you very quickly glean each other’s basic life story. In this case, a sad reminder that even the most passionate and expensive retirement plans can fall victim to one’s health. Never take it for granted.

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