Long Eaton to Shardlow, 6 miles, 7 locks
Having reached a low point yesterday I felt a bit more positive this morning. I think it was the idea that I was going to get off the Erewash combined with that idea of something definite to look forward to. I originally started on this journey with grand plans of going to Manchester via Selby, then to Liverpool and via the Anderton Boat Lift to Llangollen, then down the Severn to Bristol, and back on the Kennet and Avon canal and the Thames. As time has gone on and reality has set in there's been a degree of de-scoping—something I'm a master of after 30 years in the computer industry. Manchester was left on the cutting room floor once I realised that Oothoon is too long to go over the Pennines thanks to the Calder and Hebble's short locks; the Kennet and Avon got shelved after a relatively small river like the Soar flooded, making me think that the Severn was going to be too hairy; Llangollen, a definite until only a week or so ago, vanished into the distance as realistic locking times were fed into the equations and extended stops at places that were comfortable ate up the days. This shifting sands of destinations and times makes it difficult to have a clear way forward, but I at least knew the clear way back to Trent lock.
I'd said four locks yesterday and the first of those was okay. By the second—the one with the winding hole where I could turn round—the weather had got brighter and that 'boat' thing had kicked in: you're not on a dodgy canal surrounded by knaves and varmints; you're on your boat, boating, and the weather's looking up. It's in weak moments like these that you consult your Nicholson's and convince yourself that it's only a day's travel to the end of the navigation, and how that would make a fitting end point for the journey, not to mention another canal you could 'tick off'. I was in this semi-blissful state by the time I'd opened the exit gate on the second lock, just as another boat came round the corner towards me. The captain came over to take over control of the lock while I left and we got talking. He was from Langley Mill, at the end of the canal and every time they wanted to go somewhere they needed to 'do' the Erewash first. I asked what it was like upstream and he said that both the landscape and the people got more 'country'. I asked whether the paddles were vandal-proofed all the way up and he said that they were, except where BW had replaced some of the lock gear and hadn't fitted the anti-vandal measures, so kids still drained that part of the canal. And I asked what the locks and moorings were like and he said that the locks were stiff and hard to operate, and that moorings were few and far between. Then he said that, even with all that, they'd had a pleasant journey down and there'd been no fridges in the canal this time. I think that convinced me. My thought bubble—containing a rosy picture of the end of the navigation in its faithfully restored glory—burst, and was replaced with a vision of swirling murky waters full of shopping trollies, just waiting to wrap themselves around the propellor of the unsuspecting boater while pre-teens in shell suits looked on, laughing, then started throwing things. I asked the captain to hold on a moment, as I was going to turn round and I'd be joining him back to Trent lock.
During the return journey I took the time to see whether Long Eaton was as bad as I'd thought. It probably isn't, but things do look different during the day. For example, the towpath edge from where I'd moored in the lock approach is terrible, but gets better once houses start to border the towpath. I'd discounted those as moorings because they were too close to, well, 'inhabitants'. Long Eaton lock isn't in a pretty location, but lose the people and it's otherwise unremarkable. The moorings that I couldn't find last night are definitely there, although they had boats on them yesterday. In short, if I'd arrived a few hours earlier when it was daylight and the moorings hadn't been grabbed, and if perhaps there had been another pair of eyes looking at the situation more objectively than me, things might have turned out differently. But then, it's become very clear to me that boating generally works far better with two because canals were designed knowing that there'd be at least someone on the boat and someone controlling the horse.
I know that it's wrong to anthropomorphise things, but I was struck by how the closer I got to Trent lock, the brighter the weather got, making you think that it agreed with the decision.
Stopped for a quick lunch at Trent lock, then managed to share the lock with a Birmingham couple. They left the lock first and were off along the Trent, while I nipped below to get my map. When I finally popped out onto the Trent and turned right to follow, there was no sign of them. I was a bit surprised at this, especially since even at full power Oothoon was barely managing 3.8 mph (6.1kph). A boat coming the opposite way fair whizzed past, so I'm guessing that the current was fairly strong, and it wasn't until I got to the mechanised locks at Sawley that I saw the other boat again—it was just pulling out of the lock. I tied up and went to take over the lock and asked the captain just what kind of engine he had. Turns out that it was 2.8 litre and a make I'd never heard of. He also said that he'd had the prop changed—apparently this was a new boat and whenever the original prop (which was made in China) hit anything it would bend out of shape. Indeed, he said that you could actually bend it with Mole grips if you tried hard, so he'd had it replaced and sent the bill to the boat builder. Now, apparently, the problem was that even on tick-over the boat went too fast. No wonder they'd lost me!
Sawley was hard work. It's a big lock, as you'd expect from something that links a canal to a river, and the gates and paddles are all operated hydraulically using a push-button console, supposedly by a lock keeper (although no sign of one today). Getting Oothoon in was quite a struggle, because with locks like that you really need to keep the boat under control using ropes, and that meant she needed to be on the left side of the lock, but no matter what I did she went over to the right-hand side. Eventually I wedged her diagonally across the lock, with the prow in the top right corner and the stern in the bottom left, which was inelegant but allowed me to reach the ladder on the left side. Then she didn't want to come over even on the rope. Figuring that it had to be the wind, I tried closing the bottom gates—not straightforward when you're trying to control a boat with the other hand, even if you do just need to keep your finger on the button. Controlling her wasn't helped by the lock having silly I bollards, that seem to have taken over from the equally useless L bollards, and where a single turn of the rope slides and has no grip, but two or more turns of the rope are immovable. Eventually I got her within a couple of feet of the left side of the lock and three twists of rope around the bollard, and I pressed the 'raise' button to open the top paddles. Fortunately it's all sequenced and a small amount of water is let in to raise the water levels, then the paddles are opened more to give a more substantial burst, then finally they're fully opened so the lock can finish filling. Things were under control until the lock got about half full, but at that point there was sufficient slack in the rope for Oothoon to start wandering over to the other side of the lock. I dare not loosen two of the turns off the bollard or I'd have had no grip and been pulled over, so I had to watch her doing a little dance around in the lock. Fortunately she calmed down as the paddles opened fully and even floated over to my side, ending up obediently parked right next to me once the lock was full!
The last bit of the Trent, from Sawley locks, is flat, pleasant, and has a cross-rivers with the unnavigable mouth of the River Derwent on one side, a little navigable bit of Trent on the other and the entrance to the Trent and Mersey canal straight ahead. I headed for the Trent and Mersey and got through the first lock with no problems. After all the rivers I'd been on recently and the horror of the Erewash, it was lovely to get back onto some well-maintained honest-to-goodness broad canal. I wasn't on long before I got to Shardlow, which seems to be mainly pubs, boatyards and boats, and seemed like an excellent place to stop. Again all the 'proper' moorings were full (and this at 4pm too) but there was a cheeky towpath mooring near Idle Bridge, which I grabbed. Been a while since I've needed to put pegs in to moor and there was something very comforting about it.
I'd meant to try the pubs—there are two within spitting distance of each other—but after a nap and cauliflower cheese for dinner (and there was no rain so I could put the central heating on) I was pooped. I'd had several e-mails and txt's from people concerned that I was so low yesterday and two offers of help, so I spent a happy time replying to those and chatting. I might be physically alone here in on my boat, but I'm clearly not alone in spirit.