Shardlow to Willington, 11 miles, 5 locks
Grey and overcast today and very dreary, but at least it was dry. I set off from Shardlow with a vague idea the Willington should be my destination although I wasn't sure how far it was. My hackles were up almost immediately that I'd set off, as I came under Idle Bridge and approached Shardlow lock (4'5/1.35m). A Canaltime boat (Canaltime are a boat time-share/hire company and, round here, a euphemism for something far less delicate) was just leaving the lock with two people on board and two operating the lock gates. They shut both gates and climbed back aboard and waited as I pulled up in front of them, forced to tie up so I could re-open one of the gates. They stood on the back deck looking blank and I walked past them without acknowledging their presence. This simply wouldn't do. After the events of the past few days, I needed to let these petty annoyances go, so I tried to breathe deeply and think calm thoughts, like perhaps if I'd sounded the horn they might have noticed me. I got Oothoon into the lock and had just opened the first ground paddle when another Canaltime boat emerged from under the bridge. I wound down the paddle, opened the back gate paddles and opened the gate for them to come in. Turned out that they were a Welsh couple on their fifth canal holiday (what is it about the Welsh and canals?) who were very nice although it was amusing to watch as the lady's magnificent bosom rather got in the way of turning the windlass.
They kindly offered to close the gates and off I roared, only to pass the Birmingham couple from yesterday, who were just starting off. I finally got to meet them properly at the next lock, which is Aston lock (8'1/2.47m). I arrived a few minutes before them and went to help the boat already in the lock come down. There's a bridge just in front of the lock and to my amazement I looked down and there was Oothoon's prow, heading for the lock gates! I quickly shut the paddles and ran back to try to catch her, to find that the Birmingham captain had done so and was holding onto the end of the centre rope as tight as he could. Without the surging current from the lock, we quickly got Oothoon back under control as the captain of the boat in the lock came to have a look. He explained that there was a certain knack with the I bollards and it came down to using the right knot. He showed me how to do a clove hitch (which I already knew how to do, although I didn't know its name and which is apparently a bad choice) and he said that if I used that, I wouldn't have any more bother. Excitement over, the Birmingham couple—whose boat is called Izzyinn Two (apparently the captain used to be a freelance motor mechanic and people were forever knocking at their house and asking "Is he in?", so the house became known as "Izzyinn", which is why the boat is "Two")—and I went through the lock without further ado.
We met again at the next lock—Weston lock (10'11/3.33m)—where it was Izzyinn Two's turn to break away and dance about. Glad it's not just me it happens to! As I climbed out of this lock, I noticed that the locks seemed to be getting taller and I was nonplussed to find that the force of the current of water entering the lock as it filled, which makes the boats move towards the top gates, was so strong that I couldn't pull Oothoon away from the gates.
Izzyinn Two stopped for water just after the lock and I stopped for lunch. We set off again at about the same time, with them in the lead, so it was no surprise when I caught them up at Swarkestone lock (10'11/3.33m). What was surprising was the queue of boats waiting to go through. There were our two, plus another three! It seemed to be taking a very long time for the lock to cycle, so Izzyinn Two's captain went to have a look...and was gone for ages. When he finally returned, he explained that there were a 'foreign' couple on a Canaltime boat (by which he meant a couple whose grasp of English wasn't great) who were trying to operate the lock using instructions provided in their native language. They'd got a bit confused and not only had all of the paddles open, but the tiller had somehow got itself caught under the lock ladder! He'd shut all the paddles, drained the lock a little so that the tiller came free, then finished off the locking so they could go on their way. With this obstacle past, all that was left to do was unground the boat in front of us so they could go through, along with the Canaltime boat with the Welsh couple on, which turned up just at that moment.
Izzyinn Two's captain decided that I should stay on my boat and he'd operate the lock, so both our boats went in together and the locking passed so easily that I wasn't prepared for the behemoth that is Stenson lock (12'4/3.76m). This isn't so much a lock as a vaulted cathedral with a waterfall feature at one end, that has had its roof nicked. Having been through Stenson lock before, the lady on Izzyinn Two refused to be in the lock and insisted on doing the gates and paddles. I've no idea how she did this, given that the back gates must be at least 15' high (4.57m). The waterfall feature became positively scary when at the front of my boat with the gates shut behind me and the strong current that I'd experienced in Weston lock seemed to be magnified, such that even on full-reverse I couldn't get Oothoon away from the front of the lock (we were still below the cill at this point, the bottom of the gates being up above us). In the end, the captain of Izzyinn Two attached my centre rope to his boat and used the power of the Prop Of Doom (as seen in action yesterday on the Trent) to pull us both back from the cill.
After that, it was all plain sailing into Willington. I popped into the Co-op for tea bags and, as it looked like rain, I popped into the pub for a pint. Who should be there but the crew from Izzyinn Two, who bought me a pint and invited me to join them for a chat. They were both very interesting people who were genuine continuous cruisers. Indeed, they'd been cruising almost as long as I've lived on Oothoon, which gave me pause for thought. We talked about some of the highs and lows of continually being on the move, and in particular how they dealt with the cold winter months (apparently it's as simple as having the fire on all the time). They had ordered dinner in the pub and although I wasn't supposed to, the smells wafting around me as we sat talking were so overpoweringly good that, when I bought the next round of drinks, I ordered a large yorkshire pudding filled with a cumberland sausage and onion gravy, with mashed potatoes and peas. I'm sure my doctor would tut, but you have no idea how huge it was, not to mention how yummy!