Willington to Branston, 7 miles, 2 locks
I've been a bit rubbish today. For a start off I didn't get out of bed until 9am, even though I'd set my alarm for 8 (blame it on the Autumn duvet that I installed a couple of nights ago if you like, or perhaps the combination of booze and batter from last night). Either way, I doodled around until it was getting on for 10 when I decided to go to the Post Office to send in my request for compensation for the journey back to Harborough on the day of my eye exam. Of course, the next boat over has the couple from Birmingham on it (who introduced themselves as John and Rita) so I'm chatting to John and Rita's interjecting from below decks, and the time passed very nicely. Then it's the Post Office and everything's sorted, then it's back to Oothoon with the intention of getting going. I started the engine and got everything sorted at that end, then pottered around making flasks of tea and checking e-mail and generally not rushing, and John and Rita have left already and I'm still messing around, and eventually I set off.
It's all lovely. The weather's grey but dry and although I'm convinced I can feel rain all the time, there's no actual water falling from the sky. So Willington disappears behind me and the canal meanders and wanders and then there's some aqueducts and a pipe bridge, and then it's Stretton and the canal's still plodding along and I'm behind a boat that's doing exactly 3.0 miles per hour (not 2.9, not 3.1, but 3.0) and then it's Burton upon Trent and there's a bridge with a basin and a winding hole and then—oh my—a lock!
Dallow lock is the first of the narrow locks on this canal and there's a queue. There's one boat going in when I arrive with another waiting (who doesn't shuffle up). After him is Mr 3.0mph, who hasn't bothered to tie up or indeed step down off his boat; instead he's reading the paper and giving the throttle the occasional blip when no-one is looking to keep roughly in the right place. After him is me, stood on the bank holding a green and red 67ft dog on its leash, and after me are a couple of people renting, where the chap is—well I was going to mention Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, and Norman Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine, but I've worked out that they're both Peter Sallis, so the chap is just like Peter Sallis, and like him is funny and helps make the time pass. There's so many people around that when it's my turn for the lock I'm just an unnecessary cog in a well-oiled machine. I just need to get the boat into the hole, stand around looking decorative while she rises out of the pit, then wave gratefully as we leave.
Burton upon Trent passes uneventfully, with the exception of a shortish stop at the Chandlery at Shobnall, who are friendly, helpful and courteous; and then it's Branston lock, which I need to do myself. Branston is one of those locks that I love—it's in the middle of a field in what seems like the middle of nowhere, and if you were to look from the edge of the field all you'd see is the lock gates and paddle equipment standing like obsolete relics of a bygone era in the middle of a lot of grass. It all goes well: I don't do the brave thing and leap from one narrow gate to the next, and nothing goes wrong either.
I'm just passing Branston Bridge when I realise that I recognise one of the boats moored near the pub there: it's Izzyinn Two, who have stopped for a sandwich and a cuppa, heard that Alrewas (pron. 'olrewus') is full, and have decided to stay. As I approach, John asks whether I'm stopping for the night and—given that there's an Oothoon-sized gap immediately after them—I say I will.
We chat a bit and Rita makes tea, then John helps me seal up the cracks around the central heating chimney using the stuff I've bought at Shobnall. After that, they're off to the pub (which is really an Italian Restaurant in disguise) for dinner and I stay at home and have the prawn and pesto pasta that I've been promising myself for days. After dinner I wander along to the pub to join them, and we have a few rounds before coming home again. I'm rather squiffy at this point, which might be due to the Grappa I had instead of red wine in the last round. Don't care: I'm feeling happy, contented, and all's well with the world. And if John and Rita have anything to do with it, I might even be on a different canal tomorrow!