Atherstone Lock 8 to Atherstone Top Lock, 0.5 mile, 7 locks
After a relatively quiet night, spoilt only by the frequent trains going over the nearby railway bridge, it was time to press on with the Atherstone locks. Expecting the worst, I started off in waterproofs and by the third lock I had to take them off because it was so warm. By the fourth lock it was off with the sweatshirt too and the day was turning out nicely, except for a bit of bother with the third lock because an idiot had moored in the lock approach (the boat was there the previous night too). By this time another boat had come up behind me—I assume a father and son team based on the age differences—with the 'dad' doing the locks. My system of tying the rope to the rear bollard was still working nicely, so I was keeping ahead, but they were usually ready to enter the lock just as I was ready to leave so I only had to do the top gate once.
It was about 2pm by the time I'd got out of the top lock and I was pleased to see that there were moorings just under the bridge. After a good approach I pulled up alongside the piling and jumped off with the centre rope, only to find that in the strong wind Oothoon was drifting into the middle of the canal. I managed to stop her and drag her back to the bank but as she touched the side another extremely strong gust sent her off again. Determined not to let her go, I held onto the rope, getting pulled forward and nearly into the canal until I let out some slack. This happened a few times and ended up with me sat down on my haunches and Oothoon pulling hard on the end of the rope. Just then a woman came past walking a dog and she grabbed the rope with her free hand and between us we pulled Oothoon in. "Good job I'm stronger than I look!" she said as she continued on her way. I intended to wrap the centre rope around one of the mooring rings, but the wind gusted stronger than ever and Oothoon was away. Eventually it was stalemate, with her not moving out any further, but me straining with all my might to hold her in place. This continued for a minute or so until I realised that I couldn't sustain it, so I let go and tied some of the slack centre rope round the ring, just in time to stop her reaching the other side of the canal. I was feeling pretty strange by this time, like my body felt strained and achy, but after a minute or two when the wind seemed to have died down a little, I grabbed the centre rope and pulled her back close enough that I could make a dash for the back. I grabbed the stern rope and quickly threaded it through a ring and pulled hard to get the stern back in, then jumped aboard and tied off the stern rope. Back to the centre rope and heave again, this time to get the front in. I climbed aboard and grabbed the front rope, but by then her prow was off into the canal again. In the end I shuffled down the gunwale until I was close enough to jump ashore, then dragged her in by the front rope. I just got that through a ring and was back on the front, about to tie it to the cleat when a boat came past from the lock behind, pulling Oothoon once more into the channel. With a last heave I got her back to the bank and tied off, but by this time I was shaking and feeling very weak and weird.
I went below and put the kettle on and had a sit down. After a cup of tea I felt better, but still wobbly and strained. I decided that I'd take a slow walk into Atherstone and have a proper look at the place, using the booklets that the lock keeper had thoughtfully provided for those with a BW key, in a glass-fronted cabinet next to his cottage. It was just after 2:30 by the time I reached town, so the first pub had stopped doing food and the Old Red Lion Inn—described in glowing terms in the literature—seemed to be more, well, hotel-y rather than pub-y. Across the road was The Old Bakery café who seemed to be open so I went in. Making a decision about what to eat or drink was almost impossible, however I overheard another customer ordering a baked potato with cheese and beans so I ordered that too, with a pot of tea. It was excellent—lots of cheese, plenty of beans, nice salad and potatoes that had actually been cooked in an oven. That restored me a bit so I had a wander around the town, photographing the main square and the church, and noting that Atherstone is well on the way to being a 'book' town like Hay-on-Wye, which is what the council would like it to be. Of course, Atherstone has never really done badly, straddling the old Roman road of Watling Street as it does (these days known as the A5). It's also why several companies—including Aldi—have made it their main distribution centre. Speaking of Aldi, I went to photograph the railway station, which is particularly fine, even if not used by the railways anymore, and was heading for the next-door Co-op Super Store when I spotted Aldi across the road. That cheered me up a lot, especially as I'd thought to bring shopping bags. They seemed to have a strange mixture of everything from the past few Aldi's in stock, including fridges, generators, American soups and the German grapefruit wheat beer (which naturally I bought).
It was all a bit of a struggle getting my shopping back to the boat and it made me realise how out-of-sorts my tussle with the wind had left me. Once I was back aboard, it was 4:30 and I decided that I'd had enough for the day. I packed everything away and then, feeling cold, decided I'd light the fire. I've been putting off doing this, partially because I don't want to run out of coal on the way home, but also because I haven't packed the gap between the stove chimney and the boat's chimney with fire cement (or rather I have, but it keeps breaking and falling out when I hit things). Thanks to my addled state I didn't even think of this and was delighted to find that the stove works perfectly without it, with no blow-back. Pretty soon there was a roaring fire in there, which was exactly what I needed.
Dinner was Herr Aldi's yellow pea and potato soup followed by pasta with pesto and king prawns. Not quite as comforting as I'd like, but probably quite good for me. Then it was an early night.