I awoke this morning under the control of something malign. Get up, it said, get up and cruise. As we approached Hurleston Junction it kicked me on the ankle, held me down on the deckplates and rammed the tiller hard over.
I made an accidental right turn followed by four accidental locks up the Hurleston Flight.
Hail Llangollen, devoid of grace.
The Cardinal is with thee.
Cursed art thou among canals,
and cursed is the fruit of thy marinas;
The Anglo-Welsh Hire-Boat.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us innocent boaters,
now and at the hour of our inevitable death.
The locks and pounds were all roughly eighteen to twenty-four inches down when I arrived. An amazingly early lock vollie was in attendance and rapidly filled everything. Um – using canal water and machinery, not a process of micturition. Much thank’ee. 🙂 The bottom lock, leaking as it do, was half in my favour and half against. This alone ought to have been the hint that I needed.
Well, I have never claimed to be terribly bright.
Scooting sideways to line up for the interestingly maintained bottom lock. This lock suffered – and suffers – from terminal wall-bulge. The You-Know-Who (don’t you just!) closed it for ages… while they re-built one wall and not the other. Gobsmacking eh?
You can’t just cruise away from the single-boat-length lower lock landing and in; not going to work. This is the lock where, should you have two squashed bluebottle flies on the gunwales to one side and a sheet of damp newspaper on the other, you’ll get disastrously jammed between the lock walls. Things need lining up and they need lining up properly.
The rise of these four locks is 34′ 3″ and it is compulsory when ascending to turn in the last lock and shout ‘Made it, Ma! Top of the world!’.
One may then, optionally, turn to any passing rodent and misquote Cagney; ‘You dirty rat!’
It is not necessary to record the response of the rodent. A tiny bras d’honneur is the norm.
Most of the rats around here are, in fact, named Norm.
Shy of four miles total cruise today but with four interesting locks – which for me – meant four slimy lock ladders. Quite enough, methought, on a breakfast of Vitamin D, Vitamin B, two Aspirin and a cafetiere of Southern Indian coffee. The day was also beginning to warm up ‘orribly.
The next best moorings, albethey time-restricted by the time-restricted-obsessed Watery Wellness Trust Ltd, are – appropriately – “just around the bend”.
Once just around the bend your complimentary complementary squirrel will direct you to your mooring rings.
Once you’ve moored up he’ll also kick you in the nuts.
Then he’ll shi*t on your Canalman’s Hitch.
When mooring a super-yacht in Monte Carlo or in St Tropez, or a gilded pedalo in Juan Les Pins, one is met by smiling, uniformed flunkies in smart, liveried RIBs. In England mooring a narrowboat one gets a liverish squirrel and considers oneself to be fortunate.
At time of mooring these rings were quite civilised, but at time of writing they’re also filling up with a wide array of boats and an array of wide people. I shan’t have my queace and piet here for long. I calculate about another hour at most of sitting cross-legged on the bow (naked, except for some strategically-placed Lily Of The Valley talcum powder and one of those little round spot-plasters – waterproof kind), chanting om mani padme hum, and trying to centre my id.
Mind you, queace and piet is not why anyone comes to the Llangollen Canal. The brochures and the Canal Rozzerie will keep a straight face and tell you that it’s perhaps the most bucolic of all of England’s canals (even though a third of it’s in Welsh Wales), but those of us with family connections to the Real World know that it’s a joke canal.
Tis filled from one end (far beyond the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct) to the other (this other being the junction at Hurleston Reservoir), with so many hire boats that in winter they have to stack them right across the canal and b’ger the natives. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s a hierarchy in hire boat companies, and some are most splendid indeed – it’s just that the distribution bell-curve in re quality is not what it ought to be. The Llangollen is blessed with more than its fair share of the sticky end of the bell-curve.
People don’t “boat” on the Llangollen.
It’s more akin in nature and intent to chariot races in Ben Hur, although to mix my metaphors better than I mix my Martinis, every once in a five minutes something battered and dented cruises past, rowed by galley-slaves while something else in baseball cap, t-shirt, excrutiatingly tight shorts and over-sized pink crocs bangs out a rhythm on a big, sweaty, base drum.
The Llangollen canal is a victim of its own bucolicalnessnous and fameski. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – until it collapses under the loving weight of C&RT’s pro-active maintenance regime – is a U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site. I’m not going there (again), not unless I come back here in winter.
The Llangollen Canal is 41 miles long and the C&RT and Hire Companies hereabouts recommend that holidaymakers set aside at least three or four hours to cruise it from one end to the other and back again, longer when busy.
The Llangollen is home to many, many fine swing bridges… all but about two of them with the raising gear on the wrong side of the bridge meaning that single handers must perform gymnastics and some peculiar mooring in order to get themselves though.
The Cardinal and I are here because I awoke in the thrall of something malign.
That, and a sense of adventure.
You all remember the game – the one where on a really dark and moonless night you turn off the car headlights and have morbid bets with yourself about how far and how fast you can go with zero visibility before hitting a tree…
We’re easing ourselves (back) onto the Llangollen gently – the canal here is probably as wide as it gets. Farther on the mooring more and more remembles – to mix our metaphoricals once again – cowering in the gutter of the A666 as the HGVs thunder past, three-abreast.
Wish us luck.
Two requests, for action should the Cardinal and I go… silent.
1., Avenge us.
2., Don’t scatter our ashes; put them in the coffee machine at C&RT HQ instead.