Braunston to London: Day 3
The story of the next stage of our odyssey to London is written in wind – specifically an unrelenting south westerly gale that started gusting as we set off from Weedon Bec, and whipped us along the 15-mile pound that ends only at the seven-lock flight at Stoke Bruerne.
Let’s start with a definition: a pound is a length of canal between locks. It can be just eighty or ninety feet in length, between locks in a leisurely flight up a hillside. Or it can be miles in length.
What it gives the intrepid traveller, of course, is several hours of lock-free travelling. Bear in mind that we average three m.p.h. on a lock-free section of a canal – so fifteen miles translates into five hours of cruising bliss.
Or in this case, hell. Because that gale, which gusted about us unevenly for the entire duration of the day, was not only freezing, but it severely challenged my steersmanship.
A narrowboat of our length – 50 feet – possesses a side-on profile of about 200 square feet. That’s the size of a small yacht’s (say the Beetle 14’s) main sail. So when the wind’s coming at you beam on – to landlubbers that simply means, at right angles to your direction of travel – it’ll tend to push you very rapidly to the side of the canal.
To counter this, you have to steer into the wind. Which means that from above it looks very much as though you’re scuttling along at a decided angle both in terms of your horizontal axis, and in terms of your procession through the water.
But aesthetics aside, it also means that when you pass a line of narrowboats moored to the canal path, you have to take great care not to risk colliding with them. And even greater care when another narrowboat approaches and the two of you cautiously pass one another, exchanging worried gestures of greeting as you do so. And the greatest care when both events occur simultaneously.
Ah, the delights of simply messing about on boats!
(A short digression:
‘Believe me,’ (said the Water Rat,) ‘my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simple messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing—about—in-boats; messing – ’
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
‘— about in boats — or WITH boats,’ the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. ‘In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.’ )
So after several hours of buffeting, we arrived at a likely spot, far from any tree that might be uprooted by the blast to fall on us, and moored up snugly against the bank. On our left, a hawthorne hedge leaning compliantly away from the wind. On our right, the railway line on which at regular intervals a banshee wail presages the passing of a Virgin train.
And above, rooks like sheets of black paper, tumbling before the wind, and clouds scudding across a pale blue sky at simply astonishing speed.
Angela asks, where precisely are we, and can I provide a map so that she can keep track of our slow progress south? I hope this helps. We’re travelling from Braunston near the top left of the picture down to London, bottom right. Right now we’re just north of the village called Cosgrave — although, if the wind ever lets up, we’re hoping to pierce the complexity of Milton Keynes tomorrow.