We arrived in Retford at quarter to three yesterday, having left Clayworth at ten fifteen. I make that four and a half hours for a journey of about five miles, with two locks. Add this to the nine and a half miles and four locks that it took us over eight hours to cover on Monday, and it becomes clear that the Chesterfield is not a fast canal. This is almost entirely because it is very shallow. The level in the long pound between Gringly Lock and Whitsunday Pie Lock is well down, and the whole canal (as far as we have got) is lower than it was two years ago when we came up in Warrior, notwithstanding the difference in draft.
In one regard it would be churlish to complain (not that I would anyway; we got here, and that's good enough for me): the Chesterfield Canal was built for boats that were wooden, round bottomed, 2'6" draft, and horse drawn. There has never been motorised commercial traffic on the canal, although horse drawn boats were being used into the fifties. In short, it was not built for boats like Chertsey, or, indeed, modern narrow boats. On the other hand, however, it has been restored with modern leisure traffic in mind, and as such should be able to accomodate deeper drafted boats. Indeed, until recently, I'm sure it could, with far greater ease. The problem is one of maintenance, not original design. In any case, because the banks are now so overgrown, it would be impossible to navigate with a horse boat, so it would be disingenuous to argue that as that's what the canal was built for, that's all it should be fit for now.
The other issue here of course is the width of the locks; in particular Stret Lock, which was rebuilt to a width of only 6'10". Some width has since been gained by 'shaving' the stonework above the waterline, but it is still relatively common for modern boats with protruding baseplates to get stuck or be unable to enter the lock. Old boats which were built wider to start with (Chertsey's specified beam as built was seven feet and half an inch) and which have spread with age, tend to have difficulty also. However, as their width tends to be higher up, within the wider part of the lock, this isn't guaranteed. Following the Retford Heritage Weekend, for which we are gathering, a posse of historic boats is setting off for Stret, with BW in attendance, to see who can and can't get in, and where they stick. We were planning to join in with this, but now realise that we really won't have time, with pressing matters to sort out at home. Yesterday we followed Elizabeth and Thea, who have gone on to try out Stret in advance of the weekend. If I'd known this was possibility, we might have done likewise, but as I've arranged to go into work tomorrow that won't work either.
As Elizabeth and Thea have gone on, we are the first historic boat to be tied up above Retford Town lock, and it's not a bad spot; certainly very handy for ASDA, and we have restocked all our tins. We've had a good walk around the town and have just visited the museum, which was a very good example of a local museum. Small and compact, with lots of local interest, particularly regarding local businesses and industries, and well presented without too many technological bells and whistles. Last night we went to the Ghurka tandoori restaurant, which was very good. They have only been open eight weeks and it shows in their enthusiasm for what they are doing. Long may it last! Then qe went on to the Rum Runner, a Bateman's pub which is in the Good Beer Guide and which is hosting a beer festival at the weekend. It was a bit disappointing; both the beer (Bateman's Equinox in my case) and the place lacked character. Still, we were tired and it was a Monday night, so we will give it another chance at the weekend.
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