Even if I can get Chertsey through Hurleston bottom lock, I have had cause to rethink the attractions of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
Pontcysyllte may be the longest aqueduct in the UK, but the longest in England is the Edstone or Bearley aqueduct, which carries the Stratford canal across a road, a railway and the and the trackbed of a former railway. It is unusual (but similar to the other two, shorter, aqueducts on this stretch) in that the towpath is level with the bottom of the cast iron trough which carries the canal. It is like Pontcysyllte in that on non-towpath (the right hand side as I crossed it) side there is no buffer, no handrail, no nothing. Just, maybe, a lip of a few inches above the surface of the water.
I have a lovely photo (given to me by his widow) of Richard Barnett steering Chertsey across Edstone circa 1970. My biggest concern as we approached the aqueduct was that Jim, from the towpath, should try to recreate this picture. I meanwhile sailed on into the trough, looking down on him from my perch on the counter, itself well out of the water and thus a good couple of feet above the lip of the trough.
And suddenly, unexpectedly, found myself terrified. Jim's pictures (which I don't have here) show my left arm hanging instinctively onto the cabinside and my gaze fixed upon the towpath. I was standing inside the hatches and thus had no chance of falling off the boat, but the (completely irrational... I'm sure...) terror was that the whole boat would somehow tip over the edge. Early on there was a 'dong' as I nudged the trough on the right hand side... After that I, frozen to the tiller, kept the boat at an angle - as far as the narrow canal would permit - scraping along with the fore end rubbing up against the towpath side and the stern the other. My instincts simply would not allow me to steer towards the void.
I suspect the sensible thing to do would have been to retreat into the cabin and let the boat find its own way across.
It did surprise me slightly, given some of the unnecessary things done in the name of safety, that there were no notices forewarning people, along the lines of 'terrifying aqueduct ahead, get your kids off the roof.'
This is the bit of Chertsey - and the only bit - that caused us to get stuck in two of the Stratford canal locks, 45 and 47.
You can see it here just to the right of the muddy patch, in line with the rearmost cross plank.
We will shave a bit off it in the hope that it won't cause so many problems in future, there or elsewhere. Overall it was good to see that Chertsey is good and straight with very few lumps and bumps. Our difficulties at Morse lock on the Chesterfield last year were more likely due to depth than width, with hindsight. Napton and Hurleston still to try!
Here is Chertsey looking smart (well, as smart as you can look with window cloths in) on display in the arm at Braunston...
... shortly before we removed the cloths, dropped the top planks down onto the cross planks, took the stands out and replaced them with boxes, removed the deckboard, put the top planks back on the boxes and clothed it all back up again, far less tidily, with enthusiastic help from the Herbies' friend Rick.
This was all part of our cunning plan for getting through the low bridges of the southern Stratford Canal. The bridges are not only low, but narrow - they have no towpath so are only a boat's width wide. One of them, we were warned, was especially narrow, and more worryingly, narrowed sharply at a height that would be well above the gunnels of a modern boat, but which might catch the sides of Chertsey's very high fore end.
To try to reduce the chances of this happening, we made the decision to acquire some extra ballast in the front. Thus the Sunday parade saw us pause alongside Southern Cross and transfer across a tonne of coal in what was surely record time (definitely a record for us, anyway). With the invoice in the ticket drawer, we were on our way in minutes, fore end lower by some inches, and arse end correspondingly raised, with the propellor burbling away merrily.
So you don't suffer too much suspense, I will tell you now that we made it through the bridge (58) in question. On arrival at Stratford I mused that before going out onto the river, it might be an idea to shift the coal back to the back end of the hold, to give the prop a fighting chance of engaging with the water. This was not terrifically well received by Jim, but to his great credit, and with the help and encouragement of Holland's Ian, he did shift a good proportion of it, with the result, I think, that Chertsey is now as well ballasted as it has been for a long time.
I didn't buy any new shinies at Braunston this year, though a purchase or two was made in Stratford (which I fear I have omitted to photograph, but all will be revealed eventually)
However, I did polish up the existing brass (of course) and here it is looking a treat.
You can also see the plates that were part of my Christmas present from Jim last year. They all have some sort of connection - one is Droitwich, where we went for the HNBC gathering in 2012; one the Houses of Parliament (I have lately taken to coming home from work and flopping on the sofa with my knitting, in front of live coverage on BBC Parliament. I am a fan of Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.), and local ones Brighton, Hastings and Portsmouth (where I once worked). Long time readers may recall that I once professed a hatred of lace plates, so why have they grown on me after all? Put simply, I suppose, they serve a purpose - like everything else in a back cabin. The brighten up a dark corner where nothing else really could.
At Christmas I also received a new (old) headlight for Chertsey - a thirties CAV headlamp. Having finally tracked down a bulb, Jim fitted it before we left for Braunston, on the bracket that he had already made. It was tested in Braunston tunnel and did an excellent job.
Now I've sorted the photos out, hopefully a few retrospective - illustrated! - holiday posts.
The weather was on the whole magnificent. When it did rain, it was good enough to do so at night (and on at least one night served well in keeping disruptive local youth - yes, in Stratford - away.
There was one exception though. Braunston, Saturday June 28th, on the morning parade. The only time I have been wetter while fully clothed was when I fell in at Droitwich.
Thanks to Sarah of Algonquin for the photo
Never mind. It was a good opportunity to don my sou'wester in front of an appreciative audience and demonstrate general indomitability.
Because it was a Grand Union year, we got to tie up in the Arm, where it was still raining.
We'd feared we might be disturbed by the loud music from the beer tent, but avoided this by going to the pub.... Actually, I think we went to the Nelson with the Herbies on Wednesday, and the Boat House with the Owls on Friday, so perhaps we did go to the beer tent on Saturday... Yes, we did - crowded in to get out of another downpour and by sheer luck managed to get a table near the front. And the music, though quite loud, was worth listening to.
When we got back, the rain had just about stopped.
In Worcester, showing the fenders not yet properly replaced following their forced rearrangement on the Lower Avon.
Worcester also has good charity shops.
I had not expected to like the Severn - even Nicholsons, which likes everything, describes it as featureless. But, so far at least, it has charmed me. It helps that it is wide, so the ubiquitous trees are not overwhelming. It has flowers, relieving the monochrome verdancy, even if they are mostly the hated interloping Himalayan balsam.
It even has some aggregate traffic (I'm told that this has now ceased on the Trent).
So the Severn, so far, is a hit. If there is a pattern emerging regarding my riparian preferences, it seems to be that I like 'em wide.
Onwards to Stourport tomorrow and all being right with the world, supper in the Holly Bush.
Oh, and here's last night's view (possibly this morning's)
Apologies, I have been most remiss in not posting. I will try to catch up, with photos, later. Tonight finds us in Tewkesbury. We left Stratford yesterday morning and made good time to Evesham, where we spent last night. A strange town, not what I expected, but perhaps I should have done, given its main industry. Yesterday went well, though the weather was changeable. We were warned that we would have to descend Evesham lock backwards, which we did, aided by a rather splendid female lockkeeper in a polka dot dress. We knew too that we would have also to come down Chadbury lock backwards, which was our first lock this morning. What we didn't know was that we would have to repeat the feat at both Nafford and Strensham. I have got very good at turning round in weir streams. In Evesham we could only get down at all backwards; in the other three it was a question of getting the gate open once down.
Today we have also had a broken gear linkage, fortunately when approaching a lock rather than turning round in a weir stream, and, annoyingly, unshipped the rudder in the process of mooring. As it has been rather a trying day, I am feeding Jim up in Wetherspoons before he attempts to right that in the morning.
For now I will just paste in the post I have just put on CWF -
'Chertsey is currently tied up below lock 50 on the south Stratford - so we made it!
Bridge 58 was not a problem; we got through easily. We did take it very very slowly, dead square, and the ballast in the front *might* have helped. Apparently this bridge has received attention from the local canal society and IWA since 2012 and has been restored to something like its proper dimensions.
The ballast may have helped also at lock 40 where the wing wall does come in a bit but we got out without any trouble. In lock 42 we wriggled our way down but got out with no problem.
We got stuck in locks 45 and 47. In both cases it was at the bottom and on what appears to be Chertsey's widest spot, the top gaurd on the starboard side adjacent to the rearmost crossplank. In lock 45 this was just below a widening of the lock wall. We could have flushed it out except we couldn't get the gate open as I couldn't move back. So we refilled it a bit, held the boat back, emptied it, opened the gate and flushed out.
47 was trickier as the sticking point was higher above the waterline in the lock. We got over that by Jim jumping down onto the port side, though I guess any moveable ballast would have done.
Lots of CRT volunteers, only one of whom opened the top paddles, chucking the boat around and bashing the rudder against the cill.
Most thanks to Ian on Holland whose experience and quiet authority saved the day.'
Apologies to all those willing volunteers who would have turned out later in the week. We didn't expect to get here so quickly, and having done so thought we would try as soon as possible so that we could call out reinforcements if necessary. Look forward to seeing some of you at the weekend though!