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Rafting down the staircase to heaven

We weren’t too bothered about an early start today since we wanted a lock buddy to share the Hatton flight with. As we approached Shrewley tunnel we passed nb Robert, part of the Kate Boats hire fleet. The skipper asked us if we were going down the flight and when we told him that we were, he asked if they could join us. Shrewley tunnel is the strange one with the separate horse tunnel above the line of the towpath. Our lock buddy to be was soon behind us and after I had dropped Sue off to prepare the top lock, joined us in the top chamber. Seeing that their boat was almost as long as Caxton (65′ as it turned out), I suggested that we tie the two together and traverse the flight rafted together or “breasted up” as the boatmen might say. 

The crew (Mum, Dad, 16 year old son & 20 year old daughter) were a little uncertain at first but agreed to give it a try with me doing the steering. It all went well and we did the flight in 2 hours and 40 minutes (7.6 minutes per lock on average). Sue went ahead setting the locks and warning boats coming up that a pair were on the way down. Dad did a sterling job with the locks as did his daughter, son bailed out half way complaining of dizziness and mum took time out to keep an eye on him. Queen of the Hatton flight, Sue stuck to the task and worked each and every one of the twenty one locks. Once in the bottom lock, we untied the pair before draining the chamber and after exiting the lock together we picked the lock wheelers up on the bottom landings. Steering the pair had been interesting, it took longer to get the boats moving and longer to stop them. Slowing Caxton had the effect of letting Robert move slightly forward and having a small turning effect on the pair for a few seconds. All in all it was a good experience for me and an unexpected end to the hirer’s holiday. It was easier than I thought it would be so maybe I’ll start looking on the Apollo Duck website for a butty boat (if Sue will let me).

We parted ways at the Saltisford arm where we were hoping to stay for a couple of nights. We’ve been here a couple of times before with our last boat, Phoenix III and having spoken to Ian the site manager on Sunday, we expected to be tied to another boat as usual. Jackie came out of the office as we passed and told us that we could tie on to any boat that suited us. The procedure here is to turn in the winding hole and reverse to the moorings but once we had completed the manoeuvre we realised that there were no boats of a similar length to Caxton. This made tying up extremely difficult so we decided to go back out and try our luck on the towpath. We found a mooring just after the Upper Cape road bridge and just behind nb Robert. The boat was locked up so presumably they had all gone for something to eat at the Cape of Good Hope and no doubt junior had made a miraculous recovery!

We walked into town and had something to eat at The Tilted Wig in the market place. We bypassed our usual haunt, the local Wetherspoons, as we fancied a bit of a change but this turned out to be a big mistake. We both ordered the same, hand carved ham, free range eggs and thick cut chips. The ham was fine, no problem with that. The eggs had been seasoned with salt and pepper for some reason and the chips looked like McCain oven chips, not what either of us expected. Unfortunately for me, they were inedible as they were already salted and I never put salt on my food, ever. Some people say that salt brings out the taste of the food, for me it has just made the food taste of salt – yeuch!!

There was further culinary disappointment when Sue spotted a pub restaurant with a sign outside offering coffee and cake for £4.50. By the time we had taken our lives in our hands crossing the busy road, she was already clutching the £4.50 in her right hand. On entering the bar area, Sue asked what sort of cake it was, she smiled when the girl behind the bar told her that it was Coffee and Walnut. The smile evaporated when the girl continued, “But there isn’t any left.”

We didn’t stay, instead returning to our towpath mooring where we saw that nb Robert had moved on, they had to return the boat by 10am the following morning so presumably had decided to move a little closer to the hire base.

We decided to take a walk to the Cape of Good Hope pub where we spent an hour sitting by the canal relaxing after our busy and interesting day.