Sunday, 30 May 2010

Sent to Coventry

We have spent a small fortune on creating our six-berth boat from the original two-berth boat we bought. Not even all that small, in fact. So I am sitting on the roof with a cup of coffee wondering why we have crammed seven people in for the maiden voyage. Moving around the boat now requires choreography. It's easier being on the roof with a cup of coffee. While the water tank fills from the tap.

The water point at Hillmorton is slow beyond all possible description of the word. You have this sense of clouds passing, along with entire weather systems and Ice Ages. While the water dribbles out of the hose, I watch as new tropical seas cover the Midlands, dry out and become new coal seams. A man walking a dog passes several times. The dog looks visibly older.

We set off for Rugby, a comparatively modern town which hasn't been "ignored" by the canal as some guidebooks suggest. The town simply didn't exist when the canal was dug out of the sandstone and clay and, instead, the canal linked together the towns of the day - Hillmorton, Brownsover and Newbold-upon-Avon. Today, the Oxford Canal cuts a swathe across embankments and through cuttings; originally, the canal meandered up the Avon and Swift valleys some distance. Close examination of the maps suggests that considerable stretches remain in water, although not particularly accessible.

We chug slowly through Newbold Tunnel and on out into the streaming rays of dusty sunshine. Almost every bridge reveals an old cut off arm some with moored boats, some just guarded by long reeds and overhanging boughs. Who would have thought such sylvan delights lie between Rugby and Coventry?

We wind our way round the bends at Hungerfield and into All Oaks Wood, after which is a particularly popular mooring stretch. Beyond we plunge headlong into the south-westerly winds at Grimes Bridge; if this was at sea, we would heel over and pick up speed dramtically. On the North Oxford we concentrate on keeping the boat off the moored boats.

We track the West Coast main line towards Ansty, feeling rather insignificant as the big Virgin trains flash past above us. The cutting shelters us from the wind and set our sights on Sutton Stop for the evening. Despite the wind, Bill and T bring North Star round the tricky junction perfectly but we have to moor up at the far end of a line of boats, rather too close to where cars park by the bridge. A small hatchback is already sitting there with windows throbbing in tune with the sub-woofer.

We wander back to The Greyhound, only to find that they have stopped serving food. We need to press on towards Coventry as we have little food on board. We look to moor by the Longford Engine pub but are put off by fairly dodgy activity on the tow-path. Instead we search out fish and chips - successfully - before slipping the lines in search of central Coventry.

The light is fading, and we are a little alarmed by a lad warning us of stone-throwing ahead. However, we don't see a soul as we putter through the suburbs of Coventry, a city none of us have visited before.

It is really getting dark and the shadows of old factory walls and wasteland trees spread over us. We are suddenly brought to an ignominious gliding halt as something stops the prop dead. Quick thinking in the bow gets a line ashore, but I have to spend an hour in extreme discomfort unravelling what feels like a complete keepnet from the prop. I need two knives and am cursing anglers by the time we are free.

Just twenty minutes later, shortly before 10pm and we inch quietly through Bridge 1 and into the terminal basin, a place that is very atmospheric but clearly lacking in real usage. It's a picturesque finish to today's journey, but we had expected it to be teeming with boats: there are just three of us for the night and one resident boat adrift by the bridge.

20.3 miles, 1 lock

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