Monday, 24 August 2009

Radford Semele to Braunston

Friday 14th August 2009
A pleasant warm day to start, greying over later. We started the day quite tired, but by taking it in turns to work the locks we weren't really aware of doing much work.
Passing steam boat Emily Anne.

Passing narrowboat George, we also passed the hotel boats Snipe and Taurus.

Into Bascote Staircase lock

At one of the locks at Fosse we had one of the most scary incidents of the trip. We arrived below the lock, as two boats were leaving, one a hire boat, the other private - I jumped off at the lock landing to go up to work the lock. A woman from the private boat decided to cross the upper gates of the empty lock, while leading a young dog. I'm a bit surprised that I can't be sure of the breed, but it was something like a labrador. What happened next sort of distracted me from remembering some of the details.

The dog became frightened, and froze, feet slipping, near the middle of the two gates - just before the gap between the gates. The woman was holding a both windlass and the dog's lead, so couldn't even hold on to the lock railing. I walked across behind the dog and took the woman's windlass (which I stuck into a belt loop) to give her a free hand. I started to pat the dog, and speak reassuringly to it, and it began to wag its tail a bit, although I could see that it was still terrified by the drop to our left. It became clear that the dog was in danger of falling if it tried to move, as the surface was impressed metal, not even wood, or non-slip paint. By this point Alan had got Chalice into the lock, and I could see that the woman's boat was being moored below the lock.

I got my knees on either side of the dog's haunches, and one hand under it's belly, while I held on to the railing with the other hand. The woman and I were talking reassuringly to the dog the whole time. There was another boat waiting to come down in the lock, so I started to organise the boaters from that to shut the bottom gate behind Alan, and begin to fill the lock, so that if the dog fell it would fall into water.

At this point the woman's husband appeared, stopped anyone doing anything to the lock, and began to pull on the dog's lead, past his wife. The dog's feet shot around on the slippery surface, but the man managed to get it's front legs onto the other gate, and made a grab for the dog. At which point the back legs slid out to one side. Fortunately away from the empty lock, but unfortunately down behind the lock railing. The dog was being held at the front end by Mr Dog-Owner, while both the back legs were trapped. Mr Dog-Owner told me to, "just lift the leg up", which I managed to do, only by getting one arm under the dog's belly, and freeing the legs with my other arm.

I was terrified that I would see the dog fall 8 feet onto the concrete sill, and annoyed at the owner's attitude. Writing this, I now realise that I was moved from a position of relative safety, which was under control, and where there was unlikely to be any harm to anyone, to a position where I was standing above an 8 feet drop, lifting a fairly large terrified dog, while not actually holding onto anything myself.

Fortunately the dog was safe, no-one fell, but it could have been a tragedy. I know that Mrs Dog-Owner shouldn't have tried to take the dog over the gates, but plenty of dogs cross lock gates, I don't really blame her. I am cross about Mr Dog-Owner, who not only put the dog at risk - the legs could just as easily have gone the other way - but also me, and his wife.

Mrs Dog-Owner came and got her windlass back, she seemed relieved, but also a bit embarrassed. Mr Dog-Owner went and played with the dog. I know which boat it is - I'll avoid them in future.

I spotted a towpath apple tree overhanging the canal with apples much larger than the usual 'crabs'. I am attracted by the idea of using 'wild food', and these looked like they would make good jelly. Alan reversed the boat and within a couple of minutes we had pulled a carrier bag of apples off. I knew that I wouldn't be able to do anything with them until we got home, but they would still be much fresher than most shop bought apples. The carrier bag was tied, and put in a cool part at the front of the boat.

Near Napton Junction we passed narrowboat Helvetia's mooring, and saw that David Schweizer was on board. We pulled into a vacant mooring, and stopped for coffee and cake, and a very long chat. At one point David S ducked inside and produced a bowler hat. This is because of the Internet debate between Alan and David S about whether working boatmen ever wore bowler hats. The hat was so that Alan could have a 'working boatman's bowler'. The problem was that the bowler was small, and Alan has a very large hat size.

Trying the bowler on for size.

Fortunately, it fits me fine, so I was wearing it as we arrived in Braunston, and later, when we went to the pub. It certainly provoked a lot of comment.

Wearing the 'boatman's bowler'

Miles: 15.1, Locks: 23
Total miles: 331.0, Total locks: 338

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