Well despite having to stomach the fact that our Richard’s boat didn’t break down as it should after all the years of neglect, the River Ouse up through Hemingford Grey and St Ives is so lovely that I have to Award …
Best Cruise on Someone Else’s Boat
Huntingdon to Earith on Nb Bankside
If you’ve never found your way down the Ouse, I recommend it, although I don’t recommend doing it on a boat with ten year old diesel in the tank – it makes you edgy.
The pesky locks on that stretch leave a lot to be desired though, because the guillotine top gates are set on a timer and open really really slowly to avoid dangerous currents. Some locks on the canals seem equally determined to slow down the traveller, which leads us to our next award, which for a change is not to praise but to have a good old grumble. So how about some nominations for the locks which delayed us most in 2017.
1. Marston Doles bottom lock (Oxford Canal)
Not content with having one bottom gate paddle broken this year, this flippin’ lock eventually contrived for both of them not to work. This is in the Napton flight, always busy with hire boaters in season and in the days leading up to the final collapse, waiting times went up to four hours. I hope the hire fleet companies are forgiving to those poor hirers who arrive back late. CRT were aware of the problem, but hey had to wait for parts to be available,which is a fair excuse, but they would do a lot better to stick a notice on the broken a paddle saying it is in hand. Fortunately when the second paddle broke, they were able to fix the lock next day.
2. Somerton Deep lock
I suppose we can all forgive lock delays when a paddle or a gate fails, but some locks seem to create delays even when they are working, and there is no better example than Somerton Deep. In planning a journey down that way I now always mentally factor in a wait of up to an hour to get through this particular lock. You might think it’s because the bottom gate at thirteen feet high is big and heavy, or because the top paddles are very hard going, or maybe it’s just that being so deep it takes a long time to fill and empty. I think the real reason is that down at the bottom of the chamber the lock is a bit narrow so lots of boats seem to get stuck in there, or can’t get in in the first place. I’ve seen it lots of times and it really doesn’t help when so many boats go in with their fenders down. It’s all very well wanting to protect your precious blacking, but fenders and narrow locks don’t always go. On top of all that Somerton is a member of a cruel gang of locks that like to get bits of tree stuck behind the bottom gate so you can’t open it properly. They do it on purpose I swear. It’s a good job that the lock is in a pretty bit of countryside, because you get plenty of time to look at it. Mind you, if you are lonely, it’d be a good place to hang about because there’s always someone to talk to as they wait their turn.
3. Grant’s Lock (the first below Banbury on the Oxford)
A broken paddle on the top gate seemed to have been awaiting spare parts since Tom Rolt came through in Nineteen Whateveritwas (if indeed he did – I haven’t checked).. No matter, one paddle is enough most of the time. We weren’t worried on our way down to Aynho in October, that until about coming the other way told us men were working in the lock and there would be a long wait. Regular readers of this blog will recall my photo shoot of the ensuing entertainment when the CRT gang installed a new bumper bar. (if not, look back through this blog and find it – it’s a good ‘un) It cost us about an hour, but I have to confess it was an hour very well spent, and I’d happily do it again.
Miraculously our trip up and down the Buckby flight was without incident or delay this year, which I think is a first for us, so they are exempt from this list, although they are I think previous winners of worst locks awards and for that reason are worthy of respect.
Well we’ve all got stories of being held up at locks. It’s all part of boating, but then again, so is grumbling, so next time I’ll have the pleasure of making the award as well as making some nominations for good stopping places just round the corner from hot spots. After that one, we may pause for a little quizette. Stay tuned.