Today was a hard slog up twenty two locks, with a flight of two, a flight of fifteen, and a flight of five. We have climbed from the Cheshire Plain to the Shropshire Plain, over a distance of about ten miles. These were all narrow locks with only room for one boat, and only a few inches clearance on each side. It took both Paula and I a few tries to get our precision steering chops back, especially as most of the locks came equipped with a vicious side weir which pushes you off course just as you are entering.
The double wide locks we have been on so far this trip almost all had a bridge at the lower end, to make it easy to close both gates. The narrow ones do not. The gates themselves have a walkway on them, but you can’t use it when the gates are open. You can get both gates open by partially opening one, walking on that one to the other, and then pushing the first one the rest of the way with your foot. This means you are doing the splits over a ten foot drop into canal water, but it comes to seem quite natural after a while. Closing the gates is a bit more difficult. If you are lucky there are other people around to help. If you, and you have long legs, you can close one gate, walk out on the walkway, and take a big step to the other gate, and then close that. I’m not brave enough for that, so I compromised by waiting till Paula was in the lock, jumping down onto the top of the boat and crossing that way. When Paula was doing the locks, I would scramble up on top of the boat and then onto the far side of the lock and close that gate. All in all it makes for good and slightly dangerous exercise, and definitely the sort of thing that wouldn’t be allowed if people hadn’t been doing it for two hundred years.
At the top of the flight of fifteen there was a fridge full of ice cream, with a request to leave the money in the box. We also saw the sun for about the first time in a week, so the combination was irresistible.
The final flight also had goodies at the top, a farm stand with meats, vegetables, and home made pies. We snagged the last apple pie, along with home made butter, tomatoes, and other goodies.
This was another honor system arrangement, with prices marked and a cash box for the takings.
While we were raiding the shelves, the farmer Simon came out to talk to us, along with Bill the dog. It felt as if we were transported to Footrot Flats. Simon had attempted to retire from a career as a tractor mechanic by buying a small farm, but soon found himself working harder than ever, and collecting tractors on the side.
We learned about the price of week old calves, the cost of fodder, the social and grazing skills of cows vs sheep, and the advantages and disadvantages of different breeds of beef cattle. Even though some of the cows are raised for slaughter, they all have names, though Simon admits to not being the most creative person when it comes to bovine nomenclature. “That one is White Cow, and that one is Brown Cow.” At least it’s easy to tell which is which.