Saturday, 22 January 2011

To the Saltisford Arm and Back

Last Thursday dawned crisp with a sharp frost but cloudless and the Sun shone quietly and sublimely in a pale blue sky, with the promise of a beautiful day to follow. Though there had been a frost overnight there was no ice on the calm unruffled surface of the canal. As always in bright sunshine, the opaque olive water beckoned and I was drawn to make the most of it.
I had been stationary for far too long. Though the mooring had been quiet and pleasant, I needed to be on the move. ‘JP2’ would also benefit by being put to work again. Apart from being started only briefly on a couple of occasions since her rest, I didn’t know how she would perform on a run and in a manoeuvring situation. I decided to go up through the two Cape locks for about a mile and a half, as far as the Saltisford Arm to test her, turn around and then come back, timing it so that I would be outside the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ pub at lunchtime.
As we were facing in the right direction already we moved slowly and quietly away from the quay with no effort at all. It was wonderful to feel the slow throb of the big engine beneath my feet again and with the end of the tiller lodged in the small of my back, as I stood quite relaxedly with arms crossed, on the top step of the Boatman’s Cabin, the ‘Epping’ stove warming my legs from below, ‘Futurest’ responded well and immediately, to any slight tiller movement that I put on. She was obviously happy to be away too.
We were in no hurry and passed through the two big locks with ease. I hopped off with the centre line and climbed the steps and left ‘Futurest’ to glide in on her own. She now knows exactly what to do without me and when to stop with her nose just before the cill. It felt good to be able to close the gate behind her and puff a bit as I wound up the paddle to let the water in. It was just like old times! Nothing had changed.  
In another three quarters of an hour, we reached the Saltisford Arm, accompanied by the odd jogger or two, a winter robin who had cheerfully sang to us all the way up the towpath and the many mallards of course who complained volubly because we were disturbing their peace. The turnaround was accomplished with ease and ‘JP2’ responded to my engine movements with her usual thoughtfulness (Now do I or don’t I?  .... Okay! Alright then, maybe I will!), but positively getting there in the end. I am well used to her responses by now.
Then with the Sun still shining beautifully we began the return journey.
The usual collection of boats was clustered outside and around the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, as if needing the pub for their very sustenance. But there was still one space left for us to join them, on the towpath side. So after I had tied up and battened down, I was able to enjoy a very relaxed lunch of homemade chicken and mushroom pie. It was hot and delicious. The pub was very quiet inside as there was hardly anybody else there.
About an hour later, after negotiating the two Cape locks in the downhill direction, we arrived back at Kate Boats yard. We went about with ease in their turning basin and finished up port side to, alongside at the old mooring, facing back up the canal towards the Cape. I made fast and reconnected the 240 volt power line at 1500 hours.
By this time the Sun was beginning to go down again and it was getting cooler. Though the temperature had struggled all day to rise much above freezing point, it had been a lovely day and was most satisfyingly memorable.

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