Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Stoke Bruerne "Village at War" October 1st and 2nd.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Passing the fuel boat "Ascot"
Our first "event" with Sickle had been the Stoke Bruerne Canal gala back in June.  We had thoroughly enjoyed this, despite rain having largely taken away the Sunday of the weekend.  We were aware of the "Village at War" event at the start of October, but initially had no hope of attending, as it falls during Cath's term time.

And a steam launch that threatened to overtake me at times!
However Sickle being at Fenny Stratford placed us in the situation that she was less than a day's travel from Stoke Bruerne, and, apart from the flight of locks at Stoke itself, most of the route was lock-less miles, with just a single lock at Cosgrove to negotiate.  It thus became apparent that I could probably single-hand Sickle most of the way, and that Cath could come up after work on the Friday, and work me up the locks.

Dappled in sunshine at Cosgrove lock
This is the first time I have really single-handed either boat over any distance, and, still suffering after my fractured pelvis, I lack agility to keep leaping on and off the boats.  As we have had one or two "happenings" with Sickle I was a little nervous, but decided I felt brave enough to try.

Horse drawn ice boat Laplander - now steam powered
I got to Fenny by a combination of bike and train, but was not really ready to set off much before 11:00.  On a good day, I really start to feel more comfortable with keeping Sickle "in channel" in the deepest water, and I generally made good progress.  However obstructions in some of the bridge holes caused me some problems, and I was keeling over on stuff on the bottom far more than when we came South some months back through the same bridges.  In one case I was deflected enough that the stove chimney got a bit grazed on the arch of the bridge.  Not too serious, but I'd have preferred it not to happen!

Miss Lola Lamour
Perhaps I was getting a bit to confident, because as I entered Cosgrove lock the engine stalled on me!  Fortunately I was at no great speed, and no harm was done.  The rest of the passage up to the Stoke locks passed uneventfully, but after that distance on the tiller with no breaks, I was more than a bit tired.  The crews of several boats I had passed had said things like "I hope you are not heading to Stoke Bruerne! - It is already totally double moored throughout, and there is nowhere to stop!" - all slightly worrying!

Where much of the money went!
Cath arrived with all the things I had been unable to bring to the boat, because I had not used a car - well nearly everything, having forgotten the loaf of bread I had asked David to make for her to bring along!  We set off up the locks, again passing people telling us we had no hope of mooring in Stoke.

Typical of the quality of the exhibits.
In fact the "long pound" two locks down from the top was fully moored out, so options of stopping short were gone.  We pressed on in failing light, and I held one lock below the top whilst Cath biked up to see if we could slot in anywhere.  Good news - just one slot, and it was hopefully 40 foot, (just!).  We carried on up the final lock in really very dark conditions.  The boat fitted the space with maybe 6" to spare -a real result!

Land Girls - hard at work.
Its hard to describe the weekend in words, but harder still in pictures, as we somehow got into the swing of it enough to take very few usable photos.  People always want to know about Sickle, and the fact it was a boat converted to an ice-breaker as part of the war effort generated a lot of interest at a war themed event.

Sickle well guarded on a trip down the locks.
What else did we do.  Well we ate, (and drank), out a great deal, as we had not really brought food with us, and Stoke has no shops, but an excellent pub, and even an excellent "Indian".  We spent far too much money, ranging from (real) 1940s clothes and shoes for Cath to German paratropper boots, (yes, honestly!), for me, after my "sensible shoes" disintegrated on our first jaunt around the site in Sickle.  Also acquired was a rather nice old brass water pump - I've no idea what it may get used for, but it was just too nice a thing not to make an offer on.  Despite getting a top up of cash in the pub, Cath was finally reduced to borrowing money from a work colleague to buy her final old clothes - a rather nice Astrakan coat.

I learnt to drive buses on one not much newer than this!
The weather remained superb throughout - spectacularly good for October, and a contrast to the very wet gala earlier in the year. This is great, as there had apparently been dangers of no further events if this one wasn't well attended. We met friends from the canal world, as well as giving a ride to the family that Cath knows through work.

Near perfect day for the return trip.
We spent far too long just chilling out on Sunday before starting off back South down the locks, and were running out of light before arriving at the bottom and finding all mooring places taken.  Too dark to press on, we left the boat on a less that ideal spot, and vowed to tell BW why we had been forced to do so - I would need to come back very soon now to move her South again.

Approaching Cosgrove on the return.
In fact after just a day to recover on Monday, I set off back to Stoke to make the return trip.  This was fairly uneventful, other than briefly getting thoroughly stuck on a mud bank at Wolverton,  To be fair, I should have known better, having got myself into a bit of canal where I hoped it would be deep enough, but very clearly wasn't.  It's probably the first time in our ownership that Sickle has not fairly quickly slid back off somewhere where she doesn't have enough water to float.  Fortunately I extricated myself, but not without a bit of black smoke out the "tall pipe".

Sickle is a real ice breaker - this boat is an unconvincing imposter.
The rest of the journey back to Fenny was uneventful.  Cath had been on a course, and arrived fed up, because it had been one of the poorest she had ever attended.  Of course we then had to drive to Stoke to collect the second car, so were not back until quite late, and by then were both fairly exhausted.

A cracking weekend, and definitely one for next years diary, if they run one.

Fenny Stratford to Stoke Bruerne and Return
(with some short trips at Stoke)
Miles: 38.0, Locks: 24