Wednesday 15th July

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Up and away at 7.10. June is cooking breakfast as I write. These entries are getting longer each day, I suspect, and I've taken to carrying the book with me when we go off to the pub. Will it all end up as 'Tedium in excelsis', as the previous Rector used to say?

I've just taken a photo of what has become known as the 'Italian element' of our holiday -- i.e. the line of washing I've strung across the front of the boat. It looks a bit unsightly, I'll admit, but bringing enough underwear for two weeks without washing seemed a bit excessive to me. Then again, it probably says something about me that I'm happy to bring more books than I'll need, but not more clothes!

The Italian Element

Passed a boat-yard at Yardley Gobion (what a name!) and stopped to get a replacement mooring spike for the one that went missing not long after we started last week. Also, and more urgently, to get a new washer for the hose, to replace the one I lost the last time we watered. As I went into the yard, the proprietor was arc-welding the hull of a boat in dry dock. He supplied a fine mooring spike -- a sort of deluxe model with a hoop for the rope to stop it slipping. After rooting around in his workshop he managed to find an odd washer that turned out to be a perfect fit.

Aquaduct over the Great Ouse

On through some very attractive rolling countryside -- with villages, church steeples and so forth in the middle distance. Next item interest: Stoke Bruerne locks, with attached canal museum -- and just beyond this the longest tunnel (Bisworth) on the whole system.

Water Overflowing Gates at Stoke Bruerne

Canal museum well worth a visit. A good collection of photos and descriptions of the life of working canal people over the last couple of centuries. Also details of the history of the construction of the various canals. I hadn't realised how many different sorts of canal boats there were once, on all the different waterways. Lunch (Alan, June and me) in a rather interesting cafe near the museum, in a converted chapel. Fairly exotic selection on the menu -- but nevertheless not expensive. Nick and Penny not keen on the place (I must admit it was a bit stuffy and the lights made rather a glare), so had an improvided lunch on the boat.

Off at 1.50, and in to the tunnel. I think I managed quite well with the steering, but was surprised how difficult it was to steer in a straight line in the dark. I couldn't even blame the tunnel for winding about; it seemed unusually straight. Rather more impressed in retrospect by Alan's performance in the Braunston Tunnel early last week. Out of the tunnel by 2.40. Yes, that's right, 2.40. We must have been about 40 minutes in the tunnel, though I didn't note the exact time we entered. Quite a marathon!

From there it was hardly any distance to the Northampton Arm, and the boatyard, where we stopped at 3.25 to get a licence for the river Nene. Since the early planning stages, we had tossed too and fro various suggestions for what to do if we had spare time in hand. Alan (I think it was) had been in favour of not doing the Nene, on the grounds that we wouldn't have time to get onto the more interesting bits further down, and that we might well want to do the Nene as a separate holiday on a future occasion. As it turned out, though, talking the matter over on various occasions, we could never really come up with a viable alternative. So in the end, the Nene it was to be.

The man on duty at the boatyard turned out to be the same chap who had come to repair our engine at Windsor. Not being the regular office-person, he had to ring someone up and check if it was OK to provide a Nene licence. I gathered afterwards that the problem was that they only have a limited number of licences and that there are not always enough to spare for boats only going on the river for a couple of days. All right on this occasion, however. While we were there we took on water and had the fuel level checked. The latter was achieved by dipping a wooden stick into the fuel tank and seeing how much of it was covered in diesel. Unsophisticated but reliable, I suppose. Apparently the tank capacity is normally enough for three weeks, but as we had already used enough for two weeks average cruising it was thought best not to take any chances -- so in went some more fuel.

We set off again at 3.50, reaching the Rothersthorpe Flight by 4 o'clock. This is a long flight (13 locks) but narrow type and very easy to operate. We quickly got a pretty good system going, with everyone other than the steersman rotating jobs at each lock. Through by 5 o'clock -- just under five minutes per lock.

Nick and Penny had bought curry ingredients yesterday -- but the Good Beer Guide shows a very promising food pub in Northampton, so curry put (metaphorically) on the back burner.

Oh no! Just when we thought Maddie wasn't going to fall in the water this holiday... Being at the front of the boat at the time, I didn't see what happened, but apparently Maddie and Penny were both getting onto the boat at the same time. Penny jumped on at the middle of the boat, to leave room at the back for Maddie to get on there. Maddie instinctively imitated Penny's move, not realising that the narrow ledge has room for two human feet but not for four doggy paws. Front paws on OK, but then ... 'Help, what do I do now?' Tried to twist round to get back paws on board -- scrabble, scrabble, scrabble ... splash! A very bedraggled Maddie was then hauled out by Alan and Penny. Actually it was all Penny's fault, for having written a postcard earlier today, in which she mentioned that Maddie hadn't fallen in yet. Clearly tempting fate.

Into Northampton, after some manoevering too and fro with a boat whose crew didn't have the key necessary to get onto the Nene. They could have gone though this lock using our key, but then of course they might well have difficulties later, so they decided not to risk it and turned back. We moored just past a park in the town. We had been warned that 'undesirables' gathered there (apart from us!) but there seemed to be little option. The man at the boatyard had recommended mooring on the side of the river that lies on a large island created by a side-stream. Problem: nowhere to moor to and no way of getting off the boat if we did.

Made our way towards the Malt Shovel. Excellent choice of beers, but landlady on holiday, so no chance to sample the famous 'Shovel Pie'. On to cheap Balti place, whose chicken Jalfrezi I found quite good, though Penny's prawn Balti was too mild. (I've generally found Baltis rather mild myself, in fact). Back to the boat for a glass of sherry and conversation in the bow of the boat, watching a couple of night-lights (launched by me, though the idea was Penny's) floating slowly on the still surface of the river. After a while, one of them went out and the other went off on a little journey of its own, flame still shining in the darkness. I thought of Earendil sailing into the West with the Simaril -- but I kept this to myself, since unlikely anyone would know what I was talking about!

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