Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Canal algebra

Miss Cree would be so disappointed in me. She was such an enthusiastic maths teacher, and today's problem wouldn't have given her a moment's hesitation, but I gave up on it, eventually. Here it is: if miles + locks ÷3 = hours, and you took 7 hours to do 13 locks, then how many miles did you cover?

Not many, is the innumerate answer. You’re lucky on a busy canal to hit 4mph – when passing other boats, either moored or travelling, you have to knock the throttle back to tick-over speed, which is much less – and even luckier to sustain that for any distance, so the miles you cover in a day, even one that that begins at 7.55am,  and especially if it includes locks and a tunnel, add up to very few.
But it was a good day: there was some dramatic weather that timed itself perfectly for lunchtime, and for the rest we had pleasant sunshine, cows, ducks, ducklings, a blue flash of kingfisher, woods, fields and pretty lock cottages. There were also, I have to say, the M1 where for some distance it felt as though we were on the hard shoulder; and the railway line the other side with the frequent silver scream of a Virgin train flashing past.
But then we were back to more bucolic scenery where, on return trip now, we recognised cottages and moored boats. There was a pretty shop selling ‘Canalia’ which is much less raunchy than it sounds – tea towels with a pattern of narrowboats, brass canal plaques, model boats, and metal jugs painted with the traditional Roses and Castle motifs.

Our lock buddy today was a cheerful, friendly, scruffy guy with few teeth and a pretty girlfriend, very proud of his Lister engine and who shared some non-judgemental helpful tips on steering. They were no help to me, sadly, when I entered the tunnel and got hung up in the dark on its kink soon after. We lost a fender to the struggle, but the day ended well anyway, back at Braunston’s peaceful mooring with a colourful sunset and sleeping ducks after salmon and spinach tart (with free Wifi) at The Boathouse.

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