Obviously, this little piece was written before the whole Covid thing came along and halted all travel. But as we Brits are generally obsessed by the weather – no blog could be complete without a little chat on the topic.
I am a great believer that it never, or hardly ever, rains all day. Even when the forecast promises unremitting drizzle, it is my nature to believe that the sun will shine. This doesn’t mean I dislike the rain, far from it. If it’s a desk day – rain pounding on the skylight in my study, cat stretched out next to the radiator with a smug grin on her furry face and no reason to go out - then I love a wet day. Having to be out in the rain – that’s a different matter entirely. I should know; I’ve just spent a week getting drenched.
Since our children left home, it has become our habit to take an autumn holiday. Sometimes on the motorbike, sometimes on a narrow boat. As you can imagine, either of these activities can be miserable in the wet.
For motor biking we to go to Europe via the tunnel or ferry and usually set off in early September - generally we are super lucky with the weather. But I have had a few soakings – and it’s not pleasant – drips running up your sleeves.
For a canal trip, we wait for late availability to get a cheap offer. This year we got a great deal – which is why we are cruising the cut in early October. At this time of year, the canals are less busy. Most of the tourists, especially those with school-age children, have gone, which leaves a few mid-lifers like us pottering quietly along.
The long-range forecast promised rain. The Met Office wasn’t wrong. We just about got the barge loaded up with supplies between showers, after which it poured relentlessly. Canal boats are cosy things and when the weather is rubbish we normally moor up, put the heating on and spend the day reading and chatting – internet, television and radio are, shall we say, patchy. But if you need to downshift from modern life, it’s ideal. In the evening, we take ourselves along the tow-path to the nearest pub for sustenance.
That’s what normally happens. This year we’re on a mission. As a rule, being on a mission on a canal is not in the spirit of this type of adventure. ‘Canal Time’ is the proper order of events - think slow and laid back. Hurrying and indeed ‘pressing on’ in dreadful weather, is not really the done thing. The reason we are chugging along in the downpour is because of the size of our vessel. This narrow boat is bigger than others we have hired - so we did what any empty-nesters would do – we invited our grown-up children along - fully expecting them to be too busy. Imagine our surprise when they said they could join us for a few days when we get to Bath. We must navigate the Kennet and Avon Canal as quick as we can because it’s ‘Bath or bust’ and we need to be there on Monday. My husband has set out a strict itinerary from which we may not deviate.
The problem is when the canal is quiet – sensible folk moored up and taking it easy – there is no one to team up with in the locks. It’s hard work on your own in the drizzle.
As I wind the lock paddles and trudge through puddles on the tow-path, I make a mental note to learn how to steer. It has to be easier than climbing across the scary ‘bridges’ on the lock gates. Still, I expect I’ll have a sense of achievement when the day is done. Another downside about doing the locks solo is the lack of company. My mind wanders. I wonder if I will remember the bad weather or just the sunny days of this trip. This is something often said about childhood memories – how people recall the sun was always shinning.
We lived in the New Forest when I was a child and what I remember is a lot of rain. Flooded heathland and muddy forest. We had a large garden which always seemed to be under a foot (but was probably only a few inches) of water for much of the winter and especially the spring. I had a Jack Russel terrier called Tiger and I used to pull him along in a boat made from a wooden vegetable box. In the olden days, children played outside in all weathers.
I had a large red anorak and wore two hats (don’t ask) – nothing changes. Which makes me think of that old saying, ‘No such thing as bad weather just bad clothes’. I mostly agree with this. There is nothing more irritating than the inappropriately dressed. A sweaty woman in a fluffy, oversized jumper on a warm day. A shivering teenager in ripped jeans and a skimpy top on a frosty morning – a young, coatless man in a t-shirt pretending he is not getting cold. The only warm thing he has on is his enormous headphones. And all those school children in the rain, who ignored their mother’s cry of, ‘take your coat’. Oh - and anyone in ‘silly’ shoes. I don’t care how pretty they are, if they hurt your feet and you cannot walk in them, you look ridiculous.
So, here I am, a short woman in oversized waterproof trousers and an old red coat that never did fit – stout walking boots (think Mini Mouse on safari) – and the two hats - as I mince around the ankle-deep puddles and try not to fall in the cut - I may look ridiculous - but I am sensibly dressed. Yet there is something about British rain – and I’ve been rained on in many countries – it seeps in. A gap, a seam, a zip or just good old osmosis and it will find a way. Be under the downpour for any length of time, you will be wet, probably soaked to the skin by the time you are lucky enough to get under cover and dry yourself. When we have negotiated the last lock, there is one last battle with wet ropes, mooring pins and hammers which I leave Paul to deal with. Knots are not my thing. On board, I peel away my layers. The only part of me that is not actually damp is my stoicism.
One good thing about boating all day is that there is plenty of hot water. We wash and change into dry clothes and give the pub a miss. Neither of us can face any more rain, and I fix us up some pasta. In the morning we do not have far to go, and by the time the lovely daughters are spotted walking to meet us along the tow-path the sun is shining. Bliss.