Just before we embarked on our Pen and Voice Tour 2019, we visited Budbrooke Junction on the Grand Union Canal.
I attended Budbrooke Junior School for two years in 1971. It was the site of a fateful visit to the canal with my Dad one day. A keen carpenter, physics and chemistry teacher he brought with him the model remote-controlled motor-boat he had built.
Setting it on the canal, the craft promptly zoomed off across the channel instead of along it, immediately lodging itself in a culvert on the opposite side of the towpath. Dismay filled my childish heart as I felt sure it was lost. Dad would assuredly retrieve it. As he took a nearby bridge over the water to the overgrown far side, many anxious moments passed. The undergrowth was so thick I could only hear him calling occasionally. Noting rustling movements in the shrubs and hearing exclamations as he was attacked by a giant caterpillar, my fertile imagination was in overload.
Near fainting with anxiety, I believed he had met his untimely end.
When he returned to my quaking watch, covered in burrs and goose-grass seeds, I was relieved to see both him and the blue painted boat he had hooked out of the water. There was no test-driving of models again after that. Possibly, Dad had been as scared as I was – to think of the risk he had taken in leaving me on the original bank without supervision.
Forty-six years later, the book cruise began as a bit of a race toward Birmingham as we passed through 40 locks between a Monday and Friday evening where we had an appointment with our resident artist due to join us at the trendy hotspot, Gas St Basin.
Phil was a little anxious to get cracking the first morning. We tackled the first days’ warm up sailing the 11.5 miles to Lapworth and ascending the infamous ‘Stairway to Heaven’. We climbed 146′ 6″, two miles and 28 locks. When Tim West and Prunella Scales once passed through, they had the assistance of the Waterway Trust and broke a record transit time of 2 hrs 4 minutes. Would there be any voluntary help for us lesser mortals?
Under the watchful tutelege of Phil, we had enough skill and understanding of the technology, nevertheless, we enjoyed a hard-won pint or two at the top of our climb.
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