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Excitement and adventure by the Kennet and Avon canal

Despite the horrific weather, with fences toppling all around and the force of the wind pushing rainwater through the seal around Barney’s bedroom window (true – it was raining inside his room at 7 o’clock this morning), I thought I’d go for a run this morning.

Partly because the tow path is nice and flat, and partly cos I fancied a change, I went running by the canal. The wind pushed me along for the first 10 minutes, at which point I turned, panting with the effort, and headed back towards town again.

As I turned a corner, I saw one of the narrowboats had broken its moorings and drifted across the canal at a 45 degree angle, one end touching each bank. It completely blocked the canal. In summertime, when there’s a lot of tourist traffic on the canal, this would cause problems, but today the only problem was for the boat’s owners.

They were an elderly couple and as I ran closer, I could see them hauling pathetically on a piece of rope that they’d attached to the boat’s mid-section. I stopped, offered to help, and reached out an arm to grab the rope.

That was when I noticed the bloke was dripping. He was soaked from head to toe.

Turned out that moments before I’d come running around the corner, he’d been trying to pull on the rope by himself, and a gust of wind had pushed the boat further from the bank, consequently dragging him into the water. Yikes.

So bloke, bloke’s wife and I pulled like animals on the rope. God, it hurt. Canal boats, I can report, are incredibly heavy. We were pulling the boat into the wind, and for every metre we pulled it closer, a fresh gust of wind pushed it half a metre away again.

Finally, gasping at the effort, we pulled it alongside the bank. The bloke climbed aboard to find a metal pin he could hammer into the bank – something to tie the rope to. Bloke’s wife and I chatted.

“Keeps you fit, this boating life,” she wiffled. I’d have made better conversation had I not been grunting and moaning, trying desperately to hold the boat in position while the bloke hunted for his pin. A particularly strong gust tugged on the hull, which moved inches, dragging me across the path. I yelled out: “Hurry up mate!” and crouched down as low as I could.

My arms felt like they’d explode from my shoulders. My legs were twitching. My hands had gone numb from gripping the wet rope. Finally, the bloke re-emerged with his pin and a mallet, and swore while he frantically bashed it into the ground. From nowhere, a dog appeared and jumped up at me, helpfully putting its muddy paws on my running trousers.

At last the rope got tied to the pin, and I could let go. My muscles collapsed en masse and I just stood, breathing heavily. I am by no means very fit, let alone very strong, and I could tell straight away that I was going to suffer after-effects of this little episode.

The couple thanked me with big smiles, and I walked slowly away through the rain and the drizzle.

Only at this point did it occur to me that perhaps the bloke could have solved the problem by climbing aboard the boat and starting the engine.

(18th January 2007)