In between our jaunts on the Chase, we took ourselves last Thursday for a lollipop-shaped walk which mainly featured canals.
The canal bits we have walked any number of times before, but this time we were armed with the GPS and a list of sixteen Geocaches. The bit in between canals we have never walked before, and are never likely to again, what with it being an industrial estate (‘business park’ is how it appears on the signs, but to my mind it’s an industrial estate). The latter only featured on our walk because it handily joined the canals whilst also taking in a further four caches.
It was a chilly morning and with the sun struggling to break through the murk the canal was still mainly iced over as we strode our way through the first few miles. The coldness meant that my hands were staying firmly inside of my mittens, so Mick did the honours with signing logs in the caches once we had found them (and the second cache he had in hand before I’d even had chance to think ‘I wonder where it could be’).
Boats, icy surface and no small amount of out-of-focus blurriness
The third cache we accidentally strode straight past, but being on the stick of the lollipop of our walk I suggested that we could pick it up on our return, rather than backtracking. This turned out to be potentially crucial for the timing for a later event – but we’ll get there in due course.
A few miles in we left the canals and took to a lane which would take us over the A38, so as to save us from dicing with death by crossing it elsewhere.
It was on the approach to this point that we really started noticing the litter – not just the odd crisp packet, but every verge, bush and shrub absolutely covered with the packaging of food or drink of one description or another. It’s always the case when close to a busy road, but it still always startles me that quite so many people think that throwing litter out of the window is better/easier than putting it in a bin at their destination.
The one particularly notable item of litter that we noticed on the entire section between leaving the canal and rejoining it was wee bottles (that is to say, bottles containing wee). They really did become a theme, particularly as we passed through the industrial estate (where many people in fluorescent jackets stared at us as if we were out of place marching through in our muddy trousers and toting big packs).
Apparently, the etiquette for lorry drivers (particularly those visiting the new Tesco distribution centre, I would suggest) is, either upon entering or leaving, to throw the plastic bottle into which they have relieved themselves during their trip out of the window and down the verge. The place was absolutely littered with them – which is a shame when you’re walking along an otherwise inoffensive Right of Way that happens to be just down a bank from the road. It’s not really a theme you want to find when out on a walk. I understand that the distribution centre in question is relatively new, and bottles take a long time to degrade, so I imagine that the problem is only going to get worse.
Fortunately, we were soon away from the industrial estate, having passed some obvious parts of a WWII air field:
And then we were back on the canal, with only a small amount of the lolly and the whole of the stick left to go.
Just as it seemed to us last Sunday that March had marked the beginning of the season where the masses pull on their walking shoes, the same date seems to be that on which the less hardy of the boaters get back on their boats. The locks were all in action as we passed by.
The hired boat just coming out of the lock before the Geocache we had missed on our outward journey was going in our direction, so we hurried on past (with our greeting ignored) in order to find the cache away from prying eyes. A good cache it was too, in a rather unusual container, and we were just signing the log when the canal boat chugged on past, soon pulling back into the bank for the next lock.
It was at the is point that wee bottles ceased to become the most memorable point of the day.
As we approached the narrow boat the woman was down at the lock starting to do the necessary things with her windlass, and the chap had just tied the mooring line in the middle of the craft to a mooring ring on the bank. Having secured the middle, he then decided that he needed to get something out of the bow, so over he leaned, with both hands on the side of the boat and his feet on the bank (you can see where this is going, can’t you?).
Fortunately (thanks to the faffing with the Geocache) as the front of the boat started drifting out, and he realised his predicament, we were immediately on hand. By now forming a human bridge and with the inevitable within moments of happening, Mick flung down his poles and ran to lend the man a hand.
Sensibly, at this point, what I should have done is grabbed my camera and videoed the whole episode, which undoubtedly would have netted me the going rate from You’ve Been Framed. What I actually did, when Mick realised that he was being pulled into the canal by the man who was by now clinging onto his hand, was to fling down my own poles and grab Mick (just so that we could both be pulled in!).
Events developed at rapid rate, and happily it didn’t have a wet ending for all of us. The chap who we were desperately trying to save from a dunking came to the realisation that there was nothing he could reasonably do other than to let go of Mick’s hand and succumb to gravity.
“Christ, that’s cold!” he exclaimed as he surfaced from the water that had a couple of hours before been frozen over and spat out a mouthful of canal (bet that tasted nice…). As we fished him out of the canal and heaved him onto the bank we learned that he was an Australian tourist. We didn’t ask whether he was at the start or the end of his narrow-boating holiday, nor did I yield to the urge to point out that he wouldn’t try that particular feet-on-bank-hands-on-bow manoeuvre again. Instead, I suggested that a change of clothes and a cup of tea may be in order, and under the kind thanks of his wife (who had trotted back from the lock when we saw what was unfolding), off we went on our way.
We even managed to get a good few minutes away, and well out of earshot, before we laughed. As sorry as I felt for the poor chap, looking back on it, it was undeniably very funny indeed.
We had finished chortling by the time we got back to the car with the stats of 10 miles walked, 15 (out of 16) Geocaches found and no ascent worthy of mention.