|The iron gongoozler watches as Tug Harry passes Lock 31|
There is a timeless quality about this southern section from Kingswood where we joined it from the GU. As soon as one is away from the noise of the M40 motorway that slices over it early on, it disappears into quiet, pastoral countryside. The modern world vanishes and the locks and bridges in their charming black and white painted ironwork transport you right back. Replace our diesel engine with a silently pulling horse and we could be back in 1790 when the canal opened.
It is hard to think of anything about this canal that isn't appealing. The locks are frequent – every quarter mile on average – and quite heavy but they slow the pace and break up the moderately heavy boat traffic so that one is often alone.
It is hard to believe, travelling on this impeccably kept little gem, that little more than fifty years ago this canal was virtually derelict and threatened with closure. The National Trust took it on as a restoration challenge and, overseen by local architect and canal enthusiast David Hutchings, it was brought back to life by a motley workforce of volunteers, prisoners, Borstal boys and even Army units – as an engraved stone on a lock wall recalls. Imagine calling the Army in to restore a canal today!
|Restored by volunteers, prisoners and, here, by the Army|
There are only six of these cottages and most have been extended and improved from their original humble form. Least changed is the one at Lock 31 which is owned by the Landmark Trust and available as a holiday let. It had been the home of Ned Taylor who was born there in 1921as one of a family of 11 children and lived there until 2005.
Lock 31 is also site of a very 21st century intrusion into the historic canal. An intrusion but, in my view, a delightful, entertaining and very clever intrusion. It is an iron statue of a human body by Anthony 'Angel of the North' Gormley and one of a number celebrating 50 years of the Landmark Trust.
Some curmudgeonly souls have complained that this is disrespectful, dangerous, ugly and all the rest. Most of them probably haven't been there and viewed it close up. It is certainly not dangerous; it's on the offside and I can't think why anyone should be there when operating the lock. I had dozens of people rushing about in far more dangerous ways when I was climbing the Hatton locks on Sunday. This iron gongoozler keeps still and looks attentively at the boats as they pass by. If he (or is it she?) were sited anywhere else it simply wouldn't work.
It's amusing, too. Walking down the towpath to operate the lock I thought someone from an up-coming boat was standing waiting to work a paddle. I wondered why they didn't move until I got closer!
Is it disrespectful? No; it's not there forever and it doesn't alter the fabric of the lock in any way – quite unlike the hideous and vandalistic carving of poetry in lock beams.
In short, Tug Harry's crew liked it: it's handsomely made, catches the eye, entertains and will draw people to see it who will hopefully gain something more from their visit to the canal.
|All the charms of the canal in these few yards|
We are moored tonight in total silence a mile or so short of Wooton Wawen, a village whose name is probably unpronounceable even to people who live there. But we will find that out tomorrow.