28th to 30th July 2012
Saturday 28th of July was a date that Dave & I had been anticipating for a considerable length of time.
The first (and last) time we stepped aboard Python had been after the Retford Historic Boat Gathering last September. Dave was given a brief introduction to the tiller on Python while I assisted with the locks. So it was that we set off from home on the Saturday morning with a bunch of keys, a location where we could expect to find Python and a generous measure of enthusiasm. Audlem is a wonderful spot, one that is known to us from our jaunt out on our own boat earlier this spring. It is lovely that Python spends so much time introducing our own local stretch of canal to an audience who, it often seems, have never heard of its existence. It does make for a less than straightforward journey to get to these places by car though.
We finally arrived closer to lunchtime than we had hoped. We secured a parking place and had an enjoyable lunch at The Bridge Inn before we loaded our things on board Python and had a dig around in the cupboards and drawers to try and get our bearings. Python had a prime position in the festival, the first boat you came to below lock 13 with a towpath side mooring. The neighbouring boat owners had kindly assisted in towing her to her place for the festival and keeping an eye on her until we arrived. She was looking a little dusty so we gave her a quick wash off and she responded by gleaming in the sunshine! Looking around the other boats in attendance they all looked resplendent with their brightly painted cabins, their owners busy putting a final polish on the chimney bands in anticipation of the crowds due to see them the next day. The organisers had laid on a fantastic BBQ for the participants that evening. Everyone gathered in the lock cottage garden and I have strong suspicions that the quantity of best quality beef that was used in the humungous pile of home made beef burgers took the a largest part of a herd of cattle to produce! They did us proud with the food and everyone was hanging on to their plate hoping if they waited another 20 minutes or so they might find room for a little more! With full tummies we drifted off for a sound night’s sleep to the melody of a swiftly running by-wash very close by.
Sunday dawned brightly and we set about preparing Python for her adoring public with the banner and plenty of leaflets available to hand out. The people of Audlem and surrounding areas did not let us down and they turned out in force. The towpath was thronging with people or all types and descriptions. Boat owners or otherwise everyone was drawn to look at the map of The Chesterfield Canal. It attracted a lot of interest from everyone. People wanting to walk The Cuckoo Way asking about camp sites, boaters asking about moorings, cyclists asking about access along the as yet unrestored parts but the thing that was most warming was when people who have no connection with the canals or boating apart from the fact they live close to The Shropshire Union Canal around Audlem were genuinely interested in the restoration work that is happening to our own canal. In a couple of cases, so much so they were willing to put the folding paper type of donation into our collection bucket! Sunday was the type of day that every supporter of The Chesterfield Canal should experience. Seeing people’s genuine interest and enthusiasm for what is happening makes you so proud to be part of it! There was a short sharp downpour in the afternoon sending everyone scurrying to The Shroppie Fly to shelter but within twenty minutes the sun was back out and the cloths on Python were steaming gently in the sunshine. There was also a fantastic turnout of classic road vehicles on an adjoining field. After the rain the owners all got out a chamois leather to buff up the paintwork again. It is at times like this that I am rather pleased that Python does not have loads of brass that needs polishing!
Monday dawned and we joined the mass exodus up the Audlem flight at 8am. There were no hold ups, there were plenty of boats that had been waiting further up the flight, not coming down because they knew the moorings were restricted for the festival. They had set off taking advantage of the historic boats heading up and it meant there were no queues and at most locks we simply swapped locks with one coming down saving a lot of hard work. Before we knew it we had the 20 locks of Audlem & Adderley flight under our belts. We had purchased some liver and bacon from an excellent farm shop towards the top of the locks and some gooseberries from an end of garden stall half way up. The plan had been to get Python to somewhere around Market Drayton with good road access so we could leave her for the next crew. Like the best laid plans, it did not work out. Knowing that most of the moorings in Market Drayton are restricted to 48 hours we tried to moor up on a stretch near a bridge just before the main moorings. Sadly we found that this section would benefit from being dredged as the bottom is far too near the top for a deep draughted old lady like Python to get anywhere close to the side. We tried at three different places on that stretch and each attempt resulted in the old girl deciding she was going to plonk her bottom in the mud and refuse to move no matter whether we talked to her nicely or not! We were going to have to continue beyond the restricted moorings, we tried again and found yet more mud for the old girl to wallow in a good foot or more away from the bank. We would have to continue. Continuing meant another 5 locks. We were starting to tire and it was starting to rain. Our car was back in Audlem and our promised lift to collect it was becoming a bit of a stretch. We went up Tyrely locks and found a mooring at the top. Python went into the bank effortlessly for us. I think after all the excitement and bustle of the weekend she wanted a bit of peace and quiet in the countryside – that is not too much to ask when you are an octagenarian is it? We will be on board again at the end of August and cannot wait!
By Jan Warsop