For someone who managed to get herself to the otherside of the planet and back… I regret to report that I did an abysmal job in getting myself to the start of today’s hike on time.
Train timetable issues (the 0931 wasn’t appearing leaving the 0930… that must be right, mustn’t it) and I ended up an hour late. I didn’t have this much trouble in China.
And the timetables there don’t use numbers. (Not ones I can recognise anyway).
Chris was exceptionally good about it… once I finally arrived in Crewe. This may have been because he was intrigued by the supplies I had promised in an earlier text message.
But in hindsight, maybe he was anticipating needing to do his own apologising.
For those of you who haven’t read the previous couple of blogs, Chris is hiking from Eastbourne to Stoke in order to raise money for the hospitals that cares for his son Thiago in his short life before he died in November 2019.
Today’s hike started at Long Buckby and our destination was Napton on the Hill.
Our route? The Union Canal. Following a canal… what could possibly go wrong? Plenty.
Before we launch into our tale of woe… Stand by with the popcorn, kids, it’s coming…
The Grand Union Canal in England starts in London and ends in Birmingham, stretching for 137 miles (220 km) with 166 locks.
I think we must have walked through 400 of them today.
With competition from the railways having taken a large share of canal traffic in the 19th century, while improvements in roads and vehicle technology in the early part of the 20th century meant that the lorry was also becoming a threat… for canals to remain viable in trade and industry action had to be taken.
The Regent’s Canal and the Grand Junction Canal agreed that amalgamation and modernisation were the only way to remain competitive.As a result the Grand Union Canal in its current form came into being on 1 January 1929, and was further extended in 1932.
Braunston, Chris informed me, was a key point on the route… mostly because it had been signposted all the way from Brentford. Braunston was also where we came unstuck… four miles outside it.
The canal branched. Left or right? The sign above indicated that the branch we were on would take us to Braunston.
We set off walking, collected some donations in the bucket – a handy prop and talking point – said “hi” to Ermentrude…
… then realised we had walked 30 minutes up the wrong canal…
Back we went. And the rain set in.
“Oh, it’s lovely along here on a sunny day,” said a lone fisherman. Before he told us about the Brentford goalkeeper who ended up living down a sewer.
Reliable witness? Well anyone who has read the five part Brentford Trilogy by Robert Ranking may think so.
The canal path disappeared.
We followed the towpath diversion, making plans, as the sky darkened with yet more bloody rain, for reasonable points to abandon the hike – a desire to become a cautionary tale was not high on our wishlist – when the sky cleared.
We reached Braunston… a barge mecca…
…and with another six miles to go and just under two hours of daylight left the sun came out.
On we trudged, gaining a second wind as we realised there was only a mile to the pub… the end point of our twelve mile hike that I think may have turned into sixteen.
Chris announced we would reach it in seven minutes. The bastard rain gods heard him. Having just dried off , we were soaked again.
One pint later, we hired a taxi and arrived at our hotel… only to find it all in darkness.
Chris asked the driver to wait while I called the hotel and the booking company to find out what was going on. No answer (and yet they took full payment last week, so there are a few arguments to continue).
Back to the pub. Food. Drink. Sympathy from the staff with alternative suggestion. Sympathy from the locals who said that this hotel in Priors Marston has form for this.
I began calling hotels. No answer at the first two and finally… both an answer and yes, room at the inn, and would we like full English in the morning?
Damn right we would.
If you have enjoyed this tale of misery, tired feet, wrong directions and wet clothes, please consider donating to Chris’s cause: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=ChrisGibbs9&pageUrl=2