Wednesday 26 June 2013

Balancing act

We got up early enough this morning to be up the 11 locks of the Wilmcote flight by 10 a.m.

Some of the issues we had with the gates reminded us of just how skilful a task is that of constructing and hanging them. This one would not open completely – not so much a problem for us coming in, but a potential hazard for a boat trying to exit the lock.

A number of the top gates would not stay closed, so it was a bit ironic to see notices stuck to them asking all boaters to ensure the gates were shut as you left, to avoid water wastage.

A well hung and balanced gate opens and closes easily, and doesn't need superman to shift it. It's very noticeable when whoever set it in place didn't get it quite right. The mechanics are very different from most of the pieces we saw in the MAD museum yesterday, but the same attention is needed to getting everything perfectly balanced.

The Stratford is a delightful canal in many other ways. It has a number of these bridges, which appear to have been constructed in two halves. Since there was no indication that they were required to lift, it is probably to allow a towing line to be passed through without needing to detach it from the horse going around rather than under the bridge. Most of the bridges have been a much tighter fit than usual, no wider than the locks. Just as well that Erin Mae is herself freshly balanced, after emptying the poo tank yesterday – no left list to cope with.

Occasionally you end up on rather than under the bridge. Then it's an aqueduct! But it's just as narrow.

The quintessential example of balancing a water-filled metal trough on stone supports is the Pontcysyllte that we crossed several times in May. But the Edstone is also a fine specimen, taking you over meadows, a road and some railway tracks. The towpath still accompanies you, but several feet lower. How the horses balanced, I'm not quite sure.

A mile further on is a second aqueduct over the A34, and the village of Wootton Wawen, where we've tied up for the night. Its parish church, St Peter's, is the oldest Saxon church in Warwickshire (with lots of additions, of course, Norman and otherwise), and traces its roots to a monastic community founded in the 8th century.

Reading the excellent panels in the display inside reminded me of the balancing acts that have always been required of Christian communities in their communities. It's often difficult to balance declaration and compassion, truth and love. But then it struck me that there is a similar challenge, at the individual level, for my best beloved and myself – with the very close companionship that boating brings.

Now there's a thought – love is like a well-hung lock gate!


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