The sweltering heat continues. The weather app has even got warning signs up. We’ve chosen the hottest week in the calendar to take a break. At least the room is cool and Kumar annan and Prasanna find me wrapped in a cardigan under the blanket when they arrive. It gives them something to chuckle about but I am quite comfortable here under the duvet. We don’t get extremes of temperature but enough variations to make us appreciate the warmth when we get it and the cool weather when we miss it. They are joining us for the last couple of days of our mini break.
We’ve hired a boat for the day and am planning to cruise down the section of the River Thames which crosses this part of the Cotswolds. One day I would like to rent a barge and take a canal trip but before that we need to learn the ropes. This is a much smaller boat which sits up to 5 people. It is only mid morning and we can feel the heat making its searing presence felt. The walk from the car park to the boating area is getting busy. The green field on the banks of the river are filling up with families finding sheltered spots under the shade for a picnic. Some are cooling off in the lake and others are topping up their tans.
The boat is smaller than I imagine. The first thing we do is get the covers up and are glad that we booked the covered version. Today is not the day for topless pursuits. The owner shows us how to switch the engine on and off, the forward and reverse gears. The only tip he offers is “stay on the right side when you see anything coming opposite you, unlike the roads.” “The French got in there first”, he quips. “Shouldn’t we learn to operate the locks?”, I enquire. “It’s ok, they will be manned”, he replies. We wait at the first set of lock gates. Once inside, the water is open to level the water in the lock with that of the downstream river. Once it is levelled the lady operating the lock, opens the gates and waves us on.
We start off gently like a blown up version of a child’s motorised play boat in a giant pond. With fields on both sides, the water plants mark the boundaries adding layers of colour and depth as it separates the solid ground from the stream. The irises look like they’ve done their job for the season, the flowers have withered but the stalks stand tall not ready to bow out yet. Behind them marginal plants bearing flowers in an array of colours compete with each other for pride of place. A couple of women are letting their dogs cool off in the river with them. They move aside to let us pass. At points ducks waddle past and further along a family of swans and their cygnets are enjoying the morning swim. I take over the steering for a bit. The men are getting worried as their back seat driving instincts take hold. Turn the steering right, left, more, more, they can’t help it. Once I get used to the steering, I rev the engine up. It is set to a certain speed limit and feels more like a gentle jaunt than a brisk jog. Prasanna takes the helm, when I’ve had enough. She doesn’t need any period of familiarising as she throttles the engine up to the maximum it will go and takes us on a perfect cruise. The men stop moaning, sit back and enjoy the rest of the ride.
We get to our next lock and moor the boat waiting for help to arrive. Nothing happens. There is no one to help us. The booth is deserted. There is printed instructions taped to the window. It sounds simple but looks like gobbledygook to me. Kumar annan has already started turning the wheel but is not sure which end to do first or which way to turn. The men working at the site come to offer their knowledge which is not much. The way to work it is to use a bit of common sense and add the instructions to it. We need to let water into the lock first to get the level up, move the boat in, close the gates and then let the water out to match the level of the downstream flow. Simples. We turn the water wheel to let the lock fill up but someone has fiddled with the flow on the other end and so whatever is going in is dripping off from the other end. One of the boys notice this and closes the wheel. Slowly we piece together the steps. Once we are inside the lock, another passerby in a boat helps us and we are safely out of the lock.
Further down the river we reach the mooring area where we had planned to stop and have lunch. There is only one space we can see and that too after we had passed it. There are children in the water and boats moored on either side. We are not entirely sure of what to do. We all shout down instructions at Prasanna and confuse her. She’s worried about hitting the children in the water. The restaurant is full and all eyes are on poor Prasanna. She goes further forward does a perfect u turn and gets us back to the mooring space, but we can’t seem to get the boat close enough to tie it to the pole as the space is too narrow. After a couple of attempts we give up. We are not yet hungry either after the big breakfast we’ve all had and decide to return.
We are back at our lock again. This time we are all experts. Leaving Prasanna to man the boat after mooring it, we all hop off and work our magic. It is easy as 1,2,3 and this time we didn’t forget to turn the wheels the right way up after we’d got out of the lock either. I take over the steering for a while. The afternoon heat is now at its maximum. We drive down the river in the opposite direction for a short while and decide to return to base and call it a day. Now we’ve got the hang of it, hiring a barge for a few days is not as daunting a prospect as I thought it would be. I am not strong enough to open or close the gates on my own but am happy to try my hand at everything else. One of these days in the not too distant future I would like to do that before age creeps up and robs me of my dreams.