By Lady Jane Willoughby Wordsmith:
I am not sure how Queen Tess manages it, but suffice it to say that the sun shines on the righteous, so we had yet another fantastic day in every sense: not just because of blue skies but because of the good company and the scenery.
First of all a worried-looking man with a clipboard had to give us a lesson on how each boat worked. Tess is an old narrowboat hand but Sian, Andie and Helen were not quick enough to disappear into the saloon, and by default were elected chief engineers and navigators.
To avoid such responsibilities, the rest of the Hatters seated themselves either inside out of the fresh breeze, or outside so they could be close to nature. Almost immediately, they got a bit closer to nature than expected as our brave captains grappled with the steering … straight into the reeds on the bank. To be fair, the whole ‘push the tiller right in order to turn left’ thing is completely counter-intuitive!
Lady Jane had sneaked a stowaway on-board: Kizzy the terrier may not have been a fan of the engine, the water and the steep stairs but she adored trotting along the towpath and the cold sausages at picnic time: thank you to all the Hatters for welcoming her aboard.
The first drama of the day was a cry of “Hat overboard!” from Tricia. Jane and Kizzy were on the towpath keeping pace with the boats and had just taken delivery of a cup of coffee and hunk of flapjack in a tricky ship to shore transfer. Loathe to lose the refreshments, both had to be carefully placed on the bank before a hatty rescue could be effected. And not a moment too soon as the dainty titfer was going down for the third time…
Gradually the captains of our respective ships grew in confidence as we chugged up the canal. We moored beside a meadow full of buttercups and stretched our legs; some of us even played childhood games, the rules of which most of us had forgotten. Then we were off again, passing ducks and a pair of swans with five cygnet-shaped balls of fluff. Queen Tess being … well, Queen Tess, we went as far as we could go without having to tackle any locks – and that meant facing up to the Saddington Tunnel (factoid alert: constructed 1797, 808 metres long). In the dark, with water dripping on us, we chugged along the spooky length, only ricocheting off the stone walls a few times!
Then it was picnic time, and like the true novices we were, broke canal rules by spreading ourselves across the towpath so we could trip up unwary cyclists. One was particularly grumpy, but one was seduced by a fresh-baked scone with jam and cream, so we just about got away with it. As usual with Rutland Red Hatters, the ‘bring and share’ menu was fantastic, from pork pies to smoked salmon sandwiches, cold sausages, crispy things, cake, fruit and those fabulous scones. Small dogs and ground-level picnics don’t mix, so kind Hatters served Jane and Kizzy’s picnic to them as they sat on the back of one of the boats, at a safe distance!
Stuffed to the gunwhales, we eventually packed up, turned the boats, negotiated the Tunnel again and chugged homeward. New navigators took the tiller, giving the hard workers the chance to stretch their legs on the towpath and we met up with Laurie and Molly who came aboard for the last chug chug chug into Foxton … all happily tired out by exercise, fresh air and fun!