Hamble Square, 0845 for 0900 start. Spot the picnic bags in the sunshine.
Coliseum Coaches, Dean at the wheel. 0910 and we were off after the usual
"hands up anyone who isn't here" from one of the Committee Members. Safe
Dean deposited us soon after 1000 at Colt Hill Wharf in Odiham where our numbers
were swelled by a dozen own-steam crew-members. We were 50 mixed Mercury Gardens
Residents and R Srn YC Members, some falling into both camps for a cruise on
John Pinkerton II on the Basingstoke Canal.
All aboard (bit of a squeeze) for the expected safety talk, this one being a
Channel Ferry-cum-Ryan Air drill. We got the picture. Don't get your fingers
trapped in a bridge, and beware of fish hooks caught in overhanging branches.
Think of the paperwork.
Very quietly (the boat, not the gossipy crew) we set off in an easterly
direction (towards London, we were told by, possibly, the Navigator) to make the
most of what little water was left in the canal after a long hot summer. What
bliss, to glide gently through the green water under the green trees beside the
lush green towpath. I noticed no green-faced passengers. We took it in turns
nicely in the forward cockpit and the steering cockpit aft, although with four
crew we were not allowed to play, in a nautical sense. The bar provided for
simple needs: coffee, wine and a brand of bottled beer called Tea.
A brief informative lecture (not enough jokes for some of the naughty boys among
us) was delivered about John Pinkerton, the 1970s restorer of the canal which
had been built in only six years to boost trade between Hampshire and London.
Opened in 1794, the canal failed to compete with the newly-built railway and
became derelict within the next century, to be rescued following its purchase by
Hampshire and Surrey County Councils and the efforts of a largely volunteer
workforce led by Mr Pinkerton.
The verdant margins revealed occasional visual treasures: the Dogmersfield
luxury narrow boat; some picturesque houses with delightful grounds; Winchfield
House, and all too soon we reached our turning point at the Barley Mow Bridge at
Winchfield. Most of the company elected to hop ashore to stretch their legs
while the John Pinkerton II went on to the winding place to turn before sweeping
us up on the way back.
Picnics were consumed during the return voyage and we enjoyed the same visual
treats but from a different view point as we glided westward back to Colt Hill
Wharf. The gentle pace, it seems, was necessitated by the shallow water, but
even so, we could see the canal-effect as swans paddled furiously to overcome
the stream displaced as we passed by. With an hour to spare after landing, we
could sample the Waterwitch Pub, or the welcome shade of the trees by the Wharf.
And no need to wash off the salt stains.
Embarked once again on the coach, Dean whisked us home to Hamble with perfect
timing, before the rush hour and the threatened thunder storm. Perhaps the canal
is not quite so short of water after Thursday night's deluge.
Thank you Ann for finding a new place to take us, complete with adventure and
sunshine thrown in. Look out for another trip next spring when winter rain will
have filled the canal and we can go westward to Odiham Castle.
Report: Lindy Chamberlain Images Maggie Widdop