The Secret Canal diary of Guy Morgan age 52 and a bit.

Saturday 21st April 1996

I shall never forget this day. I am in love, in love, in love. After 20 years when I thought I could never again feel that way again. Her name is Dorothy Constance. She is beautiful, slim and with a pert slightly tip tilted nose. Her nether regions have a fine and subtle upsweep which hints of delights to come. I saw her for the first time almost by accident as I explored boatyards on 'Open Day' and found myself at Kate Boats, Warwick. I love her.

Dorothy Constance

Sunday 22nd April - Friday 26th April

I cannot bring myself to write of the mundane things of life and nor can I bear to write of Dorothy Constance in case I never see her again. I have made a tentative approach to the man she calls 'the boss' with a view to spending next week with her but will he accept my offer or will I be rejected as unworthy of one of his charges? I cannot bear the waiting. I can barely bring myself to read the canals mail list as the notes from others about to consummate their desires on the water almost reduces me to tears.

Saturday 27th April

Yes. Yes,yes,yes!!! I am to be allowed to spend a whole week with my beloved Dorothy Constance. I shall leave immediately for Warwick. I cannot bear to delay a moment. Dorothy Constance was waiting and ready when I reached Warwick. She is as beautiful as I remembered. I was almost bedazzled by the sparkle of her brasswork. Oh, the soft curve of those mushrooms. After the briefest of introductions and a word of advice about her more intimate needs (to talk of checking her oil and water, and worse screwing down her stern gland greaser seems so coarse) I was alone with my Dorothy Constance. I had decided, provided she agreed, that a trip to Stratford on Avon would be the main objective of our first week together. We set off and together, on the way to Cape Locks, gently explored her handling She is so responsive, attentive to my every touch, I had forgotten how good it felt to guide such a beautiful lady with just a light hand on her rear; almost like a stately dance. I am ashamed to say that in ascending the Hatton Flight, I forced her into close company with a companion crewed by four men a little the worse for drink. I could sense how she shrank from contact and clung to the lock walls as their brutish bows pushed her aside. Their steerer seemed to have a fascinating trick of slumping over the tiller apparently in an alcoholic stupor until the precise moment when the top gates opened, rousing himself until into the next lock and then retiring into torpor again. For me, even if not for Dorothy Constance, their company was worthwhile as we went up Hatton like a train and I never stepped off the deck all the way (A very gentle introduction to wide locks single handed). We continued happily through Shrewley Tunnel and I moored just beyond to have a cup of tea and allow our Hatton companions to get ahead. Here our relationship nearly ended almost before it had begun. Whether due to pique at the company she had been forced to keep or resentment at being soaked by the tunnel rain in Shrewley I know not but no sooner had I begun to go down the cabin steps than I found myself on my back on the floor in lots of pain and hoping that I could reach the mobile 'phone. However after five minutes or so I was able to get up and carry on, though I still have the bruises. At Kingswood she showed her contrition for the accident by turning into the South Stratford canal neatly in spite of the fact that the entrance and basin are not as shown on the guide I was using. There appears to be a lot of work going on there at the moment. It was now quite late (about 1900) and we both felt the need for some quiet time together but I was determined to make one more test of her loyalty before mooring. I just had to try real single handed locking so we determined to work a few of the Lapworth locks before retiring. All was well, she behaved perfectly, waiting quietly in the jaws of locks while I filled them and not wandering off when I left her to close bottom gates. We moored, I performed that necessary but unmentionable operation under her stern deck, and we shared our first night together.

Sunday 28th April

We have spent our first night together and I feel young again. I awoke at 0600 feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed when normally anything before 0800 is the middle of the night. By 0630 I had done what are euphemistically known as the morning checks (I shall not mention them again - suffice it to say that it seems I must delve into her bowels). Dorothy Constance and I worked happily down the rest of the Lapworth Flight, Preston Bagot Flight, the Odd Lock and the Wilmcote Flight. The canal is beautiful, like my Dorothy Constance, if somewhat shallow; not at all like her. We have made such good time that we have moored early at 1830 above lock 51. At lunchtime we stopped at Wooton Wawen basin and I could not help myself comparing my gorgeous girl with the dowdy Anglo Welsh boat tied up at the wharf. The AW boat cannot hold a candle to my girl in her green and red. Apart from anything else my Dorothy Constance is designed for easy access with a flat stern deck and a very basic rail. I can hop on and off her at will. The AW boat has lockers and a central well, tricky if you slip.

Monday 29th April

Dorothy Constance and I relaxed together today. We set off at 0930 after we had spent an hour titivating her for her grand entrance to Stratford on Avon. Brass shining and paintwork washed, she looked a picture in the morning sun. She attracted so much attention at the locks in the town that we were never short of offers of help and pretty young mums showing their babies the pretty boat in the lock. I wondered if my legs in shorts were the attraction but Dorothy Constance got jealous and stuck herself in the bottom gate of the lock with the cranked beam. I dislodged her by leaving her in forward tickover and bouncing the balance beam gently to release her inch by inch. Quick move down to the towpath to hop on again and into reverse while I closed gate. Sounds a complicated manoeuvre but Dorothy and I have such an understanding now that it worked. I am totally overwhelmed. We came through a long bridge hole out into the sunshine and there it was a basin in the middle of a park. I could not believe what I was seeing. So many towns hide their canals away yet here the canal was a central feature in the recreational area of Stratford. We moored by a lovely midnight blue boat 'Thin Lizzie' of Aynho also single handed by the owner and introduced him to Duraglit after he commented on my girl's shining brasses. This has been a perfect day; a beautiful place to moor, an excellent meal at 'The Opposition' and a front stalls seat for 'As You Like It' at the Memorial Theatre main space. A most enjoyable production with Niamh Cusack in the lead, also John Woodvine as Jaques was superb.

Tuesday 30th April

We have decided to leave Stratford and its tourists and return to the privacy of the rural canal. I have taken many pictures of my lovely Dorothy Constance in front of the theatre as keepsakes of a very special time. 0800 and we were on the way back out of the basin on a cooler and overcast morning. Even without the sun on her back Dorothy Constance looked immaculate. We worked gently back towards Wilmcote but our morning was not to be incident free. At about 1130 we came up to a lock and found a BW lengthman scrambling about in the swampy area by the spillover weir. At first I thought he was clearing rubbish but then I noticed a bedraggled sheep. Between us and another boater the wretched animal was dragged out by the legs. The lengthman then insisted on using my lovely girl's elegant rear end as a bridge to get the ewe back to the towpath side. I was mortified but my girl bore the indignity with fortitude and was none the worse for the experience. Wet sheep at close quarters is not a pleasant smell - wet pullover with overtones of farmyard. As if this was not enough soon afterwards we were pelted with hailstones in a storm and moored for lunch above Wilmcote locks. A nice man on another boat invited me to join him for a can of beer after lunch. They were very pleasant people but with an unfortunate affliction; they own a toy plastic boat (sorry, a cruiser) on the Lancaster. By the time Dorothy and I were on our way again it was raining and cold. We met two hotel boats and I'm ashamed to admit that for a moment I envied their steerers, snug inside on the cabin step, with the warmth and calming thump of a trad engine. However Dorothy showed her displeasure by attempting to ground while I was lost in thought. We moored at Wooton Wawen at 1645 to get supplies and to show AW what a smart boat should look like. My girl really made the two AW boats on moorings look dowdy and middle aged - I was so proud! (I know I've said it before but it's true). As it was still raining I decided that an early night was the best answer and so there we stayed. Thin Lizzie of Aynho also moored there.

Wednesday 1st May

Yesterday my rural idyll with my lovely girl had been spoiled by the mobile 'phone. I now have to be in West Wales by 1400 on Saturday so have decided that my parting from Dorothy must be on Friday evening before her home closes up for the night so that I can return to reality that night. Dorothy Constance and I left Wooton Wawen at 0915. As it was raining I had breakfast before setting off. At the first opportunity I picked some May blossom and wove it into my girl's roof fittings to celebrate May Day. Worked steadily towards Kingswood junction and at lock 34 found today's interesting moment. As I worked lock 35 at Preston Bagot a girl came running down from the lock above and asked for help. I walked up to lock 34 to find a small AW boat trying to lock up with its bow stuck in the bottom gate. The girl's male companion was about to get up his weed hatch, pointing to the top of the rudder and assuring me that his prop had sheared off. Since he had not stopped the engine I got him to put it in gear first and convinced him that the healthy wash suggested that the prop and engine were still communicating. On investigation it was clear that the gate was not fully open so with the girl using a bit of throttle and the two men on the balance beam we managed to get them out again. Then after a bit of poking with a pole the gate opened a couple of inches further and in they went. I must say that they were grateful enough to stay and lock me through after them which I appreciated. After all this excitement I moored for coffee hoping that a boat would come down and set the locks above. In the event we moored for lunch at the famous Fleur de Lys in Lowsonford. I regret that I was not impressed. The beer seems overpriced and the ploughman's lunch is not what I expect and hope for. At this point I get on my soap box! If I order a ploughman's lunch I want lots of cheese, lots of crusty bread and butter (not in little packets), an apple and possibly some pickle. I do not want coleslaw, lettuce, tomato etc.. If I want a cheese salad I order one. It's not just the Fleur de Lys, most pubs are just as bad. OK now I've got that off my chest let's get on with the diary. It was clear that we were going to reach Kingswood junction quite early so had to decide what to do to fill in time before returning to Warwick. We got to Kingswood at 1750 and decided to head up the GU towards Birminham. What a contrast; Dorothy Constance suddenly felt water instead of silt under her stern and surged ahead along the open, straight section - a total contrast to the South Stratford. After another hour on a very cold evening moored for the night at bridge 69.

Thursday 2nd May

We left our mooring at 1000 after giving Dorothy a wash and brush up. It was a very grey, overcast, cold, windy morning. Part of the reason for coming this way was to work some wide locks single handed to try out the technique so when the Knowle Flight appeared this was my chance. All I can say is wide locks are very different than narrow ones. Once in the lock it's OK and Dorothy Constance was very well behaved but methods of getting in and out are more complex. No longer will the jaws of the lock hold the boat steady and with a strong cross wind I actually had to tie up while setting locks. I soon got into a routine of setting ahead, leaving a bottom gate open and then going back to close previous top gate after getting into the next lock. More walking but less tieing up. Isn't it fascinating how a cross wind puts the boat on one side of the lock at the bottom and the other side when full. Same principle as the water flow when filling with one top paddle open I guess. Having got to the top of the flight in one piece (the gear is pretty heavy) I winded above Henwood Wharf and had a well earned lunch. This was the beginning of the end of my week-long idyll with Dorothy Constance as I was now actually on the return leg to Warwick. On the way back to Knowle I stopped at Stephen Goldsborough's yard which I had noticed as I passed going North. At the time I didn't know any thing about his fit outs. I now do. I had a very interesting chat and he didn't seem to mind when I went white and shook at his price for what (out of Dorothy Constance's hearing) is my long term dream boat. He was also kind enough to say that if I could work up Knowle single-handed I could go anywhere. He seemed to think that they were quite a difficult flight. With Stephen's words ringing my ears I set off down again. Locking down is so much easier than up, why can't all canals be built by Escher and all locks go down? Dorothy Constance and I spent our last night together moored to the towpath below Tom o' the Woods at Rowington. I left my girl for a while and had quite a good veg meal at the pub as my food stocks were now rather low. However I came back early and snuggled down in the warm darkness of my girl's aft cabin for the last time. Must I really return to reality tomorrow. Sadly yes otherwise I'll not be able to afford to take the lovely Dorothy Constance out again.

Friday 3rd May

I awoke for the last time warm and contented with Dorothy Constance. "The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast" seemed the appropriate thought as I boiled eggs and made coffee. We then set off on our last journey together. I was resolved that it should not be a sad time so tried to sing happily but gave up when only sad songs came to mind. We thus proceeded in companiable silence to the top of the Hatton Flight where we moored. After lunch I found a double-up and set off down Hatton. The other crew was 2 men and 2 girls. I got to know them as we worked the locks and had some fun early on trying to work out how they were paired off. No easy ride this time; the gear is heavy and slow and I had to get out and work locks to allow minimum waste of time. I moored for the last time at the top of Cape Locks and then commenced the process of removing all evidence of my time with my beautiful girl (OK so I packed my things!). I then cleaned and polished as if my life depended on it. In a way I felt it did. So many thoughts were in my mind. I must hand Dorothy Constance back looking as beautiful as when I collected her or I might not be allowed to see her again. Would reports have reached her 'boss' via the towpath telegraph of the couple of minor bumps I'd had during the week. Would he have heard it as a tabloid type story:


Worse would he believe the story. OK so I was getting neurotic but when you're in love things get out of proportion. Once everything was shipshape I worked down Cape Locks single-handed and slowly crawled the last stretch to Kate Boats yard trying to make the remaining minutes last as long as possible. I just didn't want it to end. Dorothy Constance and I had had a wonderful week even when the weather had been cold. My back had not let me down in spite of the strenuous things we had done together, I felt tired but relaxed and, while I did not want to return to reality and work, at least I was less stressed out than before my time with Dorothy Constance. I cannot bring myself to write in detail of those final moments when I took my leave of my girl and handed her back to her family. Suffice it to say that I am to be allowed to see her again.

I can write no more. Dorothy Constance I love you - I will return Picture of DC

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