It seemed such a good idea at the time. We were going to visit Nicci's parents in Worcestershire. I looked at a map and saw that we could cycle almost the whole way on the canal. We could cycle the last bit through lovely country lanes. It would take two days. I went online and booked a hotel on the banks of the canal about halfway along. It would be like those pre-First World War trips through England made by people like Edward Thomas and Hilaire Belloc.
I forgot that there were other pre-First World War trips, like those made by Captain Scott and the good ship Titanic.
But there had been a month of dought and hot sunshine, so at least the weather would be good, right?
So two days ago we set off early in the morning, joining the Regents Canal at Kings Cross. The journey out of London is strange and interesting and really, really long. It was three and a half hours before we hit real countryside. Interesting fact: from Camden Lock it's twenty-seven miles until you reach the next lock, which means that it's completely flat.We cycled relentlessly past familiar names: Harefield (isn't there a heart hospital there?), Berkhamsted (where Graham Green went to the school where his father was the headmaster), Milton Keynes (in the seventies there used to be a TV commercial with the slogan: 'Someday, all cities will be like Milton Keynes.' I really hope not.). But it was all taking a bit too long, and then we got a puncture. And then there are towpaths and there are towpaths. Some are smooth and some are rough and some are rutted and some are like cycling through an unkempt lawn.
Darkness started to fall and you don't want to be on a canal towpath in the middle of nowhere in pitch darkness. We were meeting one of our daughters at the hotel and she drove and rescued us.
Day two: this day must be shorter, right? In fact, the so-called towpath became even rougher and we got two punctures instead of one. Blackthorn blossom and Hawthorn blossom may look very pretty when you're cycling along, but we were forcibly reminded of why they have the word 'thorn' in their names. And then, for the first time in about six weeks, it started to rain. And get cold. Somewhere between the stage where Captain Scott shot his dogs and where Captain Oates wandered out in the snow, we got rescued again. If only Captain Scott had had a daughter.
So the expedition was not entirely a success. As I write this, I am not exactly injured, though I do emit a plaintive whimpering sound when sitting down or standing up or climbing stairs.
On the positive side: we love canals. We still love them. They are like secret country lanes in the middle of a city and like mysterious silent still roads in the countryside. Outside Warwick we cycled past twenty-one locks in less than two miles. I take a childlish pleasure cycling over aqueducts and looking down on a railway, a river, or the London North Circular. And we're still alive, so really we're more like Amundsen than Scott.