Piling it on along the canal

NEEDING BREAKFAST ON our way from Warwick to visit Baddesley Clinton House, we chose to stop at the Hatton Locks Café, which we had noticed on our road map. What we did not know is that the café is located next to the uppermost of a flight (or series) of 21 canal locks. The locks are situated on a stretch of the Grand Union Canal that was, when it opened in 1799, the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, which was built to carry locally mined coal for use in power stations and nearby factories (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-history/history-features-and-articles/the-history-of-hatton-locks). It became an important transportation link between London and The Midlands.

 The 21 locks are spread along an almost 2 mile stretch of the canal and the towpath along this section of the waterway is popular with cyclists, walkers, and their dogs. Some of the locks are narrow. They were built when the canal was first constructed. Other locks on the flight are far wider. They were built in 1932 and allow two craft to use the lock simultaneously. The newer locks were built at a time when the canal system began to have to compete with motorised road and rail transport.

The café is about 310 yards northwest of a small car park and is reached by walking along the towpath. Near the café, there are some unusual looking tables and benches made of old timber. Most of the timber pieces are planks with a short semi-circular projection at one end. These wooden piles used to be driven into the floor of the canal between parallel wooden blocks that held them straight upright against the walls of the waterway. Their purpose was to prevent the banks of the canal from being eroded by the water flowing past them. Nowadays, they have been replaced by coir matting that serves the same purpose because it is considered to be more eco-friendly that timber. The wooden piles were driven into place by a mechanised hammer system aboard a motorised boat that plied along the canal. One of these boats, now disused, has been preserved near the café.

The locks on the Hatton Flight looked different from the many other canal locks we have seen on our travels around the country. Each lock is flanked by what looks like a pair of tall, stout candles. These things house the mechanisms that control the flow of water into the locks and are operated by canal users equipped with a special handle or windlass that fits onto a projection that is linked to the gearing that operates the valve.

The Hatton Locks Café is a real treat, both visually and gastronomically. Both inside and outside, it is decorated with a profusion of objects, some folkloric, some whimsical, and others related to the life and traditions on the canal. A team of friendly workers produce simple but excellently prepared English breakfast items as well as very acceptable coffees. So good was our breakfast that we made a detour to return to this place on the following morning. Most of the clientele seemed to be locals, many of whom were on friendly terms with the staff. Although we had only been once before on a busy morning, the staff remembered exactly what we ate and drank on the day before. When we are next nearby, we shall certainly visit this wonderful establishment again. On our next visit, we will join the other walkers and stroll past all the 21 locks.

Cured by the sun

eggs with meat in cooking pan

 

For several years in the 1970s, I used to visit my friends Robert and Margaret while they were spending summer camping near to Platamon on the Aegean coast of Greece. 

Every morning at Platamon began with a ritual. Before we were allowed to eat breakfast, we had to take a dip in the sea. This was no hardship; it was quite an enjoyable way to wake up. Washing in the sea was the only form of bathing possible at our camp in Platamon; there was no bathroom in the caravan. Robert and Margaret, who used to spend at least 6 weeks there, did not shower or bath in anything but sea water at Platamon. Robert was not worried by this, but after a while Margaret began to miss the daily soaks in a hot bath, which she enjoyed at home.

Breakfast at Platamon resembled that at my friends’ home. It consisted of a cup of tea, bread with home-made marmalade, scrambled egg, and a minute slice of sliced bacon. In 1975, and for a few years after, my friends travelled without a refrigerator. Butter was stored in a moistened terracotta container. The evaporating water kept the butter inside it cool. My friends carried a whole side of smoked bacon from England. This was not refrigerated in any way, but somehow remained more or less fresh enough to be edible. It was kept swathed in white muslin. When needed, it was unwrapped, and Robert used to cut little bits off it using one of his folding French Opinel knives.

I remember once that he spotted that part of the surface of the bacon was going green. I asked him what he was going to do about it. Without replying, he began scraping the mould of the unwrapped chunk of bacon, and then placed the ‘naked’ meat onto the Land Rover’s roof rack, saying to me:

 “The ultraviolet rays from the sun will disinfect the bacon.”

 

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