I’m back where I began. On Thursday last week I finally secured my home (a Dutch barge named Wiphala) to the mooring near Bristol where I live.
In three months I had negotiated 212 locks and 48 swing bridges along almost the entire length of the Kennet and Avon Canal - and back again. I had snapped a throttle cable, melted the exhaust, lost overboard a watering can and a pipe (for smoking tobacco), met countless people almost as eccentric as myself and travelled a total distance of not much more than 200 miles.
My initial estimate that I should multiply travel time in hours for a car by weeks for a barge evidently should have been by months instead. However, any comparison with my own car - which blew up on the M4 motorway - is sadly irrelevant.
Five weeks were spent in involuntary detention near Newbury racecourse, where a collapsed weir lowered the water level and brought Wiphala to a standstill. A tropical downpour eventually came to the rescue. But another week was passed at a spot far from anywhere, gazing at ruminants, flora and fauna, reading novels and going for bike rides, just because I felt like it.
From there I took what little courage I possess into both my gnarled hands and sailed the 34 tons of Wiphala single-handed all the way home - a personal triumph it is difficult to compare with circumnavigating the globe, but seems like it to me now. At least I no longer depend on the dozen or so long-suffering friends who crewed Wiphala through the rest of the journey.
It’s good to be back. The riverbank is overgrown with wild flowers and the sweetcorn I planted before I left. The apple and pear trees in my new garden have flourished, along with the kiwi fruit, gooseberry and black currant bushes and raspberry canes. Hazel nut saplings that took root in scaffolding poles by the river and I transplanted to the garden have sprouted joyously. My first dinner at home included my own rhubarb, and though the parsnips have gone to seed I hope to find potatoes beneath their withered shoots. Even the compost has finally composted. The garden seems happy to have been left alone.
Now it’s back to the rest of the world, if it will have me.