Benches 158 - 9: Town Lock (Thames Street side)
It's funny how things turn out sometimes. It's early evening on a soggy July Monday. wet enough out to have made bringing a waterproof jacket a sensible thing to have done, but it's too humid to wear the thing for long without steaming up. I'm in danger of coddling myself. And no-one wants an unnecessary auto-coddle.
I've just left Keddington Road Playing Fields, and I've kinda committed myself onwards. I've got the time, and I'm on the other side of town from home anyway. Forwards is the way. I don't have many sites to visit before I'm done and I can route myself past a couple in this walk. Dampness be damned. The possibility of self-poaching? I smirk in the face of such dangers.
First stop is Lime Grove. So I head along Keddington Road and cross over the Brackenborough Road / Victoria Road crossroads on the zebra crossing. The rain's picked up a little, so I zip myself up and pocket my specs.
Lime Grove's next on the left. This bit of town's got the reputation of being a bit rough, but that might be folk memory. It might be straight class bias against the folk that live here and in Jubilee Crescent beyond. The utilitarian design of much council-built housing stock acts as a signifier that can be read in all kinds of ways. At one point on the way I step off the pavement onto the road to make way for a pair of girls headed towards town. They're dressed for summer; bright pinks and short sleeves. It's not raining where they are.
I'm headed for the far end of Lime Grove. A few months back I'd taken the town shuttle bus, partly out of curiosity, up here. I saw what looked like a little park that I knew nothing about. And parks mean benches. So here I am.
Ah. The entrance is fenced off. There's some kind of building or renovation work ongoing. Site warnings and a portable toilet. I have a scout round anyway, but I can't see another way in or any benches. Ah well. There's no-one around to ask. The rain's seen to that. It was worth a shot I suppose.
I carry on. The route I've got in mind takes a loop around the south-eastern part of the town. I cross the road and head towards Grosvenor Road. Up ahead there's a bench I've already visited, but I'm turning off the main road before I get that far. Grosvenor Road takes a sharp left and becomes Charles Avenue. Big bungalows; caravans and motor homes in drives.
Charles Avenue leads to Ada Way and then to Elm Drive. At the end of that road there's the care home where my father spent his last few months. I know the ways to and from here well. A moment's pause where the newer development (Lock Keepers Way, Riverside Rise) branches off. This is a path I took daily. I haven't had to walk here for nearly four months.
There's always a puddle here. It's shimmering with rainfall. A right into the unadopted lane that's Halfpenny Lane. It's been downhill all the way since leaving Keddington Road. Now I'm off-road too. I skirt the puddle.
Under tree cover; rain-sound is amplified. Each droplet's hitting a dozen obstacles on the way down, not just the one. The slick crunch of the chalky road surface slips into time with the percussive patter from above. Crunch-chikka-chikka, crunch-chikka-chikka. It's almost a waltz, and like the best dances, it doesn't feel as though it's lasted half long enough.
Down to the bottom of the hill. A right turn and the path evens out. Now the sound is of rushing water. Not from above, but from ahead. I'm nearing the lock.
A shift in sound and in sensation. Chalk gives way to asphalt again. It's like the industrial revolution just happened underfoot. I zigzag through steel barriers - one bent forwards as though it 's been hit by something hefty - designed to cool cyclists' boots and annoy pushchair-wielders. I'm back on the path - Ticklepenny Walk - that leads from the Riverhead.
There's a footbridge by what's called Town Lock. I don't know much about lock gates, one teenage narrow-boat holiday is the sum total of my experience. This is no longer navigable. It's not the airlock-for-water things you encounter by canalside pubs. If I didn't know better I'd have called it a weir. Maybe a sluice.
Still, there's the attraction of the water falling. It's raining that bit harder, so it's not easy to get the touchscreen to work on my phone. The keylock swipe pattern spasms under my finger; little electrical dances. A few wipes though and it begins to respond again.
The first bench is a few yards away from the lock and the bridge. A low-slung all-metal affair. Wide enough for four people. It's the spit of two of the benches in the playing fields that I've just come from. Utilitarian and low-maintenance.
It's a shame that it's the most graffiti-ed one that I've come across. What looks like PEADO in spray-on capitals. Also GAY! The exclamation mark gives that expression the feeling that it's more a shout of identity-confirming exultation rather than the perhaps-intended insult. There's other swirls and sigils, less readable and so less open to interpretation.
It's chucking it down now. This is jeans-sticking-to-thighs levels of wet. There's a second bench about a hundred yards further along the canalside path, but I'm going to leave that one (any any others further out of town that way) be. I don't mind a trudge in the rain, but everyone has their limits. I beat a retreat. Let this one go.
I walk past the lock, headed for Thames Street. The path takes you through a builders' merchants yard. To the left, there's a neat little cut-through that'll being you out onto Eastfield Road, not far from here.
After the builders' merchants, the Gas Lamp Lounge. Hmm. It is raining after all. I could do with a sit down and a drip-dry. So, yeah, why not?
Two pints of Adnams' Blackshore Stout and a bit of ribbing from regulars on arrival later - I'm fairly drenched by the time I get there - and I'm good to go. As I finish up the second pint I fiddle with my phone and crop some of the photos to size. There's pictures of my dad in there. I smile at the photos, take my glass back to the bar, stick my coat back on, and light out for Morrisons to sort something out for tea on the way back.
The Google Street View vehicle gets as close as the builders' merchants at the far end of Thames Street. If you pan round, the building with the blue-painted wood in the window-frames is the to-be-built Gas Lamp Lounge. The image is from September 2009 and pre-dates the pub. To get to Town Lock from here, just walk onwards through the yard. It's only on the other side of the warehouse. You can't miss it.