Saturday, 18 August 2018

Back on the Muddy Ditches!

In many ways, we were sorry to be leaving the rivers. Although we have gone through a period of zero precipitation, the waters ran clear and a lot deeper than the canals. The boat seemed to enjoy it as well.  But our time was up on the Avon.

We spent 24 hours in Stratford basin. It's different, but has a very heavy footfall. A lot of the Gongoozlers are foreign tourists. I doubt if you could find a more cosmopolitan mix anywhere in the world. Many are fascinated by canal boats and when you are not being stared at through the portholes, they are climbing onto the gunwhale or rear deck for a photo shoot! It does become a tad wearisome.

But it was noise that finally sent us on our way. Traffic noise, combined with amplified music on a street market close by and a loud generator serving the stalls, switched on at 0645, it all became a bit much. And the sheer numbers of people! Suppose we have become used to tranquillity of late.

After a food shop and lunch out at Hobsons once again, it was time to go. A boat entered the basin as we were about to cast off, so they slotted into our spot as we passed under the road bridge towards the locks. Almost a different world past the bridge. The noise abated and people disappeared.

We are now back on the narrow locks and uphill all the way. The Stratford canal when built, had a tight budget and it does show. The bridges are meanly narrow and instead of two top gates on the locks, there is one. This makes for a heavy gate, requiring quite a bit of effort.

We did the first five locks out of the urban sprawl and moored up in almost open country, barring a modern road bridge. Mid evening, we even had a short sharp shower of rain, a sign of things to come?

Yes, it was! We thought that by having an early ish start, we could reach our intended destination without getting too wet. How wrong were we. For starters, two of our immediate neighbours set off before us and secondly, there was a problem with the pound levels, in that they contained very little in the way of water.

The Wilmcote flight consists of three groups, 3 then 5 then 3 locks. Ascending these should have been a doddle, but we suspect someone drained a pound and this combined with a group of boats going up, did not allow the pounds to recover. It is not helped by the side ponds, which act as mini reservoirs, being so stilted and overgrown, that they hardly exist. By the time we got into the first lock, the water level was such that we could go no further. Luckily, a CRT bod arrived and started the process of drawing down water from the long pound above the flight, but this was slow going and so we waited...and waited. The clouds thickened and the rain began.

So our quick ascent was anything but. By the time we got to Wilmcote, we were wet and chilled to the marrow, so we stopped. At least we had a decent mooring to watch the rain fall. But it was chilly, so much so that by early evening, we almost contemplated putting the heating on. Overnight, it remained cold, such a difference than of late.

Saturday promised a window of fair weather in what was forecast as a wet weekend, with Sunday looking a complete wash out. Lowsonford was our destination. A good place to weather out Sunday and funnily enough, with a decent pub!

We got cracking fairly early, under azure skies, criss crossed by vapour trails. After the cold of the night, it took a little time to warm up, but turned into a beautiful morning.

The canal is very rural now, meandering through the countryside. It also felt a little deeper. It was very quiet though and from Wilmcote to our final destination, we saw only a couple of boats moving.

Round a bend and before us was the splendid Edstone aqueduct. This spans a valley carrying both road and rail. It's fantastic to float above them serenely.

Then our first lock of the day, Bearley. Not a soul in sight and up we went. The gates may be heavy on this canal, but they are gentle within the lock, without drawing the boat backwards or forwards, so you can whack the paddles up with abandon.

After this, the canal continues its mellow rural course for about three lock free miles, until you hit Preston bagot bottom lock. After this, the locks come fairly thick and fast, a total of 8 before our destination. All very pleasant though and no water issues.

We watered up before our final lock of the day, then up and found a mooring with an open aspect, opposite the Fleur de Leys pub. After lunch on board, we had a walk to a nearby farm shop and around the village. But the clouds were building, so back to the boat, chair out and Ali got to work cropping my skull.

By late afternoon, the promised rains came. Nothing like rain drumming on the roof when your inside, dry and cosy. Talking about drumming, don't know what delicious weed we have acquired on the hull, but the Ducks are feasting on it!

But joy beyond all else...
The bog fix has worked!

Sunday was as forecast, a drear day. It rained most of the morning, then remained showery into the afternoon. We sat tight and read. Could do little else really, as our usually reliable internet found only a minuscule signal and was dial up slow and then some! The highlight of the day was a meal in the Fleur de Lys . Very good and the beer was well kept as well.

Quite a busy set up, a lock and aqueduct over the river

Monday. Our final day on the Stratford canal. No internet meant no weather forecast. It drizzled a bit just before we set off, but this soon fizzled out and it turned into a warm day, with sunshine occasionally impeded by cloud, but no rain.

Barrel roof cottages, unique to the Stratford Canal, some in original form some extended

It was busier on this last stretch than we have seen it all season. We even had to on occasion, wait for a lock. Think everyone sat tight Sunday and had the same idea. A lot of hire boats now, going down towards Stratford. One chap asked Ali if there was a Tesco express or the like around! When she told him yes, in Stratford upon Avon, the poor chap almost had a seizure. He was after fags we think. A distinct lack of foresight and planning.

We had nine rather pleasant locks to climb before reaching Kingswood junction. Where we were to make the turn onto the spur connecting to the Grand Union canal. This is only a couple of miles, but with nine locks, they are so close together that Ali walked between each one. Just above the last lock are the services. As the last were on the outskirts of Stratford,  we were in sore need of a visit, being into our third and final cassette!

The National Trust helped in the restoration of the Statford
Canal and a number of the locks have their emblem in the stone work 

You do see some great things along the canal, these sheds were in the same garden

link onto the Grand Union (again tight)

So we popped onto the service wharf and did the necessary.

Then the rather tight turn, a bit more awkward than it should have been due to a wayward hire boat, but turn we did, met the GU,  then right again onto broader waters heading towards Warwick.

It's been nice to visit the Stratford once again. Narrow locks but heavy gates and the early lack of water did not dim our enjoyment. Not many villages to stop and wander around though and few if any shops near the canal. It is very rural. Good time to give up the fags then!

We had friends where we moored, think we had
pinched their spot, however they were happy to share!

Total distance is 13 miles and 34 locks and Edstone Aqueduct.

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