Saturday, 21 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 13

After publishing the blog yesterday, I walked up the lane from the moorings and had a look at Great Comberton — a village with several thatched houses, and a book swap in an old telephone kiosk.  I also picked a good quantity on blackberries, far more than we managed at the moorings in Wilmcote. Later on there was some excitement when a couple arrived waiting for members of their family whose boat had broken down.  Sure enough, after a while a cabin cruiser arrived, being rowed with oars.  I think if I bought a boat and there were oars supplied I’d be worried.  In the gathering gloom and with bats flitting around our heads, we moved along a post and so did the other narrow boat, so the stricken cabin cruiser had space to moor.

The Comberton Quay moorings were incredibly quiet, with the old sound being an owl.  This morning was another bright sunny morning (although apparently it’ll be the last).  We started a wash load as it might be the last decent drying day we get, then set off around 9.  Nafford Lock was first, with a swing bright over it, and the wreck of a narrowboat on the weir.  A little boat was just coming out.

There are some very sharp bends, the sharpest being Swan’s Neck, where you completely double back on yourself.

We successfully negotiated Eckington Bridge, with its very worn stone.

At Strensham Lock, a little Sea Otter boat that we’ve seen several times was on the lock landing, and someone appeared to be coming up, so we had to linger mid-stream.  It took an absolute age for a big Sheffield Keel to come up the lock; even after the gates were open, it took an inordinate amount of time for everyone to get on and get moving.  Below the lock, there’s lots of sailing and canoeing, and eventually you pass under the M5.  King John’s Bridge in Tewkesbury is next, then we moored on the water point just before the lock.

This turned out to be an incredibly slow tap; it must have taken over an hour to fill the tank, and we don’t think it was particularly empty.  We’d considered stopping in Tewkesbury, but it was still early and a lovely sunny warm day, so had decided to carry on, but ended up waiting until after the lock keeper had had his lunch break.  In that time I walked into the town to get postcards and some milk.  There were a couple of amusing signs too.

At 2pm we went into Avon Lock, which is at right angles to the river, and we were let down.  As we were about the leave the lock, the keeper signalled to wait, as there was a cruiser reversing past the lock.  It turned out to be a quarter of a million pound Fairline, which turn turned and sped off, never to be seen again.

We turned right, north, onto the River Severn, headed under Mythe Bridge.

There’s not a huge amount to see.  We went under the M50, then at the northernmost aggregates Wharf all the barges were tied up.  One was fully loaded but tied up to an empty one, showing how much they go down into the water.

Soon the skyline of Upton-upon-Severn appeared on the skyline.  The moorings here are always busy, but just like last time we were here, the inside of the pontoon was free so we slotted in and moored up.  We went for a riverside pint at one of the pubs here.  The glass flood wall has been decorated with facts about climate change.

It would have been my mother’s 86th birthday today, so we’ve been thinking about her today.  Being here has also brought back happy memories of the last time we moored here, when we had one of the best chance meetings ever.

16 miles, 3 locks.  (134 miles, 124 locks)

Friday, 20 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 12

There was a lovely sunset last night, and as dusk fell, bats flitted around the boat.  The moorings at George Billington Lock are quite close to a road, but because they are below the bank of the lock island you can’t really hear it.

This morning was another bright sunny morning.  We had to turn the lock, so I went to set it while Adrian brought the boat along.  The next lock at Evesham was in our favour, and a boat arrived to go up as we left.  The famous A-shaped lock house is still there, in spite of being earmarked for replacement years ago.

At Chadbury lock Adrian was about to close the gates to turn the lock when he spotted boats approaching to come up.  The second was a widebeam, so they had to wait for us to go down.  We’ve seen loads more kingfishers and here there were also lots of cormorants fishing then drying their wings.

On this reach I spotted Wood Norton among the trees — the BBC has a nuclear bunker here, and my Radio 4 colleagues occasionally have to go down to make sure they could broadcast from here in an emergency.

The fastest boat we’ve seen was encountered next.  I wish I’d been able to take a photo of the wash hitting our bow, as it splashed well above the roof!

Fladbury Lock is very pretty, with a mill on the lock island, and a wide weir, only half of which was running today.

Wyre Lock is a funny shape.  A boat was just about to go in, so we shared with them.  The diamond shape makes it a bit difficult to hold the boat steady.

We stopped on the rec moorings at Pershore for lunch, and then Adrian made a quick visit to the large Asda just across the park.  Setting off again, we did Pershore Lock, where a boat had just come up.  It’s 9ft deep, so one of the bigger ones on the river.  Below are the two bridges, the old one is having extensive works, while the newer one had some lovely reflections on the underside.

We continued around to the moorings at Great Comberton.  They’re in the shadow of Bredon Hill, which has a folly on top, built to take the summit to a thousand feet.

There was one boat here when we arrived, but there was still room for us.  In the field opposite, a gang is either harvesting or planting something, walking slowly behind a tractor.

18 miles, 6 locks.  (118 miles, 121 locks)

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 11

Today has been a really good day on the Rive Avon, in fantastic warm sunshine.  First though, we went to Encore for dinner last night just across the road from the basin, and had some pretty good food.  This morning we needed shopping so made a quick visit to the Sainsbury’s Local just up the road.  We were still ready to go by 8.30.  Because of the angle of the pontoons and the widebeam trip boat moored opposite, I started by going in the wrong direction and turning right round in the wide part of the basin.  Then it was straight into the lock, which was already set.  Once the boat was down, I walked across the Tramway bridge as you can’t get back on below the lock, and took photos as I walked to the first lock of Briar Rose going past the RSC Theatre, Trinity Church, and into Colin P Witter lock.

We enjoyed looking at the riverside houses, some big, some modest, some old, some clearly very new.  Locks came and went, many of which we had no recollection of at all.  We haven’t had to turn a lock all day, they’ve all been in our favour with the gates standing open.  The water levels are pretty low, as demonstrated by the boards at the bottom of each lock.

Below one lock, we passed four double canoes of kids.  This looks much better than school.

At Bidford, we went through the bridge, then as there was space on the recreation ground moorings we stopped for lunch, just as a boat coming the other way had the same idea.  Shortly afterwards the kids all arrived back, moored their craft between the two boats, and went for lunch in the park.

After lunch I went for a look at the bridge while getting one thing from the shop on the other side.  It’s a single track bridge with traffic lights at each end, and on one side there are notches where pedestrians can shelter from the traffic.  The park was busy with people; taking a car in costs £3 payable to the Parish Council.  Some people parked right up by the river, others left their cars in the shade and took their chairs into the sunshine.

We have seen numerous kingfishers today, including one place where two together flew right along the side of the boat.  We didn’t recall seeing two in such close proximity before.  We continued through another couple of locks to George Billington Lock, where there are good moorings that we enjoyed last time we did the Avon; in fact, today has been a complete recreation of a day we did in June 2011 — except with much more sunshine.  I see looking back at the blog for that day that we have even moored in exactly the same place.  We are on the lock island side; next to the lock itself is a sort of lighthouse.

14 miles, 9 locks.  (100 miles, 115 locks)

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 10

Another fine and sunny day.  A boat went past towards the locks at 8 and we set off about 20 minutes later.  A gap in the moorings suggested another boat had also set off early.  When we got to the locks a single handed lady was ahead of us, so I helped by holding open a gate which kept closing, and then closing gates after her.  As she was leaving one of the early locks her engine cut as as something was round the prop.  It turned out to be one of her centre lines, so she pulled in to sort it out and said we should go ahead of her.  There was another boat behind us, so I refilled each lock as we left, for whichever boat ended up coming down next.  The Wilmcote Flight has three distinct sections, of three locks, then five, then three more.  The five middle ones really are very close.

At the bottom of the locks we stopped for water and got some washing going.  There were then five more locks into Stratford.  One of them has a Premier Inn one side and McDonald’s the other.

At one of the locks I was halfway out the lock when the boat stuck solid.  Lots of the gates here don’t seem to open fully, and we suspect our base plate caught on the gate.  Adrian flushed some water down from above and eventually we were floating free again.  A similar thing happened a bit further down.  By lunchtime we’d arrived at Bancroft Basin, and settled onto a pontoon mooring. They’re not very long, so you have to be a bit creative to tie up using a centre line.  At least one boat has left and the trip boat goes every hour down onto the river, but none of the boats we know were behind us has arrived — or if they have they’ve left again while we were out.

After lunch we went to do the tourist thing.  We’d bought the multi-property ticket at Mary Arden’s Farm yesterday, so went to the three town centre Shakespeare Birthplace Trust places.  First was Hall’s Croft, where his daughter lived — for two years.

Then New Place, which has been demolished, but has fantastic gardens.  This was our favourite of the three.

Finally we went to the Shakespeare birth place and centre, which was absolutely heaving.

Back at the basin we had an ice cream and walked along the river.  While there, we bumped into so,e guys who are on a Kate Hire boat, whom we’d also seen this morning as they walked from Wilmcote to Stratford.  We then got the hand powered chain ferry across the river.

We have bought our Avon licence from the floating office in the basin, ready for going down onto the river tomorrow.  We’ll need to get some food in before we go as the fridge is pretty bare; consequently we’re thinking we might eat out tonight, given that we’re in a metropolis.

4 miles, 16 locks.  (86 miles, 106 locks)

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 9

Back to lovely sunshine this morning.  We didn’t have far to go, so set off at 8.45 straight over the aqueduct over the A3400 at Wooton Wawen.  We passed the new marina at Hill Farm, which appears to have a massive restaurant on the top of the hill above it.  The only lock of the day was Bearley Lock, otherwise known as Odd Lock, presumably because it’s on its own.  Just beyond the lock is the Edstone Aqueduct, only 28ft high, but 475ft long — the longest in England.  The towpath is at the level of the bottom of the trough rather than the top, so you see boats from an odd angle.

We moored up at the start of the official moorings at Wilmcote, just beyond the winding hole.  We had the pick of spots as there was only one other boat here (in fact the whole canal has been incredibly quiet) but we preferred the end with grass alongside the boat, and which is also furthest from the road and the railway line.  We had only been on the move an hour and a half.

We walked up the road to Mary Arden’s Farm and looked around her house and the neighbouring farm house.

There are animals to see, and extensive grounds to walk around, including woodlands and a willow arch.

We had lunch in the cafe, and then went to see the staff having their Tudor lunch.  We’d already seen some of the food being prepared in the kitchen, and each day the staff stay in character to tell visitors all about Tudor manners.  It was a real highlight of the visit.

We stayed for a falconry display, using an eagle owl.  In truth he wasn’t very cooperative with the falconer, and refused to do anything on cue.  Part of the display is that he flies to each bench or table, so we did get to see him up close.

While we were out the solar panel had been doing its job topping up the batteries further.  When we got back, Adrian had to work to do and I’ve been fine tuning a boat test.

3 miles, 1 lock.  (82 miles, 90 locks)

Monday, 16 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 8

It rained overnight although neither of us heard it, and it was pretty drizzly this morning.  We set off around 8.15 and went along to the junction where we turned left.

We went through the narrow channel into the basin and settled on the water point.  The whole junction area is very attractive, with the typical Stratford Canal barrel-roof cottages and split bridges.  While the tank filled we started the washing machine, and I popped up to the main road to a post box.  It was just after 9 when we were ready to go into the first lock, which was right in front of us.

The locks come in fairly quick succession, but not quick enough that you can really go and set ahead. However, one did look close enough so I went and lifted a paddle — only to find when we arrived with the boat that an American lady was emptying the lock, with the top paddle still up.  At one lock, a large Muscovy Duck was on the offside, strutting around as if he owned the place.  To be fair, he probably does.

We started meeting more boats at Lowsonford.  One was just leaving the lock which has the Landmark Trust cottage next to it, so I could open the gate straight away.  This lock temporarily had an Anthony Gormley statue on the lockside.

The next lock just needed topping up, but as I was opening the top gate I could hear the clicking of a paddle from the other end.  I called out to the lady, who claimed she thought I was fishing!  A couple of locks further on is the one which has the tiny Yarningale Aqueduct immediately before it.

At the last couple of locks, a cheery team of CRT volunteers were cutting grass and generally tidying up.  By the time we had completed the 17 locks down from the junction it was definitely lunchtime.  I had walked the whole way, a good 4 miles.

We carried on for a couple of miles and moored on the visitor moorings at Wooton Wawen.  Monday start boats from the Anglo Welsh hire base opposite have been leaving with their new crews on board.  Adrian had a call at 3, then we went for a walk around the village.  The farm shop (and indeed the whole of the Yew Tree Farm shopping courtyard) was shut — just as it was when we stopped her on Debdale eleven years ago.

6 miles, 17 locks.  (79 miles, 89 locks)

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 7

We treated ourselves to a fry up this morning as we had the eggs from the lock cottage at Welsh Road.  We set off a bit later than usual at 9, and headed along to the bottom lock at Hatton.  A Kate hire boat was just about to go into the lock so we partnered up with them.

We had a good run up the locks, although there we two boats ahead of us so we usually had to wait for them to exit the lock above before we could turn it.  We got on well with the Kate Boat crew — two brothers and their wives doing the Warwickshire Ring.  About a third of the way up, reinforcements arrived in the form of Catherine, Nigel, Grace, and Matthew, so between us we had more lock workers than we knew what to do with.  Hatton never ceases to impress, especially the ‘thick’, where the locks are close together.  You can see right back to Warwick Church from there.

Towards the top we began to meet boats coming down.

We reached the top of the locks in three and a half hours — probably about average time for the flight.  There were plenty of gongoozlers about, and the cafe at the top was very busy.  We pulled in on the visitor moorings and had lunch, mostly brought by Catherine.  When we set off again, Matthew was keen to steer; in fact he steered all the way from there to our mooring just before Kingswood Junction, and he made a very good job of it.  He’s only ten, but has a real feel for where the boat is going.

Today was Catherine and Nigel’s wedding anniversary, so we all went off to The Navigation for a meal.  The menu consisted of Sunday roasts, but they were all very good.  We had starters and mains, as Catherine had brought a big chocolate cake which we had somehow not yet made a start on, so we walked back to the boat via the locks, and had tea and cake.  They departed soon afterwards as they have work and school in the morning.  It’s been a very enjoyable day.

8 miles, 21 locks.  (73 miles, 72 locks)