Thursday 7th and Friday 8th April
Thursday started wet and we set off in full wet weathers and gentle rain. It wasn’t too cold, especially once we started working down the Wilmcote flight. I got the bike out to lock-wheel only to discover a puncture, but it didn’t matter because once we got to the central group of five locks the volunteers arrived. These locks are quite slow to fill and empty and some of the gates are very heavy so I was glad of the help. We have noticed that volunteers are now very careful to ask if boaters want any help; it seems that ‘help’ is a loaded word and some people object to the implication they might need it. One of the volunteers told me that last summer he was roundly and foully abused by a boater on Hatton locks for ‘wrecking his schedule’ because he had got him up the flight ‘too quickly’. What? Anyway, as ever, we welcomed their help.
We stopped to take on water at Chaly Beate bridge. Dave looked after all that while I chopped up a few veg and got some soup on the go as it had been so cold. The rain finally eased off and the sun came out as we started the final descent into Stratford. There was only one hitch; we had left the chimney in place, though we knew we would have to take it down to get into Bancroft basin. But the bridge at lock 52 is lower at the far end than when you enter it …. Dave had to reverse back into the lock so I could lift the chimney off and rescue the poor chinaman’s hat which had got a bit squashed!
The worst gate on this canal is at Maidenhead Road bridge. The bridge was widened before the canal was restored, and the bottom gate now has an angled lock beam. This would be ok except that it is made of tubular steel so it is very painful to push it with your back, and I have never managed to close it unaided before. Luckily for me a delightful American family was watching and helped me out. Thanks folks!
Although the surroundings aren’t particularly lovely as you approach the end of the canal, there are lovely things to see such as this magnolia in full bloom.
We moored in the basin above the river shortly after one. We had the pick of the pontoons, which was lucky in the circumstances as the wind was strong and blowing us sideways.
Apart from the CRT information boat and the trip boats opposite, we were the only boat there. We had our soup, then I went over to the theatre and got a couple of standby tickets for Hamlet tonight. The rain started as I came out, rapidly turning into a violent hailstorm and I dashed into the CRT boat which gave sanctuary to a group of us – the lady on duty had to turn several away as the limit is 12 people! Anyway I was able to pick up the papers including the Crick one as we hope to go the the show this year. The storm quickly finished and the CRT boat emptied again. Passing storms continued all afternoon and every now and then a hailstone pinged through the mushroom vent above the table.
It was beginning to dry up by early evening, when we went to the theatre. The production was amazing, set in a modern African setting with African music and modern dress (apart from the ghost in an African robe), and with only a few token white actors. I was pleased to see that several parts normally played by men – Guildenstern, some courtiers and a soldier – were played by women. The differences from a traditional Shakespeare production didn’t take long to get used to. All the actors were fantastic and Hamlet was brilliant, played by Paapa Essiedu who we hadn’t heard of before. It’s a long play and our seats weren’t terribly comfortable but we were gripped throughout.
Friday was another day of sunshine and showers. Dave took Meg for a long walk first thing and I cleaned through the boat while she was out of the way. They got back before the storms started again. The weather cleared up in the afternoon and we went to do some shopping. Friday is market day so we could stock up on veg, as we haven’t found a proper greengrocer yet this trip. Stratford of course has some wonderful old buildings, none of which we visited though I did take a couple of snaps. This is a row of almshouses, though at the far end by the church it appears to be part of a school.
A little further down on the other side is the Falcon Inn.
We wandered back down with our booty, including a book and DVD from the Oxfam shop, and I got a casserole in the oven for the evening. It’s nice not having to go anywhere now and then and just chill.
A couple of narrowboats arrived during the afternoon but it’s still not crowded. The trip boats were going back and forth and the tourists came and went but it was nothing like as busy as it will be later in the year.
16 locks, 3 miles (Thursday)