Wednesday 31st May; Stoke Pound to Astwood bottom lock
Another warm day though rather cloudy to start with. We made our way down the Stoke flight, dropping off rubbish at the skips by Black Prince at the bottom lock, before pulling in at Stoke Works visitor moorings. Along the way the fields were being cut for hay or silage.
We needed milk so I walked to the little shop on the Ryefields Estate. I would have cycled, but the tyres needed air and the bike pump wasn’t working. It’s not really that far – less than 15 minutes' walk – but for some reason it always seems a long way. The butcher next door had very little on display and I wonder how long he will be able to keep going?
Dave had been tidying up the rubbing strake on the port side. We had lunch then trickled through the bridge onto the water point where we filled up and disposed of glass bottles in the recycling bins by the social club. On our way again, we passed a boat with an interesting name. Now how do they pronounce that at the flights where you have to check your boat in with the lockie?
As we approached the top of Astwood locks I hastily revised my plan of getting off at the bridge to prepare the first lock as the towpath was a little congested.
The towpath and lock moorings had been collapsing and the work has been going on for a month to put in piling all the way to the bridge. Having had to dig out the edge before starting they are now remaking the towpath.
Over the next two weeks they will be placing coping stones along part of the stretch too. There are no signs to say the towpath is closed so I suppose they must have to move the digger every time someone wants to go by.
There were several CRT workers coming up the towpath but none with a windlass - unfortunate as the locks were all empty. They had been painting; by the time we reached him the last one was just putting in the finishing touches as I went to fill the lock and he kindly opened the gate when it was ready. I hope the paint is quick-drying otherwise his work could be wasted!
It looks as though more work will be needed below the bottom gates; it all looks most attractive – or it would be if it was an effect in a Chelsea show garden – but the brickwork underneath is in a very poor condition.
We pulled in about 200 yards below the bottom lock. We love mooring here – a good edge, wide enough towpath, reeds, fields and hedges, birdsong, and away from roads though the railway isn’t far. But that doesn’t bother us and the M5 is far enough away to be tuned out.
And super walks too; we went round the footpaths near Hanbury Hall in the sunshine. The route took us through fields of oilseed rape, now taller than us and stinking of cabbage, as it does.
There was one field which looked to have been sown with a wild flower meadow mixture. The most numerous flower seemed to be yellow rattle, which is parasitic on the roots of grass. I didn’t think to get a picture, but it looked attractive and I think it’s what we need along motorways and verges – and towpaths? It would reduce the need for mowing as it restricts the growth of the grass, while allowing wild flowers (and therefore insects and all the wildlife that feeds on them) to flourish.
Further on I could see a characteristic brown shape in the distance – a roe deer. He was well away from the path, but still moved away as we got closer, though not in any great hurry. Luckily the dog couldn’t see over the grass, which was high in this field, or she might have given chase.
Anyway her focus was on a ball she had just found so there was no need to put her on the lead.
When we got back to the boat I did some baking and Dave continued his inventory of what is in the various lockers. The previous owners had all sorts of things squirrelled away and we are still, after 5 years, finding things we didn’t know we had.
12 locks, less than three miles.