Thursday 13th July; Stratford to beyond Wilmcote
Every pontoon in Bancroft basin last night was taken, the river moorings were crowded, and on the other side of the bridge the pub moorings were full too. But once the tourists had gone it was very quiet. A few boats moved early; one came up from the river as we were getting up, and two went down to the river. We left at about 9 and were soon at the first lock, which is on a bend and with limited space to wait. My calf muscle protested sharply when I started to walk over the crossover bridge and I had to limp sideways up the slope. Then I could barely manage to push the gate open. So once the lock was full we swapped over and I had to leave the lock work to Dave.
It took us both a while to adjust; I rarely steer except when the Captain wants a break and he normally only deals with locks if I am locking ahead. We travel pretty slowly when I am at the tiller. Basically I am quite nervous so I avoid doing the steering, which of course is silly and the wrong thing to do, so I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s good for me!
Dave walked ahead to the Manchester Road lock, which is the one with the really difficult bottom gate. It opened as I approached and I brought Chuffed in, to find a gaggle of cheery volunteers getting organised for a morning’s tidying up closer to the town. It soon became clear that there were problems with water levels up ahead. We had heard rumours, but nothing specific, over the last couple of days; now a CRT man came down and told us to wait in the lock until he had run water down into the pound which was very low.
So we relayed the message back to the boat following us, and I chatted to the volunteers about this wretched gate. Apparently the IWA has suggested that CRT should sponsor a design competition for the local colleges to design an improved gate, but nothing has happened. Something other than the wretched metal poles which dig in your back would help!
After half an hour or so Dave phoned down to say I could go on, and we were on the move again. Luckily a passing family closed the top gate for me and I went on to the lock by the Premier Inn. Meg was bored at the lock; no-one would play with her.
The low water levels had variously been blamed on reservoirs not being full enough after being kept low for winter maintenance, huge numbers of boats attending the Stratford festival the previous weekend, and the dry spring. We discovered later there had been vandalism, probably on the Wilmcote flight, as well.
We made it up the Wilmcote flight without too much trouble although some of the pounds were very low. I was on quite a steep learning curve as water was being run down from above and some of the bywashes were bit fierce!
I would like to report that I got into this lock without touching the sides but …. I didn’t. Dave soon realised to his horror how much walking is involved when you lock ahead, but also discovered how pleasant it is to chat to the boaters you meet on the way. Drat, I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that bit! These locks have heavy gates, and luckily his back held out. There is no way I could have managed them.
Some of the pounds were very low indeed. At one, I waited in the lock below until he had opened the next gate as I didn’t want to risk running aground if I got too close to the edge. This one was over a foot down even after a lockful of water had been run down.
Rather than stop at the busy Wilmcote visitor moorings, where a stretch is still fenced off where the wall is leaning out over the water, we went on past bridge 50 and found a quiet mooring out in the country. Apart from the occasional walker and passing boat, and trains not far away, it was very peaceful.
We had both had an interesting day, way out of our comfort zones – well, that’s certainly true for me. I was very annoyed not to be able to do the locks, but am in good company; Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have both failed to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals through injury.
3½ miles, 16 locks