Sunday 30 August 2020

Another drenching, and chips

Monday 17th August; Dick’s Lane lock to Hockley Heath

The forecast was once more for rain later on, so we planned an early start – but so many others beat us to it that we couldn’t leave till after 9.  Our ropes were slack again.

Water levels were still much higher than normal, but nothing to cause a problem.

We needed to empty a couple of cassettes and dump a load of rubbish, and ideally would have liked to take on water.  The sanitary station is at the junction just above the last lock on the South Stratford.  A boat was already taking on water, and a hire-boat waiting for the lock thought they had nowhere to go and were drifting about a bit in the wind.  There was nothing for it but for me to unload the cassettes as we rose up the lock and get them over to the elsan while Dave opened the gate and got out of the lock so the poor hirer could get in.  So far so good.  There were so many boats on the move it made sense for me to quickly get the next lock ready so Dave could get out of the way, so I called Meg (who had inconveniently just jumped off the boat) and we raced round the junction and over the bridge across the link.  The hirers had closed the bottom gate, but the lock was fortunately still empty.  We whizzed back again to empty the cassettes, with Meg wondering what on earth was going on.  Then a more relaxed stroll back over the bridges to find Dave already waiting for the next lock, ideally positioned to get Meg back on board and deal with the rubbish. 

We were hoping to use the tap above lock 19, but with one boat filling, another waiting, and lock 18 above empty, I opened the gates, left Dave to it and went over the road bridge and under the railway to the little shop for some supplies.  Things calmed downed considerably as we reached the ‘thick’ of the Lapworth flight.  We were behind another boat and the only volunteer had gone down to the junction, so we just took things steadily.  The side ponds on this flight have some lovely water plants.

Flowering rush

Chunks of vegetation had found its way into the navigation and Dave spent a bit of time removing it.


We started to meet boats coming down, inconveniently at the two short curved pounds where a certain amount of shuffling is needed to get past each other.  By now it was nearly lunchtime so we planned to moor above lock 6 where there is plenty of room, though you do need to bang in your pins.  

                                                    Probably branched bur-reed

Unfortunately the rain didn’t wait for us to get moored up – annoying, as we are still trying to dry out from yesterday.  It became very heavy so we sat tight till it started to brighten up at about 3.  We managed the first two locks in the dry before it poured once more, but with only two locks left, and already togged up in waterproofs, we carried on to moor at Hockley Heath for the night.

Water figwort

The Wharf was doing take-aways, so we ordered fish and chips and two pints of Tribute.  It wasn’t ready at the time specified so we sat at a table and started our beer in proper glass glasses before decanting them into the plastic tumblers to take away.  It was the first time we had been in a pub since lockdown and it felt weird, though good to have a pint in your hand!  The food was not as good as our local chippie and there weren’t enough chips, but as they are very dog-friendly they gave us a bag of chips for Meg for nothing.  She only got one though.

3 miles, 22 locks, rain.


Friday 28 August 2020

Three aqueducts in one day

Sunday 16th August; Wilmcote to Dick’s Lane lock

It didn’t rain much overnight, and though it was overcast when we got up it was dry.  I had a pleasant walk over the bridge and up to the village shop for the Sunday paper.

We left at 9.30, and throughout the morning there were intermittent gleams of sunshine.  The South Stratford is known for its split bridges, which have a gap in the deck for a towrope to pass through without needing to be unhitched from the horse. 

Of course, having the bridge spanning the towpath would do that too ….  but split bridges must have been a lot cheaper to build, because the bridge holes are barely wide enough for a boat to pass - and most of them show clear evidence of past impacts.

We were soon crossing Edstone aqueduct, where several walkers were being careful with their social distancing, and one runner with dog attached who would not wait for people to clear the bridge before he heavy-breathed across.  As you can see the towpath is not exactly wide.

We soon passed Hill Farm marina, where we moored Chuffed for a few weeks when it had only just opened with minimal facilities.  Look at it now!  It has a restaurant (casual dining with bar) and I expect the sanitary facilities are more sophisticated than tipping your cassette straight into the sewer!

 Normally we would have stopped at Wootton Wawen and maybe gone up to the village shop which sells tasty dog treats, and had a look at the small shop units close to the canal, but not today.  The aqueduct is short compared with Edstone, but just as high.

All the Anglo-Welsh hire boats were out.  We have seen lots of hire-boaters this time, good thing too I think.  It was lovely weather by the time we were at Preston Bagot locks.  At the bottom lock there was a lot of expensive camera equipment and a stunning model wearing a gorgeous pair of pale grey suede heels, not at all suited to the towpath!  They were very friendly and made a big fuss of Meg.  Chuffed’s crew, still with her lockdown hair, was rather less soignée than the model.

We stopped for lunch below Bucket lock.  The weather was still quite sunny with a good drying wind so I did a bit of washing, expecting it to dry quickly in the open cratch.  It was not a good decision as it turned out, although the sun was still shining as we crossed a small stream on the tiny Yarningale aqueduct.

We could have stopped at Lowsonford, where there was space, but opted to go on a bit further towards Kingswood Junction.  Another wrong decision – as we reached the lock by the motorway bridge the threatening clouds had covered the sky and we could hear thunder.  Suddenly it was hammering down and my shoes were full of water within seconds.  At least I had my waterproof jacket on and had just zipped up the cratch cover!   The rain was relentless as we rose up the next lock.  I sped on to Dick’s Lane lock and didn’t hear Dave’s tooting and yelling that we could be mooring below, as I couldn’t hear a thing above the storm.  So one more lock and at last we were moored.  Waterproofs dripping in the cratch, carefully hung round that wet washing which hadnt dried in the wind, my upside-down shoes draining on the well deck floor, the sodden mats from the top step (the sliding hatch was unslid for a whole ten seconds) draining in the shower with my wet shorts and underwear chucked onto the tray …. finally we could put the kettle on.  But the dramas were not over – half an hour after sitting down, there was a shouted message that the canal was flooding over the towpath – so I put my wet shorts and soggy waterproof back on to go out and slacken the ropes.  The boat in front did theirs shortly after.

The canal had risen 6” since we had moored.  We weren’t concerned that we would get floated onto the towpath as we weren’t far above a lock and there was plenty of downhill for the water to flow away, though the boat behind us was less confident and put a board and a pole between the hull and the bank. The rain had stopped by 7.30 so we went out for a walk to see how things were.  The canal had dropped enough for the top of the piling hook to be clearly visible, but the water was orange with yet more topsoil lost from the fields.

Water had stopped flooding over the lock gate, but the surface was covered in small bits of rotting vegetation washed off the banks.

We walked on above the next lock but then rain threatened once more so back we went to avoid the next downpour, leaving the ropes loose in case the canal rose again. 

Edstone, Wootton Wawen and Yarningale aqueducts, 9 miles, 15 locks and thunderstorms



Thursday 27 August 2020

Slowly does it whether we like it or not

Saturday 15th August; Stratford to Wilmcote

We were awake early, and Dave went straight up to check out mooring space on the canal; as two boats must have left at the crack of dawn we went straight up.  Here we are moored opposite the RSC before we left.  It is closed of course, though the cafe was open yesterday and the well-spaced tables were fully occupied when we arrived.

There is a single bollard in a very awkward position for boats to tie up to and drop off their crew, or there’s a long walk to the lock across Tramway Bridge from the far side of the rowing club, but at 7.30 in the morning we saw no harm in stopping illegally on the moorings reserved for the small trip boat and hire boats.  As there was room to moor beyond the bridge at the end of the basin, we didn’t waste time manoeuvring onto one of the free pontoons. It’s closer to the shops here too.  I wanted to go to M&S food, which doesn’t open till 8.30, so we had breakfast first.  As I left with my trusty trolley, Dave started to get ready to go up the first couple of locks, but that plan was scuppered immediately as Y Knot  had already appeared under the bridge, closely followed by three other boats.  I was back with the shopping while the last two boats were still waiting, and we pulled along closer to the lock mooring before yet another boat could arrive.

It was slow going, as one of the earlier boats was single-handing and the first few locks are too far apart for following crews to walk up and help.  Maidenhead Road lock was its customary contrary self; in years gone by the road was widened, so that the lock beam has to be angled rather than straight, and it’s made of tubular steel which is extremely uncomfortable to push against.  I wrote to CRT years ago suggesting they put a sheet of metal over the framework so it was more comfortable, but all they ever did was thank me for my suggestion.

It’s easy enough to open, it’s closing it again that is so difficult.  I always take a fleece jacket along to provide a bit of padding, but today there was a willing gongoozler to help.  We made it out of Stratford in pleasant cruising weather, not too hot and not raining – we should have appreciated it while we could!  We had lunch while we waited at the bottom of the Wilmcote locks, where once again CRT had left a work boat on a lock mooring.

It’s lucky that most boaters are fairly patient people, because progress was very slow.  But there is always an exception, who I encountered when I walked up a few locks to see what was ahead. Levels were getting a bit low and I wanted to check that out too. 

This is the bywash, though it doesn't much look like one!

I said to the lead boat I was surprised to see no volunteers, but apparently there had been one who wanted boats to wait while he ran water down.  “I told him, we are all bringing water down as we lock up so we’re not going to wait as there’s no need, and he walked off in a strop”!  Well, we soon met the perfectly nice volunteer, not in the least bit stroppy, who had asked the boat ahead of us if they minded waiting and of course they didn’t and neither did the rest of us including the three behind Chuffed.

All waiting

Well these things happen occasionally, brews were made, chats had, and after about 40 minutes we were on the move again.  The problem is not the lack of water on the South Stratford – there is plenty of it further up – but above Wilmcote is the narrow channel of the Edstone aqueduct which slows the supply to the Wilmcote flight right down.

The cloud was thickening, with occasional light showers, as the afternoon wore on and then there was another delay –  I was pleased to see that Mr Impatient had been caught too and this time he couldn’t insist he could continue.  There was debris behind the bottom gate – the ordinary keb (long-handled rake with long prongs bent at 90o) couldn’t shift it properly, though it was enough for Mr Impatient to be able to force his way through while we waited for the incident team to arrive.

They had had to drive to Leamington to collect a heavy-duty keb with extendable handle.  It wasn’t long before the first rock was hauled out - more correctly I suppose it should be called a stone as it came from the lock wall.

These days health and safety says you need a team of three – two to do the job and a banksman to keep people away.  Stripy tape was deployed and towpath traffic monitored carefully.

Various boaters were standing around watching and I chatted to the banksman, who had been with CRT for 3 years and still training.  His team are on 24-hour call-out till Thursday.   As the drizzle started to fall the final rock was removed.

The wall they came out of is in a pretty poor state and there are bound to be more problems, as every time the top paddles are opened there will be more mortar washing out of the joints.


Eventually it was our turn to go up and we continued in the rain to the visitor moorings, where there was plenty of room.

4 miles, 17 heavy locks, many right b*ggers.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

On the move again

Friday 14th August; Barton lock to Stratford riverside.

After a restful and unstressed night we woke to cloudy skies, but it was still very warm.  Bidford is only a mile or so away along a footpath across the lock – luckily the weir is not in the way!  My plan was to stroll down to the bridge, pop into the supermarket nearby, find the baker and visit the butcher.  But as I reached the cemetery, having passed the large expensive properties you can see from the river,

it suddenly started to pour with rain.  It wasn’t forecast and I didn’t have a waterproof – neither did other pedestrians and we were all caught out.  I ran down to the butcher’s, but it was closed.  It is quite a way before the bridge, and I had no intention of going on to the supermarket as I'd already passed a small convenience store.  This has just changed hands and the new chap cheerfully sold me milk and offered me a regular newspaper delivery!  You don’t see much of that these days – I suppose he needs to persuade people to use him rather than the supermarket near the centre of the village.  The rain eased off as quickly as it had begun, so out came the camera.  Just as in Tewkesbury, some houses have coats of arms hanging outside, but these are not of 'nobles' who fought in the battle of Tewkesbury (though I am sure this dentist is noble in spirit).

On the way back to the footpath is a little café – I popped in to get a sausage roll and a cheese and onion pasty to take back.  I was so wet that my glasses steamed up the instant I went inside, the mask making it much worse – I had to take my glasses off and peer short-sightedly at the display cabinet to see what they were offering.  The walk back to the boat is past some very pretty cottages as well as the expensive houses which hide behind high walls and gates with electric security locks.


Though some gates have a different kind of lock.


It was beginning to dry up by the time I got back to the boat, but I still needed a change of clothes before we set off.   We left just before 10, quite keen to get off the river after the recent heavy rains.  A buzzard was perched close to the water's edge and for once did not take off as soon as I picked up the camera.

The flow was still very gentle, until we got to the bendy bits where the river narrows, when we were slowed right down to canal speed before Dave upped the revs.  We met a hire-boat whizzing along downstream and gave them plenty of room – it is much easier to control your boat if you are going upstream and you must give way if necessary.  Most of the locks have very fierce paddles and you must lift them very slowly, so it takes ages for the locks, which are pretty big, to fill.  You really have to wait for the water to cover the paddles completely before opening them any further.  There is only one lock on the Avon with a ground paddle, and that is Pershore.


We stopped above Luddington lock to empty two cassettes – another night in dry dock could have become problematical!  Luddington is a huge lock, and the bridge over it makes taking the ropes a bit fiddly.  It’s a good vantage point to keep tabs on your crew though.

The water point is on the other bank of the river, where there are also visitor moorings, so we had an early lunch and filled up as we ate – the tank must have been pretty low – then continued on towards Stratford.  There was a large garden feature on the way 

and an amusing seat fashioned from half a boat.

We finally moored at Stratford at about 4.  We had met the crew of the trip boat at the last river lock, and they had warned us that Bancroft basin (up on the canal) was very busy, so we moored near the water point on the riverside.  They have a lot of experience of river conditions, and said there was about 6” more depth than yesterday (good for the trip boat, they had stopped touching the bottom!) but the levels were unlikely to change overnight.  So we weren’t too worried about mooring on the river, though we did ensure our ropes weren’t too tight before we went to bed.

I wanted to find out what time the shops opened in the morning, as the weather was again very hot which makes our fridge struggle a bit, so I didn't want to buy perishables before I had to.  There was indeed no room to moor in the basin, though there was a space through the bridge.  Before dark we took Meg for a decent walk through the park.  The kiddies’ fairground is operating once more, though it is temporary for the summer and closes in the late afternoon.  A rather shocked-looking gnome displayed the Covid-rules.

We walked as far as the weir below Trinity lock and sat for a while watching the bats as dusk fell.

6½ miles, 5 locks.




Monday 24 August 2020

A day in dry dock

 Thursday 13th August; Harvington dry dock to Barton Lock

We set the alarm, as we needed to run the engine to top up the batteries before Paul arrived and the dock was drained – non-boaters may not realise that on some narrow-boats coolant runs through a skin tank in the hull and is cooled by the water the boat is floating in.  Not floating – no engine cooling!  Paul arrived by 8 and the dock was drained.  It was quickly apparent that the stock (the 32mm solid steel rod connecting the tiller to the rudder), which should be straight and resting snugly in its cup on the skeg below, was neither straight nor snug.


The bend in the stock (at the top of the picture) prevented it being lifted which is why the rudder could not be replaced in the cup.  We got Meg off the boat before the dock was drained, and the gangplank was put across the gap, with the rubber mats that normally sit on the engine boards to provide grip.  Paul had climbed up onto Chuffed to pass it across, held out his hand and was so confident that I could walk across that I did.  Looks quite scary, doesn’t it?  Well it was, at least the first couple of times.

Paul started using a hacksaw to cut the stock - Dave took his turn too - but eventually had to go and fetch an angle grinder to remove it. I wandered around with Meg, taking photos and watching the fish still swimming in the channels which run round the edge of the dock.  There were some lovely little perch, about 5” long, and a roach or two, though there was too much reflection for a decent photo.  Eventually they found their way through the drain out into the river. 


While Paul was off getting the angle grinder, we went down the iron staircase into the dry dock and shifted the set of steps which we thought might make it easier to get on and off the stern.  But as you can see, it was still a bit of a scramble for a short person like me.

I went off with Meg around the weir island where the dry dock was built.  Nicholson’s, now pretty out-of date, says it has been disused since the turn of the century – though whether it meant 1900 or 2000 I couldn’t say!  But it was drizzling, so after a tour of the fishing pitches we went back under cover.  I cracked the balancing act across the gangplank, Dave preferred the steps, but Meg had to stay ashore – she wouldn’t use either the gangplank or the iron staircase.  Paul returned with the angle-grinder, removed the whole shebang, then drove off again to source a suitable steel rod for a new stock and weld it to the swan’s neck (the curved bit sticking out at the top).  We had lunch and took turns strolling round the area with Meg who, of course, had no idea what was going on.  There were quite a few jobs to be done but we couldn't do anything requiring water or power in case we had to spend another night here.

So, more wandering.  I picked some nice blackberries and noted the ripening elderberries all drooping sadly in the rain.  I have to say I felt like that too.

This lock, along with all the others on the Upper Avon, was rebuilt or restored during the restoration of the navigation.  One of the prime movers was Robert Aickman, and for a while this lock was named after him.  Our Nicholson’s gives alternative names for all the Upper Avon locks which at the time had been renamed in honour of various people donating to or active in the restoration (eg Elsie & Hiram  Billington, WA Cadbury).  Now they are referred to once more by their old names.

Harvington Mill stood on the weir island, and was Grade 2 listed in 1994.  The ruins are almost lost in the jungle and it seems to have been long abandoned.   


There are much better photos and more information here.  Most of the people who visit the island are fishermen, who access the site from a locked gate at the road several hundred yards along a track, and then cross the bridge over the lock to park next to the dry dock.  I wonder if they even notice the old mill as they pass by.  It was gone 4 by the time Paul returned and thank goodness he had managed to get the right sized steel rod and get it all fixed.

It was a two-person job to refit it and make sure everything was straight and true.


I must say we have rarely felt so relieved.  It didn’t take long to put the steps and gangplank back in their places, refill the dock, open the gate and LEAVE!  We were very impressed with Paul’s dedication and thoroughness and will use him when we need work in the future (Paul Aspinall, trading as PA Marine).  He won’t take on work unless his dog can go along, but Alfie is a gorgeous boy and very well behaved.  I think he’s a Siberian Husky.  I am gutted I didn’t think to take a proper photo – this is the best I can do (as Paul closed the gate behind us he was busy scratching his ear!).

One weir tends to look much like another, but we had spent too much time looking at this from the ‘wrong side’ – the fishing pitches - and were glad to be able to photograph it from a moving boat.


We really wanted to moor at Bidford, but at well after 6 pm that was never likely to be possible.  But we did see a young Great Crested Grebe which was some compensation.

We went on to Barton lock instead where there are good moorings.  It was after 8.30 before we sat down to eat.

3½ miles, 2 locks, one excellent engineer with a lovely dog, and a massive sense of relief.