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.

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