2018 – The South West
Our second big trip taking us through Rugby, Leamington, Warwick, Stratford, Evesham, Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Worcester.
Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, pretty much the same as every morning has done for the last few weeks. We had reckoned on a three hour trip to reach Pershore so just got up and set off at half past seven. There haven’t been that many boats on the move on the river this week, probably still too early for holiday makers, so it was no surprise that we only saw three boats on the move all morning. The locks on the lower Avon, from Evesham to Tewkesbury, are all a bit on the short side despite the fact that the river is described as being able to accommodate boats up to 70′ in length. At 68′ long, Caxton should have had no problem but we have had to take our time as we have worked down the locks. Sitting diagonally in the lock, avoiding the cill (only just) and then after opening one gate, using the bow thruster to move sideward around the closed gate.
Anyway, we reached Pershore and found that there was plenty of space on the recreation ground moorings. An hour later and three boats arrived, filling the remaining space in front of us.
Pershore is a lovely little Georgian Market town and the moorings there are excellent. We had a good wander around the place and admired the many beautiful buildings there, including the Abbey.
The village of Wyre Piddle is only a half hour walk away from Pershore so we took the time to visit it and had lunch at the Anchor Old Spot. There’s not much to the village but you can’t miss the opportunity to visit somewhere with a name like “Wyre Piddle”!
The moorings in Pershore are flood proof and provide all amenities, the information board makes no mention of time restrictions so we stayed for a week. We didn’t do much more than just ‘live’ in the town, although we did catch the train to Great Malvern one day, just for a look around. Great Malvern was built as a spa town and it still has that feel about it.
The railway station is a beauty and still has many of the features that it would have had back in the days of the Great Western Railway.
A week after we had arrived in Pershore, we decided that it was time to move on. Wednesday morning was almost a carbon copy of the previous one with blue skies and bright sunshine at half past seven so we untied and headed for the nearby lock, thus starting the next leg of our journey.
It was another relatively early start for us when we left the mooring at Bidford on Avon. We wanted to ensure that we would be able to moor in Evesham so again we tried to time our journey so that we would arrive in the middle of the morning. In the event, we needn’t have bothered as when we arrived, the town moorings were quite deserted.
Our tour began with a visit to the Abbey, we visited both of the churches (All Saints and St Lawrence’s) and the bell tower. Later in the day, we could hear the tune, “Abide with me” being played just before the chimes on the hour. It turns out that there is a whole host of hymns played in this way, the details are here.
When we were last here, in 2015, we quite liked Evesham but some experiences are best left in the memory. Don’t get me wrong, nothing bad happened but the place just didn’t quite seem the same. There are more empty shops than before, and there were already quite a few three years ago. The local market was more of a flea market and was a good representation of the feeling in the town. One of the highlights that we enjoyed on our last visit was the speciality gins in the Royal Oak. On that occasion, we were greeted by a friendly man wearing a white apron and looking like a French café owner. He handed us a gin menu which wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Savoy and took time to explain what each of the concoctions and infusions were. This time around, I was eventually served by a lad wearing jeans and T-shirt and when I asked him if they still had a gin menu, he fished a piece of card from behind the bar and handed it to me apologetically saying, “Sorry its a bit manky, mate but they get like that behind the bar.” The card was no more than an advert for various Fevertree tonics with different gins as the mixers. When Sue joined me a few minutes later, we had a short discussion and decided to leave.
Our mooring was good and quiet and we both slept well. When we awoke the following morning we were rather uninspired when it came to deciding what to do with ourselves. In the end, we took a walk to the edge of town and did a bit of shopping in Tesco – how exciting! In the evening, we walked back up to the market square and found that it was full of motorcycles and their owners. We had a wander around and chatted to one or two of them about their bikes.
The moorings had filled up during the day, one of the boats being Jolly Lamb so after we returned from town, I persuaded Julian to join me in the pub across the road for a couple of pints while Sue returned to Caxton and began her next knitting project.
After the previous night’s entertainment, we were due a peaceful night’s sleep and sure enough, we had one. We were still up early though so we got ourselves organised and worked through the next two locks to Pilgrim lock. One of the gripes that we have with the Avon is that it’s not always possible to visit every town and village along the way. One of those places is Welford on Avon. There is a pub with moorings at Binton Bridges but they don’t look to be narrowboat friendly due to their height and lack of length. Welford lock has excellent moorings but there is no access to the village so they are completely useless in that respect. From Pilgrim lock, we walked first of all to the village of Barton and then on to Bidford on Avon. Pearson’s guide tells us that it is possible to walk to Bidford from Barton lock but this isn’t correct because the there is no access for the boater from Barton lock to Barton village.
The walk was very pleasant, even the half mile on the main road was quiet enough and soon we reached Bidford on Avon where we took the opportunity to walk around the village, visit the local church and check out potential mooring places.
From the garden of the Frog Inn we spotted nb Jolly Lamb on the recreation ground moorings opposite. After a quick drink, we set off again in the direction of Barton and once there, decided to call in to the local pub, the Cottage of Content – purely because it has such an unusual name. We immediately bumped into the skipper of nb Jolly Lamb, Julian so we had a drink with him before returning to our mooring.
The following morning, Sunday, we timed our move to Bidford so that we might improve our chances of getting a mooring and when we arrived, saw that the pub mooring only had a small cruiser tied on it. We squeezed Caxton in behind them and after they moved off a little later, pulled back to the last ring, freeing up the rest of the mooring for other potential visitors. Once we were secured, Sue phoned the pub and booked a table for lunch thus fulfilling our obligation to moor as a patron.
Lunch was very good and so was the service, the price was good so all in all it was very good value, especially for me since it was Sue who picked up the tab! We had another short walk later in the day but we spent most of the afternoon just sitting on the front deck relaxing.
It’s almost three years since we travelled on the Avon but then we were coming upstream and we were limited by time. This time around, it is completely different and we have no such restriction apart from the thirty day licence so after topping up the water tank, we moved down to the first lock and found that it was set against us. On the Avon, boaters are instructed to leave the exit gates open so when the lock is set against you, not only do you have to fill (or empty) the chamber, the open gates have to be closed first. In 2015, our journey was defined by the vicious inrush of water from the gate paddles. Heading downstream is a much more civilised affair with the locks draining in a relatively sedate manner. The first two locks are fairly close together and when we reached the third, we tied above it, near the village of Luddington.
Luddington is a tiny place and is only about 4 miles from Stratford. There’s very little in the village, the population is less than 600 and it is served by a church, a public telephone, a post box and an infrequent bus service to Stratford.
The moorings above the lock have full facilities so it was a great place to wash and polish one side of the boat.
After dinner, we took a walk around the village and back through the churchyard. Unfortunately, All Saints Church was locked so we couldn’t take a look inside but we still managed a tour of the boneyard.
Our final night on the river mooring at Stratford was a disturbed one. Strange really, since our two nights in the basin had been quite peaceful and the last thing that we expected was to have any sort of disturbance next to the park. We went to bed as usual and then at around half eleven could hear two people sitting talking on one of the park benches. Nothing wrong with that, annoying but it’s a free country. The conversation continued for an hour and then the pair moved off. Just as we were drifting off, we were treated to the drunken strains of some song or other and although we hoped that the songster would move on, it seemed that he had taken a liking to the bench too. The singing stopped and we assumed that the would-be X Factor contestant had moved on but a few minutes later he found his second wind and burst into song again. We groaned and hoped for an early reprieve, sure enough the singing stopped a few minutes later – maybe peace at last?
Two minutes later and we felt the tell-tale movement that alerted us to the fact that someone had stepped on to the boat. There was no other course of action; lights on, clothes on, out on the back deck and with torch in hand, I found a young man sitting on the park bench looking rather sheepish. He was very apologetic and promised to move on which, in fairness he did and so silence finally fell on the vicinity of our mooring.
We awoke early the following morning, despite the fact that we hadn’t had much sleep. It was a short hop to the water point for us where we filled the tank and completed the last of our services. At first glance, Stratford isn’t very boater friendly when it comes to the essential services, especially if the boater is not going on to the river. There is a CRT bin compound between Bancroft basin and Cox’s yard, not mentioned in the guides and not well signed but it is there if you look for it. Elsan facilities are available at Stratford marina if you don’t mind carting a cassette across the main road, past the hotel and down to the marina where it costs £2 for the keys to lift the manhole. Water is only available on the river but it’s not impossible to slip down through the lock, grab a tankful and return to CRT waters if you’re not licenced. We are licenced of course and although we think that we’ll only be on the river for a couple of weeks, we paid for a 30 day licence just in case we need it.
This is the third time we have visited Stratford by boat but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been here by road – it’s only forty minutes away by car!
We had two nights in the basin followed by a couple of nights moored on the river and during the days, joined the thousands of tourists who flock to the town every day. We didn’t do anything too exciting, in fact it was only our exit from the basin that was of any note. The length of the boat next to us and the trip boat behind us meant that I had to swing the bow away from the lock but then rather than turn at the top of the basin, I thought it easier to reverse into the lock and descend on to the river. Julian on nb Jolly Lamb who was waiting to join us in the lock was quite amused by this but all went well and we were soon tying up against the opposite bank.
On our final day, we walked along the canal towpath and found two boats below the lock that had caused us trouble and six boats queuing between the locks above. Meanwhile CaRT were in between trying to scrape silt from behind the bottom gate, a job that might have been better tackled during the winter rather than the second week in June.
With only five locks and two miles to cover, we timed our start to reach Bancroft basin between 10.30 and 11.00. We achieved our goal but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Our first job was to move the few hundred yards to the nearest water point and that was straightforward although the tap was slow and the tank was low so it took a while. While we filled, we watched the Anglo Welsh boat that had been moored behind us, pull into the side and then get stuck on the bottom. Fortunately enough, another boater was walking the towpath and he helped to get them afloat again but it seemed to take a lot of effort. This was happening about two hundred yards away so we couldn’t work out what the problem was. Once freed, the crew passed us and made their way to the lock. When we arrived ten or so minutes later, they seemed to be puzzling over what to do but knowing that they had worked the same eleven locks that we had the day before, we thought that there must have been something wrong with the lock. It turned out that the bottom gate had swung open and this had confused them. Andy and Shona were first time hirers and had been given no lock tuition at the base. They had been fortunate to benefit from other boaters helping them the day before as they worked down the Wilmcote flight. They insisted that we should go ahead as they didn’t want to hold us up so we accepted their offer and after we exited the lock, Sue helped to reset it and made sure that they were confident enough to keep going on their own.
The remaining four locks were a bit of a nightmare; the bottom gate on the first didn’t open fully so that involved a bit of a scrape through for Caxton. The next is built close to a road bridge and so one of the balance beams has a right angle built into it but it really could do with being a bit longer. Luckily for Sue a crew member from a boat coming up had appeared and told her that he would work the lock while she moved on to the next. I then watched the tall, thirty-something-year-old man as he struggled with the paddle first and then the gate. The third lock was alright but we got stuck as we passed through the bottom gate of the final chamber. In the end, our only means of escape was to leave Caxton in gear while I climbed up and added extra weight to the balance beam. Once clear, we edged into Bancroft basin and found a space to tie up.
That was enough boating excitement for us for one day so we showered and got ready to walk into town. As we left the boat, Andy and Shona’s boat appeared under the bridge so we waved them towards another empty berth. By the time we had walked around the edge of the basin, we could see that they were having trouble. They were up against the wall where the trip boat normally ties up and just seemed to be moving back and forth without changing direction. There was only one thing to be done
, we asked them if they would like some help and a moment later, I was reversing their boat across the basin and into the safety of a vacant berth. I made it look easy but it was all luck, for once the wind blew just right for me and the flow towards the Avon lock pulled us around in a beautiful arc.
Then we went into town!
Our trip from Wilmcote began with an early departure at tickover as we passed the long line of moored boats but it still didn’t take us too long to reach the top of the Wilmcote flight of locks. The eleven locks are built pretty close together with slightly longer gaps between the third and the fourth and then the eighth and ninth. Sue steered and I locked for a change and despite the fact that we were following another boat (meaning that every lock had to be filled before we could use it), we made good progress and tied between the bottom lock and the A46 road bridge. NB Snipe was just about to ascend the flight and they told us that they had enjoyed a quiet mooring there the night before despite the proximity to the road. Our journey had taken less than two and a half hours so it was still relatively early when we were ready to go for a walk.
Our mooring was very rural but its not too far to reach the Birmingham Road retail park on the edge of Stratford. Our walk took us past Stratford Parkway station and then through Bishopton, a very select area with large houses. A bit of shopping in Tesco and Aldi to keep us going and then the half hour walk back to the boat allowed us to laze in the afternoon sunshine with only the following day’s short hop into Stratford to contemplate.
The next part of our trip was a very easy cruise down to Wilmcote although there was the small matter of two aqueducts to negotiate, over the road at Wootton Wawen and the longest aqueduct in England, the Edstone which crosses a road and a railway line.
Three miles and just one lock brought us to a lovely mooring which was only a ten minute walk from the village. We’ve been here before of course but we took the time to walk past Mary Arden’s house and into the village.
There’s not a lot to see in Wilmcote despite the fact that the open top sight seeing bus passes through there on a regular basis.
On Friday, we caught the train into Stratford upon Avon, a seven minute trip costing £2.60 return for us both.
We alighted the train and walked along the canal towpath so that we could check out potential moorings. There isn’t really anything until the moorings outside the Red Lion which is just outside Bancroft basin. As we walked along there, we saw nb City Slicker and who was walking along the towpath but its skipper, Dennis. Tentatively we made arrangements to meet with him and his friend, John later in the day. We carried on our walk into and around the basin where we noted that there were still a few spaces and that the river level was in the amber zone. Our amble took us up through the town and into the market which stands on a Friday and Saturday. After perusing the wares in the market we partook of some coffee in Patisserie Valerie before returning to the canalside where we dragged Dennis and John from their boat and made them drink beer in the garden of the Red Lion.
It’s not very often that we come across people who are on the same wavelength as ourselves but these boys are good company so we passed a couple of hours with them in the pub garden.
Eventually we had to leave and with the intention of a short shopping stop at Morrisons in our minds, we set off in the afternoon sunshine. By the time we reached the superstore, we had decided to grab something to eat in the café there. Sadly, Morrisons have not improved over the years and the shopping experience there is still poor so we left hungry and empty handed. Our next port of call at the railway station where we knew that there is a café. When we reached the café we discovered that it has no seats or tables so we left there and walked back towards the town centre. Luckily enough, the Old Thatch Tavern provided us with an evening meal, not exactly what we had intended but it turned out to be really good and well worth the money. With the grub guzzled, we paid the bill and walked back to the station where we caught our train back to Wilmcote and then walked back along the towpath to our mooring.
On Tuesday morning we had a relatively early start, left our mooring opposite the Fleur de Lys, dropped down through the nearby lock and took on water. Off we went again and made our way to Wootton Wawen, passing nothing on the move until we reached Preston Bagot where it all became very lively with oncoming boats, helping us drop through the final three locks of the day. This part of the trip involved passing over the first of three aqueducts on the Stratford canal. This first aqueduct is only about the length of a boat and is next to Bucket Lock cottage.
It was a case of “pick your spot” when we reached the basin at Wootton so we chose to tie on the very end, just after the first bridge.
Wootton Wawen is one of those little places out of the way that nobody really knows about and in fairness, there doesn’t appear to be a lot there at first glance. We took a bit of time to explore and visited the local church which dates back to Saxon times. Just think about that for a moment – people have been gathering there to pray for a thousand years or so!
The village boasts a couple of churches, a couple of pubs and a trailer park.
That seems a little unfair when written like that but thanks to Bill Allen, a Wolverhampton motor trader who bought the local stately home, Wootton Hall in the 1950’s and basically saved it from ruination, the village has been revitalised. Mr Allen visited the US in the early 1960’s and decided that there could be a future in providing mobile home accommodation.
The grounds of Wootton Hall is now home to a number of static caravans, a bowling green, a social club and more importantly, a Post Office and general store. There is another general store on the main road so all in all, the village is well provided for.
When we were last here, we visited the local farm shopping centre and bumped into ex Atomic Kitten, Kerry Katona. No human celebs were around when we arrived this time but we did see a scarlet tiger moth which isn’t normally native to this part of the country.
We had a nose around the antique shops, had tea in the Cowshed café and shopped in the farm shop itself.
Naturally enough, we had to investigate the Saxon church and it was superb as it has a very informative display of the local history. Our walking took us to the Bulls Head where we had lunch and we also supported both of the shops along the way.