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.
One of the best aspects of our boating life now is that we don’t have to make hard and fast plans, we just sort of see how we feel in the morning before deciding what to do. On Monday morning we decided to move on having given consideration to remaining at Rowington and walking to Lapworth for a look around. We set off around nine o’clock and reached the junction with the Stratford canal about twenty minutes later. All was quiet on our short journey and we saw nothing on the move at all, in fact with the exception of a couple of dog walkers, it would have been easy to assume that we were the last people on earth. However, by the time we had carried out our services we found ourselves in a queue of boats waiting to descend the locks.
The boat behind was a hire boat with a crew of four or five adults and as a result, they were working down at a slightly faster rate than we were.
This changed once we met a couple of boats coming up the flight and we didn’t see them again until we tied up at Lowsonford. We found a good mooring opposite the Fleur de Lys and in the late afternoon, we took a walk there for a drink, joining a number of other customers who were enjoying the warm bank holiday weather.
Our three hour trip which included 9 locks and a passage under the M40 had brought us to a point less than a mile and a half (a half hour walk) from where we had moored the night before – such are the wonders of travelling by canal.
We both slept well after (Sue’s) exertions on Saturday and were untroubled by any train movements through Hatton station during the night. In fact, we were only woken once by some rumbles of thunder and heavy rain and even then we were only awake for about five minutes. Not bad considering that the country experienced something like 90,000 lightning strikes and flash flooding. It was still quite dull when we awoke on Sunday morning but we decided to set off anyway in the hope that we would find a mooring near the Tom O’ the Wood pub near Rowington.
We weren’t disappointed and after passing Dennis & John on nb City Slicker on the water point, we moored up and went to the pub for lunch. The Sunday roast was actually a belated birthday lunch for Sue and it was as good as we had expected. After lunch, we retired to the bar and bumped into John & Dennis again so we had a drink with them. And another. And another – maybe another after that? The pub called last orders at 8pm and we had to leave, a bit the worse for wear but we had all had a good afternoon.
Well, we could put it off no longer, it was Saturday morning and we had to tackle the 21 locks from Warwick up to Hatton. It was a grey and misty morning which began with us pulling Caxton back to the water point to top up the tank. As we did so, the boat moored in front of us untied and moved off gently into the gloomy cutting. The boat ahead had just disappeared out of view as we untied and followed them towards the bottom lock. They were already in the lock when we passed under the A46 dual carriageway but they waited for us and we were soon together in the first of the 21 locks that make up the Hatton flight.
NB City Slicker is a 65′ share boat and was crewed by Dennis, the share owner and one of his old service buddies, John. We soon worked out our routine and in the third lock, rafted the boats together.
John went ahead and prepared the locks, Sue and Dennis worked the current lock and I had the easy job of driving the pair up the flight. By the time we were half way up, the sun had burned off the mist and it soon became very warm for the lock wheelers.
Our ascent took three hours which was pretty good for 21 locks and 2 miles I think.
Dennis and John stopped at the top and visited the café while we moved on a bit and moored near Hatton station.
Another peaceful mooring and another solid night’s sleep for us, not bad for an urban location. We set off sometime between 9 and 10, I didn’t really take much notice of the time, and soon arrived at the first of the Cape locks. After a short stop to take on water, we ascended the two locks and found a space on the visitor moorings, just a boat’s length away from the upper water point.
The 48 hour mooring provided us with a good base to explore Warwick, not for the first time of course but it is a lovely town to spend a couple of sunny days in. One of our new ‘finds’ was The Mill Garden where there are unrivalled views of Warwick Castle. The garden is beautiful too of course and there are good views of the river.
I did also manage to find a bit of time each evening to support the local hostelry (The Cape of Good Hope).