Monday, 30 June 2014

Stratford on Avon.


Right,we are nearly there,just a little under two miles and half a dozen locks to go and we will be on the River Avon in Stratford upon Avon.We’re here for the River Festival that starts this Friday afternoon and to make mooring etc. a bit easier,we’ve been asked to arrive tomorrow about lunchtime.

After our last blog we continued along the Grand Union Canal,enjoying the ease of operation of the broad locks and also the speed they filled and emptied,all without a lot of the turbulence that we have experienced when using wide locks on other canals.We also enjoyed the company of other boaters as we traversed the locks because most days there were quite a lot of other boats moving so there was always another boat to share with.We went down the ten Stockton Locks with a hire boat who’s crew  worked for Stagecoach in Carlisle.They hadn’t been on a boat before but the Helmsman did better than I did on my first time on a narrowboat.Lisa and I stopped for the night at the bottom of the locks and walked into the nearby village of Long Itchington,a nice village with half a dozen pubs.We only went into one of them though,the Two Boats,and sat outside next to the towpath and watched the world go by.

From Long Itchington we moved along The Grand Union for another ten locks and six miles,sharing with Stewart and Jeanette on NB Kestral,till we got to Leamington Spa where Lisa and I went for a walk into town in the late afternoon.Leamington Spa looked quite an interesting place so we are looking forward to our next visit when we hope to spend a bit more time there.I had a craving for a Chinese take away that night and fortunately there was one just a couple of hundred yards from the canal.We only stayed moored by Bridge 40 at Leamington for the one night,changing our plans as we often do and travelling on a bit farther to Saltisford on the Thursday morning.We had a couple of things we wanted to do and we needed a Railway Station that wasn’t too far from where we could moor safely and Saltisford Canal Centre on the Saltisford Arm fitted that bill exactly.It’s only ten minutes or so to walk to Warwick Parkway Station from there and the moorings are superb,having water and electricity and it’s locked at night, there’s a Supermarket only a few minutes walk away too.

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Looking down the Saltisford Arm,a lovely mooring just outside Warwick.The Sensory Gardens on the arm which is open to the public during the day.

The Saltisford Arm was the Warwick terminus of the Warwick and Birmingham Canal and from the wharf there,locally mined coal was shipped to Birmingham.The canal arm was built in the 1790’s,it fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1980’s and is now a great place to moor. Our reason for wanting to be somewhere handy for a station the weekend before last was so we could get to Walsall on Saturday and Lichfield on the Sunday.There might be some criticism of our railways but we enjoyed all our journeys,travelling on trains that were clean,comfortable,and on time.The fares were reasonable too thanks to our Senior Railcards.Each evening at Saltisford we sat outside next to our boats in the company of our fellow boaters,sharing experiences and the odd glass or two and I can tell you,there are some very interesting people enjoying our canals.We also took the opportunity to catch up with some friends who have a permanent mooring on the arm and who we hadn’t seen since Alvacote last August.It was good to see that Keith and Jo off Hadar are well and Keith in particular,as he gets over his illness.

Our time at Saltisford came to an end last Tuesday when we set off in the company of Ray and Barbara,some more newfound friends,and their boat Merlin.Together we shared the twenty one locks of the Hatton Flight and did the lot in a little over three hours,thanks in part to Terry the Lockie,he showed us a way of reducing the time to work each lock.He had us using only one gate into and out of each lock,just as we would if we were only one boat.It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and neither of us touched the closed gate as we entered or left the lock.This left Lisa and Barbara to lock ahead so that each lock was ready as Merlin and Chyandour approached,it helped that no boats were descending the flight as we ascended though.Having moored for the night,and another BBQ,about a mile past the Hatton Flight,we parted company from Merlin the next day.Ray and Barbara continuing North at Kingswood Junction towards Birmingham and Lisa and I going left onto the South Stratford Canal towards Stratford upon Avon.

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Merlin leaving the bottom lock on the Hatton Flight,this was when we were using both gates,before Terry the Lockie came to help.Looking up part of the flight of 21 locks,looks a bit daunting and it did feel good when we got to the top where we enjoyed a well earned Bacon Sandwich in the tearooms by the top lock.


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A sculpture of a Dragonfly,just before the last few Hatton locks.One of the many narrow,and sometimes low,bridges on the Stratford Canal.Only inches to spare on either side but a great challenge.

The South Stratford has narrow locks,only big enough for one boat,and they seemed very slow filling and emptying compared to the ones on the Grand Union.There are also a number of very narrow bridge holes with only inches to spare that test your helmsman skills if,like me and others I know,you pride yourself in not “touching the sides” as you negotiate the locks and bridges of our canals.Our first night on the Statford was spent at Lowsonford,moored opposite the Fleur de Lys,and we just had to sample the beer,having been “dry”,so to speak,since Long Itchington.From there we moved just a few miles the next day to Wootton Wawen,now there’s a name to conjure with.I topped up the diesel tank at the Anglo Welsh hire base there and stayed the night before heading on down to the next place with a railway station,Wilmcote.It’s here that you will find Mary Arden’s Farm,she’s better known as Mrs. Shakespeare,the mother of the playwright William Shakespeare.We wanted a railway station again because last Saturday and Sunday was the Banbury Rally at Bloxham.This is a festival of Steam Engines,Vintage Motorbikes,Classic Cars and Military Vehicles as well as all the usual things one finds at such events.Saturday proved to be a great day,the rain stopped about lunchtime and only returned just before the festival closed at five.Once again we used trains and buses and everything arrived on time.

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Another canal in the sky.Not the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in Wales,this one is a bit shorter and not quite as high but still a tad unnerving.It’s the 475 foot long Edstone Aqueduct on the Stratford Canal and is the longest in England.

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Just a few pictures from our day at the Banbury Rally @ Bloxham.An excellent day out and only a fiver entrance fee for us oldies.

We left Wilmcote on Sunday morning to do the two miles and ten locks that brought us to here just outside of Stratford where we will wait till tomorrow morning to go down onto the River Avon ready for the Festival.

That’s all again folks,since our last blog we have done 74 Locks and 32 Miles which gives us a Grand Total of 847 Locks and 1396 Miles since we set off on our travels back in October 2012.Take care everyone.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Somewhere Different.


Well,as the title says,we are now somewhere different,different in that we have not been this way before,ever.We are now moored on the Grand Union Canal North of Calcutt after spending the best part of 7 weeks on the South Oxford Canal with a week or so on the Thames while we were there.I haven’t done a Blog for three weeks because we have just been going very slowly over old ground and I’ve had an attack of writers block which has meant I couldn’t really think of a great deal to write.That’s my excuse anyway.Hopefully tonight will be a bit different and I’ll be happy with the finished product.

Since our last Blog we have steadily worked our way Northwards on the South Oxford,spending a week or so at Thrupp because Lisa had a bit of a tummy bug and didn’t feel like doing much.While we were there we also began to feel the cold,especially in the evenings,so we started lighting the fire again and as a result we got low on coal and I wasn’t sure where we could get some more.I was sitting reading one day,feeling sorry for those poor boaters who had to cruise in the rain that we were enjoying at the time and who should come floating by but the Coal Boat “Dusty”,heading towards Oxford.I didn’t wave him down but a quick look on the Fuel Boats Website,Lock 13, got me his phone number and a short call confirmed he would be returning the next day.I ordered a couple of bags of coal and some diesel and Dusty arrived as arranged the next afternoon.I like to use the Fuel Boats if I can because it’s a case of use them or lose them and in circumstances similar to what we were in they are very handy.As is often the case though,we didn’t open the coal ‘cos the evenings warmed up again,thankfully coal doesn’t have a use by date so it’ll keep till the Autumn.Thrupp was also where we said our farewells to Rob and Suzie off Swamp Frogs.Rob cooked us a nice meal on our last night and after being together for a little over 5 weeks we went our separate ways.They are off to the K&A and were heading to Stratford and the River Avon but I’m positive we will all meet up again in the not too distant future.We had a great time with them and I doubt we would have gone on the River Thames if they hadn’t been with us.

From Thrupp we gently made our way towards Banbury,taking three days to cover the eleven and a bit miles,stopping for a couple of nights where we had moored when we were on our way South.The weather was lovely so out came the barby again.We know the weather can be just a bit unpredictable so we tend to buy stuff that we can cook either on the barby or in the oven on Chyandour just in case.We spent a couple of nights in Banbury and one of the highlights was the Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn,a traditional English pub that dates back to medieval times and where the Old Hooky was delicious.The museum in Banbury is worth a visit too but attempts to visit Tooleys Boatyard were frustrated,it isn’t open Mondays and we needed to leave on the Tuesday to get through a lock further North that was closing on the Wednesday and Thursday for maintenance.Tooleys has the oldest working dry dock on the Inland Waterways,having been in use since 1790,it also has a working 200 year old Blacksmiths Forge.I’ll have to try and visit the next time we are down this way.

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A couple of pic’s of Tooleys boat yard and the covered dry dock,the bridge over the canal is part of Banbury museum and has displays of the information on the history of the South Oxford Canal in Banbury.

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You can see some sights on our inland waterways,these guys were pedalling to Oxford for charity.Enjoying a drink after another barby.It’s a bit smoky ‘cos I’d put some wood on the dying embers when it started to turn a bit chilly,it soon burst into flame.That’s Lisa with Andy and Di off NB Fenakepan,the towpath wasn’t too wide but we didn’t have many people walking past and even fewer cyclists.

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Elkington’s Lock being repaired the day after we got through.CRT were refitting the lock gates to reduce leakage and it was back open by the middle of the following afternoon.A close up of the windmill on the top of Napton Hill where we walked to on Sunday morning.

Having got through the lock that was due to close we moored up for a couple of nights just North of the lock in the company of a couple more old friends,Andy and Di off NB Fenakepan.We left them in Birmingham back in March and now they too are heading to the K&A and as we were crossing paths,so to speak,it would have been rude not to stop and catch up.We left them last Thursday and headed for the village of Napton where we intended to stay for a couple of nights and enjoy a Fathers Day lunch in the Folly,a pub that is ideal in that it is only a short stagger back to the canal and Chyandour.They also sell Old Hooky so I was spoiled a bit.We met some lovely people at Napton,Eric and Jackie,off NB Butterfly,she made us a little tassel for our Tiller Pin and he kindly allowed us to share their table for a meal on Saturday night in the Folly.All the tables were pretty much booked by the time we arrived in the early afternoon,we’d been held up a bit by the problems on Lock no.10 on the Napton Flight.On Sunday morning we took a walk up into Napton itself and up is probably the best way to describe the walk.It was worth it though as you could see for miles around from the top of the hill,there had been an Observation Post on the hill during WW2 from which they had watched the air raids on Coventry.There’s a sort of memorial to the OP post with some seating where you can relax and take in the view.We also got a bit closer to the Windmill that can be seen from the canal as you gently cruise below the village.Apparently there have been Windmills on this site since the middle of the 16th Century.It’s private property so you can’t get too close and the Sails aren’t turning either but the walk set us up for lunch.On our way back down the hill we walked past what looked like a quarry but what was in fact a clay pit that had been part of Napton Brickworks.The works closed in the 1970’s having been in operation since before the end of the 19th Century and there is little left now but the kilns that had been there were originally fired by coal that was brought to the works by canal boat.

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Another lock that’s got problems.Beyond the blue CRT boat is a white sheet where there should be a wall similar to the wall on the right of the lock approach.It collapsed as a boat was entering and now passage through it is assisted until major repairs can be started in November.The boat is positioned to protect the bank from further erosion and the RSJ’s support the remaining wall.I think it’s amazing that these 200 and more year old structures survive at all,it says a lot about the workmanship that went into them and I don’t envy CRT who have the thankless task of maintaining hundreds of them.

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Lisa at the first of the Calcutt Locks this morning next to the unusual paddle gear called candlesticks,they are Broad Locks which can take two narrowboats side by side,the first ones of this size we’ve done since last year.These locks have been relatively easy to use,especially the paddle gear,though Lisa tells me some of the gates are a bit heavy.We’ll try to double up with another boat tomorrow when we descend the Stockton Locks on our way to Long Itchington. Lock number 2 and a novel use has been made of one of the former narrow locks that were abandoned when the broad locks were built.Calcutt Boats use it as a covered dock.

Well,that’s all for this week folks.Since our last blog three weeks ago we have done 39 Locks and covered 46 Miles,that gives us a Grand Total of 773 Locks and 1364 Miles since we set off in October 2012.Take care everyone.