Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Most Excellent Balti Blow-Out

We’d had a loose arrangement to moor overnight with Excellence Afloat at Valley Cruisers’ wharf just on the outskirts of central Stratford (IYSWIM), but had failed to get back in touch with the chap who’d said it would be OK. So, with some trepidation, on Sunday morning we moved less than a mile down to their wharf, where the place looked closed, there were loads of seemingly permanently moored boats, a few unoccupied hire boats, and the only space seemingly available was on the public water point. We tied up, and deciding that if nothing else we’d take on water, even though diesel was a more pressing concern, let alone catching up on the laundry.

Wandering along the line of boats, a friendly chap with a paintbrush came up and said “Can I help?”, so we did the “David said we’d be able to moor here tonight with an electric hook-up – is he around? He’s not answering his mobile.” routine. “That’ll be because he knows I’m here…”

Seemed he was in Coventry, but our new friend said, “Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be alright… just wait a bit while I move that boat there, and that one down there, and that one into the covered dock… then you can slide in there and…” and after some considerable shuffling involving several other chaps who appeared, we were tied up, hooked up, the washing machine was running, and there was a promise of diesel in the morning, so all seemed well. Except that our friend, who’d run around sorting all the moorings out quickly so he could watch Lewis Hamilton in the Spanish Grand-Prix then spent the afternoon looking miserable because Hamilton took out Rosberg and himself on pretty much the first corner. So we’re told.

Meanwhile Biggles seemed quite happy, despite the fact that there were seven dogs running around the wharf, including a lurcher, a recently retired greyhound, a whippet and a bichon frise. Definitely time to practice his whippet baiting techniques. The sizeable mongrel that smelt his food, jumped aboard the front from another boat and rapidly emptied Sir’s food bowl got a shock when Sir, asleep on a chair near his food, woke up, stretched out and smacked the dog around the head with extreme prejudice.

A quick wander later on to get some milk found – less than ten minute’s walk away – a pleasant looking Balti House with a special offer: a starter, a main course, a rice dish and a nan all for £9.95. It seemed rude not to eat there! It was a different menu to the full a la carte one, but perfectly comprehensive; the food was excellent, we felt more than stuffed, and still had a Peshwari Nan left over to take home for tomorrow’s lunch. The Maître D admitted that the portions on the special were slightly smaller, for which we thought “Thank Heavens” before tottering off back to Song & Dance to sleep it off.

The next morning Mr & Mrs David turned up, along with some returning hire boats to turn round; it was all a bit chaotic but we were diesel-ed, pumped out, bought some new fenders, had managed to get most of the washing dry, and were ready for the long haul (1 mile and 2 little locks) into the middle of Stratford by lunchtime. Although his diesel was a bit expensive, it was only after we had left that we realised he didn’t seem to have charged us for the mooring and hook-up. Excellence Afloat indeed!

Aqueducts and Arden

Saturday morning, and as Anglo Welsh didn’t want to sell us any diesel, we left their basin via the Wooton Wawen aqueduct, which unusually has a lowered towpath, like a couple of others on the Stratford Canal. “Why don’t you go ahead and take some low-level pictures of Song & Dance crossing the aqueduct…” said the chief cook.

 Aqueduct, Wootton Wawen BasinAqueduct, Wootton Wawen BasinAqueduct, Wootton Wawen Basin

A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind something-or-other, but just as the money shot was coming up, a certain Captain of our acquaintance announced that he’d left his reading classes behind, and was going back to fetch them. So we had to reverse out and moor back up again while he sorted himself out. The moment had gone.

Edgestone AquaductEdgestone Aquaduct

A little later comes Edstone Aqueduct: a much more serious affair if not quite in the Pontcysyllte league. Edstone’s the longest aqueduct in England, and the helmsman stood firmly to port and bravely gritted her teeth avoiding looking at the vertiginous drop to starboard.

Edgestone AquaductEdgestone Aquaduct

Mooring up at Wilmcote, we headed into the village for provisions. Mary Arden’s Cottage on the way to the shop has always been firmly on the Shakespeare Heritage Trail, but it seems to have metamorphosed into “Mary Arden’s Working Tudor Farm” and become a small theme park in its own right. Not wishing to stump up the extortionate fee to wander round, we retired to The Masons Arms for a proper pub lunch.

Mary Arden's Farm, WilmcoteMary Arden's Farm, Wilmcote

The cottage itself still looks splendid from the road, for cheapskates like us.

Mary Arden's Cottage, WilmcoteMary Arden's Cottage, Wilmcote

Mary Arden's Cottage, Wilmcote

Suitably refreshed culturally and alcoholically, we re-joined the Captain and continued down the Wilmcote flight of locks, which end just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and moored up at the bottom. We’re slowly getting better at guessing whether Sir likes a mooring spot or not (and it isn’t always obvious), and he seemed most content with this spot, despite being close to a major road.

Wootton Wawen Wander

Friday morning saw a gentle wander down to Wootton Wawen, where a farm shop, café, garden centre, out-of-town farmyard shopping centre and – more importantly – some diesel beckoned. Unfortunately Anglo Welsh had almost run out, only had enough for their hire fleet, and weren’t getting a delivery until Monday. Ah well. And the Captain moaned that there hadn’t been enough pictures of him, so for a quiet life, here’s one of him checking out the crew’s boat handling skills.

Biggles in Command

The café was fine, if busy, the farm shop a little limited, and we had no need of Bridal Ware, expensive horological items or French antiques, so we wandered into Wootton Wawen village itself in search of the local shop that “sold everything”. Except those items that SWMBO wanted: Waitrose or bust it would appear.

Wooton HallSaxon Sanctuary, Wooton Wawen

Wootton Hall looks quite fine, except that it’s the headquarters of a major park homes and caravan company, and the place is surrounded by an enormous and sprawling park/mobile home/caravan site. Next to it sits St. Peters, a rather fine Saxon church: the oldest in Warwickshire. Externally, the rather barn-like lady-chapel addition seems a bit out of character, but inside it’s a fascinating place to potter around.

Saxon Sanctuary, Wooton WawenSaxon Sanctuary, Wooton WawenSaxon Sanctuary, Wooton Wawen

The original Saxon sanctuary is rather fine, and we can’t recall seeing buttresses quite like this before.

Ancestor?Multiracial Britain

In the graveyard, a gravestone commemorating someone who probably isn’t an old relative, and back at the boat, a reminder that we really are becoming a multi-racial society…

Nearly Lost in Lowsonford

Leaving Biggles and the chief cook on the boat at Kingswood Junction, a Sunday afternoon train fiasco got the First Officer home eventually; the deluge back at home was fortunately not so bad ‘oop North. Returning on Tuesday afternoon too late to cruise far, and with all options requiring a serious lock flight, we did the obvious thing: retire to The Navigation for dinner.

We’d decided to head down to Stratford-upon-Avon, and made a loose date at a boatyard on the outskirts for a night’s mooring with an electrical hookup, so we could do some much needed washing. But they didn’t want us to arrive on Friday or Saturday (hire boat turnaround days), so it looked like a slow cruise down the pleasant South Stratford Canal.

Navigation on the canals isn’t normally all that hard, but Kingswood Junction is – as far as canals go – a complicated affair. The Grand Union Canal and the Stratford Canal both run approximately North/South, and at Lapworth they come within a few yards of each other, and Kingswood Junction joins them together like the cross-bar of an H, so even that shouldn’t be too hard. Hence we were somewhat bemused after locking down quite a long flight of locks, to notice we were passing through Bridge 19. (Pretty much all the bridges are numbered, and wear their badge with pride: it’s how you know where you are!) This revelation gave the Captain a nasty shock, as we shouldn’t have been anywhere near a bridge 19. Much looking at the maps and scratching of heads, and we decided to continue on through the bridge, where we discovered that we were where we thought were: some hero had attached the upstream number plate upside down. Another small drama resolved…

Fleur de Lys, LowsonfordFleur de Lys, Lowsonford

Mooring up just short of Lowsonford Lock, opposite the Fleur de Lys pub, Thursday morning was memorably sunny and warm. Lowsonford has one of those aforementioned barrel-vaulted roof lockkeepers/lengthsmans cottages: this one is relatively intact, and you can rent it from The Landmark Trust should you feel inclined.

Lowsonford Lockkeepers Cottage

The Landmark Trust got Anthony Gormley to knock up some commemorative statues for them: this chap’s been peering into Lowsonford Lock for the last year, and is due to to be taken away in a day or two: a shame, as he looks rather fine where he is.

Lowsonford Land StatueLowsonford Land Statue

BIggles insisted on taking pictures of the crew posing with the metal chap.

Lowsonford Land StatueLowsonford Land Statue

Pottering on down the Stratford Canal in glorious sunshine, we were somewhat bemused by one lockkeeper’s cottage solution to people peering in their window: one way mirror glass. Shades of interrogation rooms on the TV.

One Way Mirror

A feature of the Stratford Canal are the narrow bridges (no towpath through the bridge – it goes around the outside) with two cantilevered bits nearly meeting: you can walk Dobbin round the bridge and drop the rope through without unhitching. Actually most of the gaps have closed or been blocked up, (Elfin Safety?) but this one near our eventual overnight stop at Preston Bagot is still intact. And the bridge has its number plate on the right way up too.

Stratford Canal Bridge

And if we nearly got lost in Lowsonford, we did get lost in Preston Bagot. Mooring about a mile down from the main road, we struck out across the fields (public footpath, the map said) for a meal at The Crabmill. Let’s just say that after a memorable meal, we took the “long” way back to the boat, along the road and towpath…

A Brief Diversion

Sometimes on the canals one needs to make a detour in order to stock up on essentials. Lapworth/Kingswood Junction is a lovely spot, but a bit bereft of serious shops. For logistical reasons (one crew member was nipping home for a couple of nights to sort out matters medical and dental) we needed to be moored close to Lapworth station on the Saturday night in order to catch one of the few Sunday afternoon trains. With serious lock flights in both directions on the Stratford Canal, the best option looked to be to head up to the bottom of the Knowle flight of locks on the GUC where there was room to turn the boat round, then walk up the locks into Knowle, rumoured to be a proper-job shopping town. That was the “plan”.

KIng's Arms BridgeSetting off on Saturday morning, we idly wondered at the carefully half-painted King’s Arms bridge, and soon reached Knowle bottom lock.

And it was there that Plan A foundered. Yes there was room to wind the boat round, but there were no moorings apart from a long line of fully occupied permanent ones: not a visitor mooring in sight. We’d have to head back down a mile or more to find anywhere suitable, which didn’t bode well for substantial shopping trip.

It was only noon, and the Knowle flight of 5 wide locks were all close together, so we thought “****er it” and went for Plan B. After all, how long would it take us experienced crew to nip up the flight. An hour? Well, it took about an hour and half, and sure enough, there weren’t any useable moorings at the top, so we continued on around Knowle town to the other side where we eventually found somewhere. It was 15:00 before we got to the shops, 16:15 before we got back to the boat and discovered the nearest winding hole wasn’t big enough for us to turn…

Continuing up the GUC, under the M42, we eventually managed to turn round somewhere near Birmingham Airport, got back to the top of the Knowle flight about 18:15, and – needing to be at the very least below them by Sunday morning – finally moored up at about 19:30.

There’s nothing like a quick shopping expedition to cheer one up. And that was nothing like a quick shopping expedition.

A Portative Organ and a Duck on the Wall

Kingswood Junction is close to Baddesley Clinton, a moated manor house occupied by the same family for over 500 years before the National Trust took it over. Staunch Catholics, the house boasts three priest-holes (although one may be a sacrificial dummy).

Baddesley SheepBaddesley Clinton

The Captain gave the crew the afternoon off, so a walk across the fields ensued.

Baddesley ClintonBaddesley Clinton: EntranceBaddesley Clinton

With bits added and altered over the centuries the place is a fascinating hotch-potch of architectural styles, nooks and crannies.

DSCF3901Baddesley ClintonBaddesley Clinton

There’s a room with a barrel vaulted ceiling that looks just large enough to hold some splendid house concerts… now there’s an idea! Barrel vaulted lockkeepers cottages are a feature of the nearby Stratford Canal too.

Baddesley ClintonBaddesley Clinton

Surprisingly the geology is such that although surrounded by a substantial and full moat, the place doesn’t suffer from rising damp.

Duck on a wallBaddesley Clinton ChurchDSCF3925

Like all good manor houses, it has a south-facing wall in the garden (this one replete with resident perching duck), and a fine (if seemingly rather thin) local church. There’s a rather fine organ in there – couldn’t help noticing it was on casters. Paging Dolly Collins!

Goldcrest & Pump-Out

After the hard work of Hatton Locks, the short and lock free cruise to Kingswood Junction/ Lapworth (where the Grand Union and Stratford Canal meet up) came as a pleasant change.

Entrance to ShrewleyTunnel

A brief stop in Shrewley for provisions (the village is on top of a long-ish tunnel, and completely invisible from the canal. The canal and the village wouldn’t even know the other existed if it wasn’t for the canal navigation guides.

Goldcrest & Pumpout

We diverted into Kingswood Basin on the Stratford Canal to pick up some water (there’s a prime candidate for “slowest water tap on the system” if ever there was such a competition), and watched entranced as a Goldcrest tried to make out with his own reflection in the shiny steel case of the pump-out machine control box. Spent about 15 minutes before getting (even more) frustrated and going elsewhere.

Then back onto the GUC for 200 yards or so to moor up right immediately opposite The Navigation at Lapworth, a well known canal-side watering hole – the fish pie comes highly recommended…

Meanwhile, the next boat up had an unleashed whippet, giving the Captain an excellent opportunity to practice his whippet-baiting skills. It’s a hard life.

Led Zep, Rolf Harris and the other “Big One”

Narrowboat wanderers will speak of the Tardebigge Flight and the Caen Hill Flight of locks in hushed terms, as places to sort out the chaps for the lesser chaps. Hatton Locks is perhaps less well known, but its 21 broad locks climbing nearly 150 feet in 2 miles place them firmly in the same category. The old commercial bargees used to call them “The Stairway to Heaven”, but unfortunately we didn’t have either Led Zeppelin or Rolf Harris’ version to play while we worked. Actually, having been descending steadily since Napton, the chief navigator was initially rather thrown to find that the Hatton Flight went all the way back up again.

The weather stayed pleasant warm and sunny, and so teaming up with another boat (thank heavens) we got stuck in, and apart from a brief lunch stop in a handy longer pound, there wasn’t time to take photos; even Sir behaved by staying on board all the way rather than disappearing off into the greenery.

Hatton Locks: lunch stopHatton Locks: lunch stop

Finally passing through the top lock in the late afternoon sunlight, the welcoming committee showed us to some suitable moorings at the top of the flight.

Ahh....Hatton Top Lock

Later, a pleasant walk back down a few locks brought us to the CaRT Maintenance Yard, a large metal damselfly, and – more importantly – a splendid dinner at The Hatton Arms to round off a rewarding if tiring day.

Hatton Locks & Maintenance WharfBig Damselfly

Nice Tree

Warwick as Well

As if lunch in Leamington wasn’t enough, Kate Boats was so close to the centre of Warwick that it seemed churlish not to avail ourselves of a wander and dinner. We know Warwick reasonably well from past folk festivals, so the camera was left on the boat. But for those suffering from Warwick Withdrawal Symptoms, here’s a few that were prepared earlier (circa 2012 if memory serves).

Jackstraws processing: dinner this trip was taken in the half-timbered establishment at top-right, if anyone’s remotely interested.

Jackstraws Morris - WarwickJackstraws Morris: Warwick

As a break from Morris Dancers here are a couple of memorable other teams letting it all hang out in the dance procession.

Warwick Folk Festival processionWarwick Folk Festival: Belly Dancer Morris

Despite the best efforts of Jackstraws dancing in the castle, the walls didn’t come tumbling down.

Jackstraws Morris: Warwick CastleWarwick Castle

And all this picture needs is Chris in the Morning and a piano…

Warwick Castle: Trebuchet

Leaky Locks and a Leamington Lunch

Released from the brig, and leaving Long Itch (as the locals call it) almost a day later than expected, we continued on down the Grand Union, including the rather leaky staircase lock at Bascote.

Leaky Bascote Staircase

This stretch of the canal was once upon-a-time a narrowbeam canal, but was upgraded to widebeam in the 1930s in an an abortive attempt to compete better with the railways. The remains of the old narrow locks are still apparent, usually partially built over and used as by-washes.

Fosse Lock

Mooring up out in the boonies near the Fosse Way, shopping needs led to a Tuesday lunchtime visit to Royal Leamington Spa, which didn’t make overmuch of an impression, apart from the splendid gardens you pass en-route from the canal quarter to the centre of town.

Leamingto Spa GardensLeamingto Spa Gardens

Leamingto Spa GardensLeamingto Spa Gardens

Rather urgently needing to get a pump-out (earlier attempts had been thwarted), mid-afternoon found us just down the water in Warwick, where Kate Boats cleared us out very thoroughly indeed (but did charge 50% more than most establishments!)