Saturday, 15 July 2017

On to Kingswood Junction

Saturday 15th July; Lowsonford to Kingswood Junction

A cool and cloudy start this morning as we worked our way up towards the junction.  I am still having to do the steering and still having trouble with bywashes, but Dave is a dab hand at locking now.  Some of the gates are hard to get moving – at least now he knows why he has to hang about for a while if I want to get back on board.  He made sure to teach me exactly when to put the engine in reverse as I came out of the lock so that he could get back on board easily!

1 dave works hard

At one lock we met a local man who is involved, perfectly legally, with trapping and culling mink.  They are the descendants of mink that escaped, or were released by activists, from fur farms decades ago.  They thrived, and as highly efficient predators they caused, and continue to cause, huge damage to our native wildlife.  He wanted to know if we had seen any sign of them, which we hadn’t.  He has to leave his Jack Russells with his hens when they are out in their field to protect them from the little critters.  Once he was shouted at by a group of walkers who thought he had shot an otter.  He explained the destruction mink cause to ground-nesting birds, fish stocks and water voles, but they stomped off saying they would report him.  If you see mink he would love to know exactly where so he can deal with them.  I don’t know your views on animal rights, reader, but I feel our native fauna has more right to exist in the UK than this American invader!  If they had found their way here under their own steam, so to speak – such as a European bird extending its range by flying across the channel – that would be different.  But introduced by man?  No.  By the way, if you find one in a trap and release it you would be breaking the law and risk contracting Weil’s disease into the bargain.

We were soon at the service point on the junction for some much-needed water and to empty the cassettes.  The tap here is very slow, so we half-filled the tank today and planned to top up in the morning at the other tap a couple of locks further on.  We moored at the Grand Union end of the branch, beyond the railway bridge. 

2 moored at kingswood junction

After a late lunch, Dave sorted out our next temporary mooring at Alvechurch.  Then it was showers (good facilities here!) and general chilling out and watching boats and walkers pass, with occasional dogs sticking their heads through the side hatch, to Meg’s fury.  I only took two pictures today, so here’s one of my lovely salad tub – green and red lettuce Salad Bowl, nasturtium and coriander.

3 tub of edibles

The leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are tasty, slightly peppery in flavour.  I thought it would be red when I sowed the seed – this orange does not go too well with the red paint, does it?

It would have been a lovely quiet spot – not many trains on a Saturday night – but two boats on the permanent moorings opposite chose to run their engines, one 8 till 9 and the other from 9 to 10.  Perhaps they want to discourage people from mooring opposite.

2 miles, 9 locks

Friday, 14 July 2017

A slow, slow day and lettuce envy!

Friday 14th July; north of Wilmcote to Lowsonford

Well, we woke on a bit of a slant, just enough to need extra effort for rolling out of bed.  This was not entirely unexpected, given the problems with water levels yesterday, but you can see from the picture that it was very slight.  We left the mooring lines a bit loose last night, just in case, and they were still loose enough to untie easily this morning.

1 excellent spot

Two boats went by, slowly, while we were having breakfast, then we set off, slowly.  We only needed a slight push to get into the deeper water, but the bottom was pretty near the top so we cruised very sedately to the Edstone aqueduct.  We could see the boat that passed us a good 15 minutes earlier still on the aqueduct, and a boat waiting, so we stopped and had quite a wait for our turn.  We too took much longer than usual to get across, and when we reached Bearley lock we found the reason for the low water level.

2 crt notice re low water at brearley lock

The water level was fine above the lock.  Between the lock and Wootton Wawen, a new marina is under construction.

2 new marina

There was yet another hold-up at Wootton Wawen; the boat in front was stationary on the little aqueduct.  After a while Dave put the bow in so I could find out what was going on.  A liveaboard was taking on water from the very inconveniently placed water-point;

6 watering up holdup at wootton wawen

if you are travelling south, you can pull in (just) alongside the boats at the wharf, but if you are going north even a long hose probably wouldn’t reach as the tap is on the aqueduct.  (For non-boaty readers – water tanks, and therefore the filler cap, tend to be at the bow or at least near the front).  You can see the tap and white supply pipe on the fence and the aqueduct is on the right.

8 badly placed water point

We were only held up for 10 minutes but the poor hirers in front only wanted to get to the visitor moorings 50 yards away as they were finishing their holiday the next day. 

7 coming over wootton wawen aqueduct

Dave crosses the aqueduct

I think if we had been that desperate for water we would have moved to let following boats pass, and then gone back to the water point.  The boat that caused the hold-up was in no hurry – they moored within a couple of hundred yards so could easily have done so. 

I am still unable to walk comfortably or work the locks, so I had another day of struggling with bywashes.  At Preston Bagot I took a selfie in the mirrored windows as I came out of the lock.

9 my steering reflection at trago mills

I brought Chuffed into the next lock faultlessly (no bywash), sadly unremarked by the long crocodile of teenagers on the crossover bridge and straggling along the towpath in both directions.  I bet the teachers had fun moving them on at the mirrored windows!

Meg was enjoying the extra walkies between locks with her Dad.  She is recovering well from her sore tummy.

12 and proof I steer

I had a couple of tries at an arty shot through the pretty split bridges.  This I think is the view from Bucket lock as the lock was filling.

13 view behind lock 33

There was plenty of room to moor at Lowsonford, where we tied up opposite the pub garden….

15 view from fleur de lys garden

where later we enjoyed a beer before having the delicious and tender pork steaks I bought from Barry the Butcher in Stratford.  (How did I end up with this odd pattern of froth on my glass when Dave didn’t?)

14 strange beer froth patterns

Oh yes, that lettuce envy.  The delightful lady from the boat behind us was most impressed by my salad tub.  (Now we’re back at home it’s looking rather bedraggled in the pouring rain and howling wind).

6 miles, 9 locks, 3 aqueducts (Edstone, Wootton Wawen and Yarningale)

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Role reversal

Thursday 13th July; Stratford to beyond Wilmcote

Every pontoon in Bancroft basin last night was taken, the river moorings were crowded, and on the other side of the bridge the pub moorings were full too. But once the tourists had gone it was very quiet. A few boats moved early; one came up from the river as we were getting up, and two went down to the river.  We left at about 9 and were soon at the first lock, which is on a bend and with limited space to wait.  My calf muscle protested sharply when I started to walk over the  crossover bridge and I had to limp sideways up the slope.  Then I could barely manage to push the gate open.  So once the lock was full we swapped over and I had to leave the lock work to Dave.

1 dave does locks no 54 stratford

It took us both a while to adjust; I rarely steer except when the Captain wants a break and he normally only deals with locks if I am locking ahead.  We travel pretty slowly when I am at the tiller.  Basically I am quite nervous so I avoid doing the steering, which of course is silly and the wrong thing to do, so I shouldn’t be complaining.  It’s good for me!

Dave walked ahead to the Manchester Road lock, which is the one with the really difficult bottom gate.  It opened as I approached and I brought Chuffed in, to find a gaggle of cheery volunteers getting organised for a morning’s tidying up closer to the town.  It soon became clear that there were problems with water levels up ahead.  We had heard rumours, but nothing specific, over the last couple of days; now a CRT man came down and told us to wait in the lock until he had run water down into the pound which was very low.

2 hanging around waiting for water to be let down

So we relayed the message back to the boat following us, and I chatted to the volunteers about this wretched gate.  Apparently the IWA has suggested that CRT should sponsor a design competition for the local colleges to design an improved gate, but nothing has happened.  Something other than the wretched metal poles which dig in your back would help!

3 and that nasty bottom gate

After half an hour or so Dave phoned down to say I could go on, and we were on the move again.  Luckily a passing family closed the top gate for me and I went on to the lock by the Premier Inn.  Meg was bored at the lock; no-one would play with her.

4 premier inn lock 5 and meg waits patiently

The low water levels had variously been blamed on reservoirs not being full enough after being kept low for winter maintenance, huge numbers of boats attending the Stratford festival the previous weekend, and the dry spring. We discovered later there had been vandalism, probably on the Wilmcote flight, as well.

We made it up the Wilmcote flight without too much trouble although some of the pounds were very low.  I was on quite a steep learning curve as water was being run down from above and some of the bywashes were  bit fierce!

8 some bywashes were horrendous

I would like to report that I got into this lock without touching the sides but …. I didn’t.  Dave soon realised to his horror how much walking is involved when you lock ahead, but also discovered how pleasant it is to chat to the boaters you meet on the way.  Drat, I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that bit!  These locks have heavy gates, and luckily his back held out.  There is no way I could have managed them.

6 dave puts his back into it

Some of the pounds were very low indeed.  At one, I waited in the lock below until he had opened the next gate as I didn’t want to risk running aground if I got too close to the edge.  This one was over a foot down even after a lockful of water had been run down.

11 as pound very low

Rather than stop at the busy Wilmcote visitor moorings, where a stretch is still fenced off where the wall is leaning out over the water, we went on past bridge 50 and found a quiet mooring out in the country.  Apart from the occasional walker and passing boat, and trains not far away, it was very peaceful.

We had both had an interesting day, way out of our comfort zones – well, that’s certainly true for me.  I was very annoyed not to be able to do the locks, but am in good company;  Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have both failed to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals through injury.

3½ miles, 16 locks


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Off the river and back to normality(aka the canal!)

Wednesday 12th July; from the  River Avon to the Stratford canal – less than half a mile

It rained well into the night.  We slept well till dawn when we were abruptly awoken by an almighty crash!  The dog was on our bed in a flash and it took a moment or two to realise that it was only a long rolling thunderclap and not some dreadful accident befalling us.  It all went quiet again after a bit of squawking from wildfowl, and when we got up the weather was clear and the sun was shining across the park and through the trees.

4 park mooring

The rain had raised the river level about 5 inches.  Our moorings, though not too tight anyway, had slackened off considerably.  Over breakfast we watched the early scullers on one side, and the runners and dog walkers on the other.  This is a lovely mooring, very quiet, and we weren’t bothered by a request for mooring fees either.  I went up to town to try and find Barry the Butcher, which I did eventually, but couldn’t find the greengrocer which I thought was there.  I bought a paper and some delicious-looking olive bread in Sainsbury’s, using the self-checkout, and bought a lardy cake in the posh little bakery/cafe (now supplying fruit cake By Appointment To HRH).  Back at the boat I discovered that I had left the bread and papers in the bagging area. B****r.

We decided to go up to Bancroft Basin before lunch rather than later on, so Dave gave Meg a quick extra play in the park before we left.  He has trained her to run between his legs on command, and as a reward he throws the ball for her to catch.

1 meg through legs  2 meg catches ball

Simple pleasures.

When we arrived at the lock up onto the canal the trip boat was almost ready to come  down, so as the lock was in their favour we waited for them.  There was plenty of room on the pontoons and we moored near the CRT information boat.  I went straight up to Sainsbury’s and explained my foolishness.  The lovely checkout assistants had put my shopping on one side, bless them.  I could sense their metaphorical eye-rolling as this daft woman collected her Guardian and olive bread.  But the bread was lovely so it was worth the (slight) embarrassment.

I lazed around during the afternoon, watching boats arriving or passing through, but Dave took Meg with him to the area outside the theatre to watch a guitarist.  I could hear the music perfectly well on the boat, but Dave likes to watch a performer’s technique.  When it cooled a bit I went for a run in the park but had to cut it short with a torn calf muscle.  I did however manage to limp up to the Wetherspoon’s, the Golden Bee, where we had an excellent pint and a well-prepared steak.  You need protein to repair muscle damage, you know.  And the chips were excellent.

1 lock, less than half a mile




Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Rain, and an expensive day

Tuesday 11th July; Luddington to Stratford

At the end of the wharf here were two Avon Navigation Trust workboats.  The longer one was tucked in behind a long wide pontoon and the small push-tug can be seen in the photo below, to the right of the pontoon.  We are opposite.

11 luddington

At 8 this morning three CRT workmen appeared.  They detached the pontoon from the long workboat and fixed it to the little tug which slowly and skilfully reversed out of the wharf

1 moving pontoon

with one man making sure they didn’t touch the little cruiser moored further back, while a third opened the lock gates.

2 moving pontoon

While they descended the lock, I chatted to the man about their day.  Although this lock is wide enough for the tug to slip in beside the pontoon, some locks are narrower and they will have to take them through separately.  I imagine that is quite a job if the pontoon has to be bow-hauled in by hand.

3 taking it down the lock

They were hoping to make it as far as Harvington (Robert Aickman New lock) tonight.  I would hate to meet that pontoon coming round a bend.  And I bet the hire boat that went down a short while later would soon catch them up and be none too pleased!

We pushed across before we left to use the Elsan point and take on water.  There were some interesting bracket fungi on a stump nearby.  The sawdust-like substance caught in the spiders’ webs seemed rather to be bits falling from the trees.

4 bracket fungi

We were away soon after ten and it wasn’t long before we were at the first of today’s two locks, passing through some very pretty stretches on the way.

5 pretty luddington

The first lock was open and ready for us, and two boats arrived at the top as we went in.  This lock, originally Weir Brake, was named Anonymous Lock after restoration, for the many donors who wished to remain anonymous. 

7 anonymous or gordon grey

But Nicholson’s has it labelled as ‘Gordon Grey’ lock.  Gordon Grey was on the board of the restoration trust.

The last lock, Colin P Witter, was soon dealt with

8 colin p witter

and Dave took a picture of the sculpture marking the completion of the restoration.

9 sculpture at colin p witter

We moored by the park, a hundred yards or so before the ferry.  The rain started soon afterwards and set in for some hours.  But we had to go out; Meg’s underneath has been getting quite sore and we decided to get a vet’s advice sooner rather than later, as it has happened before and she ended up quite poorly.  So, fully togged up in wet-weather gear, we set off for the 15-minute walk and 45 minutes later, and £100 lighter in the credit card department, we were saying hello to Julie and Steve (Hakuna Matata) who were moored in Bancroft Basin.  But we were so wet we felt we had to decline their kind offer of hospitality.

Back on the boat, we drank tea and watched the hire boats carrying on as normal.  The scullers were out in force later on, and a large group of children and young people in little kayaks followed, all defying the weather.

2 locks, 3 miles



Monday, 10 July 2017

Are we supposed to be moored here?

Monday 10th July; Elsie and Hiram Billington lock to Luddington

It was much cooler today and very cloudy to start with.  We were tempted to stay as it’s such a lovely mooring, even though the uneven edge meant we needed an extra fender.  This one was picked up on the prop of a hirer we met at Worcester and we took it off his hands rather then let him chuck it in the rubbish (and thank goodness he had the sense not to throw it back in the water!)  You can only see the top next to our gunwale, but it is a heavy duty rubber one and was perfect for the job even if the rope is rather short.

1 scavenged fender needed

Dave leaves our mooring as I open the bottom gate.

3 entering lock

One of the locks was well cared for with baskets of plants on the footbridge.  I think this one was Pilgrim lock (Barton lock) but I may be wrong.  When the gates have to be left open when you leave, it makes life much easier for the next boat – provided they are travelling in the opposite direction to the boat that has just left.

4 maybe welford lock

There are some fabulous houses along the river; this is the moneyed end of Welford.  This all seems to be one property though they are not making full use of their boathouse!

5 moneyed end of welford

Some of the Avon locks are very deep.  This I think is WA Cadbury lock (aka Welford lock).  There was a long wait until it was safe to raise the gate paddles fully.

7 poss cadbury lock

The moorings above this lock are lovely and we were tempted to stop but it was still early so we went on, past Binton Bridges.  Most of the arches on this long long bridge are not navigable.

8 binton bridges

Just one arch in fact for us.

9 binton bridges

We moored at Luddington in time for lunch.  We went up the lock and could see someone moored on the mooring with the blue poles of the Avon Navigation Trust.  But the wharf area had masses of space, and as it was a flat calm we were able to moor neatly between two cruisers.

12 luddington

If it had been windy we would have needed to use the pontoon opposite, which was made of a wide metal mesh – very dog-unfriendly, at least for one with small paws.  I did a bit of washing which soon dried in the wind and the sun which had come out after a cool morning.

It was quite late when we had the thought that perhaps we weren’t supposed to moor there at all.  But there was loads of space and no-one came to tell us off so we stayed.  And there was one short blue-painted pole in the corner anyway.

5½  miles, 4 locks

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Locks with two names

Sunday 9th July; Evesham to Elsie and Hiram Billington lock

It was going to be another hot day so I went for an early run through the parks on the other bank.  Later on there was going to be a 10k race and all the setting up was going on as I trotted past.  I’m not fit enough to do the distance at the moment, more’s the pity.  The weather was glorious as we set off, the trip and hire boats waiting in the sun opposite Workman’s Park

1 evesham trip boats waiting in the sun

and the scullers were out too.  Some of the boats from the Festival had already left.

1a evesham like sunday morning

At Evesham Lock, the Lower Avon becomes the Upper Avon, though nowadays they are run by a single authority.  The lockie is now technically a ‘site manager’ rather than a lockie but as he lives above the lock on his boat he still looks after it.  The paddles on the top gate are very fierce, as many are – but these fountain up quite spectacularly if you open them too slowly.  He explained that you need to open them two full turns, and quickly, so that the water will come out flat.  If you don’t the bottom gates won’t seal properly and the ‘fountains’ could swamp your boat.

Just before the lock, one of the washer things on the lens of my camera came adrift when I switched it on.  It’s still under guarantee so I won’t try to mend it myself.  But the rest of this trip’s photos will be from my phone or Dave’s camera.  Some might even be of me!3a evesham lock

Soon we passed under Simon de Montfort bridge.  Not particularly interesting except that when we drive up to Calcutt, where we have often left the boat,  we cross the Avon on this bridge which carries the A46.  We have never yet spotted a narrow-boat on the river.

5 simon de montfort bridge

There are some remarkably pretty stretches along here.  At George Billington lock we stopped for water and the Elsan point.  This is the lock with the strange ‘lighthouse’ building.

8 george billington lock

We have a printout of info from the Avon Navigation Trust website listing the locks and facilities; they use what must have been the old names before the restoration, when the locks were renamed for people who had been involved in the restoration.  The old name for George Billington is Offenham.

We came round the bend immediately before the Robert Aickman New lock, where we saw one of the bottom gates was open, and had lined up to go in when the gate started to close and we could see someone about to open the top gate paddle.  We shouted and tooted and eventually the gate re-opened.  A large day boat was moored on those convenient bollards below the lock and there was nowhere for us to go!  It was all sorted out satisfactorily in the end.

9 leaving robert aickman new ock

This lock was new; the old lock (Harvington) off to the left, has been converted into a dry dock.  We later met a woman who had just been blacking her boat there.  The river above the lock was pretty but narrow and winding;  we were tootling along minding our own business, keeping to the outside of the bends as you do and only going at 4 mph, when a ‘Canalboats.com’ time-share boat came round the bend at some speed.  Yes, we were going upstream so it was his right of way, but we had very little time to take evading action and although we were already well over to the right of the channel he came rather too close for comfort before waving cheerily and zooming off on his way.

10 v fast canaltime

We had hoped to stop at Bidford but the only available mooring was outside the pub so we went on.  The bridge is long (wide I suppose from our perspective!) and the traffic across it is one-way, controlled by lights.

12 bidford bridge

You can see some smashing properties around here – if they are not completely hidden behind the trees.

12 b lovely property

We moored below Elsie and Hiram Billington lock (Bidford Grange I think is the old name) for a rather late lunch at 3 o’clock.  Quiet, plenty of space and no other boats, although eventually there were four moored above the lock.  We took the footpath across the fields and walked into Bidford for some milk.  While Dave went to the shop I took Meg over the bridge to get a drink from the river.  It’s great for families over that side – a large car park but with access to safe areas for little ones to paddle and play.  One small boy solemnly informed me that there was fish wee in the river!  Ooh, I said, and is there fish poo too?  I hope I didn’t shock the little soul (or upset his parents!)

Back at the boat, we watched two teenagers swimming and floating about.  They had climbed down from the far side of the weir, where there is a footpath, before we went for our walk.  The river was not particularly deep – about chest height - or fast-flowing, even by the weir, and it seemed quite safe.  The bottom apparently was gritty but weedy.

Once they had gone, Dave got his fishing tackle out and spent a pleasant hour or two catching small roach.

14 lovely mooring at elsie and hiram billington

8½ miles, 4 locks