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Archive for May 11th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 19

Posted by indigodream on 11 May, 2009

Saturday 9th May Radford Semele to the Tom o’ the Wood moorings

We actually manage to drag ourselves out on Friday evening and had a good drive up to the boat.  We were quite late arriving – mainly because we had an extended stop at the Sainsbury’s store just outside Leamington Spa. It’s a big store with a goodly mix of Homebase type stock as well as the normal food offering. There’s a huge complex of shops here, including a giant Starbucks – I’ve made a note of that for future trips!

We had contacted the local BW patrol officer and he kindly gave us permission to moor in the BW facilities area by Radcott bottom lock. Entrance is via a locked gate (opened with a BW key but we asked permission anyway – BW can be very helpful if you ask but probably quite ornery if you don’t). When we arrived the gate was blocked by a parked car – probably a ‘courting couple’ – fortunately for us they soon finished what they were up to and cleared off. This was extremely convenient -parking inside the gate put us very close to the boat and we knew that the car would be secure over the weekend and within a manageable cycle ride of Leamington Spa station. Even so, it took some time to load the boat with all of the dog beds, clean linen and shopping.

The boat had been fine while we were away – phew!

r_indigo-dream_2009_05_09_007As you might expect, we had another quiet night at the mooring and were on our way by 9am-ish. I thought that we were right on top of Leamington Spa but there’s a long stretch of rural and suburban canal before you get to the centre. I wonder why some conurbations, like Leamington and Warwick, have extensive suburbs along the waterways, when others, like Reading and Banbury just stop abruptly. There must be some obscure historical town planning reason – answers on a poastcard…..

There’s an unattractive modern brick pub on the outskirts of Leamington Spa (The Fusilier) which paradoxically has very attractive moorings on both side of the canal with fine old bollards. I wonder what it’s like inside? There are stretches of very sturdy old bollards throughout the town – they looked original and I don’t know how they’ve survived as the town has been modernised around them.

We found the canal through Leamington and Warwick to be surprisingly shallow – we reckon you’d struggle to moor

Bridge 40

Bridge 40

there. Of course, we had the dreaded red light on the loo, so maybe we wouldn’t have noticed it so much if we hadn’t been weighed down with sewage.

There’s useful access to a Somerfield store after Bridge 40 and the moorings were empty when we passed by. Richard commented that they were jam packed the weekend before – where had everyone gone? A little further on we also saw a huge canalside Lidl – it looked brand new and we’re sure it wasn’t there when we passed through last year.

New Lidl

New Lidl

We passed by last year’s troubled mooring and marvelled that we’d had any bother there. It looked as invitingly serene now as it did then. Wouldn’t it be great if the towpath could be policed so that boaters could moor overnight here and leave their boats unattended without having to worry about being targets for drunks passing from pub to pub. We think that BW is aware of the problem – but of course, identifying a problem is much easier than solving it!

We were intending to ring each of the three boatyards in Warwick to check the price of their pumpouts but no-one was answering their phones so we decided to take pot luck. The first one that we came to was Delta Marine Services which looked completely deserted and had a large narrowboat moored on its service pontoon with the prominent sign “Do not moor alongside”. It looked to us as if Delta Marine has closed down – if it hasn’t then it needs some work on its marketing/customer service!

We were curious about Kate Boats following Bruce’s experience there, but they agreed to do our pump-out although it

Approaching Kate Boats

Approaching Kate Boats

was obviously a busy change-over day.  The guy who did the pump-out was very good-humoured and we chatted away while he did a very thorough job of clearing our tank. They charged us £15 which we thought was very reasonable for a job well done.

As we passed out of the suburbs we were both horrified and amused by the sign by Bridge 51 warning people not to leave rubbish there as they’ve had reports of a large infestation of rats – uugh! Of course, Blue and Lou would have been in their element chasing rats down the towpath; though the canny rodents weren’t out in daylight and we certainly wouldn’t consider mooring there overnight, even for the dogs’ entertainment!

There was only a small amount of traffic on the canal and having caught up with a pair of boats going up the Cape locks, we’d resigned ourselves to following them up as a single with all the locks set against us. But we had quite an eventful time and ended up going up the Hatton with old nb Antlia 8. How did this happen?

Emerging Chugamuffin crew

Emerging Chugamuffin crew

Well, as we were waiting at the bottom of the Cape Locks, nb Chuggamuffin caught up with us, towing an unnamed and unregistered bathtub (ok, disreputable looking cruiser). I thought the cruiser would be too wide to share locks but we all fitted in quite snuggly. We’d thought that Chuggamuffin was single handed but as we ascended the locks two sleepy crew members emerged. But I’m afraid they weren’t ideal locking partners – the main man handled Chuggamuffin like a dream but his crew was a bit random.  You know what it’s like, you have a routine which ends up with all boats moving safely through the lock and leaving all gates and paddles closed for the next people, but the chaos crew didn’t quite get the second part of that equation! I hope we’re not slipping into being canal snobs, but we didn’t fancy going right up the Hatton with the chaos crew; so we stopped for lunch at the top of the Cape flight and replaced one of our stolen mooring ropes at the uniquely named ‘Get knotted’ rope and fender shop.

Good place to replace our stolen ropes

Good place to replace our stolen ropes

We had a leisurely lunch – there are useful moorings above the Cape locks. It’s a pleasant place to spend the afternoon watching the world go by. But we had the Hatton before us, with the definite prospect of having all the locks set against us. And so it proved for the first few locks but then fate smiled on us…..

I’m not sure whether we were 3 or 4 locks up when we encountered a bit of drama. Nb. Antlia 8 was already in the lock but nb Stolen Time, who’d been travelling with him, had got themselves badly grounded. The ‘proper’ lock moorings are on the left but they’d naturally gone to the towpath side which was very shallow. I got the impression that they’d been shoving the boat for some time but to no avail. Richard hopped off to help them from the bank but even his considerable bulk failed to shift the boat. We then tried to tow her off in reverse but she wouldn’t budge – in fact nb Stolen Time stayed still while Indigo Dream rapidly got dragged towards the shallows with her! We didn’t get grounded though, and I wonder if they’d just been unlucky enough to ground onto one particular rock. The next tactic was for Indigo Dream to tow Stolen Time off from the front. Richard persuaded their crew to bundle onto their front deck (to take the weight off the stern) while I pushed the revs and finally tugged her free. However, this left us with our nose in the lock with no room to reverse out of their way. So, with many apologies we took her space in the lock with Antlia and we ended up doing the whole flight together.

nb Antlia

nb Antlia

It was great. Antlia 8 is a fine old 1936 working boat with, so Richard tells me, a Lister HP2 engine fitted ‘new’ in 1960. Antlia’s skipper was an extremely spry single-hander who manouvered his boat beautifully and jumped out at every lock to help Richard with the grunt work. He had a unique technique for locking, which I guess reflects the necessities of solitary boating. He bought the boat into the lock, set her into neutral, fixed the tiller and hopped off with the centre rope, which he promptly dropped onto the path, leaving the boat to stop by the expedient method of driving direct into the cill, often with a resounding bang. I’m amazed she didn’t spring a leak, but these old boats must be made of tough stuff – she didn’t even have a front fender! With Antlia at the front of the lock, I had to take Indigo Dream forward as well in order to stop Antlia from bouncing around. This wasn’t entirely comfortable – I usually lurk around at the back when we’re locking up and it felt a lot more turbulent doing it this way. Antlia’s skipper advised us to close our front doors – good advice when I saw his bow being washed by a cascade from some leaky lock gates!

View up Hatton

View up Hatton

Despite this new (for me) locking technique, we worked our way up the flight without incident in 3 hours and 10 minutes – Richard reckons that half that time was spent on the first few locks that we did single-handed and the grounding incident, then we flew up the rest with our new friend. Antlia’s skipper seemed relived to be working the locks with us, with veiled hints that maybe Stolen Time hadn’t been his ideal partner. Maybe finding a locking partner is the same as finding a partner in any walk of life – it sometimes takes time to find the right one 🙂 We certainly enjoyed Antlia’s unassuming and competent company.

Of course, some boaters are just better suited to a solitary life – we certainly thought that was true of the owner of hotel boats ‘Oak’ and ‘Ash’.

Oak and Ash doing their thing

Oak and Ash doing their thing

He had his two narrowboats lashed together and we met him coming down in a relatively short pound. I moved out of the lock and shunted to one side, nb Antlia was intending to move in behind me so that the oncoming boats could move straight into the lock.  But Antlia wasn’t moving fast enough for ‘Oak’ and ‘Ash’, whose owner was ranting away and telling us all to get out of his way. Apparently the owner of these two boats is famous – he used to a vicar before leaving his congregation to entertain paying guests. Uhm, I see that’s he’s left his sense of goodwill, charity and manners behind as well…..

That said, we enjoyed every aspect of the Hatton flight. There were loads of walkers all the way up the hill. Most were cheerfully interested and many helped with the lock gates – always an

Almost at the top  ....

Almost at the top ....

advantage when you have BIG double gates to shunt around. Richard had a good time chatting to the onlookers while I had a peaceful time on the helm, concentrating on getting Indigo Dream neatly into each lock. The views as you climb up the flight get better at each lock – there are stunning vistas back toward Warwick with its imposing castle tower. We had less welcome company in the form of swarms of mosquitoes in the top 3 locks but we weren’t attacked – the wind was just cold enough to keep us covered up and deprive the mossies of their meal! The dogs had a splendid time – they rummaged to their heart’s content and wore themselves out long before we got to the top of the flight – even Blue came in for a rest without any prompting. When Richard tried to coax them out to walk the last four locks, both dogs steadfastly
ignored him and snuggled onto their sheepskin-swathed sofa.

View back towards Hatton Top Lock

View back towards Hatton Top Lock

Most of the walkers stopped at the excellent cafe at the top of the Hatton flight. We also lost Antlia 8 there, who was mooring up for the night just beyond the top lock.

We carried on, though the canal was strangely quiet after the bustle of the flight and we largely had the canal to ourselves. It was very shallow on the offside so we just pottered along, appreciating the gentle countryside.  Last week I thought that the countryside was taking a breather before the main business of flowering. But it’s back in full swing now with great swathes of  hawthorn blossom billowing in the breeze like a line-full of laundry.

This stretch is quite unique, with the canal moving abruptly from

View back onto the Shrewley Tunnel

View back onto the Shrewley Tunnel

deep cutting to high embankment. In places it’s quite deceptive – the high hedgerows hide the fact that the canal’s perched precariously on the hillside – only the occasional glimpse of the tops of trees through the hawthorn give you a clue of where you are. That is, until you reach the splendid ‘aqueduct’ at Rowington, where the land falls away dramatically on both sides of the canal to give magnificent views over the surrounding countryside. It’s a popular mooring spot and I can see why – the views are unrivalled. Maybe they’re a little too tantalising – you can see down to the ‘Cock Horse’ pub on the distant road below; it’s apparently a great place to eat but there’s no easy way to get to it from the canal – what a tease!

Bit of a walk for a pint of cider?

Bit of a walk for a pint of cider?

Our target for the day was the ‘Tom ‘o the Wood moorings just beyond Rowington. There are extensive 24-hour moorings here and they’re very pleasant apart from the noise of the nearby M40. It hadn’t occurred to me before but there’s a real transport sandwich here with a substantial rashers of motorway and train line wedged between two dainty slices of canal (Stratford and Grand Union).

We moored opposite a goat farm (a very silky-haired breed).The dogs were transfixed  – not by the goats but by the bank full of rabbits. Staring at the field opposite and and running up and down the towpath kept them amused until suppertime.

Transfixed ....

Transfixed ....

Transfixed ....

Transfixed ....

Still transfixed ...

Still transfixed ...

You looking at me?

You looking at me?

I took them for a walk to run off some of their excitement and found out some more about an intriguing old house which we’d passed earlier. It’s apparently the oldest house in Rowington at 400 plus years. It’s obviously a labour of love to keep the old place standing – I think Richard would have a nervous breakdown if he had to live in such a crooked house; mind you, I’d also worry about it falling down – some of the walls did have an interesting lean.

Oldest Building in Rowington?

Oldest Building in Rowington?

The moorings were empty until we suddenly saw Chuggamuffin literally chugging into view (this time minus the cruiser). We’d passed them earlier, with both boats moored precariously on one centre rope and drifting all over the canal. The cruiser passed by later – it now had an outboard motor and didn’t need to be towed. They were a good-natured though somewhat haphazard bunch of boaters – give them a few years and maybe they’ll deserve the epithet of ‘canal characters’, for now we’ll keep the honorific ‘the chaos crew’.

We walked over the bridge to the ‘Tom o’ the wood pub.

Note: Both Nicholsons and the pub signboard on the bridge have the wrong telephone number – the correct number for the Tom o’ the wood pub is now 01564 782420.

Whose sausages?

Whose sausages?

It’s a dog-friendly pub with dogs being allowed in the extensive bar area (though not in the restaurant). That was fine by us, they have that rare combination of reasonably priced but plentiful and high quality food in the bar and we had a very good meal. They also have a lively programme of events. This evening’s was the offer of a game of chess with the landlord – if you beat him then you got two free meals! No-one seemed to be taking him up on his offer though his staff assure us that he’s far from a good player! Richard had a chat with two friendly WRGies (Waterway Recovery Group) who were propping up the bar and got an update on the Droitwich Canal restoration project. We ate our dessert while sitting on a very comfortable squashy sofa in front of their (unlit) fireplace, flanked by the two dogs who were flat out on their sheepskins. To top off the day, as we were leaving we bumped into a couple who own a black rescue greyhound called Nero (though they’d left him at home) – Blue and Lou got an enormous fuss (which they very much appreciated). It was fine end to the day and we were so tired and contented by the time we got back to our beds that we barely noticed the noise of the motorway.

Photoblog:

Surely that can't be one brood?

Surely that can't be one brood?

Last year's mooring - quiet till 3am!

Last year's mooring - quiet till 3am!

Wouldn't it be nice if the Avon was accessible by boat from the GU?

Wouldn't it be nice if there was lift to the Avon?

Bath time?

Bath time?

Missed a bit?

Missed a bit?

Some wildlife Sue photographed in a lock

Some wildlife Sue photographed in a lock (freshwater mussels if you're interested!)

Starting up Hatton

Starting up Hatton

If I lie here .....

If I lie here ..... ... something is bound to drop .... surely they will take pity on me?

Are those Greygal's new wheels?

Are those Greygal's new wheels?

Look we've done loads of locks!

Look we've done loads of locks!

View back down Hatton

View back down Hatton

Approaching Shrewley Tunnel

Approaching Shrewley Tunnel

Bit wet inside

Bit wet inside

TLC required but at what cost?

TLC required but at what cost?

Where is she going?

Where is she going?

Hmmm better check

Hmmm better check

Gorgeous but shallow just behind us ...

Gorgeous but shallow just behind us ...

Across the canal: Something to keep the dogs interested!

Across the canal: Something to keep the dogs interested!

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