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Archive for June 22nd, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 26 and 27

Posted by indigodream on 22 June, 2009

Monday 15th June Catherine de Barnes to Wilmcote

Back in the countryside

Back in the countryside

We had a wonderfully quiet night at Catherine De Barnes and had a lazy start to the day, enjoying the luxury of a Monday lie-in when everyone else was busily commuting to work. It’s 25 years since we first met – what a landmark! Tomorrow’s our actual wedding anniversary but that’s just a little one – only 8 years.

We celebrated by boating – an anniversary is a great excuse to be taking days off work!!

It was gone 10am by the time we set off down an increasingly rural canal. There was the brief noisy incursion of the M42 crossing the canal then peace descended again. Unusually for us, we decided to visit the village of Knowle. Nicholson’s highly recommends a visit to the church so we duly set off with the dogs. It’s a pleasant walk down quiet country lanes into the village from Bridge 72. There are some very attractive cottages along the way, though I was a little disappointed by the church itself. Maybe we’re just heathens – there were certainly interesting features (good gargoyles) but possibly not enough to warrant the time after a late start to our cruising day.

The interior of Knowle Church

The interior of Knowle Church

Richard had that ‘look’ on his face, the one he wears when I’ve insisted on doing something that isn’t half as interesting as I’d told him it would be. Luckily his humour, and appreciation of Knowle, was restored when we found an amazing bakery/patisserie on the High Street. We reluctantly declined the pastries as the boat was full of Krispy Crème doughnuts, but we did indulge in some excellent French bread. The dogs had a good run round the park after some pigeons on the way back so we set off for the Knowle locks in fine form.

In some ways, the Grand Union’s a very reliable waterway – once you’re on it you know you’re going to enjoy some unimpeded cruising through a wonderfully mixed English landscape. But this stretch has a unique feature – FLIES! Yes, horsefiles, blackflies, unidentified nuisances and greenfly – Blue retreated to his den in the bow – he has a real fly phobia. Meanwhile Richard was dancing the fly fandango as the horrible horseflies took a fancy to his juicy flesh. We were saved by some super-powerful insect repellent and, later, by an apocalyptic downpour which must have knocked most of the beasts out of the air.

A view from the Knowle Locks

A view from the Knowle Locks

The Knowle flight marks the return to double locks and undisturbed countryside. Each lock has a slightly weird layout where the towpath weaves around the  defunct single locks that used to form the flight. This meant a longer walk between locks and deep confusion for Blue who got stuck at one lock because he couldn’t work out where the path was – he stared down pathetically as the boat moved on. In the end, Richard had to cycle back to get him – I’m afraid that we won’t be entering Blue in the ‘cleverest greyhound’ class in the next dog show! Lou’s intelligence is of a different sort – she just stayed in bed and flatly refused have anything to do with her surroundings.

On the technical side, Richard reports that the towpath side downstream paddles are a little stiff but the offside paddles are easy. The locks empty very quickly and he got into a good rhythm on the flight. The view from the helm is that hovering in the pounds here is a bit tricky as there is a ferocious pull to the left towards the bywash (which runs over where the narrow locks used to be). Stay in the jaws of the upper lock until the next one’s ready if you can.

View up the Knowle flight - it's not that many locks but they certainly do make and impression on the landscape

View up the Knowle flight - it's not that many locks but they certainly do make and impression on the landscape

There’s a big ‘Stephen Goldsbrough’ presence here, as at the Hatton flight. I hadn’t realised that their operation was quite so big. We’ll get a quote from them when we win the lottery……

Fortunately the weather stayed dry for the flight but as we mooched down the canal I realised that I might have been a tad optimistic with my choice of clothing. Being very mindful of the old wives tales I had finally decided that ‘May was out’ and that I’d seen two swallows so it must be safe to put on some summer trousers, a T-shirt and sandals. By the time we got the bottom of the Knowle flight I’d added a fleece, soon after the sandals were replaced by shoes and socks, then the rain started and my knee length waterproof coat came out of the cupboard. And what rain it was – great globules of water and jagged hailstones. It went on and on, drowning out our pitiful bleating – “this wasn’t forecast; there was only supposed to be millimeter of rain today” – ignoring the fact that there was a millimetre of water in each gobbet of rain. You could tell it was bad because Richard even suggested that we stop for half an hour and take shelter! But the canal edge was shallow so we pressed on.

Sylvan waterway - the lovely Lapworth locks

Sylvan waterway - the lovely Lapworth locks

The rain finally stopped when we got to Kingswood Junction. It felt strange to be turning left now instead of right towards our beloved Birmingham. Then I realised that we’d just completed another great loop – what a fantastic odyssey we’re having this year.

The basin just after the turn is lovely and here we saw the first of the barrel-shaped lock cottages that characterise the southernmost stretch of the Stratford canal. Apparently they’re this shape because the original builders used the same technology as they did for forming the road bridges along the canal.

There’s such a different atmosphere here. Richard reports that Lock 22 of the Lapworth flight was slow to empty, lock 23 was slow to fill but we soon stopped thinking about speed.

Typical 'Barrel' shaped lock cottage on the Stratford Canal

Typical 'Barrel' shaped lock cottage on the Stratford Canal

The canal and it’s pastoral surroundings take away all sense of urgency and we felt no need to hurry. The real world intrudes briefly at Lapworth Bottom Lock, where the M40 runs so low over the canal that you can almost reach out and touch the cars. But this is the only inkling of the pace of life back in the real world.

It’s locks all the way along this stretch as the canal falls away from Birmingham’s grand plateau to the floodplains of the Avon.

Richard bravely cycled between the locks. They were more widely spaced now – too close to justify his cadging a lift on the boat but just widely spaced enough to give his leg muscles a workout. Blue roused himself to run around and between a few of the locks but he was nowhere near as active as usual. Lou just stayed on board, having a minor potter around when it suited her.

I must thank the onlookers on Bridge 40 who kindly applauded my perfect lock entry!

Preston Bagot lock cottage

Preston Bagot lock cottage

You might think that an empty and rural canal would get boring after a while but there are bits and pieces of interest. The lock cottage at Preston Bagot Lodge is stunningly attractive and has an intriguing tower as well as lovingly maintained grounds. No wonder they have reflective mirror glass in their windows – it’s a real temptation to stare! Just opposite there’s an unusual woodland. I couldn’t put my finger on what was odd about it until I realised that the trees were growing in straight lines. The trees were tall, slender, graceful and decidious, so not your usual forestry. I thought it would be a real wrench when it came to cutting them down – it’ll leave a big hole in the landscape, even if new trees are planted.

A little further down the Preston Bagot flight I did a double take when I spotted a car lodged in the branches of a tree. Yes, that’s right, someone has hoisted a reliant robin us into the tree and left it there at a stable but crazy angle. Too crooked to be a tree-house, too eccentric to be art; mind you, if you can pickle a shark and call it art then maybe a car in a tree is barely noteworthy!

!!!!!!!

They take SORN declarations seriously round here!

We met a few boats on our travels – mainly hirers but also a pair of hotel boats and later on a single hotel boat. It looked like a pleasant thing to be doing, and the notion of having a crew doing everything for us while we lounged around inside suddenly appealed. A monstrous thunderstorm had brewed up behind us and the clouds were the most boding shade of bruised blue that I’ve ever seen. We saw the lightning flashes and heard the thunder rumbling. Poor old Blue was on the towpath when the thunder started and simply panicked. He ran along the path alternately looking as if he was going to try the 10 foot leap onto the boat and jumping onto other moored boats in an attempt to get back to his ‘safe’ place. Richard had to cycle back and calm him down until I could pull in to get him on board. Lou was untroubled – loud bangs and the like don’t bother her at all; her only phobia is going under railway bridges.

Wootton Wawen

Wootton Wawen Aquaduct with its sunken towpath

We despaired of getting to our target for the day. But fate was with us – the storm was being blown northwards and we were cruising into the sunshine without seeing another drop of rain. We spared a thought for the boats that had passed us – I hope they didn’t get too drenched.

Our first target for the day was Wootton Wawen. It’s a busy boating community with what looks to be a thriving Anglo Welsh hire base as well as generous visitor moorings. But by now the weather had brightened and we were clear of the lowering storm so we carried on to our next target – Wilmcote.

Wilmcote suited us on many levels – its train station is virtually on the canal, it has two dog-friendly pubs, a village shop and convenient road access with largely unrestricted parking for loading/unloading. We arrived quite late so we headed straight to the first of the pubs – the Mary Arden. To find the pubs, walk to the road bridge, turn right, walk past Mary Arden’s House and the first pub is on the junction; turn right again and you’ll see the village shop and the second pub, the Mason’s Arms. We were made welcome in the Mary Arden pub and had a pleasant meal – not spectacular but very satisfying at the end of a long day.

Lou untroubled by the height of the Edelstone Aqueduct

Lou untroubled by the height of the Edstone Aqueduct

We’d thoroughly enjoyed our day’s cruising – there were such contrasts along the way and the bottom of the Stratford Canal is delightful – pastoral scenery, bold aqueducts and friendly pubs – what more can a boater ask for 🙂

Tuesday 16th June

We’ve been “uhming” and “aahing” over what to do today -in the end we settled for the simplest option of staying put in Wilmcote. The reason for this uncharacteristic indecision was the fact that we’re lending the boat to my cousin Denise and family on Friday. My cousin’s daughter, Christina, has just finished her A-Levels and loves Stratford; Denise has been very unwell and I think they all just need a break.

In the end, there were too many reasons for staying in Wilmcote:

  • We were really uncertain about getting a long enough mooring in Stratford (minimum 7-days needed)
  • Wilmcote is a very pleasant place
  • There are 14-day moorings just beyond the winding hole and there is a lively if transient community of boaters inhabiting the 48-hour moorings between the winding hole and the bridge
  • The train station has great connections to Stratford, Birmingham and, as it happens, Leamington Spa (gateway to Surrey without crossing London)
  • The village has TWO dog-friendly pubs
  • The village has a small shop which later proved to be excellent
Lou really did enjoy the view from the Edelstone Aqueduct

Lou really did enjoy the view from the Edstone Aqueduct

The only downside is that Wilmcote doesn’t have any boater facilities, like a water or refuse point but we figured we could always track back to Wootton Wawen if need be.

It was decided, here we would stay. Well, here I’d stay – Richard had to take the train back to Birmingham to get the car while I started the laborious process of deep cleaning the boat.

Cousin Denise is not so fastidious but after months of cruising, especially the 24-hour marathon, Indigo Dream was looking a little lived-in! She looks fabulous now, especially without the heaps of dog beds which we’ve temporarily removed.

The cleaning took nigh on all day and we eventually got away late afternoon. We had a good drive home though – these long days make everything so much easier. It’s only a brief respite – I’ll be back on the boat on Thursday ready to greet Denise and family on Friday. We’ve let them loose on the boat for 24 hours before now (Wyn’s a natural on the helm) but this time they’re taking her for the whole weekend.

Worried, about handing over our beloved boat, of course we’re not worried, that’s why I’ve written them about 20 pages of ‘how to…’ guides 🙂

Photoblog:

Blue wasn't too sure about the geography of the Knowle Locks......

Blue wasn't too sure about the geography of the Knowle Locks......

Locks, what locks, who needs locks when you've got a sofa???

Locks, what locks, who needs locks when you've got a sofa???

Blue the gongoozler

Blue the gongoozler

Towpath sign - bumpy canal coming up??

Towpath sign - bumpy canal coming up??

Blossom on the water

Blossom on the water

Lonesome pines on the Lapworth? Maybe, there aren't many people/boats here.

Lonesome pines on the Lapworth? Maybe, there aren't many people/boats here.

Daddy's girl! Lou will get off the sofa for a fuss.......

Daddy's girl! Lou will get off the sofa for a fuss.......

That's enough rummaging - where's my sofa??

That's enough rummaging - where's my sofa??

Foraging for firewood on a grand scale.....

Foraging for firewood on a grand scale.....

That's the M40!

That's the M40!

"and all our hire boats come with a duck, for that authentic waterways experience......"

"and all our hire boats come with a duck on the roof, for that authentic waterways experience......"

The ducks are exceptionally tame around here...and greedy!

The ducks are exceptionally tame around here...and greedy!

Aqueduct leading into a lock - a unique structure....

Aqueduct leading into a lock - a unique structure....

Just lovely.....

Just lovely.....

Another dog-proof deck - nice open design

Another dog-proof deck - nice open design

Narrow footbridges on this section - they've been given a fair battering judging by the notches, missing bricks and cracking.....

Narrow footbridges on this section - they've been given a fair battering judging by the notches, missing bricks and cracking.....

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