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Archive for July 15th, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 29

Posted by indigodream on 15 July, 2009

Tuesday 14th July Bridge 63, Stratford Canal to Stratford Upon Avon

Well, we’re on holiday at last – phew! It’s a long story but it feels as if fate has been throwing little obstacles in our way all weekend and I wasn’t sure we’d actually away. You can tell how tired we are – we managed to forget the camera and we’re hoping that we haven’t actually left it exposed to the elements on the front doorstep! Never mind, we’ve got decent camera phones but no leads to download the pictures so we’ll have to do a photoblog when we get home on Saturday.

We were slow to set off to the boat on Tuesday morning but we tried not to be anxious about it – we were meant to be relaxing! And so we did, having a leisurely drive up (I was driving) and managing to avoid the stress of being stuck on the M25 (closed because of an accident) by meandering our way round to the M40 via the M3 and M4 – quite a unique route but very handy under the circumstances.

Now that we’re back in the Midlands we’re getting reacquainted with the Cherwell Valley Services at Junction 10 of the M40. They have the best service station dog-walking area – a large wilderness of field and woodland secure enough for Blue and Lou to have an off-lead rummage. It’s a big selling point – we go to some lengths not to stop at any other services. The fact that it also has a Costa with outside seating where the dogs can lounge and watch us eating paninis is an added bonus. In the old days, the service stations were largely cloned, but now we find ourselves looking for the ones with the best coffee (Costa’s the best, Café Ritazzo – ok at a push, Coffee Primo – no thanks!).

We got back to Indigo Dream mid-afternoon and were glad to see that she was still moored where Richard had left her on Saturday. We had a look at the towpath but it wasn’t obvious why she’d come adrift last week. There was no damage to the bank where the pins had been dragged out but it doesn’t seem like the sort of area where mischief-makers would have set her loose. We lost one mooring pin in the escapade (3 were saved) but that’s better than losing the whole boat!

We dropped the dogs off and went shopping for a week’s supplies. There’s a giant Tesco nearby on a retail park full of large and useful stores. Richard went off to B & Q to look at bloke-stuff while I sorted the domestics (though he did join me at the checkout in time to pay the bill – top man!).

Note: There’s a wide gateway to the towpath at Bridge 63 – it makes a great temporary parking space for loading/unloading stuff to the boat; not suitable for long-term parking as it seems to give car access to the cottage nearby.

It was gone 4pm when we finally set off but it wasn’t a bad afternoon. We got showered every now and then but as soon as we put our coats on the rain stopped. The gusty wind made for some tricky moorings at the locks, but there are few problems that can’t be solved with a few more revs and a strong arm on the ropes!

Now the Stratford Canal’s been very scenic so I was expecting great things of the last drop into the Avon. But I was unpleasantly surprised. Past Bishopston Lock there’s a really charmless bit of canal, surrounded by modern industrial/retail estates and crossed by bleak graffiti’d concrete road bridges. It doesn’t really improve until you pass under Bridge 69 and the canal opens into the smartly developed Bancroft Basin.

But I’m ahead of myself. Just above One Elm Lock we passed Stratford Court Cruisers – a locked up and deserted boat yard and chandlers. It’s apparently gone bust, as so many boating ventures do. It was shame to see a long length of largely deserted moorings there – it looked like a good spot for picking up passing trade for the chandlery and services.

Although it was mid-week, boaters passing up the canal warned us that the town moorings were congested. I felt very sorry for one hire boater (who’d we’d had a pleasant chat with earlier) who’d asked whether he could brest up to another boat in the basin and was refused – he thought that they didn’t want ‘his sort’ there. How sad, especially when it’s often private boaters who behave the worst – as evidenced by a share boat moored inconveniently on the lock moorings directly below Warwick Road Lock.

The fact that the basin moorings were full actually worked in our favour because it forced us to investigate the river moorings. We went through the lock onto the river, watched by a modest audience who graciously gave us a round of applause. It must be heaving here at weekends. We turned right onto the river – we thought that the flow would help us round but the opposing wind was so strong you’d think that the river was flowing uphill! There are very fine moorings on the opposite bank flanking the recreation ground – perfect – great dog-walking and good access to town. There were plenty of spaces there when we moored up just before 7pm; by 7.15pm they were jam-packed.

We ended the evening with a wander round town on our usual search for a dog-friendly hostelry.  This is where Stratford really came up trumps. Surprisingly, it has several dog-friendly pubs but the one we settled on is a gem – Othello’s Bar Brasserie on Chapel Street (CV37 6ER) – 01789269427. We started off with a table in the garden and the owner came out and made a big fuss of the dogs “would they like some water, would they like a biscuit?” – we said ‘yes’ though they’ll often turn their noses up at a dog biscuit. But no, what the landlady brought out was two slabs of what looked like handmade shortbread – Blue and Lou were very impressed. It was nice in the garden, listening to the sounds of the chapel bells, but it soon started raining so we moved inside to a quiet area at the back of the bar where the dogs could just lie quietly out of the way on their sheepskins. We got settled just in time for the arrival of our food; the menu’s more pricey than our usual but the food was truly superb – a real treat for the taste buds and nicely satisfying portions.

Maybe I was feeling a bit squashed by the dull bit of canal leading to the town, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Stratford. It’s a funny old place – the half-timbered old town is certainly charming, the old bridges over the Avon are lovely and Bancroft Basin had been developed beautifully. But unlike the bard, I failed to be inspired.

But what did shine was the people – the locals are so friendly and the loved the greyhounds. As we walked through the town (and in the restaurant) they got so much fuss and so many complements from fellow greyhound owners as well as other sundry animal-lovers. Blue and Lou behaved impeccably and were proud ambassadors for greyhound rehoming. Forget Shakespeare – they like greyhounds here so Stratford’s made!

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> Tuesday t4h July

Well, we’re on holiday at last – phew! It’s a long story but it feels as if fate has been throwing little obstacles in our way all weekend and I wasn’t sure we’d actually away. You can tell how tired we are – we managed to forget the camera and we’re hoping that we haven’t actually left it exposed to the elements on the front doorstep! Never mind, we’ve got decent camera phones but no leads to download the pictures so we’ll have to do a photoblog when we get home on Saturday.

We were slow to set off to the boat on Tuesday morning but we tried not to be anxious about it – we were meant to be relaxing! And so we did, having a leisurely drive up (I was driving) and managing to avoid the stress of being stuck on the M25 (closed because of an accident) by meandering our way round to the M40 via the M3 and M4 – quite a unique route but very handy under the circumstances.

Now that we’re back in the Midlands we’re getting reacquainted with the Cherwell Valley Services at Junction 10 of the M40. They have the best service station dog-walking area – a large wilderness of field and woodland secure enough for Blue and Lou to have an off-lead rummage. It’s a big selling point – we go to some lengths not to stop at any other services. The fact that it also has a Costa with outside seating where the dogs can lounge and watch us eating paninis is an added bonus. In the old days, the service stations were largely cloned, but now we find ourselves looking for the ones with the best coffee (Costa’s the best, Café Ritazzo – ok at a push, Coffee Primo – no thanks!).

We got back to Indigo Dream mid-afternoon and were glad to see that she was still moored where Richard had left her on Saturday. We had a look at the towpath but it wasn’t obvious why she’d come adrift last week. There was no damage to the bank where the pins had been dragged out but it doesn’t seem like the sort of area where mischief-makers would have set her loose. We lost one mooring pin in the escapade (3 were saved) but that’s better than losing the whole boat!

We dropped the dogs off and went shopping for a week’s supplies. There’s a giant Tesco nearby on a retail park full of large and useful stores. Richard went off to B & Q to look at man-stuff while I sorted the domestics (though he did join me at the checkout in time to pay the bill – top bloke!).

Note: There’s a wide gateway to the towpath at Bridge 63 – it makes a great temporary parking space for loading/unloading stuff to the boat; not suitable for long-term parking as it seems to give car access to the cottage nearby.

It was gone 4pm when we finally set off but it wasn’t a bad afternoon. We got showered every now and then but as soon as we put our coats on the rain stopped. The gusty wind made for some tricky moorings at the locks, but there are few problems that can’t be solved with a few more revs and a strong arm on the ropes!

Now the Stratford Canal’s been very scenic so I was expecting great things of the last drop into the Avon. But I was unpleasantly surprised. Past Bishopston Lock there’s a really charmless bit of canal, surrounded by modern industrial/retail estates and crossed by bleak graffiti’d concrete road bridges. It doesn’t really improve until you pass under Bridge 69 and the canal opens into the smartly developed Bancroft Basin.

But I’m ahead of myself. Just above One Elm Lock we passed Stratford Court Cruisers – a locked up and deserted boat yard and chandlers. It’s apparently gone bust, as so many boating ventures do. It was shame to see a long length of largely deserted moorings there – it looked like a good spot for picking up passing trade for the chandlery and services.

Although it was mid-week, boaters passing up the canal warned us that the town moorings were congested. I felt very sorry for one hire boater (who’d we’d had a pleasant chat with earlier) who’d asked whether he could brest up to another boat in the basin and was refused – he thought that they didn’t want ‘his sort’ there. How sad, especially when it’s often private boaters who behave the worst – as evidenced by a share boat moored inconveniently on the lock moorings below Warwick Road Lock.

The fact that the basin moorings were full actually worked in our favour because it forced us to investigate the river moorings. We went through the lock onto the river, watched by a modest audience who graciously gave us a round of applause. It must be heaving here at weekends. We turned right onto the river – we thought that the flow would help us round but the opposing wind was so strong you’d think that the river was flowing uphill! There are very fine moorings on the opposite bank flanking the recreation ground – perfect – great dog-walking and good access to town. There were plenty of spaces there when we moored up just before 7pm; by 7.15pm they were jam-packed.

We ended the evening with a wander round town on our usual search for a dog-friendly hostelry. This is where Stratford really came up trumps. Surprisingly, it has several dog-friendly pubs but the one we settled on is a gem – Othello’s Bar Brasserie on Chapel Street (CV37 6ER) – 01789269427. We started off with a table in the garden and the owner came out and made a big fuss of the dogs “would they like some water, would they like a biscuit?” – we said ‘yes’ though they’ll often turn their noses up at a dog biscuit. But no, what the landlady brought out was two slabs of what looked like handmade shortbread – Blue and Lou were very impressed. It was nice in the garden, listening to the sounds of the chapel bells, but it soon started raining so we moved inside to a quiet area at the back of the bar where the dogs could just lie quietly out of the way on their sheepskins. We got settled just in time for the arrival of our food; the menu’s more pricey than our usual but the food was truly superb – a real treat for the taste buds and nicely satisfying portions.

Maybe I was feeling a bit squashed by the dull bit of canal leading to the town, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Stratford. It’s a funny old place – the half-timbered old town is certainly charming, the old bridges over the Avon are lovely and Bancroft Basin had been developed beautifully. But unlike the bard, I failed to be inspired.

But what did shine was the people – the locals are so friendly and the loved the greyhounds. As we walked through the town (and in the restaurant) they got so much fuss and so many complements from fellow greyhound owners as well as other sundry animal-lovers. Blue and Lou behaved impeccably and were proud ambassadors for greyhound rehoming. Forget Shakespeare – they like greyhounds here so Stratford’s made!

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