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The Odyssey 2009: Day 30

Posted by indigodream on 16 July, 2009

Wednesday 15th July Stratford upon Avon to Robert Aickman Lock

We had a quiet night on the recreation ground moorings in Stratford – the only noise came from the abundant wildfowl, squawking and pecking the side of the boat from about 4am onwards. There was also the persistent creak of our ropes as Indigo Dream rocked in the brisk wind.

The day dawned fair, rainy, fair, no, rainy, make that fair – you get the picture!

I had a very relaxed morning but Richard and the dogs had chores to do. There was the recreation ground to explore, scent marking to be done (the dogs not Richard, just in case you were wondering), and an Avon licence to be paid for. Richard got our licence from the Tourist Information Centre by Bancroft Basin – £55 for a through licence! Whoa – a sharp intake of breath followed – it seemed a bit steep for what will probably be a maximum of 3 days’ cruising. But the more we learnt about the Avon and its restoration, the less we begrudged the money, and by the end of the day I was actually amazed that they’d managed to keep it so cheap!

It’s a convivial mooring here – lots of passers-by and fellow boaters. We had an interesting visit from one of our neighbours who wanted to have a look at our side-hatch. He’s bought an ex-hire boat (bargain apparently) from the stricken Stratford Court Cruisers (we passed a few more of these bargain boats downriver) and is gradually giving it a make-over. He, and his contractors, came on board for a nosey and I was impressed by how much interest his contractors took in the construction of the side-hatch. I’m sure they’ll do a good job for him.

Richard’s next chore was to cycle back to Bridge 63 to get the car and bring it down to Stratford. We’d scouted out some CCTV’d street parking at the back of the train station and we’re now perfectly placed for our return journey. In the meantime, the dogs loafed around and so did I – bliss!

Oh, while I remember, I must mention that the last few narrow locks on the Stratford Canal are incredibly uneven – some are broader at the top than the bottom but one is actually narrower at the top with a nasty brick ledge that could catch you locking up; some have kinks in the middle – name an irregularity and you’ll find it here. No problem for us, as Indigo Dream hasn’t started her middle-aged spread yet; but if you’re in an older/wider boat then beware!

Back to today – we pottered the morning away and ate lunch while enjoying the views and the company. I was allowed to give a big fuss to a very dainty greyhound who was on holiday from Scotland with her owners. She was a gorgeous girly and Blue was very taken by her. Lou, after the initial noisy introduction, just sloped back to bed, disinterested.

We reluctantly got moving after lunch – it was a bit of an effort. Although we’re a bit ambivalent about whether Stratford deserves its huge reputation, the river moorings were a very pleasant place to while away the time. But it was time to go, so we swung back into the flow and headed downstream. I was on the helm and marvelled again at how the river just feels so much more alive than the canals. Immediately past the moorings there’s a chain ferry doing a brisk cross-river trade. We nipped past between trips but they have a fast turnaround so be prepared to hit the gas!

The first lock of the day was the Colin P Witter lock. It’s a curious construction as the lock chamber has a ‘canopy’ of steel beams running across it. I have no idea why, nor do our guide books. In common with most of the Avon locks though, it is named after an individual. I think this gives a really personal touch – speaking, as it does, of the enormous effort and funding that it must have taken to restore the river to navigation.

It’s hard for me to get my head round that – restoring a river. How can a river fall into disuse? It’ll always be there; it can’t be filled in or ignored. But I guess it’s the trappings of the navigation – deep channels, moorings and lock/weir infrastructures that decay with time and neglect.

We met the resident restaurant boat, the Evesham Princess, coming upstream here. They got the lock ready for us and gave us the useful advice that it was ok not to rope up if you were locking down; but it was essential when locking up as the locks are very turbulent. They also only opened the one gate for us, which is contrary to the navigation trust’s guidance. But the locks are enormously wide – Indigo Dream passed through the one gate with plenty of room to spare and we didn’t come close to touching a gate all the way downriver.

I’m so glad that this river is open, it is absolutely lovely – we’ve constantly cursed ourselves for forgetting the camera – we’ve missed so many stunning photographs. After just one day the Avon has shot up second position in my favourite river league table (after the mighty and flamboyant Thames). It’s hard to compare it to any of the other rivers – the Avon is a character in its own right. It has beautiful scenery, enough locks and bridges to give a bit of interest, and, most importantly, plenty of visitor moorings. The majority of the locks have free overnight moorings and most are quiet and attractive. We’re moored up just below the verdant and sheltered Robert Aickman lock. The shelter’s important – it’s been a windy day, which has added to the usual thrill of being on a river!

But our choice of a mooring spot wasn’t without some drama, but I’ll come to that in a minute.

Despite the recent heavy rainfall, the river levels were well into the green and the relative lack of flow made for easy cruising and crystal clear water. This means that you can see the abundant water weed flowing beneath you and easily spot any shoals on the bends. There are a few shallows to watch out for, in particular just below Brake Weir Lock (aka Anonymous Lock and Gordon Grey Lock) – don’t cut the corner coming upstream as there’s an extensive shoal on the inside of the bend leading to the lock moorings.

A little way down from the triple-named lock, the river’s crossed by a massive railway bridge now disused but still carrying the ‘Greenway’ – a lengthy footpath/cycleway. Despite its massive steel construction, the bridge is very obviously rusting away. Richard says that they give up on maintaining the bridges when the railway closes but it seems unlikely that they’ll just allow tons of steel girders to eventually fall into the river, so who’s responsible?

Soon after, we passed through a residential area with large houses set well above the flood plain, each with its own extensive paddock sloping down to the river. In one case, it seemed as if one house had corralled its next door neighbour by taking possession of fields surrounding them. There’s probably a ripe tale to tell there…..

I was also amused by another neighbourly mismatch where one house was flying the purposeful Union Jack at the bottom of its garden, while nb. Aimless Wanderings was moored at the bottom of the adjoining property.

It was also here that Richard saw a foot long fish somersaulting out of the water. We guessed it was escaping from a pike. Many of the very friendly fishermen along the river were after pike, though most that we talked to said the river had no fish in it today. Later on we saw a pair of kingfishers, obligingly perched on a fishing platform – curses, where’s the long lens when you need it. They were beautifully iridescent.

The dogs very much enjoyed the river – it wasn’t too hot for a rummage and as most of the locks seem to be in the middle of nowhere, they were off and exploring at every one. We shared locks for a while with a hireboat and its Danish crew. They soon got used to the saga of us trying to get our errant dogs back on board at each lock, though they never did stop laughing at the spectacle!

There are some interesting bridges on the Avon with some eccentric navigational requirements – although the river navigation is on the right (as you’d expect), both Binton and Bidford bridges have navigable arches on the far left, and they’re only 1-way so do keep a lookout. The bridges are unique in their ancient construction and uneven, low and narrow arches – if you’re not on the helm (there are odd currents through the arches) then take time to enjoy the sight of them.

Bidford itself is a thriving boating town. Unusually (if the guides are to be believed), there were a few visitor moorings free there, but we decided to carry on. Having passed so many wonderful lock moorings, we fancied a bit of peace and quiet and aimed to moor either above Robert Aickman lock or above George Billington lock.

Robert Aickman Lock is a popular spot – the 24 hour moorings above the lock were fully occupied by three narrowboats whose crews had obviously arranged a rendezvous. The lock operating moorings on the other side were occupied by an ignorant cruiser which had been left there while its crew went off for a wander (with no intention of passing through the lock). I had to drop Richard off in the lock jaws then pull back to hover – not particularly desirable on a river on a windy day, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go. There wasn’t a drama – after all I am an experienced helmswoman and the wind, mercifully, had dropped, but it was just so inconsiderate of the cruiser to have blocked the lock moorings.

With the Robert Aickman moorings full, George Billington lock got the vote, not least of which because there’s a pub nearby. But I was disappointed when we got there. It’s obviously a popular spot, flanked by a caravan park and the ‘footbridge’ over the lock cut was open to fishermen and their cars so it didn’t offer the uninhabited countryside that we’d hoped for. We tied up anyway but then we heard the resounding bangs of a bird-scarer in a nearby field; unfortunately so did Blue and he has a real noise phobia. We managed to get him off the boat so that we could go and explore the dog-friendly pub across the river. But although there was a bridge over the lock cut, there wasn’t one over the weir stream so were cut off.

Note: If you want to eat at the ‘The Fish’ then you must moor on the left bank (going downstream) before the river splits for the lock/weir.

By now Blue was beyond of stressed so we gave up, reversed out of the lock cut, turned round and headed back for Robert Aickman lock – fortunately the overnight moorings below the lock were empty. Unfortunately we can still hear the bird scarer in the distance Blue is still a bag of nerves (Lou is completely unconcerned). We forced him off the boat for the essentials but he’s run back to his bed in record time.

Apart from the distant bangs of the dog, sorry, bird scarer, this is a magical place to moor. It’s surrounded by lush woodland and there’s an interesting but overgrown old mill overlooking the lock. There’s the soothing sound of water rushing down the old millstream and the far cry of rooks going home to their rookeries. All very normal, which is just what we need having just watched the hair-raising final episode of the recent Torchwood series (downloaded onto BBC iplayer – brilliant)!

2 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 30”

  1. Greygal said

    Good to hear that there are lots of visitor moorings. We’ve always been a bit hesitant about the Avon (and rivers generally) what with our ‘doggie needs’ – poor Arthur has to go at least every four hours now he’s getting an OAP and I couldn’t bear the thought of him puffing away in distress while we try to find somewhere to land! We’ll add it to the list!

  2. indigodream said

    Now that we know Arthur’s needs we’ll keep a look out for doggie facilities for him!

    Having said that, I think he’d even be ok on the Severn as it’s a couple of hour from Tewkesbury to Upton; then another couple to Worcester, then four hour to Stourport (though you could have a sneaky stop at one of three pubs in-between).

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