This morning the skies looked ominously grey as we untied the boat. We passed through the boatyard base of the Anglo Welsh hire fleet, and over a small aqueduct. About half a mile further on, we pulled into the new Hill Farm Marina we had spotted on our walk the previous day. We had a slight delay before we could obtain the services we needed, but by 11 am, we were once again underway. We only had one lock to navigate today, I’m sure the crew was happy with that. Next was the Edstone Aqueduct, at 200yds it is the longest in England, as it crosses both a railway and a road.
Sadly the photos are a little grey, due to the fact that the rain which had been threatening for some time, finally arrived. As can be seen, the towpath is to the port side and level with the base of the trough, so walkers get a ducks eye view of the boats as they cross. To the starboard side is a sheer drop of a hundred feet or so. Once across the Aqueduct, our intended mooring was just over a mile further on. We found a nice rural spot, made better by the fact that the rain had gone, and the sun was out. No piling to attach to, so out with the pins once more.
The first mate is planning to abandon ship tomorrow for a few days, meaning me and four legs will have some chores to do, aka respite time. We are now just four miles and sixteen Locks from Stratford upon Avon.
Having had one longish day, it is rare for us to do it again the following day. But yesterday was different, we are on a bit of a schedule, and the weather was forecast to be turning. Therefore, we set off from a delightful spot at Rowington, for Kings Wood junction about a mile away. Here we branched left, leaving the Grand Union Canal for the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
As we made the turn, we left a wide Canal for a narrow one, small Locks and tight bridge holes. The Lapworth link joining the two canals, is only a couple of hundred yards long.
Once through the bridge, it is left for Stratford, and right for Birmingham, we turned left. Joining the Stratford Canal at this point, brings you in at the bottom end of the Lapworth flight.
The crew now had 17 Locks to work, prior to our intended stopping point. The Stratford Canal is a very pretty Canal, with some unusual features. Many of the buildings alongside the Canal, have distinctive barrel shaped roofs.
A further feature is the design of the bridges, which if you look closely, are made in two halves, and not joined in the centre. This gap of an inch or two, allowed the old boatmen to proceed, without having to remove the tow line between the boat, and the horse.
The other thing we have encountered on this Canal, is the fact that many of the bottom gates don’t open fully into their recesses. This means on occasions, exiting the Lock can be a very tight squeeze. The worst by far was Preston Bagot bottom lock, where on first attempt, we came to complete halt half way out. We stopped at Lowsonford for a quick top up with water, close to the Fleur-de-Lys pub, which is renowned for its pies. We have previously visited this pub, together with family on a hire boat holiday, a few years before our boat was commissioned. We carried on cruising until we reached Wootton Wawen, and found a spot just before the hire base.
Today we are having a day of rest and recuperation. We took four legs for his walk along the Canal and beyond the hire base, and located a Marina which does not appear in the guide books. It looks new, so must have been built since the books were last printed. We phoned to establish if they provide services to passing boats, and they do. When we set off tomorrow, we will need diesel and a pump out. Once back at the boat, four legs was left on guard, whilst we went into Wooten Wawen village, a short distance from the Canal. There is an antiques centre located at Yew Tree Farm, it was worth a visit, and I managed to escape without opening my wallet. Then it was onto the Bulls Head P.H for lunch, where I had a very tasty steak and ale pie.
On the way back to the boat, the rain forecast for two o’clock arrived at 1.15pm. We got wet.
So having secured a partner to ascend Hatton Locks, this morning we had a leisurely start. Following breakfast we dumped some rubbish, and settled our bill with the Saltisford Arm Trust. At 10.15 we departed the Arm, closely followed by nb. Joss from Braunston. We began the ascent at 10.30, and decided that one crew would operate the Lock the boats were in, and the other would walk ahead to set the next lock.
As expected on a warm and sunny bank holiday Monday, there were many Gongoozerlers out and about, watching the action. As we ascended the Top Lock we said goodbye to our Lock partners, we were stopping for refreshments, they were carrying on. It was now 14.00, the ascent had taken 3 and a half hours. We tied up on the rings, and had a late lunch at the cafe. The mooring at the top of the flight is heavily wooded, and having just washed a ton of tree sap off the boat, I did not want to remain under the trees for too long. Using a combination of the Nicholsons and Pearsons guide books, and Google Earth, we had identified a suitable spot, a couple of miles away. So once again we set off, soon passing through Shrewley Tunnel, with its unusual towpath Tunnel above.
Rounding a couple of more bends, we arrived at our intended spot. There were some boats moored, but also plenty of room left for us. We picked a spot on the open embankment, with good views across the countryside.
Not an official mooring spot, and with no piling to attach our mooring chains, out came the pins, for the first time this year.
We think we will probably move on tomorrow, but in the morning we may have seized up, so may be not. This is a nice quite spot, if we decide to stay put. We are now just over a mile away from the link between the Grand Union Canal, which continues north to Birmingham, and the Stratford on Avon Canal, which is the way we are planning to go.
So during our stay in the Saltisford Arm, we have taken the opportunity to visit a few places of interest. On Wednesday we took four legs for his walk, and decided to have a look at the Hatton flight of locks, 21 wide locks, stretching over a distance of two miles. It was a warm sunny day, and the weather for the next week is forecast to get even better. Located by the top lock is a cafe, and as it was lunchtime we thought we’d try it out. I had a lock keepers lunch, aka a ploughmans. It was very good. The pork pie was very tasty, and the mature cheddar cheese and pickles plentiful. Walking back was much easier, downhill all the way.
Thursday was a fairly lazy day, although the crew did go shopping, to top up on some fresh supplies. Then on Good Friday, we walked into Warwick to visit the castle. In addition to the castle, we also had a talk about their Trebuchet, normally working but sadly not at present, due to a fractured throwing arm. Following that, a display of birds of prey, this was definitely the highlight of the day. We then had a snack lunch, before finishing with a tour of the dungeons, complete with ghoulish actors.
Warwick Castle is a pricey day out, but you can save a bit, by booking in advance online. Saturday we wandered back into Warwick, this time to visit Lord Leycester Hospital. A very attractive timber framed building approaching 900 years old. It has since at least Elizabethan times, been used to provide support accommodation to ex-service personnel, something that continues today. Currently six are in residence, and they perform various duties, in exchange for their grace and favour accommodation. For history buffs, this beats Warwick Castle. The kitchen doubles as a cafe, and has been in constant use for 500 hundred years, so patrons today, are continuing a long standing tradition. The food produced was of an excellent standard, and the salad was one of the best I’ve had.
Today, Easter Sunday, we headed off for Sunday lunch, at the Cape of Good Hope P.H next to Cape Locks. We had been told the food here was very good, and we were not disappointed. On the way back to the boat, we met another crew also moored in the Arm. During a chat it became apparent, they are also departing tomorrow. We now have locking partners for the Hatton flight. Our stay in the Saltisford Arm has been pleasant. The only issue is the tree cover, which has resulted in copious amounts of sap, dripping onto the boat. There was nothing for it, once lunch had been digested, out came the bucket and sponge.
Today our destination was Warwick. The weather reports were forecasting showers later in the day, so by 9am we were underway. We navigated through the final Fosse Lock, and then shortly after, Radford Bottom Lock. We had a brief period of cruising in the countryside, then we were into the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa. You could tell we were moving from a rural, to a more urban environment, due to the increase in graffiti. However on closer inspection, the graffiti on the run into Leamington Spa, was of an altogether better class than your usual graffiti. It was in fact, some very clever and detailed art work. First we passed through an area of light industry, then housing and finally a retail area. Soon we were crossing an aquaduct over the river Avon, leaving Leamington Spa behind, and entering Warwick. The river Avon is not navigable at this point, but we intend to join it, in Stratford upon Avon in a few weeks. At the hire boat base for Kate Boats, next to bridge 49, we stopped for a pumpout. We could have done with a top up of diesel, but they don’t sell it to the public, despite what the Nicholson’s guide book says, due to the paperwork that needs completing. We now had two more locks to complete, and as a indication of things to come, the direction of travel has changed. Instead of descending, we are now ascending.
Above the top lock, we passed by the Cape of Good Hope, a canalside pub, with a good reputation for its food and ales. I’m sure we will visit it for ourselves, during our stay in Warwick. A few hundred yards further on, we arrived at the junction with the Saltisford Arm. A sharp left turn into the arm, and we manoeuvred to the winding hole. It was lunchtime and no one was around to direct us, so we reversed a bit further along the arm and squeezed our 60 foot boat, into a 61 foot gap.
After lunch we checked in, and fortunately did not have to move. There are a full range of facilities here, including an electric point, so now we are plugged into the mains once again, for a few days at least. Unfortunately the trees to the left in the photo above, block the signal to the satellite dish. We do however have a strong 4G signal, so TV will be streamed for the next few days. Thank goodness for the unlimited data usage on our mobile phones.
During our stay in Long Itchington, we managed to visit two pubs, and had a look at a third. The two we visited were the Two Boats Inn, where on Saturday I enjoyed a steak and ale pie, whilst the furry crew looked on licking his lips. Then on Sunday, we opted for The Cuttle Inn, where we had a very enjoyable three course roast dinner, which included a tasty nut roast for the first mate. This morning, we set off for the water and rubbish disposal point about half a mile away. Once the tank had been replenished, we continued cruising towards Bascote Locks. There are four Locks in the flight, two of which form a staircase. A boat had passed us whilst we were filling with water, but it was well ahead by now, so once again we were alone. The weather was warm in the sunshine, and the wind whilst a bit more blustery, has changed direction and is no longer cold. We had a couple of Locks in open country to navigate, before arriving at the Fosse Locks flight. On approach and before the first Lock came into view, there was a sign on the towpath warning of dredging ahead, and a possible 30 minute delay. Then we saw the dredgers at work.
In fact we were not really delayed at all. The workers moved their equipment quickly to one side, and then proceeded to help work us through the Lock. Exiting the Lock we then passed beneath the Fosse Way, a Roman road that originally linked Exeter with Lincoln. It was from this point on we were looking for a mooring spot. It came into view just above the next Lock.
We are fairly sure we are not in anyone’s way here. The Lock landing is to the right of the picture, and I dare say there would even be room ahead of us to wind a boat if someone was so minded. We now have only six miles and three locks to go before we arrive in Warwick.
Today we were going to cruise the grand total of two miles. It would however include, a flight of ten Locks. By 9 am we left our mooring, and headed on tick over towards the Top Lock of the Stockton flight. The reason for travelling so slowly, was the hope another boat might catch us up, and we would then have a partner through the Locks. It was not to be. Luck however was on our side, as we descended the top lock, a volunteer lockie appeared, and proceeded to set every Lock ahead, in our favour.
During the course of the descent, we met two boats oncoming. It was not nearly as busy on the Canal as yesterday. Maybe it was due to the fact, that being Friday, it was change over day for the hire fleets. We decided that as we were not in a rush, (we barely ever are), the crew would only operate one side of the paddles. This did slow down the emptying process, but it also reduced the amount of hopping across gates.
We still had a way to go, with all the Locks laid out like dominos ahead. Four legs was tapping his paw impatiently on the rear counter, wondering what the hold up was. This is nothing however compared to what awaits us in a few days, or if we are feeling lazy a week or more, (The Hatton Flight). Once through the bottom lock, the mooring we were aiming for, was only a few hundred yards ahead. On arrival we found it empty, and so picked up a mooring on the rings, near to the aqueduct over the river Itchen.
After lunch onboard, we took the furry crew for his exercise, walking up as far as Bascote Staircase Locks, about one and a half miles ahead. He insisted on taking his bright pink frisbee, but it was regularly dropped, whenever he detected an interesting smell. On one occasion into the cut, at which point he just looked at us, as if to say, ‘I’m not getting it, you’ll have to’.
Back from our walk, we settled down to an afternoon of relaxation, and research into which of the six pubs, located in the small village of Long Itchington, we are going to visit.