Saturday 24 October 2020

Stratford on Avon Canal.Grand Union Canal. Edstone Aqueduct to Knowle.

We’ve put a big tick next to Draper Bridge.

It’s a lovely place to be; quiet, sunny with a very pleasant view. While we were there our daily walks took us along some more bits of the Monarch’s Way... of which took us past the shop in Wootton Wawen which sells 75p Magnum lookalikes. Result!

Despite the sunshine and icecream, the weather was definitely turning. We’ve dug the winter clothes out from under the bed and vac-packed the summer dresses, shorts and sunhats away. The countryside is still full of free fruit, the damsons are still prolific and so juicy that we’ve got a constant bowlful on the table and we’re eating them like sweets. We’ve found the odd bullace tree in between  the abundance of sloes, which has given us some gorgeous looking chutney, and of course we’ve got the obligatory two bottles of sloe gin set up for Christmas. The blackberries are still going and although they’re getting sparser, there’s still more than enough for our breakfast porridge.

After three lovely days there we had to crack on. On a misty morning we slipped our mooring, crossed the fabulous Edstone Aqueduct...

...and headed for Wootton Wawen. The visitor moorings there are 24hrs only, but that was enough for our needs. Dave had been waiting for the towpath to swap sides so that he could drill a hole in the side of the boat for the skin fitting that would provide the drain for the washing machine, and put the second to last piece of that particular puzzle in place.

After he’d finished we took advantage of the sunshine and went out to find another bit of the Monarch’s way. And another 75p ice cream. Just as well we were only there for one night.

On the first official day of Autumn we walked back to Edstone for the car, drove to Chalcote Park (NT) and had a lovely walk around the parkland.

We leapfrogged the car forward to leave it at Lowsonford, and as we walked back to the Legend we came across several boats having difficulty with low water on the Preston Bagot locks. 

We had planned to go up those particular locks that afternoon, but decided instead to moor at the bottom and wait a couple of days until a forecast band of rain had passed, and hopefully raised the water levels a bit.

While it was raining we got all the maps out, downloaded CRT’s planned winter stoppages list, and sketched out our travels for the winter and into next year.

We’d had ideas about going into Birmingham and then exploring the Wirley and Essington canal, but with closures on both the way in and out we realised that it wouldn’t really be possible, so we’ve decided we’re going to skirt round the city. We need to be up the GU and through Knowle locks before they shut in November, and down Camp Hill and Garrison locks before they shut, followed by a right turn onto the Birmingham and Fazely at Spaghetti Junction which will take us to Curdworth on our way to Fazely junction. Hopefully we can do that in a couple of hops; mooring in the city centre is fine but we don’t like stopping for long in the outskirts. So we won’t be seeing much of Birmingham this year, but we can come back and do the Wirley and Essington some other time.

After a day of rain we figured that the locks should be deeper and easier to navigate and, for the most part they were.

However, despite us being only the third boat through that day, the shortest pound was already looking quite low. It only takes one leaky lock to mess up a whole flight and if that lock is at the end of a short pound, as this one was, it doesn’t take long for it to happen. The South Stratford is a really busy canal with lots of hire boats and summer cruisers off to Stratford and the popular Avon Ring; having a difficult lock in the middle of a tightly planned schedule can really cause problems for them. We’d seen several boats running later than usual over the previous couple of weeks and no doubt this one lock was the reason. We consider ourselves extremely lucky that our plans are always flexible enough to allow another couple of days moored somewhere when the going gets tough - or even just because it’s nice where we are. Anyway we got through without trouble and at Lowsonford, - just as it started to rain - we hurriedly moored up in the clearest spot we could find at Moorhills bend, just below the bottom lock.

While we were boating, we got in touch with a Lister engine specialist and ordered some new pistons, rings and barrels for our smoky old SR3, so when we moored up we were £450 worse off. But that’s OK, as in 2020 there was £500 in the holiday budget that hadn’t been touched. We asked for it to be delivered to the Margees, so there was a small chance it was going to be there at the weekend when we went to pick up the new inverter.

When we were on our way down the Stratford 9 years ago, we’d walked over to Henley-in-Arden. We knew this because it was in the diary, but Ann-Marie couldn’t remember it at all and Dave only remembered the Motte and Bailey, so we thought it was time for a revisit.

We found a little cosy café for lunch, had a walk up and down the high street and went home with an ice cream from the co-op. However, despite spending a couple of hours there, neither of us remembered much about our first visit. We were quite encouraged by this. As we are getting close to having navigated the entire system, it has occasionally crossed our minds that sooner or later there won’t be anywhere that we haven’t been, and it’ll all get a bit boring. This is clearly not the case. We’ll happily do the whole thing again, at worst it’ll be like visiting old friends, and at best we’ll be discovering it all anew! 

After a lovely day out at Wenlock edge with Alison and Laura, including a walk along the Edge and a fabulous roast dinner, we came home with our new inverter. Unfortunately the engine parts hadn’t turned up, so we’ll just have to go back again. Ah well. 

The next day we filled the water tank and had a lovely morning boating up to Kingswood junction...

...where we found a hire boat moored in our favourite spot, but as luck would have it they were only there for lunch and pulled out just as we came out of the lock.

We moored there for the first time 9 years ago and we’ve been back at least twice since, so this was our fourth time and it’s starting to feel like home. It does feel strange that we've been doing this long enough to have favourite moorings.

In the morning Dave fitted the new inverter (the final jigsaw piece) and we put a load through the washing machine using only solar power. Most people would be baffled by the amount of excitement this gave us, but we know that you, Dear Reader, having followed our journey from the start, will completely understand why watching our smalls going round and round on nothing but sunshine nearly brought us to tears.

We stayed at the beautiful Kingswood for just over a week.

While we were there Frankie and Harry finally sold their house which was a load of everyone’s minds and means they can now get on with their lives.

It also rained for two days solid, so that when we finally went out for a walk we found one place where the little stream next to the canal was now flowing across the towpath and into the cut, before flowing back the other way a bit further on.

Something else that needs planning and sorting out is our flue pipe. Not the chimney - which does need replacing but is just a matter of picking one up from a chandlers - but the flue pipe from the top of the stove to the roof. It’s rusting through at the top where it goes into the roof collar and although we’ve repaired it with high temperature sealant, that is really only a temporary measure and we need to get it replaced as soon as possible. It’s a bespoke item with a welded angle at each end so that it follows the profile of the boat, so we need to either get the boat to a yard that can do neat, precise fabrication, or arrange a day when we can remove the old pipe and take it in the car. It’s been ongoing since we were at Wallingford and we thought we’d be able to get one made up at Stourport while we were in dry dock, but they were short staffed and too busy. We’ve gone through a couple of other options but the covid restrictions have been making things difficult, and at the moment we are looking for a local fabricator. We’ll let you know how that develops.

 Over the years our DVD film collection has got somewhat out of hand and grown far too large for our little boat. We keep them in zip-up folders to save space, but even though they each take 128 discs there’s still a pile in a cupboard that fall out every time we open the door. This situation had to end, so we’ve started on a campaign to thin them down to just the 5 folders - we think 640 films should be enough - and after that it will be a One in, One out regime. We put about 30 straight into the “Won’t watch again” pile, reunited them with their fly sheets and left them on the book exchange shelf at Kingswood services, and we’ve obviously kept all our old favourites, but that has left us with about 20 in the “Don’t Know” pile. So, as the weather is getting more Autumnal, we have a bag full of films to go through that we either can’t remember or have never seen. That sounds like a good plan to us. 

From our happy place at Kingswood we went up the last lock on the South Stratford, filled and emptied at the services...

... then made the tight right turn into the short Lapworth Link. We chugged slowly under the railway bridge and past the permanent moorings, then with two blasts of the hooter to warn other boats, emerged onto the Grand Union and turned north towards Birmingham.

We didn’t go far, just far enough for a rapid wash, and moored up in a nice looking spot before Bakers Lane Bridge. (We will stop mentioning the washing at some point, but humour us for now.)

We knew we were getting low on gas; it had started to get smelly which is a sure fire indication that it's about to run out. (Apparently, the additive that is put into LPG to make it smell is everso slightly heavier than the gas so it's more concentrated at the bottom of the bottle) Anyway, we were hoping that our second bottle would last until we went to see Yvonne and Martin in Hawne basin where we could get them both exchanged, however the bottle had other ideas and gave up half way through boiling the kettle for our bedtime cuppa. That was sad, but better than running out half way through a shower or cooking dinner.

Dave tried the electric kettle in the morning, but the batteries were having none of it, so he had to resort to the camping cooker for our morning tea. After a cold breakfast we walked back to Kingswood for the car, then exchanged one of our bottles at a local stockist and had a lovely hot cooked breakfast for lunch.

The next day was Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny morning so, with Dave’s yummy Bake-Off Technical Challenge bagels on the back deck...


...we set off for another super mooring at the bottom of Knowle locks with big wide views and plenty of solar. As soon as we were tied up and the washing was out on the line we walked back for the car and went into Solihull for the Waitrose Weekend paper and a Halloween pumpkin. Last year we ended up with a the last one in the shop; a very sorry looking lumpy thing, so this year we didn’t leave it till the last minute and came home with a fine example.

In a few days we’ll ascend the flight, but for now we’ll stay at the bottom and enjoy the view.



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