I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Sunday 23 July 2023

July 2023 - The Last Few Days

Below Wood Lock No. 19 (Grand Union Canal) – Tuesday 18th July

Today was a very quiet day.  We didn’t have that far to go and only 6 locks to negotiate. 

We did the 2 Cape Locks then moored up just outside Tesco in Leamington, just for a top up of fresh stuff. 

4 more locks and then that was us for the day! 

I’m not too sure about these short days.  I seem to spend the afternoons listening to my talking book and missing half of it as I have gone to sleep!  I never sleep in the afternoons, but maybe as I’m now 70, I am allowed to! 

Here is a potted history of Royal Leamington Spa and how it got its name.  Originally a small village called Leamington Priors it was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Lamintone.  it grew into a spa town in the 18th century following the popularisation of its water which was reputed to have medicinal qualities. In the 19th century, the town experienced one of the most rapid expansions in England.  Leamington became a popular spa resort attracting the wealthy and famous, with numerous Georgian townhouses built to accommodate visitors. In 1838 Queen Victoria granted the town a 'Royal' prefix, and 'Leamington Priors' was renamed 'Royal Leamington Spa'. Queen Victoria had visited the town as a Princess in 1830 and as Queen in 1858. The growth of Leamington was rapid; at the time of the first national census in 1801, Leamington had a population of just 315, by 1851 this had grown to 15,724, and by 1901, the population had reached 26,888.  As the popularity of spa resorts declined towards the end of the 19th century, the focus of Leamington's economy shifted towards becoming a popular place of residence for retired people and for members of the middle class, many of whom relocated from Coventry and Birmingham.  Earlier this year The Sunday Times named Leamington as the best place to live in the Midlands.

Today’s photos are some left over from Stratford-upon-Avon as we left on Friday.

6.69 miles
6 locks

Daventry Road Bridge No 19 (Grand Union Canal) – Wednesday 19th July

We set off with our destination being the Blue Lias. 

Just after Wood Lock we came across where HS 2 will be going.  It really is a big scar on the landscape, but I guess it will go back to green and pleasant fields one day, though there will be trains speeding through it.

The next lock was Welsh Road Lock and I love the history of the Welsh road which goes over the adjoining bridge.  The road is so called because it was the route of the old drovers’ that dates from way back before the Elizabethan era. There was a time when men spent all summer on the roads driving cattle from Wales to the Midlands and to the cities of Southern England for fattening and for butchering.  As more people left the countryside to work in towns, the demand for fresh meat increased and drovers from Wales brought herds as large as 300 to fulfil these demands. With six to twelve men per herd, and only the foreman on horseback, they herded animals with the help of corgi dogs. They covered about ten miles a day, taking up to three weeks to reach London. Then there was the long walk back home.  Drovers were paid a couple of shillings a day. In October 1836, David Johnathon’s drovers spent 18 shillings in the Southam taverns, Southam being one of nineteen overnight stops on their way. Some drovers never made it home again. In Southam churchyard there are the graves of several Welsh drovers, including Robert Lloyd of Dduallt who was buried there on August 31st 1773. He is recorded as having died through ‘drinking small beer when hot’ at the King’s Head (Craven Arms) when on his way to London.

Next were the three Bascote locks.  1 single and a staircase of 2 locks.

We picked up a single hander at Itchington Bottom lock (I often wonder where the top lock is).  The guy had only had his boat for 2 weeks and seemed more than happy to let Richard do all the work!  We pulled over at the Blue Lias as planned, moored up, went and had a drink and thought, the sun is shining and a boat has just come down the Stockton flight so why don’t we just go for it??  Back to the boat, cast off and up the locks.  They were all in our favour and we did the 8 locks in just under an hour.  We cruised on until we found a nice spot to moor up for the rest of the day.

The Blue Lias is a riot of colour. 

We will go to the marina tomorrow and then drive home on Friday instead of Saturday.

5.2 miles
15 locks

Dunchurch Pools Marina (Grand Union/Oxford Canals) – Thursday 20th July

We didn’t have far to go today. The three Calcutt Locks weren’t far away, and they were all in our favour. 

Calcutt Marina

I found this little fellow while I was waiting for Richard to open the gate at Calcutt Locks. 

Richard already had the gate open for the second lock. 

Down to the junction with the Oxford Canal and along one of our favourite stretches of canal though it is getting very overgrown now.  While we were cruising along, I made a chicken dish for dinner and the freezer.

Dunchurch didn’t have the flags and banners out for our return – huh!

We spent the afternoon sorting out and getting ready for leaving in the morning.  Poor Muffin was exhausted! 

Braunston is at the very heart of the English canal system – a key point between North and South. Braunston captures the imagination of waterway writers, artists and photographers, and, with its unique environment, is a living historical monument.  In 1768 the Oxford Canal was formed to link the Coventry Canal at Longford, via Banbury to Oxford, then to London via the Thames.  Ease of construction was crucial to avoid unnecessary locks, embankments and so on, so by 1774 it followed the contours via Rugby and Hillmorton, to Braunston. The canal came to where the entrance to Braunston Marina is now, turned sharp right and continued to Napton.  Soon a shorter, faster route to London was needed, resulting in the Grand Junction Canal Company Act of 1793. The canal joined the Oxford Canal at the present marina entrance, up the 6 locks, through the tunnel and south to Brentford via Tring and Hemel Hempstead. All the locks are double width, and the canal is straighter and wider than the contour Oxford Canal.  Between 1829 and 1833 the Oxford Canal was shortened to avoid some of the twisting route from Braunston to Napton. This resulted in a new junction at Braunston, the ‘Braunston Turn’ and the original Oxford Canal being terminated to form an arm at the wharf.

9.82 miles
3 locks

Hayling Island – Friday 21st July

It didn’t take long to pack up as we have it down to a fine art now.  We soon said goodbye to Mary H and set off on our journey home.  It was a relatively good journey home bearing in mind it was a Friday and the fact that a huge lorry stacked high with enormous straw bales had broken down on a roundabout and caused a long tail back.

To sum up our summer cruise.  We were aboard for 7 weeks in total, 2½ weeks back in May and 4½ weeks this time.  Richard had a bad back in April which meant that he and his son didn’t get to the boat and take it up to Stone, which curtailed where our original plan.  However, we joined the Staffs and Worcs going via Leicester (as you do!) and enjoyed the River Soar as always.  Having left Mary H at Otherton Boat Haven at the end of May we returned in mid-June.  We were dubious about joining the BCN Explorer Cruise, but decided to go for it and I’m glad we did.  The BCN canals were interesting, to say the least.  We were surprised at how rural about 95% of it was but the canals were very weedy with Richard spending a lot of the time down the weed hatch.  The people we were with were interesting as they all came from different parts of the country.  We were able to cruise with old friends Steve and Diane, which was lovely, and we made new friends in Steve and Tracey with their dogs Maggie and Ted.  We cruised the River Severn and the River Avon (my favourite river) and then returned to Dunchurch Pools.  We have been surprised at how quiet the waterways have been.  There was mooring available at practically all the mooring places on the River Avon, usually it can be a bit of a struggle to find somewhere.  Most schools break up today so maybe that will change.

Total miles    298
Total locks     293

I’m going to finish the blog with this lovely photo of Ted from Over the Moon.  His mother was a Westie and his father a Bichon Frise.  He really is the most adorable dog.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

July 2023 - South Stratford Canal and the Hatton Flight

Lowsonford (South Stratford Canal) – Saturday 15th July

We wanted to get away before the rain and the wind came in and we were actually away at 7.50am!

The sun was shining though there were some threatening clouds around.

We went over Edstone Aqueduct which is one of three aqueducts on a 4 miles length of the canal.  At 475 feet Edstone is the longest cast iron aqueduct in England, (the Pontcysyllte is in Wales!)  It crosses a minor road, a stream, a field and a railway line.  The aqueduct was completed in 1816 and its cast iron trough is formed of 35 separate sections bolted together, which sits on thirteen brick piers, creating 14 spans. The trough is 8.9 ft wide, and 4.9 ft deep. The towpath is set level with the base of the trough, which is a somewhat unusual design feature.

We came up to Hill Farm Marina where Over the Moon is moored.  We couldn’t see her.  I took the first photo on the 16th July 2017 when the marina had just been started, it opened in October 2017, they must have worked really hard in that time!  The second was taken today. 

We had one short shower which really wasn’t anything, but the wind was getting stronger.  What with the wind and the strong bywashes, it was very difficult to get into locks without banging the sides.  What is a bywash?  Well, an overflow is formed by diverting surplus water over a weir instead of allowing it to flow over the lock gates. It then flows via a small tunnel or behind the lock into the lower pound.  All the rain on Friday has added lots of water to the canal so the bywashes are strong.  

We got to Lowsonford and had the last mooring.  I hadn’t felt well all day and slept for 2 hours in the afternoon which is most unlike me.  I felt somewhat better after it.

In the evening we went to the Fleur de Lys pub which is a short walk away.  We have always had a good meal there but today sadly mine wasn’t.  I had a chicken burger which was very overcooked, and I really couldn’t eat it.  The manager took it off the bill and gave us two ice creams free of charge.  That’s the second time in three days that I have had overcooked chicken.  I know it is better than it being undercooked, but when you can’t get your knife through it ….. !! 

7.43 miles
8 locks

White Bridge No 61 (South Stratford/Grand Union Canals) – Sunday 16th July

We left at 9.45am – a lie in today!

I said yesterday about the bywashes, well today they were just as bad. However, our third lock was a dream!  It was empty and there was no bywash, I got straight in with no banging!

The peace and tranquillity of the canals was shattered at our fourth lock as the M40 goes over the top. 

I took this photo as the sun was shining and all was well with the world 😊 

Along the South Stratford Canal are some barrel roof shaped cottages.  These were built for lengthsmen and were that shape as craftsmen who built the house were so used to constructing barrel-vaulted bridges that they used the same technique for the cottage roof.  Most of them have been extended and the cottage at Lowsonford can be hired through the Landmark Trust. 

Just before the last lock were these heifers and bullocks enjoying a paddle. 

We completed the 9 locks in 2¼ hours which we felt was a good time.  Some of the locks were against us but most of them were in our favour.

We filled up with water in Lapworth Basin and then continued onto the Grand Union Canal, where we moored up.

4.53 miles
9 locks

Cape of Good Hope (Grand Union Canal) – Monday 17th July

As we had stopped short of Hatton Top Lock last night, we had to make an early start.  It is much better to do the Hatton flight earlier in the day when it is usually quieter. 

We left our mooring at 8.50am!  I’ll let you into a secret – I was still in bed!!  It didn’t take us long to get to the top of the flight where we met The Laird, a long term hire boat with its Aussie crew.

At lock 2 we picked up a volockie who stayed with us for about 10 of the locks.  It makes such a difference having that one extra person as it means that someone can go on ahead to set the next lock.  It was strange as some locks were with us, and some weren’t, and we didn’t see anyone in front of us.

I would like to boost this post with all sorts of horror stories about our trip down the flight, but there weren’t any!!  Everything went really well, and we completed the 21 locks and dropped down 142 feet in 3¼ hours.

These are just a few of the photos I took today. 

We said goodbye to our Aussie lock buddies at Budbrooke junction as they were going into the Saltersford Arm for a couple of days while we were going down towards the Cape of Good Hope and mooring up there.

A little bit of history on the Hatton Locks.  The flight was opened in December 1799 on the Warwick and Birmingham Canal. In 1929, the canal was renamed as the Grand Union Canal and the decision was made to widen the Hatton stretch. In order to accommodate traders with heavy cargos of coal, sugar, tea and spices up the flight, the locks were widened to 14 feet – allowing navigation by industrial boats or two single narrowboats. The widening was completed in the mid-1930s using a workforce of 1,000, and the revolutionary concrete lock system was opened by Prince George, Duke of Kent.  The flight was known as the "stairway to heaven" due to the difficulty of the flight and the subsequent easier journey to Camp Hill where the workmen would receive their wages.

5.52 miles
21 locks

Saturday 15 July 2023

July 2023 - Goodbye River Avon and goodbye to our new friends, Steve and Tracey

Stratford-upon-Avon (River Avon) – Wednesday 12th July

This lovely house was across the river from us. I wouldn’t say no to it! 

We pulled away from the moorings and went under Bidford Bridge.  The bridge is a scheduled monument and is Grade I listed.  It dates from the early 15th century but has been repaired many times; in the 16th century stone from Alcester's demolished priory was used. In 1644, supporters of Charles I demolished the bridge to cover his retreat from Worcester to Oxford - this was repaired in 1650.   In June 2015, a farm vehicle passing over the bridge struck the parapet, resulting in "significant damage to the... stone parapet, spandrel wall and central pier" and the bridge's closure to all but cyclists and pedestrians.  Now, I found this bit interesting

The temporary access scaffold required to complete the works had to consider the ancient monument status of the bridge so could not be tied into the structure. Suspending a scaffold from the carriageway was also unsuitable because the bridge could not withstand the kentledge weight required. The chosen solution was for the scaffold to be founded on the river bed with tubes secured around piers providing anchorage. 

We found what is left of the tree that had fallen across the river yesterday.

Ted joined Muffin on lock keeper duty at Bidford Grange Lock, though they both look as if they want to be back on board. 

I just love this house which is below Welford Lock. 

Welford Lock always look nice with the flower troughs on the bridge. 

This is the new Shakespeare Marina which is just by Weir Brake Lock.  It has been open just over a year and there still seem to be quite a few spaces.  

As we approached Stratford the sky looked really threatening.  We have had a lot of these which come to nothing, this was no different. 

I always love this view. 

The final lock on the River Avon is the Colin P. Witter Lock, also known as the Stratford Trinity Lock.  This lock, because of its unusual depth and the unstable nature of the ground (silt pit) was the most difficult to build, which accounts for the unusual girders used to stabilise the structure.  The work was done by men from Gloucester Gaol and other volunteers.  I had to smile at this comment “Once famously described by a lady councillor as "Mr Hutchings' monstrous erection in the park."” 

There is less and less mooring on the park at Stratford as the geese are taking in over and leaving a dreadful mess, however we managed to get two spaces outside the Avon Bowling Club.

We sat out in the evening and only had to shelter under a tree once when a heavy shower came.  It’s strange as the sky turns black, and we think it is going to pour, but there are only a few drops.

9.56 miles
6 locks

Stratford-upon-Avon (River Avon) – Thursday 13th July

A day off today.

We caught the little chain ferry across the river to the “main land” and wandered up to the basin.  We decided to have an early lunch as the place was really busy but really pretty with lots of very colourful hanging baskets.  

We chose Carluccio’s as they had a spare outside table.  The service was very slow and then it started to rain, gently at first.  There were three tables under a sun umbrella but they were all taken but luck was on our side and one became free so we jumped under it.  The only trouble was that only 2 chairs were under the umbrella!!  As Richard and I had rain jackets with us we sat out in the rain – by this time it was pouring!!  

We shuffled around and managed to get Richard and my food under the umbrella but I was still sat out in the rain   Finally another table came free and we will able to sit in the dry.  I had Chicken Milanaise which was very dry and unpalatable.  The rain finally stopped and we popped into M & S for milk and fruit and walked back to the boat. 

We came back on the chain ferry too.  It opened in 1937, and was the last of its kind to be built in Britain. By 2006, the ferry was carrying 100,000 people a year, and it was proposed that it be moved to make way for a new bridge. However, in 2010, the ferry vessel resumed service at its original location after an overhaul and restoration work. 

We sat out in the evening for our last evening together and Steve even popped a bottle of champagne (the proper stuff!). 

The River Avon we are on is also known as the Warwickshire Avon or Shakespeare's Avon, to distinguish it from several other rivers of the same name. 

Beginning in Northamptonshire, the river flows through the counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, near the Cotswold Hills area. It has traditionally been divided since 1719 into the Lower Avon, below Evesham, and the Upper Avon, from Evesham to above Stratford-upon-Avon.

Improvements to aid navigation began in 1635, and a series of locks and weirs made it possible to reach Stratford, and to within 4 miles of Warwick. The Upper Avon was tortuous and prone to flooding and was abandoned as a means of navigation in 1877. The Lower Avon struggled on, and never really closed, although by 1945 it was only navigable below Pershore. Restoration of the lower river as a navigable waterway began in 1950 and was completed in 1962. The upper river was a more daunting task, as most of the locks and weirs no longer existed. Work began in 1965 on the construction of nine new locks and 17 miles of river, using mainly volunteer labour, and was completed in 1974 when it was opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Featherbed Lane Bridge No 59 (River Avon/South Stratford Canal) – Friday 14th July

Oh dear – what a day!!!  We knew it was going to be wet but none of us knew how wet.  I walked up to the lock to set it, but it was ready anyway. 

It was even too wet for the ducks who were sheltering on the lock gate! 

Through the lock, through the basin and onto the first proper lock on the South Stratford.  The rest of the journey is really a blur of locks and rain.  We had 16 locks to do, 11 of which were the Wilmcote flight. 

We had help from some volockies on the middle of the Wilmcote flight and their help was very much appreciated, but as we were probably the only people using the locks today, they were probably grateful for something to do!

Somewhere around the middle of the flight, opposite the volockies office is this lovely garden, it really helped cheer me up. 

We pulled over not far from the top lock, but Over the Moon had another hour to go before they reached their marina.

I had been standing at the helm for 4 hours in the pouring rain and was so cold and my back hurt.  The rain had gone through my sailing jacket and trousers and when I stripped off only my knickers were dry!  Even my socks were wet, and I had had my wellies on.  Muffin had had his rain jacket on and had been shivering as the rain had gone through that too.  He would get off occasionally and run between the locks and at other times he was down below.  I took his jacket off, grabbed the hair drier and he just stood there loving every minute of its hot air.  Richard was just as wet but at least he had been moving.  We both had hot showers and did absolutely nothing all afternoon.

We didn't have chance to say goodbye to Steve, Tracey, Maggie and Ted which was a great shame.  We have so enjoyed their company this last couple of weeks.  I hope we can catch up with them next year.

3.66 miles
17 locks

Thursday 13 July 2023

July 2023 - The lovely River Avon

Pershore (River Avon) – Sunday 9th July

We weren’t moving today so we were able to have a lie-in.  A luxury we haven’t been able to have for two weeks! 

There is an Asda across the park, so Steve and I set off to fill up the fridges and freezers.

Though we didn’t go into the town on this visit we have been before, and it is a lovely town which has lots of elegant Georgian architecture. In 1964 the Council for British Archaeology included Pershore in its list of 51 British "Gem Towns" worthy of special consideration for historic preservation, and it has been listed as an outstanding conservation area.  These are a couple of photos I took in 2017. 

Pershore is known as the capital of plum growing.  Its association with the plum is not a new thing, the area has been famous for its fruit growing since medieval times. Early in the 19th century the Pershore Yellow Egg Plum was found growing wild in Tiddesley Wood and by 1870 records show that over 900 tons of the fruit were being sent to market during harvest time.  To celebrate this famous fruit, Pershore holds a Plum Festival throughout the month of August, when the town turns “plum crazy” and the grand finale of this festival is the Plum Fayre and Farmers Market on August Bank Holiday Monday. 

It was a strange afternoon.  We started by sitting out until the rain came, so we all packed up our chairs and moved back inside our respective boats.  A bit later we were outside again, jackets on as the sun went in, jackets off as the sun came out.  Under a big tree as it rained, out in the sun, back under the tree until it really did pour and we all gave up and went inside.

Evesham (River Avon) – Monday 10th July

The forecast wasn’t good again for today, so we made an early start to try and get into Evesham before it rained too hard.

The first lock was Wyre Lock, which is a diamond shaped one.  From my research I discovered that once it was turf sided.  It is thought that was once six turf sided locks on the River Avon. It is an ancient navigation, and it is thought that the diamond turf locks were built in an effort to reduce erosion of their earth sides by water from the top paddles when they were opened. A diamond lock might have made it easier for unpowered barges to enter (at an angle) as the weir stream below can be tricky. Also the "modern" walled lock was once larger too. The retaining walls were crumbling so a new wall was built against the old one.

We had some left over bread, so I fed the ducks.  I know I shouldn’t give them bread but there wasn’t much of it. 

Fladbury Lock has to be, not only my favourite lock on the Avon, but on the whole canal system.  It is so pretty.  Back in 2021 I discovered that the building in the photo is not Fladbury Mill, that is situated on the other side of the weir, this is Cropthorne Mill which was built in the later 18th Century or early 19th Century.  It is Grade II listed.   Fladbury Mill was first mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1086 the Bishop of Worcester held the mill.  It was worth 10S a year and the yearly rent was 20 sticks of eels.  Eels were usually counted in units called sticks.  25 eels – this is likely from the number of eels you could smoke on a stick at one time. 10 sticks of eels were called a bind.

Also looking over the weir is this lovely house.

Richard and Steve taking care to let the water into the lock very slowly.  The locks on the Avon are very violent and the paddles have to be lifted very slowly.  You have to rope on at the front and back, none of this centre line business!  This is something which, I think, nearly all boaters do and if they don’t they soon decide it’s a good thing to do.

Chadbury Lock is a special lock for me.  Friends, Mike Rayne and his partner Jenny, lived in Evesham until both of them sadly died, both too early. Mike was a volunteer for ANT (Avon Navigation Trust).  All the locks on the Avon have a nominated Trust member to look after them.  Mike and Jenny’s lock was Chadbury.  Mike and Jenny put plants on a lock beam that had been placed on the lock side along with a watering can and a sign asking people to water them if they looked thirsty.  The new lock carer has obviously carried on the tradition.  I checked on them today and they were well watered with the rain, but I noticed that the watering can has now gone so I’m not sure how anyone could water them. 

We arrived in Evesham and moored up.  That’s us for today.  Richard and I wandered up to Waitrose as we needed milk.  This is the last shopping place before Stratford.  We got caught in a real drizzle shower on the way back which wasn’t very pleasant.  We had a Chinese take away for dinner, there are numerous take-away places just a few 100 yards away from us, including three Chinese.  Sadly, we chose the wrong Chinese as it really wasn’t very good ☹ 

10.03 miles
3 locks

Bidford-on-Avon (River Avon) – Tuesday 11th July

We weren’t too sure how far we would get today as there was a tree across the river between Bidford and Barton Lock, our destination.  ANT thought it would be clear by lunch time.

There were these very odd “dragon” boats under the old lock keepers house at Evesham Lock.  I think they are some sort of pedalos.  

The lock house is having a lot of work done to it.  I don’t think it has been lived in for a long time, it’s a real shame.  It was built in 1972 for £8,000 and used as a toll station and lock keepers cottage.  

The cottage was damaged and rendered unusable by two floods. 

What I have discovered in that in 2021 the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) wanted to bring boat hire back to the park alongside a nature trail, paddle sport tuition and boat handling courses for all ages.  The lock house will be used as an outdoor education area.  Back in 2021 Evesham Town Council had endorsed The Evesham Lock House Volunteer Activity Centre scheme, which it put forward for funding from Wychavon District Council’s Community Legacy Grant scheme.  I can’t seem to find any more on the scheme, but as I said the house is being renovated and I wonder if the “dragon” boats moored below the lock are all part of the scheme.

At Offenham Lock we stopped for a while, emptied the elsan and filled with water.  It seemed a good idea to stay there as we still didn’t know what was happening with the tree.  All three dogs loved and mooched for ages.  Muffin and Ted even did zoomies until both were exhausted!  (Ted is the same age as Muffin.)

As we approached Bidford a boat was pulling away from the moorings, so Richard did a quick turn and moored up.  Over the Moon breasted up with us.

Maggie, from Over the Moon, is an elderly retired greyhound.  She really is lovely but is struggling with arthritic hips.  Today Steve and Tracey realised that she probably had cystitis.  Dog + cystitis + on a boat = accidents!  As Steve and Tracey don’t live far away their daughter came and picked them up and took Maggie to the vet.  It is cystitis and she now has some anti-biotics.  She did very well but there was rather a lot of washing.  Steve made a washing line between the mooring poles which worked really well. 

We finally got to have our BBQ.  We’ve been talking about it for days, but the evenings have been wet, but today was the day!  Richard had to finish off under an umbrella but at least we got our food.  We sat out under our pram covers until nearly 10pm!

9.02 miles
4 locks