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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Stratford upon Avon Canal

Saturday 27th September
(14L 1468.99M)
Below Wilmcote

Stratford Canal Split bridgeThere are two features which may be unique to the Stratford Canal – I don’t think we have come across them before. Firstly, the small bridges that accompany the locks and occasionally ones carrying tracks across the canal are built in two parts with a gap through the middle. This has puzzled me greatly as it discards the engineering strength that arises from an arched structure. They must be cantilevered with a big chunk buried in the ground on either side. I have since discovered that the purpose of this design is to allow a barge’s tow rope to pass through the centre thereby removing the need to detach it from the horse and reconnect on the other side (these bridges are not wide enough to carry a towpath under them). It seems to be an idea that has not caught on! Secondly, most of the lock keepers’ houses have been constructed with barrel shaped roofs. Again I have subsequently discovered the reason for this. Supposedly, the same formers used to construct the larger arched bridges were used to construct the house roofs.

Stratford Canal

Anyway, we carried on with our descent towards Stratford. There are quite a lot of locks to negotiate along the way and we are both suffering still with our aches and pains, so we weren’t a very happy team. However, the sun came out yet again and by lunchtime we had arrived at the wharf at Wooton Wawen. It’s Saturday so of course we are looking for our weekly newspaper and we stopped at the wharf as we had been told there was a shop. For a change it was me that wasn’t up to walking so Glyn brought home the bacon. There are good moorings here and we took our lunch stop.

Wootton Wawen

As the canal leaves the wharf it does so across a short aqueduct over a road. Further on we found ourselves looking down from the much larger Edstone Aqueduct as it crossed two railway tracks, a road and a river. It was reminiscent of the Llangollen Canal but from a much lower height.

Edstone Aqueduct Edstone Aqueduct Edstone Aqueduct

WilmcoteWilmcote is the location of Mary Arden’s house. Mary Arden was William Shakespeare’s mother. We didn’t stop but continued our rather painful progress arriving at Wilmcote top lock. At this point we are about 3 miles from Stratford but 16 locks form what for now is too big a barrier for us. We descended the first three and then moored in a slightly larger pound, where I set to with a tube of Deep Heat lotion.

Sunday 28th September
(13L 1471.7M)
Stratford-upon-Avon

Busy flightsWe carried on down the flight, running against the tide as a steady stream of boats came the other way. This can be quite good as you often benefit from being able to go straight into a lock that another boat has just vacated. However, when the locks are very close it gets a bit difficult to get past – both boats have to go straight ahead until they clear the lock.

We have a plan. We are going away for a week to the Lake District next weekend with Ian and Penny and we have to leave the boat somewhere safe for a week. There is a boatyard on the way into Stratford whose website indicates the availability of visitor moorings. We are going to go down into the Stratford basin for a couple of nights then return and leave Racundra at the boat yard while we travel to Cambridge and pick up our car for the holiday. Well the Muslims say “Man plans, God laughs”. It just wasn’t that funny. We stopped at the boatyard only to discover that there was no chance of a mooring. They were helpful and told us that the boat would be quite safe moored across from the yard and offered to keep an eye on her for us. It was very kind but we weren’t convinced. We have already made contact with a similar boatyard near Kings Norton where they do have a space for us and we have decided to try to get there. Unfortunately given our current physical condition we think that means setting off tomorrow to allow 3 – 4 days to do the 25 miles and 55 locks. So we have come all the way to Stratford for just half a day.

Bancroft Basin

We went on down the last few locks and into Bancroft Basin, where there was plenty of space. It was wonderful. The basin is delightful with angled pontoon moorings and a river lock which drops down onto the River Avon crossed by a multi-arched bridge. I actually enjoyed turning the boat around and backing into a berth under the eyes of crowds of tourists! Across the basin is a grassed plaza, with a street market, and the RSC theatre as a backdrop. It was like Covent Garden complete with street performers. Glyn jumped ship instantly and disappeared into the market. I put on the radio to listen to the climax of the Ryder Cup. She was soon back to take me to the market to approve her purchases, and then to check out performances at the theatre. She bought a nice little dress for Lottie. The RSC doesn’t perform on Sundays which was a disappointment.

Avon bridge

Back to the boat for drinks and nibbles and then out to “Encore” for a good meal with nice ambience and a view of the basin.

Monday 29th September
(21L 1481.23M)
Preston Bagot (between locks 34 & 35)

NB FulbourneA couple of boats set off before us – leaving quite early – which guaranteed that all the locks would be against us, but hey. We paced ourselves as we set off climbing back up the locks. On the way in yesterday we passed a traditional working boat and noticed its name was Fulbourne. This had to be Tim Lewis’s (Tim and Julie Tattoo) boat so Glyn emailed him. We got a reply confirming that it was indeed supposed to be here and I got a couple of photos as we passed.

We weren’t particularly looking forward to the 11 lock flight up to Wilmcote, so were delighted to find two very willing and able volunteers more than happy to operate the locks while I drove and Glyn relaxed on the bed with a book. It was a real treat for me as I rarely get the chance to drive in and out of locks. The two guys were very friendly and the time passed most enjoyably. Unfortunately for them we were out of chocolate crispie but they seemed happy with flapjack instead.

We stopped at Wilmcote for lunch and Glyn went off to see Mary Arden’s house (picture taken with her iPhone). She also couldn’t resist some rather nice bread!

Mary Arden's House

Physically we are gradually improving and with the boost from the volunteers we had a good day getting ahead of our schedule and finally stopping at a nice spot near Preston Bagot.

Tuesday 30th September
(20L 1484.97M)
Lapworth (Canal shop)

Climbing to Kingswood

Stratford CanalRather more relaxed we had a slow start this morning and then made our way very leisurely up to Kingswood Junction in time for lunch. This time we did stop. I have been wondering about the layout of the junction and have been able to get to the bottom of it – I think. Originally, the canal was built to connect London and Birmingham and the stretch down to Stratford had not been conceived.  Because of restricted space the Stratford arm came off between two locks, from where it immediately started its descent. Initially, boats had to ascend a lock on the mainline, just to come down another one on the Stratford arm. Later, a cut was made to bypass both of these locks, forming a triangle – leaving a house stranded on a small island. It is all rather complicated. Anyway, where we decided to stop for lunch it was necessary to go the short distance to the Grand Union in order to turn round so that we could get into the next lock on the Stratford Canal.

Kingswood Junction Kingswood Junction

Lapworth FlightLeaving Kingswood Junction one starts on the Lapworth flight. This consists of 5 locks, a longer pound, and then a continuous flight of 7 locks, then a 2 and finally 4 more spaced out. And that is the end of the locks. After that it is a flat run along to King’s Norton and the junction with the Worcester & Birmingham canal.

Lapworth Flight

After lunch we walked up the first five locks to a Canal Shop where Glyn managed to buy some Christmas cards. There are nice 48hr moorings below the shop and we decided to go back down and bring the boat up.

We have found that we now have time to spare and obviously could have stayed in Stratford for another day. We hadn’t been optimistic about our progress given our aches and pains but things have gone better than expected. I used some of my spare time to have a good clean out in the engine room this evening.

Wednesday 1st October
(13L 1490.06M)
Earlswood

So another slow start to the day. Late rising, scrambled egg for breakfast. Then Glyn spent some time defrosting the fridge ready to turn it off while we are away, and I reorganised the moveable ballast on the boat. I removed the last piece of railway track from the engine room yesterday and now it is stowed away with the other pieces under the front deck, on a couple of wooden battens. The anchor is also in there and now all the beers have come out! My anchor warp is there too and I must remember to take it home as it belongs on the sailing boat.

Then I had to ring LV to make sure that my house insurance was renewed – which it was going to do automatically it turns out. I suspect this was something I sorted out before leaving home and have completely forgotten.

Then we started up the remainder of the Lapworth flight. We picked up a volunteer after a couple of locks and had an easy enough time of it. There were several boats coming down and again we had a little difficulty passing each other in the short pounds – particularly those on bends. Another feature of the flight was the large amount of water flowing down through the side channels. It is quite surprising that after the long dry summer and September (the driest on record) that there is still plenty of water. Not only have we had outstanding weather this year but we have had no problems with stoppages caused by water shortages which we understand are not uncommon.

As we entered the top lock another boat was coming out. It was flying one of those Australian/New Zealand flags – I wasn’t sure which, so I asked. Actually this one had red stars (with a white outline) and was a Kiwi one. Apparently, the Australian one has white stars and shows the Southern Cross, while the NZ one has four stars, one for each island – North, South, Stewart and Chatham. I asked about West island and she understood that I was referring to Australia and said that she had seen a T shirt showing Australia as a small island to the west of NZ. I have now been told by both Aussies and Kiwis that the rivalry is all good natured – which is just as it should be. After she had gone on Glyn wondered if it was the boat that we had seen at Rufford – I checked the name Roots & Wings and realised that it was. We last saw her 5 months ago.

Lapworth FlightBeyond the thick of the flight are two pairs of locks more spaced out. At the second of these we picked up an off-duty volunteer who immediately responded to our boat name. An avid Arthur Ransome fan he was able to recommend Racundra’s First Cruise as a good read. I guess we really should read it. He was clearly an American but very knowledgeable about the British canals. It turns out that he operated a Hotel Boat for many years. I asked how long he had been “over here” and he said only 20 years but for the 20 before he had spent 6 months of each year here. Always good to meet an Anglophile.

Hockley HeathWe finished the locks only to discover that there were now a couple of lift bridges to be cranked up. The first was really heavy, the second quite the opposite. We stopped at Hockley Heath for lunch and Glyn found a good local shop.

We stopped for the day around 2.30pm at Earlswood. Glyn got busy making tray bakes for our “holiday” and I got the polish out. I tried out the new polish I bought at Rufford and in case I forget I have polished the starboard side from the stern to the side hatch!

Thursday 2nd October
(0L 1494.51M 18H)
Lyons Boatyard

Dickens Heath

Another couple of hours was enough to complete the run up to the boatyard. We started the transition from rural to urban as we came under the influence of the Birmingham metropolitan area. The canal is largely hemmed in by trees but there are breaks where commuter belt accommodation reaches down to the water, and at bridge 8 is located the last lift bridge on the Stratford, by the Drawbridge pub.

The boatyard is run by a very friendly couple and we were soon settled in to a slot along the linear moorings. Glyn immediately got going with the washing machine and I made the most of the dry weather to do some more polishing. We are moored on the other bank to yesterday and I managed to work my way along the port side from the stern to the dinette window.

As we are expecting Mitch and Haze to join us we decided to eat out and on the recommendation of our hosts we decided to take a look at a local Indian restaurant. The Millennium Balti is a short walk from the boat and certainly looks “good value”. Next door is a hairdresser and Glyn booked to come back after lunch to get her hair cut.

The boatyard had booked with a local examiner to come to do our Boat Safety examination in the afternoon. Tom Tighe rolled up around 2pm. I did have one or two worries about the examination but Tom put me at ease, assuring me that as it had passed last time it was likely to be fine again. He tested the gas system with an electronic manometer which he connected to the test point (we did have one which had been one of my worries) and all was fine; he checked that the safety cut outs on the cooker worked; he looked over our fire extinguishers – apparently they no longer need regular servicing. He drank some tea and reluctantly ate some cake and finally accepted a cheque for £180. Unfortunately, when he had left I realised that I didn’t have a certificate or even a receipt for my payment. To be fair the system has changed. It has all been put on to a database and certificates are no longer issued – a bit like a car MOT. However, it would appear that there is no public access to the database which leaves me with a problem proving that I do have a BSS and when it expires. This story will develop, but in the meantime Tom has promised to send me a pdf file containing a certificate.

Mitch and Haze arrived just in time for dinner, together with their latest puppy – Tess. Tess is a young German Shepherd and immediately became a favourite. She was rather traumatised by the longest trip of her short life and was not at all sure about being on a lead. She then had to get to grips with boarding a boat and negotiating stairs – such a lot of new challenges to deal with, not to mention meeting Glyn and me. She is a very bright dog and quickly got her head around these problems and before long her tail was up and her head held high – only to be shut back up in the van while we went to eat. Mitch has done us a big favour by driving our car (which he has been looking after) up to us. Without that we would have had to get to Cambridge to pick it up.

Dinner at the Millennium Balti was a complete success. The food was superb. We are no connoisseurs but Mitch and Haze are and they both agreed. It was also very cheap and we saved on the booze as well as they are not licensed and we could take our own. I guess Indian may be the indigenous cuisine here and that this is probably a very good place to get a curry!

Friday 3rd October – Friday 10th October
Lake District

Mitch & Haze are on their way to the Lake District for a week with their friends, staying in a cottage in Ambleside. We are going to accompany them and stay overnight before going on to our own cottage in Mungrisdale with our friends Ian & Penny.

We had a good week away. Ian and I managed to do some walking and a little climbing despite my bad leg and the generally wet weather. In fact regular exercise seemed to cure my leg – thank goodness. Glyn went down with a sore throat and cold but recovered enough to do some serious shopping with Penny. But by the end of the week I had succumbed to the bug.

Our car needed some attention – new tyres, replacement exhaust, and a new windscreen. We tried to buy some tyres at a place near the boatyard. On arrival I was told that I couldn’t be given a price for new tyres as the senior staff were all at prayer but I could be served with part used tyres. This was new to me but they have a large warehouse full of second hand tyres from which I could take my pick. The chosen tyres would be checked and repaired if necessary. I decided I couldn’t cope with this so we went to Kwik Fit! I asked them to look at the exhaust and they put the car on the hoist. He took me underneath to look at it. I wish I hadn’t, I would much rather not know how rusty my car is. It was obvious that at the very least I needed new middle and back sections which they couldn’t do that day. It was after leaving there that I noticed a long crack across the bottom of the windscreen which neither Mitch nor I had noticed before. Autoglass were engaged to come to our holiday cottage the following Friday to replace it. By the time we reached Ambleside the exhaust was very noisy and we booked into HI Q in Keswick for Saturday morning.

By the time we set off on our return journey everything was sorted.

 

 

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