Thursday, 31 July 2014

Locks to Stratford

Today's Canal - Stratford

Most of the day was overcast but very warm. From the start there was a threat of rain but it held off until mid afternoon. By the time we moored the sun came out and it was a pleasant evening.

As predicted in yesterday's blog, we spent the morning visiting Mary Arden's Farm, a working farm set as it might have been when Shakespeare mother was a child growing up here. We arrived two minutes after opening time but already there was a short queue for tickets! The same lady that we spoke to last night was again on the ticket desk and she, with her colleague were very ready to give us lots of suggestions for our visit.

We began in the farm house where the staff, dressed in period costume, were already hard at work preparing the dinner for one o'clock when all the farm workers come for the meal. At the same time the cook and the master were happily explaining what they were doing and what life was like in Tudor times.

The master explained that, in his experience, his was about the best level of society, a yeoman farmer. He was comfortably well off, had a good farm that generated an income and could afford plenty of workers. They could eat a varied and healthy diet unlike the peasants who rarely ate meat and subsisted on cooked vegetables whilst the very rich ate sugar and huge portions of meat to show off that they could afford such luxuries. Sadly they also made them unwell!

Women's sleeping room
Herb Garden
 The cook showed how the fire was prepared and where they placed different pots. Only for a few items were they hung over the fire - the hottest place used for the main cooking pots, was on the floor next to the glowing embers.

Little Miss Muffet?

Will it light second go?
We also watched the blacksmith starting to light his fire - he also emphasised how important fire lighting was in Tudor times. When the blacksmith ended his work for the day, one of his apprentices would scoop up the remains and dash around the the bakery where work was beginning and carried on over night into the early morning.


The shepherd explained about the different type of sheep he keeps and Alice could feel the difference in the fleece. For Tudor farmers, sheep were the most valuable animals to keep as their fine wool was prized in many countries.

A washing maid explained how she cleaned clothes - the linen underclothes would be washed daily but the outer clothes were very thick and only rarely received much more than a brushing down.

At 11.30 there was a scheduled Falconry Display. However, the falconer began by surprising his audience by saying that there would be no falconry today! He went on to explain that real falconry involves using the birds to catch live prey and this is perhaps not the best for displays!

Izzy - barn owl
Most of his display used a barn owl called Izzy. Alas, part way through, Izzy snatched a bigger piece of food that planned which meant that she was then too well fed to want to do any more work! The display ended with an eagle owl, which was popular with poorer people. There were strict rules about who could own birds for hunting but owls were not considered suitable for hunting.

Eagle Owl
However, eagle owls can catch quite large animals and so could be used by folk not allowed a kestrel or other proper hunting bird!

Horses, it seems, were not especially prized - they took a lot of looking after, were expensive on food and were not as versatile as, say, oxen.s

Alice had a go with the archery and landed most of her arrows in the target. We also played some outdoor games such as throwing sticks at a skittle and rope quoits at pins. It has to be said than none of us was especially expert - perhaps we need more practice!

Before leaving we returned to the smithy where the blacksmith told us a bit more about his place in society. In those days, most of his work was in making and repairs tools, for work on the farm or in the house. Everybody needed him, nobody dared cross him otherwise their livelihood would be threatened if they could have no tools. As a result he would be one of the better off people in the village.

Back at the boat we made ready to set off as quickly as possible as we had 16 locks to pass through before we reached Stratford, our goal for today so that we can spend much of tomorrow exploring other famous places. We bought a Five House ticket (worth it if we visit only one other place as well as the farm) so we shall not be short of things to do! lunch was on the go!

How many more to go?
Although a boat was just leaving the top lock and another arrived just below, this was the end of our luck today as a boat was going ahead of us. Most of the locks were therefore 'against' us making for more work than we had hoped and no more boats came up until we arrived at the bottom of the main flight!

Thunder clouds gathering
As the afternoon progressed, the skies grew darker and rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance, Around four o'clock we did get a sudden and quite sharp shower but it did not last long and the evening gradually turned very pleasant.

After a stop for the usual services at the Valley Cruises wharf, we completed the last four locks down to the town. Christine walked ahead as Mike and Alice worked the final lock in order to check out possible moorings. As we rounded the final bend before the basin Christine was standing on the towpath waving us in - this was the only remaining space.

The basin was full (and most of the river below the basin but that would have entailed buying a River Avon licence) so this space just before the bridge was most fortunate.

3.6 miles - 16 locks

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Three Aqueducts to Wilmcote

Today's Canal - Stratford

We were away in reasonably good time - when we awoke there was bright sunshine but cloud soon arrived and for most of the day it was overcast, but still very warm.

The first lock was only a short distance ahead of us and as soon as Christine brought the boat out of the lock a boat that had been taking on water decided to set off. This turned out to be rather unfortunate as it was an extremely slow boat and even though it had most of the locks set for it, we still caught them up in most pounds. As a result it was three and a half hours before we reached Wootton Wawen.

On today's stretch we passed over three iron trough aqueducts, each longer than the previous. The first is very short indeed. The information board says that could have been even shorter but when the original collapsed, this was the material that came to hand!

Christine spotted an inscribed coping stone at our second lock. It says, "481 Port Maintenance Troop, Royal Engineers, September 1961" The southern Stratford canal was all but derelict by the start of the 1960's but the threat of closure to allow a cheaper road crossing galvanised action and this became the first restored canal in the system. When, later, the Lower and the Upper Avon Trusts succeeded with their schemes, a delightful circular route was re-established and is now very popular for leisure cruising.

Yarningdale Aqueduct

This picture was ordered by the ladies
Yarningdale is the first aqueduct - the information boards show some plaques depicting features of the canal and visitors are invited to try to recognise them just by touch. Not sure if this was the real reason for the pose!

Another pose

The ornately extended barrel roof cottage at lock 37 is the third we have seen that is up for sale. wonder if there is a common cause?

Another entry into our less-usual-boat gallery.

By the time we could look back at the bridge before Wootton Wawen, the sky had gained some bright blue patches.

Wootton Wawen Aqueduct
We called at the Anglo Welsh services at the wharf just before the second aqueduct to fill up with diesel - a very pleasant young man to serve us and took our mobile number just in case they could offer a temporary mooring on our return.

Afterwards we moored up for lunch - taking our time. It seems that lunch breaks are getting longer and longer! still, eggy bread was again requested for the menu. Afterwards we set off across this middle sized aqueduct.

A little later  came Brearley (or Edstone) Aqueduct,the third and longest that crosses a valley over a track, a railway line and a road.

As we neared Wilmcote - where we had hoped to stop at least to shop - we could see a long line of moored boats and our expectations were almost extinguished when we could see that almost the last space near to the road bridge was still available and we quickly nabbed it!

The village is very close to the canal and we walked along - not only to find the shop, which came up trumps with what we were after including a newspaper but also to check out Mary Arden's Farm, one of the Shakespeare Visitor Sites that was a possibility for a visit. Outside we saw a sample of what the centre provides - a reconstruction of working farm life in Tudor times, complete with people in the correct costumes. In the afternoon, the women tend the garden!

Mary Arden's Farm
The lady on the reception desk was very helpful and gave us plenty of information about the options. We needed plenty of choice as, just as we arrived at the mooring, a notification came through on the email that a lock just a little closer to Stratford is to be closed all day Friday for an urgent repair. This means that we will have to adjust our plans quite a bit!

By now, with a long flight of locks ahead, we decided that it was too late to move on and risk not finding as good a mooring.

Tomorrow we face 16 locks in just over 3 miles. But first we will visit the farm in the morning. It sounds fascinating.

7.3 miles - 9 locks

Tuesday, 29 July 2014


Today's Canals - Grand Union and Stratford

After yesterday's efforts no-one was in any hurry to set off this morning! It was a pleasant, sunny day and not many boats passed us as we stayed moored up.

In the end, just before 10:30, Mike found enough effort to pull the pins and we set off. However, it was a fairly long pound, almost two hours to the next junction.

Shrewley Tunnel
After about 20 minutes we reach the 396 metres Shrewley Tunnel. There was a boat ahead of, just emerging into the sunshine at the far end as we arrived at the southern portal. It is a remarkably high tunnel and wide enough for two way working, but we did not have to test that out today as the next boat in the opposite direction arrived as we were leaving.

The tunnel does not have a towpath and in the days of horse pulled boats, they and their handler had to walk over the top. The tunnel is probably a bit too long to drift through although in the past we have seen a horse drawn boat do that in a similar length tunnel. Otherwise, before diesel power, they would have had to help by legging.

Meanwhile, Alice was back to her favourite pastime - reading and keeping up with her own challenge. Now on to her third book, a detective mystery.

The canal, characteristically wide and usually with plenty of depth (although just after the tunnel it seemed a little shallow), winds its way with much evidence of the amazing work done as part of the Keynesian initiative in the 1930's in which concrete edging was installed along much of the route from London to Birmingham. If only it were as possible to sort the economy so easily these days!

We have moored a couple of times in the past just below Rowington Hall - there is even a church lurking in the trees on the hill top!

Just being a bit creative with the camera! Well, let's be honest, we copied the idea from another blog - thanks nb Chance!

And so to Kingswood Junction where we turned left off the Grand Union and the short link to the Stratford Canal. Looks like a few boats failed to make the turn. After rather a lot of the brickwork ended up in the water, a protective barrier is now in place for those with a steering problem.

Just around the corner is a sani station and we were keen to fill our water tank - drinking a lot of squash at the moment! Christine took the opportunity to check out opportunities for meeting up with our car at the next lay over.

Lapworth Junction is actually a triangle - with one arm going right to the northern section of the Stratford Canal (up a lock) whilst straight ahead, slightly left, is to the southern half. At one time this link also had a lock but that has long since been removed. The straight through section also has a lock on it.

Water tank filled and we set off down the narrow locks, so very different from the Grand Union. we dropped down a couple to find a short stay mooring - the pounds are short at first and the first one was already filled up. time then for a good lunch break.

After lunch, with yet again eggy bread for Alice - at the moment a firm favourite for lunch time - we continued down the locks. There are very few long pounds on the southern Stratford. altogether there are 35 locks before reaching the River Avon.

Many of the footbridges close to the locks on this canal were constructed with the unusual feature of split cantilevers, leaving a small gap in the middle. This was to allow towropes to pass through without the delay of untying them from the boat and re-attaching to the towing horse the other side.

There was by now, after a lull over lunch, a steady stream of traffic in either direction. At several locks we had someone wheeling from behind with a boat arriving below and crew from all three boats available to work the paddles and gates. Little time, however, for anything other than a fleeting conversation. At one lock we passed nb Wren's Nest, one time moorer at Lower Heyford and which we also spotted at their present mooring just south of Banbury when we came through on our last trip.

Many of the lock cottages on this canal were constructed using the same design of barrel roof. It is said that the engineer responsible only really knew how to build bridges and arches!

Mike was amused by the signpost by the lock which refers to the track crossing over a narrow bridge at the tail of this lock: "Unclassified County Road". Even as a footpath is was barely discernible - a reminder that in calling something a road until just over a century ago often meant little more than this. When the canal was taken over by a railway company they put up warning signs about such bridges not being safe for motor cars - hoping, no doubt, that they would not have to improve them to such a standard!

We were thinking about a meal out tonight and as we arrived at Lowsonford, the sign for the Fleur-de-Lys pub indicated that patrons could moor. We pulled in temporarily whilst Christine checked out the menu. This pub was once the home of a famous range of pies, now manufactured elsewhere but they still feature on the menu.

The reason, bearing in mind that pub nights out are not frequent on our canal itineraries? Well, it ought to be a secret but 47 years ago to this day we started our honeymoon on our first ever canal holiday. Something must have gone right - not sure what!

6.6 miles - 9 locks