To Stratford – and a Cautionary Tale

Rowington (Grand Union) – Lowsonford (South Stratford Canal) – Wootton Wawen – Wilmcote Lock Flight – Bancroft Basin, Stratford: 15¼ miles, 34 locks

One of those “Compare and contrast” exam questions came to mind after arrival at Kingswood Junction. This junction is where the northern and the southern sections of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal meet the Grand Union Canal.

 

How different the “Strattie” is from the Grand Union…

The Grand Union is wide, intended for broad-beamed boats, able to move all the way from London up to the edge of Birmingham. The Grand Union was modernised in the 1930s, the locks are well-behaved with no or little rogue turbulence and the paddles are operated by a screw jack system contained within a metal tower.     Bollards for securing boat ropes before and beside locks are substantial and fit for purpose.

By contrast (and what a contrast!) the Stratford Canal is narrow and suitable only for narrow boats. The approach through the spur cut at Lapworth     is seriously narrow (the brickwork damage indicates how difficult previous boaters have found this tight squeeze).  The locks, almost dainty-looking structures in comparison to the massive Hatton or Stockton locks, are, to be blunt, deceptive. Towpath and offside ground paddles at the top end of the lock can be very stiff, the gate paddle on the lower gate can also be very stiff,   requiring real muscular effort to overcome the jerkiness. The gates are not always well balanced, so that even if the  water levels are equalised a tremendous effort may be needed to open a gate – or to keep it closed!     But it is a picturesque canal,

 

what’s not to like when there are barrel-roofed cottages (unique to this canal)     and split bridge decks to allow horse towing ropes through…  Well, there are two things not to like. First, the M40 whose traffic din is pretty intrusive when working or walking between locks 25 to 28…

Second, the rope bollards at the lock landings. These are unobtrusive things, slippery straight-sided short brown poles   – and herein hangs a cautionary tale.

It was at Lock 35. Boatwif had filled the lock (this is a downhill trip to Stratford) and was standing by the offside ground paddle. The Captain, keen to share the labour, stabilised the boat on the lock landing, double-looped the mid-rope round the bollard, then walked forward to open the top gate and lower the towpath side paddle. Glancing up, he saw the wind effect on the boat, saw a loop come undone, ran – and the boat floated away across the canal, crewless…

What do you do when your boat is floating midstream, unreachable…?

In the first instance the Captain scrambled into the undergrowth beside the offside and thrashed and bashed with tree branches to try to capture a rope from Cleddau, now in Marie Celeste mode

Two walkers (plus dog) arrived at the lock, realised there was an odd situation and paused to watch. “Open the lock, get water moving,” the Captain ordered, hopeful that Cleddau would oblige and float out of the offside shallows into the lock. There was much gate paddle winding, up and down, up and down, the walkers involved now, relaying messages, encouragement, advice.

There had been six boats ahead that morning – if only another boater would arrive on the scene to board Cleddau and return her to safety and to her rightful owners…

The Captain scrambled back from the undergrowth, unsuccessful, though undefeated. There were mutterings about “swimming for it” …

The male walker, a one-time boater, was a practical sort of chap. “You don’t wanna go into the water,” he growled.

“Can you phone someone?” his wife asked… but phones and walkie talkies were all aboard, well out of reach…

The Captain returned to the offside, frustrated, but not beaten.

Slowly a plan emerged.

Get the stern as far across towards the towpath as possible.

A light weight cruiser was moored nearby. The walker boarded it, grabbed a rope, created an air anchor from a bunch of twigs and launched a series of throws towards Cleddau to try to capture her.

The Captain pushed the stern away from the shallows…

Boatwif at the lock created the water flow…

The dog walker’s wife, against the noise of the water, relayed the messages…

At the third attempt the walker lassoed the boat, pulled her across, boarded her and brought Cleddau safely into the lock…

At the ensuing court martial the Captain admitted error in using a double loop rather than a clove hitch knot.

Recommended action: Never leave a boat unattended (!)

Onwards down the Strattie  – Wootton Wawen (a revisit to the Saxon Sanctuary and Warwickshire’s oldest church and to the ever excellent Farm Shop).

 

Aqueducts were stacking up: a mini one at Yarningdale (Tuesday) , another at Wootton Wawen (Wednesday)   a third, the Edstone Aqueduct, (the longest aqueduct in England, by the way) also on Wednesday.

  

 

Moored overnight three locks down in the 11 lock Wilmcote Flight the intention was to moor on the Stratford outskirts on Thursday, then creep into the Bancroft Basin on Friday. An enthusiastic lockkeeper on the Wilmcote Flight sped Cleddau eight locks down by 11am on Thursday.    There was a forward recce, a piece of rogue fencing     and an upturned shopping trolley    spotted, there were discussions with upcoming boaters – and before 4pm, wet and cold, Cleddau was tied up right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatres. Destination reached.

 

The air was full of noise as raucous school pupils and gabbling foreign students congregated on the lawns and paths surrounding Bancroft Basin, but within an hour or so peace had broken out: just the swans, the half dozen boats and a few promenading pedestrians remained.

 

Come morning, though, there was an urgency about the street cleaning operation as Stratford must always present a clean and shiny face to its thousands of daily visitors…

Stats since Higher Poynton: 206 miles, 4 tunnels and 133 locks

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