A fire eater, an obstruction and 36 uphill locks

Shakespeare Marina to Kingswood Junction: 14 miles, 36 locks

Stratford is not all about thespians and high culture – or funfairs.

Do buskers have to book their pitch – who knows?  Among the street and park entertainers last weekend was a circus-trained performer who ate fire,  used a whip to snap the heads off a bunch of rosebuds, lay on a bed of nails and barefoot scaled a ladder of machetes   – and all while the world mooched by!

Sunday afternoon bandstand music was provided by two tuneful singers with a wide array of instruments to accompany themselves. 

A Wednesday morning departure from the recently opened Shakespeare Marina was done in wind and cold air – back to jumpers, wind proofs and lifejackets.    Just across the river from Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church is the  impressive Colin P. Witter (or Trinity) Lock.    which Cleddau shared with Lady Hoby.

“Do you know the river downstream well?” Boatwif asked her fellow paddle gear winder.

“Well no,” was the reply. “See, I’m American …I know a lot about sailing but not about canals.”

With that response you have to inquire: “Oh, whereabouts in America?”

Back came the answer: “San Diego County…”

San Diego County! Well that was a good opener to exchange familiar names, places and reminiscences…!

Up past the park and the theatre and a passage through Stratford Lock into Bancroft Basin.  Oh how the crowd of spectators on the bridge brought back long ago memories…  Recently found in Cleddau’s on-board library was the log recording the first ever narrow boat adventure…it was the Avon Ring in one week, some 34 years previously.

From that log:

 Day 1 (29th July 1989), 2 miles, 6 locks in 2¼ hrs. Remarks: Fun – why weren’t ‘L’ plates included on the inventory! Memorable moments – first lock in full public view opposite Memorial Theatre, SD’s collision with tree & JD’s excessive push from bow bank which lodged rudder into opposite bank.

 Day 2 (30th July, 1989) 14 miles, 48 locks in 13½ hrs. Remarks: Frequent rain failed to stop cruising.  Much jumping in & out of waterproofs. Started day at 5.50am… 

 To contemplate such distances in a day now seems totally mad!

Across Bancroft Basin, to make a start on the 34 lock climb away from Stratford-upon-Avon to Kingswood Junction. Two Australian couples, just in from Oz, gazed in wonder at the narrow bottom lock with a boat rising as the water filled the chamber.

Up the first 4 locks out of the town. An approaching boater warned of “a sort of structure in the water at Bridge 63…”

Onward – Boatwif was in the galley when “the structure” was encountered. The boat reared up, items flew across the floor from the open ‘fridge door and from the cupboard overhead…

“Felt like a sofa,” the Captain remarked. Though no damage to item or human was sustained it was an unsettling business.

Ahead were Wilmcote Locks (11 of them)   where a trio of enthusiastic volunteer lock keepers urged the Captain to report the incident to Canal and River Trust. This he did, receiving a confirmatory phone call the following day with news that a submerged supermarket trolley had now been removed from the canal…

It was a slow start from Wilmcote; the next day allowed for a peek at Mary Arden’s Farmhouse (open only to booked school groups) and some attractive timbered buildings.

Onward, heading for Wootton Wawen. What were these towpath walkers gazing at? Oh, another of those tiny milestones.

Across the Edstone Aqueduct – the wind all but pinning the boat to the northern side.

“Which way to that aqueduct?” a holidaymaker outside a rental cottage asked a couple of days later. “We drove under it an hour or so ago – so impressive…” Yet hardly ever has road or rail traffic been seen below this structure, 28 feet above ground level..  It was completed in 1816 and the cast iron trough is 475 feet (145 metres) long.

Further along at Wootton Wawen the far shorter aqueduct looks like this from the road.

After another overnight stop at Wootton Wawen the northbound cruise continued – through quiet countryside, under split bridges, sliding past tall cow parsley.

Then at Preston Bagot Bottom Lock there was a delay. A boat was sitting low in the chamber, the only person in sight was a woman who seemed to be fighting the bottom gate, pushing and pulling it, swinging it, shaking it. She grabbed a boat pole, threw herself flat on the ground and prodded about in the silt behind the gate…  Slowly the situation became clearer – a partner appeared from the cabin, the boat was a 1989 Springer and it had been making a painfully slow journey down through the locks, often jammed at the front gate. The Captain arrived on the scene, investigating the very slow availability of the lock – and with two Cleddau folk holding the gate open, one crew member legging the boat past it and the other hauling on a centre rope, eventually, eventually the boat was released from its “prison”…

Onward, past Bucket Lock Cottage (“£20 to take a photograph,” joked the owner of the cottage) and across the short Yarningdale Aqueduct, onwards towards an overnight mooring (hopefully) at Lowsonford.

The Fleur de Lys pub was busy, as were the moorings.   A halt here allowed a slow walk past that re-imagined railway station   

One more push was needed towards the top of the Southern Stratford Canal – and there at Lock 30 was a shy reminder of how this canal was saved  – a plaque in the lock approach wall is recognition that the National Trust took over the canal and restored it. It was  on 11th July, 1964 that the Queen Mother cruised into Bancroft Basin down in Stratford to formally re-open it.

The roar of the M40 is intrusive for a greater distance south of the motorway than north of it. (wind direction? contours?) On a hot morning a boat lurked underneath the motorway bridge, its helmsman grateful for the shade and the relative quiet!

Up, up, Cleddau climbed, past more barrel-roofed cottages and more yellow bloomed lock sides    – until at last Kingswood Junction was in sight. From there a narrow channel gives access to the Grand Union  – and the downhill route to Warwick.

 2023 totals: 157¼ miles, 155 locks, 4 swing bridges, 5 tunnels

 Conversational snippets in passing…

Joker to Boatwif, while winding up offside ground paddle: “’ave yer fell in yet?”

Boatwif: “Not today.”

Joker: “Good day for it today, very cooling…”.

 At Wilmcote Locks, a Volockie viewing the engine room: “Yer husband in the RN then, all them ropes…?

  • Do you live aboard?: FAQ now posed 10 times
  • 2023 Monkton Moments*– 6 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

1) “Grew up in Milford.”

2) “I come from Porthcawl.”

3) “I live in Ceridigion…”

4) “I went to Haverfordwest Grammar School in the 1960s. My father was in the oil industry. We lived in Herbrandston.”

5) “Used to live in Milford Haven – Aberdaugleddau…”

6) “Know where that is – grew up in Llan…” (At Cape Locks)


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3 Responses

  1. Pip says:

    Sounds like you are a few days ahead of us, wonder if we’ll catch you up!

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Morning, Pip . It rather depends on your pace and your route – we’ll be turning left at Napton Junction in a few days’ time…
    Loving your model-making narrative!

    • Pip says:

      Suspect you’ll be too quick for us to catch up. We’ve not got the turbo boost in operation at the moment. Maybe next time

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