Downhill on the Stratford Canal

TUESDAY: Hockley Heath to Preston Bagot, 7 miles, 33 locks 
          “Yes please!” was the reply to two separate canal volunteers today when help was offered. There were two draw bridges

in the first mile and then after the next mile the locks started.

Down through the first Lapworth lock and a gentleman in tweed jacket appeared.  He wore a C&RT Volunteer badge but “lived locally”. In fact he lives in the cottage below the first lock where his wife, daughter of a canal company carpenter, was born. He had run a hotel boat for 25 years and although his volunteering day is on Sundays he just pops out most days to see what’s going on. Hidden by the tweed jacket was a windlass – so he helped the boat through a couple of locks. Intriguingly he spoke with a trace of an American accent:  he’d been born and brought up in Massachusetts.
          No boats approached for quite a while so the crew developed a two at a time routine whereby the Captain did the heavier winding and gate-pushing while Boatwif steered and dealt with rear ground paddles and back gates.  Initial impressions: Lapworth, village of pretty properties, a cricket ground next to the canal; Lapworth Flight: strong flow of water from the by-washes which can push a vessel in an unintended direction.

          At about the tenth lock a long procession approached. Led by the local vicar and a steward bearing a tall pole, two classes of school children (Years 3 and 5) were tracing the walk pupils used to make between school and church.

 Cleddau and crew became the visual aid, the vicar providing a teaching commentary. “Nice radio,” said a lad, looking into the engine room. It’s elderly but his remark sounded genuine enough.
           On down the locks: at the 18thlock another (uniformed) lock keeper offered help. It was just above Kingswood Junction – still unfamiliar territory.

There are permanent moorings, the cut through to the Grand Union, some C&RT buildings (rubbish disposal point) and separately a white barrel-roofed cottage beside which is the elsan point and then the start of the Southern Stratford locks. A guide and helper at that point proved very useful…
          The territory is at least familiar south of the Junction: the barrel-roofed cottages,

the split bridges to allow horse towing ropes to pass through without unhooking,

the reminders of how this canal was restored,

the leafy overhangs, the ducks that own a lockside,

the Fleur de Lys pub,

the aqueducts (little Yarningale today)

– even the roar from the M40.

On the cruise went.
           There’s about a third of a mile between locks 35 and 36. Go through lock 36 and you’re committed to locks 37 and 38. A day had to be called, a mooring found. It’s isolated here, only a runner has passed by but voices drift across the canal from a rugby training session nearby. You hear a lot about poor broadband signal in rural areas – just like here! Despite the lashing together of more poles than ever before to create a tall mast

there is no signal, hence a day’s delay in posting this blog…           Why the madness to complete so many locks in a day? It’s a slow boat to an express train. Thursday sees “industrial action” in balloted schools in the north west, so Boatwif needs to get to Macclesfield to do childcare duty with the Cheshire One. There’ll be a yomp to Wootton Wawen station on Wednesday afternoon, several changes of train but there’s the pleasure of a Techno-cooked supper and a Cheshire One hug to look forward to.
          For Pembrokeshire readers – no Monkton Moments* recently, but how about this boat name:

(Should be back on the boat some time on Friday: look out for the next post on Saturday).

WEDNESDAY: 3 miles, 3 locks. Moored at Wootton Wawen, ready to hike to the request stop railway station and set off for Macclesfield via Birmingham…


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