Tuesday 21st June: Pershore to Stratford-upon-Avon, 9.5 miles, 6 locks
Here in a front row mooring on Midsummer’s Evening Stratford is as its most beguiling best. Cleddau is directly opposite the theatre. Pre-show drinkers have sipped their drinks on the Bancroft terrace and gazed at us; the Cleddau crew have gazed back at the interval drinkers, and, more interestingly, at the actors on their balconies outside their dressing rooms. Why is there a male in a long cream coloured shift? Was that other actor one of Portia’s suitors? On Thursday we shall know. Once tied up here this afternoon the Captain ordered Boatwif to the Box Office to pick up the pre-ordered Macbeth tickets for Wednesday evening and bargain for anything else on Thursday. So, backache and neckache from cheap seats permitting, by Thursday night we should have seen two productions. Boatwif is no Kenneth Tynan or hack reviewer: she will not be sitting up into the early hours composing her reviews!
What else of the midsummer frolics here tonight? A novice women’s four (and even more novice cox: “he’s daft,”) have been out on the river. “Would you like a go?” asked the bank side instructor. And she was serious! The river was crowded, sea cadets under instruction, canoe club youngsters enjoying races, canoe acrobats showing off, swans with necks below and tails above the weedy deep, the restaurant barge Countess setting off downstream – and the bells ringing. The bells of Holy Trinity, the church of Shakespeare’s burial, are ringing out on weekly practice night.
It was a bright and breezy morning when Cleddau cruised the final stretch of navigable river between Tewkesbury and Stratford. The river’s course on this section is very rural, with barely sight of a road or a car until the Stratford outskirts. Five of the six heavy locks were “up” and needed to be emptied before they could be used. All-metal gates with unusually long beams are standard for all the locks from Evesham upstream. When the Upper Avon’s navigation was restored French lock gear was installed so there are some different features. The paddles are wound from a position on the gates but the gate platforms are sturdy and well-maintained. Letting water in to fill a lock needs to be done with particular care since the lock chambers are large and the force of water through the gate paddles ferocious.
With very few other boat movements to watch there was more time today to absorb the Avon scenery: swans on nests, herons swooping low over water or stooped on the bank, white water spilling over weirs, tidy, well-tended gardens, a peacock in one, alongside a pair of flamingo sculptures, roses tumbling over walls and pergolas, a pretty summerhouse, tiny boathouses, tall cow parsley, elegant garden seats. Then there was the enormous splash of red; the boat rose through the W A Cadbury Lock at Welford and there ahead was a glorious poppy field. Was it here that Titania and her band were sheltering, for the breeze was surely too brisk for fairies? Later, though, Puck appeared on the left hand bank…
Shortly before the fifth lock another apparition appeared, the third Coventry music college raft. Then Cleddau gently cruised under the disused railway bridge near the Stratford racecourse, crossed on foot in January in snow and ice! The final lock was occupied by the restaurant barge(on a short luncheon cruise). Cleddau’s performance here was closely observed, from lock entry to lock exit by gongooozlers. Far from us being tourists it is tourists who look at us! But it was when Boatwif nimbly rejoined the boat that applause was heard: over in the churchyard the eyes were for her nifty re- boarding rather than the Captain’s tiller skills!
Stratford in mid-afternoon: gentle moochers, foreign students, disaffected pupils; the theatre was an oasis of calm, wander where you will. Henley Street had a different pace as hordes surged to and from Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the glut of gift shops.
Tomorrow and Thursday – we shall stay here!