Wednesday 18th – Sunday 22nd September
“You’re honoured guests…but don’t expect this standard of catering every night!” Such were the words from Cleddau’s Relief First Mate, now herself the proud co-owner of nb Tentatrice. A three course dinner (plus cheese and port) was a great welcome to a first cruise aboard a brand new boat. The route was to be the southern end of the Stratford Canal,
from Wootton Wawen down to Stratford-upon-Avon (and back).
Laden with winter woollies and serious waterproofs (as advised by the Tentatrice crew – this is boating, isn’t it?) the Cleddau crew arrived part way through Wednesday. The car was parked and all manner of stuff, including a Tesco shopping order, was transferred to the boat. After a check on the met forecast it was decided to grab the dry weather while it was there and go. Go, that is, after a fill of the water tank and a fill of the diesel tank, both carried out while tied up on the Wootton Wawen Aqueduct!
It’s a familiar stretch, boated on Cleddauonly three months ago and walked eight months ago. There’s a longish stretch before the sole Bearley Lock, a high level float across the railway lines and road on the Edstone Aqueduct, some more quiet countryside and then the Wilmcote Flight. Eleven locks here (twelve total then on Day 1) and an overnight mooring found.
Most of us probably have a quick look or adopt a take it or leave it attitude towards weather forecasts but when you’re on a boat Being Prepared is all important. Thursday morning crept on, the combined crew of four (plus Monty the boat dog) waiting, waiting for the promised heavy rain to arrive – and to pass. By mid-morning a “no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes” view was being reached. Strong boots, gaiters, waterproof jackets and hats were assembled and donned.
Five locks and a couple of miles later the crew felt over-dressed – and rather hot.
Stratford never fails to offer entertainment: there’s people-watching, many of whom are busy gazing at boats in Bancroft Basin;
there are real shops (go to Lakeland for air-conditioning, boat mats and galley gadgets); there’s the Royal Shakespeare Theatre building to wander through and its costume display to gaze at.
You can take a backstage theatre tour (would you have guessed that during a production’s run 1700 hours will be spent on ironing the costumes?), get tickets for a performance (Candide this time in the Swan Theatre), walk the river bank, explore Holy Trinity Church
and see Shakespeare family graves…
But this excursion to Stratford was really about the boating. Steering a different boat from one’s own is a rare treat; steering one so spanking new as this a privilege indeed. The tiller arm is shorter than on Cleddau and the steerage initially seems heavier. The Beta 43 engine is gloriously quiet, both on the back deck and when heard from inside the boat. From the steering position there’s a view down into the galley,
very conveniently close to a kettle! This is a reverse layout boat, galley at the stern, saloon next, then bathroom with the bedroom at the bow end. Tentatrice is built for two with a dinette conversion in the saloon providing an additional double bed. It makes for a very comfortable sleep, but should a guest wish to lurk too long in the morning enthusiastic Monty will provide noisy tail-wagging and elbow-nudging to bring you swiftly to a state of alertness.
Any boat owner will make quiet comparisons when visiting another: oh for a fridge that is so easy to access and doesn’t require a kneeling on the floor position! And that bow locker! It’s immense, a wonderful place for stowing deck chairs and a picnic table and water hoses and a clothes dryer and all manner of other paraphernalia…
After two nights moored in Bancroft Basin it was time to depart. Down through the double lock onto the River Avon, bearing left under the Tramway Bridge and .Clopton Bridge.to head upstream. On a Saturday morning it was a fine obstacle course,
novice rowers, the rowing coach with his megaphone, fast trip boats from two different directions.
“Let’s reach the end of the navigation,” Relief First Mate had declared – thus it was. First though the (Cleddau) Captain initiated the Relief Captain into the mysteries of emptying the composting loo solids container. The high walls of the servicing area at the Old Bathing Place
may have hidden the action but boys’ banter and frequent laughter drifted across the wide grassy area as the job was duly done…
Just downstream from here came the greatest surprise: on a warm September Saturday afternoon four young men designated the Old Bathing Place as a place for bathing: swimming strokes were apparent,
though swimming trunks may have been absent…
Saturday evening. There cannot be many more thrilling places to moor than right opposite the theatre in Stratford.
Early evening the pre-show audiences mingle on the terraces, the actors take air from their dressing room balconies, diners are visible high up in the Rooftop Restaurant and auditorium announcements drift across the river.
For both guest and regular crew the catering standards remained high on nb Tentatrice; before sunset male crew members, mindful of long ago tales of riverside mischief makers, checked the mooring ropes and reinforced them with chains.
Sunday morning. Ducks, swans, fishermen, scullers, rowers, theatre fire drill announcement, dog walkers, tourists: Stratford had stirred, stretched, woken. Back to Wootton Wawen was the plan. On a balmy morning Tentatrice began her uphill progress. It was a sociable cruise, following a pair of hotel boats and a hen party on a hire boat, being followed by another hire boat, organised by a British grandmother for her Australian family.
Lock flight out of the town, a countryside stretch, the Wilmcote lock flight, Edstone Aqueduct,
Bearley Lock, countryside, Wotton Wawen aqueduct…
Six hours or so on the end had been reached, Tentatricewas moored up and the Cleddau crew reunited with four wheel transport. Tit for tat? After many shared trips on Cleddau this time hospitality had been aboard a very different, far more modern boat. But visitors be warned: if ever you get an invitation aboard expect to wield a windlass, for this boat is kitted out with a fine collection of them!
Trip total: 15½ Miles and 36 locks