Uphill – and uphill some more…
Radford Semele to Braunston Top Lock
15¾ miles, 29 Locks
Regarding boat journey plans the Captain runs several spreadsheet options: currently he examines his “slow” and his “fast” plans, calculates travel hours, lock numbers and estimated Destination B arrival dates – and then discusses the possibilities and choices.
A “slow” return from Destination A (Stratford-upon-Avon) to home moorings (Destination B) was producing a date around 24th June, a “fast” date could mean arrival on or after 17th June…
The discovery that Braunston would be gearing up for its Historic Narrowboat Festival over the weekend of 24th /25th June (see info and video here) focused decision-making – crew on Cleddau would brace themselves and tackle the upward locks in two blocks of ten and one of three in order to get to Braunston ahead of any congestion or mooring restrictions.
Day 1: Radford Bottom to Long Itchington 5 miles, 10 locks.
With no other boats to share the locks with a rhythm was developed – use of one gate and one paddle only, steering and lock side duties equally shared. There was no rush!
Access is awkward with the Fosse Locks, the lock landing being on the offside and overflow weirs on the towpath side. Two or three locks up the windlass-wielding Captain reversed the water flow, draining the lock to allow a boat spotted on the canal behind to come in and share. Liberté became lock partners, their two spaniel-like gun dogs displaying verve and energy at every lock. When a bird scarer sounded one leapt off the upper lock gate, tore along the lock side, launched himself into the nearest boat (the slowly rising Cleddau) and then scrabbled across to his own safe space… Having such active four-leggers around the lock and ropes was quite a challenge.
“Don’t they ever fall in?” asked a nearby gongoozler.
Then came the Bascote Locks, two single and a double staircase. A group of volunteers were painting gates with black non-slip paint. (Weren’t they painting here about three weeks ago??)
Day 2: Long Itchington to near Gibraltar Road Bridge: 2¼ miles, 10 locks
Off past The Two Boats pub; a pause for water at The Blue Lias pub. It was early, too early even for mid-morning coffee drinkers. As the water tank filled a staff member worked his way round all the tables to push up all the parasols…
Up the Stockton Flight, 10 locks to do. One gate, one paddle at each lock and fortunately very little turbulence. At about 7 locks up activity was spotted in the distance. One boat, no two boats, were approaching. Out of their lock they came, some of their locking crew keen to maintain progress.
“I’ll wind the other paddle up and do the other gate,” said the Enthusiast.
“Sorry, we’re just using one paddle, one gate,” Boatwif explained. The Enthusiast looked crestfallen; then she tore back up the towpath to the emptied lock the two boats had just left, raced across the back (top) gates to close the offside lower gate then dashed back to Lock 8 to present herself on the offside to open the gate for her boat to enter. Phew! Such energy on such a hot day…
Quietly and undramatically Cleddau continued her progress up to the Top Lock, where the crew were rewarded by the sight of roses clambering around and in front of the pair of lock cottages. Passers-by needing cheering up should read the outdoor signs…
Onward, past Kate Boats at Stockton Top Lock, past the glamping pods at Nelson Wharf, past a fallen tree being retrieved from the canal, past a patriotically Welsh boat, mooring against the towpath, once firm footing could be found amid the high towpath growth… “No mow May” has morphed into tall bloom June – how far down is firm ground when you try to get off a boat to moor it up…?
Days 3: Gibraltar Road Bridge to Flecknoe Bridge: 5 miles, 3 locks
This was the day that boats seemed to emerge from hibernation – from Ventnor Marina and from Calcutt Marina (both below Calcutt Locks) and on the long Braunston Pound from Wigrams Turn Marina and from Braunston, as well as boats cruising through from further afield.
Hire boats streamed towards Calcutt as Cleddau made her way towards Napton Junction. Here a left-hand turn was taken onto the long lock-free pound between Napton and Braunston.
How this rural waterway weaves and meanders peacefully. With few buildings or roads as visual distraction it is boat names that draw attention. Look, Yvonne and Hattie, a one-time Macclesfield boat, apparently…
The towpath is largely invisible, shrouded by high spring and summer growth. Mid-afternoon Cleddau pulled in, alongside a towpath section so overgrown not one dog walker, runner or cyclist passed, not one, that is, until, just as the first Towpath Dinner of the season was to start, a sole male walker pushed by…
Day 4: Flecknoe Bridge to Braunston Top Lock,: 3½ miles, 6 locks
Onward on Saturday, in drizzle, in slow convoy. 15 boats had passed since 8am, historic boats were positioning themselves for next weekend’s Braunston events, hire and holiday boats were heading to and from the Braunston “crossroads” Onward, past previously unseen boat names (Flossie Dollrags), past permanent moorings with gardens and sheds, past blousy flowers, on towards the church spire at Braunston.
Braunston: North Oxford Canal and Rugby to the left, Grand Union Canal, London and Leicester to the right…
Onwards, first for a bizarre conversation at the water point: The comment “See, we’re all connected!” concluded talk of military service, Malta, a Maltese national, Pembroke Army Garrison in Malta and Los Angeles on a T-shirt…
Then came another “connection”. With no Braunston mooring space available Cleddau shared the six locks up to the tunnel level with a Hertfordshire-based boater taking his new purchase to the River Stort. By the second lock up he and the Captain had established a mutual acquaintance, whose toddler son Boatwif had known. To the Hertfordshire boater, though, “the toddler” was a grown man, a neighbour and a drinking mate… Connections, connections!
In her travels from Stratford Cleddau had climbed, descended and climbed and climbed some more… Maybe the final stretch of the trip would be less taxing, maybe…?!
2023 totals: 181 miles, 207 locks, 4 swing bridges, 4 tunnels
Do you live aboard?: FAQ now posed 14 times
- 2023 Monkton Moments*– 7 (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…” (at Shrewley Tunnel)
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) “Cleddau – Pembrokeshire. We lived in Llan??”
7) “Why don’t you just call your boat ‘Swords’? …It’s the river in Pembrokeshire – I used to go caving in South Wales”