Unplanned stay in Tewkesbury

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Clattering down The Avon we stopped at Tewkesbury.

We had phoned Tewkesbury Marina and they had arranged to lift Ginger Bear out of the water.Simon and his team were incredibly helpful and quickly pulled her up the slipway bottom first.

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An engineer had been called to check the damage. They were all impressed by the bend in the prop.

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Much sucking of teeth, next step – new propeller. Time was spent rubbing and polishing the old propeller, like Aladdin’s lamp – no genie, but magic numbers were revealed identifying size, pitch and rotation. Very important if we were to get the correct replacement. A new propeller would take some time; we settled down to wait.

If you have to get stuck somewhere, Tewkesbury Marina is a rather good place to be stuck. The customer service is truly fantastic (a real pleasure to be on the receiving end), nothing was too much trouble, and a berth was quickly found for us for as long as we needed one in this immaculate marina.

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We explored the delights of Tewskesbury, a rather intriguing small town with some lovely old buildings. It has starred on television masquerading as an island during floods.

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A cheerful bus driver dropped us off in a nearby village so that we could satisfy Dugald’s ambition to climb Bredon Hill. It was a very gusty day with forbidding clouds and heavy downpours – the views were amazing.

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On the way up we managed to find Neil and Nettie’s family cottage where Dugald stayed as a child.

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Walking along the river, Dugald was very excited to see dinghies racing. We sat and watched them for a while as they went round a racing mark. It was good spectator sport.

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Dugald collected our car from London and we ventured further afield. We visited friends Frank and Lorna near Shrewsbury,

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and went to Gloucester to have a look at the docks.

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We walked along the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal viewing some overambitious projects on the way. Dugald has plans to take Ginger Bear from Sharpness to Avonmouth with a pilot on board. I have made it clear that this is one trip I intend to miss.

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My sister Anne and husband Richard live in Devon but frequently dash around the country on business for their company Clickety Books. They publish great educational children’s books which my grandchildren love. We provide periodic floating hotel facilities for them, and they dropped in for a night on their way back from Birmingham. The following morning we woke up to thick autumn mist to find the boat festooned with cobwebs. Spiders and narrowboats go together: apparently they like slightly damp environments and at this time of year their handiwork is beautiful.

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We waited patiently. The weather was pretty awful, but Dugald managed to do a little DIY in between the showers

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and I made some changes to our garden.

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At last our shiny new propeller arrived.

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Ginger Bear again suffered the indignity of being pulled out. The propeller was fitted and tested, all OK.

We were nearly ready to go, but just had to take the car back to London. Dugald set off promising to be back later on a train arriving at 8pm. I spent most of the day washing the clothes and cleaning the boat. Unusually I was so organised that I timed supper to be ready as he arrived home. The phone rang just after 8, and he told me with an increasingly fractured signal that, engrossed in his book, he had missed the stop – next stop Worcester! I rescued supper, he grabbed a taxi and an hour later we opened a bottle of wine together.

We have changed our plans and are retracing our steps up The Avon. This may sound boring, but walkers know that ‘there and back’ trips never feel the same. ‘There’ always feels quite different from ‘back’.

We sampled new places.

It took us five hours to shake off Bredon Hill before we stopped at Evesham for the night

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Yesterday was a lovely sunny day and we moored at Bidford-on-Avon. Bidford is a pretty village which still retains a butcher, baker, small timber framed bank and a couple of pubs. I don’t know what the secret is, but they must be doing something right. We were by the large recreation ground and in the evening the entire village appeared to be out exercising their dogs and supervising their swimming.

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The sun is out again today and the river I found rather grey on the way down is showing its beauty. The leaves are just starting to change colour and there are bright berries everywhere.

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We have just moored the boat in the Stratford Basin again between Hamlet and Lady Macbeth. Like the other boats we are part of the tourist scene. We have visitors again so must go shopping. Anne and Richard are exhibiting in Coventry and we are close enough to provide bed and a good meal tonight.

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Shakespeare’s Avon Way

Dugald declared the end of summer on 31st August; that is his ex-farmer’s view – Mike Pearce used to say that a day in August was worth two in September. I felt this was a little sudden, and that a gentle ease from summer to autumn through September would be better. It was cold and I could hear light rain on the roof as I woke on 1st September; perhaps he was right.

Still mulling this over, we set off towards another flight of locks. Joining a boat in the first lock we realised we had committed ourselves to working the flight with a chaotic hire boat crew. Dugald’s note in the log reads ‘crew not very switched on’ – a massive understatement.

Happily I saw a single handed boat waiting in the lock ahead of us, I suggested they should catch up and help him, and we nobly held back to travel with the next boat. Briar Rose proved to be great company down the rest of the flight and beyond.

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We had to stop for water and let Adam and Adrian continue their adventure, but we had a fun day. I have just checked their progress – the elderly have dawdled while the young have been round the world and back.

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On Wednesday we motored into Leamington Spa and settled Ginger Bear near the station. The next day we took a train to London, leaving our washing in a laundry, in an archway adjacent to multiple quirky car workshops. We had an enjoyable lunch with my sister Anne and our son John. I mentioned that we had a twenty two lock flight to tackle the next day, and John offered to help.

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We zoomed through the Hatton flight the next day with John’s help

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Summer Wine had been waiting under a bridge at the bottom of the flight for another boat with some muscle, and joined us, the wife engaging John and me in a continuous commentary and life story, while Dugald had a silent trip with her almost deaf husband. There is no predicting who you will meet and work with next.

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We did a bit of route planning and set off the next day through another tunnel complete with separate horse tunnel.

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Turning down the Stratford canal we met the first of many pretty and very narrow bridges.

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We were now off the wide Grand Union and into the narrow locks that make up much of the canal system. The wider boats may be more comfortable to live on, but they can’t come this way.

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The Stratford is a very beautiful canal. We had early autumn/later summer morning mists. It was reminiscent of the bottom meadows at Bearley.

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We wound and ground our way towards Stratford, lovely canal, quirky lockside cottages, very heavy lock gates and heavy lock gear.

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We went over vertiginous aqueducts and through very low bridges.

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By the time we reached Stratford I was exhausted.

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A day of rest, wandering and being. We managed to get tickets for The Jew of Malta, a Marlowe play the next night, and invited John and Mackenzie to join us.

I had passed a woman on a boat brushing the deck enthusiastically while saying ‘it’s the same wherever you are’. She managed to make me feel a little guilty about my lack of housekeeping, so I spent part of the day cleaning the boat in anticipation of visitors. I am sure that John and Mackenzie didn’t notice but I felt better having cleared some of the spiders and dust away.

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We were last in Stratford when John spent a wonderful gap year in a local student company. We never spent much time in the town, but this time enjoyed an afternoon wandering around. It has not been spoilt by millions of tourists. It retains its extraordinary atmosphere.

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John bumped into a colleague TJ as we went into The Swan . He mentioned that his partner Becky Allen was signing for the performance for the first time. I groaned inwardly (and unforgivably) at the notion of signing during the play. I was wrong. Becky was utterly brilliant, sparky and engaging: she was the partner in Barabas’s soliloquies. She was a sprite who engaged with the play which was in its own right amazing.

The next day was  Dugald’s 66th birthday, he looks as if he has lost a couple of years in the last few weeks. We managed, with John’s help to have some family presents and lovely messages from friends.

We have now left Stratford and set off on another new waterway – The River Avon.

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I must admit that I am not a huge fan yet. Large heavy locks and a slightly dull appearance, maybe due to the lack of sun.

Dugald had a slightly traumatic birthday. Leaving a lock we hit something under the water: there were accompanying crashing, crunching noises and then we developed a clatter, clatter in addition to the usual engine noise. We often get things caught around the propeller in the canals: dresses, canvas covers, fishing lines, but this seemed a bit more. We stopped and lifted up boards in the stern, unscrewed the infamous weed hatch, and had a look. One of the propeller blades had changed shape and developed an interesting tight curve. My father who was the Navy’s propeller expert would not have approved of this new shape. There was discussion about trying to bash it back into shape, but unrealistic. We agreed it was not terminal, but needed fixing and decided to continue gently down the river and get a boatyard to have a look a little later.

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We moored for the night outside Evesham in a Lock cut. The lock had a strange ‘flood proof’ lock keepers hut which has been empty since being inundated in the flood of 2007!

We carried on clattering down the Avon through Evesham

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My view of the river and mood improved as the sun came out, and the cows came out to play.

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We shared a lock for part of the day with an engaging guy on Selworthy. He was very familiar with the Avon and its eccentricities.

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We spent most of the afternoon viewing Bredon Hill from different angles as the river wound round it. Dugald and Hugh remembered it from their childhood, and Dugald is obsessive about climbing up to the top again.

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We had arranged to meet Dugald’s cousin Neil and his wife Olivia at the Severn Sailing Club, where they have been doing time for decades. It was near here that Neil took Dugald and Hugh sailing in an Enterprise in the late 50s, so there were lots of family memories to share over a good supper with them. It was a delight to catch up after many years.

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Setting off again

Ginger Bear slumbered for four days in Northampton waiting for our return from a family wedding.

Our nephew Jun married his long term girlfriend Liberty. He looked great in his uniform, and she was beautiful in lace and embroidered cowboy boots. After the service there was a quirky reception in a field. The threatening rain clouds failed to deliver and the sun shone.

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It is a shock that we are now part of the ‘older group’, even if we still think we are thirty five. The little ones had a great time running round the field with balls, bats, croquet mallets and fairy wings.

It was lovely to catch up with our children, grandchildren, family and friends.

Ginger Bear had recharged her batteries and was ready to go, but it was raining heavily, so we decided to stay another night. I was able to spend a happy afternoon in the tiny marina laundry room feeding coins into hungry washing machines and tumble driers. I did manage to read most of a book during the lock in, but increasingly appreciated the ease of our friendly Brentford laundrette’s service washes.

On Tuesday we were working our way back up the seventeen locks from Northampton to Gayton Junction. The locks had been quiet on the way down, and were now very busy with boats in both directions. Some going down to the festival and others trying to leave before it started. Volunteer lock keepers were helping to maintain the flow, and we passed a friendly Leon who was helping another boat down.

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Reaching the mainline again, we turned north and moored near Bugbrooke in position to meet visitors the next day.

Claudia and Eliza (daughter and granddaughter) arrived the next morning having driven from Dorset.

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Eliza is used to staying on the boat in London, but was not very impressed when told she had to wear a lifejacket and lifeline when on deck. She managed this most of the time without complaint, and when fed up with the Hi Vis outfit entertained herself below with beads, colouring and favourite books.

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It was lovely having them for a couple of nights, and we waved them off on Friday morning hoping they would be early enough to miss the worst of the early Bank Holiday traffic jams.

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A passing boat had warned of a problem with the next flight of locks, so we decided to stock up with supplies at Weedon.  We were also keen to investigate a hidden military depot and barracks built in 1803 which originally had access from the canal. Legend has it that some of the buildings had originally been intended to hide the King in the event of Napoleonic invasion.

We peered through the old canal gateway, saddened to see the buildings had been turned into untidy industrial units.

On towards the Buckby flight and into our own Bank Holiday traffic jam. We joined the queue and moored for the rest of the day. All movement had finished, and some boats had been in the queue all day. We walked up the flight to look at the problem with the second lock of six.

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An impatient boat had tried to push its way out of the lock before the water was level and broken the gate. A very effective temporary repair was in place, but boats now had to be helped through the lock carefully by Canal and River Trust personnel, one at a time. There were long queues in both directions.

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The next day we slowly moved up the queue, doing a bit of gardening and maintenance on the way.

The guys on the lock were really helpful and at least one had given up holiday to come in and manage the lock over the Bank Holiday weekend.

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We later moored above the flight of locks and wondered about the profession of the owner of a boat and house below the lock.

Yesterday we waited for the rain to clear before carrying on through a long tunnel and down another flight to Braunston. Passage through the tunnel became increasingly tricky as the boat in front slowed and then seemed almost to stop.  It was difficult to understand what was happening in the dark. When we eventually emerged we saw that a large wooden board had attached itself to the bow of the boat in front making it almost impossible for them to steer. They fished it out as they came out of the tunnel, and resumed normal steering. We then accompanied Crossley with her cheery crew and bouncy collie down through the flight of locks which made our progress much quicker and easier.

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Braunston was a major junction in the canals’ heyday, and still is very busy. Boats, many of them hireboats, going in all directions. We turned down the combined route of the Oxford and Grand Unions canals at an interesting dualled junction, and moored a little later.

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A circular walk, while supper cooked, took us to Flecknoe where we found an odd brick building with no obvious purpose on the edge of the village. It had the appearance of an air traffic control tower with no adjacent airfield. Unable to solve the mystery we carried on and passed a narrowboat decorated with almost anything that could be fitted onto it.

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Arriving back late we rescued our chicken and ate it. Delving deep into the internet suggested that the mysterious brick building was a corn drying kiln built between the wars.

Today, a morning of constant rain has given me time to write. We have watched frequent boats passing with grim faced sodden figures standing at the helm. Eyes straight ahead, no customary wave.

The rain seemed to stop after lunch leaving a general greyness and mizzle. We decided to go a little further.

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A few minutes after we left the rain started again, but of course it is now more difficult to stop.  We decided to continue to Napton Junction, turn right towards Warwick, and stop before the locks at Calcutt. Unfortunately for me a boat was waiting to go into the lock, so it ‘seemed sensible’ to take the opportunity to accompany them down through the three locks in the rain – and then stop. We are now moored in a quiet country spot. Not sure about the signal strength, so may have to post this tomorrow.

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