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.
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.
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.
We zoomed through the Hatton flight the next day with John’s help
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.
We did a bit of route planning and set off the next day through another tunnel complete with separate horse tunnel.
Turning down the Stratford canal we met the first of many pretty and very narrow bridges.
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.
The Stratford is a very beautiful canal. We had early autumn/later summer morning mists. It was reminiscent of the bottom meadows at Bearley.
We wound and ground our way towards Stratford, lovely canal, quirky lockside cottages, very heavy lock gates and heavy lock gear.
We went over vertiginous aqueducts and through very low bridges.
By the time we reached Stratford I was exhausted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
My view of the river and mood improved as the sun came out, and the cows came out to play.
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.
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.
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.