Napton to Stratford on Avon - August 2007

Friday 10th August 2007

Wigrams Turn -> Long Itchington 4m, 13 locks

The Smiths Three arrived at about 14:00 after meeting with Andrew's parents to hand Laura over. She (for some strange reason) preferred a trip to Amsterdam with the grandparents to two weeks on a narrowboat! Marc gets the rear cabin all to himself! Quickly aboard and filled up with water and away by 15:00. For once no side wind - a gloriously hot sunny afternoon and we were glad to get moving on the water.

Up the Calcutt and Stockton locks without problems - company through the locks which cut some of the work - managed to lock wheel most of the time which really smoothed progress (as well as being water-thrifty).


Moored at Long Itchington within 3 boat lengths of two pubs. Went to the Two Boats for a drink and a look at the menu to see whether we fancied eating there. Nice place but far too popular! Took 20 mins to get our first round of drinks and they were advising of a hour (or more) wait for food. So we had a 2nd round of drinks then headed back to the boat for tuna, sweetcorn & pasta and an early night.

Saturday 11th August 2007

Long Itchington to Leamington Spa 7m, 10 locks

Another gorgeous day: Alison's muscles a bit stiff from unaccustomed manual labour. Slapped on the suncream while waiting to join with another singleton. Formed a good team with Rosie Dayz working down the locks to Leamington.

This is our first trip with a folding bicycle picked up off Freecycle (an internet based swap-shop). The bike turned out to have been owned by an ex-Ownerships owner (can't remember which boat...). It has proved very useful already when dealing with locks which are spaced out - Andrew or Marc going ahead to set up the next lock.

Arrived at Leamington Spa early afternoon and moored to go and explore. Really impressed by this elegant, prosperous looking town. It reminded us - because it was built at the same time and for the same purpose - of Cheltenham where Andrew was born.

Leamington Spa Weir on river at Leamington Spa

Needed serious shopping - not only was there no Blue on board but Marc had packed an autumnal wardrobe and was expiring in the unaccustomed summer heat. Mid-locks he had even had to raid his Dad's clothing for something lighter to wear!

Cafe Rouge in Leamington Spa

We found an excellent independent outdoor leisure shop with a sale on and had a great time getting kitted out. Full range of shops in the town - Marc spent some of his pocket money on a PlayStation game - and we checked out the Cafe Rouge before returning on board. Came via the Somerfield supermarket which is close enough to the canal (Bridge 49) to allow the icecream to get back safely to the icebox. (We had moored before Bridge 49 but the following day found that there are better looking moorings on the Warwick side of the same bridge.)

Good outdoors shop and Pizza Hut in Leamington Spa!

Decided there that we rather liked Leamington and would eat out in town rather than our previous plan of moving on to Warwick. Back into town for dinner at the Pizza Hut where the parents had a small pizza and a nice healthy salad bowl and Marc just had a medium deep-pan pizza! Managed to find a small corner for dessert - Andrew had the usual cheesecake while the others attacked a profiterole mountain!

Sunday 12th August 2007

Leamington Spa to Warwick 2.5 miles 0 locks

Sunny morning. Alison back into Leamington to take the photos we forgot yesterday. Then after breakfast Andrew got on the bike to explore ahead to Warwick and reported back that living in castle rich North Wales we probably wouldn't be forking out £18.95 a head to visit Warwick Castle (Editorial note: £18.95 a head! Madness!!).

So we drifted down a couple of miles to moor opposite Kate Boats at Warwick and to meet up at the Cape of Good Hope pub with Alison's great-aunt and cousin who drove across from Worcester. A hearty meal geared to the needs of hungry boaters. Very hard to find from the bank - they had to be talked in by Dave the landlord who ruefully said that there were folk born and bred in Warwick who had no idea that the area of the city called "The Cape" was named for his pub! Fab list of well kept ales too- we thought the place would be much busier on a sunny Sunday lunchtime.

Cape of Good Hope

Back to Sojourn for tea and cake and to show Anne our pride and joy. Then our visitors left and we simply loafed in the sunshine. At midnight we hit the towpath again to look for the Perseids meteor shower in moonless and largely cloudless skies. Saw a good few before finally retiring.

Monday 13th August 2007

Warwick to Rowington 6.75 miles 23 locks

The Hatton Flight awaits! Watered at the Cape Locks - very slow tap so Alison succumbed to the urge to pick blackberries. We prepared to face the hill alone but were soon joined by a liveaboard and his three children who swarmed over the locks with complete confidence. However we soon caught up to a single boat that was really struggling - crew already tired and arguing by the 4th lock. So Alison joined with them to boost them upwards until they caught up to another singleton who kindly waited for them to join and Alison could rejoin Sojourn taking the helm for a bit of a rest!

Apart from a brief shower the day was bright and sunny with a breeze that was refreshing but not strong enough to give the steerer problems - absolutely perfect boating weather.

Nice mooring at Rowington Nice mooring at Rowington

Decided to stop in early afternoon near Rowington so as to keep our distance from the M40 - still audible as dull roar in the distance. Mince needed cooking to made spaghetti bolognese for tonight and chili con carne to brood in the fridge for another time. A gorgeous day and good company through beautiful countryside - who could ask for more?

Tuesday 14th August 2007

Rowington to Wilmcote 11.5 miles 18 locks

Alison's turn at the helm today. Andrew set off ahead for bread, milk and chocolate - life's little essentials - at Lapworth on the bike then waited for us on the towpath just beyond Kingswood Junction. Only the second boat we met was right on the junction. All stop and reverse to give nb Pendlebury (Ownerships? name rings a bell...) some room before making the narrow 90 degree turn ourselves and then another boat at the other end of the narrow neck mid-junction - then a third boat coming up the first lock of the Stratford Canal. Needless to say we then hardly saw a boat for the rest to the day and all the locks were set against us. Several canalside cottages with very distinctive roof shape.

Cottage on Stratford Canal

As the locks spaced out the bike came into play again although the towpath was not in a good condition (very muddy and lots of nettles!). Had lunch on the move despite solid rain practically the entire time - gave Marc the day off as there was no point all three of us drowning - finally easing during the afternoon.

Wet day on the Stratford Canal

Moored at Wilmcote around 4pm and went into the village straight away and went to look around Mary Arden's house (which turns out to be next door to Mary Ardens real house but hey...) - Mary Arden being William Shakespeare's mother. This is a Tudor museum where they demonstrate many farming practices of the day. All the staff are in costume and simply getting on with their tasks but happy to stop and chat about what they are doing and why. The actual Mary Arden house in next door and has been left as the last inhabitant had it in 1979 or so - basically early 20th century. Apparently her husband had put in electricity but it was so dangerous that the National Trust had to take it all out again. It really reminded Alison of how the old girls in her village lived when she was at primary school.

Mary Arden's House Mary Arden's House Mary Arden's House

We then asked for advice about the local alehouses - we were told that most people go the the Mary Arden but the Mason's Arms was better. We went to look at the Mason's Arms which looked to have a good menu but looked tatty and was closed and would not be serving food for two hours yet... So having picked up some stores and a couple of newspapers at the Post Office we went to the Mary Arden which was prosperous, friendly and, crucially, open! Comfy tub chairs, Abbot Ale and a waitress who materialised at the very instant we needed refills and to order. Andrew had black pudding salad followed by braised beef pie, Alison had carrot and coriander soup followed by liver and bacon and Marc had tiger prawn salad followed by ham egg and chips. Such gianormous helpings that we could not be tempted into pudding and carefully carried our distended stomachs home. By 20.30 we were nodding and by 21.00 our lights were out!

Wednesday 15th August 2007

Wilmcote to Stratford on Avon 3 miles 16 locks

A succession of sudden rainstorms, some thundery, all day. On our way about 09.00 - seeing our friends Rosie Dayz from a few days ago also preparing to head in the same direction. All the locks set against us and gear pretty heavy to use - a BW man commented that the structures are all so wonky that there is not much can be done without major overhaul.

Marc and Alison got a good overlapping team going, lock wheeling down the hill towards Stratford. Finally met a few boats going the other way including a hotel boat which left the top gates of two locks open as they could see us coming down and no-one behind - very welcome. Lock 53 is hard against a bridge and so the beam has to be at 90 degrees and it is, although ingenious, a little difficult to work (Ed: this description is the censored version of Alison's original comments!) and nearly defeated Alison. At the last lock a boat was waiting who assured us that there was plenty of room in the basin.

Sojourn moored in Bancroft Basin Stratford on Avon Sojourn moored in Bancroft Basin Stratford on Avon

Andrew spun into a narrow gap between boats to tie up to a pontoon like a seasoned veteran and all under the eyes of absolutely throngs of tourists. After lunch we went for a stroll around town - simply heaving - and considered whether to go to the theatre (Henry IV part II or the Penelopiad) Neither really attracted so it's looking like the Transformers.

Thursday 16th August 2007

Moored at Stratford on Avon 0 miles 0 locks

To Shakespeare's Birthplace for soon after 9am to beat the crowds. Interesting but possibly not so engaging as Mary Arden's house - it gets so many people tramping through that it has to be swept bare with only a few token objects. But still the weight of history in the place is amazing.

Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford on Avon

From there to more mundane matters - the launderette. While the wash was on, did grocery shopping - Marc sent back to the boat with the shopping while Alison back to do the drying cycle. Meanwhile due to flat batteries last night (caused we think by using the inverter to charge the laptop and power the PS2 at the same time) Andrew ran the boat engine.

Statue of Prince Hal at Stratford on Avon

After lunch the boys went to the cinema - however Alison went to the RSC (Royal Sakespeare Company) Courtyard for Henry IV part I - dimly remembered as O level set text. It turned out to be Press Day so we'll have to check the reviews to she whether she should have liked it! (She did). And amazingly, who should she bump into but friends from North Wales, a member of her choir and her husband who were breaking their journey back home from Somerset. They may come for coffee tomorrow.

The Culture Vulture met up with the Cinema Boyz at the Windmill; edge of centre so not too busy but still oozing character. Been a pub since 1600 - continuous list of licensees since 1720. Good food but clearly expect their clients to leave for the 19.30 show as the kitchens close at 19.00. Back aboard to read and settle down.

Gardens in Stratford on Avon Gardens in Stratford on Avon

Friday 17th August 2007

Stratford on Avon to Fleur de Lys pub Lowsonford 11 miles 25 locks

Sunny start but due to cloud over later so Andrew keen to be on our way. Did some chores, wrote postcards etc. while waiting to see if the North Wales friends came by. By 10am could restrain Andrew no longer. Made steady progress uphill although much traffic coming the other way which slowed us at locks. Couple of pictures here on the Edstone (or Bearley) Aqueduct

Edstone Aqueduct Edstone Aqueduct

Lunch while watering, BLT in pitta bread. Stopped about 6pm opposite Fleur de Lys pub at Lowsonford - supposedly famous for their pies but don't know what's in them. However we did eat extremely well. Must especially mention the Mediterranean tapas for two which were really excellent and did the three of us without any problem.

Sojourn moored opposite Fleur de Lys pub at Lowsonford

There was a late passerby at 10.30pm going down the lock in darkness - clearly due back in Stratford Saturday morning!

Saturday 18th August 2007

Fleur de Lys pub to Kings Norton Junction 12.5 miles 28 locks

A long hard day! Sunny start, increasingly damp until Lapworth flight when it began to hammer down and continued to do so the entire afternoon. We had been told the canal was pretty - frankly it was solid grey for us! However we were committed (possibly should be...) as we were booked into Cadbury World the following morning; so we had to put the miles in.

Cadburys World Marc on the way to Cadburys World!

Bridge 8 was an electrically controlled lift bridge which was easy enough to operate - quite a busy road too. We stopped for a pump out but were unable to get the rear tank cleared (blockage?). So that is currently out of bounds.

Marc cooked dinner: bangers, mash, green beans and sweetcorn then strawberries and jam - a feast and welcome after such a long day. We moored just short of Kings Norton Junction at about 6pm. Slumped in front of the telly - by 9.30pm we were nodding again.

Sunday 19th August 2007

Kings Norton Junction to Gas Street Birmingham 7.3 miles 0 locks

Interesting guillotine lock at the end of the Stratford Canal at Kings Norton Junction Kings Norton Junction

Overcast but dry, alleluia, for our early start from Lyons Boatyard to Bourneville: we were due at Cadbury World at 10am. Useful mooring by the rail station but still a long walk around the outside of the factory. Mostly very interesting apart from the "fantastic" i.e. surreal kids' railway - should carry a sub 8 years only health warning! At least it gave us a sit-down. Succumbed somewhat to temptation in the shop (though did manage to resist the £29 5kg bar of Dairy Milk).

The visit lasted two hours and then we continued down the wonderfully green avenue into the heart of Birmingham: moored at the Gas Street moorings. Scrambled egg on toast and a post-chocolate siesta while the rain came down again.

Sojourn moored near Gas Street Basin Birmingham

Useful Tesco Extra at the Mailbox with cashpoint outside and a dazzling variety of eateries. In the end we plumped (and that is by now the word after all our meals out!) for Café Rouge, largely because it was quietest - both lower sonic levels and fewer customers - gotta ease into the bright lights!. Very enjoyable meal and good conversation and back for a surprisingly quiet night - thanks to a wet Sunday evening?

Monday 20th August 2007

Gas Street Birmingham to Minworth 8.5 miles 26 locks

Retail therapy in the morning plus a walk to the BW office to seek advice on moorings as advised in Nicholsons. A completely pointless waste of time and energy we regret to report. The girl in the office was either completely clueless or desperate not to get sued by expressing an opinion about anything. Pathetic!!

Had lunch at the Handmade Burger Company canalside. Very good but not cheap or fast food. However interesting view of the burger as an art-form.

Marc outside the Handmade Burger Company

As the day was quite sunny and dry for once we decided to move from the centre via the Birmingham and Fazeley canal (aiming to return to Wigrams Turn via the Coventry and North Oxford Canals).

Heading out of Birmingham Heading out of Birmingham Heading out of Birmingham Heading out of Birmingham Heading out of Birmingham Gongoozlers even in Birmingham Heading out of Birmingham

Quick progress through the locks although one exciting overlap with another boat (Marc was helped through two locks by a gang of French girls one of whom in particular thought he was cute!). The canal is straddled by the construction of a block of flats; very short pound between locks and had to wait on the offside against concrete piers with nothing to hold on to.

Leaving Birmingham Salford Junction on outskirts of Birmingham Salford Junction on outskirts of Birmingham

Watered at Minworth Top Lock. A miracle! The first ever tap that did not leak at all - not even a bit. Moored a little further along at 6pm: jacket potatoes, baked beans and cheese. 57 channels on TV, not a thing to watch. Done 79 locks in 4 days - doubt we'll stay up late! It was nice to get back into the countryside though!

Countryside near Curdworth Countryside near Curdworth

Tuesday 21st August 2007

Minworth to Atherstone Bottom Lock 16 miles 15 locks

Continuing our epic dash back to Wigrams: off in good time in grey but dry conditions. Going down Minworth locks we were advised not to stop at Fazeley (we weren't) but to make sure we got through Glascote Locks as they were due to be closed Wednesday for emergency work. Got to the back of the queue (8 boats) for the locks at 12 noon.

Queue at Glascote Locks

Alison walked back into Tamworth for supplies while we were waiting; finally got clear at just after 3pm and were then able to press on into the early evening. Found a quiet countryside mooring about a mile before Atherstone, whipped up pasta carbonara settled down to watch Blues Brothers.

Wednesday 22nd August 2007

Atherstone to Newbold 24 miles 12 locks

A long old drive today. Blue skies first thing; clouds rushed in as soon as we unmoored. Steady but slow progress up the Atherstone flight - passed seven Canaltime boats in a row! Then long miles motoring - Marc happy as he could spend hours on the Playstation undisturbed.

Playstation time!

As we went through Nuneaton we had our first ever experience of yobs when a group of at least a dozen kids ambushed us and started throwing apples at us. Luckily no one was hit and pointing the camera soon made them run away. We had been warned about Nuneaton by a native in the Lime Kilns pub on the Ashby canal during our last trip so we were on our guard. Still not fun...

Bandits running away from the camera in Nuneaton

Sunshine reappeared in the afternoon together with - hurray! - a successful pumpout of both loos. Our game of poo-stirring (rather not go into detail) has apparently worked plus we surmise opening the loo valve helped by introducing air into the tank thereby improving suction. However it took an hour and Andrew was set on reaching Newbold for a pub meal. (You are right we should have stopped at Brinklow and walked into the village... Ed)

Compare this shot of Brinklow Marina to the brochure picture from 1970. Little changed!!

Brinklow Marina in 2007 Brinklow Marine in 1970

By the time we arrived at Newbold it was 8pm and full to groaning: all moorings full. So crept out banished to the countryside to moor at 8.45pm and the got cooking. Heaps of pasta and a daft DVD for recovery.

Thursday 23rd August 2007

Newbold to Wigrams Turn 17 miles 3 locks

The last leg: we return to base today as there's no point hanging on for the last night when we need to hand back so early in the morning. A glorious morning through lovely country side, veiled by midday.

Back to base

Arrived back at Wigrams Turn at 2pm and ready to hit the road by 3pm ready to beat the rush hour round Birmingham... Unfortunately 50 miles down the road we remembered that we had left the laptop computer on the boat and had to go back. Aaaaggghhh! Stopped for dinner (KFC) on the way home and finally got back around 9pm.

Next trip will be from the 2008 base which we picked at the owners' meeting in October. We decided on Wrenbury on the Llangollen Canal so very convenient from our North Wales home!

POSTSCRIPT: Unfortunately we decided at the end of 2007 to sell our share in Sojourn so we didn't get to experience Wrenbury. Bad timing really...

Andrew's LinkedIn profile