As we approached the Hatton Flight we saw two men on the lock wearing the distinctive blue shirt and red life-preserver of the Canal & River Trust volunteers. We had been told that there were often volunteers on the flight and it was indeed a welcome sight, particularly since we thought we would have to climb the flight without the help of another boat. But we were in luck. As the lock was filling the volunteer told us that he had asked the boat in front to wait at the next lock so that we could lock up together. He assured us that the crew of the boat were pleasant people and he was sure we would all get along. How right he was!
Fran & Roger and Di & Chris were the crew on narrowboat Umbrellas and we all seem to hit it off straight away. Very soon we were in a comfortable rhythm and the daunting 21 locks just melted away amid much laughter and chatter.
I commented on the unusual name of their boat and asked Fran how they settled on the name. Fran told me a lovely story which I will try to summarise. Fran and Di had been friends for a very long time, a friendship that started with nursing together. As time went on and their respective families arrived, they often took family holidays together in France. On one such holiday, they were playing on a sandy beach when a strong wind blew all the beach umbrellas away. A shout of ‘Umbrellas’ rippled along the shoreline as the brightly coloured umbrellas cartwheeled along, with their owners scrambling after them. Thereafter, whenever they holidayed together, the four would toast and clink their wineglasses together, instead of saying chin-chin or cheers as others would, they said ‘Umbrellas!’ Fran said that when they bought the boat, there was only one fitting name…’Umbrellas’.
|Winedown and Umbrellas|
At the top of the locks, we breasted up the boats and lunched together. It was then that we discovered that we were all going on to the Stratford-on-Avon canal so we continued on our way together.
At Kingswood Junction where the Stratford canal meets the Grand Union, Umbrellas encountered a boat coming towards them and they slowed to wait for it to pass. We, in turn slowed behind them. In the meantime another boat was manoeuvring to make the same turn that we wanted to make. Phew, it was all happening at once.
While waiting for the turn, Umbrellas ran aground on the soft clay at the edge of the canal. Once the way was clear, we slipped pass them, picked up their bow rope and tied it to our stern dolly. The momentum and our engine power easily pulled them clear. We were then able to make the turn and work the first 4 locks before mooring for the evening.
The following day, Umbrellas bid us farewell and continued on their way. We were in no hurry and wanted to enjoy as much of the scenery as we could, so we set off some hours later, mooring at Wootton Wawen later that afternoon. At lock 28 we passed a barrel-roof cottage that was quite extraordinary but typical of this part of the canal. The cottages, originally the lock keeper’s cottages have been largely extended but the strange barrel-roof is still quite evident.
Leaving Wootton Wawen behind on Friday 13th June, we looked forward to crossing the spectacular Edson Aqueduct but before we had gone little more than ½ mile, we saw the day hire boat in distress. They had run aground. Well, since we had practiced the manoeuvre just two days before, we simply repeated the process. We slipped pass them, picked up their bow rope and pulled them clear before continuing on our way. At the next lock, the day boat moored behind us and we discovered that they didn’t know how to work the lock. Once again, we helped them before continuing on our way.
|On the Edstone Aqueduct|
The Edstone Aqueduct is as spectacular as it was reported. The canal is carried across a water meadow, a rail bridge and a road bridge by this aqueduct. While we were several meters above the road, Ian received a cheery wave from a van driver on the road below. It was quite surreal.
We ended our boating day at bridge 59 which carried Featherbed Lane over the canal and into Wilmcote. It is here that the restored house of Mary Arden (William Shakespeare’s mother) attracts visitors.
Before we could settle down, a Canadian couple asked us to help them reverse their boat, passed several other boats, to the winding hole so that they could turn their boat. As all boaters know, there is little-to-no steering when reversing a narrowboat. Ian assisted at the helm while I took up the bargepole to use as a punt and between us we managed to reverse the boat is a relatively straight line.
Shortly after the Canadian couple were on their way, Sheridan and William, the couple on the day boat returned from the pub and found themselves in a similar predicament. They had passed the winding hole when they moored, giving no thought to how they would later return along the canal. They too asked us to help them. And so it was that Friday 13th turned out to be a day of rescue.
|Ian with the crew of Umbrellas|
The Canadian couple had told us that the train station was only a stone’s throw from the mooring and a convenient way to go into Stratford-Upon-Avon only a few miles away so on Saturday we left Winedown on the mooring and took the train to explore the birthplace of William Shakespeare. To our delight, we found Umbrellas moored in the Stratford basin and were invited to share a glass of wine with them. We later arranged to meet up with them the following evening to share a finger-buffet dinner alongside the canal.
Sadly, all good things come to an end and the following morning, we waved goodbye to Umbrellas and her crew as we all set off in different directions. I hasten to add… not before we had exchanged contact details. I believe It’s always such a privilege when strangers can lift the curtain on their lives and allow one a glimpse in passing. Here’s to you, Umbrellas, I hope we meet again!
Continuing on our way, we worked the final 16 locks on the canal and moored in Stratford basin, overlooked by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We had previously booked tickets for dinner and a play at the theatre so in true fashion we dressed up and enjoyed the Shakespearian play Henry 4th in Shakespeare’s birth town at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Since 2014 is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, it would be rude not to!
|The basin at Stratford-Upon-Avon|