Friday, 20 June 2014

Umbrellas and Shakespeare

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’.

Narrowboat 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.

Barrel-roof cottage
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 

Over Winter 2013/2014 and a new Start

Barby Moorings on the Oxford canal wasn't quite what we expected but it afforded us security for the winter.

Barby Moorings
Ian and I planned to spend 8 weeks between January and March in Spain and we needed peace of mind while we were away. Barby Moorings provided just that. We went into the marina towards the end of October and we were given a lovely bank side mooring.

Before embarking on our Spanish holiday, Ian arranged for Windown to be put into ‘Winter Storage’ a no-frills mooring at almost half the price. This suited our needs as we were not intending to be around anyway and the financial saving was an added bonus.

We thought that Winedown could do with a new coat of paint. We had attempted to have her painted in 2013 but to no avail. While in Barby Moorings, we renewed our endeavours and after much deliberation, settled on boat painter, Ptolomy Lane of TJS Professional Boat Painting Ltd. His work was indeed professional and we were very pleased with the results. Ptolomy finished well within the timescale that he gave us and we were able to leave the marina early in May sporting our ‘New Coat’.

Lizzy & Simon with Ian

We left Barby Mooring on Friday 16th May and had only been out for an hour when we came across Simon and Lizzy Oakden on their widebeam  ‘Les Chenes Riverain’. We were invited to stop for tea but that turned into an evening drink and we didn’t get on our way again till next day. Oh well…That is boating. Our first social get-together on the Cut for 2014!

Simon and Lizzy turned eastwards towards Braunston while we left the North Oxford canal at Braunston Junction, continuing on the Grand Union canal towards Napton Junction. Our first locks for 2014 were the three Calcutt Locks followed closely by the Stockton Flight. A rude awakening to energetic boating!

At the bottom of the Stockton Flight we met Maddy Forth (from whom we bought Winedown as a project boat in 2006) and found ourselves moored alongside her boat Newdigate for 3 weeks! Maddy had asked for Ian’s help with her boat and in return, he was able to use her well stocked workshop to finish some repairs.

Steam-driven working boat, President

While we were moored alongside Newdigate we had the pleasure of seeing the last remaining (restored) steam-driven working boat ‘President’ and her butty ‘Kildare’ steaming along the canal. They were on their way to the boat show at Crick. On our travels, we have seen the pair on a few occasions but the never cease to move me. There is still something to say for the old technology!

The Butty, Kildare

I must just say that during the three week period that we were in Long Itchington  it was not all toil. We moved the boat to the Blue Lias pub for a break and later camped at the Crick Boat show with our friends Gary and Trevis and their boys Thomas and Stephan.

Thomas & Stephan on the buggy

We picked the best day to camp since it rained on the days before and after we went. The campsite was bogged down in mud and tractors were being used to pull cars (and even 4x4 vehicles) out of the mud. Our camping gear had to be taken to the camp side in a buggy because Gary couldn’t get his car in. Fortunately, our pitch was firm and as the day went on, the ground around the campsite started to dry out.

While moored at the Blue Lias we were joined by Simon and Lizzy on ‘Les Chenes Riverain’. A wonderful  surprise. Of course it didn't take long for the beer and wine to appear as we toasted old friends and new alike.

Before long, it was time to move on and start our boating season in earnest.  With several jobs completed, we felt that we had earned the right to start our ‘Summer Exploration’ and left Long Itchinton – home of the Warrickshire Fly Boat Company; and Maddy – on Sunday 8th June.

Passing through Leamington Spa, we moored at The Cape (lock 25) just on the outskirts of Warwick. Intending only to stay overnight and move on the next day, we realised how close we were to Warwick castle and changed our mind.  The original Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 Over the next 700 years this medieval castle was developed into the castle you see today. It was well worth the time spent. 

Warwick Castle
As might be expected, the ownership of the castle had passed through many hands. Over its history of nearly 1000 years, Warwick castle has been owned by 36 different individuals; has had four periods of crown property under seven different monarchs and has been the family seat of three separate creations of Earls of Warwick. It has been the family home of the Beaumont, Beauchamp, Neville, Plantagenet and Dudley before it was granted to the Greville family by James I in 1604. The castle remained the property of the Greville family until 1978 when it was bought by the Tussauds Group. 

Warwick castle was the first of our history lessons. On Wednesday 11th June we continued on our way, heading for the Stratford-on-Avon canal which joins the river Avon at Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare 450 years ago.

But first we had to climb the Hatton flight of 21 locks. It was at the bottom of the Hatton flight that we met narrowboat Umbrellas…