40 Years on…..Take2
Stratford and surrounds
Since the last post on our travels a couple of weeks back, we have sure covered a bit of territory and seen a lot more. We have travelled down rivers, along more canals, travelled over aqueducts and gone through even more tunnels, one of which was over 2 km long. It is really interesting when suddenly you realise there is another boat coming towards you in the tunnel. They are designed so two boats can pass….just, however doing all this inside a pitch black dark tunnel is interesting to say the least.
We have navigated up a few more lock flights now, including the longer Hatton lock flight, but I have to say the Foxton flight still seemed the most impressive.
Our travels have taken us through some stunning rural countryside, some picturesque wee towns as well as some ordinary areas, just all part of the mix of travelling.
Part of our original planning was for the trip to take us through the Warwickshire area so we could specifically visit Warwick itself and Stratford on Avon. Close to 40 odd years ago in the month of May, we had a week on a canal boat in this same area, so a real attraction for us was coming back to see if anything was familiar. Short answer nothing looked even vaguely familiar, except perhaps the walls of Warwick castle, and some of the pubs some of them look as though they have never had a make over in 40 years either.
Warwick and particularly the castle were a big must do on our list and they did not disappoint. The walking tour offered at the info centre takes you round all the must see points in the town, and I for one can’t help by feeling overawed by the history and the way it is presented and so accessible. Warwick is a must see on a tour of the UK in my opinion.
The castle, and “what a castle”, it was still in private hands up to 1978 now it’s a national treasure and open for full inspection. Your entry fee gets you full unencumbered access with all the castle opened up and available. Now in all fairness it had a slight amusement park atmosphere to the visit with the plentiful availability of food outlets and souvenir shops, but every visiting kid needs a sword and shield or a princesses hat don’t they? The castle also puts on some some fabulous shows as part of the billing, from hunting birds of prey, archery, right thru to a trebuchet ( think catapult) in action, and later this summer they are starting a jousting show as well, along with free history and more serious tours about the castles inner workings. You can literally spend all day wandering thru this place but if you visit allocate 5 hours as a minimum.
Next major stop for us was Stratford an Avon, best known for its most prominent local, William Shakespeare. Before that thou we had a couple of busy days on the canals between these two historical highlights. There are some 55 locks on the journey when you travel from Warwick to Stratford, including the famous Hatton flight which has 22 locks just in this section. So if you ever do this trip be prepared, ( but don’t be put off) luckily there are a lot of volunteers now assisting on the larger lock flights, they have to just because of the idiots who sometime hire these boats. Certainly their presence make the travel a lot easier, they don’t do everything but they usually do assist.
However the aspect I will remember most, is crossing a couple of aqueducts on the journey as well, with one in particular setting the heart racing. The aqueducts are one way and essentially they are a heavy steel trough set atop the arches, so the canal can cross a major impediment like a main road, a railway line, a river, or a valley. The troughs have approx 6 to 8 inches of free board above the water line in terms of their sides to keep the boats in, there is no other form of side/ safety rails, health & safety just don’t seem to exist here. Sometimes one side can have a tow path so the queasy can walk across.
Now it all fairness they have been standing for decades and plenty of boats have crossed and no boat has ever dropped over the side (so they say), however when the wind is up and your boat spends the whole trip jammed hard against the drop off side of the aqueduct with you looking out at a 20+m drop, and there’s not a bloody thing you can do about it while you scrape your way along the couple hundred meters of its length, it’s fair to say the adrenaline sure kicks in. Especially when all you can think of is “metal rusts when in water”. To think we are still keen to go over the much taller welsh aqueduct at 127 ft tall …..must be bleeding mad.
Eventually we did get to Stratford and once again a walk round the centre of town following the tour trail takes you to all the prominent sites that were part of Shakespeare’s life. As with all historical towns the centre was very compact way back when, so getting around is not a big issue. The much newer Shakespeare theatre company is another very prominent presence in the town and is a another must visit, in our case this must do included tickets to a show. I think they have at least one playing every night of the year, now I have to confess Shakespeare works were never a major focus for me previously, and after a while listening to a lot of Pomms on stage talking as thou they lived in the 17th century got a bit hard to follow at times, but you can’t but help admire the whole presentation and professionalism of the theatre company and after a while me thinks I doth protest to much about the old language.
After a couple of nights in Stratford we left the canal and headed out onto the actual Avon river. We are travelling on this for a couple of days now heading towards Tewkesbury.
River boating is a bit different to the canals, and in our case we are travelling down stream so the current is always travelling with us. As with everything it’s the wind that causes the biggest issues and we have had a few more situations where a breeze is definitely our enemy, so much so that I literally had to jam the front of the boat into a lock gate with a bit of opposite steering lock to stop the wind blowing us onto a weir. Got to say we are certainly getting the full experience on this trip.
We are now well down the Avon river and tomorrow we will be turning onto the River Severn while we head towards Worcester. Once we get there we will look to park up for a few days while we head to London for the Chelsea flower show.
Next post will likely be from London and Chelsea, where I will regale you with stories of flowering fuschia’s and blooming begonias……bet you can’t wait.