An epic voyage

So on Sunday, it dawned rainy, but there was blue sky on the horizon and after my early start with the ducks and swans, I was able to have a couple of cups of coffee and be raring to go. I drove down to Evesham to meet Ian (the canal car shuffle means leaving one vehicle at your destination point, and another at your starting point, then using the one to get back to the other). I was early and wandered about the little marina, which is small and quiet, with the wide river meandering past. It looks a nice place to be.

Back in Stratford, we met J and boarded Dreams, set sail and got ourselves onto the Avon. The Avon Lock is the most public one I’ve done but it was pretty straightforward and we all managed to get back onboard without falling in, emptying the pound, hanging the boat up on the cill or any of the other disasters which could happen. I remembered just in time that I hadn’t sorted the anchor out, so with J at the helm Ian and I fixed the rope to the chain and the chain to the anchor point. Phew. If we needed it, it would be more than a huge and heavy ornament. The sun was shining and at the Colin P. Witter Lock, opposite Holy Trinity Church, we picked up a lock partner to go down with (although they stayed on their boat and allowed us to do all the work on the lock… don’t worry, we allowed them to set a lock a bit further down!).

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The Warwickshire Avon

Boating on the river was really quite lovely. The town quickly fell behind us and apart from the odd glimpse of a marathon runner, there was very little urbanisation along the Avon. Several amazing, footballers-wives type houses, with boathouses and rolling lawns mown into perfect stripes- but very little other habitation. Ian played a bit of guitar and it was a perfect, lazy-Sunday mood. However, despite the lazy appearance, the flow of the river is really quite swift and we fell foul of this near Welford.

It was lunchtime and, thinking I’d be shouting the boys a pub lunch, I hadn’t brought more than crisps. The decision was made to push on rather than moor up for lunch, with the aim of eating properly in Evesham by 3pm as I’d been told by several different people that the journey was around 4-6 hours, and we left at 10:30. So Ian volunteered to hop off and run into the village to get some sandwiches, then meet us at the lock to get back on board. This he did, with perfect timing, but the lock was on the opposite bank to him and there was no bridge. J and I thought we’d pull in to pick him up so he made his way to a point from which he could jump onboard- but by the time he had done so, the stern, midstream, had been caught and pushed by the current in front of the bows… we were facing the wrong way. We attempted to perform the same manoeuvre in reverse but doing it on purpose was much harder than doing it accidentally had been.

Hunger is never a good companion to stress. Thankfully Ian had made it back with a selection of crisps, sandwiches, nuts and Scotch eggs and we tucked in while we debated what to do. The area above the weir was wider and we eventually decided to go back upstream, through the lock and turn around above it. This we did with no real problems- though Ian, on the bow, got seriously brambled!

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The brambled cratch area after our turning manoeuvre!

Still, after that little excitement we had quite plain sailing to Evesham. It was, however, a lot further than I’d been led to believe, and we didn’t arrive until half past seven. Luckily Boat Girl had stayed with her father (she’d been going to come, but when I told her that neither Ian nor J were bringing any children to entertain her, she changed her mind) and was put to bed at home on time. She’d have been bored- for little ones, too small to work the locks and too short to see and steer, boating isn’t very interesting in itself.

The weirs are quite a thing. Although they are signed, you often don’t get much of a sight of the sign until it’s the moment to make the manoeuvre into the lock cut, and many of the weirs are unprotected so if you’re inattentive, or inexperienced, it would be very easy to come to grief. Basically the river will split into two, with one part being the more natural course with the weir, and the other part being canalised with a lock. The river locks are big- wide enough for three narrowboats- and lined with metal, and the gates are also metal rather than then brick walls and wooden gates you get on the canals. The drop isn’t always deep but the lock chambers themselves are quite deep and menacing-looking (to me). As if you could enter Mordor through them! Being so large they take a big effort to open, although the paddle mechanisms are well looked after in general. As the river reunites under the lock and weir, the stream is obviously much faster for a while and you have to factor this into your navigation, especially with some of the channels which have quite a turn to enter or leave. You also need to be aware of the pull of the weir at the top- I think if you were running on amber boards you could have a few hairy moments.

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This shows the bottom of a lock, the way the channel splits into the lock cut and the weir on the other side. This weir is unprotected.

During the nine hours of navigation, we spotted quite a bit of wildlife: a heron, which had caught an eel; several swans, one of which wanted to take on Dreams in a fight; and these little cuties:

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A family of ducks: mum, dad and about eight babies

J and Ian also spotted a kingfisher, but I missed it because I was getting the drinks from below- so here’s a picture of that!

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I’m incredibly grateful to Ian and J, they were calm and collected when I threatened to diva off and have an attack of grumpiness or back-seat-helmsmanship and they didn’t bail out when the day stretched out and out and they remained unfed. I definitely owe them both a meal and a pint or several!

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