Sunday, 26 March 2017

Edstone (butterflies at last)

Male Brimstone at Wilmcote

We thought we might see some people on the towpath on Saturday as it was the weekend and sure enough, when I opened the back doors at 8.30 a large group of walkers had already gathered by the aqueduct.

Walkers getting ready to walk to Stratford

As it was forecast to be such a nice day we packed a picnic and cycled the 5 ½ miles into Stratford.  It wasn’t long before we saw our first butterfly of the year, a male Brimstone – see picture at the top.  Suddenly it seemed they were everywhere and we saw at least 15 individuals during the day.  They were all males, which are distinguished by their bright yellow colour; females are much paler, almost lemon coloured.  Unlike most butterflies Brimstones never open their wings at rest.  The Brimstones seen at this time of year have overwintered as adults, usually in trees hidden in ivy leaves.  The wing shape is noticeably leaf shaped too to aid their camouflage.

When we reached Wilmcote we caught up with the large group of hikers I had seen when we got up in the morning.  A cyclist was telling them that the towpath had collapsed half way down the 11 lock flight and there was a diversion through a field.  He said it was extremely muddy and best avoided.  The group leader had a change of plan and they set off to walk into the village to visit Mary Arden’s house (and probably one of the pubs) instead.  We carried on regardless.

Karen waiting for me and Buddy to catch up at one of the Wilmcote locks

We soon hit the diversion and cycled along the footpath at the edge of the field.  It wasn’t that muddy so we weren’t sure why the cyclist was putting the hikers off.

After five miles we hit the start of Stratford and saw our first Small Tortoiseshell of the year followed almost immediately by a Peacock.

Peacock taken by Karen last year – the one we saw today didn’t stay still long enough for us to get a shot

Small Tortoiseshell by the canal in Stratford

We chained our bikes up at the end of the canal at Bancroft basin and walked up to the market.  During the winter you can moor for 14 days in the basin but from April to October it is 48 hour only.  We had hoped to get here a lot earlier this year so we could stay for two weeks but the lock closures have prevented us.  As it is we won’t be arriving until April so we will only be able to stay for two days.  There is a lock at Bancroft basin that leads onto the River Avon so we will probably head onto the river for a while after the two days and then return to the basin for another couple of days.

Tourists everywhere at Bancroft basin (me being a tourist by taking pictures)

We had our picnic on the banks of the river in the unseasonably warm sunshine.  Again it was packed with tourists – I seem to remember that Stratford receives the largest number of tourists outside London.  Karen remarked how ironic it is that we don’t like being amongst people but we chose to come into Stratford to have a picnic; however, there is a sense of being alone even in a crowd.

Our view across the river into the RSC theatre whilst having our picnic

On our way back home to the boat we saw a Comma butterfly.  This made four different species on the first day of seeing any butterflies this year.   In 2015 we saw our first butterflies of the year in Stratford too but it was over a fortnight earlier – we saw Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstones on March 6th that year.

Comma at Edstone by the boat
Catherine is coming to visit us for Sunday so I suspect we will have a good walk with her.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Edstone (ice creams and travelling with eyes closed)

On Friday morning Karen and I went for a walk with Buddy to Wootton Wawen.  First we crossed Edstone aqueduct and on the far side came across a pile of stanking planks.  These are ones that are used for stanking the aqueduct when it needs draining for repair or inspection.

A previously unspotted stanking plank store

We couldn’t believe that we have cruised and walked past here so many times but never noticed the store.  This was especially ironic as I said in yesterday’s blog entry that the only store remaining on the Stratford canal is at the boat yard in Wootton Wawen.

We are moored at the south end of the Edstone aqueduct by the “20 miles from Kings Norton” mile marker.  Another thing I mentioned yesterday was that we couldn’t find the 19 mile marker but we found it yesterday, hidden under undergrowth up a steep bank.

The missing 19 mile marker
Thinking about it the old GWR 19 mile marker I showed in yesterday's blog must have been the 19 1/2 mile marker.  It certainly felt like half way between he 19 and 20 markers to both of us.

After another ½ mile we turned off the towpath to follow a public footpath through some woods and across the fields into the village.  The first field had been converted to separate paddocks using electric fencing and it seemed odd that there was no way across – we weren’t happy getting Buddy through an electric fence as he gets so easily spooked.  We found a way round in the end even if it meant walking through the grounds of a large manor house.

As it was so warm we bought ice creams and sat watching the world go by for a while.

Our first ice creams of the year

We walked on a little further out the other side of Wootton Wawen and then re-joined the canal.  As we walked over the smaller aqueduct in the village we spotted yet another pile of stanking planks that we hadn’t seen before.  These were on the offside on private property so were clearly safe.  I couldn’t believe that we had obviously passed three different things in the past and not noticed them.

Planks for stanking the south side of Wootton Wawen aqueduct

For another gorgeously sunny day there was unfortunately still a chilly wind so yet another day has gone by without seeing our first butterfly of the year.  I don’t have records going back 50 years from when I was first interested (I wish I did) but I doubt there have been many, if any, years where it has been this late in the year before seeing my first.
Saturday promises to be another sunny day so our current plan is to cycle the five miles into Stratford on Avon and have a picnic by the river.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Edstone (pump out over a road)

Typical bridge on the South Stratford canal

After breakfast Buddy and I set out for the boatyard in Wootton Wawen.  It was nice and sunny with a slightly chilly wind but not cold enough to wear a coat.  First of all we walked down to set the first of only two locks we had to do during the day.

Buddy enjoying his sticks whilst Preston Bagot bottom lock (Stratford canal lock no. 38) filled up
Just after the lock we passed Pete and Sally's boat which is currently moored in a lovely spot in the middle of nowhere.

Pete and Sally's boat built in the 1960s

We passed under a few of the pretty South Stratford canal bridges like the one in the photo at the top.  Not only are they pretty but they are unusual in that the towpath does not go through the bridge hole as it does in most other canals.  It means the bridge holes are only just over seven feet wide and often at an angle to the cut itself.

Sun beginning to come through on the hills above Preston Bagot

This is a good stretch of canal for Karen as it is only a 15 minute drive along country roads to her office.  Once we are in Stratford it won’t take much longer as there is a main road running from the town to Warwick.

Squeezing through one of the bridgeholes

After a couple of miles we arrived at the boatyard in Wootton Wawen.  There appeared to be no one about even though I had phoned to check their opening times a few days ago. 

Approaching the boatyard with a hire boat fleet waiting for the season to start

Services are obtained by parking the boat in the aqueduct that crosses the main road into Wootton Wawen.  This means no boats can pass until services are complete which is not a problem at this time of year.  I remember a small queue of boats forming when we visited in the summer once.  After I moored up I phoned the yard to see if I could get someone to attend tp me.

Waiting patiently

Someone soon answered and came out to sort us out.  He said they had only seen one boat over the last few weeks (Helen on Pipistrelle) so weren’t really expecting anyone.  He said they had a couple of their boats out on hire but they obviously went in the opposite direction to us because of the lock closures on the outskirts of Stratford.

Car on a transporter going under the aqueduct

Stanking planks in a store at the boat yard

The stanking planks in the picture above are the only ones stored in situ on the Stratford canal.  All the other ones are now stored at Hatton because of theft for firewood etc.  These ones at Wootton Wawen are safe because they are on the offside in the boat yard.  They are used to stank the aqueduct when it needs draining for maintenance

We filled up with water, took on 111 litres of diesel and had a pump out then carried on cruising.  I decided to get to Edstone aqueduct and moor there as it is easy for Karen to park under the aqueduct.

Just outside Wootton Wawen a new marina is being built.  As we went past we could see it's in the very early stages and also that it is not very large either.

The new 50 berth marina being dug out south of Wootton Wawen

The second of only two locks on Thursday – lock 39, Bearley lock

Old stanking plank framework by Bearley lock.  

The framework above has been painted in waterways black and white unlike the one we saw at lock 27 which is just being left to rust away.

As you may know I try and get pictures of any mile markers on each canal we visit – see tab at top of page.  I was disappointed that number 17 is still missing – I had half wondered or hoped if SONACS (Stratford On Avon Canal Society) had replaced it since we last came through in summer 2015.

This is what the SONACS mile markers look like (on the right) – they were installed when the canal was restored in the 1960s

The SONACS mile marker 19 is also missing but the original GWR one (from when the railway bought the canal in 1856) is still in place and ‘19’ can be seen painted on the left hand side.  Not sure what the 11 means as they all seem to have that on.

Soon after Bearley lock we approached the 200 yard long Edstone aqueduct.  Like the other aqueducts on this canal it is formed of iron troughs bolted together.  It also has the towpath running alongside at the same level as the trough base which seems to be peculiar to this canal.

When we crossed the aqueduct in March 2015 in our old boat Chalkhill Blue

Several arches are not in view so it's difficlut to see the size of the structure.  For example, to the left there are six more arches crossing two railway tracks, a country road and a stream.

Once I had crossed the aqueduct I moored up and ran down and up the 45 steps that lead down to where Karen will park the car.  A few of us are planning on doing the three peaks next year so I don’t get much opportunity for proper training living on the canals.  Karen and I attempted it a few years ago; we managed Snowdon and Scafell Pike but had to give up when climbing Ben Nevis – our legs just gave way.  It is still something I want to do although over a weekend rather than in 24 hours.

The training steps

After lunch I went for a bike ride with Buddy to Wilmcote.  We didn’t see another soul let alone any boats on the move.  I went up and down the steps again a couple of times when we got back.

Here are some of the aqueduct pictures.  I didn’t feel I should go into the sheep field below so it meant I couldn’t get a proper picture of the whole structure.  It also meant I couldn’t get to see the spouts that protrude from the trough over each railway line.  They used to be used to provide water to the steam engines.

Looks like we're flying

The towpath is down to the left - no barrier on the right
Looking out the back from our mooring

Eyeing up the lambs from the aqueduct

The view from behind

Crossing the two railway lines - no barrier on this side

In all we covered four miles down two locks during the day and I had a smile on my face the whole day as is usual when cruising.

Our mooring for the night - aqueduct just behind us and no one else about