Hatton top lock (taking it easy for a couple of days)

There has been a mini dawn chorus for the last couple of mornings from about five o’clock so we have been able to lay in bed imagining it’s springtime!

It rained all day on Sunday so we didn’t venture out until after lunch.  I had worked out a 4 ½ mile circular walk starting along the towpath and returning through woods and fields.  It was grey, dismal and raining hard but we needed to give Buddy his walk.  even though we put his coat on him, he was not impressed with the weather either.  Normally, when we let him out he leaps off the boat to wait for us to get ready.  Not so on Sunday; he just sat on the back deck looking at us forlornly whilst we got togged up.

Every time we went under a bridge he sat on the towpath, in the dry, looking at us as if we were mad.  At Shrewley the towpath has its own tunnel giving a welcome respite from the rain.  It isn’t lit and it is steeply sloped making it rather disconcerting when walking through it.

Towpath tunnel at Shrewley

When we got to the point where we were to branch away from the canal we decided just to turn round.  The path across the field was so clayey that we would have found it hard going and the rain was getting heavier.

Monday dawned dry and mild but foggy and when Buddy and I went for our morning walk I came across our first snowdrops of the winter.  I know others have been seen round the country since early December but these were our first and a welcome sight they were too.  It reminded me that on Saturday we had noticed fresh catkins whilst locking up the Hatton flight. 

A few snowdrops in flower – our first of the year

When we got back I saw that our chives have started shooting – we had left them outside all winter.

Chives shooting

We had also left the thyme plant out all winter and it seems quite healthy still.  We were never successful at overwintering thyme in the garden of our bricks and mortar home.

Plenty of thyme

The winter pansies seem OK on the front of the boat even though they are very exposed

On Monday afternoon I walked north along the canal, in the direction we will be travelling, to find the next likely spot to moor for a few days.  Outside Hatton station looked pretty good as there was a short stretch of Armco and Karen can park in the free station car park.  We much prefer mooring against Armco as we can use mooring/nappy pins rather than having to knock mooring stakes into the towpath.

Looks like there’s enough room for us to moor on the short stretch of Armco on the far side of the boat in the foreground

Monday afternoon’s walk was a lot drier than Sunday’s, albeit still cloudy and grey

This map shows where we are cruising over the next few weeks.  We are currently at the bottom right of the right hand page.

I think of these two pages showing two canals forming an “H” with the centre of the “H” (Kingswood junction) in the middle of the right hand page.  The thick brown line running across both pages is the M40 motorway.

The Grand Union canal forms the right hand side of the “H” and runs up to Birmingham via Solihull.  The North Stratford canal runs up as the top half of the left hand side of the “H” – it meets the Worcester & Birmingham canal at Kings Norton junction which tracks north into Birmingham past the university and south to meet the River Severn at Worcester.

Our plan is to go up to the middle of the “H” and down the South Stratford canal (the left hand bottom leg of the “H”) to Stratford on Avon.  The trouble is, is that some of the locks are closed on the South Stratford canal for maintenance so we will have to wait until we can go down there – they are due to open towards the end of February.

Whilst we are waiting we shall probably carry on up the right hand side of the “H” to the water point at Rising Bridge near the top and stay there for a couple of weeks before turning round and heading back to Kingswood junction whilst we wait for the locks to open.

I’m looking forward to the South Stratford canal as it has single width locks which are generally simpler to operate when single handing.  We haven’t done single width locks since last coming through Hillmorton on the North Oxford canal last October.  Although there are 35 locks on the short 13 mile drop down to Stratford, both Karen and I find the South Stratford canal a pretty and peaceful canal especially with its ornate iron bridges.  

We are both looking forward to spending a few weeks cruising down to Stratford where the canal meets the River Avon outside the RSC theatre. We may also spend some time cruising along the River Avon assuming it is not closed due to high water levels as often happens in the winter.

Hatton top lock (with some helping hands)

Saturday dawned bright and mild and there was no ice on the water which was a first for a week or so.  We had arranged to meet Mike and Lesley about ten; they were parking at the top of the 21 lock Hatton flight then walking down to meet us on our way up.  As it was we were running late and they were bang on time so we had only just set off when we saw them walking along the towpath.

It’s so much easier when locking up a flight when there are four people and we soon got into a good rhythm.  We weren’t in a rush so often I would be chatting away with Mike at the lockside and we hadn’t noticed the lock was ready for us to leave.

Lesley explaining to Mike how to operate the paddles…

…and Mike taking no notice and treating it all as a joke

Lesley must be telling Karen something naughty as Karen is covering up Buddy’s ears

The weather was so good that we were able to have our jackets off for most of the ascent.  Like, all the other locks on the northern Grand Union between Braunston and Knowle these were installed in the 1930s to replace the original single locks that caused bottlenecks for the freight traffic.  Typical of 1930s style are the concrete footbridges that must have been installed at the same time.

Mike explained that one of the bridges is called Ugly bridge and we were surprised that we have never noticed that considering the number of times we must have looked at the map of this section of canal.

An ugly bridge called Ugly bridge

Just after half way the locks are a lot closer together and make for a good view.

Locks 37-42

We reached the top in something over 2 ½ hours which wasn’t bad as most locks were set against us and we spent a lot of time chatting.  We didn’t meet a single boat which would never happen in the season – one reason why we like cruising at this time of year.  There were plenty of gongoozlers taking pictures and locals walking their dogs though.  Mike and Lesley say they always feel a bit bereft when doing this flight as they do not have a dog but there are so many dog walkers about.

Moored at the top of the flight in a dingy cutting at Hatton

Karen had made a splendid curried parsnip soup so we had some of that with some bread and then retired to the pub.  Unfortunately Mike was driving otherwise we may have spent quite a while there as they had more than a few real ales on offer.  We had a good catch up with their news including the latest plans for the build of their new boat.  Selfishly, for us, it won’t be ready until late summer/autumn so it means we can cruise down to Cropredy after visiting Stratford and take advantage of their mooring in the middle of the village.  At the moment we hope to be able to use it during the festival.

Looking down at part of the flight from the pub – Warwick church tower can be seen in the distance

After Mike and Lesley left we walked back down to Cape locks to pick up the car.  Rain hadn’t been forecast so we weren’t prepared for the hailstorm that started half way down but at least Karen got a picture of a double rainbow.

We drove back to the top of Hatton and stayed in for the rest of the day.  My middle daughter, Lauren, had sent Karen a new slow cooker spicy beef recipe so Karen had prepared that in the morning – it’s always good to have a meal in the slow cooker as it means all the preparation is out of the way by the time you come to eat it and we can just relax.

It was a great day to spend with our friends and here are a few more pictures:

Mike putting his back into it

Lesley telling me a story

Not sure why Lesley was saluting me – maybe the sun was in her eyes

Cloud reflection leaving one of the lower locks

Cape of Good Hope (Pohutukawa, the unofficial New Zealand Christmas tree)

We waited until midday on Friday before setting off for Warwick.  We were rather hoping a boat would come through and break up the worst of the ice for us so we would have a clear passage but no such luck.  Anyway it was nice and sunny all morning and the ice wasn’t really thick enough to cause much damage.

Ironically just after setting off, we saw a boat coming towards us.  As it happened it was Craig and Sarah who were moving from Warwick to Leamington so it meant I could just follow his channel all the way to Warwick.  We haven’t seen them for a few months and the boat was looking really good – they have been doing it up over the last year.  They have named their boat after what is commonly known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. 

Craig heading towards us on Pohutukawa

We stopped just below the Cape locks and had lunch whilst we filled up with water.  When I was in the cratch sorting out the hosepipe I noticed we have a lot of excess wiring still.  It’s funny how you get used to things as I haven’t been aware of it for weeks.  My son Steve is visiting next weekend and as he is an electrician I need to add a ‘tidy up cables’ task to his job list.

Looking through the wires to the bottom lock at Cape whilst taking on water

Karen enjoying locking as usual- Cape top lock can be seen in the background

We last came up these locks in November and I remember that it was just me and Buddy and it was absolutely pouring with rain – poor old Buddy was sheltering under every balance beam.  

We moored up above the top lock and walked back to Leamington to get the car.  As we set out it started raining so we were a bit wet by the time we got there. 

Our mooring for friday night - Cape top lock can be seen in the background and the Cape of Good Hope pub is just out of sight to the right of the lock

We got back to Lidl, where we had been moored, and realised Craig had taken our mooring there and he was outside cutting up wood so we stopped for a chat.  It transpired that we had also taken their mooring up at Cape.  He and Sarah have lived on the boat since returning from living in New Zealand a few years ago and they have had two children since moving aboard.  I noticed that he now had two stoves; one at each end of the boat so thought he must keep warm having to cut up twice the amount of wood.  

It was good to get home, especially as the rain hadn’t been forecast until later in the night.  An advantage of the rain coming earlier than originally forecast, was that it now looks like being dry on Saturday.  This is good news as Mike and Lesley are coming over for a cruise.

After this weekend our approach to cruising will change for a few months.  Although we are moving to areas that we have cruised through before it was when Karen hadn’t gone back to work so we didn’t have a car to worry about.  From now on I am going to have to make sure we move to places where the car can be easily accessible.  This is partly done from memory from when we went through the places before but I also use Google Earth to check out likely bridges to see if they have parking places nearby.