Three Aquaducts, Stratford - Sept 2020
Monday, 21st September 2020
Cast Iron & Contentment (Three Aqueducts, Stratford Canal) Written by Clive Edwards A quick look at the road map on Friday night showed that Lowsonford is in the middle of rolling Warwickshire countryside with no major road access. Ok there is a post code.
On Saturday morning I put the post code into the satnav, and it is not recognised. Put in Lowsonford, ok with a shorter version of the post code B95 5 (must be a small hamlet). Should take me along the M69, A46 and turn off somewhere! Off we go, M69, M6 (help), M42 (double help), M40 south to Junction 16 (looking good) and then country road to the start point. Trust your satnav even if it is not logical. Andy and Ushma were there already off-loading canoes, so I dropped off my kayak and gear and went to the finish point at Wilmcote. Dan soon joined me, then Andy with the minibus and trailer and then Lynne. We parked the trailer, masked and gelled-up then Andy drove us back to the start point.
Andy gave us a quick history of the canal, warning us that it was narrow so we should pass narrow boats in the wild side of the canal, letting them have the tow path side which tends to have more water depth.
The Stratford and Avon Canal has very little flow, so even though we had a tail breeze you still have to paddle to keep moving; when I got into the rhythm of paddling it became very easy.
Although the water is murky there is very little litter, so different from the Soar. Despite the number of locks that we had to pass through, we made reasonable progress, with the locks emptying and filling very quickly. We were generally lucky in that we arrived at locks as narrow boat were coming the other way. Ushma was the initial lock keeper, having done this paddle with Andy recently, learning the intricacies of winding paddles up and down. I think the canal was built quickly to cash in on the new phenomenon, linking The Grand Union Canal to Stratford. The Black Country was famous for its iron industry and this can clearly be seen with the great slabs of cast iron used to make the bases of the bridges (and the ‘U’ shaped sections for the aqueducts). If you ever do this paddle, be aware that the cast iron can be slippery, particularly when wet. At one lock we were held up by a volunteer lock/canal warden who was trying to move water downstream to fill up the canal. After an initial wait we portaged the lock which gave Lynne and me a nice long grassy seal launch back into the water.
The weather was perfect, open rolling Warwickshire fields and pleasantly shaded woody areas. The small aqueducts were hardly noticeable having become camouflaged with age. Andy encouraged Noah to become lock keeper and he managed very well, although perhaps a third Weetabix might help next time. Andy also got Noah to paddle his canoe for him while he walked to the next lock. Noah did well, keeping a good forward motion despite being hindered by those around him. This last lock was deep, but we were soon in and out.
A lot of the narrow boats are hired which occasionally shows. Andy and I were met by one hugging the wild side of the canal on a blind bend, with more lookouts than a ship travelling around Cape Horn. We moved to the tow path side as we heard a nasty grinding noise as the narrow boat ran aground along the bottom of the canal - they must have missed Andy’s team talk.
We stopped off at a pub for lunch, having had a mini break at one of the locks. I was behind Andy at the bar (2m distance) and heard, remember my poor hearing, the secret code words “Liver and bacon”. We went outside and sat at three separate benches to maintain social distance, and after some time a demasked waiter came out calling out a number. Andy again whispered the secret words “Liver and bacon?”. A plate full of thick slices of meat and chips, smothered in thick, dark brown gravy was placed before him. The way he picked up his knife and fork you knew he was in for a treat. At his first bite he radiated bliss. Sunshine, pint, liver and bacon, mmm. As he continued to eat, the air vibrated and there was a real look of contentment on his face, may I say even a SMILE. He looked at us all and you could tell without words he couldn’t care less what we thought. Here was a tiger that had been eating grass for a week and was now tucking into fresh antelope.
After a suitable rest we wandered back to the canoes and kayaks and managed to find a narrow strip of bank to get back on the water (the pub was situated in a large hire boat marina and the spaces on the bank were at a premium). We soon reached the longest aqueduct in England, built like a large cast iron bath. The ‘U’ shaped sections are pushed together, and the joints sealed/caulked. I think it must leak a bit, but there didn’t seem to be any water on the tarmac below. The walkway by the side appears to be set lower and gives an odd feeling as you are paddling slightly above pedestrians walking alongside you. There is no fence on the other side, so I assume narrow boats must ensure that their crew stay inboard.
From there it was a steady paddle back to the end point where the cars were parked. The only high bank of the day was the get off point and we all managed it without any swims. It didn’t take long for everything to be packed up and I drove Andy back to the start to pick up the minibus. I don’t think he deliberately picked the narrowest, windy road but luckily we didn’t meet anything coming the other way otherwise things could have got interesting.
I put ‘Home’ into my satnav and after a few twists and turns I got on to a main road that brought me out onto the A46 at Warwick. Very clever, except it then wanted to take the A45 and M1. Correction, the secret of satnav is to only turn it on when you need it.
Thanks to Andy (again) for a super paddle, full of interest. Thanks as well to everyone else, social distancing is not difficult when you are with responsible people who have common sense.