Back In Stratford
We had just over a week to get back home in time for Sue's second injection. A holiday hire boat would probably do it in a day or two at the most. We planned to take a bit more time along the way, including a day off due to the growing expectation of a Bank Holiday washout. We started with staying put in Stratford on Wednesday. We had a tour of the town in the morning, did some essential shopping and in the afternoon went for a walk back down the river and round via the racecourse on the right bank to come back up and across the footbridge at Lucy's Mill and Sluice.
Welcome To Wilmcote
Thursday was still cool but bright with plenty of sunny spells and only a few spots of rain during the day. After a day off in Stratford we were planning to go all the way up to Wilmcote, only three and a half miles but involving seventeen locks, which should be quite enough for one day. With a couple of service stops on the way we were there in four and a half hours and moored up by two thirty at the visitor moorings there, which had been recently upgraded.
At the beginning of the month I had lost my phone. Finding my hands full when going out to the garage I had put it on the roof of the car, making a firm mental note to retrieve it as soon as I had reversed out into the drive. These days, such mental notes may as well be written in disappearing ink and in the brief seconds it took to back the car out it was completely forgotten. CCTV footage subsequently confirmed that it was still on the roof when I drove off. It is unclear at what point we actually parted company. Certainly, I retraced part of my route on foot the next day for an hour and found neither the phone nor any trace of its smashed remains. I hadn't lost a phone before but found it wasn't too much of a problem. I had come to the end of the contract some time ago so an upgrade was available, I could get the phone and SIM blocked and I was pleasantly surprised to find I had a full and current backup to download. Still it took a while to finish setting up the new device with the right settings.
While mooring up at Wilmcote I had to lean right down to secure one of the ropes. As my upper body rotated down through the horizontal plane the new phone glided smoothly out of the top pocket, which I had foolishly left unzipped, to slip gracefully into the water below with a discreet splash. It took a moment to realise what had made the sound. Having worked it out it was immediately pretty obvious that it wasn't going to be recovered. Nonetheless, we spent a happy half hour or so with fishing nets, litter pickers, magnets and anything else we could think of trying to find it. Finally we had to concede that the water here was too deep, it was too opaque and the puddled clay bottom was too thick for us to stand any chance of finding it. This time it wasn't quite such a simple fix. I was three weeks into a new two year contract so there would be no free upgrade and I wasn't anywhere that they could send a new phone or SIM card to immediately.
While working out what to do next we went for a look around Wilmcote. According to our guides, there was a shop, two pubs, Mary Arden's house as a visitor attraction and quite close by there was also Anne Hathaway's cottage. As we had expected a hard day on Thursday we had planned to stay here for the next day or so and make the most of these amenities. As it turned out, The Mason's Arms was permanently closed down, The Mary Arden Inn was locked and deserted with no indication as to if and when it would ever open again to serve what, Mary Arden's House was closed to the public for the rest of the year and the village shop was a ramshackle looking hut with a rather basic inventory.
We had always intended to spend Friday at Wilmcote. We were hoping for a bit more in the way of available amenities but it was a nice area with some good walks around it. Now, of course, this turned into mobile phone day. Having reported it lost (again!) and sorted through the options we settled on a plan of action. I couldn't really go without any phone for another week. Without the allure of new contracts EE handsets would be very expensive and it would be better to buy one, unlocked from a retailer. However, a replacement SIM card could only be provided by EE. Normally, they would send you one but in this case I would have to go into an EE shop and pick one up. There was a PC World in Stratford and also an EE shop that was open. One thing still available and fully functional at Wilmcote was the train station, a few hundred yards from the mooring. That could get you to Stratford in about seven minutes although it turned out trains were, at best, infrequent. Unfortunately the station in Stratford, the EE shop in the centre and the PC World in the retail Park formed a wide triangle pointing away from the canal. I decided to take the train into Stratford, pop into the EE shop for the SIM card, walk over to PC World, buy the handset (which was on offer and in stock) and walk back to the boat.
Having finally decided all this there was a train due any minute. I hurried up to the unmanned station and confronted the ticket machine, not a particularly complicated system but it takes a minute to work through the user journey if you aren't familiar with it. At that point it became clear my train was approaching on the opposite platform and if I went through with the ticket purchase I would miss it.
Resolving to pay the train conductor or to pay at the ticket barrier Stratford station I raced across the bridge and jumped on the train. There was no-one interested in checking tickets on the train, no sign of any staff on the platform at Stratford and the exit had no ticket barrier, it just opened out on to the street. I felt absurdly guilty for the sake of £2.20, less the Senior Railcard discount, but as no-one seemed interested I just had to leave,
First stop was the EE shop. I knew where it was and that it was open. It was, however, very small. On the phone EE had said just drop in and ask for a replacement SIM. On arrival it turned out that, due to COVID and the limited space inside, they were only able to deal with you by appointment and the first one was three thirty that afternoon. There was no-one in the shop or waiting but of course they had appointments in the diary. My suggestion that I could just wait outside while they prepared the SIM and handed it over at the door was given short shrift, so I made the appointment and carried on to find PC World.
That was more straightforward, if painfully expensive and I started walking back towards the canal and up to the boat. After a short interval and a quick lunch I was heading back down the canal to the EE shop again. At least I was getting plenty of exercise today! Arriving there at the appointed time I was given a replacement SIM. Having been made to make an appointment and come back I stayed there and set up the new phone, copying down all the backed up data, apps etc. They had much better wi-fi than we did on the boat and if I hit a problem I could ask them to sort it out there and then. All the time I was there they had not a single customer in the shop, by appointment or otherwise.
As it was now commuter time, there was a train due to depart shortly after I finished at the shop. A short walk back to the station, a successful ticket purchase this time and a seven minute train ride, wreathed in saintly legitimacy, saw me back at the mooring in Wilmcote with the phone crisis resolved. I just hope these things don't really come in threes!
Return To Lowsonford
The next day it was time to move on from Wilmcote and we had a longish day planned to take us back to the Fleur De Lys at Lowsonford.
We cruised over the Edstone Aqueduct again and had an unpleasant shock as we reached Bearley Lock and suddenly found ourselves engulfed in a fierce hailstorm. It only lasted about ten minutes but caught us at a bad time. Generally, the weather was fairly good, although the theme continued of hot, bright sun with very cold underlying air temperature as soon as you moved out of it.
As we approached Wootton Wawen we passed the recently created Hill Farm Marina with its even more recent casual dining venue "The View" looming over it at the top of the slope. It certainly does look like the marina with everything.
Just past there, across the Wootton Wawen aqueduct we stopped off at the Anglo Welsh base to take advantage of all their services and an hour later we were moored up for lunch just before Preston Bagot Locks.
The second hailstorm of the day came through while we were inside the boat so that appeared to have worked out well. That is until, as we were preparing to leave, I stepped into the long grass and managed to tread on a piece of bank that wasn't there. I suddenly found my left foot six inches deep in thick muddy clay and my jeans soaked to the knee. Not the first time and it won't be the last. A quick change and carried on up the remaining locks to finish the day at about five o'clock moored in our old spot, right opposite the pub.
Despite the sunshine when we arrived rather more persistent rain started about eight o'clock, which made the dire forecast for the May Day Bank Holiday Monday seem much more likely.
Timing Our Run
We were now within a day's cruising of our final destination. As our winter mooring arrangement was ending but we were not yet able to start the summer cruise, we had taken a temporary mooring for a month, half way up the northern section of Lapworth Locks, at a place called Briar Cottage.
We were now actually closer to our winter mooring, where we had left the car a couple of weeks ago, than we would be any further up the line. Accordingly, we had decided we would stay here on Sunday and walk over to the boat club at Hatton Station, collect the car and bring it back to park near the boat. Having the car would also give us a chance to visit a supermarket and run some other errands on the way back. For once, the plan for the day went without a hitch. It was a lovely sunny day with only occasional cloud and one short shower at teatime when we were already back inside.
The natural thing to do, then, would be to set off the next morning and head up to the new mooring. However, the last week had been filled with predictions of a Bank Holiday Monday washout and for once, the forecasters proved to be correct. A cool, grey start turned to short showers and then into steady, persistent rain with very high winds. Miserable for the customers of the pub, even in the wind tunnel marquee. Our plan then, rather than just plough on in the rain, was to stay put Monday and see how things developed from there, probably moving up on Tuesday. It provided a good opportunity to start sorting out some of the things we would be taking off the boat and pack them into the car ready for when we eventually went home.
In the end Tuesday was not a lot better. Short showers arriving frequently throughout the day and high winds persisting. In breaks between showers there did seem to be a lot of activity in the pub garden and around the lock for a Tuesday morning. It turned out to be television crews filming the latest stand-ins for national treasures afloat, Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock, setting off from the water point on Kate Boat "Robert". As we went about our business they took so many photos of us that I quite forgot to take any of them!
Looking at the forecast longer term, taking into account that Sue had to be home to get her second vaccine injection on Thursday and seeing that we were promised a vast improvement in the weather on Friday, we decided we would leave the boat where it was. There being no restrictions, beyond the standard fourteen days, we could just jump in the car and head home.
It was a surprise, then, to receive an e-mail from CRT the next day asking us to continue cruising. It was quite polite but implied that we had overstayed at Lowsonford and were now in breach of the license terms. A false accusation always gets you hackles up but it did say that, if you had any queries, you could ring Kelly and gave a telephone number. I rang the number and got straight through to Kelly, how often does that happen nowadays? She was very helpful and explained that they had only two sightings by their towpath monitors, both at Lowsonford, one on April 19th and another on May 4th. The presumption was that we had been there all that time, hence the e-mail. Regrettably, their sightings don't include which way you are pointing. We had a nice chat, I explained we had been down to Evesham and back during that period, she said that was absolutely fine and she took the enforcement e-mail off our record there and then. Really quite painless, as always with CRT.
Taking our time and choosing when to move the boat turned out very well. Friday was a stunning day. Sunny, warm, not too hot and very little wind. We drove over to Lowsonford and left the car there while we took the boat up through the locks to Kingswood Junction at Lock 21. We used all the services at the junction and carried on up the Lapworth flight, with a pause for lunch just before the Boot Inn, after Lock 15. Briar Cottage is effectively a strip of land on the offside of the canal just past the Boot Inn. There is quite an eclectic collection of small buildings on the site in various stages of development and disrepair. A small gift shop and café opens up occasionally on the canal side, but never on a Friday. Between Lock 13 and Lock 12 there is a short, wide pound in which a small number of boats can moor stern-on to the offside, breasted up to their fellow moorers and facing across the canal. As moorings go it is very basic. There is water available and there are electricity points which are managed by old-fashioned coin-slot electricity meters. These are so old-fashioned that they only take old-style fifty pence pieces, which you can buy from the proprietors. There are no sanitation facilities, you have to take your cassette to the CRT Customer Services Facility at Kingswood Junction. However, all of this is reflected in the price and the people who own it are very nice and easy-going, so it is ideal if you are not living aboard.
It is a bit tricky to turn and reverse the boat in the very short pound between Locks 12 and 13, with quite a strong by-wash pouring water into it beside the lock and a wide outlook opposite exposed to the wind. However, another moorer was there and happy to take a line for us and with his help Sue managed to back in very well. All that remained was for me to walk all the way back down to Lowsonford, pick up the car, drive it back to Briar Cottage to pick up Sue and the rest of the luggage and head for home. The end of another trip.