Stratford to Wilmcote – the Shakespeare leg

Day 10 of our cruise sees us leave the River Avon and re-enter the canal system. We awoke to a bright and sunny morning, people walking in the parkland adjacent and birds swimming about on the water. After a walk into town to visit a few shops, we got on our way just after 1pm. First up is Wide Lock (which I assume is called such because the lock on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal are narrow, except this one that’s wide to let river traffic into the basin), an easy right angle turn into (harder I assume if attempted after it has been raining, luckily we’ve had naught but sunshine).

Once through the basin it’s through the road bridge and on to the first lock. Warwick Road lock is just around the corner and there’s a fair wind blowing. All you need is a bit of pace and you’ll easily defeat the crosswind and turn, except that is when there is already a boat in the lock coming down. So back in reverse gear, stop, and the head astern so the boat can pass. Now if it wasn’t for the flats next to the towpath, this could have been tricky as the crosswind would have blown us onto the bank opposite, but luckily it acts as a very good windbreak allowing me to easily moor up to let the boat pass.

[youtube width=”520″ height=”360″ quality=”6″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uOsz3n6J_Q[/youtube]

So then it was just a matter of going round the corner, against the wind, ducking under the low bridge and into the narrow lock. We went through the next few locks quickly as they were set for us, though a slight delay at lock 53 because the boat inside didn’t want to come out! It seems they’d lost a windlass and spent 10-15 minutes in there probing around with a barge pole (not sure how they expected to get it back if/when they located it), it was slightly annoying because with a boat waiting you would think that either they would give-up or at least explain to the boat rather than wait until a crew member comes to inquire what the delay was.

We hadn’t set off until the afternoon, so this was going to be a short day – it was a toss up between staying another night at Stratford or going somewhere else. There’s a few locks coming out of Stratford and so the really first decent place is Wilmcote. When we reached the Wilmcote locks, an 11 lock flight, we found the locks were full, so decided to operate a leapfrog – two crew leapfrog each other operating locks whilst another steers the boat. This way there is one crew ahead getting the next lock ready whilst you are in one lock. When there’s a boat oncoming, you just wait and let them use the lock first – saves you having to ready the lock. As we did find a boat oncoming it meant at least the locks afterwards should be set right, but still leapfrogging meant the gate would be open for the boat to keep it moving forward fairly quickly. We arrived at Wilmcote at 6pm, so 17 locks and about 3.5 miles in 5 hours, taking about 10 minutes a lock really helped.

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