Stratford waterways


I love walking by water. I think being raised near Blackpool then spending 3 years at Aberystwyth Uni gave me a deep love of the seaside amble. If we could spend our twilight years in some cottage in Cornwall directly overlooking the sea with easy access to the beach (and a private jet to see my family), I’d die a happy man.

Spending a lot of years in London allowed us to fully appreciate what a great river the Thames is too and we’d spend hours with our kids and grandsons walking along it. Our place in Italy was only half an hour or so from the Adriatic and we loved nothing better than taking family and friends down to Porto Giorgio to sunbathe then have a long walk along the beach before a late lazy seafood lunch in a cool beachside restaurant. And in New York we lived midway between the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers and spent hours walking along them. Our Connecticut friends M&S with whom we spent most week-ends had fantastic access to rivers, estuaries and Long Island Sound. Even when we returned to Brackley we had the lovely lake. I guess the only water-free residence we had was when we lived in Buckingham but we only spent 20 years there so it hardly counts, eh!

And here in Stratford we have the fantastic river Avon running right through the centre of the town. There are walks and pathways right along it on both banks, swans galore, sailing craft of all types, some lovely stone bridges, several pubs and restaurants, relaxation spaces and the stunning RS Theatre nestled on its bank right in the heart of the town. It’s v English but also quite French – deliberately using the river as the town’s focal point. We stroll down there most days and just never get sick of seeing these kind of scenes…

However, much as I like this river it doesn’t compare with the other local waterway, the North Stratford Canal, which joins the Avon in the middle of the town. It runs northwards up to the Kings Norton Junction with the Worcester and Birmingham canal, just south of Birmingham. Now as usual with most canals it winds its way round the backside of the town. But here’s the thing; the Canal Trust (and I’m hoping the local Council) have completely made over the towpath from the centre of the town to the outskirts, turning it into a really pleasant walk. This town section is about a 5 km loop door to door which is a decent walk for us, and especially for Carol. But on a nice day it’s just lovely with lots of locks and bridges and plenty of benches en route to take in the views and some rays.  Take a look at some of the views…

I think this is an old lock keepers lodge. Dinky eh?

Now back in early February I went to have my covid vaccination jab at the local hospital and whilst queuing got talking to a nice lady about exploring the town and the area – I explained that we were newcomers. She advised me to visit the fine aqueducts just a few miles north west along the canal. Our daughter Becksy was staying with us during the lockdown; we were keen to keep her safe as covid was pretty rampant in London where she lives. But we also wanted to get her out and about (whilst safe-distancing of course) to improve her conditioning. So we decided on a little visit to the Edstone Aqueduct as the lady suggested, for a quiet walk. It was a relatively short drive out of town to the tiny hamlet of Bearley and then a hoik up a steepish set of steps to the canal itself. It was a bitterly cold day; check out Becksy’s look earlier in the day…

Brrr. The first thing we noticed was that the water in the canal was frozen to a depth of around 4″…

it took us about 5 minutes or so along the frozen muddied towpath to reach the aqueduct and what a belter it was. The longest in England, it is made of cast iron and opened in 1816 during the reign of George III. The Napoleonic wars were raging during its construction. Blimey. It’s also one of the v few towpaths where the walkway is at the same level as the base of the canal. And it crosses a road, a modern railway and the track of an old railway. It sounds so dramatic and yet it is kind of lost in the Warwickshire countryside. What a blood gem. Take a look at some of the shots of it…

We had a fab walk passing just the odd soul. This is a proper slice of industrial history and who knows about it? A week or so later we explored further afield on a far nicer day took in the slightly shorter but still captivating aqueduct at Wootton Waven where there’s also a marina and pub. I fancy a trip from here one day…

There’s a third aqueduct in the series another couple of kilometres further along which we have yet to explore but you can see how fascinating and under appreciated this old landscape is.

I got home after this buzzing. I remembered a narrow boat holiday we took with some friends (of mine) from work back in the late 80’s when our daughters were aged around 5-9. They had one boat and we another. It was our one and only time on the canals and it was a brilliant experience (apart from the fact we seriously fell out with our colleagues en route).  Anyway the trip we did was on the Avon ring. It’s a trip of about 116 miles possibly more which they recommend you take a fortnight doing as the max speed on the canals is 4 mph and the system has loads of long tunnels and around 130 locks which are great fun but v tiring and time-consuming. To do this in a week means you have to be sailing around 5-7 hours a day (depending on beer stops!)  Here’s a map of the circuit…

We started at Upton on the Severn, turned onto the canal system at Worcester and spent the last third navigating down the Avon. Now I had this memory of us coming down the Avon into Stratford. I remember we moored up overnight just before Stratford alongside some industrial units before we headed into town that night for a meal (where I think we fell out with my work colleagues). Anyway the other day to prove my memory right, I followed the pathway heading north along the Avon out of town to try and find these moorings. The Avon on one side is all private gardens and moorings and just public scrubland on the other with no buildings nor moorings. Odd I thought. After about 2-3 kilometres I came to a stretch in the river where it widened noticeably…

There was a large sign which indicated that this part of the river was a gravel stretch and it used to be the town’s wild water safe diving/swimming location. It did look v inviting I have to say. But it became clear from the sign that just beyond this point was the limit of any vessel navigation. Aha so we couldn’t have travelled down the Avon from Birmingham ways. So we had to have come down the N Stratford Canal and over those beautiful aqueducts. I find it hard to believe I navigated across them and cannot remember them at all. I’ve always had crossing the Llangollen aqueduct as one of the top 10 things on my bucket list  and yet here I’d clearly navigated the English equivalent, albeit a bit shorter in height and length but still bloody awesome, and had absolutely no recall of it. Maybe it was a long day eh. We’ve wandered out along the canal from town and found loads of industrial-sided moorings that we must have used to stay alongside over night. QED.

So there you go. Lovely walks and memories. And if you ever want to scare yourself half to death try navigating through the Tardebigge and Shortwood tunnels, pitch black with just a bicycle lamp to light your way,  and that beast of a deep lock at Tardebigge with 3 young kids on board. My bloody memory might be fading but I damn well recall those experiences. Shudder…

pp

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