The Avon Ring Travelogue – Part 1 to Stratford-upon-Avon

26th July – A Late start today, a few jobs needed doing before we left Droitwich Spa Marina, first of which was a coffee and cake at Muffin Break, then some shopping in Waitrose.

Everything packed away in the cupboards and fridge, and we are off for a pump out and refuel. Oddly, after all this time, this is the first pump out we have done by ourselves, all be it with a little bit of helpful instruction, we are now truly boat owners.

It is now 2pm and we are heading to the last three locks on the Droitwich Canal and up onto the Birmingham and Worcester. Our plan was to get to Stoke Prior and try the Boat and Railway Inn, as this had been recommended by fellow Droitwich Spa Marina moorers Gillian and Steve (Hope I have the names right).

The beer and food was good with a table available by the canal.

27th July – Today was a much earlier start at 7:30am as we wanted to complete the Tardebigge Lock flight. It is a tough set of locks but we have completed it a few times before so we know what to expect, but before we got to there we had the six Stoke locks to complete.

Most of the locks went without much problem until we reach lock 52 where a canal boat had become grounded at the edge of the pound. Lucky for us there was enough water for us to get into the empty lock and then once we had exited the lock we released the water into the pound and they made their escape.

For the last five locks our daughter Mary decided she would have a go at locks, and she was a bit of a natural, hardly a bump on the way in. My reign as lock supremo my be fading fast.

After that she stayed in the helm for the Tardebigge Tunnel and the Shortwood Tunnel. Then we moored and I cooked a Green Thai curry from a kit we got in Waitrose.

28th July – A completely lock free day! Mary with her new found skill guided us through the Wast Hill Tunnel, the longest of the trip at 2493m, and she made it look simple.

Wast Hill Tunnel
Wast Hill Tunnel

We continued along and I nearly missed the Kings Norton Junction, we would have been in Birmingham tonight, but at the last second Sonia mentioned the sign said Stratford was a right turn.

Sonia navigated the Brandwood Tunnel, then we had some spectators, watch us at the Shirley draw bridge. They had seen it on Robbie Cummin’s TV series and the grandma had walked the children down to see it.

We paused at Dickens Heath for a bit of shopping and a coffee and toastie at Cloud Coffee, and almost made it back before the thunder, lightening and downpour kept us undercover just a few hundred yards from the mooring.

The evening was spent at the Blue Bell Cider House, not al a carte, but it is all good when you are hungry.

29th July – A late start today, but after breakfast we got away by 9:30am leaving the mooring outside the Blue Bell Cider House then under the M42 it is quite away to Lock number 2 Lapworth Top Lock.

Then they seem to come very quickly and we find ourselves at Lapworth Junction and lock 21, this is a very popular place as you have the option to go down the Lapworth link and onto the Grand Union Canal, we did that a few years ago, or as we have done stay on the Stratford Canal.

Front this point on the lock are a little more worn and delicate, with some of the paddle gears slipping and the locks leaking quite quickly. We where very luck that we saw a couple of boat returning from Stratford, so a lot of the locks where set for us.

I think I have walked almost the whole distance today, and after Lapworth junction, we finished the day just before Lock 31 and the Fleur De Lys Pub, which had been recommend to us by a passing boater earlier in the day.

30th July – Today started with breakfast at the Fleur De Lys for me, we needed to hang about and use the pubs WIFI to complete a video Dr’s appointment. I do recommend the breakfast, great sausages, the coffee could be a little more generously sized, but tasted good.

The rain was pouring as we returned to the boat, but we wanted to get moving, so we headed off into lock 31. Today I wanted to do the locks while the girls handled the boat; the locks on the Stratford were not the easiest with the gears often slipping.

After lock 33 we traversed over the mini Yarningate Aqueduct, which passes over a small stream and at just 42 feet long our boat easily straddled it.

Yarningate Aqueduct
Yarningate Aqueduct

Seven locks later we moored up just past lock 38 and dried off, we kept the engine running for a bit so we could put the wet clothes through the washing machine on the 30 minute quick cycle.

We had in mind possibly going to the local pub, The Crabmill but we where all ready for an early night.

31st July – Nice long chug to lock 39 which included traversing the Wootton Wawen Aqueduct and then another over the much longer Edstone Aqueduct as we chugged to Wilmcote Top Lock, Lock 40. Ten locks in quick succession and we had reached Lock 50, Wilmcote Bottom Lock, then we chugged into the outskirts of Stratford.

We stopped for water at Western Road Wharf, and a fellow boater told us there were spaces in the basin and also outside the Red Lion Pub, so we decided to continue into town.

Lock 52 McDonalds
Lock 52 McDonalds

While we waited for lock 52, Mary collected our lunch from the McDonald’s. I do like their coffee. On to the final push , we were only delayed at lock 55 which was leaking excessively, but a couple of very helpful CRT volunteers guided us through and when we turned the next corner there was one space left outside the Red Lion pub.

Bancroft Basin - Stratford-upon- Avon
Bancroft Basin – Stratford-upon- Avon

We did walk to the Basin, just a few hundred meters away and it had a few spaces, but as we where not sure how long we wanted to stay we remained outside the pub.

So far we have travelled over 41 miles and been through 98 locks.

Planning Our Next Trip – The Avon Ring

We have been planning our first summer trip as a narrow boat owner, when we first hired from Black Prince we had planned to do the Avon Ring.
Unfortunately, that had to be abandoned this due to the rivers being very high after a few weeks of rain and not being recommended at that time for canal boats.

Avon Ring
Avon Ring – Starting Point Droitwich Spa Marina

The route is approx 110 miles and over 130 locks, if we count the three to get on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal from our base at Droitwich Spa Marina.

This time we have almost 3 weeks to complete our trip, which should give us plenty of time to slowly meander the route, we may even take a slight detour to Birmingham.

The only major question is do we go clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Picking up Floydtilla

We were all very excited as we set off from Somerset to go and pick up Floydtilla from the Black Prince base in Stoke Prior. We aimed to get there for around 11:30 am so the rush of the hire customers getting underway would mostly be over.

Inspection and payment

When we arrived at Stoke Prior we could see Floydtilla in her new bright paint work, and we parked up in the yard. We had had the roof painted yellow and in the bright sun it will probably need sunglasses while we get used to it.  Hopefully this will keep the roof cooler, as the normal Black Prince dark blue can become a little hot to the touch.

They were all ready for us so we had a tour around and an in depth explanation of what we needed to know as an owner not a hire customer.

Black Prince Owners manual
Black Prince Owners manual

We got presented with what will become the Bible for Floydtilla which was a folder with all the manuals for the Engine, Gearbox, Heater etc, as well as 37 pages of general information and diagrams of all the systems. This was a gold mine of information and covered all the questions I had in my notes and I am sure many more to come.

In one of the cupboards they had also included two spare engine belts an air filter, fuel filter and oil filter, it is the little extras that make life simple.

Next came the fun with the bank: We had transferred all the money into our current account ready to make payment and informed the bank what was going to happen. They said that we would probably have to call to make such a large transfer as it could trigger the anti fraud limits. Once we were happy, Sonia tried to call the bank. The message on the automated response  let us know that “they have a high level of traffic at the moment” we did start to wonder when they didn’t! After 40 minutes hanging on we got to talk to a person and then a few minutes later we owned a boat.

Off to Droitwich Spa Marina

The Black Prince team had prepared everything, the diesel tank was full, all the beds made up, the boat had all it’s equipment just as we had used it in the summer.

I checked the engine hours (11,588) and then we asked them to help us turn her around and we set off down the Worcester and Birmingham canal towards Droitwich Spa Marina. What a great feeling, it was all finally ours.

We had a lot to learn as we found out a few hours later once we arrived at the marina. We had never moored in a marina before, and while we tried to find our allocated space the weather rained, hailed and blew us about.

Joining the queue at the Hanbury top lock

In a simple mistake we had been given the wrong berth number and when we found it, it was already in use, so we headed in to the next available berth. This took us many attempts and finally after a few four letter words we managed to get the bow in and finally tied up for the night. The office was now closed so we would sort out the correct berth in the morning.