Our successful efforts yesterday meant that we had enough time this morning to actually sit and eat breakfast, as a group, around the table in the galley with the boat still tied up. This is a rare treat, and one we all enjoyed. We had Eggs Washington (which is basically Eggs Benedict, with black pudding rather than bacon) and it was delicious.
After breakfast we got off the boat and ventured around Stratford-upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare and the large Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. Naively I had expected lots of people dressed in 17th century outfits, doffing their caps at passers by with a lot of “versooth” and “verily” going on. But I was sadly mistaken.
Stratford is a bit like any reasonably sized town in England, though perhaps with a few more statues about the place, and the beautiful river Avon running through it. There are fast food restaurants every few hundred metres, with coffee shops galore in between. It did have an all-year-round Christmas shop, and a slightly fake looking old building on the high street claiming to be the house Shakespeare was born in though. So there’s that.
We purchased the necessary river Avon license as soon as the grey boat (a floating narrowboat office, sat permanently in the Stratford Basin) opened, and we were soon all back on the Herring Gull and working our way through the final lock that takes you from canal onto river.
Working this lock in the heart of Stratford was a daunting prospect at first, but it quickly became easy as Elaine and I (or the founding members of the Lockworker’s Union, as as we have decided to label ourselves) chatted with a set of Australian tourists who were deeply fascinated by the whole process.
The wide, free flowing river Avon soon swept us along. Unlike yesterday we only had 14 or so locks to get through today, and they were all well spaced out.
The locks themselves were huge, much bigger than we had encountered on the canal and very industrial looking, made of metal. Some of the gates were surprisingly stiff, whilst others vibrated a little as you used them. Quite different to the traditional wood and stone canal locks we were used to.
After a long and event free journey down the stunningly scenic river we came to Luddington, where we left Trevor to fill the boat up with water, whilst the rest of us explored the local area. By this time the sun was in full force.
We all took turns to drive the boat, including entering and exiting the locks. There may’ve been one or two not so gentle bangs along the way, but surely that’s all part of the experience? Only once did the cupboards fly open, spilling their contents everywhere.
The river Avon is idyllic, but as with all things if you are surrounded by idyllic scenery for too long it all starts to look the same. So we had to find ways to keep ourselves occupied, including:
Judging the state and size of each house and garden we passed. Trevor and Elaine concluded that most of them would be improved with the addition of a horse or two. I enjoyed watching the robotic lawnmowers do their thing (and wondered if I could ever convince the Captain that we could use one at home). The Captain, for her part, spent her time deciding which house she’d like to live in. Jerry saw race tracks everywhere.
Coming up with exciting new ways to get on and off the boat – Trevor and I won this game by managing to scramble back on the boat before it had even left the lock. Though it was a bit touch and go as to whether we’d make it down the slippery lock ladder in time.
Turning one of the metal locks into an impromptu steel drum band – the Captain and I “entertained” the rest of the crew by rhythmically tapping the lock gates as loudly as possible. I think we have a bit of work to do before we can take the band on tour.
Playing spot the abandoned car – Elaine was best at this. There were several trashed cars just dumped in the undergrowth, which was a bit sad, and a bit surreal to see. Very out of character for this otherwise tranquil place.
As you can see, we found all sorts of ways to keep our minds busy as we chugged along.
One particular highlight, for the ladies in the crew at least, was watching a rather muscly young man pull a small ferry boat across the river by hand! I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about personally, but for some reason we hung around this location to make sure that Mr Muscles ferry got all the way across safely before moving on.
At one of the locks we found a fellow hire boat struggling to enter the lock itself. There was a bit of a nasty current to contend with, but eventually they managed to get in, and we slotted in next to them. Not only did this give us a chance for a quick chat with their crew (they had spent the previous day in Stratford watching The Taming of the Shrew, and were taking a full 14 days to do the Avon Ring, slow coaches!), it also meant that we didn’t have to work this lock at all. We could all just stay on the boat and let the other crew do everything. Which also conveniently meant we could overtake them as they had to stop and pick up their crew on the other side. Win!
We spotted a few interesting creatures on our travels today, including a couple of kingfishers, and a terrapin sunning itself on a bit of wood jutting out of the river. Not sure if terrapins are local to this river, or if it was an abandoned pet. Either way it seemed quite happy, in its own little world.
We also ate very well today. Captain/Cook did breakfast (as previously mentioned), I prepared lunch (the obligatory pizza), and Elaine and Trevor made a superb stuffed chicken and champ meal for the evening, Elaine used the power of dance to help mash the potatoes, giving a little wiggle with each thrust of the masher, which seemed to make all the difference.
Our final destination for the day, Pershore, is a market town that we plan to explore more of in the morning, although Jerry and I did go and find a postbox, so I can confirm that postcards are on their way.
For now we have moored up near a water pipe, so that we are ready to fill up the boat at our leisure tomorrow. Right now we are relaxing and listening to a nearby cuckoo whilst the golden sun slides gently down over the horizon. This is the life.