Hard Work Hardware

The day started bright and yesterday’s blustery wind had blown away. Despite that, the air was cold, so we put on a lot of layers before setting off.  The towpath was still extremely muddy, so neither of us went ahead as we approached the day’s first lock.  As it turned out, that was a good decision – the lock was not only set our way, but the head gate was sitting open, so we just cruised straight in.  The additional benefit of this situation when locking down is that it is very easy for someone to get off the boat to work the lock – no ladders involved.

As we were driving away, Clare noticed another boat approaching the lock behind us.  They were going to have to work a lot harder than us.  We cruised slowly through the countryside with the throttle at our usual charge-maximising speed.  We soon reached Edstone Aqueduct – the longest cast iron aqueduct in England.  The fenced towpath alongside is at the height of the bottom of the canal.  Boats don’t get (or need) a fence.

A cast iron trough takes the canal to a vanishing point.  To the right the towpath is at the level of the bottom of the canal with a white painted fence. There is no fence for the boats. A railway line is just visible on the ground below.
Crossing Edstone Aqueduct

We were travelling a little slower than many boaters, and I was aware that the boat behind might catch us up before we reached the next locks a couple of miles ahead.  Before then, we stopped to look for some lunch in a nearby village.  Just before we set off for the shop I saw the other boat appear.  So now we’ll be following them and the locks will all be against us I thought, just as they swung in to a winding hole and headed back the way they’d come – result!  As we entered the shop, the smell of hot bakery products made lunch decisions easy.  Even though it wasn’t yet noon, we ate our pasties immediately.

Most of the bridges are very narrow – just a few inches spare.  Some of them have modern bumpers added at water level. Others clearly need them, they have chunks of brickwork removed.

A typical South Stratford Canal bridge.  A square brick support sits either side of the canal. On top of each, a cast iron plate angled up at about 15°. The plates do not quite meet.  Each has a handrail and is picked out in black and white paint.
Archetypal South Stratford Canal Bridge

We were soon at the locks that run down to the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon.  These are bunched quite close together.  Fortunately the towpath has been surfaced, so we are not working in mud any more.  It was obvious that some maintenance work had been going on.  The lock gates were recently painted, and the offside of the canal was piled high with mud that had been dredged out.  In one lock I noticed an unusual set of buffers.  These were presumably to stop boats becoming stuck on the sill created by movement of the lock walls.  I couldn’t decide which part of the wall had moved.  Presumably if it moves further the lock will need to be rebuilt.

The inside wall of a lock shows an abrupt horizontal displacement of a few inches.  Two vertical bumpers force boats to keep away from the edge at this point.
Protective Bumpers Inside a Lock

Clare struggled with opening some of the tail gates.  They are single gates, so are heavy, and have to be moved some distance before the water can escape.  Several times I had to climb out via the roof to help.  We swapped over after a few locks, but I warned Clare that I thought the propellor may need clearing.  This flight has a very strong by-wash and the pounds are short and turbulent.  Clare came out of the lock slowly because the propellor was fouled, and was promptly pushed completely off her line.  I could see she would take a while to resolve the situation, but that I couldn’t help.  I took the opportunity to get the next two locks ready.

A narrowboat is exiting the lower gate of a lock. On the far side of the boat a waterfall cascades in to the brown canal water with an apparent height similar to the boat.
Canal Waterfall

Clare limped through the rest of the flight but then we decided we’d need to get in to the weed hatch.  The hatch itself was very stiff, it hasn’t been opened for months – possibly over a year.  I got it open using two windlasses as levers.  The threaded retainer for the cover plate was also very stiff.  Gentle use of the percussive maintenance tool persuaded it to move, and I proceeded to guddle around the propellor.

A man lies on a mat on the deck.  His arms and head are not visible as they are thrust down an open hatch.
Guddling Around the Propellor

There was a lot of plastic and cloth debris tight around the propellor.  I eventually managed to release it all with the aid of my saw blade purchased for this purpose.  Even so I needed to get both hands in to the water, a slightly precarious state with my head down a hole with a canal in it.  As I was closing the hatch again, I realised that one of the hinges has snapped off the deck.  Fortunately it still closes reasonably well.

A mix of plastic, cloth and plant material sits in an untidy pile on the deck next in front of the tiller.
Debris Removed from the Propellor

With the propellor freed, we made good progress for the last few locks.  Several of them had their gates open when we arrived.  Some of the gates that we closed behind us drifted open again as we drove away.  One gate had been modified to allow for a road bridge to occupy the space previously used by the lock arm.  The replacement lock arm was disappointingly short, and I found I couldn’t open it.  Eventually Clare climbed out to help me – a rare event – and we just managed.

The nose of a narrowboat sits against a lock gate.  The arm of the lock gate has been replaced by a metal frame at right angles to the gate.  It is not as long as the canal is wide. Beyond the lock gate is a stone wall on a bridge over the canal.
Meccano Lock Gate

It was a short distance to the Stratford Canal Basin.  We took a short walk in to town so that I could buy some socks in a department store (other department stores are available – but not as many as there were).  Tomorrow we can be tourists in Stratford.

WordPress Cookie Notice by Real Cookie Banner