The North Stratford is a great link route into Birmingham (probably the most pleasant route in actually) but is not all that remarkable in its own right. One highlight is the Shirley Draw Bridge where a busy suburban road crosses the canal and boaters get to disrupt the traffic as they chug slowly through. We followed a hire boat who worked the bridge for us and so took the brunt of the glares from delayed motorists - thanks!
There are a couple more lift bridges on this canal, thoough both are very minor crossings. We had a couple of days of really heavy rain on the North Stratford but then again it was Bank Holiday weekend so we couldn't really expect anything else!
We didn't fancy doing the 15 locks of the main Lapworth flight in the pouring rain so we stopped at the top of the main flight and lit the stove to dry out. We were delighted to have a visit from local friends Richard and Jackie from nb Mad Hatter who we met on the Basingstoke Canal back in April. It was great to see them again and catch up on each other's summer boating stories.
Fortunately the following day dawned a lot brighter and drier so we had a pleasant run down the Lapworth locks, assisted by a very chatty volunteer lock keeper. Boaters have a decision to make part way down the flight as choosing the left hand lock in the photo below takes you to the Grand Union, whilst going right guides you towards Stratford. We went right, even though we should've gone left. No, we haven't totally lost it - it's just that we haven't done the right hand lock before so we wanted to complete the set. There's a handy cut-through between the two locks in the pound below so it was more of a scenic route than a wrong turn.
Shortly after we got on the Grand Union we moored on the embankment near Rowington, which has fantastic views. Fantastic views which soon disappeared as it poured with rain that afternoon and evening. Out with those firelights again then... The following morning we were treated to a chilly but clear start with mist rising from the canal.
We went through the Shrewley Tunnel, which has a separate towpath tunnel for the horses...
... then arrived at the top of the Hatton lock flight. These are 21 broad locks which descend all the way down to Warwick. There are great views of the town as you descend but unfortunately we had nobody to share the views with (or more importantly the hard work) as we seemed to be the only boat going down. Thanks go to the man out walking his dog who caught us up near the bottom and borrowed a windlass to work the last few locks with us!
The best mooring in Warick has to be down the Saltisford Arm. This is a short section of restored waterway which offers visitor moorings (free for the first night) with full facilities and is only a few minutes' walk to the centre of Warwick. We liked it so much we stayed for three nights.
Whilst in Warwick we looked round the Castle - watch out for BOGOF entry offers as it's pretty expensive if you pay full price. With one free entry between us we thought it was decent value, if a bit over-commercialised.
We also met the castle's bird collection - not sure about the short tethers they were on but we did later see a few of them out flying for a display so hopefully they do get some exercise.
We were treated to a nice sunset for our final night on the Saltisford Arm - a lovely, peaceful mooring run by a very welcoming group.
Supplies were running low leaving Warwick so we stopped at Leaminton Spa. Leamington wasn't a highlight of our travels but does boast just about every supermarket under the sun. We opted for Lidl - mainly because it is canalside but perhaps also to recoup some of the small fortune spent on entry to Warwick Castle!
We made it out of Leamington and stopped above Radford bottom lock. This pound must be a good half-mile long but somehow it dropped over a foot during the night and we woke up at a jaunty angle as PM had settled onto the mud. We never did discover where the water went - the lock below was well sealed so presumably there is a leak in the canal bed somewhere.
Using some brute force to shove PM off the mud, equilibrium was restored and we carried on eastwards. There are plenty of locks along this stretch and we soon came to Basford Staircase locks. Despite what it says on the sign, you can pass two or three boats in a staircase so here PM is climbing the bottom lock as two boats descend the top one. This does require a bit of narrowboat shuffling to pass each other but it works fine, although perhaps not if all three boats are full-length.
After a night at Long Itchington, the locks just kept coming. Here PM is passing another boat in the 10-lock Stockton flight.
We stopped below Calcutt locks and had a good walk (in the sunshine for a change!) around Napton Reservoirs and up Napton hill to see the windmill. We got a bit carried away with the distance so had to sacrifice the pub-stop on the way home :(
Today we climbed the three Calcutt locks and turned left at Napton Junction. Had we been a couple of minutes earlier we would've been T-boned by a speeding narrowboat charging across the junction. I didn't know narrowboats could go that speed - he was going so fast it looked like time had been sped up. Maniac!
After that excitement we had a leisurely cruise towards Braunston. We should've turned left at this junction but turned right instead (this is becoming a habit). Braunston is a real boaty place and we love coming here so detoured to moor in the centre for the night.
We have a great mooring right by a very busy winding hole which has provided hours of entertainment as we watch people turning (or, in some cases, failing to turn!) in the marina entrance.