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Narrowboat Holidays on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal

Kate Boats At Stockton Top Lock
Kate Boats At Stockton Top Lock © AboutBritain.com

Three years ago, we went on our first narrowboat holiday, which Clare wrote about in a previous article.

We had such a great holiday, and the article has been so popular, that we decided to repeat the experience, this time exploring a different part of the canal network.

We’ve been watching the Great Canal Journeys TV series where Timothy West and Prunella Scales explore canals throughout the UK and further afield - so we had a few ideas for places we’d like to visit.

Choosing a Route

We decided to go with Kate Boats who generously sponsored this article and our trip. We travelled from their base in Stockton in Warwickshire.

That location gave us several great choices of route:

  • Travel East on the Grand Union Canal, then South on the Oxford Canal to Banbury.  That would be a relaxed route covering about 50 miles with approx 50 locks.
  • Travel West along the Grand Union Canal and continue towards Birmingham
  • Travel East along the Grand Union Canal to Linford Wharf.  That route covers about 80 miles but with only 48 locks.
  • Travel West along the Grand Union Canal to the Stratford Canal and then South to Stratford on Avon.  That’s an active route, covering 62 miles but with 154 locks.

Gunner In His Doggy Life Jacket
Gunner In His Doggy Life Jacket © AboutBritain.com

In the end we decided that the Stratford Canal looked like the most interesting option as there’s no overlap with parts of the Grand Union that we covered last time, and the Stratford Canal looked like a unique and interesting canal to discover.

The only downside would be all those locks - including the daunting Hatton flight - but Emily assured us she’d be up for the challenge.

As she’d managed to do all the locks last time - and was now three years older, we reckoned she could cope.

The other benefit of the Stratford route is that you can choose to stop at Wilmcote, and avoid the final stretch into Stratford-upon-Avon itself - cutting out a total of 24 locks.  We thought we’d leave that option open, and see how things went.


Packing and Guidebooks

One of the advantages of a Narrowboat Holiday is that you can bring quite a lot of stuff with you.  In fact, with three people, a guide dog puppy, and no top box, the limiting factor was what we could fit in the car!

Check out the article What to Take on a Canal Boat Holiday for advice on what to take.

We bought the South Midlands edition of the Canal Companion guidebook by JM Pearson - which has lots of local information, as well as useful canal maps with all the facilities, locks, winding holes etc clearly marked.

The Trusty Pearson Canal Companion
The Trusty Pearson Canal Companion © AboutBritain.com

These are excellent guides, despite the seemingly random orientation of North on their maps which can be a bit confusing at first.

We also used the CanalPlanAC website again to generate a detailed route plan with timings and suggested stops.


Day One (Fri) - Picking up the Boat

Our journey down the M6 from Scotland is probably best glossed over, as a combination of torrential rain, seemingly endless roadworks and 50mph limits made us look forward to the tranquility of the canals.

Slow progress meant we only had time for one 15 minute break on the way down.  Fortunately this was at Tebay Southbound services.  They had an amazing selection of food, a farm shop, artisan baking, craft beers etc.  It’s absolutely nothing like a typical motorway services which might have a couple of fast food places and a big-brand coffee shop if you're lucky.

Bread Display At Tebay Services On The M6 Motorway
Bread Display At Tebay Services On The M6 Motorway © AboutBritain.com

We abandoned plans for a lunch stop to make sure we were on time to collect the boat.  Fortunately Kate Boats was easy to find, and we were quickly shown to our boat - the Patricia Helen.  The boat is 65 feet long and will sleep 6-8.

The Patricia Helen was beautifully fitted out with wooden walls and ceiling making it feel very cosy.  There was a mix of portholes in the bedroom and bathroom areas and bigger windows in the  living space.

Kitchen Area on Patricia Helen
Kitchen Area on Patricia Helen © AboutBritain.com

The boat had a kitchen, bathroom with toilet, basin and shower, a separate toilet - as well as a double bed in the stern and two sets of bunk beds.

Bunk Beds
Bunk Beds © AboutBritain.com

There was a large sitting area at the front of the boat with an optional table.  This area can also be converted to a double bed. There were two TVs on board, a microwave oven, and a gas hob.

Bathroom © AboutBritain.com

At first we thought there wasn’t very much storage - but during the week we discovered several cleverly designed storage areas concealed within steps and other areas, so we were able to keep the boat relatively tidy.

Kate Boats said that we could arrange for a Tesco order to be delivered to them - and they'd load it onto the boat for us.  That turned out to be a great idea which saved trying to pack even more stuff into the car.

After taking a few photos of the interior (before we cluttered it up) the next job was to transfer all our stuff from the car to the boat.  Which took quite a few trips - fortunately we were able to park close to the boat, so it was quickly loaded up.

Tesco Delivery!
Tesco Delivery! © AboutBritain.com

We’d arranged with Kate Boats that they’d supply a life jacket for Gunner - and they were good to their word and had a suitable dog life jacket ready for him.

Gunner Dog In His Red Dog Life Jacket
Gunner Dog In His Red Dog Life Jacket © AboutBritain.com

He can be a bit of a wuss, and was scared to get on the boat at first so I had to carry him on board.  Luckily, within a couple of days he was confidently getting on and off with no problems.

Colin gave us a thorough and entertaining briefing - which included all the features of Patricia Helen, how the electrics worked, how to perform the simple morning and evening mechanical checks, the rules of the canals, and so on.

We also asked his advice about our intended route:  Colin advised that while it's certainly possible to get to Stratford in a week - it might be a bit of an ambitious schedule, so we decided to see how things went and leave open the possibility of turning around at Wilmcote for a more manageable schedule.

It only remained to turn the boat around - (a task I decided to leave to the professionals - accomplished quickly and with great skill by Peter who turned the 65 foot boat around in a very small space without bumping into anything) - and we were on our way.

Stockton Locks
Stockton Locks © AboutBritain.com

As it was now about 16:30 and we hadn't had lunch, the crew insisted on mooring up just around the first corner, for a quick sandwich before they tackled the 8 locks at Stockton.  Much to the amusement of another party who had left 5 minutes behind us, only to discover us moored 400 yards away!

Getting properly underway, we dispatched the 8 Stockton Locks plus a couple more without incident.  The canal was quiet with very few other boats on the move - so I could line up for the next lock in the sequence without waiting at the edge of the lock pound.

I also took the opportunity to practice manoeuvring the boat within the lock pound while waiting for the crew to get the lock gates opened.

Patricia Helen at Stockton Locks
Patricia Helen at Stockton Locks © AboutBritain.com

We’d adopted the traditional allocation of tasks:

Quenton:  Driving the Boat
Clare and Emily:  Operating the Locks
Gunner:  Asleep Inside the Boat

I’m not quite sure why you usually find the men driving the boat and the women doing the locks - but it often (though not always) seems to be the way.

We passed a couple of lovely looking pubs at the canal side, before the light began to fade, and we decided to moor-up for the night at Long Itchington.

We’d planned to eat on the boat most of the time, and Emily volunteered to do the cooking on this holiday.  On the menu was a delicious Steak in Peppercorn sauce - so we were off to a very good start.

Schedule-wise we'd planned to be about 4 bridges further on, with the next day being a long one - about 8 hours 45, so we planned to catch up the following day.


Day Two (Sat) - Long Itchington to Warwick

We woke at 7am to a beautiful sunny morning with just a trace of a mist over the canal burning off in the sunshine.

Misty Morning
Misty Morning © AboutBritain.com

Did the morning checks (engine oil and coolant) on the boat, and got underway by about 8:15.

After a quick stop at Bascote to keep the water topped up, we arrived at our first staircase locks - the two locks at Bascote Wharf.  We arrived at the same time as a boat travelling the opposite way, and both crews were inexperienced with staircase locks, so there was a certain amount of initial confusion.

Fortunately a more experienced couple travelling behind us were able to help - before anyone managed to drain the canal - which would have been embarrassing!  We were able to share the next few locks with them, which saves water, and always speeds things up.

We had planned to have lunch on the move today to keep the schedule going, but Gunner needed a walk and I wanted to check the propellor for debris, so we decided on a quick stop.

Patricia Helen Moored
Patricia Helen Moored © AboutBritain.com

It was as we all bolted our food so we could get underway again, that we realised that the goal of reaching Stratford and the schedule required to get there was starting to dominate the experience - and it would be a lot more fun if we opted for an earlier turnaround point at Wilmcote.

With that decision made, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, walked Gunner, and Emily fed the ducks through the hatch before we set off again.

Lesson learned - though you need some sort of schedule to make sure you get where you're going (and back), it's much more fun if it's not too ambitious.

In the afternoon we cruised through Leamington Spa and into Warwick.  There aren’t many locks on this stretch, so the crew got a chance to relax and enjoy a new perspective on these towns.

Kate Boats Base in Warwick
Kate Boats Base in Warwick © AboutBritain.com

On our new "chilled out" schedule we didn't need to tackle the fearsome Hatton Locks until tomorrow - but I wanted to moor up as close as possible without actually getting into the flight.

Cape of Good Hope Lock
Cape of Good Hope Lock © AboutBritain.com

I was concerned that everyone else might have the same idea, and there might be no mooring spots available - so we tied up early and did a recce on foot.

There were some quite long stretches unsuitable for mooring (no rings, armco or bank), but there were plenty of spaces available elsewhere.

We did the final two locks before Hatton (including the first lock of this trip where we're going up-hill and filling locks rather than emptying them) and moored-up for the evening.

Our evening meal was Emily's first attempt at chicken curry - which turned out to be a bit light on curry, but was delicious nevertheless, and very welcome after a day's cruising.


Day Three (Sun) - Warwick to the Tom o' The Wood Pub

After a leisurely breakfast and dog walk we set off about 9:45 to tackle the mammoth Hatton Locks!

The Hatton Flight - Ascending

Hatton Locks
Hatton Locks © AboutBritain.com

We arrived at the bottom lock at the same time as a boat called Stealth, so we agreed to travel up the Hatton Flight with them.

The start is gradual - locks evenly spaced a little way apart from each other... however as we progressed, the locks got closer and closer together.

Hatton Locks
Hatton Locks © AboutBritain.com

Early on we decided on a routine where one person went ahead to set the next lock whilst the other two of us worked the lock the boats were currently going through.

Emily volunteered to be the scout going ahead. She did sterling work as all of the locks needed to be emptied before our boats could go into them - she really ended up doing the work of two people as she wound both paddles and opened both lock gates once the water was set correctly.

I particularly enjoyed learning to keep our boat alongside Stealth as we went from one lock to the next - leaving and entering the locks at the same time.

This was tricky in the larger lock pounds but it got easier as the locks got closer together, and I got the hang of it by the end.  It was certainly a time-saver and it was a great feeling when we both got it inch-perfect:

Surprisingly we met only one boat coming down, but there must have been a boat going up some way ahead, as most of the locks were set against us!

The owners of Stealth gave us lots of hints and tips about driving a canal boat and canal life in general - they have owned a boat for many years, and spend about 6 months of the year living on the water!  Locks are always a great opportunity to meet interesting new people and learn a bit more about canal life.

It took us about 4 hours to do the whole Hatton Flight, and that was a reasonably quick time as we had two boats going together, and three of us working the locks!

When we got to the top we rewarded Emily's heroic efforts with lunch at the Hatton Top Cafe. (Cheese and Ham toasties and home-made soup, followed by ice creams)

Hatton Top Cafe
Hatton Top Cafe © AboutBritain.com

Whilst we were resting at the top lock, we took the opportunity to wander round and take some photos of other people finishing the whole flight, and of the spectacular view looking back down the flight.

Here’s a timelapse video I shot at the top of Hatton Locks: Neither boat in the video is ours - as when we were going up, we were too busy driving the boat and operating the locks to record the process!

The best views of the steep part of the flight were from Bridge 54, actually before the last 4 locks.

Hatton Lock Flight Plaque
Hatton Lock Flight Plaque © AboutBritain.com

The Shrewley Tunnel

After completing all 21 locks, we consulted the Pearson Guide, and were relieved to find that our afternoon’s itinerary would involve no locks whatsoever!  It was an afternoon of gentle cruising punctuated by the excitement of the Shrewley Tunnel.

Shrewley Tunnel
Shrewley Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

The Shrewley Tunnel is only 396 metres long - quite short compared to the Blisworth Tunnel on our last trip - but still long enough to be interesting!  The far end of the tunnel was very wet, with lots of water pouring onto our heads.

There are a couple of sharp bends on this section of the canal, where you have to be careful not to cut the corner (and watch out for oncoming boats!). If you do cut the corner you run the risk of getting grounded on the mud and silt on the apex. This happened at one point, but we quickly escaped by putting the boat briefly into reverse.

Tom O the Wood Pub
Tom O the Wood Pub © AboutBritain.com

We arrived at our mooring for the night opposite the Tom O' the Wood pub at around 6pm. We went in for a drink and had thought about eating at the pub. However it was a Sunday, so they were closing at 8pm and not serving food.  Fortunately Emily was able to rustle-up a delicious Meat Roll for us on the boat.

This was where we’d arranged to meet our extra crew:  Pat and Ray (Clare's Mum and Dad), were joining us for a couple of days narrowboat experience.  The landlord at the Tom O' the Wood kindly said that they could leave their car in the car park for a couple of days. He even told them the best place to park so it would be covered by the CCTV cameras.

Tom O the Wood At Night
Tom O the Wood At Night © AboutBritain.com

Pat and Ray elected to sleep in the two bottom bunks - which are quite small for adults - but seemed to be ok.

The mooring places near the Tom o’ the Wood pub are handy, but quite noisy as the M40 is nearby.  We didn't really mind - after dealing with Hatton Locks, we were all too tired to be kept awake by anything!


Day Four (Mon) - On the Stratford Canal to Wilmcote

This was the day we were to leave the Grand Union Canal, and turn onto the Stratford Canal.

Grey Start To The Day...
Grey Start To The Day... © AboutBritain.com

The day started rather grey, with some spells of light rain.  We took Gunner for his morning walk along the towpath.

When we returned we were horrified at how many muddy footprints a German Shepherd can leave on a narrowboat’s carpet! Luckily they didn’t seem quite so bad once they'd dried.

By the time we’d done that, and had breakfast, it was 10am, and time to get underway.

After topping up the water tank, and a short cruise up the Grand Union, it was soon time to tackle the turn onto the Stratford Canal, which the canal designers have thoughtfully made much more difficult by putting a narrow bridge across it:

The Infamous Stratford Canal Turn
The Infamous Stratford Canal Turn © AboutBritain.com

I was forewarned about this turn, having seen it on Great Canal Journeys - but with two days of narrowboat driving behind me, I was hopeful of giving a confident display of boat handling skill.

Predictably, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Approaching the turn, with another boat close behind us, and keen not to cut the corner and hit the bridge, I turned a fraction too late, and ended up aground, broadside across the canal!

Entrance to the Stratford Canal
Entrance to the Stratford Canal © AboutBritain.com

As we worked to extricate ourselves using the pole, another boat travelling from the Stratford canal observed our predicament and decided to continue towards us - in the hope that adding a third boat to the mix might, in some way I can’t quite fathom, improve matters.  Predictably it only made the muddle worse.

Fortunately, canal boats aren’t terribly complicated things, and if you stay calm and don’t panic, things tend to sort themselves out - so with a bit of manoeuvring, we had a second attempt at the turn, got it right, and we all went on our way.

As soon as we turned onto the Stratford canal we fell in love with it:

Bridge 39
Bridge 39 © AboutBritain.com

The story goes that funds were very tight when the canal was built, so the canal itself, the bridges and the locks are all much smaller than on the Grand Union - and this gives it an almost “model-like” feeling - a bit like a narrow-gauge railway compared to a full-size one.

The only snag is, your boat is still the full-size one you set out with - and as you approach the first bridge you quickly realise the need to be careful and precise as you position your narrowboat.

We’d heard that being small, the locks on the Stratford canal were easy, and quick to operate.

Locks at Bridge 47
Locks at Bridge 47 © AboutBritain.com

We actually found the exact opposite - they were mainly pretty stiff and hard work to wind - and with most of them set against us, progress was quite slow, so we didn't stop for lunch as we wanted to be sure of getting to Wilmcote by dusk.

Lock Keepers Cottage
Lock Keepers Cottage © AboutBritain.com

Several of the locks had interesting lock keeper’s cottages with Barrel roofs - and a few had beautifully manicured grass areas around the locks making everything look very well cared for.

Lock Keepers Cottage
Lock Keepers Cottage © AboutBritain.com

The threatened rain never really came to anything, and the grey morning weather gave way to blue skies by mid-afternoon, and soon enough we were cruising through an absolutely gorgeous sunny evening.

Bridge 54
Bridge 54 © AboutBritain.com

I was quite pleased with how I was coping with all the narrow gaps - with barely an audible scrape - until one narrow bridge where we were discussing the best way to photograph the next aqueduct when I should have been concentrating on the bridge!

Luckily the misjudgement was only a couple of inches so it wasn't too bad, and no damage done - but not quite as smooth as it should have been!

Bridge 49
Bridge 49 © AboutBritain.com

Narrow Gap
Narrow Gap © AboutBritain.com

Edstone Aqueduct

The lovely weather was well timed, as we had a lock-free period of cruising in the approach to one of the most exciting features of this route - the spectacular Edstone Aqueduct which, at 145 metres is the longest aqueduct in England and crosses a minor road and two railway tracks.

On one side is the towpath (which is level with the bottom of the canal), and some railings.  On the other side, there’s nothing but a precipitous drop.  As your boat is only inches from the side of the aqueduct, you can’t see it, so you get the strange sensation of cruising through mid-air.

As we crossed, the sunshine cast a shadow of our boat and crew onto a nearby hillside.

After the excitement of crossing the aqueduct we arrived in Wilmcote at about 7pm (beginning to think I should cruise a bit faster).

Is This The Best Boat Name Ever?
Is This The Best Boat Name Ever? © AboutBritain.com

We went slowly through this section as I wanted to be certain not to miss the winding hole where we planned to turn the boat around.

For some reason winding holes aren’t marked with signs - and I didn’t want to miss this one - because you can’t just turn a 65 foot narrowboat anywhere you like, nor can you reverse them very far as they don’t steer in reverse. 

If we’d missed it, we’d have had to carry on to Stratford to find the next turning opportunity, and that would have wrecked our schedule - as it would involve 34 more locks (17 in each direction).

Thankfully we found it, and managed to wind (turn), on the second attempt.  Luckily there was no traffic on the canal, so we could take our time getting it right.

My day-to-day boat handling wasn’t too bad by this stage - but it seems like turns of more than 90 degrees still needed a bit of practice!

We moored up nearby, very pleased with our choice to explore the Stratford canal: It's charming, feels completely different to the Grand Union and has a character of its own.  It feels almost like a scale model of a canal and it was great fun to cruise.


Day Five (Tue) - Wilmcote to Kingswood Junction

It had been very windy overnight and we awoke to sound of strong wind in the trees near our mooring, and the sight of the wind driving small waves down the canal!

Narrowboats are heavy - but have a large sail area, so they can get caught by a strong wind, which can make them difficult to handle.

We were a bit nervous of setting off in such a strong wind, so we abandoned our planned early start in favour of some quick online research about canal boating in strong winds - none of which was particularly reassuring.

Just to be on the safe side, we put in a call to Kate Boats who suggested we give it a try and see how we get on - and to get back to them if we felt uncomfortable to continue. (They were very polite - they're probably well used to daft questions from inexperienced customers like us).

This turned out to be good advice because the Patricia Helen was much less affected by the wind than I'd expected - and contrary to the weather forecast, the wind soon dropped (or perhaps we’d just moored in a particularly windy spot) - the sun came out, and we had a lovely morning's cruising back along on the Stratford Canal with no problems.

Even travelling back across the Edstone Aqueduct didn’t seem too windy which was a relief as we’d expected it to be really wild!

There were some exposed areas of canal that we seemed to traverse with the boat slightly sideways, but it wasn’t really a problem.

Bridge 45
Bridge 45 © AboutBritain.com

It must have been quite a windy day though, because a passerby asked how I was coping with the wind, as I tackled a narrow bridge - thankfully I didn’t bash into it so I was able to truthfully say it was no problem.

Old and New Bridges
Old and New Bridges © AboutBritain.com

A quick stop for lunch near Lowsonford saw us opening the hatch - (a wonderful feature of the Patricia Helen) - then pulling the boat 30 metres down the tow-path using the centre line to avoid some bushes that were obscuring a beautiful view.  I love being able do that!

After lunch the lock team were back in operation, though again it took a little longer than we'd hoped to complete this section as three locks only had one paddle working - so they were very slow to fill - especially the last 10% or so which seemed to take an age.

Patricia Helen In A Lock
Patricia Helen In A Lock © AboutBritain.com

Lock Winding Mechanism
Lock Winding Mechanism © AboutBritain.com

I contributed to the slow progress when I misjudged a couple of lock entrances, due to the force of the water by-passing the lock pushed the bow wide at the last moment - requiring some reversing and lining up for a second attempt.

On the whole though I've really enjoyed the challenge of the tiny locks and narrow bridges on the Stratford Canal - it's very satisfying when you manage to slide the boat through a space with only a couple of inches either side, without touching the sides.

Narrow Bridge
Narrow Bridge © AboutBritain.com

At first it looks like an impossible task - but if you slow down and take your time - it’s really not that difficult.

Split In Bridge For Horse Ropes
Split In Bridge For Horse Ropes © AboutBritain.com

One interesting feature of the Stratford Canal is the split bridges, which have gaps down the centre.

This was to allow the horse towing the boat to cross from the towpath on one side to the other, without having to be detached from the boat each time - the rope could simply be passed through the gap in the bridge!

The turn from the Stratford Canal into the tiny entrance to the link to the Grand Union canal went incredibly smoothly - thanks to the large basin area provided.

Can you see the narrow canal entrance we're aiming for?

Stratford Canal Basin Turn
Stratford Canal Basin Turn © AboutBritain.com

Check out the video to see how we got on:

Even the final turn onto the Grand Union Canal (under the infamous bridge) was much better than my previous effort going the other way.

The day ended just as the light was starting to fade, as we resumed our previous mooring near the Tom o’ the Wood pub, where we all enjoyed friendly service and a delicious meal.

Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood
Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood © AboutBritain.com

With that, it was time to say goodbye to Pat and Ray - our additional crew.  This was their first experience of a canal holiday and I think they really enjoyed their introduction to narrowboating. It made an interesting change of pace from their usual camper-van holiday transport.

Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood
Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood © AboutBritain.com

Pat was particularly pleased to have seen a Kingfisher darting along the canal, and Ray also enjoyed joining the lock team, and having a chance to drive the boat - which he did very well.

If you moor up at this point (Bridge 63), look out for an information point near the bridge where you can turn a handle (very like a windlass) to hear a recorded message about the history of the canal.


Day Six (Wed) - Return to Radford Semele

We got up reasonably early so that we could get underway promptly as we knew we had to face the 21 locks of the Hatton Flight, and did not want to be starting it too late in the day.

Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood
Patricia Helen Moored At Tom O the Wood © AboutBritain.com

The weather was dry but still very windy - more so than the previous day - but we weren’t so nervous about it after seeing how well Patricia Helen handled the windy weather.

So, making sure we had a hearty breakfast as we went along, we cruised to the Shrewley Tunnel, which seemed to be even wetter than it did the other way.

Entering the tunnel from this direction, you can see an interesting feature:  When narrowboats were horse-drawn, the main tunnel was not wide enough for the horses, so a second Horse Tunnel above the level of the main tunnel was dug to allow the horses through.

Shrewley Tunnel Showing The Horse Tunnel
Shrewley Tunnel Showing The Horse Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

They used this tunnel to get to the top of the hill and then had to pass over the hill across the main street of Shrewley and back down the other side.

As we went through the tunnel, we noticed a forest of tiny stalactites hanging down above our heads, while water from recent rainfall gushed in, ready to soak unprepared travellers.

Watch out for the play of sunlight on the brickwork at the mouth of the tunnel when you exit - the light is reflected from the water and makes beautiful patterns on the tunnel roof.

The Hatton Flight - Descending

With the Shrewley Tunnel complete, the next feature to look forward to was the Hatton Flight.

Filling with Water at Hatton Top Lock
Filling with Water at Hatton Top Lock © AboutBritain.com

Top of Hatton Locks
Top of Hatton Locks © AboutBritain.com

We decided to fill up with water at the Top Lock - I dealt with this while Emily and Clare nipped into the Hatton Top Lock shop for some souvenirs, a loaf of bread and three ice creams for the boat’s freezer.

We knew we would be ready for these by the time we got to the bottom lock!

We’d hoped that by hanging around filling with water and shopping, another boat might have appeared to share the locks with - but unfortunately nobody did.

Hardly surprising as it seemed to be blowing a gale by this stage with lots of leaves and small twigs being blown off the nearby trees onto the boat.

We pulled away from the water station at 11:40 ready for our Herculean task!  With no other boats to share with, the crew were going to have to do all of the work themselves!

So many twigs and leaves were being blown onto the ground surrounding the locks, that more than once Emily and Clare were searching for their windlasses - they’d put them down on the ground and couldn’t spot them again because of all the debris!

Hatton Flight
Hatton Flight © AboutBritain.com

There were four or five Canal and River Trust Volunteers at different locks, who were there to help out - Clare and Emily were very grateful for the help! The volunteers also gave us a couple of helpful tips:

1. If the lock is empty (and needs filling as we were going down) but the wind is blowing the bottom gates open, don’t worry about it. Open the top paddles 3 or 4 turns only, and the pressure will close the wind-blown gates. Don’t open the paddles too much or you could empty the canal.  Once the gates have closed then you can continue to open the paddles all of the way.

Hatton Lock Flight with Warwick in the Distance
Hatton Lock Flight with Warwick in the Distance © AboutBritain.com

2. A typical paddle on this stretch of the canal takes two dozen turns to open. If you are winding a stiff paddle, turn it a dozen times, and wait about 30 seconds. Then continue opening the paddle for the remaining dozen turns and it will be much easier, because the pressure of the water on the paddle has been reduced.

Looking back up the Hatton Flight
Looking back up the Hatton Flight © AboutBritain.com

A volunteer warned me that one of the locks was particularly treacherous, with a very strong gusty wind that was causing people problems.  That was a big help, as it allowed me to anticipate the problem and get into the lock smoothly.

When we finally reached the bottom lock (almost exactly 4 hours later), Clare and Emily were exhausted, but not too tired to pose for a victory photo by the lock keepers cottage at the bottom.

Exhausted Crew After Hatton Locks
Exhausted Crew After Hatton Locks © AboutBritain.com

We all enjoyed the ice creams!

There were just a couple more locks to deal with, and then we knew there was a long lock-free section of canal through the outskirts of Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa.

Warwick © AboutBritain.com

Warwick was very busy with boats moored alongside and at marinas, but very few travelling along the canal - we only met one oncoming boat in this section.

During the cruise through Warwick and Leamington Spa, the boat seemed to be moving very slowly… we thought something must have got stuck on the propeller as we seemed to be making very little progress.

Cat Mural at the side of the Grand Union Canal
Cat Mural at the side of the Grand Union Canal © AboutBritain.com

So we stopped by a canal side play park to inspect the propeller. We felt it was important to continue the tradition of stopping at play parks whenever possible so that Emily could stretch her legs!

Playpark © AboutBritain.com

We couldn’t find anything stuck on the propeller, so we continued - we put the slow progress down to the low water level in this part of the canal.

The weather forecast for Thursday was dreadful (wind and rain all day) so we decided to press on and get as far as we could through Warwick and Leamington, leaving less to do the following day.

By about 7:30 we decided to moor for the night outside the village of Radford Semele. We chose a mooring with a country park on one side and lovely views across the fields to the village with its church tower on the other.

Moored at Radford Semele
Moored at Radford Semele © AboutBritain.com

Emily cooked another lovely meal:  Spaghetti and meatballs this time - which we were all ready for!

Predictably everyone was exhausted (understandable with the crew’s efforts on all those locks - but quite why I was so tired is more of a mystery).  So it wasn’t long before we turned in for the night.


Day Seven (Thu) - Radford Semele to Stockton Locks

The BBC Weather Forecast for today was dismal to say the least:  Rain throughout the day - with most hours having an 80%+ probability of rain - and some nasty looking thunderstorm symbols thrown in around lunchtime. Fortunately we had planned for this, so we'd scheduled quite a short day.

After a leisurely breakfast, and feeding a family of swans, we set off at about 10am, in rain that was steady, with the occasional downpour.

Feeding Swans on the Grand Union Canal
Feeding Swans on the Grand Union Canal © AboutBritain.com

Feeding Swans
Feeding Swans © AboutBritain.com

Luckily I have an all-in-one rain-suit designed for use on a motorbike.  And if it can keep out driving rain and spray on the motorway at 70mph (which it can) it's no surprise that it kept me lovely and dry on a narrowboat at 3mph!  I'd definitely recommend getting one if you're going to be boating in all weathers.

As it turned out, after a very good week weather wise, we were lucky again as the rain went away quite quickly - and though there were occasional showers throughout the day, it really wasn't a problem.

After the first few locks, we were joined by another boat for the next few - which was great as there weren’t many boats on the move.

Patricia Helen Entering a Lock
Patricia Helen Entering a Lock © AboutBritain.com

Ascending the Staircase locks at Bascote Wharf - I think the crew had it figured out this time, as everything seemed to go very smoothly.

As the day went on, the wind continued to rise.  Other than that, once the rain had stopped it turned into rather a nice evening.  We saw a heron quite close-up, and a kingfisher darting along the bank.

I did a couple of locks with Emily for a change, and the walk between them gave me a chance to appreciate the autumnal feel of the canal: Rose-hips, Blackberries and Crabapples were growing in quantities, and with a little mist hanging in the air after the rain, and some leaves just beginning to turn - it was very evocative.

We even met a couple who've been following our trip reports on Facebook - which was great to hear. Well when I say "met" - we managed to avoid bumping into each other as we tackled a bridge in the gusty wind!

We'd stopped just before Bridge 24 for a bite to eat and had planned to ascend the final 8 or 9 locks and moor up just round the corner from Kate Boats, to make sure we got the boat back on time.

Our Last Overnight Mooring
Our Last Overnight Mooring © AboutBritain.com

We pulled in at a water stop and recced the route ahead while we topped up. Unfortunately, we found out too late that almost everything past this point is private moorings, so there was nowhere for us to moor for the night!

Fortunately, a couple of the lock pounds were quite big - so we found the biggest one near the top and moored up in the middle - leaving plenty of space either end. 

Not a textbook place to moor up, but as there was so little traffic (nobody used the locks after us) we figured we wouldn’t inconvenience anyone.

By midnight the wind was really strong sometimes rocking the boat a little - so I was hoping the mooring pins would stay put until morning.

We could hear the rain lashing down and bouncing off the roof - it sounded like a wild night - but whatever the weather was doing, our last night aboard Patricia Helen was lovely and cosy.


Day Eight (Fri) - Returning the Boat

Friday dawned, the wind had dropped, and thankfully we were still securely moored.

Still nobody had come through the locks in either direction, but as it turned out, we were about to discover another good reason that you shouldn’t really moor in a lock pound:

We noticed someone on foot operating the locks.  After a quick chat it turned out that the previous lock pound to the one we were in had no water in it, and a boat coming up needed to fill it before they could progress.

Thankfully it wasn’t our fault - we hadn’t forgotten to close a paddle - that lock is known to have a leak and is on the list to be repaired over the winter.  But it’s just as well we didn’t try to moor overnight in that one or we’d have been high and dry by morning!  So that was a valuable lesson learned.

There was a short delay while we allowed enough water through to re-fill the empty pound, and then we were on our way, ascending the last lock of our holiday, so we could (reluctantly) return Patricia Helen to Kate Boats.

We had a fantastic trip on both the Grand Union and Stratford canals.  Overall we were lucky with the weather, which always helps.

I particularly enjoyed mastering the challenges of the Stratford Canal with its narrow locks and bridges (which aren’t really that difficult), and soaking up its unique character.

Conquering the fearsome Hatton flight, where I learned to leave a lock and enter the next one staying alongside another boat was another highlight for me (as well as giving my heroic lock crew a real sense of achievement).

Ideal Holiday For a Mix Of Generations
Ideal Holiday For a Mix Of Generations © AboutBritain.com

Once again canal boating has proved to be a wonderful way to enjoy the British countryside from a new perspective and at a very relaxed pace.

It’s also a great way to step back from everyday life:  Although there were two TVs on board, we never felt the urge to switch either of them on!

On this trip, we enjoyed having three generations of the family on the boat (as well as Gunner), and created some wonderful memories.

Gunner Dog Keeping A Look-Out
Gunner Dog Keeping A Look-Out © AboutBritain.com

Many thanks to everyone at Kate Boats for all their help - and most of all for letting us use their beautiful narrowboat Patricia Helen for this trip.

We hope you've enjoyed following along with our trip.  If we’ve inspired you to organise your own canal boat adventure, why not contact Kate Boats and ask about hiring one of their beautifully prepared narrowboats:


Full Disclosure:  This trip was sponsored by Kate Boats, and we’d like to thank them for their assistance.  They did not seek or receive any editorial input to this article.


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