Friday 30 June 2017

Staffs & Worcester Canal. River Severn. Droitwich Canals. Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Caunsall Bridge to Gloucester

As this post goes to press, it is exactly 7 years since we moved out of our house with no idea of what lay ahead. So far it's been an amazing journey of discovery and adventure and we are just as excited about the future now as we were then. Thank you, Dear Reader, for sharing it with us, we hope you'll do us the honour of staying for the next 7. D&AMxx

With Legend tucked up happily at Caunsall bridge, we had a walk up the nearby Clent hills which were awash with bluebells,

before once again abandoning our boat for a week in Ireland with Chloe, Shandy  and Caleb. As we had a late afternoon flight from Gatwick we braved the traffic and drove down early to have the day with Mum and Dad. Dad cooked a delicious spaghetti bolognaise for lunch before very kindly giving us a lift to the airport. Chloe came and picked us up from Belfast, on the way home she proudly announced that she’d made dinner for us; spaghetti bolognaise! Luckily we love the stuff so it was all good. Caleb seemed quite happy about his dinner too.
During the week we went along with Chloe and Caleb to the swimming pool in Antrim. She takes him quite often, so although he’s only six months old he’s used to being dunked and seems to really enjoy being in the water.
We also had a day out at Portstewart Strand walking the dog along the beach and over the dunes. Great stuff.
The week was all over far too quickly. On the last day we took Paddy for a walk along Six Mile Water to Lough Neagh before Shandy dropped us off at Belfast International. On the flight home we got front row seats!
 Back at Gatwick, Andrew picked us up and took us back to Karen’s for the night. The following morning we were re-united with our car which meant we could give Karen a lift to pick up her new car before setting off back to the boat.
After breakfast the next day we were getting ready to fire up the Lister and cast off when a flotilla of three hire boats came past. Rather than join the queue at the next lock we tied up again and walked down to check out possible mooring spaces. Finding the perfect middle-of-nowhere spot at Wolverley Court, we high-tailed it back, waving at all the hire boaters who had now come through the lock. So far the plan was working, there was no queue, but when we came round the bend at Wolverley there were two boats moored up almost bang-on where we’d picked. Wolverley is lovely, they’d obviously got good taste too!

Our first sight of Kidderminster was two fellas from Sainsbury’s trying to lasso one of their trollies that had been pushed in the cut. We pulled over and gave a hand with the boat hook, then tied up to check out the moorings. After a session of deliberation we decided to stay put outside the supermarket which, with hindsight, probably wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had. That’s not to say that Kidderminster is a terrible place - it isn’t...

it has some fabulous old warehouses and mills, it’s very convenient for shopping and most of the people are perfectly civilised.  We just happened to park our boat between two pubs on a Saturday night.
One thing did stand out though. A man with a bike knocked on the window and gave us some sob story about some young lad whose father had been rushed into hospital far away and needed a lift to go and see him. He (the man) wanted to give him a lift but he didn’t have enough money for petrol, and could we lend him a tenner? He offered to leave a designer jumper as security. It all sounded a bit rehearsed and pat, and we didn’t have a tenner anyway so we sent him away. After a bit of digging on the net, it turns out he’s been pulling this stunt for at least eight years and in that time has conned a fair number of good hearted boaters. Be warned, Dear Reader.
Stourport was a whole different kettle of fish. It was pretty, friendly, and fascinating.

We felt completely at home there and had no concerns about either our or the boats security. Entering the town by canal takes you right through the middle to the junction with the big River Severn. At this point there is a huge complex of basins, locks, warehouses and dry docks reminding visitors that this is, and always has been, a canal town. When James Brindley chose this spot to be the tranship port between the narrowboats on his new narrow canal from Staffordshire and the big, sea-going trows on the Severn there was nothing here at all apart from the mouth of the little River Stour. A brand new state of the art inland port sprang up with two wide locks to bring the trows up from the river into the basins where they were unloaded onto the waiting narrowboats. Later on, when bigger, deeper draughted ships couldn’t get up to Stourport and narrowboats started to go down the river,  a set of two narrow staircase locks were squeezed in in an effort to conserve water on the canal. This explains why there is an awkward kink between them.
We had our two nights on the visitor moorings in the town, then dropped down onto the river and had another night on the floating pontoon below the locks.
We filled our days with walks along the Severn Way and various jobs on the boat. Dave made a little wooden cover for the battery switches and repainted the top box and the big gang-plank while Ann-Marie got busy with the compost. Our roof is now resplendent with new bedding plants in the planters and tomatoes, green beans, courgettes, peas, chillies and peppers in the pots, as well as our resident strawberries and herbs.
It’s all looking lovely.
The next morning we were off down the river. The Severn has a reputation for being boring; “It all looks the same.” is a phrase we’ve heard several times. Well, yes, it has trees lining the banks all the way and you don’t see any towns, but that’s perfect as far as we’re concerned.

There is endless wild-life to look at, from herons to kingfishers to really big leaping fish and on every bend the sky seems to be full of swallows or martins performing stunning aerobatics as they swoop over the water chasing insects in a frantic effort to keep their newly hatched chicks fed. So, we agree, it all looks the same, but it’s a look that we love.
We shared two of the big, manned river locks with a hire boat crew who were doing the Severn ring before making the tight left turn onto the Droitwich Barge Canal.

Although we are following the Severn to Worcester and Gloucester we wanted take the opportunity to navigate the newest restoration success story to be added to the network. Here’s a brief history of the Droitwich canals (you can find far more in-depth information here) After several failed attempts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to make the river Salwarpe navigable, and an abandoned attempt at pumping brine through a pipeline, the Droitwich Barge Canal was built in 1771 to transport salt from the town out to the river and beyond, and was immediately profitable. For over 80 years it was a busy arm leading westward from the terminus in the town basins and dropping down eight locks to join the mighty Severn. In 1815, when the Worcester & Birmingham Canal was cut to the east of the town, a salt wharf was established at Hanbury and was supplied by cart from a newly discovered brine source at Stoke Prior. The surprising thing is not that the narrow gauge Droitwich Junction Canal was created, but that it took thirty-nine further years of overland transport of coal and salt for it to happen.  With the coming of the railways in the early 1900s both Droitwich canals fell into disrepair; the last recorded boat went through in 1928 and they were officially abandoned in 1939. A restoration trust was formed in 1973 which finally, a year after reopening the Barge Canal in 2010, achieved their goal of through navigation by officially reopening the junction Canal on July 1st 2011.
We moored up at Hawford for a night, just above lock 2...
...had a hot and sunny walk past George Judge's boat yard on the little River Salwarpe...
...and on up the canal  to see if there were any possible moorings before Droitwich itself, before an evening  dinner sitting out on the towpath.
In the morning we went to find Hawford Dovecote; a NT property that we’d seen marked on the map. Our walk to get there once again proved that the existence of a right of way does not necessarily guarantee the existence of an actual path...
...but after a couple of U turns involving some nettles, some brambles and a bog, we managed to find it.
In the afternoon we cast off and shared the next four locks with some lovely people on a hire boat who had been involved with the restoration and were very excited to be actually navigating on it.

We’d spied a Legend sized length of Armco on the off-side just above lock 6, which was still unoccupied when we got there so we had a lovely, quiet, peaceful night away from motorways, railways and civilisation in general.
The next day we were into Droitwich and moored on the rather short, but perfectly adequate pontoons.
Like Stourport, Droitwich is obviously very proud of its canal history and its industrial past and we were very impressed by how clean the town was and how much civic pride was evident everywhere we looked.
However we weren’t very impressed by the boat next to us running their engine till nine o’clock in the evening. Dave had a word – a polite word – and was told that if we didn’t like it we should move our boat! He came in and had a big rant on Facebook. In the morning they were gone before we got up and all the other boaters we met while we were there were lovely.
Droitwich is famous for many things, amongst them is the Lido, and after such a fabulous day lazing around at the one in Cambridge, we were very much looking forward to trying it. The day we arrived in Droitwich turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far and spending it in an open air swimming pool would have been perfect. However, it didn’t open for the season till the day after that which was quite windy and chilly in comparison. The owners must have been gutted. Instead of the glorious sun-drenched afternoon we were hoping for we had a fairly ordinary walk round the town, ordinary that is apart from this.
Most people wouldn’t give this a second glance, but those who have been to Kawakawa on New Zealand’s north island, and used the public toilets there would, as Ann-Marie did, correctly identify it as a sculpture in the style of the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
On the way back to the boat we passed the Norbury Theatre outside of which was pinned a poster for “Those Good Old Days of Music Hall – presented by the Worcester Gilbert & Sullivan Society”. Curtain up at 7pm that evening. It would have been rude not to go, so we went. The range of talent was wide and varied, the comic was brilliant, the ventriloquist less so (and all the more funny for being rubbish), and the cast was nothing if not enthusiastic. We soon found ourselves singing along to all the songs and doing all the “Oooh’s” to Mr Chairman’s increasingly eloquent annunciations. A special mention must go to the farce which was hilarious, and all in all we had terrific night.
Next morning we left Droitwich and headed for the Worcester & Birmingham canal. This meant going from the wide Droitwich Barge Canal onto the narrow Droitwich Junction Canal. A major obstruction to the reopening of this canal was the M5 motorway which was built after abandonment and cut right across the line of the canal. A solution was found by diverting the canal through an existing overflow culvert under the motorway which, although not that long, is low, narrow and rather claustrophobic.

Clearing the boat roof of all clutter is essential to get through here, and just in case it’s not exciting enough, the water level can fluctuate as the River Salwarpe feeds into the channel here and it can go up quite sharply if someone empties the lock on the other side.
There have been letters to the shiny boating magazines complaining about this tunnel, saying it is not fit for purpose and that “they” should have made it bigger. If the restoration trust had dug its own tunnel it would no doubt have planned a bigger one, but there is also no doubt that it would still be in the planning stage awaiting funds. As it is, it may be a slight inconvenience having to clear your roof, but it is surely better to have this somewhat limited navigation than none at all.  There are certainly some newer boats with less air draught that will never fit through, but they have problems on other parts of the system as well; it’s the price you pay for having more room inside your boat.    
At the junction we turned right onto the W&B...

...under the thinnest bridge on the network...

...and moored up amongst the poppies at Shernal Green for four days.
While we were there, we indulged in another spate of NT visiting; Coleshill and Buscote Park with Karen, Andrew and Anne...

...a walk across the fields to Hanbury Hall with Anne for a picnic...

...and a visit to Calke Abbey...

which included a very interesting guided tour of the gardens.
After a quick stop at Blackpole we dropped down the last few locks into Worcester itself.

You couldn’t describe the visitor moorings above Diglis basin as pretty, but they serve their purpose. Our quest to get as much value for money out of our NT membership as possible led us to Greyfriars House in the middle of Worcester... of the few Tudor houses left in a city that used to have more of them than Chester.
We had a real stroke of luck in Worcester. We met a lovely couple, Dave & Wendy on board NB Plenty, who were coming up the locks from the river just as we were preparing to go down for a night on the pontoons before setting off the next morning. First they told us that the pontoons on the river were full which saved us finding out the hard way. Then, after they’d moored up and we’d reversed back to where we’d just come from and we were all chatting, it transpired that their car was in Gloucester and needed moving to Worcester, while ours was in Worcester and needed moving to Gloucester. Result!
First thing in the morning we were back on the lock landing and, along with NB Dipper which was on its way from Worcester Marina to its new home in Lichfield, were soon down onto the Severn in the sunshine.

Although we were heading downstream, we first turned right and had a cruise past the cathedral and up to the racecourse, before turning round and continuing on to Upton-on-Severn.

Our arrival at Upton couldn’t have been timed better; just as we approached the pontoon, a couple of hire boats were untying their ropes and setting off, so we did a little water ballet around them and slotted in where they’d been.

Then, no sooner had we secured Legend and shut the hatches than it started raining. The poor people on the hire boats were still in sight and we felt really sorry for them. They were getting soaked and they didn’t even have somewhere to go back to!
It was the first time we’d visited Upton when the town wasn’t full of morris dancers, boat jumble, or musicians. It felt rather weird to not have to queue in the Co-op and to be walking round without bells ringing in our ears, but it did give us the chance to really explore this lovely little Worcestershire town.

The next day was our turn for getting wet. With a 20mph wind coming up the river and squally showers at regular intervals, we set off with Ann-Marie holding the brolly while Dave steered with the odd peek round the side of it.
We were planning to moor at Lower Lode, but as we went through the huge lock it brightened up and we decided to press on to Haw Bridge.
We always moor pointing upstream when we’re on a river; mooring up against the flow is easier and any water borne debris doesn’t get tangled round your prop. However, when there is a fierce wind gusting upstream creating white horses on the water, making the turn can be interesting. And so it was at Haw Bridge. Add to that the fact that we only had half a boat-length of jetty to go at, and you get one of those ‘get it right or go home’ situations. Halfway through the turn, with Legend sideways in the river, we got a good sized gust which set up some quite alarming rocking, but we made it round and ended up parallel to our chosen - albeit rather truncated – mooring.  Ann-Marie did a sterling job of daintily stepping off and whipping the front rope round a bollard leaving Dave the simple job of tying the back of the boat to thin air. Luckily we have tubular handrails and in situations like this we can run the centre rope through the last gap before the end of the jetty and tie on that way.
It does mean that we then have a rope from the roof to the floor which turns any sideways movement into a list, but it means we can often make a mooring out of nothing.
We lit the fire and had showers which made us feel a lot better then, as it had brightened up considerably, went out for a walk. We found some cows and a rather defensive bull...
...then it started raining again.  We gave up, went back to the boat and huddled round the fire as we dried out again while muttering about Flaming June, ploughing our way through a box set and trying to ignore the white horses on the river outside.
The following morning we headed for Gloucester Docks. We started off early as there were high winds forecast for the afternoon. As stipulated in our Nicholson guide we phoned the lock keeper from Upper Parting...
...where the narrow Eastern Channel splits from the main river and goes towards the city, but got his answer phone. As we rounded the bend before the railway bridge we found out what had kept him from answering his phone; he’d been busy locking a big ship-like vessel down from the dock which, when we met it on a bend looked extremely large in the narrow channel and towered above us. At the railway bridge we rang the lock keeper again who welcomed us to Gloucester, told us to come straight into the lock, and informed us that there was a big ship in the channel which we’d meet before long.

As you travel down the Severn, the locks keep getting bigger and Gloucester Dock lock is the Big Daddy of them all. Legend looked really tiny roped to the sliders in one corner.

The locky gradually let the water in and we gently rose to the level of the Gloucester & Sharpness canal. We also rose to the level of the wind whipping across the docks and once the cabin was above the parapet we had quite a struggle keeping ourselves against the lock wall. As soon as the gates opened we let go, put the power on and made a dash for the pontoons on the leeward wall where we did another swift landing and tied on tight.

Gloucester looks inviting and arriving here by water is definitely the best way. We'll be here for a fortnight and can't wait to get out and explore.

No comments:

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...