Tuesday 5 September 2017

Gloucester and Sharpness. River Severn. Saul Junction to Stourbridge.

Bake Off is back on the telly! We haven’t got a telly, but we do like to keep one or two things downloaded on the ipad. We also like to have a practice at the Bake Off technical challenge. Who remembers Dave’s Damph Noodlem? Here’s Ann-Marie’s mini rolls.
They tasted just as delicious as they looked.

A week after helping to move all of Anne’s stuff out of her bed sit into a van, we were back in Bristol to help her move it, along with another van-full from storage, into her new flat.

That all went very well and she’s very happy. It will be good to go down there in a few weeks and see how she’s settled in.

Our latest NT box tick was Croome.

It’s an odd place with a very chequered history. It has in the past been, among other things, a boarding school, a wartime hospital, a Hare Krishna temple and a property developer’s whimsy. The trust haven’t had it long and they have concentrated most of their efforts on the surrounding park and gardens which were originally majestically designed and landscaped by Capability Brown.
The interior has, apart from essential repairs, been mostly left as it was when the trust took over.

Our second WRG week came around quickly. This time we were on the Grantham Canal at lock 15 on the Woolsthorpe flight near Belvoir Castle.
This photo from two years ago shows how much there was to be done.
Because it was leaning inwards and had half collapsed, the entire lock chamber had to be demolished and rebuilt; the work all being done by volunteers. We had the happy task of being some of the last ones on this lock. Along with the Grantham Canal Society, previous canal camps have rebuilt the chamber walls and the bases of the wing walls. Our job was to finish off the wing walls, back fill the top ones with concrete and start placing coping stones on top.

We also got a section of piling put in and back filled it for the base of a landing stage at the lock tail.
In it’s first incarnation this lock lasted 200 years, hopefully this time, with the use of modern materials hiding under the original stone and brickwork it will last just as long, if not considerably longer. Obviously it is nowhere near finished yet, the remaining coping stones have yet to be sourced and set, there are still gates to be installed, the access causeways need removing and the whole site needs landscaping and clearing, but those are jobs that the society will carry out over the next year. By the time WRG gets involved again they should be well on the way to accessing locks 13 and 14 so we can start the whole thing all over again. During our week at Woolsthorpe we learnt a great deal about how a lock is constructed, but the thing that most impressed us was how big an undertaking the whole canal system was in the first place.
As well as traditional tools like trowels, shovels and wheelbarrows we also had two mechanical diggers, a dumper truck, two concrete mixers going full time and a tele-handler, and although we were pleased with our progress over the week, it was quite slow going and it really highlighted how much work there must have been - without electricity, internal combustion engines or hydraulics - to build just one lock, never mind a whole flight, never mind an aqueduct, never mind a tunnel.
 Tea break in da hut
 PPE selfie.
Grantham 2017 Canal Camp 3
During the week we had a walk down to lock 13 and did a bit of trespassing to have a look round the old lock-keeper’s cottage that is hidden in the trees.
The remains of an oak coin at lock 13. Rare, but we've also found examples on the Staffs and Worcester.
It was occupied up till the 70s but is now derelict and has recently been the victim of an arson attack. It belongs to the castle and they are planning to renovate it and construct a road to it which, if everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet, will double as access to both locks. There was a lean-to on the end of the cottage which turned out to be the wash-house, complete with copper and lid!
Before we came home at the end of the week, we had a little detour to Ilkeston to visit the IWA festival of water on the Erewash canal.
We really enjoyed the day there, especially as we bumped into Richard and Polly who we know from their sterling work manning the Cotswold Canal Society’s shop at Saul Junction, but who were at the festival in their professional capacity supplying first aid cover.
We also had a chat with some other WRG members who were raising money with our “Learn to Drive a Digger” stall.
After a week of fun with concrete and lime mortar, we arrived back at Legend with two rather large bags of rather dirty washing. As you know we usually wash by hand, but the thought of getting cement out of everything filled neither of us with enthusiasm, so we chucked it all in the car and headed for the nearest laundrette. £7 got us two machines in the Laundry Lounge, a comfy sofa and half an hour downloading catch-up.
And then it was Goodbye Gloucester & Sharpness. We’ve had a fabulous time down here and have felt so at home on this amazing ship canal. It’s beautiful and peaceful and wide and we’ve loved every minute of it. We will be back - we have no doubts about that, but after nearly three months we were getting itchy and it was time to go. On August bank holiday Monday we left Rea Bridge and went up to Gloucester...
...under Llanthony lift bridge...
...then straight through the dock and into the Gloucester lock.
It felt sad to be leaving but we were looking forward to being back on our cosy little canals.
Even with a large river cruiser and another narrowboat sharing the lock with us there was still loads of room.
When the lock opened we set off, punching our way against the strong flow in the narrow Eastern Channel. After the Upper Parting the river became much wider and slower so we were able to crack on a bit.
 We’d left our car in Gloucester and hadn’t really worked out a plan for getting it back. We were toying with the idea of waiting till we got to Worcester and then getting the train or a bus back when Anne phoned and asked where we were going to be on Thursday evening as she’d like to come and see us on her way home from Kidderminster. Perfect! If we got a move on we could be in Stourport on Thursday, Anne could join us for dinner and then give us a lift back to Gloucester to get our car. It would mean we’d be off the river quicker than we planned to be, but we’d seen it all before and we’d only allowed the extra days for car moves anyway.

We weren’t entirely sure where we were going to stop for the first night, it depended on the weather and where we could find a mooring, but we wanted to stop at Ashleworth anyway; there’s a pub with moorings and a tithe barn to look at. The landing stage outside the Boat Inn was a bit rickety, but it was empty and we’ve stopped at worse, so we pulled over and tied up.
The tithe barn was very impressive and still being used, which was nice, and the rest of the village was worth the walk as well.

When we got back to the boat the sun was still sunny, so we cast off and carried on up river to the Yew Tree Inn. There we found a much sturdier looking landing stage and a pub with a garden full of happy customers.
As the mooring had a very big “Patrons only” sign we decided to hang the expense and go out for a meal, but by the time we’d had a shower and got changed, it was four o’clock, the garden was empty and the pub was shut. On investigating, we found a notice in the window that said they were closing at 2pm on BH Monday. So we had a free night and beans on toast for tea. Which was a lot better than the couple on the hire boat that pulled in after us who, having already tried three other riverside pubs and discovered them all to be shut, had to make do with cream crackers and jam.
The next day, despite the slightly misleading sign...
...we went through the huge Lower Lode lock (tidal limit for spring tides)...
...past Tewkesbury and the mouth of the Avon...
...past Ripple Wharf (gravel barge terminal and only remaining commercial operation on the Severn)...
...before stopping for the night at Upton upon Severn. As the day went on the weather deteriorated so by the time we moored up Dave was feeling very cold and damp. Later on, walking through the town, he came across this...
...which cheered him up no end. Sadly he’d spent all his pocket money.

At Worcester the river pontoons were full so we locked up into the basin and had a night up there. We managed to moor with the bedroom window right under a floodlight. The bedroom curtains do have a blackout lining, but this was something else. We improvised a blacker-than-black black-out with a micro-fibre towel  in order to avoid radiation burns.
The next morning we were back down the locks and then onto the final leg of our last river trip this year from Worcester up to Stourport.

We were really happy to see Edward Elgar coming down the river from Stourport, because we knew that meant there would be 38m of pontoon free when we got there.

38m of pontoon wasn’t the only thing that awaited us. The first weekend in September just happened to be Stourport Land and River Carnival. Throughout Friday, more and more river boats arrived and tied up. When we got up on Saturday we were surrounded by white plastic.
That’s us on the left in the corner looking very small.
We went up to the bridge to watch the land parade go past on its way through the town...

...then came back to the Legend to watch the (much better, in our opinion) river version.

At 8.30 in the evening the river boats did it all over again, this time with enough lights on to be seen from space.

Considering they’d been partying all day and must have been almost blinded by their own illuminations, it all went very smoothly and, as far as we know, they all returned safely with all passengers accounted for. And when they were all moored up again there was a firework display over the river.
It was a brilliant day, and made all the more special because we accidentally happened to be there; if Anne hadn’t phoned we wouldn’t have been there till halfway through the next week, and if we didn’t need blacking we wouldn’t have been there at all. Just another day in our serendipitous life.

Afterwards, it did strike us as slightly ironic that in broad daylight and stone cold sober, we’d been travelling up the river diligently heeding the warnings about respecting the river and wearing life jackets, while at night and slightly the worse for wear, a motor yacht crew's chosen mode of attire, if not fancy dress, seemed to comprise mostly of blazers and captains hats or flouncy frocks and stilettos. Maybe gin makes you more buoyant.  

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