Thursday 17 September 2020

Stourport to Stratford. Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. River Severn. River Avon.

After Legend came out of dry dock we had another week in and around Stourport. We found a lovely quiet spot about a mile up the Staffs and Worcester at Wilden and tied up for three nights while we did some re-arranging.

The reason we need to re-arrange stuff is because, after literally years of discussion and agonising, we’ve decided to install a washing machine. Anyone who’s ever visited Legend will know that there really isn’t anywhere to put any more of anything in this boat, so getting a full size front-loader in is going to present something of a challenge.

So, Dear Reader, no doubt the question foremost in your mind is “Where on earth is it going to go?”.

Well… The conventional place would be the bathroom.

We could take out the bath, put a shower in, and free up enough room. However to actually get a machine into the middle of the boat, down the corridor and into the bathroom would mean demolishing, rebuilding and re-tiling at least one bathroom wall. Which is not the the end of the world for a one-off event, but machines go wrong and wear out, so at some point we’d need to do it all over again, so it really isn’t practical.

A while ago we passed a boat with a washer in the well deck. We could do that, it's big enough....

...easy to get in and right by the water tank - but we really like our well deck to be the least cluttered place on the boat where we can sit and relax on a sunny afternoon and we’re loathe to compromise that.

So where does that leave? Well it’s obvious, that 5’ by 5’ cupboard at the back of the boat where we keep all the tools, spare parts, ironmongery, ropes, windlasses and all our other boating stuff. And a bloomin’ great Lister. Yes, the overstuffed engine room/shed. We’d dismissed it previously because it’s already full, but it actually makes the most sense. Compared to anywhere else it's relatively easy to get a machine in and out, there’s power and water there, (the water pipes go all the way to the back, presumably from the days when the boat had a water cooled engine and there was a calorifier back there) and it’s right by the tiller, where the whirly washing line goes.

So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past week - thinning out all the ‘that’ll-come-in-handy-one-day’ stuff, collating everything else to leave a big square hole and re-designing all the cupboards and shelving so that we can fit a washing machine in there and still get to the engine.

Of course there’s still the plumbing to sort out, and the waste pipe, which means another hole in the side of the boat, but it’ll be next to the bilge pump outlet, so it should be tidy enough.

Have we got enough power? Well, if the machine were to heat the water, then frankly, no. Our big inverter is only 1kw and it wouldn’t stand a chance. However, were going to get a machine that will do a cold wash and fill it from our Morco gas boiler. This is a tried and tested method among boaters with gas boilers - you have the washer directly connected to the boiler, switch the boiler on to fill the machine, then turn the gas off so that it just runs cold water through for rinsing. That way you only need enough power for the motors (500-700w) rather than the heater (2kw). To ease the strain on the batteries, we’ll do wash loads when were cruising, or if we’re desperate, run the generator.

It’ll be a month or two till we’re ready to buy, but it’s an exiting project to be doing.

Dave’s been going out most mornings picking blackberries, so there’s a constant supply, and Ann-Marie’s been turning a fair few of them into pies and crumbles. On his morning forage before we left Wilden, Dave discovered a big oak tree across the canal between us and the next winding hole.

He rang CRT who said it had been reported the previous evening and that there’d be a team out to deal with it later on that day. True to their word, by 11am the towpath was clear...

...and at 3pm a convoy of 5 boats came past our window heading for Stourport, indicating that the navigation was open again.

We were up and off early the next morning. Past the tree,

...up to the winding hole at Pratts Wharf, (there used to be a short branch from here to a pair of locks that went down to the river, allowing boats to load up at a mill.)...

...then back down the Stourport basin. We left Legend safely tied up and drove over to Wenlock Edge to see Laura and Alison. We had a really lovely day with them and their latest avian acquisitions, they’ve got a jackdaw and a jay which were rescued and they’re looking after them until they’re ready to go back to the wild (the birds, not Laura and Alison.)

Our plans for the next day had been to set off down the river, but it was horribly wet and windy so we stayed put instead and binged Netflix.

The following morning was much better; still a bit blustery but bright and sunny so we followed Nb La Suvera down the staircases and out onto the Severn.

 They turned into the Droitwich canal, and we carried on downstream to Worcester. We turned and moored at the racecourse, but after a cup of tea decided to go down a bit further and check out the pontoon moorings at Diglis. Unfortunately, when we got there the last space had just been taken, so it was a toss-up between going back up to the racecourse, or continuing down the river to Upton-on-Severn. The weather was good and we had plenty of time so we carried on through Diglis lock and snuck in on the inside of the Upton pontoon.

Two days later we turned off the Severn onto the River Avon.

New water for us and we were quite excited about it. Like the Basingstoke Canal and the River Wey, the Avon Navigation isn’t in the hands of CRT or the Environment Agency, so a visitor licence is required. Although it used to be in two separate parts, in 2010 the upper and lower Avon trusts joined forces to become the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) and they do a fine job of keeping their waterway in good nick.

Everyone had told us how lovely the Avon is so we were looking forward to our two weeks. As we rose up Avon lock into beautiful Tewkesbury it really felt like the start of a holiday.

Until the Covid restrictions you could buy an ANT licence from the lock keeper, but now it needs to be done on line. We’d tried on the way down the Severn without success, the website just kept chucking us out, so the locky let us moor up above the lock while we sorted it out over the phone instead.

We stayed in Tewkesbury for 2 nights on the mill stream moorings and loved every minute.

We walked round the town and the gardens, round the Abbey and the Ham, where we got some lovely apples.

Paul, who did our survey in the dry dock, lives in Tewkesbury, and he and his partner Hannah popped round for a cuppa while we were there. It was nice to see them in an unofficial setting.

On the second afternoon we walked up the riverbank to Twining where two of our WRG mates - Nigel on Nb Elgin, and Karen on Nb Stella, were moored for the night on their way round the Avon Ring. We had a catch-up in the Fleet Inn; the first time we’d been in a pub since lock-down started, followed by a rather wobbly walk home as dusk fell.

In the morning Stella and Elgin came down to the lock and we waved them off on their way to the Severn before turning round and heading up to Eckington.

Boating on the Avon was just as beautiful as everyone had told us it would be.

The banks are low, so you can see for miles and the views are spectacular. The towns and villages are lovely and full of gorgeous houses with some spectacular gardens leading down to the water’s edge. The locks are more functional than pretty, with lots of concrete and big steel gates, but surrounded by willows and reeds they still manage to portray a sense of tranquillity.

You can really only moor up at the recognised mooring sites; this isn’t exactly a rule, there just isn’t anywhere else you can get into the bank. It’s not a problem though, there are numerous moorings provided by the the trust, the town councils and the many riverside pubs along the way. We had no trouble finding a spot each night, and we were very impressed with the facilities. Most of the moorings are “floodsafe” with sliding rings on 8’ high poles to secure your boat which, along with the occasional bit of flotsam high up in a tree, remind the navigator that this river can, and does, bite back; 2007 saw some of the highest water levels on record.

From Tewkesbury up to Pershore, the landscape is dominated by Bredon Hill, a prominent lump of Basalt in the middle of the Vale of Evesham. After two nights at Eckington picnic site while we waited for the wind to die down we moved on to Great Comberton where we donned our walking boots and took a packed lunch up to the summit.

Compared to the soaring peaks of the Pennines, Bredon hill, at a mere 299m is a rather paltry affair, but the 360° views it commands over the Vales of Evesham and Gloucester are up there with the best of them. We ate our lunch at the top of a ridge, while a Kestrel hovered in the updraught just above our heads.

We had a lovely morning boating from Great Comberton to Pershore and we almost got there in the dry, but the heavens opened just as the moorings came into view and by the time we’d tied up we were soaked. We really liked Pershore and had two days there wandering around.

There’s an Adam’s Axe of an Abbey to look at, lots of little independent shops and an indoor market, where we got some new Cyclamen plants and, in our usual serendipidous style, the Pershore Plum Festival was on while we were there. Of course in 2020 it wasn’t the usual annual extravaganza of the genus
 prunus, but they’d set up “Plum Alley” outside Asda, and the Plum Princess was there along with a couple of stalls selling big punnets of various local plum varieties. We bought some Victorias which were perfectly ripe and gorgeous.

On the way up between Pershore and Evesham, we found the going getting harder as we pushed our way against the flow below Fladbury lock, so much so that on the final stretch it felt like we were barely making headway. As we rounded the bend to the lock channel and the huge, terrifying looking Fladbury weir came into view it felt like we’d been transported back in time from the gentle little Avon to the flooded and fearsome Thames.

 The flood marker on the lock wall was well into the red and we wondered if there’d been some catastrophic weather event in the catchment area above us. But no, above the lock the Avon was back to it’s lovely calm, serene self...

...and when we mentioned it to another boater, they said it was always like that.

At Evesham we had a very social weekend. First Karen and Andrew came to see us and we had a proper summer holiday day with them.

There was the customary Nb Legend cream tea to start with, then a short boating hop from the ANT moorings to the more picturesque ones just before Workmans Bridge.

Then it was Pasties in the Abbey gardens overlooking the river, a wander round the town with a tea shop stop, and finally a game of Mexican Train and Ann-Marie’s wonderful Lasagne for dinner. Fantastic, and really good to be able to have visitors on board again.

The next day we had a lovely walk up the riverbank and up Greenhill, before spending far too long in Herbie’s Coffee Shop eating lunch and watching the world go by.

On the way back to the boat we passed an abandoned washing machine that was on the street in Evesham, presumably left there by person or person’s unknown when they’d bought a new one. Coincidentally it was pretty much the exact slimline model that we’d been considering for the boat, but we decided that it was too far to carry it and it almost certainly wasn’t working anyway.

Later on John and Cam came over for the evening. We had a stroll along the river and stopped in for a couple of pints in the garden of Ye Old Red Horse, a very nice pub that John delivers beer to. We’d booked a table at in Indian restaurant and found we had half an hour to kill. One of us, and we’re not saying who, said “That’s just enough time to pick up a washing machine!” Twenty minutes later, with the help of both John’s cavernous Fiat Doblo and his impressive muscle power, the abandoned washing machine was in our engine room. Hopefully there won’t be too much wrong with it.

The Indian was delicious by the way.

We’d planned to go to Bidford for a couple of days, but when we got to Offenham lock it looked so lovely we stopped there instead and went to Bidford the next morning. There isn’t a huge amount of mooring at Bidford-on-Avon and we ended up doing a big figure-of-eight just before the bridge to get onto the pub moorings at the Frog.

There was rain forecast for the afternoon, but we really needed to get out and do something active, so we donned the waterproofs and went off down the Avon River Walk to Cleeve Prior and had a picnic under a brolly at a quiet bend in the river.

Nowadays it’s a pleasant fishing spot with a little canoe landing stage and a couple of picnic tables, but peer a bit further through the undergrowth and look a bit closer at the map and a different story is revealed. There used to be a big mill and weir on this site with a lock on the other side of the river. It also boasted a ford across the weir, giving the local cattle farmers access to summer grazing in the Vale of Gloucester. The history of all the mills on the Avon can be found in a fascinating archive called the Cleeve Prior Chroniclers.

We dodged the rain again the next day, pulling over for coffee and Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz at Bidford Grange lock while it piddled down, before pushing on to Welford lock. The mooring there was very quiet and peaceful, with a good supply of blackberries and even a nice big chunk of ash just waiting for a handy bloke with a bow saw. There was just the slight down side of being on the lock island with no access to the footpath on the other side of the river and the phone signal wasn’t brilliant, but we managed.

We followed the last winding stretch of the Avon up to Stratford the next morning, our last on the river, and moored up on the park directly opposite the RSC.

It was fabulous being there but tinged with sadness as it was the last day of our river holiday.

We celebrated by having fish and chips for tea, and only found out later that it was National Chippy Day. Result!

In the morning we hopped up the lock into Bancroft basin. It’s the second time we’ve been there, the first time was eight and a half years ago on Mother’s day when we came down the canal and the town was thronging with foreign tourists. Click Here to go back in time This time it was still quite busy, but the coach loads of Japanese and American visitors were very conspicuous by their absence. We can only hope the tourist industries in places like Stratford can weather this storm and still be there when it’s over.

With a bit of jiggery pokery we got ourselves onto the same pontoon we were on last time, right under the Shakespeare monument, with Hamlet looking sternly at Yorick’s skull just outside our front door. 



Pip and Mick said...

It's all very well telling us about the pretty pretty Avon, which it is. All about your walks and Stratford. But what about the washing machine? Does it actually work? Is it mendable?

Dave and Ann-Marie. said...

Ah, the washing machine is on a journey. It's been in and out of the boat a couple of times, but you'll have to wait till the next installment to find out what happened.

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