Friday, 5 April 2019

Back to Marina

Today's Canal - Droitwich

After yesterday's horrendous rain, we were quite glad that today was only grey but dry. (The forecast suggested some rain in the afternoon but we avoided any on the way back to marina)

As we left our overnight mooring you can see just how dull the day was. As a result we do not have too many pictures for you today -well, to be truthful, it was also because this is well worn territory for us and we were on the lookout just for anything new.

As we approached the first lock, Mildenham, we could see from some distance that something wzas happening at the lock. Turned out to be a CaRT team of three starting work on piling a short length of collapsed towpath. They were putting a lot of care into making sure that the first one or two at least went in upright.

What, however, did amuse us was that each of three vehicles they arrived in had a different logo - the present one (sinking tyre) as well ad the two previous ones (bridge and reeds, bridge and swan) not to mention different feel-good straplines!

Something else that really should have had a photo but we were already just leaving the lock. There is a litter bin alongside the lock and we noticed that it was full to overflowing. Comments on canal social media not infrequently complain about the state of disposal bins. The immediate thought was that this was a classic example of neglected bins. However, just as we were leaving a small truck turned up to empty the bin. We asked how often he did this and the answer was at least twice a week. Now, until today we had seen very little boat traffic on this (or any navigation) and it is hard to believe that very much of this waste actually came from canal boaters. Thoughtless folk either leave their waste lying around or use bins that were not meant for them, or paid for by them, but left to someone else to clear up (and pay for). (Unless, of course, it was the local council that was clearing them) Rant over!

Looking back after leaving the last of the wide locks (OK Barge Lock is wide but its minimal rise hardly counts!) you can see that the greyness was still with us and the lighter sky in the distance stayed away as successfully as it did yesterday.

There was an increase in on-coming traffic over any other day this week by several hundred percent! Even two boats sharing the wide locks down to the river.

We paused at Netherwich Visitor Moorings - completely empty before we arrived  - where we were able to have our lunch

On again and soon through the swing bridges in Vines Park and also Barge Lock. Actually had 150 mm rise so yesterday's rain must have made some impact although all the gauges/markers we saw seemed to be much as when we came down. However a boater coming down did say that the motorway bridge was on red last night. We scraped underneath with no problem.

Progress was impacted at Lock 7 when two kind walkers came up to us to say that we had left our keys ion the padlock at Barge Lock Swing Bridge! Mike walked back as fast as he could and was highly relieved to find that they were still in place. Someone had at least closed the bridge. By the time he arrived back at the boat, a boat that was coming down (and meeting a friend there) had helped Christine into the lock where she was ready to leave.

Mid afternoon we were back in the marina and tied up on our long term pontoon. Since we are not going home until Sunday, why, you might well ask, did we feel it necessary to get back so soon? Apart from being relieved that we were not trapped by a rising Severn (in fact it usually takes a day or so for the levels to rise enough to close navigation in response to heavy rain) the boat has a postponed date at 7 am on Monday morning. It should have been blacked a few weeks back but was abandoned when it was found that different work was needed than expected. Hopefully all is now re-specified and re-scheduled (at enhanced costs, needless to say!) and it will all be spick and span when we return at Easter. Always a bit frustrating that much of this work is not visible although the hull paint does show plenty of wear and tear as the result of cruising quite some distances and often in the less-well maintained parts of the network (usually the more interesting!)

As the first real trip out after the winter, we will now need the next two weeks for aching muscles, stiff points and other parts we wish we could have renovated, to recuperate! At least we are able to make reasonable progress when out cruising - long may it continue.

6.8 Miles - 11 Locks

Thursday, 4 April 2019


Today's Navigations - Staffs and Worcs, River Severn, Droitwich

We awoke to persistent rain but which was not at first too heavy. The temperature was on the chilly side as well.

Before leaving our overnight mooring., Mike took a look at the link from the canal to the river at Pratt's Wharf. There is only a short distance between the two at this point, not much more than a single lock length.

Although filled in, it is still possible to make out where the lock was originally. The fallen tree trunk marks where the bottom gates would have been.

As soon as we set off the rain gathered in intensity - Christine sensibly kept a low profile as we made our way back down to Stourport. The rain means that there no further photos today. There was only one lock before the basins. At the new footbridge (Baldwin's Bridge 5A) Christine went ashore to call at the nearby Co-Op for a newspaper but as she also fancied another pork pie she agreed to meet Mike at that last lock.

However, as Mike arrived at the lock there were two volunteer lockies who filled the lock, opened the gate and waved Mike in! This meant that he was already on the service point in the basin below when Christine returned.

As the volunteers had said that they would be at the locks down to the river until midday, we set off in some hope that it might only need one of us to work down. Alas, when we reached the other side of the basins we could see another boat already just going down and no additional help in sight!

It was not only wet but very windy which made the short distance between the two staircases rather tricky. The two locks are not aligned and only just over a boat length between them.

By the time we were able to exit onto the river we were both very soaked and so we pulled onto the visitor mooring pontoon just around the corner. A complete change was needed - and then lunch with the last portions of Christine's soup as well as slices of the new pork pie bought from the butcher earlier.

Two o'clock and Mike felt warmed and dried enough to wrap up well once more and set off down stream. The rain continued but at this stage was not heavy. By now we had abandoned our aim of returning via Worcester so that Hawford became our revised destination for today.

Alas, no sooner had we set off but the rain gathered new force. On the horizon we could see brighter skies but they were determined to keep way from us.

Both locks were staffed by the same keepers as when we came up. Only possible to have the briefest of chats but they both give the impression of being very friendly and keen to help. Not that either could do much about the weather!

The rain almost turned to hail on the long reach between the two locks and Mike had to pull his jacket collar up around his face and stand sideways on to the wind which was coming straight up the river!

Amazingly just after leaving Holt Lock the sun emerged from a blue patch - but really only for a couple of minutes before it retreated once again. The sight of the entrance to Hawford Junction Lock could not have been more welcome.

But we still had to work up the first two locks before we could moor for the night - same place as on the way down. However, the boat inside is warm and dry and we soon recuperated - and cheered ourselves with a forecast for tomorrow that is overcast but DRY!

11.5 Miles - 9 Locks

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Pratt's Wharf (south of Kidderminster)

Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

We expected a cold start to the day and we were right!

The fields alongside our mooring were covered in a light coat of frost and a mist hung over the canal. Rain which fell during last evening collected on the stern seat and then froze - what you see here is ice! Our mooring ropes were also frozen stiff.

Although there was initially some bright sunshine, most of the day was grey with occasional drops of rain and even some hail(we have drops of rain, flakes of snow but what do we have of hail - stones?) However, the air temperature warmed up quickly and we were never uncomfortable.

We also discovered that we had moored with 10% of the boat in Staffordshire but the rest still in Worcestershire!

Above Whittington Lock we saw two old buildings now converted into homes but their names suggest a more interesting past. The first is called The Nail Mill and the second The Old Mill Cottage. The 1887 OS map shows a significant irons works on the river beside the canal lock but by 1903 this has disappeared and only these two buildings are shown. Wikipedia records that there were several different uses for the mill at Whittington, depending on demand but that making nails was its last - (last nail in the coffin?) There is also a reference to a connection with the famous Dick Whittington (of panto fame) but alas this seems to be just a local legend - probably as trues as most panto scripts!

It was time to turn around today and head back the way we came - especially if we are to have time to go via Worcester. But we did want to call at Kinver for a newspaper so we passed on the first winding hole before the village.

Below Kinver Lock, Christine left to walk to the shops, leaving Mike to work up the lock and visit the service block just beyond.

Although our Nicholsons guide does not show any winding points until Stourton Junction, the Waterway Routes map held out the hope of turning just above Hyde Lock. Although it was tight, we managed and immediately went back down the lock we had just filled.

We were now going back over familiar territory - and we calculated quite finely the timing back at Debdale Lock so that we would make the afternoon window to pass the landslip. In fact, as we arrived just on one o'clock a boat ahead of us came to say that the padlock had been removed and they were told to descend the lock and set off at 1.45.

We had planned to use the hour as a lunch break but this new plan meant that eating was divided into parts so that we could re-set the lock after that boat had finished with it and then move on into the lock ready for when they left. In the event, as we made ready they set off so we were able to continue on after them, the final part of lunch on the move.

One of the Upper Lea Cottages had a garden shed with an interesting message

The sky was cloudy as we passed the landslip and so with no sun in our eyes we could take a better look at the damage. More of the road has collapsed that we had thought yesterday and it is now closed to traffic. The nearby houses and cottages have to take diversions.

We continued on towards Kidderminster - just occasionally some blue sky tried to appear! We stopped briefly below Kinver Lock for Christine to pop into the large Tesco as we needed some more milk and grated cheese for tonight's lasagne.

Just after leaving the town we came under the new Link Road which we think opened since we came this way in 2014. It is so 'successful' that there was a long queue of very slow moving traffic over our heads.

Down through Caldwall Lock and then Falling Sands and we were beginning to look for an overnight mooring as time was pressing on. We knew from looking on the way up that all the places marked on our map for mooring have trees between them and the tv satellite signal so we took almost the first available, just before the entrance to the Pratt's Wharf link to the river (see yesterday's blog)

10.7 Miles - 11 Locks

Tuesday, 2 April 2019


Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

Early yesterday the weather forecast indicated that we would have rain by Wednesday but by evening it had been brought forward. Indeed, as we awoke this morning and looked out, rain was already with us. As a result, despite waking quite early we were not in any hurry to leave. In addition, we had still not decided where we were aiming to reach today - reasons in a moment. It was uncomfortably chilly, but dry, when we walked to the nearby Tesco for a paper and a few other items.

Back at the boat we wrapped up well and set off up the first of today's locks. As the photo shows, it was still very grey. The day quickly improved and for much of the time we had blue skies and warm sunshine. Occasional showers arrived and for a few moments we even had some hail!

Just above the lock is a a restored older building - it has been around since the earliest OS map we could consult but there is no indication of what it may once have been. On a wall is a commemorative plaque to an early member of the IWA. We have found little about him on the internet but one reference does suggest that Tom Rolt inspired a number of people to found some of the first leisure canal boat companies including 'Holt Abbott of Canal Pleasurecraft at Stourport'.

On the edge of the town we noticed a burial ground - the first part was evidently quite old but a modern section has been opened up alongside. It appears from maps that this is an extension to the churchyard for St Michael and All Angels Parish Church but we were amazed by the large quantity of flowers on most of the graves in several large areas.

A little further we passed the point where the Severn Valley Branch Railway once crossed the canal. Immediately beyond is a short arm.This was built at the very start of the 20C to act as a transshipment point between railway and canal. Sidings came down either side from the main line. At one stage coal was taken from here by water to Stourport Power Station alongside the River Severn. later, a branch line was built from here down to the river.

On the towpath opposite the entrance to the arm is this feature which we suppose was added to assist boats making the sharp turn onto the main canal.

By now the sun had arrived as this photo shows.

Pratts Wharf Bridge carries the towpath over the entrance to another arm that once connected with the river to serve the former Wilden Iron Works. One reference indicates that this area is now a nature reserve although the canal link remained until around 1950. Grace's gives more details of the history of the Ironworks. At one stage the transhipment basin seen earlier was used to transfer raw materials brought by train onto canal craft fro final delivery to the iron works.

Soft bank edging has been the subject of much experimentation by CaRT with the encouragement of environmentalists. However, this example, which cannot be particularly old, shows that without careful preparation the bank can quickly relapse back to a dangerous state.

The Severn Valley Railway cross the canal over a large viaduct. It no doubt costs a considerable amount to maintain in a safe condition and grant funders do like to get their publicity!

Just above Caldwall Lock there is a good view of the River Stour close alongside the canal.

We now entered Kidderminster - some of the former industrial buildings have been preserved and form part of a large retail precinct.

Just before the main road bridge we moored up for a short while for a lunch break. However we had to be quite smart about iot as by now we had opted to carry on a bit further towards Kinver today. A few weeks ago the land below a Lea Lane, a country road near to Wolverley, collapsed into the canal. Intensive work by the Highway Authority and CaRT removed most of the earth but before the canal could be fully opened, work was stopped as it was feared that more of the ground would collapse, closing that road. At the moment, boats can pass with supervision for just an hour in the morning and an hour in that afternoon.

So we pressed on, hoping make the first of the locks that are otherwise closed shortly after the start of the afternoon window. But first we had to pass through Kidderminster Lock with the parish church standing guard high above.

Beside the canal and in front of the church is a statue of the 17C clergyman and theologian Richard Baxter who came to prominence whilst serving at Kidderminster. He was often at odds with the prevailing politics and theology in a turbulent period of church history, sometimes even being sent to prison for his views. Amongst the many books which he wrote is one that records the virtues and tenderness of his wife Margaret!

We arrived at Wolverley Lock a little after two o'clock and were helped through by a couple of CaRT staff who were looking at a problem with one of the paddle mechanisms, hoping to stave off the time when the balance beams will need to be replaced. They did look quite near the end of their life! (The balance beams that is)

Across the fields we could see the parish church in the village of Wolverley. The present building dates from the late 18C. The tower was originally constructed from sandstone but later clad in brick. It seems that the stonework can only be seen from inside by bell ringers!

Between Wolverley and Debdale Locks we passed the landslip. Unfortunately the sun was shining in the wrong direction for a good photo but this one does show how perilously close the edge of the ground is to the road. which runs just behind the steel barrier at the top of the bank. We squeezed through -vertically as well as horizontally as it was obvious that there is still a lot of earth to be removed from under the water once the bank has been stabilised. It is clearly not going to be a quick repair - but at least we understand that it is a Highway responsibility not CaRT's.

The canal is frequently cut through sandstone and makes some spectacular locations (as well as the famous cave alongside Debdale Lock) The canal was an early development and its chief engineer was James Brindley. It is not always easy to imagine the amount of physical work that was needed to cut the canal with very few mechanical aids to support the process beyond spades and wheelbarrows.

Once through Debdale Lock we continued for a while, passing the immaculately maintained Austcliffe Holiday Home Park with its incongruous railway signal dominating the grounds.

Not much further on rain returned, with just a little hail, and a sharp wind arrived so we pulled in at a designated mooring before the next lock. But the sun had not yet given p and there were several bright spells.

8.9 Miles - 7 Locks

Monday, 1 April 2019


Today;s Navigations - Droitwich, River Severn, Staffs and Worcs

It was dry but rather cold as we set off, marginally later that usual at 10 am.

The first lock was only a few metres from our mooring and we were pleased to see that the automatic water conditions indicators showed normal.

We soon warmed up as the two locks down to the river were quite stiff even though they do not change in level as much as those further up the canal.

At the bottom lock we could see signs of the winter flood levels with still plenty of caked mud on the top gates, on the ground around the lock and in the nearby hedges. No problem today and as we completed the lock we called ahead to the keeper at Holt Lock who promised to have it ready for us.

By the time we turned onto the river the sky had cleared and the sun was much warmer - before long we regretted not removing a layer before strapping ourselves into lifejackets. Every year when we first need this protection we both struggle to remember how to put them on without getting into an utter jumble with the straps!

There are no villages close to the river between Hawford and Stourport although occasional small groups of houses can be seen, carefully built so that they survive the regular flooding each winter.

Holt village is more easily recognised by the distinctive Holt Castle. Although it was originally started in medieval times, as a fortified farm house,  most of what can be seen dates from the 16C and 17C. It has always been a private residence and remains so today. Some several years it has been licenced to hold weddings and in 2014 and article in Country Life states that it was for sale with a guide price of just under £2 million.

It was just an hour after leaving Hawford that we sighted Holt Lock - it is immediately preceded by a splendid single span road bridge that was originally designed by Thomas Telford.

The friendly lock keeper saw us coming up the long straight and the gates swung open just as we began to slow down in front of them. Although large, passage through these locks is smooth and straightforward, with both ends of the boat held with ropes onto the risers placed along each side wall.

We continued up river - the next reach is slightly shorter with an expected time of 50 minutes.

Half way along we spotted the entrance of the Dick Brook, a modest stream that can easily be missed today but for a while in the 18C was developed to be navigable for a short distance to give access to Astley Forge and Mill. According to once description, the mill had successively varied uses, including the fulling of cloth and the making of scythes!

On schedule the short cut from the river to Lincomb Lock could be seen - although trees are beginning to do their best to disguise it, the warning sign is still visible for some distance downstream. Again, a very friendly lock keeper - they have just gone on to full time opening (during the winter the locks are closed two days a week) and we were the first through today. Yesterday they did have a few more.

We did persuade the keeper to allow us to moor up on the lock landing above the lock - at the time we did not realise that it is one of the least suitable but he not only came and helped us moor up but also came back later when he saw us ready to leave. The reason we were looking to stop at this point was that Christine had made a soup with the lamb bones that came from the butcher with last night's roast joint and if we continued we might well have had to continue up into the basin at Stourport (there are almost no general moorings on the this part of the river apart from pubs and junctions)

There are several landmarks on the final short run to the junction, the first is Stourport Matina. Although the narrow protective entrance means that it is possible only to glimpse a little of what lies inside, it does seem to hold quite a few boats.

Immediately above the marina entrance is a working boat yard - this gives us the opportunity to add an entry into our collection of Unusual Boats We Have Seen - not been busy of late with very few to add last year - this craft has obviously had a varied career and now looks somewhat top heavy!

The River Stour accompanies much of the lower Staffs and Worcs canal (although probably we should put that the other way around!) and finally emerges into the Severn just before the junction. The unwary might think that this was actually the junction but close up it is not navigable. The 1929 OS map indicates that the large building is a Vinegar Works.

We passed the barge locks (there are two separate entrances to Stourport Basin) we could see a volunteer lock keeper waiting to greet us on thew pontoon below the narrow locks and he offered, along with another volunteer, to assist us through the two staircases so that we could immediately take the boat into the lock without trying up below. We were only the second boat today - the first must only have gone as far as the marina as we did not pass it on the way up.

The staircase locks are unusual - in most cases the instructions clearly instruct that the lower lock should be emptied before the upper one is lowered. These are designed so that the excess water flows away without causing a flood whatever the level in the lower one.

Once through and into the basin we found a space on the visitor moorings beside the service block - eventually we opted to stay here for the rest of the day and overnight. This meant that we could visit the nearby main street shops - it is a small town centre but with a full range of small shops. We really only wanted a newspaper but did pick up a few other non-essentials. These included a pork pie from a small butcher who was very chatty!

Alongside the mooring is a modern inscription in the low wall Plan of Mr Acton's Field with the Rises and Falls of its Surface at every square Chain's Length taken 19th January" This appears to be a reference to the person who owned the land over which the canal junction was originally built and he co-operated in the survey of the area.

There is a modern bridge that seems to give access to further moorings off the main basin, along with new apartment blocks. The plaque records that the development of Lichfield Basin allowed active canal use. Despite the provision of a number of well-appointed moorings in two parts of the basin, it does look as if the residents have other ideas and they all stand seemingly very much unused.

In 2008, the local council proudly stated to parliament that the Lichfield had once again become an active basin! We join an illustrious line of boat blogs that wistfully wonder about all this, including Oleanna and Epiphany.

8.9 Miles - 8 Locks