Wednesday 27 December 2017

Worcester Return

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Overnight it had rained very heavily and Christine found reports that there had also been snow nearby with some power cuts. We were uncertain about whether we should expect to continue with our planned round trip via the Severn. Before setting off we called Gloucester Lock but this was closed leaving a message to call Martin on a mobile number - which we duly did.

Fortunately he was able to answer straight away and told us that he had been to Diglis first thing and then down to Tewkesbury. The river was already well up and rising quickly. He estimated that it was 90% likely that the locks would be closed by tomorrow and advised us not to continue with our plan. So we cancelled our booking for Bevere Lock - not to everyone's immediate delight, it has to be said. However, we could not afford to wait until morning to find out as, if the result was that the river was closed, we would not have enough time to make it back to the marina by tomorrow evening. So our revised plan was now to make it to Worcester for lunch time, use the services there and, after looking around, retrace our steps back up the Worcester and Birmingham.

The morning was generally dull and frequently there was light rain, often turning to soft hail. As we left our mooring we could see the snow covering on the Malvern Hills in the distance. (sorry about the very zoomed in photo!)

Shortly we arrived at the first of the six locks (in three pairs) down to Diglis Basin, just over two miles away.

The second pair of locks are called Gregory's Mill which, our research suggests, might once have been a brickworks. The BBC web site says, "The BBC erected radio aerials inside the Gregory Mills brickworks in Worcester, which had a very tall chimney. This was to work alongside the Droitwich radio masts, which were used to beam secret signals into occupied Europe."

This item also led us to realise that the open space where we moored, part of which is now occupied by a sports and leisure centre, was once Perdiswell Aerodrome, said to be the world's first municipal airport. During the second world war it was used to train large numbers of Tiger Moth pilots from across the Commonwealth.

Somewhat more amusingly, Clark Gable managed to crash land a Douglas Dakota here (well he was in the co-pilot's seat) whilst making a gunnery training film. In fact it came in too fast for a grass field and skidded into the city rubbish tip just off the airfield! Fortunately on this occasion no-one was hurt - except for the plane and some bruised egos.

We gradually wended through the suburbs into the city centre - the last lock is alongside the Commandery, now a museum and coffee shop - although today no-one was sitting at the tables on the grass outside!

The site was first built on in the 11C and for some time was a hospital but over the centuries it has had a very mixed career, including being used by Charles Stuart (later Charles II) as his headquarters during the Battle of Worcester during the Civil War. It seems most likely that the names dates back to much earlier and indicates a foundation of the Knights Hospitaller who called their regional administrative centres by the name commandery.

We arrived at Diglis Basin and moored alongside the facilities. We connected up to the water point but were directed top an elsan point in the marina as this one was out of order. We used space just above the upper Diglis Lock and the main entrance to the basin to turn around and used the nearest set of visitor moorings, almost by the water point. The photo below also shows, if you look very closely, that the red light had been switched on, indicating that the lock is closed.

It was a bit early for lunch and, in any event, Christine announced that she had, unplanned, started to make a new batch of soup but it would not be ready for a little while. Hence, Mike and Andrew opted to walk down to the river and to see for ourselves the conditions.

Below the lower lock we could clearly see that the water level was now firmly into the red - not much consolation that we could see the amber section just below the water. The flow was also quite fast and it would have taken us much longer than normal to reach Hawford Junction.

We continued along the riverside and passed the former Old Dock, currently looking a little forlorn with no present use at all. The surrounding site, once covered in industrial and dock facilities has been covered with somewhat anonymous blocks of apartments.

Just beyond is Diglis Lock on the River Severn. The river level does occasionally rise quite spectacularly and can inundate the lock itself. A reminder of the dangers can be seen on the flood level board - but this does not even show the record level of a few years ago.

After lunch, and with a little reluctance, we set off once more - by now there was a biting wind when on the more exposed stretches but bright sunshine then also made an appearance and lasted until sunset.

Who is this person? We never had a chance to find out and to thank them for waiting in the cold to welcome us pass by!

By the time we had completed the two Bilford Locks the sun was ever lower in the sky and darkness would have arrived before the next suitable mooring spot, several locks further on so we ended up mooring very close to the spot we used last night!

5.0 Miles - 12 Locks

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