Saturday 31 March 2018

Stoke Prior

Today's Canals - Droitwich, Worcester and Birmingham

Time at last to leave the marina at Droitwich was has been home to nb Alchemy for this winter - and a good home it has been.

Alas, Christine discovered last night that we had left behind at the hotel her iPad charging lead. So she persuaded Andrew to drive her into town to track down a replacement as well as pick up a paper. There had been some debate about whether it was better to do this before setting off or to wait until later in the morning when we passed through on the canal. However, last night a gas bottle ran out and we wanted to buy a replacement before leaving as, with our plan being to go down the River Severn, supplies are less frequent.

So they went into town leaving Mike to mover the boat around to the service point, replace the gas bottle and empty the elsan. By the time he had just about finished the other two returned. On the way back they stopped off to take a look at the canal under the M5 as well as the short river section. They could see that the marker showing the head room through the tunnel was not enough and also that the river looked in angry mode. Mike had also received a similar message from the marina office but with the extra that the locks were chained up to prevent anyone trying unwisely to pass under the motorway and the getting stuck.

So, we now knew that we would have to turn left out of the marina instead of the planned right. Whilst we knew that the River Severn might also be a problem, we had planned to go at least down that far just to see, even if it meant going upstream to Stourport instead of down to Gloucester, which is what we - or at least Mike - had planned to do.

Immediately we came to the three Hanbury locks where a couple of lock keepers were on duty to help boaters through - and to make sure that they operated the side ponds (Mike forgot on the first one as he was really thinking about alternative routes as was duly reprimanded!) What we did learn, however, was that by now Diglis locks at Worcester were now closed. This reduced our options from at least four down to one. How easy does that make the choice? We also had to break the bad news to a hire boat that was on their way down the Droitwich to complete the short ring on a four day hire from Worcester.

The morning was tolerably cool and dry but by the time we turned left at Hanbury Junction rain arrived and the temperature dropped markedly for the rest of the day, although the rain was at least intermittent.

It was not long before we arrive at the bottom f the long rise of locks from here to the Birmingham level - although officially they are divided into the Astwood, Stoke and Tardebigge flights. The pounds between the flights are barely different from those in the middle.

At least there was plenty of water coming down the overflows.

Above the Astwood locks we moored up to a new section of bank to have our lunch. Christine was pleased that she had taken time last evening to prepare  hearty soup which went some way to warming us up again.

At the bottom end of the Stoke Locks is where the Salt Works once stood. The land has been derelict for a while but a new and large housing development project is underway with considerable works being done to prepare the land. No doubt treatment of the adverse effects of long chemical working will not be straightforward.

We were disappointed to see that the Stoke Works Pump House (which we featured in our blog in 2014) appears to have been completely demolished. We had understood that this was the last remaining building from the once substantial Salt Works and was being preserved.

It was clear that we would not attempt the Tardebigge flight tonight and so we tied up for the night in the pound below Stoke top lock - to avoid being outside the popular pub just above that lock. Even so we had to be careful about the boat leaning at an angle if too many lockfuls of water were taken out.

It was still only just after 3.30 when we were tied up and fire lit so Mike and Christine opted to walk to the nearby Stoke Prior parish church to check out what time there might be a service tomorrow, Easter Day. (All our previous investigations around where we had hoped to be were now irrelevant!) Alas, when we arrived at 4.05 the church was already locked (it is normally open between 10 and 4) and we eventually discovered that tomorrow's service is not until 6 in the evening! Not much help for us.

In the porch is an old wooden cross which is inscribed in memory of Charles steer who was the first chairman of the newly merged company of GKN, having previously been in charge of Nettlefolds which was the last of the companies to join this giant engineering and manufacturing company. Charles Steer established a 'rest home' in Stoke Prior for former employees. A timely reminder given that GKN has only just fallen to a predatory takeover from a firm that specialises in breaking up old established businesses in order to make more profit from them. Ironically,  when GKN was originally formed it was the result of various mergers and takeovers during which many workers either lost their jobs or had to move.

4.3 Miles - 14 Locks

Friday 30 March 2018

Maundy Thursday

The reason for the specific title for this blog post will become apparent in a moment.

We travelled up from home on Tuesday and, with just one short stop, we arrived at Droitwich by 1 o'clock. The boat was in fine fettle and we soon unpacked and warmed up the inside. As the outdoor temperature was somewhat better than during our last visit to the boat, this did not take very long.

Wednesday we packed our bags (actually most had stayed in the car overnight) and drove across to Windsor where we were booked for two nights in the Holiday Inn, just off the M5 close to Slough. After a sandwich in the bar we went in search of a newspaper, which proved rather more difficult than anticipated as there were no shops in the immediate area. We called at Maplins -  sadly under threat of imminent closure so a good discount sale was in progress but the main thing could we think of was to stock up on AA and AAA batteries in quantity! In the end the only place we could find our newspaper was at the mega Tesco close to Slough station.

So why, you must be asking, did we want to spend two night in Slough? Well, the reason was that it is only a few minutes from Windsor (but much less expensive). The surprise letter that arrived early this year invited Christine to be a Recipient of Maundy Money at the special ceremonial service which this year was held in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. She had been nominated as one of the four to be awarded to people in Cornwall. Although there are no official citations, and the invitation letter made no reference to the reasons, it is probable that it was in recognition of the work that she has done in the diocese on behalf of disabled people, more especially in recent years in promoting better responses to people with dementia and their carers. Mike's role was to be a Companion, as the official title goes.

So, in the afternoon we drove in to Windsor to attend the evening service, rather in the more of casing the joint in advance of the next day! It was a simple, said service with only a small number of people but afterwards we could look to see where our seats were to be.

The total number of Recipients is based on the Sovereign's age, hence 92 men and 92 women, from every diocese in England. As we found the next day, 184 recipients and the same number of Companions filled the chapel.

 Later we had an evening meal at the hotel which was perfectly adequate if not especially different. What was distinctive, however, was the staff who were all very welcoming, pleasant and helpful.

On Thursday we rose in good time and after a good breakfast (again the hotel did well) we nervously donned our glad rags and set off by car - we were to park in the Sports Club in the grounds alongside the Long Walk. We stuck our identifying sign to the windscreen and left with time in case the rush hour imposed delays (our concern about that was heightened by experiencing considerable traffic on a slightly different route the evening before) But as it happened we headed across the river and through town with very little traffic and so we took the opportunity for a brief diversion to call on daughter Joanna (who we knew was probably working from home this day). We chatted for a short while (she had been listening to an item on the radio based on conference she and her team had organised in Northern Ireland) but long enough to take a photo which she later posted on social media!

A short time later we were handing our invitations and personal identification papers to the police and security staff at the entrance to the car park. By the time we were through there was a real sense of relief - we were in the right place at the right time and entitled to be there! We were ushered to waiting executive coaches that transported us up the long drive to the chapel. At this stage the weather was kind to us as we joined others gathering outside the entrance making a quick trip to the temporary loos installed for the occasion!)

Although we thought we were early - ahead of the schedule we had been given - when we entered the chapel we saw that at least 90% of the Recipients and Companions were already in their seats. There was a real buzzing atmosphere as people who had never met before introduced themselves to those alongside.

The event is a classic traditional royal ceremonial with plenty of colour from Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters!) and Military Knights of Windsor and assorted clergy in their finest robes. The distribution takes places in two tranches in the middle of the service. The Queen is followed by a procession in which the purses containing the Maundy Money are transferred from the large trays carried by the Yeoman Warders and passed hand to hand through three people finally to the Lord High Almoner (currently the Bishop of Worcester). During this time, and throughout the service the choir and organist provide music - the standard here is amongst the best of cathedrals - for most of the recipients it is a matter of a bow or bob and time to say, "Thank you very much your majesty" (in accordance with the instructions from the Lord High Almoner before the start of the service). Just one or two are favoured with a brief comment and conversation from the Queen but (perhaps to her relief) Christine was not one such!

The service was over in just about an hour - alas as we emerged from the chapel a heavy shower arrived and there was no opportunity for more photos before scuttling onto one of the waiting coaches (we had intended to walk the short distance).We made our way into the Royal State Apartments for a reception in the Great Hall and adjoining rooms and time to mingle with the other Recipients and some of the officials and clergy that had been involved. Although the surrounding are some of the most impressive (amazingly re-constructed after the horrendous fire in 1992) there was a delightfully informal feel - no doubt helped by the fact that by now all those who had been so such on tenterhooks an hour earlier were mightily relieved that they had done nothing wrong!

Eventually, just after 2 o'clock, we made our way back downstairs (reclaiming the mobile phones that had been confiscated on arrival!) and found coaches to transport us back to the car park. We could now go back to being anonymous citizens again.

We have just a few photos from when we arrived at the chapel - after that all cameras were totally banned, but this did add to the sense of the occasion - so for the most part we have to depend on the images that are unforgettably in our memories. Perhaps we may be offered a chance to acquire a picture from the Royal Household photographers that were capturing much of the event but it is likely to be a small chance that any individual is in focus at the right time!

Time then to head back to the hotel and relax - and to open the purses and inspect the coins. To collectors these would no doubt the prized items but actually they are legal tender and just like everyday coins - just specially minted, the sort of thing that is impressive only once you know what they are and why they are a rarity. On the other hand they are silver coins and it some time since 4 pence coins have been in general circulation (before our time and pre-decimal) whilst threepenny bits (remember the original multi-sided coins?) The number of coins and the details are all derived from centuries of tradition which can seem either impressive or archaic according to taste.

Looking back at the organisation of the event, it was certainly most impressive but most especially there was a lot of care and detail that took into account the needs of the people most likely to be invited and that in the main they will not be familiar with such events. Yes, on the one hand, it is a very controlled process, almost industrial in nature, but it does also make sure that everyone can negotiate successfully what could otherwise be a minefield of protocol and unfamiliar convention, allowing everyone to enjoy the occasion, one that is full of pageantry, tradition and meaning.

In the evening we joined with daughter and family for a meal at Meimo, one of their favourite eating places in the centre of Windsor that serves Moroccan food. We can thoroughly recommend it - the food was great and the service very positive. Our hosts opted for sharing plates which meant for even greater hilarity. By the time we were back at our hotel we we pretty much completely exhausted!

This morning we were in not so much of a rush and so had another excellent breakfast before checking out and driving back to Droitwich Marina. Andrew is joining us for a few days and so we arranged for Mike to take the car to where we have booked to leave the boat during our next spell at home in a couple of week's time. He picked up Mike from Hill far,m Marina near to Wootten Wawen - a newly opened mid-size marina. Although it officially opened for boats last Novemeber when the entrance was finally opened through onto the canal, by then the winter stoppages meant that there was little traffic and it is only now that business is beginning to build up. Mike met both of the owners whilst he was waiting for Andrew and each was very happy to chat about their project of which they are evidently proud.

For simplicity we opted for fish 'n chips from town. Christine had left her iPad charging lead in the hotel and needed to find a replacement. Alas, Morrisons did not stock such an item and it was too late for anywhere else. That will now have to wait until the morning.

Monday 12 March 2018


Today was devoted to housekeeping - cleaning, sorting, washing, minor maintenance and so on. we did have the first chance to move the boat this trip - but only the 50 metres or so to the fuel point and back again. We plan to leave the heating on frost protection again so wanted to make sure that the tanks were full, even though there should easily have been enough.

We had a brief shopping trip, newspaper, rolls for the journey tomorrow and a couple of other items to replenish the stock cupboard.

Late afternoon we took  large pile of laundry to the the service block to dry it using the large driers. Other smaller amounts have been done as we go along but they had to be finished using the radiators and stove overnight.

So that is almost the end of this non-moving trip. It has been interesting but wew will be quite glad to get underway properly when we next return.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Doing Very Little

The rest of the blog for this trip is likely to be boring - you have been warned! With the snow and ice as well as Mike's conference call meeting out of the way, there was not a lot of time left! In any case, we had already opted to buy tickets for Saturday night and, if we are to get home on Tuesday, Monday needs to be a day of washing, cleaning and sorting the boat out.

We went to St Peter's church again - see last week for a photo - and this time it was led by the vicar who, alas had to leave right at the end so there was no chance to meet him. However, we did spend time over coffee chatting with a few members of the congregation especially those who know parts of Cornwall. It seems that almost wherever you go there is someone who has spent their childhood, or even adult, holidays frequently in the same place in Cornwall!

After picking up some more milk from Morrisons we returned to the boat and time for lunch. By now rain had arrived and the afternoon was largely wet until almost sunset. The pot roast recipe that Christine had proposed for tonight takes a long time. It really should not have to be supervised most of that time but we are still a little unsure of how to control our oven and hob when trying something new so we kept a fairly close eye on it.

Saturday 10 March 2018

Great Malvern Priory

We did not do very much this morning except to go into town for a few items from Morrisons. In the afternoon, Christine took a short walk up the locks to the junction and then a short way along the towpath towards Birmingham. However, she soon found that the recent rain had helped turn the ground very muddy. Meanwhile, Mike was making a start on a recipe for tomorrow's evening meal which Christine had picked out from a Delia Smith book that she had found in the Boaters' Lounge book exchange.

We had an early evening snack because we had booked tickets for a concert in Great Malvern Priory this evening. In fact it is not too far away, about 40 minutes drive or less if no traffic. As a former priory church it is almost cathedral-like in size and proportion, a splendid and impressive building on one of the higher parts of the town.

The concert was being given by The Elgar Chorale, a choir of about 30 singers, some amateur and some professional musicians. They were conducted by Piers Maxim, amongst other things the musical director for the Priory church. The headline work was Psalmfest by John Rutter and the rest of the programme followed a similar psalm-based theme. The concert began with short anthems by Elgar, Samuel Wesley, Howells, Vaughan William and Lennox Berkeley. The first half concluded with the first performance (a self described world premiere) of a work by the conductor himself, De Profundis which is also based on a number of psalms. The performance was of a good standard and we were pleased to have found something yet again different. There has not been a  lack of things to do whilst holed up in the marina.

Friday 9 March 2018


Mike had a meeting by conference call this morning so it was not until after lunch that we were able to go out - by then promised rain had set in.

We aimed to visit Jinny Ring, a craft centre in Hanbury village. However, we first called at Hanbury Church, set on top of a small but prominent hill. Parts of the churchyard were covered in a dense carpet of snowdrops, perhaps at their best for this year. Inside there is a splendid West Gallery.

The main claim to fame of this church is that it is said to be the model for the village church in the long-running Archers radio serial. At times it has been used both for sound and film recording to support the programme.

The local church seems to make quite a bit of this connection - no doubt it increases the number of casual visitors. They have a collection of paper cuttings that refer to the connection. It also is said that Hanbury Hall is the model for the hall in the series.

The diocese makes use of the link - in its 2013 advert for a new vicar, Archers is meant to be eye-catching!

One chapel (a part side aisle) is devoted to Vernon family from Hanbury Hall, although the first generation connection, who came here to be Vicar, is commemorated in the chancel. The chapel has numerous huge carved memorials.

Also, the stained glass windows are in memory of one son who was killed in the First World War.

With rain coming down ever heavier we quickly drove the short distance to the craft centre. There are quite a number of workers with studios and workshops on site, ranging from a glass blower to a violins maker, from a jeweller to a chocolate maker. All seemed to be of a reasonable standard and clearly quite enjoy being able to chat amongst the,selves at quiet times as well as to visitors at busier parts of the year.

We had rather too sumptuous tea in the restaurant overlooking the ponds outside. Alas, they have recently had to put up large notices asking the visitors do not feed any birds as they are concerned about the possibility of avian flu spreading to their grounds. They hope that this will only be a temporary measure.

Oh, and the funny little extra bit of cake? When we were making our choices, Christine was disappointed that the option she most fancied had just sold out. Seeing the look on her face, the lady serving then said that she did have a new cake and would Christine like her to cut a slice? Silly question! However, she first shaved off the outer end so give a 'proper' slice - but neither she nor Mike wanted to waste it . . .

Concert at Huntingdon

A few days ago, Christine discovered that there was to be a concert tonight given by Peter Knight and John Spiers. It was to be held in the Huntingdon Hall in the centre of Worcester starting at 7.30. As Christine was still in search of a small scarf - having failed to find anything in Hereford - we opted to take a train early afternoon. Even at this time the train was pretty much full with just enough seats to avoid standing. In any case it is only ten minutes to Foregate Station.

Eventually, after scouring all of the potential scarf sources, with very limited provision along thew way, she found one that might fit the purpose. As it was from M&S, if it subsequently turns out not to match then she can at least seek return it in Truro.

We checked out where the concert venue was (actually very convenient at the side of the Crowngate shopping centre) and then looked for eating places - we had planned that we would eat out given the timings.

There was still a little while before it would be a suitable time to eat so we wandered around the side of the cathedral and along the narrow College Precincts.

One of the houses has plaques that recall that Edward Elgar lived there for a couple of years when he was a small boy, aged 4 -6. He father was a professional standard violinist and also earned money as a piano tuner. He was also the organist at the Catholic church for many years.

Although music figured extensively in Edward's upbringing, he was largely self-taught. His father could not afford to send him to Leipzig Conservatory as Edward had hoped so he initially sought work in a solicitor's office. This way of life did not suit him so he concentrated on music, both as a composer, performer and director.

We continued along the narrow street to the large gateway into the cathedral green. The gateway is currently in need of extensive work, which does seem to have at least begun. The rooms above still form part of the adjoining cathedral school.

Time then to walk back to the shopping area where we went to a splendid oriental restaurant which serves in a buffet style. It proclaims a menu of over 150 dishes and that, whilst part of a national brand, this is its flagship location.

The food was excellent, the service as expected and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. The style of main course dishes ranged from Chinese, Thai, oriental in general through to a small sushi bar. Although we could not possible taste everything - we had a good attempt between us! Unusually, there was an interesting selection of desserts to follow.

Feeling rather replete, we managed to wander back to Huntingdon Hall - alas we failed to take a photo earlier whilst it was still light enough. The building was once one of the chapels established by the Countess of Hungtindon in her once famous Connexion. Constructed in the style adopted by most nonconformist churches especially the Methodist churches with which her denomination became closely associated, it has a large gallery surrounding an substantial and somewhat ornate pulpit.

Whilst it was at one time so well attended that people had to sit in the aisles (no fire regulations then!) during the pot-war period it suffered rapid decline, as did many like it, until it closed in the 1970's. At that point the local council wanted to demolish it to make way for a car park but a local trust was formed to save the building and convert it to a music centre and concert venue. Much of the work is today done by a dedicated group of volunteers. The conversion has retained much of the original features - this means that the seating, apart from a block of chairs in the middle, is still the original pews, including a few boxed pews. These were, of course, designed for a different purpose and for differently sized and proportioned people!

The concert was given by Peter Knight and John Spiers, both excellent folk musicians who teamed up about 18 months ago. Peter was one of the longest serving ,members of Steeleye Span, whom we have seen in concert a small number of times, and is an amazing violin player who also arranged quite a bit of the music for bands in which he has played. John is a melodeon player and who writes music especially for this instrument which he, by chance, picked up whilst an undergraduate at Cambridge.

The concert was almost entirely instrumental - voice only came into one item, Peter's solo. Some pieces were energetic, often starting gently but working up to a more frenetic pace with an original tune developed into numerous different interpretations. Others were quite haunting in their melodic style, clearly benefiting from Peter's original classical training. We were very pleased to have been able to go to this concert and, overall, felt that we had had a really good day out!

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Hanbury Hall

After a short shopping trip in town we returned to the boat for a slightly early lunch so that we could set out in good time for an afternoon visit to Hanbury Hall, a National Trust property a couple of miles from the marina.

The house was built by a successful London lawyer as a summer residence where he could entertain wealthy people he wanted to impress. He started work in 1701 on land that was originally bought by his grandfather but it was not until 1710 that it was ready for him to begin using it.

After coming through a new visitor entrance - to cope with anticipated further growth in summer visitor numbers - we walked around to the front drive and could immediately take in the image that Thomas Vernon was trying to create.

At the entrance door we spotted notice advertising guided tours of the gardens - perhaps the estate's most important feature - with the next one at 2pm. This gave us a short while to wander around the outside of the house and to look at the long views from the rear of the building. When we returned to the starting point it turned out that we were the only takers - although another couple did join later for part of the tour. The guide, like others we met in the house later, was well versed in the history of the estate and just who had a hand in creating and later developing it.

The gardens were originally laid out by George London in the style that was fashionable at the time. At the front, now quite plain, was an intricate geometric layout but our guide took us first to the garden to the side. This was a formal vegetable garden. It was not intended to be a significant source of food but rather to impress with more exotic species, set in raised beds as specimens and well spaced out to show them off to their best advantage.

Next came the parterre garden, highly formalised with strict symmetry apart from the detail that the centre specimen topiaries right in the centre of each quadrant were different. In fact, the garden as we see it today is a recent re-creation. Over time the NT is attempting to take the gardens back closer to the original design of George London. However, the third generation to own the house re-modelled by the interior and the gardens, bringing in Capability Brown to fashion it according to the latest ideas.

The Wilderness Garden is far from a home for wild flowers! It too is laid out in geometric patterns but was intended to create spaces where people could enjoy a little more privacy, away from the immediate oversight from the windows of the main house.

Further round we came to the Orangery where citrus trees in pots are kept over winter, brought into the sunshine from May to September.

At the back is the Mushroom House although at the moment it is being used to force rhubard for use in the tea rooms.

Close to the house the trees are mainly for show but the 'real' orchard is further back. Today it is well stocked with many different and rare varieties, all arranged in alphabetical order!

A tunnel from the orchard leads around to where the kitchens once stood, set apart from the main house to minimise fire risks. The purpose of the tunnel seems to have been to reduce the chance of 'upstairs' catching sight of ';downstairs' as they brought produce from the orchard and kitchen garden ready to be cooked.

All around  the house is a ha-ha. Whilst it is a little less distinct than when first created, it is possible to see how it would have kept stock and wildlife away from the carefully tended formal gardens.

We were now nearing the end of pour tour and dampness in the air was accompanied by a rainbow in the distance. Moments later a very heavy shower arrived as we hurried back to look inside the house.

The inside of the house is not outstanding - largely as a result of the fact that one of the descendent owners frittered away much of the inheritance and the furniture was gradually sold. The same generation that changed the gardens also changed most of the ground floor rooms by knocking two into one in three places. Indeed, the first room we came to is now furnished in the style of the 1920's.

The dining room was originally two rooms that Thomas Vernon used as his private rooms whilst the lady's rooms were a suite on the upper floor.

One of the more important featured inside it the painting of the grand staircase by Sir James Thornhill, later to work on St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Hospital at Greenwich and Chatsworth House. Our garden guide is convinced that without this significance the house might well have been allowed to disappear in ruin as did many others in the middle of the last century.

Once we had completed our tour of the house - sadly none of the servant's quarters or the working parts of the house are available to visit so it is harder to imagine how the life of the household functioned - we adjourned to the tea room in the servant's hall. As always with NT tea rooms, the scones and cakes were a great accompaniment to large cups of tea.

We were slightly surprised to discover that these corner 'stones' are actually pieces of painted wood stuck onto the brickwork!

Closing time was fast approaching as we left and took a final look at the front of the house and returned to the car park.