Friday 26 October 2018

Droitwich Spa Marina

Today's Canal - Droitwich

After the early starts of the last two days we were not in any hurry to get away today! We found ourselves with a very bright and sunny day (although the morning forecast did claim that there was a strong chance of some rain).

We set off by 9.30 - ish and headed to the first of the locks for the day. The sunshine meant that the views of the surrounding countryside ere realy dramatic. We did feel that the maintenance of the banks and balancing the needs of the wildlife and boaters was much better and that a few more mooring places have been reserved and kept clear of reeds. We were not, however, able to assess whether there is adequate depth to come alongside.

After the first single lock we arrived at the Ladywood flight of five locks. Although they were set against us we made good progress. The top lock, however, was empty when Christine walked ahead to set it. As we filled the lock we discovered why - one of the bottom paddle was leaking rather badly as if something was caught in it. Not much that we could do. The top and bottom locks both have cottages, once for resident keepers but the locks in  between were covered by one or other keeper walking in between - just as we do today!

The promise of rain came true just as we completed the top lock the dark grey sky can be seen in the photo above. However, it did not come to much - the real rain fell somewhere not too far away.

We continued into Droitwich town centre - Christine detoured to Waitrose for a paper and a couple of other items, leaving Mike and Andrew to come through the two swing bridges. By the time they had finished the Barge Lock she had returned. During this time there was another somewhat harsher shower but the sunshine quickly returned for our final push to the marina. As sometimes is the case, the river and the canal were at a level but we still had to open and shut the gates (but none of the paddles) as well as the swing bridge that crosses the lock.

As we left the town we came up the first of the four new locks that had to be built when the canal was restored. This one marks the junction with the River Salwarpe which comes the navigation between here and the Barge Lock.

One of the significant challenges that the restoration engineers faced was how to get a way underneath the M5 which whilst the canal was closed had been built over the top. However a modest stream had been culverted nearby and it proved just possible to divert the navigation this way. But the result is that there is very limited headroom and when the stream floods it is not possible to go through. It felt to us today that it was just the opposite - we scraped the bottom and had much more space above our heads.

The other side is where the other three new locks were built, the final two together form a shirt staircase. From the top there is a good view back down to the tunnel.

Only a short distance from the top lock to the entrance to the marina and, after a brief stop at the office to check where we were to moor, we reversed onto the longer term home for the boat. For various reasons we have reverted to a permanent mooring although we still hope to be away around the canal system next year just as much as this!

After a rather late lunch, Mike drove Andrew back up to Fazeley Mill Marina where he had parked his car. The journey was rather more complicated by the sat nav than the straightforward route we would otherwise have expected as there were several very slow section as a result of lane closures and road works. The return route was quite different!

6.8 Miles - 11 Locks

Thursday 25 October 2018


Today's Navigations - River Severn, Droitwich Canal

Today was generally overcast and very much cooler than the past few days. Extra layers were needed.

As we wanted to maximise our chances of completing the river section up to Hawford today we set the alarm early in order to leaver as soon as Gloucester Dock Lock was open. However there was enough time for Mike to pop to a nearby newsagent for today's paper even whilst the sun was rising.

We were joined in the lock by the cruiser which had also moored on the pontoons. Like us, they had intended to go upriver yesterday but were delayed by the tree clearance.

As we made our way along the East Parting we battled against a strong stream that reduced our downstream speed of near 6 mph to just under 3 mph. The wet banks also show that this stretch is tidal but the rise and fall is much less than below the weirs at Gloucester. As we just about at full moon the tides are high enough to overtop the weirs.

Just before rejoining the main channel we saw the place where the tree had largely been removed yesterday - still quite a bit left but that will perhaps have to be done from the bank.

At Upper Parting we returned to a much wider navigation and the flow rate was much less - our speed over the ground gradually increased and we managed most of the rest of the river at well over 4 mph. This gave us some hope that we night arrive at Upper Lode in time to pass through the lock. We did, of course, have to make sure we turned right - the photo is down the unnavigable section.

There are not as many grand houses as we expected, built to take in wide views of the river but Maisemore Park came into view just above the Parting.

From a distance we wondered if someone was about to hang glide off the cliffs but when we came closer it seems like an awning over a picnic table on the prominent viewpoint!

The former Coombe Hill Canal ran for about 2.75 miles towards Cheltenham and was opened in 1796 but was never as successful as its original supporters had hoped. The local geography prevented reaching near enough to the town for it to be of real use. It passed through several owners before closing finally in 1876 when its then owners could not afford to repair flood damage to its only lock, close to the river junction.

The tower of Tewkesbury Abbey came into view sooner than we expected- the result of a long stretch that happens to be appropriately aligned.

Lower Lode is at the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Severn - typically a pub was long ago built here and is still very popular to the present. It seems that on the Severn, the word Lode usually meant a river ford crossing, unlike the early English meaning of watercourse. Only much later did it take on its modern meaning. So, perhaps the pub began when this was a place to cross the river but which sometimes was impassable - what better way to wait our the right conditions that to prop up the bar!

After we passed through Upper Lode lock we were now back onto non-tidal waters.

Shortly after the lock we had a somewhat better view of the abbey from its side.

Much further up, as we passed the small town of Upton-on-Severn we were passed by a sand barge, one of the few continuing commercial uses of inland waterways. It was a surprise to see it here as when we have come here before the two wharves used for this operation were either side of the M50, several miles downstream.

We soon saw the reason, a new loading ;point close to a gravel pit that is quite new. The equipment looks as if it is designed to be moved to whichever party of the river it is needed.

This grand house at Severn Stoke is quite reclusive - at least it took a while to identify it but we think that it is Severn Bank. This reference says, "Severn Bank is an early 19th-century country house in the Gothick style built for Lord Deerhurst, the heir to the Earl of Coventry, as part of the Croome estate. There are several ornamental buildings and features. The property was used as a retreat for fishing parties."

As we passed under the modern southern Worcester bypass we knew that we were coming towards our goal with time almost on our side - so long as we passed through Diglis Lock smoothly.

Eventually we reached Diglis Locks. This picture shows just before the lock was full and the gates could be opened - however, during times of flood the water levels sometimes run right over the top of the lock! The keeper was most efficient but still keen for a chat whilst the lock filled.

In Worcester we passed the entrance to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and Diglis Basin.

There were plenty of rowers out practising - they were all youngsters from one of the several rowing clubs alongside the river in the city.

This crew came out from the large Worcester Rowing Club facility.

We were still making good time and Christine rang to Bevere Lock, the last one before Hawford where we wanted to turn off onto the Droitwich Canal. We were by now looking at arriving by 15:40, just in time for the last locking before the lock closed at 16:00, winter times. Phew!

Only a few minutes after leaving Bevere we arrived at Hawford and returned to the slightly less challenging waters of a canal!

We came  up the first two locks as we knew that there was a good mooring just above. The Droitwich Canal has very limited mooring opportunities - almost as difficult as a river!

Alongside the canal is Hawford School, part of the Kings Worcester group and caters for 2-11 year old children. Its website indicates that it features outdoor learning: We believe that every child should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development. The outdoor environment has massive potential for providing learning opportunities. Here at Hawford, we are extremely fortunate to be set in large grounds and surrounded by an environment rich in opportunities. We make full use of our local area, including the canal and the rivers, to enhance our educational provision. If only all schools were allowed to be so flexible in their approach to learning! Let's hope that they also learn to keep well clear of the large bonfire that seems to be being readied for a week's time and maybe also some of the real history behind all sides of the events being 'remembered'.

33.8 Miles - 6 Locks

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Gloucester Dock

Today's Canal - Gloucester and Sharpness

We set off earlier than usual as we were keen to pass through Gloucester Lock and out on the  Severn with enough time to get at least above Upper Lode Lock where the river stops being tidal.

The sun was up but still barely shining over the tops of the trees onto the canal.

This isolated dwelling reminded us that we had seen very few homes along side the canal, apart from around the various crossing points. At this one, breakfast was being prepared!

At this point there was once another swing bridge but little remains to show for it apart from this splendid former bridge keeper's house. Hardwicke Bridge carried a private road that connected two parts of the same estate and was demolished in 1985 to save the cost of a bridge keeper.

The sun shines on one half but not the other as we passed under one of the last bridges before arriving at the outskirts of Gloucester.

Gloucester Rowing Club are building a brand new home - they train some of the country's leading rowers and this place will cost nearly £2 million when complete.

There are several timber merchants alongside the canal, a reminder that this was once one of the principal trades for the canal and the new port of Gloucester.

This recent housing development is on a site whose prior use we have still to establish (not the Quedgeley Oil terminal that we at first thought but that is further back) but may well have been yet more timber yards. In 1965 BWB built a new quay for the timber trade (see here)

But before then we needed to stop at Sainsbury for a top up.

And then past the lightship (for sale) to the service point just before Llantony Bridge.

As Mike and Andrew were doing the servicing, Christine called the lock keeper to book our passage through the lock as soon as possible, Alas, she was informed that there was a problem as a large work boat and crane had just locked down to go a short way up the channel to remove some fallen trees that were obstructing passage for larger vessels. He did not know when it would be possible for us to leave. We had seen a stoppage notice yesterday warning of work taking place but it did not indicate and stoppage to navigation.

So, we had to cross over the dock and moor on the visitor  pontoons and make some coffee.

Mike walked to the lock had a good chat to the keeper. He had just heard from the crew on the work boat and the earliest that we might be able to leave would be between 1.30 and 2 o'clock. This would not leave us with enough time to pass through Upper Lode today. In addition he said that at the moment a tide is running (it only does so between Gloucester and Upper Lode when there is a high spring tide and over tops the weir) This morning a large amount of floating debris had collected and he strongly advised not mooring overnight on one of the pontoons which are available. Safer to make a prompt start tomorrow.

Mike and Andrew walked into the city centre to find Wilko or some other supplier of panel pins (!) as a minor repair was needed to one of the main bedroom door frames, leaving Christine to finish her lentil soup - with extras - for lunch time.

After enjoying our soup and sandwiches we set off to walk around the Barge Arm part of the docks to visit the Waterways Museum housed in one of the former warehouses. Along the way we came across the Mariners Church (formally opened in 1849) and took a look inside. Although quite small, it has a number of stained glass windows including this more modern one. Its original purpose was to look after the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people who worked on the boats and in the docks.

The waterways museum had a particular focus on the Gloucester and Sharpness history but also covers other aspects of thew wider canal system. Of particular interest (at least to Mike) was a series of video 'talking heads' of men who had worked all their lives on the canal, river estuary or the docks. What made the stories even more interesting was that they all began their working lives in the 1960s but gave testimony to how much working conditions have changed in the time since. One especially highlighted the different attitude towards health and safety, referring to one captain he worked for would happily look down into the tanks of petrol  they were transporting whilst at the same time having a lit cigarette in his mouth!

Early days of commercial trade used these sailing trows - each part of the country had its own designs, developed to suit local conditions - there were several models of how they looked.

Of course, wind was overtaken by engine power.

Outside, the oldest narrowboat in the museum collection is on display - nb Northwich. It was buyilt in 1898 and worked mainly on the Trent and Mersey Canal before being retired in 1963.

The canal and docks are in constant need of dredging and this vessel has been here since it was built in Holland in 1926, making the journey around Lands End to enter service here for the next 56 years. On three occasions it sank and had to be re-floated.

Inside the museum there is a recreation of a typical narrowboat cabin showing just how cramped conditions were once whole families were forced to take up permanent residence on the canal.

After completing our visit to the museum we all walked different ways. Mike and Andrew walked over Llantony Bridge to the other side of the dock and looked into the two dry docks where two boats are either being repaired or restored.

They also saw a former pump that lifted water from the river into the canal. Although the canal level is largely maintained from natural sources including two rivers, water for lock operations is also needed. This pump was in operation from 1964 to 2001 when it was replaced by pumps twice as powerful but which are now underground. The water is also now important as it feeds into the treatment pant at Purton which provides drinking water for Bristol.

The new pumps were in operation this afternoon as the extensive bubbles indicate.

After continuing around the dock, Andrew walked across to the weir on the river and Ike returned to the boat to use the pin (singular!) that was bought earlier. (Anyone want 99 pins?)

Meanwhile Christine had been to the main shopping area and bought a pair of shoes and a new top.

As the sun set we were treated to a wonderful red sky over the tops of the now darkening warehouses.

7.5 Miles - 0 Locks