Monday 20 July 2020

Back to the Marina (again)

Today's Canal - Droitwich

It was another brilliant sunny day - the forecast suggested cloud by midday but, although we had a little around 10, the rest  of the day until sunset was almost entirely blue sky.

We left our overnight mooring a bit before 9 and made our way up through the single Mildenham Mill lock before continuing on the the Ladywood flight of five.

At the first lock, the lady who lives in the former lock cottage came out to chat - very friendly and informative. She seems to have missed having the boats coming through until the past couple of weeks.

By now there were several boats on their way down which helped and we were out of the top lock by 10:40.

There is a very tight bend under the road bridge at Salwarpe village and we were determined to find a better line - none so far had avoided having to do several forwards and backwards! This time we did manage in a single sweep around but it was still rather close. The temptation is to think that one is through only to discover that there is still more to be done.

After an hour of level cruising we reached the outskirts of Droitwich.

When we arrived at the first swing bridge in Vines Park, Christine popped to Waitrose, mainly for rolls for our lunch on the way home tomorrow, leaving Mike and Andrew to work the bridges and then the age Lock meeting up again at the other end of the park.

The next lock is where the River Salwarpe joins the navigation and we had a little difficulty in getting into the lock. There seemed to be quite a bit of silt, possible brought down by the winter floods.

The next pound. which includes the short tunnel under the M5, was rather low. Although this meant we had plenty of headroom the consequence was again that we scraped our way into the next lock.

Only the two lock staircase to go and just before 1 o'clock we had turned into the marina and were looking for our pontoon. There was little wind so the manoeuvre to reverse in was uneventful - but we did unusually have an extra space next to us to help.

After lunch Mike took Andrew down to Worcester to recover his car. The rest of the afternoon was not energetic! Andrew left for home after our evening meal.

6.8 Miles - 11 Locks

Sunday 19 July 2020

Hawford Junction

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

The weather today was in marked contrast with yesterday - now very bright and sunny, gradually getting hot enough to seek shade at times!

However, when we set off, for us earlier than normal, we were still in the shade of our overnight mooring and so a bit chilly. It did not last long.

By the time we were working down the locks towards Kidderminster and then on to Stourport, the sky was almost clear of clouds.

At Kidderminster the obligatory shot of the church that towers over the canal - and originally even more so over the River Stour which is quite a bit lower than the canal.

Little and Large - two bridges.

Just before Stourport we passed under Mitton Chapel Bridge. We showed a picture of the nearby churchyard last year. Christine found out a bit more of the history thus year. Where the parish church of St Michael and All Angels now stands, was at one time a much smaller structure, created as a chapel-of-ease from Kidderminster, long before Stourport began to develop its own identity. (A chapel of ease denotes a place of worship set up under the oversight of a nearby parish church and its vicar, often for a community that is a but to far away for ready travel to worship) In the 16C, the records show just 23 families in the Mitton area. A new church was built in 18C and by 1833 the population had grown to over 3000 and the church was not considered sufficient. So it was enlarged from 450 'kneelings' to over a 1000. The arrival of the canal revolutionised transport and so Lower Mitton turned into the town of Stourport - the older name now largely forgotten except by those living nearby.

We reached the York Street lock which leads down into the main basin. Alongside, Blossom's Te Room was doing a good trade, using the tables alongside the lock which were 'not for use' when we came up.

At the service block we stopped long enough for the usual disposals. Andrew then walked around the basin towards the narrow locks so that he could take some pictures and video from the air with his drone. We waited with the boat long enough to let another boat ahead start down the locks as there is only room for one boat to moor on the landing.

That's the view of the lower barge lock - not for us!

As it happened, it was only just entering the top lock as we arrived as the was another coming up. Mike backed our boat away from the through channel but the upward boat turned very late causing Mike to back even further during which he was blown sideways!

A view of the narrow locks and the fairground alongside.

Eventually we were able to begin the descent through the two staircases. This view also shows the unhelpful (non)alignment between the two pairs which we have mentioned before.

Below the upper staircase (no damage to human frames this time! Although we did work out what trip hazard probably caused the incident)

The second pair proved less eventful and it was 12:30 as we set off down the river. Soon we passed the trip boat returning to Stourport.

By the time we arrived at Lincomb Lock, the boat that had been ahead of us in the staircases was waiting for the gates to open - the lock is large enough to hold both of us - and more!

The rest of the way down to Hawford Junction was uneventful and very pleasant - the river was much busier than just a few days ago. Mike had to be awoken from a nap as we arrived somewhat quicker than he had anticipated . . . 

We ascended two locks before finding the moorings above almost empty, apart from one other boat. Places to stop along the Droitwich are scarce so this was a relief - and we could rest out the remainder of the wonderful afternoon before preparing tonight's roast lamb dinner, to be followed by a dessert based on the Bakewell Tart which Christine bought from her favourite shop in Kinver.

14.8 Miles - 13 Locks

Saturday 18 July 2020

There and Back Again - Wolverley

Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

As forecast, it was a pretty dull day, weather-wise, with grey skies, the odd drop of rain and, less expected, at times quite chilly. Still, tomorrow is supposed to be better.

We continued northwards from Austcliffe, planning to turn around at lunch time before returning back the way we have come. We do not have enough time to make a circular route.

It remained a picturesque route as we headed towards Kinver. At the risk of being mis-labelled, it was somewhat less usual to see a couple of ladies fishing together.

At Kinver, Christine walked into the village to visit another shop in her 'must not pass it by' list. This time she was in search of some tasty cakes. It took ,longer than before because the small shop was exercising strict discipline on its customers who had to form an orderly and socially-distanced queue with only one or two inside at a time.

Meanwhile Mike and Andrew ascended the lock and carried on to the service point just around the corner. Here there are two water points with room for two boats but a boat ahead of us pulled onto the mooring, half in one space and half in the other! This meant that we had to tie the bow up awkwardly and keep a constant watch to prevent the stern either colliding with a long erm noorer or swinging out in the path of other passing boats.

By the time they had finished, Christine was almost back at the boat where she proudly displayed her harvest. A little later, coffee was much enhanced by them.

Dunsley Tunnel - at 23 metres - must be one of the shortest on the network, but its excavation must have been a substantial effort at he time, carved through solid rock.

By now we had decided to continue past Stourton Junction for perhaps another mile to a suitable winding hole.

At the junction, the Stourbridge Canal heads off up through three locks on its way to Stourbridge and then on into Birmingham. The Staffs and Worcs continues to the left.

The winding hole is on a bend and is little more than a widening of the canal. It was quite overgrown suggesting that it is not often used for the purpose of turning around. But we made it after a large number of forward and backward movements. Immediately we moored for lunch.

The afternoon took us back the way we had come this morning although we ended up at Wolverley, not far short of Kidderminster. Many stretches of this canal are carved from red sandstone which often left vertical walls on one side. Understandably, at these places the canal is often quite narrow and modern steerers are daunted by the possibility of passing a boat in the opposite direction. Frequent bends do not help, either.

At Stewponey there was once a busy canal centre withe several buildings and a distinctive toll house. 

The locks are generally spaced out so there are no long spells for reading! Close to Hyde Lock there is an information board that tells the story of Providence Mission that cared for 'crippled children', leasing the 40-roomed Hyde House at the start of the twentieth century, re-naming it Bethany House. Unfortunately the charity did not survive long after the founders death, the house became derelict and eventually burned down.

We continued back through Kinver, Whittington, Debdale and Wolverley Locks before we tied up on the official visitor moorings below that last lock. Although no chance of a tv signal, there are no official places until well into Kidderminster, and that's for tomorrow.

14.2 Miles - 10 Locks

Friday 17 July 2020


Today's Navigations - Worcester and Birmingham, River Severn, Staffs and Worcs

We awoke to a bright and sunny day - only a few cloudy spells until just before we moored for the night. At times it was hotter than we have felt for some time.

We had not noticed before that these locks have back pumps. The first part of today was a short section with two remaining locks before the main basin before the river. We paused at the service mooring for the full range of emptying and filling.

The descent to the river is via two wide locks - when we came here in March the lower one was under flood water and there was not much difference between above and below the top lock! Back to normal levels now.

The only landing pontoon below the final lock onto the river is downstream so we had to turn left and make a u-turn to pick up crew!

The view of the city from the river is dominated by the cathedral which towers above the water,

Several of the arches of the main road bridge were blocked by floating debris - trees and branches swept down earlier in the year and still not cleared away.

We net a number of boats coming downstream, almost back to normal traffic levels it would seem.

The first of the three river locks is at Bevere. Keepers were on duty at each of them (the Severn does not offer boater-operation) Two fishermen had found a great shady spot to moor up.

The approaches to all of the locks was noticeably greener than when we came here early in the season last year. At each lock we could see some works taking place around the edges of the weirs but we could not work out exactly what was happening. Anyone know?

There are several popular pubs on the river banks - this one at Holt Bridge was especially busy today with some of its customers sitting in protective bubbles.

Just above Lenchford Inn we saw where the bags of aggregate were being loaded onto pans to take down to the work sites we spotted earlier - but still no clearer about what they are for.

Eventually, the narrow entrance into Stourport Basin came into view.. The ascent from the river to the basin is via two sets of staircase pairs. There were plenty of families around, many keen to help with the locks.

This narrow footbridge was the stimulus to adding guard rails to all similar bridges on this canal.

After landing and setting the second flight, Christine went into town to find one of her favourite pork pie butchers - always needs a diversion when passing through here. This time she also managed to find a jar of lemon curd, meeting up with the boat at the lock out of the basin.

Alas at the top of the second staircase, where there is a large gap between the lock side and the ledge to cross over above the gate, Mike's foot slipped but fortunately he was holding on to the hand rail so only fell onto one knee with only one boot getting wet. This would have been unremarkable were it not for being a performance in front of an audience and also because he now has a rather sore thumb from holding onto the rail.

We were now on the distinctive Staff and Worcs, noted for its bendy but very green appearance. Most of the locks are spaced out, built where a change of level was needed without requiring expensive embankments or cuttings

Just after passing under the Severn Valley Railway Viaduct we were passed by a boat on its way down towards Worcester. As they approached they asked were we Alchemy from Cornwall? Yes we are and they are contributors to some of the same social media - nb Chuffed. Sadly it was a narrow place so no chance to stop and chat. Further, just as we passed we collided with an underwater obstruction socially-distancing from the towpath which pushed us well off course. 

We arrived at Kidderminster, now very much re-developed from its industrial past, with just a few reminders. This chimney is all that is left fro what s now under a shopping centre.

We moved out into countryside once more and whilst Mike prepared the evening meal, Christine and Andrew worked us up three more locks - Christine even steered through a tunnel! They were on the hunt for a mooring spot where there was a chance of tv reception - earlier there was a steep bank in the way. We eventually tied up at Austcliffe.

21.7 Miles - 18 Locks