Saturday 30 September 2017

Back on the canals

Monday and Tuesday 26th and 27th September; Worcester to Blackpole

There was a little group of fishermen nearby overnight, but they assured Dave they would be quiet and they were.  They had gone by the time we got up.  We let Meg out first thing, just before It started to drizzle.  The forecast was horrible so we had another cuppa as the rain set in, then Dave decided to bite the bullet and take Meg out – full wet weathers and golfing umbrella too.  Luckily he is over the worst of his cold or that would have been me!  I enjoyed my coffee, read and watched the rain teeming down.

The rain eased off over lunchtime but it was cloudy and humid.  NB Cockney Sparra, which we had seen in Birmingham, moored up behind us and we had a quick chat before setting off to return to the canal.

1 moored with cockney sparra near sabrina footbridge

There is a large number of swans round here – mooring and fishing are forbidden beyond the end of the moorings for the sake of the swans.  We did a rough count and estimated there were about 200, far too spread out for a single photo.

3 swans

The cathedral is visible all the way to the canal entrance.

4 cathedral tower

We stopped at the sanitary station before mooring.  We had decided to stop between the basin and Sidbury lock, as we thought it would be quieter than at the Commandery.  Last time we were in Worcester, Dave discovered Fort Royal park, not far from the Commandery, so we went there to give Meg another run.  During the Civil War, it was a strongly fortified Royalist position overlooking the city.  The young Charles Stuart – a mere 21 – had been watching the battle from the tower of the cathedral before leading an attack on the Parliamentary forces.  But his forces were beaten back and Cromwell gave the order to attack Fort Royal.  The surviving Royalists fled into the city and Cromwell took no prisoners.  It was the decisive battle at the end of the Civil War.

Now, apart from the interpretation boards and a replica cannon, there is little to see – apart from a lovely and well patronised park.  It is easy to appreciate the defensive position it must have been.  The slopes are steep and the views far-reaching across the Severn floodplain.

9 fort royal park

We had thought that our mooring, below the busy roads, would have been quiet.  We are at the end furthest from the basin.  Look ok, doesn’t it?  The building site was quiet by 5.30 and the factories above us had closed down by early evening.

10 mooring at diglis

Except that they didn’t fall silent.  An extractor fan kept cutting in overnight.  We will not moor here again if we can avoid it; the spots closer to the basin are much better, and they are nearer to the Anchor, where we enjoyed an excellent Thai green curry on Monday night.

We needed to be up early on Tuesday but that was not a problem!  Dave left at 7.15 to walk up to Shrub Hill station to travel to Nuneaton and Springwood Haven marina, to fetch the car and take it to Droitwich Spa marina where we have a winter mooring.  Meg and I had an early walk down to the Severn towards DIglis lock in the mist.

1 misty morning on the severn

Looking upstream towards the cathedral, with the signpost at the start of the canal in the foreground.

I went shopping to try and find a butcher (pre-packs only, too large for us), a greengrocer (ok) and a baker (bread not that wonderful).  Edward Elgar has turned his back on the city centre and is contemplating the cathedral, where his music was performed at the Three Choirs festival which this year took place in Worcester Cathedral.

3 elgar looking towards cathedral

Dave was back in time for lunch, then we got ourselves off that noisy mooring.  It took ages to get through Sidbury lock as only one top paddle is working.  This notice annoyed me with its poor grammar and proofreading.  It was tied over a flimsy bin bag with a bit of cord, with another length of cord on the ground, plenty large enough to cause problems if it got round your prop.  That went into the well deck for later disposal.

2 notice on broken paddle sidbury lock

There is a stoppage notice for repair on the morning of Friday 6th.  The Commandery mooring is plagued by road noise so we didn’t stop there, and moored briefly at bridge 5 for a quick Asda visit.  The water level was rather low and the rocks below the water made mooring awkward.  This seemed odd when the hire boat we met next, which had come down Tardebigge this morning, said that levels there were very high with water flooding over the bottom gates on the flight.

The sun was out and we had a pleasant cruise up through Gregory’s Mill and Bilford locks before mooring just before bridge 17 in the Blackpole area. Dave and Meg discovered excellent walks over the bridge in Perdiswell Park.

3½ miles and 8 locks over two days.

Thursday 28 September 2017

A beautiful day on the Severn

Sunday 24th September; Oldrington Bridge to Worcester Racecourse

We had a sunny start for our trip down to Worcester.  The spot we chose last night turned out to have been the best possible between Kidderminster and Stourport – open enough to catch the sun, and away from traffic and industry.  There were even some lovely reflections opposite as we set off.

1 reflections as we leave

On the way into Stourport there is an aquatic centre on the offside, with fish in tanks visible as you pass.  I imagine the netting is as much to keep the herons out as water-borne human thieves.

4 fish tank

We had a brief stop at bridge 5 for a few things in Tesco, before dropping down York Street lock to the sanitary station – to attach the anchor and get the lifejackets out as well as the usual reasons.  Then it was right turn through the basins, then left to the first of the two staircases that bring you down to the river.  Luckily there was a lockie on hand which made life a lot easier.  There is a funfair here which, the lockie said, used to be a fairly small traditional affair.  Now, even mid-morning on a Sunday, the lights were flashing to tempt punters.  The old gallopers are arranged on the flat roof of the house attached.

5 old gallopers at funfair

There is an awkward turn to reach the second staircase, even if the gate is open for you.  If the wind is blowing in the right direction that is not a problem – otherwise, as today, it is a two-stage process to get round.  The lockie told us that the original entrance to the canal, via the double locks, is perfectly straightforward, and the single locks were built some years later to cope with the increase in traffic – but the best route had already been used.  Narrow-boaters are asked to use the singles rather than the doubles.  It became known as ‘Brindley’s Joke’, but actually he had died before the single locks were built.  The bottom staircase is beside a dry dock through which the funfair is visible.

6 funfair through dry dock

With the lockie’s help it didn’t take long to get down the locks, and then we were onto the river Severn as the lockie closed up behind us.

8 onto severn at stourport

Now it was time for a lovely warm, sunny and calm river cruise.  There were not many boats about.  We saw some kingfishers and a couple of cormorants.  There were no long waits at the locks either.  Here we are coming out of Lincomb lock.

9 leaving lincomb lock

There are a lot of mobile home parks along the Severn.  Their outlook must be wonderful, but it’s less lovely looking towards them!  There are some very attractive properties though …

10 desirable property

At Holt Fleet lock we could see activity high up on Holt Fleet bridge.  Cyclists, literally hundreds of them! It was the inaugural VĂ©lo Birmingham.  This is a 100-mile sportive (a non-competitive long-distance cycling event) in which 15,000 riders took part – and we must have seen a couple of hundred in the time it took us to approach and go past. We had noticed signs warning of road closures on our travels, so guessed what it was.

11 birmingham velo over holt fleet bridge

  13 velo

They were whizzing over very quickly and of course I missed the biggest groupings.  There was a drone above the river presumably filming the event.

We were not intending to try and find a spot to moor for lunch on the river; instead we munched the snacks I had bought in Tesco’s earlier.  We maintained a good speed even with canal-appropriate revs and were soon approaching Hawford junction, where the Droitwich canal meets the Severn.

14 hawford jct droitwich canals

The Viking cruiser just emerging joined us for the final lock before Worcester.  We let them pass and turned for our favourite mooring at the upstream end of the racecourse moorings.  But it looked so scruffy, with a derelict building and a flooded section, that we turned back into the flow to moor nearer to the Sabrina footbridge.  I took Meg off for a well-deserved walk round the racecourse.  Poor Dave has finally succumbed to the rotten cold which has been creeping up on him, and stayed tucked up inside.  We went up onto the footbridge to get this picture.  There were no other boats for hundreds of yards.

15 chuffed from Sabrina footbridge

11½ miles, 5 canal locks (including 2 staircases), 3 river locks

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Cliffs and sharp bends

Saturday 23rd September; Kinver to Oldrington Bridge south of Kidderminster

After doing a few jobs we left around 10.30.  It was mild and grey with just a little dampness in the air.  The canal is really pretty south of Kinver.  We soon caught up with a boat at the first lock, Whittington lock.  In front of him was a hire boat with a very slow crew.  He had locked then down – apparently only the steerer seemed to know what he was doing, and we found out later when we were the boat behind them that one of the crew lacked the muscular strength for the stiff paddles and the other wasn’t at all sure what he should be doing.

When it was our turn at Whittington lock we wondered whether the constant sound of water at the cottage might be a bit annoying, especially at night; the noisy bywash runs directly under the house.

1 whittington lock cottage

The red sandstone of the cave dwellings at Kinver outcrops in various other places along the canal.  Just south of Austcliff Bridge the canal bends sharply to the left around Austcliff Rock.  Of course that’s where we spotted the bow of an oncoming boat. The horn was urgently deployed –we saw him first - but we managed to pass each other without incident.

2 austcliff

The picture was taken looking back; as well as the lack of visibility on a sharp bend the canal is very narrow here too.  Shortly afterwards we came to Cookley tunnel, where the east portal has houses high up above it.  The canal turns through 90 degrees after the tunnel and naturally we met a boat there – both horns sounded at once.  The oncoming boat was a long one and needed to pass us on the ‘wrong’ side in order to get lined up for the tunnel.  The adjustment of our position didn’t take long and on we went. Debdale lock came next; on the offside is a cliff with a cave cut into it.

4 debdale lock

It is said that this was used as a stable but how a horse was persuaded to get over there I can’t imagine.  There is a footbridge over the canal (under which Chuffed is passing in the photo below) which leads to a steep path leading up the cliff. Maybe in earlier times the bridge had ramps rather than steps at each end.6 debdale lock

We stopped on the busy Wolverley visitor moorings, just above the lock, for lunch.  Then it was time for shorts as the sun had come out at last.  The pub beside the lock was busy on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The ground paddle on the towpath side is one of those which produces a fountain when you wind it up ….  well I do like to entertain the gongoozlers! anyway clothes dry quickly when the sun is out.   Wolverley lock is very hard work.  I needed help to get the top gate closed when it was our turn, and then the bottom paddles were very stiff too.  Next came Wolverley Court lock, which only drops a few feet unlike the deep one at the pub.  The gate paddles on the top gate were very awkwardly placed.  To reach the one on the towpath side I had to lean out across the water, and to operate the other one I had to stand on the footboard.  Your windlass goes down into the gap between the paddle gear and the end post as you hang on to the rail to save yourself from falling in.

7 wolverly court difficult paddles

At least closing the paddles is straightforward.  Now we were approaching Kidderminster.  Some of the tree stumps at the bottom of the gardens have been carved rather fetchingly.

8 stump carving

The slow boat we had been following pulled in on the visitor moorings and we went on to Kidderminster lock.  There is an obligatory photo to be taken here.

9 kidderminster lock

As we passed through the industrial area further along we could see a large group of the local yoof congregating close to the canal.  Our front doors were closed so we just kept to the centre of the canal but there was no need to worry – a police car screamed round the corner, lights and siren going, and the teenagers scattered like leaves before a garden blower.

We carried on for a while to get out of the town and pulled in on a sunny stretch of towpath after Oldrington Bridge and the last of the industry.  There is a good long stretch of piling there and it was a beautiful evening.

8½ miles 7 locks Cookley tunnel

Sunday 24 September 2017

On the Edge

Friday 22nd September; below Stourbridge junction to Kinver

We started in sunshine, and soon discovered that we had picked the best mooring between Stourbridge locks and Stourton junction.  All the four Stourton locks were against us, though a passing walker helped out with one of the gates.

2 rounding stourton junction

Stourton junction where the Stourbridge canal meet the Staffs and Worcester canal

Stewpony lock, the first lock on the Staffs and Worcester, was against us too.  There is a restored octagonal toll office on the wharf, and there is a good example of the round bywash weirs of this canal.

4 cicular weir at stewpony lock

The canal was beautiful in the morning sunshine.  We passed through the rocky Dunsley tunnel.  This is the west portal.

5 Dunsley tunnel west portal

We stopped at Kinver sanitary station, then dropped down the lock to find the visitor moorings nearly empty.  I did some shopping before lunch;  I had forgotten what a good variety of useful shops there are here.

Then we donned our walking boots and set off for Kinver Edge.  We first visited Kinver in the 1970s, on a hire boat with 6 friends.  Our Camra member (hi Ron!) was very keen we should stop here as in those days there were reputed to be 14 pubs in the village.  I can’t remember how many we drank in but I am sure it was more than one …. 

This time we wanted to have a look at the rock houses, but now that they are run by the National Trust you can’t see much unless you pay.  instead we walked up Kinver Edge.  It was cold and windy up there.  The Edge is a high sandstone ridge, with a steep climb up from the village and a steeper drop the other side.  The views are huge.  Wenlock Edge is in the blue distance but you’ll have to take my word for it I think.

6 kinver edge towards wenlock edge

And in this direction is our destination for this trip; Droitwich, with the Malvern Hills beyond.

7 kinver edge towards droitwich and malverns

We followed the waymarks for the purple trail, which drops down from the summit through woodland.  Out of the wind it was quite warm, especially when the trail started climbing again which it seemed to do rather a lot.  The reason we chose this trail was that it passed Nanny’s Cave, which was occupied by a hermit a couple of centuries ago.

10 nannys cave

Unlike the rock houses the caves remain open to the elements and you can easily climb up and explore.

11 nannys cave

Even though it is a bit of a hike from the car park, plenty of people have come here and made their mark. It mostly seemed to be carved names (with a dearth of the hearts and arrows which you used to see carved into tree trunks) but the sandstone lends itself to the creation of faces.

12 face in cave  13 scream alien face

We couldn’t decide whether these were supposed to be aliens, or the figure from from Munch’s ‘Scream’. 

We completed our walk, about 6 miles in total, and returned to the boat in time to avoid the worst of the rain.

3 miles, 7 locks

Saturday 23 September 2017

Staying put

Thursday 21st September

We heard last night’s weather forecast and decided not to move today.  We are still enjoying the view this morning.

1 morning view

Dave walked Meg after breakfast and got a bit damp when the rain started before they got back.  Then the heavens opened and we felt sorry for the crews going by on their way to the bottom of the Stourbridge 16.  We were heartily glad we had done all that work yesterday.

We had a fry-up for lunch – well, we thought we needed warming up, and the rain had got even heavier.  By mid-afternoon it was finally petering out and we got ready for a walk.  We went down to see how the river Stour was looking – it flows by beyond the towpath, and at a much lower level.  The water was much fiercer than when Dave and Meg came that way this morning.2 river stour after rain

Then we crossed the canal bridge to follow the footpath through the view from our window.  The canal is very pretty here.

3 canal from footpath

And here is a lovely boat we saw across the canal.

4 such a lovely mooring

You would have thought there was plenty of room for Meg to play ball but she still managed to let it roll into the canal.  It had floated out of reach and there were no handy sticks to use but Dave managed to waft it to the bank with a bit of water-weed.

5 oh meg

We followed the path towards Newton Bridge to rejoin the towpath.  Along the way we saw a little formal garden with a strange shed beside it – the Prestwood Pet Crematorium.  If you can’t bury your deceased pet yourself, and you don’t want the vet to ‘deal with it’, I suppose this is a good alternative.

7 prestwood pet crem

On our way back we saw a couple of kingfishers and returned to the boat for an arty photo-op; reflections, but the water was a bit wobbly.

8 horse reflection

Then the sun came out for half an hour, streaming through the windows, before another shower passed over.  Eventually the rain cleared to leave a dry and cloudless evening.

9 dark sky and evening sunshine

The towpath became busy with dog walkers, runners and a few cyclists.  Tomorrow we will make for Kinver.

Friday 22 September 2017

A tough locking day

Wednesday 20th September; Windmill End to beyond the Stourbridge 16

We thought we’d pull across to the water point and fill up while we finished breakfast.  But we didn’t have the right connector for the tap here so by 8 we were on our way to Blower’s Green, where we needed to stop anyway to empty a cassette.  It was another chilly morning, at least to start with.

Along the way we passed under Primrose Bridge, which used to be known as Geoff Astle's bridge.  Those of a certain vintage might remember the name of Geoff Astle, who played for West Bromwich Albion in some long ago competition.  Probably the FA cup, but I can’t find the photos I took last time we came this way, or what I found out about it; it may even have been when we were still on our share boat NB Padworth. Anyway, the fans kept renaming the bridge, and there was graffiti proclaiming ‘Geoff Astle is king’.  Little remains now apart from a small notice in the dark of the bridge ‘ole and the red paint below; I guess the fans who did the graffiti are either too infirm to get the spray cans out, or are no longer with us.  I think the red paint spells Astle but it’s very indistinct. 

2 geoff astle's bridge

St Andrew’s church is up high on Netherton Hill to the east of the canal.  Nicholson’s says that it is the site of mass graves of the victims of a cholera outbreak.  We moored at the facilities block at Park Head junction and while the water tank filled I walked up the Park Head locks to see the other end of Dudley Tunnel.  The gauge is in place over the portal and it looks even smaller than the other end where we went on the trip boat.  The gate is not part of a lock; it is presumably there to be used as a stop gate when necessary.

5 dudley tunnel parkhead end

Considering the cramped nature of the tunnel, that boats have to book passage, and especially that internal combustion engines must not be used, there is remarkably little warning at the south portal.

6 portal sign

There is a series of short arms at the locks, reminiscent of Bugsworth basin but on a smaller scale.  I didn’t spend much time here and as I returned to Parkhead Junction Dave had left the water point and was manoeuvring round the 90-degree bend to the lock in a tricky cross-wind.  It’s a deep lock and there was plenty of time for a picture of the pumping station building.

8 blowers green lock

We needed to restock the galley so moored above the Merry Hill shopping centre.  There used to be a Sainsbury's just across the car parks but that closed some years ago.  Now  you have to trudge through the entire covered area to get to the Asda at the far end – unless you want to get all your groceries in M&S, at a price!  Actually in retrospect I might have done that.  Merry Hill is a horrible horrible place.

Anyway we had lunch and decided to get on down the Delph locks at least.  They are deep locks and quite hard work.  This is the top lock.

9 delph locks are deep

And this is the restored row of stables near the top of the flight.  Shame about the graffiti.

10 delph stable block

We met three boats coming up and made good time.  The bywashes on this flight take the form of waterfalls and are impressive when water is flowing over them.  Here Dave waits for me to open the bottom lock for him, with the waterfalls in the background.

11 waiting for bottom lock to be ready

We didn’t fancy mooring between this flight and the Stourbridge 16 so we carried on.  We knew that a boat was ahead of us and he hadn’t stopped below the Delph flight, so once more the locks were all against us, and on some the bottom gates were open too.  We were nearly at the bottom before I remembered that we have a bike which would have made locking ahead a lot easier ….  Some of the gates are in poor condition and I hope they are on the winter maintenance list.

13 some stourbridge 16 gates are in poor condition

The top gates were heavy and although the weather was dry and not cold this flight is not the most enjoyable.  At least the locks are single width!  Between locks 9 and 10 (I think that’s right) the pound is only a few feet long and there is no room for two boats to pass.  Of course, this would be where we met the single boat coming up the flight! but I had read about the short pound so was aware we would need to wait for them to come up.

15 short pound between locks 9 and 10We were beginning to get tired but luckily we had bought sugary junk doughnuts in Asda to keep our energy levels up.  With four locks to go we found the boat in front was tying up at Dadford’s Warehouse for the night.

16 dadfords shed and remote control boat

The elderly owner has remote control, at least of the tiller, for locking but we didn’t have a chance to ask him about it.  We could have used the visitor mooring at the Red House Cone museum but it wasn’t really suitable for Meg so we gritted our teeth and went on to complete the flight.  We went on to find an open area in the countryside before we stopped and discovered a wonderful place to moor.  Now isn’t this a better view than an ugly and noisy temple to consumerism?

17 horses

There were 14horses in the field but the light was going and my little camera couldn’t really cope.  Dave had better luck when some of them went for a bit of a gallop. 

20 galloping

It was a heavy day of locking, but all the effort was worth it.

7 miles 25 locks