Thursday 30 July 2020

Another pair dives to a watery grave

Monday 20th July; Worcester to Perdiswell Park
On a lovely calm sunny morning I wandered up to the little garage to get a paper and some milk, leaving Dave about to mask off the coachline where it needs attention.  But his reading glasses dropped off the front of his jumper as he inspected what needed to be done – that’s the second pair this trip unfortunately.  They aren’t magnetic, and couldn’t be recovered with the fishing net (good for retrieving Meg’s balls, not much cop for small items down in the mud).  He’s down to his last unbroken pair now.

These are the only cygnets we have seen on the Severn.  The info boards at the swan sanctuary said that round Worcester there is no weed for them to eat, and if it wasn’t for the feeding at the Sanctuary there would be no swans in the area.

The only cygnets on the river?
We got chatting to the people on the boat that was on our preferred mooring right next to the rowing club.  The owner is a musician, who had just bought the boat as a liveaboard (with help from Dad which is so often the way nowadays).  Friends had painted out the old name yesterday – she will be calling it Fiddlesticks as she plays in a string quartet.  Dad was there helping get it ready for the trip to Bath where she has a mooring waiting.  They are going the ‘quick’ way, ie down to Sharpness and across to Portishead – now there’s a trip for a new owner and no mistake.  It’s all booked and (I am writing over a week later) they have probably done it by now.

It was nearly 10 by the time we set off towards Diglis and the canal locks.  The gates were closed, but the pontoon was empty so we tied up easily and I went to investigate.  A widebeam was coming down the top lock so as the bottom one was nearly full I set it for them and helped them down.  It took ages, these locks are slow fills.  They empty quickly though and the crew couldn’t manage to get back on, so Dave had to move off the pontoon and hold well away in the stream so the widebeam could pick them up - easy peasy with its bow-thrusters.

A boat was coming down the top lock and we crossed in the pound before we paused at the sanitary station, then moored on the Commandery moorings above Sidbury lock for lunch.  The pikes and helmets on the road bridge remind you of the Battle of Worcester.
Battle memories
I got chatting to the other boat moored there, admiring his paint job – it looked so different from Chuffed that I didn’t realise it was the same type of Liverpool boat as us, but with a pram hood, solar panel and top box I just hadn’t recognised the shape.  Two years newer, and with a recent repaint, it looked lovely.

After lunch we stopped on the moorings near Shrub Hill station so Dave could go to BM bargains and get a cheapo pair of glasses (there never seem to be any strength 2.5 in shops so he felt jolly lucky to get a pair), and our neighbour went by on his way to Lowesmoor Basin where he lives.

Weston Lady goes on her way
 The weather was lovely as we made our way up Gregory’s Mill locks.
Gregory's Mill top lock
One of the top paddles was out of action.  I’m glad to see all the old BW stuff didn’t get chucked out when CRT took over - they must have really over-ordered in years gone by!

No repairs scheduled yet
A CRT volunteer arrived as we rose up the top lock.  He closed the gate for us and then cycled up to empty Bilford bottom lock.  There was a bit of a swan issue here, looking very similar to the ‘new parents’ situation we had seen at the Astwood flight.  But this pair was determined to go up to the next pound.  The lockie said they had done it before, and as the next pound was not part of the next swan family's territory, we had a shortish boat and were experienced, we should take them up with us.  They knew exactly what they wanted –

Come on, get that gate open!
 The top beam has had a running repair – how long will it be like this I wonder?

I am still wearing gloves for locking and have solved the hair-in-the-eyes problem with a pirate bandana.  It looks a bit incongruous on a lady of my vintage, and though I don't really care what other people think, I'd rather not embarrass the family so there's no photo! ;)  And though we were anxious that the swans might try and come up the next lock with us, they were happily poking around and showed no inclination to join us.

They got what they wanted
Then it was just a short hop to one of our favourite stops at bridge 17, with plenty of time for jobs in the sunshine.  Dave continued working on the gunwale to prep it for painting, and I took Meg to the park.  Well, I did have tea to cook too.

4 miles, 2 very wide and slow locks, 6 lovely narrow canal locks, happy happy dog

Monday 27 July 2020

A different view of Worcester

Sunday 19th July; staying put in Worcester
I walked up to Foregate soon after 8 to get the Sunday paper in the small Sainsbury’s.  It’s just over 10 minutes’ brisk walk from the mooring, across the racecourse and up the hill past the Ducati motorcycle garage.  On the way back I realised there was a small garage shop a few minutes closer.  After last night’s rain it was a beautiful morning, with the rowing club out on the water and early boaters puttering by.  We’d decided not to move on today, but to explore the footpath on the other side of the river.

We packed the rucksack with some water and snacks, crossed the Sabrina footbridge and turned left.  The path runs between the road and the river, so there is a lot of traffic noise as you walk towards the road bridge.  Once across, we joined Bromwich Parade, which sounds very urban.  It’s an extremely popular path on a Sunday morning!  It's a ‘shared space’ of wide tarmac with broad grass verges along most of the length, fortunate as it was thronged with cyclists, dog walkers and families, many on bikes too.  No chance for Meg to be off the lead, even on the occasional diversion.  One area is being managed for wildlife, with a rather splendid bug hotel.

Palatial accommodation
We watched one visitor for a while – she was prospecting, checking out various ‘rooms’.  She might be a leaf-cutter bee, as she looks very similar to the one we watched in action in our somewhat smaller version at home just a few days later.

Will this do for my babies?
Bromwich Parade continued to be very busy, so when we saw a footpath into a field alongside we took it.  Going away from the river, the path led through two fields up to a road, but we walked diagonally away from the busy tarmac, now hidden behind a belt of trees, along a clearly defined path with just one dog walker in the far distance.

Towards the next field
The field had been cut for hay or maybe silage, all cleared so ideal for playing ball – please note, we stuck to the path and would have picked up after Meg if necessary!  We know dog poo in pasture is A Bad Thing.  We followed the path for several hundred yards, crossing to another field, finally rejoining the main drag at Diglis Weir.  The weir was hidden behind high barriers.  Explanatory notices are displayed – they are constructing a fish pass to allow fish, specifically the rare Twaite Shad as well as salmon, to return upstream to spawn.  Eels are able to pass obstructions on damp land if they need to.

I hope the EU funding continues till the whole project is completed
Once past the weir we could see the construction works, which have started again after lockdown, though as it was Sunday all was quiet today.

The path was still busy but now we could see why – the footbridge below Diglis, built in 2010, crosses to the opposite bank where the path leads back to towards the city so clearly people were doing a circular walk on the nice firm surface.  We though walked round the base of the bridge, through a gate and onto a much narrower path between the river and a field of maize.  We could have followed the path all the way to the Battle of Worcester battlefield site, but instead found a way down to some flat rocks by the river where we sat and enjoyed the view and the snacks we had brought along. It was delightful, watching the water flowing and relaxing in the sunshine.  A couple of boats passed but didn’t notice us.
Wobbly reflections
Sausage rolls and spinach and ricotta parcels now satisfactorily polished off, we retraced our steps to the bridge where we went up to see Diglis lock from an unfamiliar position.

Diglis river lock
Then, rather than returning along the other bank, which is tarmac or concrete all the way, we retraced our steps through the fields where you can see the cathedral and several churches in the distance.

Playtime again
We stopped at the swan sanctuary to watch the crowds feeding the swans and pigeons.  The pigeons will happily sit on your head, we observed.  Not for us though.

The birds are well used to being fed here
We got back and had a belated lunch.  Then, as there was a stiff breeze blowing the boat away from the landing, we realised it could potentially be dangerous to do any work, so we spent a lazy afternoon reading the papers instead.

0 locks, maybe 4 miles walk, so a relaxing day all round.

Sunday 26 July 2020

A minor panic

Saturday 18th July; Stourport to Pitchcroft
We were up quite early - the weather was fine and there was time for some jobs before we got moving.  The edge is good here, so out came the masking tape and the red coachlines on the port side, which were extremely faded, were painted.
A steady hand
There were a lot of boats passing this morning, some completely ignoring the fact that Dave had a paintbrush in his hand ….  We left at about 11 and pottered into Stourport, past the Black Star pub’s carved bird of prey which still perches atop its tree stump.

A boat was waiting to go down the lock but we had to float about mid-stream as the rest of the lock mooring – and all the visitor mooring too – was crammed with boats, one even breasted up.  The boat descending the lock was going back into the marina where they live, and told us that the moored boats, even the one on the lock landing, have all been there for weeks and there is no indication that they might have broken down, or been ill.  It has been reported to CRT but nothing appears to have happened.

I took the photo as I was filling the lock.  Chuffed is only 55’ and we just fitted in the space Mr Selfish had left.  He was inside, smoking a cigarette and studiously ignoring us as we hovered.  The lock takes ages to fill, so I had plenty of time to observe the little cafĂ© at the lock; it appeared busy, with customers outside leaving and arriving, and being served by staff wearing masks.  We moored on the services for the full works.  The chandlery shop here is now closed, though the fuel wharf opposite is selling its stock – apparently sales will be moving online.  I had made some sandwiches for our trip down the Severn, so even though it was lunchtime and we could have stayed on the visitor mooring next to the water point we went on to lock down to the river.  The funfair is open again, though the seats on the whirly tower were not all filled of course.

The whizzy car thing which I thought was dodgems, but isn’t, was whizzing round to screams of delight, so fast that the photo is a bit blurred.

To reach the Severn you must descend two two-lock staircases, through a well-manicured area of walkways, grass and footbridges.  The lower area was heaving with gongoozlers as Dave made the difficult transition between the two staircases.  The best plan is to wait in the bottom of the first staircase until the top of the second is completely ready.  Even then it’s not easy.  They are not very far apart, don’t line up and it is always windy here – you can’t change direction, of course, until your stern is out of the lock, by which time the bow is being blown to your right – away from the waiting lock.  With his silky skills Dave made it in without touching any brickwork, drawing praise from a pair of new boaters keenly watching our progress.

Lifejackets on by now, down the bottom lock we went.  I went from side to side working the paddles and gates, with ‘Excuse me’, ‘Sorry can I get by please’ all the time to try and keep my distance from the onlookers.  There was nobody waiting to come up so I had to close the bottom gates, but luckily the conditions were such that it was easy to get back on the boat from the steps and we were away.

Lunchtime now, so we tucked in to our sandwiches as the trip boat, which had been catching up quickly, overtook us.  Meg was monumentally unimpressed.

Am I bovvered?
We waited for the trip boat to turn before the approach to Lincombe Lock, then as I went forward to look after the bow rope in the lock I realised to my horror that we hadn’t got the anchor out.  The lockie said we could stop on the landing below to get it sorted as no-one was waiting – phew.  I am nervous about the Severn so I was amazed it had slipped my mind.

We don’t find the Severn particularly interesting.  It is certainly beautiful, but very samey.  The banks are so high there are no views across the countryside.  We did see a kingfisher once, Dave even spotted it catching a fish, and there were two Little Egrets which flew away.

There is a pretty cottage or two – we always wonder how often they flood.

We passed the entrance to the Droitwich canals and had the usual dilemma on the approach to Bevere lock – which side of that distant pole to go?  There looks to be loads of space to the left, but the channel is on the right.

Then at last we were in Worcester.  We moored in our favourite spot at Pitchcroft, below the racecourse. The best mooring, closest to the rowing club, was occupied but we could still moor without being directly under the footbridge, which is noisy when bikes and skateboards go over it!  Further along is too close to the railway and road bridges for our liking.  Although you can’t see the racecourse from the river, Meg knew where we were and was so excited that she ran up and down inside the boat as we tied up, not stopping till the lead was picked up and she could get up there with her ball.

5 narrow locks (including 2 staircases), 3 river locks, 12½ miles, a kingfisher, 2 egrets and loads of sand martins along the river.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Social distancing

Friday 17th July; Whittington to nearly Stourport
What a fabulous mooring this is.  We woke to sun filtering through the trees on a beautiful morning but it would still have been lovely in the rain.  No rush today – we pottered off at about 9.30, round bends and past cliffs towards Cookley Tunnel, where the houses perch atop.  You do wonder how they do any maintenance on the backs of their houses, let alone put the washing out or care for the garden – perhaps they just don’t?  You’d need a head for heights anyway.

Cookley Tunnel
Luckily no-one was coming round the tight bend at the far end – we once met a 70-footer there, and it was interesting, to say the least.  On to the super-pretty Debdale lock.  This is the one with the cave in the rock face and the high footbridge across the canal.  Local schools have broken up and they all seemed to be out on their bikes with parents, watching the boat, milling about, wanting to go in the cave, but not allowed to do so by Mum till we had finished.  Strangely they didn’t speak to us at all, and kept their distance.  There was another Dad with a little one and he closed the top gate for me.  With all the kiddies around I felt I couldn’t take pictures till we had left and the girls were in their cave at last.

The deck isn't on a slant so why are half my pictures?
There follows another glorious stretch, river-like in places and with sandstone cliffs to marvel at.  Cyclists and dog walkers passed occcasionally but it was quiet again.

At Wolverley lock it was a different story.  The towpath, with the car park so close, was busy once more, people were wandering about, and the pub had several customers sitting out watching the action.  Their tables were well-spaced, but they were right by the wall on the offside so technically I was walking by well under 2 metres away!   At least it was outside.  A young girl and her Grandad were out on their bikes, keen to talk and he politely asked if she could ‘have a go’.  Her social distancing was exemplary, unlike some of the other gongoozlers and help is jolly useful at this lock.

We could see them cycling ahead of us as we went on to Wolverley Court lock, and there they were, waiting for us.  We complimented them on her social distancing – it was her first day doing it ‘out in public’ though she has been at school all the time as her parents are both in the NHS.  Once again we were grateful for her help.  I have had trouble in the past here, as the gate paddle on the top gate is set a long way from the towpath, and it is a stretch to the footboard.  But the gear was easy to operate so that was a relief – it must have had some attention since the last time we were here.

As we approached Kidderminster, where we needed to stop for Sainsbury’s as well as lunch, Meg said she was extremely bored.

It turns out that late lunchtime is an excellent time to go to the supermarket.  I would say about a third of customers are now wearing masks, but it was so quiet that social distancing was not a problem.  Dave went over to Halfords as I put the shopping away, then I collected up the bags of recycling – including the cans and a bottle we had picked up at locks – and disposed of the lot in the excellent recycling bins the far side of the car park.  We were just about to make ready to leave when I spotted a well-known name through the porthole – What a Lark! - so I rushed out for a hasty wave and Hello! as Lisa and David disappeared round the bend.

We were off again at 3, and I resisted taking the photo of the church up above the lock, everybody does that, instead snapping the river Stour as it flowed under the Aqueduct.

River Stour on its way to Stourport
Oh, I seem to have taken the photo after all ….  I like it because if you look at the blue clock face you see it's the same colour as the sky and for a moment you wonder if the tower is solid at all.

Below the lock the McDonald’s drive-through was busy, all the children in the waiting cars waving madly as we passed.  On our way out of Kidderminster a pterosaur (maybe) watched us go.

We dropped through Caldwall lock, meeting NB Alchemy (another blogger and Droitwich Spa moorer from the West Country) on our way to Falling Sands.  We pulled in between bridges 9 and 10, as we didn’t want to be further on where towpaths are narrow and much busier.   

Towpath wide enough to feel safe
There were dog walkers, runners and bikes for a while.  There do seem to be more bikes on all the towpaths now.  They aren't all boy racers and I hope they keep their manners.  Internet signal was absent except for a brief spell Dave managed on Bluetooth.  (Any excuse for being so behind with the blog!)

6 locks, 7 miles, Cookley Tunnel, 2 blogger boats.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Running repairs and Sea Searcher saves the day

Thursday 16th July; Wombourne to Whittington
We had wanted to get on a bit further yesterday than we actually managed, so didn’t hang about too much this morning.  We were on our way at 8.30, in dull and chilly weather.  Once I started working us through Botterham Staircase I warmed up.

Botterham Staircase lock
The weather stayed cloudy but it got increasingly humid.  There are split bridges below some of the locks, where the tow-rope could pass through without having to be unhitched from the horse.  At Marsh Lock a strap has been welded over the top – is that ‘elf and safety, or was it needed to keep the steelwork together?

not quite split now
We stopped at Greensforge facilities and filled and emptied as necessary.  While the water was filling, Dave did a running repair on the hooks where the cratch cover is attached – we had got incautiously close to the wall when entering a lock and one hook was squashed while the other had been torn out. 

Meg in charge
Dave unbent the squashed one, then got up to get the drill to drill out the screws for the other.  As he turned round his best long-nosed pliers went plop! and disappeared.  Sea Searcher to the rescue! The Armco piling made it rather difficult as they had fallen in so close to the edge, but I got them in the end.

This canal has some really lovely stretches, and one of my favourites is halfway between Greensforge and Rocky locks – there is a beautiful garden attached to a nursery at Flatheridge Bridge, tantalisingly glimpsed between lovely shrubs and immaculately kept.

The bywash weirs have a characteristic design which I don’t think is used on any other canal … though I may well be wrong.

We stopped for lunch below Gothersley lock and were a bit annoyed to see the CRT workboat we had passed earlier coming along just as we were thinking of moving.  But they were engaged in grass-cutting round locks and bridges so stopped after a while and we went by.

I think the next few miles are just lovely.  I was too occupied in enjoying it all to take pictures of the Devil’s Den area, with its rocky cliffs, and at Stourton junction we were too busy avoiding a swimming dog (and asking the youthful owners if they realised boats didn’t have brakes! No they didn’t and I don’t think they were being sarcastic!).  No-one was coming at Dunsley tunnel, which was built by hacking out of the rock.

At Stewpony lock we met another boat and I learned that the best mooring for Kinver is above Hyde lock – it’s less likely to be crowded than the Kinver moorings, and there is a footpath across to the shops which avoids that long climb up the road.  Now we came to Whittington Horse Bridge with the impossibly pretty cottages round about

Whittington Horse Bridge
and followed by Whittington lock.  The cottages here are very neat and the hedges were being carefully trimmed.  There is a memorial bench to one Jim Robbins, a leading light in the canal world round here.  The bench was placed there in 1980 and rebuilt in 2003 by BW – zoom in to read the plaques.

The top balance beam also had a proud plaque screwed to it.

We toddled on a little further to moor completely by ourselves, birdsong loud in the trees, and rarely a passing boat to break the peace and quiet.  We are away from the walkers and cyclists – so many cyclists! – round Kinver, the towpath is wide and Meg can footle around to her heart’s content.

Our mooring the next morning
 8 miles, 12 locks including Botterham staircase, Dunsley tunnel