Tuesday 29 September 2020

Thieving, rain and mud

Wednesday 23rd September; Diglis Basin – Pitchcroft

The forecast wasn’t too brilliant for today, with rain forecast for late morning, but we weren’t planning on going far.  We made ready to leave at about 9.45, discovering to our great annoyance that a fender was missing.  The mooring rings here are the same length apart as the T-stud at the bow is from the stern dollies, so Dave tied one of our spare fenders to a ring to help hold us steady.  But this morning it was nowhere to be seen – he had double-knotted it so it wouldn’t have come off by itself, so someone must have half-hinched it. 

Coincidentally, the boat moored in front of us – smack on the water-point ever since we arrived yesterday afternoon - was the one we saw on our last trip at Stourport, that had been hogging the lock mooring for 3 weeks since lockdown.  No further comment ….

Chuffed just pulling out beyond the water-point hogger

As Dave pulled onto the pontoon above the lock, I arrived, having walked round the basin, at the same time as the lockie.  As we filled the lock, the hire-boat that had been taking on water (at the second tap) joined us, so we locked down together.

They were seasoned hirers and are trying to buy a boat, but finding it very difficult as boats are apparently going very quickly once they are listed!  The Covid/staycation effect no doubt.  A few drops of rain fell as we opened the top gates of the bottom lock - just an hour or two earlier than forecast - and the lockie ran off to get her waterproof with strict instructions for the crews to get on their boats!  We were happy to comply.  By the time we were fully togged up with our wet-weather gear and lifejackets, it was raining steadily, and she was back and opening the gates.

I was a bit low down for a decent picture I'm afraid!  We turned upstream, followed by our companions who were intending to go up towards Droitwich at Hawford Junction. 

We however pulled in at the Riverside moorings next to the rowing club at Pitchcroft.  It’s a good hard edge for us, and just by the racecourse for the delight of the dog.  We were soon tied up and inside out of the rain – and that’s when we discovered that my shoes were covered in mud, though I had no idea where it had come from.  On with the kettle for some coffee – but oh dear, the gas had run out!  We waited for the rain to ease off a bit, then I held the umbrella and Dave hauled the gas bottles about so that the attachment thingy would reach the new one.  So at least we could have a cup of tea with lunch!  All this while, there was a tremendous racket going on by the Sabrina footbridge and we could see yellow jackets busy at something. They stopped for lunch, and so did the rain.  After we’d eaten, Dave took Meg out for a good run on the racecourse and I went up to the shops for some lined trousers for winter.  I returned as Dave was starting to mask off the grey stripes on the starboard side, and that’s when we realised quite how much mud there was ….

All that dark stuff is gloopy mud

I had spotted similar stretches along the Riverside as I walked back – last time the Severn rose above the edge of the moorings it muest have left its muddy calling card.  We pulled back a boat length to a dry bit.

I had two pairs of boots to clean, and the mats from the stern, and Dave carried on with the masking tape.  He did a bit of painting before realising that the clouds were building up again, so stopped.  We put the tonneau cover over the stern area before dark as more rain is forecast overnight and it helps to keep water out of the bilges.

2 locks, 1 mile


Monday 28 September 2020

There and back again

Tuesday 22nd September; Commandery – Lowesmoor Basin – Diglis Basin

It was a beautiful sunny autumn morning at the Commandery moorings (although we were chilly in the shade) and the ducks were poking about beneath the oak tree breakfasting on acorns.  They waddled off as soon as I had grabbed the camera though!

I walked back up the canal to Blockhouse Bridge and crossed the canal.  I was on the lookout for what was listed as a social enterprise bakery, but the place that I found was just a cafĂ©, as were all the other ‘bakeries’ on Google, except for a Greggs.  I went on into town, and ended up getting my bread in M&S.  I was also on the hunt for Lush, which turned out to be at the far end of the High Street, overlooked by the Cathedral.  As they didn’t open until 10 and I was way too early I went back to the boat.  Edward Elgar, however, was above all that kind of thing.

He has turned his back on the city streets, preferring to gaze at the Cathedral where he used to conduct at the Three Choirs Festival, which continued till last year and will, we hope, resume next year.

Not terribly busy today  

I went back to Lush later.  I stopped buying ‘normal’ shampoo in bottles a few years ago and now I always get the solid shampoo bars from Lush.  They are not cheap, but they are really good and last way more than twice as long as an ordinary bottle - and you are not including any single-use plastic in your purchase.  Meanwhile, Dave had taken Meg up to Fort Royal Park, and then gone to get his hair cut.  Then we went down Sidbury lock, stopped on the service wharf for the full works, then turned in the basin and made our way back up again to Worcester Marina at Lowesmoor Basin where we moored on the nearly-empty wharf.  Dave found out yesterday that there were no hire-boats expected back and an engineer would be happy to change the fuel filters for us.  They did it straight away, took the old engine oil too, and only charged £20 so we were well pleased, especially as there was no water or grot in the fuel.  Then back we went once again towards Diglis.  We had help at Blockhouse lock this morning from Steve, who lives aboard in Lowesmoor Basin and takes new hirers through their first lock.  We have seen him several times before, and his help is always welcome!  But he wasn’t there this afternoon.  Boaters are asked to leave Blockhouse lock empty,  to help water levels in the pounds below.  The two locks to the river are pretty big, bigger than standard double canal locks, so the levels above need to be kept topped up.

We went on down to moor just before the water points at Diglis for the rest of the day.  We took Meg for a walk down past Diglis river lock and over the footbridge to have a look at progress on the fish pass.  You can’t see what’s going on though; the pass is being built between two sets of piling which obscure the view. 

But we did see some metal bits, which looked like reinforcing rods, being craned in.

We went down to an area where the fishing is owned by a local club to get a closer look, but still couldn’t see much.  We did see a couple of big trees caught on the weir though – it wouldn’t do to have been on the river when they were floating along!

There are some metal sculptures near the footbridge on the western side of the river.  They were installed in 2013 to commemorate the opening of the cycle and walking route created through a partnership of Worcester City and County Councils and Sustrans.

The cyclist standing by the Cavalier is the Olympic gold medal-winning Ernest Payne, who won his medal for England in the Team Pursuit in 1908.   He also played football twice for Manchester United as an amateur.

The Roundhead is accompanied by a man we thought could be a canal engineer, but he turns out to have been Sir Charles Hastings who founded the British Medical Association, the BMA. 

The Roundhead and Cavalier are there, of course, because of the Battle of Worcester, the last battle of the Civil War, fought on 3rd September 1651.  We returned over the footbridge.  Meg really dislikes some surfaces – on this bridge she insisted on walking on the metal edge of the deck.

There are several blocks of flats with good views of the river and its surrounds.  This is Oil Basin – the sides are high and there is just one (presumably) floating pontoon at the far end.  Will this ever be used as a private marina, I wonder?

This afternoon we heard more sobering news on the government measures to try and curb Covid-19.  Now all pubs, bars and restaurants are to close at 10 pm from Thursday, was it?  Anyway we thought we’d help the local economy by eating early at the Anchor.  We ate in the Boathouse, which is effectively their function room, where we were the only diners.  We sat opposite the wide-open doors to the courtyard, and felt quite safe.  Their system worked well, the beer was good, so were the chips, but the menu is reduced to standard pub food (not really surprising).  We had burgers and wished we’d had the fish and chips.

5 locks, less than 2 miles, new fuel filters, clean fuel.



Friday 25 September 2020

Bad swans

Monday 21st September; Perdiswell Park to Commandery

It was grey and chilly to start with.  While I took Meg to the park with the early runners and golfers, Dave prepped for more painting.

Now is that masking tape on straight?

During the morning, he painted the dark grey outline on the port side, repaired a split  water hose connection and refilled the stern tube with grease.  I emptied out one of the under-seat lockers in the dinette, measured the lengths of the spare ropes and put it all back neatly (at last, it was a right mess).  During the morning the sun came out, and with the sun came another welcome sight – reed-cutters!  Though it’s not here they are needed most urgently.  They work in pairs – the cutter –

which appears to have paddle-wheel steering, perhaps to keep the draft as shallow as possible -

and the scooper who follows behind. He seemed to make a couple of passes, and dumped the cut bits on the offside.  The question is, how far up the canal will they go?


We had an early lunch and moved on.  It certainly is shallow along here; a hire boat had run aground trying to moor up, and although they came free as we passed they must have drifted straight back into the silt. By the time we realised it was too late to go back and help. (We were a good hundred yards past them when I noticed - this photo is zoomed in!)

At Bilford Top Lock there is a promotional-type notice which got my pedant’s hackles rising.  Do they really mean we are welcome to sell bikes along the towpath? 

Or do they mean pedal? You may think it doesn’t matter, language changes all the time, but peddle and pedal have two totally different meanings!  Grrr.

There are new notices at Bilford and Gregory’s Mill locks exhorting us not to let the swans into the locks.

But above Bilford bottom, there was the family of three that we saw on our last trip, waiting for the boat that was coming up to open the gate for them.  I rhought I'd better tempt them away with some flapjack – apart from the sugar it’s quite a healthy swan snack I imagine.  I got them far enough away for that boat to get out of the lock and Dave to get in, and by the time the flapjack was gone – with Meg weeping beside me, desperate for her share and oblivious to the hisses from the swans – he was closing the gate.  Too late, the feathery miscreants realised they had been duped.

Then it was down to bridge 5 and the mooring for Asda.  It’s not my favourite supermarket but needs must.  Dave popped into Wickes too.  Then down we went to the Commandery moorings where we spent the night.

6 locks, 2½  miles

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Damsons and blackberries

Sunday 20th September; Dunhampstead to Perdiswell Park

Quite a chilly morning under cloudy skies, and we didn’t leave till about 10.  There was a welcome sight at Offerton Top Lock

and most of the other locks were in our favour too.  We had to wait for just one boat on our descent.  I picked blackberries as we worked our way down – not particularly plentiful now, but super-ripe and very sweet.  Once we had moored up at the bottom I went back to the bottom lock for some damsons.  They were mostly squashed over the towpath, but I knocked some more down with the boat pole and got half a colander full.  We like stewed damsons with our cereal in the morning – and blackberries too.  A passer-by said there were lots more damsons on the lane running parallel to the canal – it’s actually an old tarmac road, now disused – but I couldn’t find any, though I did get more blackberries. 

Chuffed spied from the lane

We had lunch and watched a procession of Black Princes, which must have been on their way back to base at Stoke Wharf.  Then we pottered on down Tolladine lock, where the damsons had finished.  These are in direct sun, whereas the ones at Offerton bottom were on the north side of the hedgerow so were slightly later ripening.  These locks have a handy set of steps for the crew to get back on the boat.

Once down Blackpole lock, we moored at the park.  We never normally have any trouble getting in, but the bottom seemed a little closer to the top than usual this time, with some reed growth too, and we couldn’t get right in to the side.  Dave took Meg to the park, then got on with some painting.

8 locks 4½ miles



Monday 21 September 2020

Saturday 19th September; Hanbury Junction to Dunhampstead

Not a long day at all, though it started with a long walk.  I wanted to buy a paper so marched off towards Droitwich and Waitrose, about a mile and a half away.  It was only 9 o’clock, but a boat was already leaving the bottom Hanbury lock on its way to Droitwich.  Work is being done on the towpath near the Rugby Club bridge, and although it looks easily walkable they have closed it off because they can’t maintain social distancing for the workers with the public walking by.

Shopping done, I was soon back at the boat to unload.  My haul included a free paper (having spent over £10, and flashing my Waitrose card) and some conkers I found on the walk, my first this year.

Dave had been cleaning the side of the boat, including wiping dog slobber from the windows – our pontoon neighbour had two delightful Airedales who liked to stare closely through the windows.  We pottered off around 10.30 in lovely sunshine, though it was still chilly in the shade.  At one point we did a double-take as we saw a familiar (and anxious) dog on the towpath – how on earth did Meg get off the boat?  Because of the reeds we hadn’t noticed she had nipped off at the bridge a couple of hundred yards back, that’ll teach her to leap off without permission! 

She was soon back on board – I didn’t think to take a photo, I was too busy looking for a gap in the reeds so we could get close enough in for her to jump on board.  Once through Dunhampstead tunnel, which was completely dry, we pulled in on the long moorings between bridges 30 and 29.  Dave removed the remaining mushroom vents and prepped them for resealing, which he did after lunch.  I dismantled the top of the hob (well, the bits that a non-gas fitter can do safely) and gave everything a good clean – it took as long as the rubbing down and rust-curing of two mushroom vents.  

He also changed the engine oil, and suddenly it was 4 o’clock and a bit late to go as far as we would need to for a satisfactory mooring below Offerton locks, so we stayed put.

2 miles, Dunhampstead tunnel

Sunday 20 September 2020

Up the Junction (eventually)

Thursday and Friday 17th/18th September; Droitwich Spa marina to Hanbury Junction

We drove up to the boat on a glorious day, and it was an easy drive too, though it was a day later than planned.  After some heavy garden work the other day I had managed to strain some core muscles and I wasn’t in a fit state to sit in a car for 3 hours, let alone set a lock!  Although we had the whole afternoon to do jobs – rubbing down for painting mostly – sitting still in the car had made me unfit for anything but reading my book.  Very frustrating! But by evening I was recovered enough to remove and clean the cratch cover, with Dave’s help.  On our last trip it got caught against the curve of the lock wall on one of the South Stratford locks (where the single bottom gates weren’t opening fully because of silt build-up) and suffered a fatal rip.

After a decent night’s sleep (with the help of the prescribed codeine), on Friday I was fit to drive over to J&H Trimmings at Ashwood marina, where they would patch it ‘while I waited’  So Meg and I went along the lane to Greensforge Bridge, where we turned left and had a lovely walk along the Staffs and Worcester.  We passed the entrance to the marina, just before the lovely garden next to John’s Nursery.

We walked on past Rocky and Gothersley locks, before retracing our steps.  At Gothersley a volunteer was doing some painting.  He had a sign out which I’ve not seen before

He said they’ve been using these since lockdown eased.  The canal was very quiet – I’d seen only two boats, though there had been several cyclists going by.  This stream ran alonfside the towpath - I thought it would be the infant river Stour, before I looked at the map.

It’s actually Smestow Brook, which joins the Stour further downstream.  It runs alongside the canal at Compton too, further north.   I got back to J&H to find the repair finished, and it only cost me £10 - I had been expecting closer to £50!  It’s a neat job, and they patched the other side too which was only a little bit damaged. 

Cliff also told me that they don’t use the canopy guys with the bobbles on, rather they just tie a loop of shock cord.  I am finding that the bobble sort have been perishing very quickly, so I made a loop with the thicker shock cord I bought at Braunston last year.  The knot doesn’t project quite so far from the hull as the bobble, so maybe they will make the cratch cover less vulnerable to damage when I forget to take the lower bits inboard next time we are locking.  I've got one of each here so I can compare their performance.

I got back to the marina to find Dave at work on the mushroom vents.  The one above the dinette has started to leak, so he is taking them all off to reseal them. Once unscrewed, he rubbed down the surround – there was a fair bit of rust – and treated them with Vactan rust killer 

then it was on with some red-ox, and finally he refitted them with Marineflex sealant.

Three done today, two to go.  Meanwhile I cleaned off the spider-webs of the years from around the cratch board and replaced the cover.   Then it was time to go!  Not far though, just up Hanbury locks to the junction.  I worked the first lock, then Dave took over even though my muscles felt ok - I don’t want to overdo things.  It’s not often I get to take photos from the bottom of a lock, and Hanbury locks are deep.

I’ve also never been in an empty lock when the side paddles are open.  I always imagined the water must come in half-way along the locks, but it doesn’t.

The Hanbury locks are quite hard work, as Dave found out.  The ground paddles are so stiff you have to change your grip half-way round each turn.

We were at the junction at 5 o'clock, made the turn then reversed to tie up on the visitor moorings.  Lovely though our neighbours are in the marina, we’re glad to be out.  It’s a much better view tonight.

3 locks, half a mile.

Sunday 6 September 2020

Is Autumn on the way? Not yet, surely!

Friday 21st August; Stoke Pound to below Astwood locks

The forecast wind arrived overnight.  We were moored on a slight bend so it banged us about just enough to wake us up, and although we weren’t particularly close to the trees the wind was plenty strong enough to scatter bits of twig all over the roof which tapped and knocked as they landed.  We were away well before 9, once again the first boat on the move.  Someone was filling the first lock – they would have loved to be in it but the pound below had dropped overnight and they were aground.  We went down with the water, which wasn’t quite enough to refloat them, but a short tow from Chuffed, along with the crew of another boat pushing with poles from the bank, soon sorted that out.  We were alone then as we descended the rest of Stoke locks, with few onlookers.

Then at Stoke bottom lock we paused in the lock to deal with a cassette and some rubbish at the sanitary station.  We didn’t take long, but the water level had dropped by a foot before we got around to opening the bottom paddles.  There wasn’t much wildlife about – it was much too windy for insects so no butterflies or dragonflies – but a swan family was relaxing on the bank.

In the strong wind we crabbed our way along through Stoke Works, where the house-building continues apace.  Some of the houses have mixed colours in the brickwork, which makes it look a bit less samey.  One house looked lived in – someone had colour-co-ordinated the flowers in the hanging basket with the accent bricks - but we think it must have been the show home as everywhere else was empty.

Time for a cuppa now before we reached the top of the Astwood flight.  Dave started emptying the top lock while I walked on to see to the second.  It was empty, but as there was a boat already coming up the one below I opened the gates for them and went back to the top.  Dave waited in the shelter of the empty lock and they passed without too much trouble from the wind.  We didn’t see another boat for the rest of the morning.  I always enjoy doing the lock by bridge 40, as there is plenty to see in the cottage garden on the offside.  A squash or pumpkin is ripening on top of the hedge, overlooked by giant sunflowers.

My Mum always used to say that when the top flowers of the hollyhocks start to open, that’s the end of summer. 

They are nearly there!  And the pink sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, beloved of bees and butterflies, is revving up for its show too.

There is a notice on one of the balance beams advising us to leave the lock empty to save water.  I don’t understand how that saves water if you are going up, and it’s irrelevant if you are going down – can anyone enlighten me? 

On we went and moored for the day below the bottom lock.  It’s a good edge there, so I grabbed the shears and trimmed the straggly bits of grass so Dave could touch up the rubbing strake.  There was a heavy shower while we had lunch, and then a steady stream of hire boats, mostly Black Princes, passed by on their way to the locks.  Whether they were just starting their holiday from Worcester, or on their way back to base at Stoke Bottom Lock, we didn’t know.  Perhaps it was some of each.  The hire companies can only deal with one boat at a time to allow sufficient time for cleaning and sanitising and to make social distancing work.  Here is Chuffed in the distance.


I left Dave touching up various bits of paintwork and took Meg for a walk – we had to cross over the lock as the field on the towpath side was full of sheep. No matter how much she pleaded, she didn’t get any ball play until we got to the railway bridge where there is no crop.

Then I picked a bowl of damsons at the lock.  Half of them were windfalls, and there were a lot on the tree not yet ripe enough to pick.  

 There was even a little late sunshine as the wind began to drop at last.

 Saturday 22nd August; Astwood bottom lock to the marina

On Saturday we did some packing before we left for the marina.  We needed fuel, so there was no point in rushing to get there if the office wasn’t yet open.  At the top lock a time-share boat came by with an anchor much bigger than ours.  I think I would be worried about it being too heavy to deploy safely.

At the wharf we emptied a cassette and dumped the rubbish and recycling while we waited for fuel, then watched a narrowboat being returned to the water.  It had been stranded ashore for the period of lockdown – the owners couldn’t even visit to do the blacking.

We moored on our pontoon bow-first to make it easier to get out again for our next trip.  We didn’t leave the marina till mid-afternoon; it’s August Bank Holiday Saturday and we wanted the Devon-bound hordes to have reached their destinations before we got anywhere near!

Friday - 2½ miles, 12 locks.  Saturday – 2 miles, 3 locks

Trip stats 

Distance 112 miles and ¼ furlong, with 131 locks, 7 tunnels, 3 aqueducts and 1 swing bridge (at Barge Lock in Droitwich).     

From canalplanner - This is made up of 42 miles, 7¾ furlongs of narrow canals; 5 miles, 6½ furlongs of broad canals; 42 miles, 7¼ furlongs of small rivers; 20 miles, 3¼ furlongs of large rivers; 103 narrow locks; 26 broad locks; 2 large locks.

Tunnels; M5, Impney Way (more of a road bridge really), A449 tunnel, Brandwood, Wast Hill, Shortwood and Tardebigge.

Edstone, Wootton Wawen and Yarningale aqueducts. 

Waterways; Droitwich Junction and Barge canals; River Severn and River Avon; Stratford canal north and south, and Birmingham and Worcester canal.