Thursday, 31 July 2014

Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

We had overstayed our 5 day mooring in Stourport so after a wonderful week with friends it was certainly time to move on. With the sounds of Dryftwood, Folk Fusion still ringing in our ears from the previous night's entertainment, we reluctantly untied mooring ropes and set off.

Some repairs had to be done to the boat's cratch canopy and Ian had made arrangements to pop into Wilson's in Kinver to have it mended on Monday 21st July. We had 10 miles and seven locks to do in the day so it was a relatively easy day. The navigation moved steadily through the town of Stourport and before long it emerged into the country following the west side of a valley; however our progress was partially blocked by a fallen tree.Ian managed to break off some of the protruding branches to give us sufficient space to pass and then we were on our way again.

There was some smart new development as we entered Kidderminster and a little further on the canal crept under a town centre roundabout only to emerge at Kidderminster lock overlooked by a lovely church. What a contrast in a matter of a few yards!

The day that had been overcast, brightened, and all too soon the bright sun was beating down as we left Kidderminster and emerged once more into the countryside. The navigation then becomes more tortuous and narrow as it was forced into endless diversions by steep cliffs of red sandstone.

Beyond the Cookley tunnel the navigation emerged once again into countryside as it made its way to Kinver. The visitors mooring are on the south side of Kinver lock but we had to go through the lock in order to fill up with water. This was inconvenient as above the lock is only long term mooring. After taking on water we were faced with the prospect of reversing back down the canal and through the lock. A local man then told us that between the lock operation and the water point there is mooring reserved for a trip boat that was no longer around and that sometimes visitor boats moor there. That solved our problem; we cheekily used this trip boat mooring for the night. Wilsons, the canopy people were alongside the lock and we didn’t want to move off too far.

On Monday, after dropping off the canopy for repairs, we worked one more lock (Hyde lock) and moored at a lovely location known locally as ‘The Beeches’. No sooner had we tied the mooring ropes when Wilson's phoned to say that the canopy was ready for collection, so we walked the mile back down the canal to collect it.
Later that afternoon we met Gail and John on NB Far Call and enjoyed a rather boozy afternoon and evening with them.


Tuesday morning was a beautiful morning. The sun peeped over the hill and shone through the mist that was rising from the canal. We could hear sheep in the field calling to one another just to complete this idyllic picture. It was breath-taking and a small reminder of what we love so much about our nomadic lifestyle.




Later that day was not so glamorous. We entered a very crowded Ashwood Marina where we would leave the boat for 2 nights while we went to Reading for doctor appointments. We were surprised to find that even though we had phoned and book a slot well in advance, we were not even given a proper mooring but rather stuffed between other moored boats and that meant that not only did we have difficulty getting on and off the boat but we didn't even have the option of an electrical hook up. Oh well, it was only for 2 nights and we did have the 'feel safe' factor when we left the boat.

A few days later, after having done a little shopping and returning the hire car, it was mid-afternoon before we were ready to leave the marina. We were not happy to find that we had to return to Kinver as we had discovered another problem with the canopy. To make matters worse, it was only when we wanted to turn to re-trace our steps that we realised there was nowhere to turn the boat around. The marina was so overcrowded that the turning point had been stuffed with moored boats. We had to reverse out of the marina and then continue north for a little over a mile (and another lock) before we could turn and come back. Although it was only 5 locks and 4 miles back to Kinver, the day was hot and humid and we felt little inclined to go very far so we chose to stop at a lovely spot close to bridge 34, Prestwood bridge, and have a BBQ. We thought that we would easily complete those few miles and locks the following day.

Best laid plans… we set off for Kinver shortly after 8 o’clock and had only gone half a mile when we rounded a tight turn aptly called ‘Devil’s Den’. Coming in the opposite direction was a hire-boat that had passed us earlier. The lady waved frantically and called out to us as we came alongside. She told us that a tree had come down in the night and had completely blocked the canal less than a mile further on. Well, we were well and truly stuck. The point where they turned was not a winding hole and they were considerably shorter than we were so we couldn't follow suit. We had no choice but to moor up and wait. Canal & River Trust officials were already at the tree by the time we reached it but the huge oak needed specialist equipment to move it. The bad news was the tree couldn't be moved for another day or so. We just had to be patient. Undeterred, we folded the canopy into our shopping trolley and walked the two miles along the towpath to Kinver.

We had been told about the rock cottages on the outskirts of Kinver and since we now had time on our hands, we set off to find them. It was well worth the additional 3 miles that we had to go and we did have all day! However, the canopy had been finished while we had a cup of coffee so we folded it back into the trolley and dragged it up the steep hill to the rock cottages – not such a good idea as it was extremely hot and humid. Nevertheless, we were well rewarded for our efforts and spent a few hours steeped in the history of the cottages before trundling back down the hill and along the towpath to the boat.


It is thought that the rock cottages were the inspiration for Tolkien’s hobbit hole in ‘Lord of the Rings’. No-one is quite sure who first carved out the sandstone cliffs to create weatherproof homes and there is no evidence to suggest that they were prehistoric but there is an early iron-age hill fort situated only 150m further along the ridge that dates back to 200BC.


In 1777 a traveller by the name of Joseph Healey discovered the cottages after he had been caught in a thunderstorm while walking on the sandstone ridge. He was offered shelter which he accepted and later described the dwellings as "curious, warm and commodious and the garden extremely pretty."
There are many similarities between the Kinver Rock Cottages and Tolkien’s description of the Hobbit hole that it became an obvious assumption that he must have visited these remarkable dwellings that were still inhabited until the 1960s. Well whether he did or not, we thoroughly enjoyed our exploration.


Saturday proved to be another interesting day as we watched the fallen tree being cut up and dragged up the steep slope to clear the canal. The contractors brought in two 20 ton winches attached to ex-army vehicles that were once used to drag tanks out of quagmires.


Work began shortly after 8 o’clock and the poor workman had a captive (and critical) audience. By this time there were more than 30 boats that were held up by the blockage and this equated to quite a curious crowd. No pressure then!

To make their task more difficult a bee’s nest was discovered in the fallen tree. Geoff, one of the contractors was stung by an angry bee as he cut through the huge trunk of the oak tree.


The enormous root ball had to be supported to stop it sliding into the canal and then the tree was cut in half. It was a bit like watching someone cut off a branch of a tree while sitting on it. The contractor (Geoff) had to stand on the trunk while he cut through it with a chainsaw. We all held our breath as the trunk split in two and fortunately, Geoff retained his balance! Still supporting the root ball, the severed trunk was hauled around again (almost as if it was being re-planted) so that it could be dragged up the steep embankment. Next, the top of the tree was dragged back across the canal before it followed its bottom half up the slope. Neatly done!

By early afternoon, the canal was clear and boats had started to move again. Since we had arranged that we would meet up with Geoff, Lynn and James on the Sunday and the canopy had in the meantime been sorted out, we were in no particular hurry to go anywhere. We moved on through the now cleared canal and moored only a few hundred yards along at Stourton Junction. We were certainly glad that we hadn't got caught up in the 'Log jam' of boats all trying to get through the single locks!

Sunday, after meeting the Booth family, we worked our way up the beautiful Stourbridge canal and branched off at the Stourbridge town arm, turning at the end almost in Stourbridge town centre. After a short walk we found that the Talbot Hotel was doing a Sunday Carvery - perfect - and they had an available table! We had a lovely lunch before returned to the boat, giving the Booth family (and us)a really relaxing day.


Monday 28th we untied the mooring ropes and continued our northerly course along the canal. This time we got as far as the Bratches. We passed through some lovely countryside before the navigation was flanked by the neatly trimmed gardens of Swindon, (Staffordshire)  then on into rural countryside again before passing through the modern outskirts of Wolmbourn.
Bratch locks

We found lovely visitor mooring before the Bratch locks so we decided to end the day right there. Sometime later we were invited for an evening drink with Judy and Roger aboard NB Gabriel Oak, moored in front of us. This lovely couple (a little older than us) spend half of the year in Cape Town and the other half divided between their London home, their Guernsey home and their narrowboat. How the other half live!

The following morning, Judy and Roger set off fairly early, wanting to get through the set of three locks as soon as the lock keeper came on duty. We chose to explore the village and moved off in the early afternoon.

Once again, we didn't get very far. The countryside opened out above the set of locks giving lovely vistas all round. it was too good to pass up so we decided to say for a little longer and only move off the following day. It gave me time to write postcards and catch up on my blog while Ian planned our winter holiday in Spain.

What a tough life we lead!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Stourport-Upon-Severn

We spent a week in Stourport engaged in numerous activities, the first of which was a wonderful Sunday lunch cooked by Lynn and enjoyed in their home. James was at home having recently graduated from University but the exuberant Rosie was tied up with her part time job at the nearby Safari Park. It wasn't until much later that we had the pleasure of her company.

The next memorable activity was the Crooked House. Having reversed the boat through the York Street lock and returned to the basin to take on fresh water and top up with fuel, Geoff found us engaged in this mundane activity. He suggested a ride (by car) to a place called the Crooked House that stands in an isolated position near Himley between Dudley and Telford. The name and distinctive appearance of this pub are the result of 19th century mining subsidence with one side now almost four feet lower than the other.



The crooked house, originally a farm house was built in 1765. In 1940 it was condemned and scheduled for demolition before it was rescued by the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries who made the structure safe by using buttresses and girders to retain its lopsided appearance.The buildings leaning walls give rise to some wonderful optical illusions that include glasses slowly sliding across a seemly level table and a marble that appears to roll uphill.



We enjoyed a tasty lunch in the rustic lounge and then attempted to put the world to right (or even the pub) by enjoying more glasses of beer/wine than were good for us.









Thursday 17th was another gorgeous day and was forecasted to be the hottest day of the year so far. What started out as a stroll in the park alongside the river turned out to be an 8 mile round trip to Bewdley. We were so enchanted with the romantic scenery, we just kept on walking. In Bewdley, we found a hostelry alongside the river and while munching on a sandwich, washed down with a cider we lazed in the sunshine watching the rowing boats skimming along the water. The only down side was the blisters caused by inappropriate strappy sandals. Well, I hadn’t planned to walk 8 miles!


Friday evening, we were treated to a performance by Unknown First (a female fronted hard rock band) in Kidderminster. Rosie, following in her father’s footsteps as an entertainer, is the female in this band. Lynn and James collected us at the boat after dinner and took us to the venue. Ian commentated on the number of parents that attended. Each member of the band was well supported by family (young and older) and that led him to comment that ‘in my day, my parents wouldn’t have been seen dead at one of my gigs’ How times change.


The following evening was ‘father’s’ turn. Dryftwood, Folk Fusion, a band of four talented musicians – of which Geoff is a member – were performing at Wilden Church to raise funds for Kidderminster food bank and church funds. We were treated to performances using a myriad of instruments that included bozouki, guitar, keyboard, kazoo, lute, banjo, drums and cabassa to name but a few and vocals by all four band members, namely Paul Danby, Geoff Booth, Kevin Hastie and of course, the lovely Liz Summer (Smith).

After a very full week, it was time to move on. We left Stourport with some wonderful memories and set off for a new adventure along the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal.

River Severn to Stourport

The lock keeper comes on duty at 8:00 am and we wanted to leave Gloucester Docks as soon after that as we could.

While preparing to leave Ian noticed that the English Holiday Cruise vessel the 'Edward Elgar' was also preparing to leave and sure enough it started to manoeuvre at exactly 8:00, casting off its mooring lines, it smoothly edged into position near the lock gates. We watched her through the lock before we slipped our mooring lines and queued with four other narrowboats waiting for the lock to fill. In the meantime we had ordered a 'Breakfast Toastie' from the café so we had a hot toasted sandwich filled with scrumptious egg, bacon and mushrooms to munch on. What a perfect way to start the day and to start another leg of our trip.

The canalised River Severn from Gloucester is a narrow length of river hemmed in by high banks. There was little to see as we made out way to the 'Upper Parting' the point 2 miles upstream where the tidal west channel meets the navigable east channel. After the 'Upper Partings' travelling northwards, the river widened, but still the high banks afforded limited views and this characteristic changes very little all the way to Stourport.

Unlike the River Thames, there are few places to moor along the 13 mile stretch between Gloucester Dock and the first lock, Upper Lode Lock' and with little to see, I had time to play a little with my camera. The wildlife wasn't disappointing. We even saw an otter as it crossed the river in front of the boat. Ian is still sceptical but the mammal that swam in front of us was too big to be ratty! Unfortunately, my camera wasn't to hand at that point, so I don't have photographic evidence.

Single span (170ft) cast iron bridge - Mythe Bridge

We made good time as Winedown chugged along upstream. Doing a merry 4 mph we arrived at Upper Lode lock just a little over 3 hours after leaving Gloucester. It was quite surprising how little traffic there was on the river for such a beautiful day. Two of the other four narrowboats turned towards Tewksbury while we continued on, under the Mythe bridge (built by Thomas Telford in 1828) and then we were on to Upton-On-Severn, our destination for the day.

There are few bridges connecting the west bank to the east bank of the the River Severn, between Gloucester and Worcester so when you do see one as awe-inspiring as the Mythe bridge, it is worth a mention.

Upton-On-Severn is a small town in the Malvern Hills District of Worcestershire and the bridge that crosses the river is the only one between Worcester and Tewksbury. This quaint town is steeped in history and was well worth the two days that we spent there. We could easily have stayed longer but public mooring is scarce and mooring in the marina is expensive and don't be fooled by the navigational notes in the Nicholson's guide that indicates there is free mooring to be had in the marina. We did have the appropriate voucher but the marina will tell you that it only applies to coastal vessels only - in the inland waterways??? Oh well, they did give us one extra night for good will so we made the most of our exploration and enjoyed our stay in this very friendly town.

Laundry all done, batteries fully charged, water tank full; it was time to move on. Next stop was Worcester but before that we enjoyed 10 miles of scenic river views A scattering of bungalows and a caravan site or two were all that interrupted this tranquil stretch of the river, and while looking back, the Malvern hills completed the picture by framing the landscape.


Passing the Severn Motor Yacht Club, we knew were were not far from Worcester. It was almost as if the lavish gin palaces, majestically lined up, were a taste of what was to come. Leaving the grand boats behind, we passed under the road bridge and on into Diglis lock. As the lock filled, the cathedral came into view,the huge square tower commanding centre stage.



The imposing Worcester Cathedral dates back to 1074 and five subsequent centuries have added their representation of architecture, resulting in some fine monuments and stained glass. One such monument is the tomb of King John dating back to 1216. Carved out of Purbeck marble, this is the oldest royal effigy in England and can be found in the chancel of the cathedral. King John was of course most noted for agreeing to the Magna Carta, a charter of demands made by John’s rebellious barons. This was the first grant by an English monarch to set detailed limits on his all encompassing royal authority giving rise to the formation of our parliament.

Two miles past Diglis lock, mooring can be found near the racecourse and this is where we chose to spend the night. (Just a note for any who may want internet connectivity or even a good TV signal, neither is available) Once moored, we settled down to enjoy the surroundings and watch passing craft on the river. Later in the evening a hot-air balloon lifted off from the racecourse and drifted lazily overhead, gliding silently on the prevailing summer breeze.



Mooring near the racecourse in Worcester
We had arranged to meet our friends Geoff and Lynn Booth in Stourport on Saturday 12th July. The Booth family live in Stourport and we had promised that when we meander along their neck of the woods we would be sure to look them up. Geoff joined us Lincomb Lock and travelled with us for the last mile of the River Severn. The pretty Lincomb Lock is the northernmost lock on the River Severn.

Geoff pointed out old landmarks such as the Redstone Rock, a crumbling outcrop of red sandstone that was still inhabited until that late 1960s; and the abandoned oil wharves, now frequented by the occasional fisherman, then it was on into the Stourport basins. We had two 2-step staircase locks to navigate, the first joined the basins to the river and  the second joined two of the four basins. We moved on through the basins and found a slot in the 5 day mooring on the Staffs & Worcs canal before spending an extremely convivial afternoon with Geoff and family watching the comings and goings along the River Severn.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Tewksbury to Gloucester and Gloucester & Sharpness canal

With the necessity of medical appointments, we had left the boat in Tewksbury marina for a few days. It was a lovely break away from Winedown but after a very short time, I was longing for the freedom of the canals and river again. After returning the hire car on Thursday (26th) we prepared the boat for the next adventure –filled up with water, fuel etc. got laundry done and boat cleaned. It was shortly before 12:00 noon that we left Tewksbury marina and entered the Avon lock. This marked the end of our time on the River Avon, and to mark our passing, it started to drizzle just as we were ready to leave the lock. The lock gates opened, the lockie gave us a cheerful wave and we were on to the River Severn, the huge lock gates clanged ominously as they closed behind us.  By the time we got to Upper Lode lock, the rain was pelting down and I was starting to regret that we hadn't delayed our trip for another day.
Upper Lode Lock on River Severn

Upper Lode Lock was overwhelming. We felt so tiny and insecure as we held our bow and stern ropes and the lock emptied. The enormous lock gates opened (well this part of the River Severn was a shipping lane in days gone by so enormous locks were a requirement) and we ventured out onto the river. Almost at once, the rain stopped and the sun shone through, immediately melting away my anxiety. The rest of the trip from Tewksbury to Gloucester was a doddle, and we arrived at Gloucester Lock just 3 hours later. The lock keeper asked us to wait in the lock for a norrowboat behind to catch up and while we waited, an ominous black cloud covered the sun. Narrowboat ‘The Lucy Locket’ tied up alongside us, the lock gates slammed shut and the lock began to gently fill. With that the heavens opened and the rain lashed down. There was nothing we could do but to endure the downpour.The rain seemed to find its way down my neck and in a matter of minutes, I was soaked through; It was as if my wet-weather gear was made of fine silk. My saturated clothes clung to my body as if painted on, and I in turn hung on to the bow rope and determinedly gritted my teeth. The lock gates swung open and we found ourselves in the Dock basin and scrambled for a mooring. No sooner had we moored then the fickle sun shone down again. One good thing about having an air cooled engine is that the engine room was nice and warm and it didn't take long for our clothes to be dry again.

We spent two day in Gloucester Docks and that proved quite expensive. Some of the old warehouses have been converted into an outlet centre and that is always bad news for us. we can never resist a bargain - even if we don't really need the item. consequently, we spend far too much. on the brighter side... in order to put our new purchases away, we had to clear out a lot of older stuff, so the charity shops benefited.


While we were enjoying a cuppa in a lovely coffee shop, Ian's cousin John called. He had been following us on Facebook and realised that we were quite close to one another for a change - John spends a lot of his time in France - and so it was that we were able to meet up for Sunday Lunch.

Leaving Gloucester behind on Sunday morning, we went the eight easy miles down the Gloucester & Sharpness canal to Saul Junction and met John in the Bell Inn at Frampton-On-Severn. It must have been 10 years since the cousins had seen each other so you can imagine, they had a lot to talk about!

Monday 30th June we continued down the Gloucester & Sharpness canal to Sharpness. What a beautiful place to be!

Sharpness Docks began as a basin giving access from the River Severn Estuary to the Gloucester & Sharpness canal where shipping traffic could then proceed to Gloucester Docks. With increasingly larger ships, the size of the old docks had its drawbacks and a new floating dock was opened in 1874 just south of the old docks. Today, a marina operates on the edge of the old docks site.
14 day free mooring near Sharpness

We moored about 1/4 mile before the marina and the scenery was breathtaking.

The public mooring allows for up to 14 days free, however, there is not much to see and do in Sharpness so it is an ideal spot for a total escape and a springboard for beautiful walks.


The 'New' sharpness docks are working docks so access is limited, however we did manage to get a peek at some of the activity. The most bazaar picture was this burned out 'Gin Palace' complete with its very own helicopter.

Site of the old railway bridge north of Sharpness
The remoteness of Sharpness includes that lack of internet connectivity and I had promised Tanya (my daughter) that I would publicise (via a blog) her progress on the 4 Peaks Challenge (more about that later). Sadly we had to return to Saul Junction in order to fulfil my promise.

Saul Junction is where the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal meets the rural Stroudwater Canal, once an important junction. The Stroudwater Canal brought coal from the Midlands to the cloth mills in the Stroud Valley, while the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal was built for ocean-going ships. Saul Junction became the meeting place for ships & crew, boats & boaters and cargo from around the world. This once important junction is still a great place to visit. Besides the busy marina, there is a visitor centre and the all important facilities such as water and sanitation with a bonus shower and laundry facilities. I spent time reading a book on the front deck while my laundry was washing and drying.

Wooden Spoon Charity Challenge


The following day was Wednesday 2nd July and time was catching up on me. the 4 peaks Challenge was nearly upon us. This Wooden Spoon charity event is one of the most exhausting yet exhilarating physical (and mental) challenges in UK. Teams of Four (three climbers and a driver) pit their strength,and determination against four of the highest mountains in UK. In 48 short hours, they have to climb Ben Nevis in Scotland, Helvellyn in the English Peak District, Mt Snowdon in Wales and Carrantuohill in Ireland, a total of 14000ft They also have to drive the 1000 miles between each peak. Tanya, my daughter was taking part in this challenge.

The next day, Thursday 3rd July was the start of the 4 Peaks Challenge and I still needed to post the 'countdown' blog as an introduction. My problem was that Saul Junction didn't have very good internet connectivity so Ian and I spend a lovely few hours at the Bell Inn using their WiFi (what a shame) and watching the opening sets of Andy Murry's disastrous Wimbledon game. In the meantime Tanya and her team of trusty climbers and driver were making their way to Fort William.

(If you are interested in a 'blow by blow' of their progress, you can find it at http://peakishness.blogspot.co.uk It is posted in reverse order, so scroll to the bottom for the first post.)

While we were moored at Saul Junction, we had another long-overdue encounter. Peter Carr, an ex-work colleague whom we hadn't seen in perhaps 15 years popped up. He lives with his family about 20 minutes drive from Saul Junction so it was lovely to be able to reminisce about 'old times' over a glass of wine.

Gloucester Docks

I still needed to get a good continuous internet connection, so on Thursday morning we pulled up the mooring pins (or rather loosened the mooring ropes) and set off for Gloucester Docks where we spent firstly a nail-biting 48 hours, then a pleasant few days relaxing and exploring the Waterways museum and other places of interest around Gloucester.



We have had some great weather and at times like this, we tend to have our meal in the great outdoors - well on the front deck of the boat. and just to silence the sceptics... Yes I DID cook that meal.

Mind you, we had just finished when the heavens opened. Talk about 'Just In Time'.

We left Gloucester on Tuesday morning (8th July) and headed up the River Severn towards Stourport. One thing  I don't miss about Gloucester Docks  is the mess that the seagulls make!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

River Avon

Mooring in the basin at Stratford-Upon-Avon is limited to 48 hours. We spent the second day of our stay with a bit of domestic ‘stuff’ and then the delights of exploring. The laundry (Silly Suds)did a ‘drop-in’ service (drop your laundry in and they will wash and dry it for you) so we took our laundry, negotiated a price, which included ironing, arranged a time to pick it up again and left…job done! We were free to spend our time on more pleasurable pursuits.
Gower Memorial Statue
Winedown was moored in the shadow of the Gower memorial statue. By 1769 there was a growing appreciation of the works of Shakespeare and this was somewhat due to the Garricks Stratford jubilee festival, held in the same year. As a sign of appreciation, Lord Ronald Gower commissioned (and personally funded) the memorial statue and presented it to the town in 1888. The figures around the base of the Shakespearian characters of Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff and Prince Hal.


 We later found the oldest pub in Stratford-Upon-Avon, The Garrick Inn, originally owned by the same Garrick family dating back to 14th centuary.

While enjoying half a pint of cider, I noticed a sign over the bar that read as follows… ‘Here we are together, drinking Wine, Ale and Stout. May the roof above us never fall in and the friends below never fall out…’

Shakespeare's family home






And just to prove that we don't spend all out time in pubs... We explored the town of Stratford-Upon -Avon, relishing in the wonderful old architecture and history

The fool



Inscription at the base of 'The Fool'













Leaving Stratford-Upon-Avon  behind







On the morning of Wednesday 18th June, we bought a river licence (the Avon river is run by the Avon Navigation Trust and therefore a separate licence is required) and left the Stratford basin to enjoy once more the pleasures of boating on a river. We had been having gorgeous weather for the past few weeks and therefore the river levels were well within the normal navigation limits and the flow was even a little sluggish, so little cause for concern.

 Unlike the River Thames, the locks on the River Avon are not manned and are all manual so after clearing lock 56 which joins the basin to the river, we turned south, worked 3 locks over 5 miles and moored before WA Cadbury lock near Welford-on-Avon. It was very remote with no access to the town at all, but that didn’t bother us since we had frequented a number of pubs over the past few days. It was time for me to remember how the galley worked and where my oven was!
Bidford-On-Avon

 We were in no hurry to get to Tewksbury (the end of the Avon Navigation) so on Thursday we stretched ourselves to work 3 locks over 3 miles before mooring in the delightful village of Bidford-On-Avon.

Moored near the recreational ground







The mooring is right next to the recreational ground and although the mooring itself is limited the park offered BBQ areas as well as a children’s play park, tennis courts and a cricket green. The mooring is only 24h mooring but we were a bit naughty and stretched it to 36 hours as it was so enjoyable.


 While we were moored at Bidford, a tugfronted narrowboat, Daedalus owned by Simon and Pat, moored behind us and when we set off the next morning they joined us so that we could share the locks.

View of Workman Bridge - Evesham

We happily worked the next 4 locks over 8 miles and shortly after lunch we moored at the Workman Gardens in Evesham.

For boaters not familiar with this part of the river, I have to warn that the Evesham lock is a bit tricky to navigate. Coming downstream as we were, it isn’t until you are at the lock that you can see if it's occupied, full or empty and the lock operation mooring is quite short (having said that, there were volunteers manning the lock to help boaters through). In addition, NB Daedalus, 67ft got stuck in the lock. We had to clear the lock to allow Daedalus to go diagonally across it before they could open the lock gate.

During our time together at the locks, we discovered that Pat and Simon had many similar experiences to us. They had bought their boat as a project boat and fitted her out themselves. Unlike us, they even got involved in the structure of the hull. I take my hat off to them as that was a ‘bridge too far’ for us. Ian and I spent a lovely afternoon in Abby park (across the river from Workman Gardens) exploring the remains of the abbey before we went into the town to replenish supplies. We found that there was a Morris Dancing Festival taking place at one end of the Abbey gardens and sound of their music carried on the light breeze.

On returning to the boat, we saw Simon about to go for a bicycle ride. He invited us to join them for drinks later that evening and so it was that we had another boozy evening with a lovely couple.

Sunday morning, we were woken at the crack of dawn by people shouting instructions to rowing boats in the water. We had moored opposite the Evesham Rowing club and a lovely sunny Sunday morning (albeit 6:00am) is prime time for the rowers.

Although Evesham offered 48h mooring (which are plentiful), we said goodbye to Simon and Pat on NB Daedalus and set off for Pershore just 11 miles and 3 locks down the Avon River. The long stretches between locks made for a lovely relaxing trip.

Sunday is usually prime time for the fishermen too, and while most of them will nod or wave a greeting, there are some who are none too pleased to be disturbed but these noisy narrowboaters. One fisherman studiously avoided our greeting and even put his hands over his ears to show his displeasure. Nowt as strange as folk! 

As the Avon River has a wide flood plain, villages are often set far back so there is little to disturb the natural order. The iridescent blue flash of the kingfisher can often be seen skimming the water. On more than one occasion we saw the trails of the grass snake as it attempted to cross the river. Sadly to say, we saw little sign of the water vole.

Reaching Pershore, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there was ample mooring alongside the recreational ground above Pershore lock. We were spoiled for choice for a mooring spot.

 Ian had found a pub called the Pickled Plum and had phoned ahead to book a table for lunch. This was to be our wedding anniversary celebratory lunch. We found the Pickled Plum on the top edge of Pershore and it was well worth the walk.

I would happily have stayed an extra day at Pershore but we had Doctors’ appointments to keep and therefore had to get Winedown into the marina at Tewksbury. After replenishing supplies at the supermarket situated at the opposite end of the recreational ground, we set off for the last 14 miles of the Avon River, with just 3 locks to work.

Tewksbury marina gave us a lovely mooring spot alongside the river. Across the river from the marina, there were lovely parklands to overlook. Although we were in a marina, if we looked over the river we had an idyllic setting in the warm sunshine with a gentle wind and a wonderful vista. This is what boating is all about.

The following day, we hired a car from Enterprise – they have a wonderful service whereby they will pick-up and drop-off wherever you are – and leaving Winedown safely tucked up in Tewksbury marina, set off down the motorway towards Reading. 


After the tedium (but necessity) of doctors and dentist, we were able to enjoy our grandchildren for a few days and even had time to look up old friends, Mick (the marina manager at Frouds Bridge), his good lady, Sue and assistant, Bill. We enjoyed the summer sunshine with them at the Butt Inn near Aldermaston Wharf.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Umbrellas and Shakespeare

As we approached the Hatton Flight we saw two men on the lock wearing the distinctive blue shirt and red life-preserver of the Canal & River Trust volunteers. We had been told that there were often volunteers on the flight and it was indeed a welcome sight, particularly since we thought we would have to climb the flight without the help of another boat. But we were in luck. As the lock was filling the volunteer told us that he had asked the boat in front to wait at the next lock so that we could lock up together. He assured us that the crew of the boat were pleasant people and he was sure we would all get along. How right he was!

Fran & Roger and Di & Chris were the crew on narrowboat Umbrellas and we all seem to hit it off straight away. Very soon we were in a comfortable rhythm and the daunting 21 locks just melted away amid much laughter and chatter.


I commented on the unusual name of their boat and asked Fran how they settled on the name. Fran told me a lovely story which I will try to summarise.  Fran and Di had been friends for a very long time, a friendship that started with nursing together. As time went on and their respective families arrived, they often took family holidays together in France. On one such holiday, they were playing on a sandy beach when a strong wind blew all the beach umbrellas away. A shout of ‘Umbrellas’ rippled along the shoreline as the brightly coloured umbrellas cartwheeled along, with their owners scrambling after them. Thereafter, whenever they holidayed together, the four would toast and clink their wineglasses together, instead of saying chin-chin or cheers as others would, they said ‘Umbrellas!’ Fran said that when they bought the boat, there was only one fitting name…’Umbrellas’.

Narrowboat Umbrellas














Winedown and Umbrellas

At the top of the locks, we breasted up the boats and lunched together. It was then that we discovered that we were all going on to the Stratford-on-Avon canal so we continued on our way together.  

At Kingswood Junction where the Stratford canal meets the Grand Union, Umbrellas encountered a boat coming towards them and they slowed to wait for it to pass. We, in turn slowed behind them.  In the meantime another boat  was manoeuvring to make the same turn that we wanted to make. Phew, it was all happening at once. 

While waiting for the turn, Umbrellas ran aground on the soft clay at the edge of the canal. Once the way was clear, we slipped pass them, picked up their bow rope and tied it to our stern dolly. The momentum and our engine power easily pulled them clear. We were then able to make the turn and work the first 4 locks before mooring for the evening.


Barrel-roof cottage
The following day, Umbrellas bid us farewell and continued on their way. We were in no hurry and wanted to enjoy as much of the scenery as we could, so we set off some hours later, mooring at Wootton Wawen later that afternoon.  At lock 28 we passed a barrel-roof cottage that was quite extraordinary but typical of this part of the canal. The cottages, originally the lock keeper’s cottages have been largely extended but the strange barrel-roof is still quite evident.



Leaving Wootton Wawen behind on Friday 13th June, we looked forward to crossing the spectacular Edson Aqueduct but before we had gone little more than ½ mile, we saw the day hire boat in distress. They had run aground. Well, since we had practiced the manoeuvre just two days before, we simply repeated the process. We slipped pass them, picked up their bow rope and pulled them clear before continuing on our way. At the next lock, the day boat moored behind us and we discovered that they didn’t know how to work the lock. Once again, we helped them before continuing on our way. 

On the Edstone Aqueduct
The Edstone Aqueduct is as spectacular as it was reported.  The canal is carried across a water meadow, a rail bridge and a road bridge by this aqueduct. While we were several meters above the road, Ian received a cheery wave from a van driver on the road below. It was quite surreal.








We ended our boating day at bridge 59 which carried Featherbed Lane over the canal and into Wilmcote. It is here that the restored house of Mary Arden (William Shakespeare’s mother) attracts visitors.

Before we could settle down, a Canadian couple asked us to help them reverse their boat, passed several other boats, to the winding hole so that they could turn their boat. As all boaters know, there is little-to-no steering when reversing a narrowboat. Ian assisted at the helm while I took up the bargepole to use as a punt and between us we managed to reverse the boat is a relatively straight line.

Shortly after the Canadian couple were on their way, Sheridan and William, the couple on the day boat returned from the pub and found themselves in a similar predicament. They had passed the winding hole when they moored, giving no thought to how they would later return along the canal. They too asked us to help them. And so it was that Friday 13th turned out to be a day of rescue.

Ian with the crew of Umbrellas
The Canadian couple had told us that the train station was only a stone’s throw from the mooring and a convenient way to go into Stratford-Upon-Avon only a few miles away so on Saturday we left Winedown on the mooring and took the train to explore the birthplace of William Shakespeare. To our delight, we found Umbrellas moored in the Stratford basin and were invited to share a glass of wine with them. We later arranged to meet up with them the following evening to share a finger-buffet dinner alongside the canal.



Sadly, all good things come to an end and the following morning, we waved goodbye to Umbrellas and her crew as we all set off in different directions. I hasten to add… not before we had exchanged contact details. I believe It’s always such a privilege when strangers can lift the curtain on their lives and allow one a glimpse in passing. Here’s to you, Umbrellas, I hope we meet again!


Continuing on our way, we worked the final 16 locks on the canal and moored in Stratford basin, overlooked by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  We had previously booked tickets for dinner and a play at the theatre so in true fashion we dressed up and enjoyed the Shakespearian play Henry 4th in Shakespeare’s birth town at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Since 2014 is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, it would be rude not to!

The basin at Stratford-Upon-Avon