Indigo Dreaming

The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for July 28th, 2008

The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 25

Posted by indigodream on 28 July, 2008

Stewponey (Stourton) Locks to Caunsall Bridge (26)

Wild carp and clear water

Wild carp and clear water

Last night’s mooring spot proved to be as perfect as pictured – it was uncannily quiet and we had a sound night’s sleep. Despite leaving the side-hatch ajar (on the waterside!), the shimmering heat woke us up at 8am and we decided to get up and open some more hatches before we baked. The clear water was made transparent by the bright sunshine and we got an amazing view of a shoal of wild carp – easily 18 inches long and more.

Thinking back to yesterday, we regretted having missed the Stourbridge Town Arm and resolved to catch up with it today. We were moored by a winding hole and were going to take the boat back up there but RIchard had one of his ‘brilliant’ ideas – why not cycle there and back instead? Now, I’m not a keen cyclist (slight understatement) and there are snails, tortoises and grannies on zimmer frames that go faster, but I had no excuse. Only yesterday I was saying to Richard how I should make an effort to do more exercise – I just hadn’t realised that he’d been listening. “He’s a husband, he never listens, why start now” I whined to the dogs as I took them for their morning ablutions. They were unsympathetic – they were off back to bed (too hot for them to run with us) and didn’t care about my trials.

Interesting bit of heritage near the end of Stourbridge Town Arm

Interesting bit of heritage near the end of Stourbridge Town Arm

Anyway, the bikes proved to be a great way to see the town arm. We got to cycle along the lovely stretch back to the junction – it was even better the second time round. From the bikes we could look over the hedgerows towards a lively stream flowing beneath us and gurgling over waterfalls. On the map this looked like the source of the River Stour but it may have been a tributary. The towpath was buzzing with walkers and cyclists – it was just great. We turned onto the Town Branch and immediately the canal closed in – it seemed narrow and a bit oppressive. However the water was crystal clear with shoals of fish and the canal opened out a little further on. We were left in no doubt that Stourbridge’s industrial heritage is glassmaking – we passed several glass and crystal factories on the way.

The Town Arm was also colonised by cheery walkers and cyclists – a bit to my dismay given my marginal control of the handlebars. My uncontrolled wobble around a large pile of horse droppings was a reminder that maybe the old heritage and modern leisure uses of the canal don’t really mix! I didn’t collide with anything though I did run straight into a wall with surprise when I managed to pedal to the top of a steep bridge! Richard was disgruntled because I’m so little I could ride under the low bridges without ducking! Towards the end of the arm we met some intrepid boaters who’d moored on the towpath. Now, we’d had dire warning about this bit so were stopped for a chat. They were a family of boaters split between two boats – they cruise at weekends and seem to have covered a fair bit of the country. Sadly we didn’t jot down the names of their boats but we may well meet again. Anyway, they’d had no trouble at all overnight – this may have been because of the helpful Community Support Police Officer who’d been patrolling the towpath. He told them what to do if there was any bother and told them what location to give the control centre if they had to ring 999. Happily they didn’t need to.

They did tell us a frightening tale of trouble that they’d had in Perry Barr when they were forced to moor between lock 2 and 3 – the mechanisms were all locked at 7pm and they couldn’t go any further. This was sobering news – the evening blockade is not mentioned in Nicholson’s or the boater’s guides and there isn’t a sign either. The hapless crew had to moor under a footbridge and were pelted by a hail of stones and bricks in the wee small hours. The police turned out when called but it sounded thoroughly horrible and they persuaded BW to come out and help them down the locks at 4am-ish. So, when the boater’s guides suggest that it’s safe to moor at Perry Barr top lock they’re being VERY specific – it’s only above the top lock and nowhere else.

Boaters are terrible gossips and they also told us the tale of a woman who colonised this stretch of canal with, apparently, all her possessions in large trolley bag. She was on the towpath last night with a young man; despite the fact that they looked homeless they surprised the onlookers by driving away in a Porsche. While we were chatting she came back – this time dropped off by a man in a very swanky mercedes! There was much speculation that she was a ‘professional’ woman – she was certainly very flirty with Richard! This led on to yet more speculation as to whether her (large) trolley bag was full of the props and toys of her trade. We were disgraceful – I train pharmacists for a living and I’m always telling them “don’t make assumptions about people, just ask”. How I wished we’d got this woman’s REAL story.

The very end of the Stroubridge Town Arm

The very end of the Stourbridge Town Arm

I was so disappointed when we got to the end of the town arm. I’d had visions that it would be in ‘town’, with coffee bars and such. By this time I’d cycled three miles – I needed a frappuccino, I’d EARNED a frappuccino! But the arm ends in a secure mooring basin surrounded by grim fencing and enclosing a working boatyard and dry dock. Great to see the basin being used (last night’s trip boat came from here) but it was exactly how Richard had described. The canal just doesn’t exist from the road and there’s nothing particularly attractive about it to make it appealing for development.

I was so pleased that we’d explored the arm but I was desperate to get back to the boat now. Richard was impressed by how vigorously I cycled back, but I was chanting the mantra of reluctant exercisers everywhere “the faster I pedal the sooner it’ll be over!”. Despite this, I think that using the bikes to explore short branches, especially where there’s a lack of winding holes, is a great idea – I’m sure we’ll do it again.

The heat was oppressive today – much more humid and after the biking I was at boiling point. Maybe this explains why I spent the rest of the day in a daze as I was gently spit-roasted on the tiller! At least the dogs fared better today – I finally remembered that we had a tower fan on board and Lou squiggled around on the sofa gently letting the breeze cool each of her extremities in turn. Blue just complained – he wanted to run around, but he was too hot to run around – he naturally blamed us for it all and whinged mightily.

View from the Stourton Locks

View from the Stourton Locks

Our next adventure was, thankfully, on the Indigo Dream! We worked our way down the Stourton locks, feeling a great sense of welcome and wellbeing at the fine lock gates, beautifully maintained canalside gardens and friendly passers by. The dogs could safely roam between locks 1and 2, then again between 3 and 4 BUT there’s a busy road crossing the canal between locks 2 and 3 so they were confined.

We then turned left onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. We’ve been here before (on the Dragonfly) and Richard remembers thinking that the right turn onto the Stourbridge looked daunting. I’m sure that many boaters feel the same – turning from the Strourbridge onto the Staffordshire and Worcester was like turning from a farm track onto a motorway! No-one seems to fancy the Stourbridge Canal! I’d encourage anyone who has the flexibility to do the turn – I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Go on - that's not a scary turn!

Looking back at the Stourbridge Canal - go on - it's not that scary!

Having said that, this whole stretch of the Staffordshire and Worcester canal could be used in a holiday brochure. It’s outrageously scenic with enticingly deep valleys, lush green woodland and soft red sandstone cliffs. There are flotillas of picturesque boats both moored up and moving. No wonder boaters congregate here, it feels so civilised, no-one’s wondering if it’s safe to moor or whether there’s bandits on the bridges. Yet lovely as it is, I felt a pang of regret for the BCN, Dudley No 1 and Stourbridge. I’m sure they’ve got the potential to be as loved as the Staffordshire and Worcester if only more people would venture their way. But that’s my sermon over, you have to love this stretch of the Staffordshire and Worcester, it’s so nicely balanced – just enough locks to keep it interesting but widely spaced enough not be too arduous. After the Stourbridge, Dudley No. 1, Tame Valley etc it felt very strange to see so many other boats on the move. We even met one in the short tunnel, well, we didn’t really meet as we came round the corner and hit reverse but Richard was still in BCN mode so was gobsmacked to meet anyone.

Note: There’s a good winding hole just above Bridge 28 – it’s not marked on our Nicholsons. There’s also an unmarked rubbish point and BW services nearby. We really said goodbye to Birmingham when we threw the last binful of prop debris away!

A picture for the brochure!

A picture for the brochure!

It was so attractive on this stretch that we decided not to rush. We moored up early just after Bridge 26 (which has easy access to the road and a small car park); Richard cycled back to get the car and I packed up in anticipation of getting back to Surrey by 7pm. I was deluded – we got stuck in a monstrous traffic jam on the M40 and got home at 9pm. Luckily we had stopped at our favourite services at Junction 10 – the dogs had a good run and a splosh in the stream; we stocked up on goodies so we were well prepared for the subsequent delays.

Plant of the day

My plant of the day (photo below) is Indian Balsam – it grows in amazing profusion along this canal

Indian Balsam

Indian Balsam

and looks so exotic with its orchid-like flowers towering six foot above the water.

Cheesy video of the day

Richard found that someone’s posted a video of Indigo Dream on YouTube accompanied by some truly cheesy music. It’s extremely weird to see ourselves on a complete stranger’s website – we never realised we were being filmed. Thank heavens we’re smiling, thank heavens for soft focus!

Blogs and Logs

I am so pleased that we’ve decided to use the BLOG as a boat’s log – I wish I’d done it on our old share boat. All our notes on our cruises stayed with the

This week's mooring

This week's mooring

boat (as it should) but now I regret not taking a copy. I have missed being able to look back on what we thought of these places when we cruised them on the Dragonfly. Mind you, with my atrocious memory, it’s like cruising an undiscovered land so maybe it’s for the best….

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