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The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for August, 2008

Dog Blog: Tough life!

Posted by indigodream on 31 August, 2008

Tough being a dog!

Arghhh bath time

Lou’s Blog

G’day! Lou here.

Naw, as you all know, i’m half-australian though I’ve never seen god’s own county meself. Just as well, just toooo many rabbits – I’d be worn out!

Me good mate, Blue, wrote his blog last week so I thought it was time that I muscled in. I’m top dog after all, no doubt about it, after all it’s not MY bum being bitten here

I’d sort of got me head round having a lazy weekend in Sharpness but the bloke got called out to look at things down a big hole in East London so we had a change in plan. Naw worries, mate – a weekend of no boat, nice lie-ins, and loafing around watching Blue patrol the garden.

But stone the flamin’ crows? The bloke and his sheila got some really bad ideas from bobcat and then got confused. Look it’s flamin’ obvious we’re not cats, we chase cats. But they decided it was bath time anyway!

then look we got groomed!

then look we got groomed!

There’s me being bathed, then the sheila (who’s nickname is Sue) got the big brush out, well, ok it’s a little brush, well, a soft puppy brush to be precise but the big dog brushes are just so harsh. Don’t you go thinking I’m a big wuss – oh no, I’ve just got sensitive skin.

Now, I think we ought to get the union onto this – does it look like I’m having fun? And what about these poor buggers…….

Poor Blue after having his teeth brushed

Poor Blue after having his teeth brushed

Then we got our teeth brushed. Now it’s just plain unfair – we get our teeth brushed regardless, even though I put on me best crocodile impression and try to get the bloke’s fingers. But when he tries to brush his sheila’s teeth with our toothbrush she just hits him and he stops. I’m going to call the retired greyhound trust and ask to be rescued back, but now I smell of evenin’ primrose and lavender, I’d be the laughin’ stock of the kennels…….

Anyone got Greyhoundhomer's telephone number?

Ring the kennels please!

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WordPress & image upload

Posted by indigodream on 26 August, 2008

One of the joys of wordpress is that they keep changing things. The software behind wordpress is open source so there are hundreds of people round the world contributing to the software. We should be used to it as we use the excellent (but similarly constantly improved) Firefox & Thunderbird for our web browsing and email but sometimes you get caught out …. Granny: We will probably manage to slip this past you as you read 1278 blogs every day but just in case: Don’t let this put you off wordpress. I am sure I have read that you have gone over to the dark side and now use IE but open source is so much more fun.

So if you use wordpress here is a tip on image upload.

They have changed it so you no longer automatically get a click-able link on an image. This is our log so I actually want to be able to come back to a post in the future, click on the image and see it in full, you may have different views. To get the click-able image feature this is what I think you need to do:

  • Go to settings / media, find default media links and click on file then save changes
  • That does not help with any posts you have done since the change
  • For those click on each image, click on the edit button that appears in the top left corner. In the next screen click on link to image and you will see a pathname to the image appears. Scroll to the end of that text and delete everything after .jpg, eg I had to delete ?w=300
  • Click update

Then your images are clickable as before.

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 33

Posted by indigodream on 25 August, 2008

Gloucester Docks to Sharpness

Our plans for today were to cruise down the canal to Sharpness and back – hah, I don’t think we’ve made our schedule since we started our odyssey back in June! Never mind…..

Rock on the dock!

Rock on the dock!

I started the day with another long rummage round Castle Meads while Richard went under Llanthony Bridge to fill up with water and do a pump-out. There are good facilities here with visitor moorings at the far end of Llanthony pontoons. I felt a bit guilty getting the bridge lifted just to get to the services, then again to get back to the docks to meet our friends, then again (!) to get back down the canal! Luckily it’s an electrically operated bridge – I think the bridge-keeper might have been less tolerant if he’d had to hand-winch it!

Note: Llanthony pump-out needs a BW card – obtainable from the Gloucester Dock lock-keeper not the Llanthony Bridge Keeper.

The happy crew (dogs asleep inside!)

The happy crew (dogs asleep inside!)

We were joined today by some very old friends who’ve done a lot of cruising with us over the years – Neil, Jenny and daughter Hannah plus two dippy spaniels Max and Hugo! Richard went to meet them in the car park as there is a trick to doggie introductions – if they meet on neutral ground our two are absolutely fine; but if we bring people/dogs onto the boat then there’s a commotion! While all this was going on I got some tips from our narrowboat neighbours and found out that the stage being built on the dockside was for an all-day show “Rock on the Dock” (see photo above). We were gutted – we’ve been stuck in the dock for a fortnight and the minute they laid on some entertainment we moved on!

Crew plus dogs!

Crew plus dogs!

As always, we were late setting out – not normally a problem but there were restrictions on Hempstead Bridge which was only opening once an hour on the hour; we just missed it so that was another delay. The reason for the restriction was boat racing on the other side. Just as well, it was bad enough going through between races – I hate it when the ‘safety’ boats cut over in front of me. I don’t think they realise how invisible they are when they pass right in front of my bow!

We’ve talked to lots of boaters about the Gloucester and Sharpness – everyone told us that it was well worth doing. I was doubtful myself – by the time we’d been through the first god knows how many swing bridges and commented on the breadth and depth of the canal that seemed to be it!

Wide vistas on a broad canal

Wide vistas on a broad canal

But it was better than, say, the Kennet and Avon, the depth meant that we could hack along at 1800 revs and the bridges were all manned! The local boaters were a cheerful lot and the bridgekeepers were very helpful.

The Oliver Cromwell

The Oliver Cromwell

We stopped for lunch at the Pilot Inn – the moorings are just before the bridge. Just after we moored, the bridge was swung for Oliver Cromwell, an ENORMOUS trip boat that regularly plies the canal. We heard the vhf chat that she was on her way. Word on the cut says that your experience with the Oliver Cromwell depends on which skipper is on duty – luckily we were safely moored when she came past! The pub is a pleasant place for a drink, the service was lovely and it was very reasonably priced. But I thought the food let it down – I had a mixed grill which didn’t resemble the description on the menu and seemed to be made up of random ends of meat that they’d found in the fridge. Obviously not a problem – odds and ends of meat are never wasted with our two on board!

As the afternoon wended on, I started catching glimpses of the great Severn valley and the Welsh hills beyond. I did think that this made up for the otherwise dull terrain but there was more to come at the end of the day!

We’d heard that there was a fuel boat plying its trade on the canal and towards the end of the day

A glimpse of Wales

A glimpse of Wales

we finally found Stokie. Their diesel was a very reasonable 79p/litre and they were lovely people. Yet more delay ensued as we chatted about the state of the world and of diesel duty in particular.

By now, I have to admit I was a little fed up with the canal – there had been a relentless wind blowing all day, making the rudder heavy, and there were just too many swing bridges! The fact that we had great company on board made all the difference but I was feeling a bit guilty about bringing them on such a dull trip. Neil is immensely strong and we normally get him on board when we have a murderous number of locks to tackle – he was amazed that there weren’t any! But then we came to the large piers that mark the old railway line and got a glimpse of what must be one of the best views from the water anywhere.

What a view!

What a view!

I can barely describe it, the dramatic stone piers, the deceptively low stone wall by the towpath then the drop down to the magnificent sweep of the river over to the colourful harvest patchwork of the Welsh hills. I was utterly utterly captivated. We turned the boat by the marina entrance (before the high and low bridges) and moored on the towpath just before the railway piers.

Note: Don’t go into the marina unless you have a berth there – there isn’t room to turn at the end and it looks like an awkward reverse.

There were lots of boats here and we felt very secure – there just aren’t any roads around!

This proved to be a bit of a disadvantage when we thought about how to get back to the cars. There are no shops or pubs nearby but who cares, it’s such a wonderful spot to moor! We had an extended wander round the marina – if you’re there the you MUST walk right to the end of the basin. There is a tremendous view down to the two Severn road bridges as well as the grand old lock. Follow the path

The Severn Crossings

The Severn Crossings

round and you’ll eventually get to the Dock Workers Club.This has been highly recommended to us as a place for a drink and a bit of company – sadly closed when we passed by but a watering hole for the future! We sent Richard and Neil back to Gloucester for the cars and we girls sat on the lawn outside the club and caught up on life, the universe and everything!

I must mention that we met narrowboat Debdale on our travels but sadly we didn’t meet Adam http://nbdebdale.blogspot.com/ as we don’t think he has the boat until September. We thought about introducing ourselves as we passed by but Blue and Lou were having a mad greyhound moment on the towpath, chasing each other round and barking wildly. Debdale’s occupants looked so horrified we just walked past quickly!

We said a reluctant goodbye to our guests – all of the dogs have behaved brilliantly today (apart from the end of day mad moment from our two!). Then we had a decision to make – given that our schedule was already in shreds and we had a secure 14-day mooring we decided to leave the boat here and spend bank holiday monday at home. The garden’s reached the stage where a machete just won’t do it and we’ve had to ask the US military for some Agent Orange!

Yet more views!

Yet more views!

It was sunset and the gentle light made a painting of every scene. We spent ages just looking over the estuary – the water and the light were draining away hand in hand, leaving soft yellow sands and the sighs of the sedges. It’s hard to believe that there’s a great river here. The dry channel was inviting – it looked, deceptively, as if you could walk over to Wales without wellies. Across the channel we could see trains passing along the dramatic coastal railway. I don’t have the words – I only hope that the photoblog below says it for me. I believe that this is the most magical place that we have ever moored.

News Flash

As if ‘Rock on the Dock’ wasn’t exciting enough, as our correspondent passed through Gloucester in the evening, a fire had just started at the giant Next warehouse nearby http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/gloucestershire/7581052.stm. There were dramatic scenes of smoke pouring from the roof and the blue flashing lights from the many fire engines made a fine light show to accompany the surrounding commotion.

Photoblog

Simply glorious

Simply glorious

The Old lock

The Old lock

Big rings for BIG boats!

Big rings for BIG boats!

ASBO dogs

Blue and Lou having a mad moment!

Views and views

Views and views!

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 32

Posted by indigodream on 25 August, 2008

Gloucester Docks

A view of Gloucester Docks

A view of Gloucester Docks

When we left the boat last week we had no domestic battery power and thought that the alternator had gone. We left the boat connected to shore power and then spent the rest of the week exchanging a million texts with the engineer who’d kindly agreed to fix it while we were away.

Oh happy days, when we thought it was the alternator (cheap); after extensive tests we found that there was a dodgy connection easily remedied but the batteries themselves had died (expensive)! Ok, we know that domestic batteries have a limited life but we thought we had another 6 months or so in hand. We explored new battery options – it hardly seemed worth replacing them with the same type (£75 each) but I put the veto on Richard’s suggestion of putting in EIGHT mega-expensive 6v deep cycle batteries (£110 each). In the end we compromised on 12v deep cycle batteries – still £125 a shot but we only need four – they’ll give us a bit more power and they have a 5-year life (in theory).

Another view of the docks

Another view of the docks

It’s been on of those weekends (again)! Blue managed to delay our trip into Saturday – I’ll let him tell his own story (see below). We didn’t get to Gloucester until 2pm! We met up with the engineer and handed over the best part of £700. We felt so weak at the knees after this that we couldn’t face a cruise so we stayed in the docks overnight and said goodbye to our ambitions for getting to Tewkesbury this weekend.

Note: The engineer who did our electrics is Matt 07834 972942 – he is great, a thoroughly pleasant and conscientious young man who worked hard to diagnose the problem and put it right despite having an already busy client list.

The awesome cathedral

The awesome cathedral

I can’t make my mind up about Gloucester. The docks are magnificent. We had a look at the outside of the BW museum – it looked fascinating but we were too late to get inside. The cathedral is awesome, the town centre has TWO costas and a starbucks, and we’ve heard great things about the many and varied museums. But other areas seem a bit down-at-heel and the shops are definitely at the budget end of the market. Now, that wouldn’t matter at all but we were on a mission to get some more pods for the coffee machine. My mistake as I was sure that I’d seen them for sale in supermarkets. We only found out later that they’re mail order only so we rushed back to the boat and put in an order for 100 pods. Our latte’s are now secure…..

After a long wander round the town by ourselves we then had another long wander with the dogs. Castle Meads is really magnificent for dog-walking. In theory both dogs are ‘walking wounded’ but they both managed some impressive high-speed rummaging despite the fact that Blue had to remember to hop on three legs occasionally!

After all this we were knackered and spent a quiet evening on board – the mooring is uncannily quiet and we had a peaceful night.

ps. Sorry for the lack of photos last week – we left the camera on board! We’ve put a couple of our favourites below!

Blue’s Blog

Oops, forgot I've got a bad leg!

Oops, forgot to pretend that my leg hurts!

Now, oi’m Irish and some would say that the irish are a bit t’ick – ha, little do they know. We’re not short o’ cunning that’s fer sure. So let me tell you about my latest scheme to get me own way. On Friday it started looking as if we were off to that boat again. Now, as ye well know, it’s not me favourite place – if god had meant me to go at four miles an hour he’d ‘ave cut me legs off! So I waited ’til they was all packed then I ran straight into the garden wall. Now, take a tip here. Lou, me old partner in crime, overdid it a few months ago and did a big number on her knee. I reckon she was showin’ off, but then again, she is half australian….

Anyway, if you need to bang yer knee then run fast, hit the wall just above the joint, you just want a bit of a cut not a whole broken bone! Don’t forget to howl in pain and hop about on t’ree legs, that’s where me pal Arthur went wrong. It worked a dream, me mam panicked, we stayed at home so I could get better and I got another night in the best bedroom. It’s hard to remember to hop around, ‘specially when there’s a rabbit in the garden, but it’s well worth t’effort. Cos it get’s better me doggie friends, me mam took me to the vet on Saturday, I got a load of fuss, and some antibiotic tablets. Now me life couldn’t be better – oi ‘ad next to no time on the boat, and twice a day me mam wraps my tablets in pate for me. Sometime she uses philly cheese but oi’m not fussy…….

Photoblog

More of the photogenic cathedral

More of the photogenic cathedral

Old and new architecture in Gloucester town centre

Old and new architecture in Gloucester town centre

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 30 and 31

Posted by indigodream on 17 August, 2008

Gloucester Docks

We arrived at Gloucester late last night in preparation for a weekend cruise down and up the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal then a run up to Tewkesbury. Alas, we stayed the weekend in the docks and have left the Indigo Dream there for another week (by arrangement with BW).

When we arrived last night we found that we had no power at all. We put it down to us carelessly leaving some appliance or other on. We optimistically turned the engine on and waited, and waited, still no power at all. There was obviously something seriously wrong.

I should get in an apology here – we ran our (silenced) engine from 9.30pm – 10.30pm and the boat next door complained about the noise. We are sorry, really, but we did have a bit of a crisis. We hope you’ll forgive us. The other boats on the pontoon were very supportive. The crew of nb Quidditch, who we met at the Lincomb Lock stoppage, were particularly kind and offered everything from helpful suggestions on good dog-walking through to emotional solace (their alternator had gone a couple of weeks previously). Thanks, boaters, for all your support.

And that’s when we realised, the pontoons were FULL of boats. A chat with one of our less irate neighbours revealed that they’d been stuck there for three days because the Severn was in flood. At this point we ditched our plans for the river trip – there was more rainfall due and we’re not in such a hurry that we have to spend another rotten day on the river.

As we ate a romantic chinese takeaway by torchlight I thought that we’d be fine without power for the night. Then, HORRORS, I remembered that the toilet won’t work without electricity!!! We got on the internet, found a dog-friendly hotel and stayed the night in the Express Holiday Inn (M5, J12). It was great – only £49 a night bed and breakfast, big room (plenty of space for Blue and Lou), comfortable bed and fine cold buffet breakfast. It was consoling after our distressing evening of fretting about our broken power system.

We hope that the hotel doesn’t revoke it’s dog-friendly policy after our visit. Blue heard some perfectly innocent footsteps in the corridor outside our room at 2am. Up went the howl and it’s a toss-up as to who was loudest – Blue barking or us shushing him! Other than that they were very well behaved!

We woke refreshed and ready for the day. Happy birthday Richard!

We started by ringing all of Richard’s family to cancel the cruise. To our surprise, they were all keen to come down anyway – they seemed to want our company rather than our boat – they’re all mad!!! So we planned our day round an on-foot exploration of Gloucester. The next phone call was to River Canal Rescue. They were extremely helpful – although they don’t cover the domestic battery bank they did put us in touch with a local engineer who could come out this morning. We went back to the boat in good spirits.

Our first shock of the day was finding near-deserted mooring pontoons. The river had dropped overnight and the promised rain hadn’t materialised so everyone was off! By noon we were virtually the only boat left in the dock.

Our spirits were further lifted when I actually found the great dog-walking that the caring crew from nb. Quidditch recommended. Walk over Gloucester lock and cross the footbridge over the river. If you turn right you get to some scrubby heathland – don’t let your dogs off the lead – the council will fine you £1000 and the big horned cattle in there might take offence! I hadn’t noticed the cattle until I was virtuously bagging up a double handful of dog poo and I noticed a dinner-plate sized cowpat nearby. It seemed a bit ironic but I carried on bagging anyway! Luckily the cattle themselves were at the far end of the field.

If you turn left at the end of the footbridge and go down some steps (on the left) you’ll find a footpath adjacent to the river. This eventually leads to a nature reserve where dogs can be kept under ‘close control’. This meant that Blue could have an off-lead rummage; Lou’s restricted again because an old knee injury has now flared up – always something with these two! Watch out for the gate near to the wind turbine – it has an open section for bikes to get through which, unfortunately, has a cattle gird underfoot. I stopped Blue just in time – I reckon that cattle grids are greyhound leg-breaking devices! We were out for over an hour and never got to the end of the walk – brilliant.

in the meantime, the engineer had inspected the boat (great fast service). He diagnosed a knackered alternator but as we have two alternators he lent us some jump leads so that we could charge the domestic batteries from the engine battery while we ran the engine. This would preserve the domestic battery bank. Things got even better when we did a recce to the dock wall and found an unoccupied shore power point (there are 4 in total – look for the black boxes on the dockside – your BW key will open them). It had been hidden by two very swanky cruisers but they moved through the lock and we hastily took their place. The wall’s not ideal for unloading the dogs but the shore power is priceless. We found a card that worked, loaded up the credits and were able to leave the boat with happy batteries. Richard is going to give HMI a ring as the alternator is only just out of warranty and it seems wrong that it has failed after only 800 engine hours.

We’d just got all this sorted when the family arrived – Richard’s mum, little sister Danusia with her man, Martin, big sister Alina and her husband Rysiek. He had a fine crop of presents – including a pod system espresso machine for the boat. He made us coffee later – eat your heart out Starbucks! Now we can issue an invitation to Greygal – our boat already has her very favourite thing in the world, GREYHOUNDS, but now we have good coffee as well. Come on over!

We had lunch at ‘Fosters on the Dock’. Considering its great location (we ate in the conservatory overlooking the dock) it has very little atmosphere. HOWEVER the food was great – plentiful and well-cooked. I had the mixed grill which has more than enough meat for me and to make a peace offering for dogs (who had to stay on the boat).

We then had a mooch around Gloucester – what an interesting place. There are so many layers of history here – from the magnificent cathedral through to the comparatively ‘modern’ tudor building to the positively avant garde docks built in the 1820s. Of course, underlying all of this is the old Roman port of Glevum. I had a good wander inside the cathedral (£3 donation – bargain) – it is amazing, not so much beautiful as awesome. I was particularly impressed by their display of modern gargoyles which are being carved to replace the ancient worn ones outside. I also found two ‘side’ chapels which impressed me greatly. The first was right behind the main ‘worship’ area and is a high ceilinged palace of light – it was so uplifting and tranquil (even though I’m not at all religious). The second was a small chapel on the left of the main ‘worship’ area – it has modern stained glass windows in every shade of deep blue – they cast a soft dark light – somewhere for people to go for solace in dark times, when the light chapel would be too unattainable. There was a service going on in the main area and the sound of the organ soothed over all – it really was quite an experience. Unfortunately I missed the cathedral choir but Richard tells me it was unearthy in the echoing vastness.

I was also impressed by the cloisters leading to the grassed courtyard in the centre (and, incidentally, to the loos!).

Richard had scouted around the outside with the dogs and then took us on a guided tour. On the ‘town’ side the cathedral just looks like, well, a free-standing church. On the other side it had sprouted a planner’s nightmare of buildings from all ages. Half-beamed tudor buildings leaned drunkenly against invincible 11th and 12th century stonework. Elegant georgian and edwardian houses stood primly alongside, then a modern pain clinic with faux cloisters made of upright steel girders marked the transition between the tranquillity of the cathedral and the town of today. I have to say that the dogs coped really well with the town again – they’re so good on the lead.

After all the splendour of the cathedral complex, the modern shopping area seemed a bit shabby so we headed back to the magnificent docks and to a slab of birthday cake on the Indigo Dream.

Richard made us all latte’s on his new machine, we devoured a large Thornton’s toffee gateau, sang happy birhtday (in English and Polish) then we all went home happy.

So, a weekend that started in dismay has ended in delight. Richard has really enjoyed his birthday, dogs had a stimulating time and are now fast asleep. We’ve booked the engineer to install a new alternator next week so we should be good to go for next weekend’s cruise. If only we could book a weather engineer to sort us a dry bank holiday…….

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 29

Posted by indigodream on 10 August, 2008

Tewkesbury to Gloucester Dock

Hurray! We have hit one of our targets for the summer. After 276 miles and 310 locks we finally made it to Gloucester !! Ok so if we had not gone on various detours we could have got here by day 15 but the detours have been fun. 334 miles and 202 locks to go (plus detours). Looks like we will need some more holiday to make sure we get back to London by the end of October and / or possibly miss out going to Lechlade

The photo doesn't do the justice to the horrible weather!

The photo doesn't do the justice to the horrible weather!

We first woke up at 6.30am, considered setting off before the rain and promptly went back to sleep; this pattern was repeated every half an hour until about 9am. What a mistake – we started out just as the rain was starting and so the day went!

On the lockkeeper’s advice, we went through the centre arch of the bridge in front of the mooring and found a wide basin below the weir – plenty of room for turning and an interesting view upriver.

We set off down the river and ‘enjoyed’ one of the most miserable winter’s days of cruising that we’ve ever had. The wind was ferocious in our faces, the water was choppy and difficult, the tiller was heavy and the rain was like needles. We kept running inside for more layers – by the end of the cruise Richard was swathed in his waterproofs and I had multiple layers of thermal underwear plus my fleece balaclava. It’s only August – we’d better shop for some antarctic survival gear for the proper winter!

green trees, brown water, grey skies!

green trees, brown water, grey skies!

We got cold and tired so the river failed to excite – there are trees, they are green; the water’s brown, fast, with large floating logs – what more can you say?! Honestly though, this bit of river (right down to Gloucester) is dull compared to the stretch from Stourport to Tewkesbury.

The Lockkeeper at Upper Lode Lock was very helpful – this would be our first foray onto the ‘tidal’ Severn. A bit of a misnomer as it’s only affected by the Spring Tides (a bit like the last bit of the Avon going into Bristol Floating Harbour). We welcomed his advice anyway – “Read the leaflet about how to approach Gloucester Lock safely” and “keep at least 30 feet away from the bank” along the whole stretch. He did kindly help us to test our newly installed VHF radio – we got our licences two years ago but haven’t had a chance to practice yet.

Barn in need of modernisation!

Barn in need of modernisation!

So on the next stretch we had our favourite (NOT!) river combination – cold, wet and the need to concentrate – aarrgh! Richard kept accusing me of ‘going soft’ and kept lying robustly with phrases like ‘I’m really enjoying this’! But he was wearing his gloves – he never wears gloves – it was a definite sign of distress! In case you’re worried, dogs were tucked up indoors – the inside was snug out of the wind though we did have a serious discussion about whether to turn the central heating on for them! Good august weather.

Several boats passed us going upstream – it was the busiest I’d seen the river despite being the most dismal day.

Old boats have been sunk here to prevent bank erosion - did that cruiser miss the signs?

Old boats have been sunk here to prevent bank erosion - did that cruiser miss the signs?

We tried our new radio out for real at Upper Parting but we didn’t get a reply from the lock so we had to resort to the mobile phone after all. I was a bit disappointed by Upper Parting – I had expected the split onto the broad west channel of the tidal Severn to be huge and impressive – it was just a little cut, though I’m sure I’d have been suitably awed if I’d taken a wrong turn onto the weir!

It’s a sign of my desperation that I willed away the 3 miles from Upper Parting to Gloucester Lock. After all I’d heard and read I was dreading the lock a little bit – not aided by the tale of a women who almost got swept over the weir a few years ago when a log got stuck in her propeller. As it happened it was fine but you MUST follow the lockkeeper’s advice as there’s plenty of potential trouble here.

Lots of landslips on these cliffs

Lots of landslips on these cliffs

So, to get you ready for the real thing:

Gloucester Lock:

When you get past the bridges and see the quay wall on your left SLOW DOWN

Move to the left – aim for the quay wall

If the lock light is red then moor up to the chains on the wall IMMEDIATELY, as far away from the lock as possible

When you moor on the wall, TIE YOUR STERN ROPE FIRST – otherwise the flow will flip you round before you know it.

When you get a green light, approach the lock on the left hand side – do not stray out into the flow as the weir has a strong pull

An alien at the helm!

An alien at the helm!

Don’t do what we did, which is tie up in the lock under the bridge – there’s not enough headroom when the lock is full! I hadn’t thought it through but there’s quite a rise up to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal – it took quite some time to fill the enormous lock. As we rose up the lock we noticed lots of gongoozlers dressed in normal city clothes carrying little unbrellas. We, in the meantime, looked completely alien in all the clothes we’d put on for the harsh river conditions!

I’d been whinging all day about how I’d have stayed in Tewkesbury if I’d realised the river was going to be so miserable etc etc. But I had to take is all back when the lock gates opened to reveal the glory of Gloucester Docks. There were plenty of available moorings on the pontoons to the left of the lock and after a bit of a fight with the wind we gratefully tied up. These moorings are free for 48 hours and a punitive £25 a night if you overstay BUT if you ask them nicely then the fee for extra nights is a more reasonable £10 a night (we hope).

Gloucester Docks

Gloucester Docks

We had a wander round Gloucester. My first impression is that it isn’t as ‘quaint’ as Tewkesbury but it does have some fine features. The docks are magnificent. I won’t hear a word said against any city that has a Costa and a Starbucks. I can’t tell you how much better the world seemed after I’d downed a giant caramel latte.

We’re back here next weekend to explore the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. It’s Richard’s birthday and his whole family will be joining us for the cruise. With this in mind I spent the afternoon cleaning the boat while Richard took the train back to Worcester to get the car. We left Indigo Dream gleaming on the inside and ran away quickly as it only takes us about 10 seconds to create mess out of nothing.

The trip home reminded us that we were close to our odyssey’s turning point. We’ve been trekking up and down the M42 for weeks now (always stopping at Cherwell Valley Services) but now we headed cross-country to the M4. It felt very strange but we had a good journey home.

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 28

Posted by indigodream on 10 August, 2008

Worcester Railway Bridge (River Severn) to Tewkesbury

A views of Worcester

A views of Worcester

The minute we decided to become rootless vagabonds we started fretting over where to spend the winter! We’re keen to spend it on the great lock-free pound that stretches from Camden right up the Grand Union past (and including) the Slough Arm. This would give us a good range for cold weather (lock stoppages) cruising. We had tentatively approached Packet Boat Marina at the entrance to the Slough Arm expecting, firstly, that they wouldn’t do a winter mooring and secondly that it would cost an arm and a leg. But we were wrong! They emailed us on Thursday offering us a winter mooring at a pretty reasonable price for a marina. So, we started day 28 by inspecting our new winter home. It is perfect – all the facilities of a marina, friendly staff, large secure car park and absolutely perfect dog-walking – countryfied, with rabbits (and small deer) hiding in the long grass to add a bit of interest. Aficionados will remember me rhapsodising about the dog-walking when we moored opposite here at the start of our travels and we now know that this is where we’ll end the 2008 Odyssey. The dog vote always carries the most weight! The marina also has a small chandlery but it is expensive compared to the Uxbridge Boat Centre up the road/canal (£4.65 for a float keyring verses £2.50!)

Livelywaterfront at Worcester

Lively waterfront at Worcester

We had a great drive to the outskirts of Worcester (stopping at the Cherwell Valley Services yet again for a dog walking and costa coffee) but it took ages to get through the city’s traffic. It’s a strange place. My overall verdict would be that it’s rather shabby, but there’s the odd building that caught my eye when we drove in – a modern pub in what looks like a fine old coaching inn; grand churches; posters for the three choirs festival; which I guess explains why there was so much traffic.

There’s a useful car park right by the river below the railway bridge – hardly any walk from the moorings and a reasonable £3.80 for 24 hours. We were relieved to see that Indigo Dream was intact and afloat. We’re think that the river had come up a bit during the week but the boat was stable – the precautionary anchor that we’d thrown overboard wasn’t needed after all!

Worcester's Imposing Cathedral

Worcester's Imposing Cathedral

Note: watch your step on the ‘towpath’ near the railway bridge – it’s been narrowed by overgrown nettles – we both almost fell in leaning over to avoid the stings! I had a brief revenge attack with a set of shears but it really needs a heavy-duty strimmer!

We did an easy turn into the current and were finally on our way. After looking so run-down from the road, the city actually looks great from the water, especially the imposing cathedral and pastoral riverside walks. Based on my small experience it’s the best view of Worcester – exactly how it should be! Watch out for the precarious rowing boat ferry that crosses the river neat the Cathedral. It looked a bit random but got its cargo of passengers across in a surprisingly short time.

The mooring pit by Diglis Lock!

The mooring pit by Diglis Lock!

We were interested in scouting out the moorings just above Diglis Lockfor future reference – there are two spots marked in our Nicholsons. But they were hopeless – the one is a fantastic mooring pontoon long enough to accommodate loads of narrowboats but it’s plastered with big red “no mooring – fine £250” signs. The second is in a basin – which looked promising except that the walls are about 20′ high with a tiny rickety pontoon in one corner with a ladder to the top. Ok – if you don’t need to go ashore then it may be fine, but with our two dogs it looked like the pits! The first pontoon must be quite new as it has not yet made it to Google Earth.

This lock is FULL at current river levels!

This lock is FULL (we are locking down) at current river levels!

The lockkeeper at Diglis was a cheery soul and was telling us about the changing moods of the river. We can never believe how high the lock gates need to be but he told us that it’s not unusual for the river to overtop them. I just can’t visualise it and don’t want to be close enough to a flooding river to witness it! In 2007 the lock-keeper’s cabin had 2″ of water on the floor – I think I’d have thrown a sickie myself!

The next bit of the river is breathtakingly rural – there are no settlements, no bridges and, more’s the pity, no moorings. The curious Malvern Hills, which we’d glimpsed briefly from the top of the Delph 9 (an eternity ago) came into view again. They’re incongruous in an otherwise flat landscape. A few turns of the river and they’d vanished, only to

A view of the Malverns

A view of the Malverns

reappear far behind us towards the end of the day.

We were running a bit low on diesel but were confident that we could buy some on the Severn. Our first setback was with the boatyard at Kempsey – they sell diesel but can’t accommodate a narrowboat. I guess the clue was in the name – Seabourne YACHT company! Never mind, we can go a long way with a quarter tank…..

Our next target was Upton on Severn. From the water, Upton seems to consist entirely of pubs – fantastic! Unfortunately all the pub moorings were full so we pressed on to Upton Marina. As we came to the entrance we noticed a narrowboat turning into the marina from downstream – they got swept straight in towards the bank and had some difficulty getting in. We had the same problem but at least

The scenic Severn

The scenic Severn

we’d had the benefit of seeing where the first boat had gone wrong! So, if you’re turning into Upton Marina watch out for the current by the entrance – I’d recommend aiming for the upstream bank of the entrance (knowing that you’re likely to get swept down and around). The diesel and services is sharp right immediately after the entrance.

My best assessment of Upton Marina is that it’s a funny old place. It was too much to expect the staff to be enthusiastic when we turned up 25 minutes before closing on a Friday night but what stunned us were the prices. Their diesel was 99p per litre – if they’d had a sign outside we’d have run away but as we’d roused a member of staff we chose to put in the minimum. We also asked about an overnight mooring – £16.82 per night! We did a runner – the marina’s nice enough but really……

Living industry on the Severn

Living industry on the Severn

If you go into Upton Marina’s office for any reason though do look at their photo of the 2007 flooding. The place was unrecognisable. The river came up 17′ and made an island of the place. Even with the photo I found it difficult to take in just how much water was involved. The boats were fine – I’d noticed that their floating pontoons were attached to immense steel piles – I hadn’t realised just how essential that extra height would be.

We will probably get diesel on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal hopefully off a boat we have read about – Stokie – but we are not clear if Stokie is still trading. We like buying off boats – we always used to try and get a fill from George Boyle on the Macc and more recently buy nice clean fuel from Diesel Lizzie on the Regents Canal.

It was a pleasant evening so we decided to cruise on to Tewkesbury – this would save us a bit of grief on Saturday which had a truly horrible weather forecast.

Nice 'castle' but it doesn't have a mooring!

Nice 'castle' but it doesn't have a mooring!

Tewkesbury itself looked unpromising. We didn’t go though the lock but were hoping that we could sneak a mooring on the lock pontoon (says it’s possible to moor between 5.30pm and 9am) but the lockkeeper waved us on. We moored upstream of the lock against the high wall just below the bridge. It was difficult to on- and off-load the dogs here – the roof of the boat was level with the top of the wall. But apart from that it proved to be a great mooring. We have an evening’s wander round the town and our opinion of the place rose with every footstep.

There were lot of boaters moored on the Avon (through/above the lock) so we had a chat with a fair few and Lou and Blue collected fuss and kisses as they always do. We then had a mooch around the high street – some unusual shops, reasonable prices and two useful supermarkets (Tesco and Sommerfield) and lots of pubs and restaurants. There are some fine Tudor buildings here and the town seems to carry its history with aplomb. We settled in

Grand waterworks just outside Tewkesbury

Grand waterworks just outside Tewkesbury

into the riverside garden at Ye Olde Anchor Inn (dogs allowed in the garden but not indoors). We were tempted in by the fine old timbered facade – apparently dating back to 1600. The food was plain pub fare but well done. Efficient but dour service – can’t have it all!

After supper we had yet another wander – We met up with narrowboat “Iago Prytherch” above the lock – it was such an agressively welsh name that Richard had to stop and ask where it originated. But to Richard’s question of “why Iago Prytherch” (which I’d already told him was a man’s name) he got the terse answer “R S Thomas”. There followed a period of bewilderment not greatly enlightened by the literary young man on board who contributed “poems” and “welsh hill farmer”. I hope, for the sake of his students, that he’s not a teacher. I wondered whether this attitude was endemic on the Avon and that we’d only be allowed upriver if we framed our request to the lockkeepers in perfect iambic pentameter 🙂

Cormorant - one of my favourite birds on the water

Cormorant - one of my favourite birds on the water

We continued our wander – this time we went over the lock and admired the magnificent Allied Mills building (still a working mill by the looks of it) then we struck gold. Beyond the mill there’s a footbridge over the river leading to the Severn Ham – a large secure area of rough grassland where dogs could have an unrestrained rummage. Blue made the best of it but Lou’s been subdued all weekend. At the far end we inspected the new weir then crossed over the look at Tewkesbury Abbey. We had a look around the beautifully maintained exterior and made a resolution to spend some more time here when we pass through in a few weeks time. Our walk was illuminated by a spectacular sunset which painted the western sky every shade of gold and purple – what a great end to the day.

We got back to the boat well-contented and had a peaceful night at our uncannily silent moorings, interrupted only at 1.30am by Lou, who was cold and needed a blanket. Those greyhound jimjams are definitely on order next payday…..

Giant Hogweed

Back on Day 8 we passed a well-signed plant on a towpath – “Giant Hogweed – Do Not Touch”. I have finally gotten round to looking it up and have found out why it’s such a hazard. Apparently the sap makes your skin super-sensitive to sunlight, causing painful sores and severe burns; if it gets in your eyes it can cause temporary or permanent blindness. OK, I guess we’d better not touch it then……

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Technical Stuff: Locking Fuel Caps and Arcane Measurements

Posted by indigodream on 9 August, 2008

While Sue rambles on in the Odyssey I thought you’d be interested in some technical man-type stuff…..

Last week I described my deliberations about fitting a locking cap to our diesel tank. I settled for a locking cap from Fuelock – a company run by a guy who currently is on his yachty thing somewhere in a marina near Glasgow.

The cap duly came by mail order so on Friday the first job was to install it. The cap is nicely made in a rigid plastic with an offset cam lock. I didn’t want an armour plated cap, so this looked perfect or so I thought.

Just one minor problem: We needed a cap which was 1½” (38mm) across threads, the Fuelock is marketed as a 1½” BSP fitting so seemed perfect. What we did not realise is that a 1½” BSP fitting actually measures 1.882″ (47.803mm) so the ‘fitting’ did not fit!

Where on earth do these odd measurements come from? How can 1.5″ = 1.882″. Oops, our mistake, we have now looked it up so now know that it is about the internal diameter of the pipe with that thread on the outside measured in furlongs multiplied by 7920. Straight forward and obvious.

So if you have a filler cap which measures just over 1¾” then seriously consider getting a Fuelock. If it’s any other variant of 1.5″ then get something else.

Confusingly looking at, say, the aquafax web site then deck fillers are either 1½” or 2″. Next time we get into a Chandlery we will measure all the fittings we can get hold of. Is ours odd or are narrowboat fittings generally different to what gets fitted to Yachts? If our fitting is odd then we need to look if we can simply change out fitting to a larger one – we just need a few mm, could there be that much play in the steel?

Richard talked to Fuelock. They have a straightforward money back guarantee – if it does not fit then send it back and they give you a refund. No quibble, really nice people to deal with. The guy at Fuelock is trying to work out whether its worth making them in different sizes but is himself a bit confused by what narrowboats have for fillers ….

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The Odyssey Summer 2008 – Day 27

Posted by indigodream on 4 August, 2008

Stourport to Worcester

Looking back up the Stouport Staircases

Looking back up the Stourport Staircases

After our little break in Birmingham we are slowly getting back on track. Our targets for the summer are to get to Gloucester, Stratford upon Avon and Lechlade before returning to London. Both Sanity and Spirit have recommended Sharpness to us so we will add that to the list! We have yet to hit any of our targets – may be next weekend?

As we reported on day 26, we had a quiet night’s sleep on our mooring – I was quite surprised as the bit up from bridge 5 is as glum a place as any I’ve seen. I did wake up at 1.30am to the sound of squealing girls on the nearby road bridge and then again at 7.30am by the sound of squealing herring gulls. They were almost indistinguishable and there’s been some lively debate on which is the bigger nuisance (though Richard never heard the squealing girls)!

I found some a very curious but excellent dog-walking spot this morning. I walked back to Mitton Chapel Bridge, crossed over the canal and through the gate into an area of overgrown woodland. We’d passed this place yesterday and wondered at its history as the untended woodland is full of old gravestones. I know it sounds strange but it was a great place for dog-walking. (Edit required here: Remember Sue is Welsh. The Welsh seem to like graveyards especially if they can work out that somebody is their neighbour’s grandfather’s milkman’s 4th cousin’s daughter’s 1st boyfriend’s aunt). Random paths have been cut in the vegetation and I met a couple of other dog-walkers there. Dogs had a great rummage there following various animal trails and chasing squirrels. OK, some of you will be horrified but I didn’t feel that we were disrespecting the dead that lay there – they’d already been abandoned to nature a long time ago, uncared for and unregarded. I had expected to find a derelict church at the heart of this area but I was surprised to see a modern chapel. Maybe they’ve decided to spend their funds on the living rather than the dead – great idea!

Looking back to the entrance to the canal at Stourport

Looking back to the entrance to the canal at Stourport

We weren’t much better at getting going this morning – it was well gone 10am by the time we moved. Sanity had silently slipped her mooring hours before and we didn’t notice their passing. I’m sure they didn’t hear our snores over the sound of their engine! Just before the lock we overtook a hire boat that was mooring up. We smiled ruefully as we watched them desperately hurling crew and ropes at the bank and pulled the boat manfully into the side. This was the very same technique that we used when we first hired – it made us realise how far we’ve come and how technique wins over brute force every time! We tackled the first lock with a crowd of onlookers at the lockside coffee shop. There was a gaggle of male cyclists of mixed ages – they looked as if they’d been in the saddle since dawn and were still raring to go. Just the sight of them made me feel exhausted :-).

Note: One downstream paddle slips as you wind up but we did see one person succeed in raising it fully so there is a technique. Richard failed at getting it past half open.

We stopped off at the useful rubbish point on the left below the lock and filled up with water (very low water pressure here). Despite the constant stream of boats going up and down the lock, no-one seemed to want the services so Richard washed an accumulation of summer dust off the boat – she looked much better for it.

Looking back up the majestic Severn

Looking back up the majestic Severn

I must apologise for today’s photos – I seem to have had an attack of the shakes every time I clicked the shutter. Ah well, now you’ll have go and see the Severn for yourselves!

As we negotiated our way towards the two staircase locks to the Severn I mused on the strangeness of Stourport. It really does feel run down, a transit point rather than a destination in itself. For somewhere so far inland it has the strange feel of a seaside town out of season. Yet, we were heartened by the fact that the locals don’t seem to regard boats as targets and that there’s a new basin being developed here. Maybe this is the start of a smart new future for the town.

Looking downstream!

Looking downstream!

We had another good crowd of onlookers at both staircase locks. I don’t know who designed this basin but there’s an impossible angle from the first staircase to the second, especially as the pound is short and our boat is long! Last time we struggled so this time Richard pulled the front over using the centre rope and we had a much smoother lock entry. Just as well, I was being followed down the locks by a crowd of admirers and had a reputation to maintain! Two rather small kids were there with their father and did well pushing lock gates open and shut.

Note: The last lock out of Stourport has very leaky walls – close your side-hatch before locking down or you’ll be drenched!

Dramatic scenery

Dramatic scenery

Three years ago, the Severn was the first big river navigation that we’d ever been on – we had been on the Caldon before but that was just a little hop. At the time we were a bit nervous because we just didn’t know what to expect – raging torrents, savage currents, fierce weirs. As it happens, the river was calm as a millpond and we had a great cruise. Since then we’ve done a lot of river work, including the tidal Thames past the Thames Barrier. Despite this, I still felt a frisson of our old nerves as we passed onto the Severn. I needn’t have worried – the river was calm and lovely though there was a fair flow downstream. I didn’t really notice this until I heard the shout of “do a U-ie so we can see if they sell diesel” and as I turned broadside to the current the boat was being swept downstream at a pace. Not an issue with our big engine and propeller but a salutary reminder that this was not a man-made and tamed canal that we were on. (By the way, after all that they were closed for diesel!)

Every river we’ve been on has a different character. The Severn here is wide and slow with a grave majesty far beyond the mundane little boats cruising it’s length. It’s amazingly scenic. This is not picture postcard pretty. No, this is a large canvas, painted by an old master, framed in gold leaf and hung in the National gallery sort of beauty. It is breathtaking and yet remote – just as you couldn’t touch the paintings in the National Gallery so you can’t touch this landscape – there are few mooring spots and the river runs through a remote valley for most of its length.

Good company at Lincomb Lock

Good company at Lincomb Lock

Some people have no sense of occasion though – we were passed by a crowd of jolly youngsters crusing upstream in a hire boat. Two of the ‘crew’ has on mock navy captain’s uniforms (complete with ostentatious captain’s hats) and saluted grandly as we went passed. They were brilliant but we almost fell out of the boat for laughing!

We had a spot of bother at the Lincomb lock – there was something blocking the downstream gate. We caught up with a hire boat and were later joined by a third boat. On the gruff directions of the dredger that they’d called in, we all brested up out of the way and had a convivial chat with our neighbours. Just as well, we were there for over two hours as they tried to clear the obstruction. As it happens, the third boat was ‘Quidditch’, owned by Will Chapman, doyenne of the Save Our Waterways campaign. If you want to know more about this worthwhile campaign then check out (website link here).

We had a long chat about how best to protect a boat’s diesel supply. It seemed to me that high fuel prices have brought piracy from the high seas right onto the canal. I used to think that narrowboats flying the Jolly Roger were being funny – think again……

Anti-piracy device - Blue on the lookout!

Anti-piracy device - Blue on the lookout!

Richard’s Research on resisting pirates….

We have a flush fitting not a raised fitting so this paragraph is all about flush fittings. If you have the other sort go and get a beer rather than read this. Richard has read a comment on usenet from Tony Brooks suggesting fitting a simple hasp and staple across the top of a flush fitting but taking care to seal the holes. He did warn about making sure that in a few years time it does not seize up and you can remove whatever you put in! We noticed that Sanity had a similar style fitting and Harnser did something similar but a bit more technical. Richard found that asap supplies do a natty locking cap (Perko P-1324DP0BLK) but it does not have a BSP thread so he thought we would need to change the filler. Gypsy Rover got a nice shiny fitting from Beeston Marina but that needed a bigger filler hole. NB Firesprite have something that may be similar -see here. Questions for us were will the existing hole work, do we need to make it bigger? Now that Richard has his can of cutting oil he happily taps threads for fixings on the boat but he seems less happy to get a big file out to enlarge the diesel tank hole. We finally settled for ordering a retro fit cap from Fuelock and will report back when we have fitted it next weekend though our tank is so low at the moment that you would need to be a bit desperate to try and steal our diesel!

The high water mark is alarmingly high!

The high water mark is alarmingly high!

Back to the cruise….

The Chapman’s boat name, Quidditch, reminded me, of course, of the Harry Potter books which I have enjoyed immensely (and which I’m reading for the hundredth time). Being on the river with the broken lock reminded me of the Hogwarts school motto which roughly translates into ‘never poke a sleeping dragon’. That could be a motto for us – the river which seemed so benign had seemingly parked enough debris in the lock to block the gate, there were large trees wrapped around the midstream piers of many bridges and a dusty trail of trash along the water’s edge suggested that the river had been much much higher in the recent past. I found it hard to get my head round just how much water was involved in raising the river that high. This is borne out by the locks – although we were locking down, the upstream gates towered over us as if we were locking up – a sign of just how high this river can get.

Could have been a Constable painting!

Could have been a Constable painting!

The delay at the lock was a real nuisance as it would make for a late finish, but at least we got to sit down to eat lunch and chat to some interesting boaters. The rest of the trip was incident free and we largely had the river to ourselves. We were surprised at this, we expected it to be much busier during the school holidays.

We looked out for the turn onto the Droitwitch Barge Canal, which we though was being restored, but we must have missed it. Has anyone else seen it, were we just being incredibly inattentive?

As we got closer to Worcester civilisation started to creep up – still rather remote and untouchable though with grand houses and ‘private mooring’ signs plastered on a mix of ‘Heath Robinson’ mooring platforms. We

This house would do for our retirement!

This house would do for our retirement!

should mention that there are a few pubs along the river and most have generous moorings for visiting boaters.

We were musing on whether to go right into Diglis Basin when we spotted the Worcester City Council moorings at the racecourse and by the Worcester Railway Bridge. The Racecourse moorings looked great for dogs though the mooring ‘rails’ looked a bit rickety (despite being made of concrete!). We moved on to the railway bridge – these had better access to the train station and was still surrounded by parkland, though a bit too close to the road for Blue to be left unrestrained. The council has provided useful rubbish skips for boaters here. There is a fee to be paid – a grand sum of £3.20/24 hours. Although they’re only 48-hour moorings the council were very reasonable when we rang and asked whether we could stay for 4 days. The fees are collected by

But we wouldn't want to live on this wooden boat with a smoking stove on board!

But we wouldn't want to live on this wooden boat with a smoking stove on board!

the park keeper or you can pay the council direct over the phone – all very convenient.

We rushed to get the train from Worcester to Kidderminster. It was perfect timing as the only train of the day (engineering works) was standing there as we got to the platform. As we travelled back we mused on how much we’ve enjoyed our summer cruising so far.

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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 26

Posted by indigodream on 3 August, 2008

Fallen trees by our mooring

Fallen trees by our mooring

Caunsall (Bridge 26) to Stourport

If you’ve ever watched the classic ‘Conan’ films you’ll know that barbarians are big on the ‘what’s can be called the best in a man’s life’ sort of thing and heavy on the ‘slaughter of your enemies and lamentation of their women’. Well, this led me to musing on what’s the most profound pleasure available to a narrowboater? My absolute top is lying warm and dry in bed at 7am listening to torrential rain banging on the roof and snuggling into my duvet until it stops. You can’t beat it!

So, if that’s the case then our day was off to a great start. We lay in bed until the rain stopped and had the most leisurely start. We had decided to come up late last night and we couldn’t rouse any sense of urgency this morning. Even the plan of getting down to Upton on Severn this weekend was rejected – we’d go for 2 easy days and finish up in Worcester.

A mink coat on its rightful owner!

A mink coat on its rightful owner!

So, we watched at least six boats pass us by, we walked the dogs, checked the engine – we did everything apart from actually get going. We also helped another boater to jump start his car (using some thin jump leads which added a bit of drama by smoking alarmingly); we knew we’d get on with him as he was walking a pack of three miscellaneous dogs, his fourth, a lurcher, having decided to stay in bed – how typical!

Then again, if we had gone early we wouldn’t have seen our first close up of a MINK. It was running along the bank opposite us, bold as anything. I abhor the idea of wearing fur but I had to admire the coat on this mink. The photo’s a bit grainy but take it from me, it was glossy black and unbelievably luxurious. Oh, on the fur thing, I can’t claim a moral high ground and won’t be joining the paint chucking brigade – after all, four sheep gave their lives so that Lou and Blue would have comfy beds 🙂

Cookley Tunnel

Cookley Tunnel

We’ve had a wonderful demonstration of how good it is to be in a community of boating bloggers. Last week, Marmaduke posted a photo of a fallen tree very close to an ‘unattended boat’. Adam from Debdale spotted that it was the Indigo Dream and let us know. We let Marmaduke know and they reassured us that BW were there clearing the canal and making other trees safe. Then on Friday, Sanity coincidentally posted a note that they’d passed the boat and that she was safe and sound. Thank you everyone – the boat was completely fine and by the time we got there you wouldn’t have guessed that she’d has a near miss!

Once we did get going we played leapfrog with the Nightingale – the boating family (split between 2 boats) that we’d chatted to in Stourbridge town. They’re lovely people – we caught up with them for the last time in Stourport. They’re turning back towards home (in the frozen north) now so we won’t see them again this year. Happy cruising!

A lock carved out of the landscape

A lock carved out of the landscape

We’re still getting used to the traffic after the solitude of the BCN – the canal was busy today but with very few boats coming up; the general stampede was towards Stourport. The canal continued on, rural and lovely, right up to Kidderminster. It’s not just the greenery, there is some interesting geology here for those with the wit to understand it! The canal and the locks seem to have been carved right out of the soft red sandstone and the waterway twists and turns around the contours – sometimes perched on the edge of a hill, sometimes creeping under leaning cliffs, sometimes worming right through the rock (as in Cookley Tunnel). In places, the sandstone had regular large pock marks; by Caldwall Lock, the otherwise smooth rock had a layer of pebbles embedded in it. We have no idea what all this means!

Don't miss this turn when you're driving down!

Don't miss this turn when you're driving down!

We were particularly taken with the canal just after Debdale Lock – the road sweeps past the canal edge down a steep hill with a wicked bend at the end. We stuck to the towpath side, expecting at any minute to see a car gracefully diving into the canal having missed the turn! A little further down, just before bridge 21, there’s a particularly lovely winding hole, something about the wide water and the shadows here that gave the place a dream-like quality.

Note: Wolverley Lock by “The Lock” pub has a lively bywash just below the bottom gate on the right. I made the mistake of hovering there to pick Richard up and Indigo Dream was well into the rhododendrons before I worked out what was going on!

The lovely winding hole!

The lovely winding hole!

There is superior dog rummaging at Wolverley Court Lock – Blue made the best of it but Lou stayed on board. Her foot’s swathed in blue bandages again and she’s not happy about it! Richard will laugh forever at the sight of me in the lock dancing around with, literally, ants in my pants. I’d noticed an ant’s nest by the mooring ring where I held the boat for the lock but had no idea that they’d migrate into my trousers! I hit the moral low ground again as mass ant slaughter ensued!

Kidderminster looked pretty good from the water and we were greeted like royalty there as the church bells rang loudly and joyously at our arrival (what other reason could there be!). It was sunny and we’d just enjoyed a stretch of waterway flanked by a fine waterside housing development. It was just a building site when we passed this way three years ago. There looked to be potential dogwalking

The fine belltower in Kidderminster

The fine belltower in Kidderminster

on some rough heathland on the right just after the housing (and just before bridge 17).

Kidderminster is good for shopping – plenty of moorings and good access to Sainsbury’s and Tesco. We stopped off at Tesco, the plan being for me to shop in the town centre while Richard cycled back to get the car. I’m afraid I couldn’t be naffed to go into town but I did run round the supermarket. It’s a bit inferior as it doesn’t have Krispy Kreme doughnuts OR a Starbucks. I consoled myself with the hot chicken counter instead! We ate lunch here and the towpath was full of curious and friendly passers-by so we felt very contented. There shopping area by the canal is a strange mix of new and old – a bland and faceless Tesco next to characterful restored mill. Richard drove through the town

Old and new!

Old and new in Kidderminster!

and says it’s quite rough by road – it seems that Kidderminster is halfway through its improvement programme – aren’t we lucky they decided to start with the waterside!

I was surprised by how quickly Kidderminster disappears and the canal reverts to its rural reverie. This stretch is cool and green under the trees; in places the air seemed pleasantly chilled, like a crisp chardonnay, yum yum!

We liked the look of the Watermill pub by Bridge 13 – has anyone eaten there?

Being sandwiched between Kidderminster and Stourport, we started wondering about the

Dramatic sandstone cliffs

Dramatic sandstone cliffs

suitability of various mooring spots again. There was a cluster of boats moored by Pratts Wharf Bridge so we assume this is a good spot. It is very interesting – the bridge goes over the mouth of an old branch (now closed) that used to lock down to the River Stour. It was the narrowest bridge hole and a tricky turn into it – I fancied I could still hear the curses of the old boaters drifting on the wind! The boaters moored here certainly had a precise sense of smell – the stretch down from Bridge 9 was robustly fragranced by the local sewage farm though the rich aroma stopped about a boatlength before the first mooring! We also liked the look of the mooring by the “Bird in Hand” pub (between bridge 8 and 7) though there wasn’t anyone there when we passed.

Rail above canal!

Rail above canal!

Stourport also greeted us like visiting royalty with the charming sounds of church bells. Not quite as ostentatious as Kidderminster but I’m sure they’ll try harder next time we pass through! That was a brief highlight – my visual impression of Stourport is that it’s a bit of a dump. But the place grew on me as the evening went by – not least of which because we had an undisturbed night’s sleep on what felt like an unpromising mooring spot just above bridge 5. The moorings just past Bridge 5 feel a bit more ‘proper’ but they’re only 200 yards away so if you go that way both sides of the bridge are fine! There are also moorings on the wall of the basin below but these looked pretty full.

We had a few highlights in the evening – we met some boaters from Tongwynlais – they were amazed that we knew where they were from, but I used to live in the next village up the valley. It’s always a small world when Welsh people get together! We caught up with the crew of the Nightingale, who were

Lou looking pitiful - sympathy please?!

Lou looking pitiful - sympathy please?!

suitably complementary about Blue and Lou. Then we knocked on Sanity’s window and finally met Bruce and Sheila. We had great chinwag and might still be there on the towpath had Lou not jumped aboard in a desperate bid to find a sofa (she’d been on her feet for almost half an hour)!

Food is an issue in Stourport if you don’t know the code:

“atmospheric pub” means dark, smells of urine and the menu looks as if someone had been sick on it! That’s The Angel right down by the Severn!

“Food served ’til 9pm” actually means it will be served until 8pm because we have a live band. That’s the Black Star pub by the moorings. Richard said that the bar maids were very pleasant. Not to sure what that meant.

In the end Richard had to scour the streets for a chinese takeaway – our previous favourite was closed for renovation (it was one of those nights!) but he did eventually bring back a superior meal which was enjoyed by ALL on board!

Photoblog:

Debdale Lock's cave

Debdale Lock's cave

This cave is by Debdale Lock – it was once used as overnight stabling for the towhorses – it looks dark and uninviting now! But we did see this pony who was unencumbered by a 20-ton boat and free to enjoy the sunshine!

A happy pony!

A happy pony!

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