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Archive for August 10th, 2008

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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