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Archive for July, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 35

Posted by indigodream on 31 July, 2009

Monday 27th July

Dimmingsdale Lock to Bridge 11 Shropshire Union

Moving up to the suburb of Wightwick - doesn't look to bad, does it?

Moving up to the suburb of Wightwick - doesn't look to bad, does it?

Having stopped early yesterday we needed to cruise this morning in order to meet our weekend target of Brewood. We all got up at around 8.30am but after the dogs had done the essentials (remember they’d gone to bed at about 7pm the night before, having refused a walk in the rain), we all went back to bed! Although the weather was a lot better we just couldn’t be bothered – the mooring really was very pleasant.

We lazed around until we’d finally drunk enough coffee to get us going.

I’d be lying if I said that this next stretch was a scenic as the lower part of the Staffordshire and Worcester, but it’s pleasant enough. The suburb of Wightwick was surprisingly attractive and well-maintained given its proximity to the dreaded Wolverhampton. There are fewer opportunities for dog rummaging here as the majority of locks are accompanied by minor road bridges but they still managed a few closely supervised bobbles.  The weather was kind at first, a bit gusty but dry. We had our waterproofs to hand anyway – just as well. Quite abruptly the heavens opened and we were in for an hour of torrential rain and hail. The previously sun-warmed roof was steaming as the freezing rain hit it – what awful conditions. We soldiered on while Blue and Lou sniggered from the dry comfort of their sofa.

Will this rain never end.....

Will this rain never end.....

We thought that was it for the day, but we eventually got lucky and as we travelled north we cleared the clouds and had an afternoon of cold gales and hot sunshine in equal measure.

Note: There’s a narrow passage below the Tettenhall bridges with moored boats on both sides. It may be easier to give way to boats coming down the canal even if it is “your bridge” as they have slightly less room to lay by. Coming from the south you don’t see how narrow it is on the far side – the two moored boats on your side are nothing compared to what is on the other side.

We were used to the regular deep locks and their frisky bywashes by now, so there was no novelty until we got to Aldersley Junction – our last chance to turn back towards our beloved Birmingham! But there was a bit of chaos here – there was a boat coming down (there’s a lock immediately after the right turn into the Birmingham Main Line); but a boat wanting to go up onto the BCN decided to turn anyway and managed to create a 3-boat jam, preventing us from going up and the other boat from coming out – well done sir!

3-boat jam at Aldersley Junction

3-boat jam at Aldersley Junction

It gave us time to admire the junction though – it’s interesting and has a fine redbrick turnover bridge.

Shortly after, of course, there’s the excitement of the Autherley Junction, where we said a regretful farewell to the  Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The right turn onto the Shropshire Union is a hive of activity with its ridiculous stop lock (a fall of less than 6 inches), a Napton Boats hire base, a shop and a length of online moorings. It’s a friendly place, which also has useful services including a large rubbish point.

But after that bit of activity, the Shropshire Union was a distinct disappointment. Up to Bridge 3 it’s a suburban canal surrounded by a mixed housing estate – ok in places, run down in others. Probably not a place to moor overnight or to leave your boat unattended but let me know if I’m wrong. We did give the eye to some lads lurking suspiciously on Bridge 2 but they vanished as we approached, possibly because of the cheery

View back to Autherley Junction

View back to Autherley Junction

Community Police Officer wandering around. We saw three Community Police Officers today – I felt very reassured by their presence.

Our first target was Bridge 4, near the village of Bilbrook. Interestingly, there was a flock of workers near the bridge, wearing overalls with the ‘General Electric’ logo – it was good to see signs that some industry that has actually survived up here!

Bridge 4 itself is accompanied by a nasty narrow chicane followed by so-called 48-hour moorings. The sign says that they’ve been provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society so I feel a bit mean complaining about them. But really, why provide a fine hard edged bank with mooring rings then build an 18-inch ledge just below water level which means that you can’t pull right up to the towpath. The ledge is just at the right height to grind against the side of the hull (beyond the reach of our normal fenders) – it would have been an uncomfortable place to spend the night.

Fine views on the Shropshire Union - shame you can't get in to moor here....

Fine views on the Shropshire Union - shame you can't get in to moor here....

However, we didn’t need to be there for long. Bilbrook is useful because it has a train station which gave Richard a good chance of getting back to Kidderminster for the car. We’d left the locks behind us for now so it was my mission to get the boat up to Brewood and find a safe mooring near a road bridge, with parking!

How I cursed that d”£$%^ concrete ledge. Richard had dashed off to catch his train (they are only one an hour) so I had to get off the mooring myself – not usually a problem but I couldn’t reach over to push the boat out (and could only just step back on after untying the ropes!). I tried to shuffle her off but the wind kept pushing me back and going forward just grounded me on the even wider ledge beyond the ‘official’ mooring. In the end I managed to reverse off, with much cursing.

Well, that was me set to ‘niggle’ mode and I really didn’t enjoy the stretch up to Bridge 7. The canal is quite elevated here with lovely sweeping views across the plateau to the East. But I was really miffed by the metre-wide ledges that

The narrows - between Bridge 8 and 9 I think...

The narrows - between Bridge 8 and 9 I think...

had been quite deliberately built below the waterline on the towpath side; you’d have no hope of mooring on the mess of concrete ledges, rubble and paving slabs. Now why would the canal have been restored that way – was it a planning requirement? As far as I can see, the only dwelling that was close enough to object was a large farm, possibly an abattoir, which exuded the most evil stench of rotting meat (and associated flies).

In all fairness, though, there are proper 48-hour moorings between Bridge 7 and 8. There seemed to be a friendly community of boaters moored there – not necessarily overstayers, just people who seem to get along.

I was bemused by the behaviour of an oncoming boat along this stretch. There was a brisk wind and they had seemingly drifted into the trees on the offside and seemed to be having immense difficulty in getting off. The two crew were on the roof pushing against the branches and the boat was moving around erratically. I was about to offer to tow them off when I realised that they were picking cherries!

This is an attractive place - I wonder if that cottage comes with a mooring....

This is an attractive place - I wonder if that cottage comes with a mooring....

There’s a stretch of narrows after Bridge 8 – it’s a difficult spot as you don’t have a good line of sight – if you have the crew then do use a lookout. There is an apparent ‘passing place’ in the middle but it looked very shallow offside. I was almost out of the narrows when an oncoming boat decided not to wait where it’s wide. I charitably thought that maybe he advanced because he’s so familiar with the waters – with me pressed right up to the towpath (no ledges here!) and him in the trees we passed with a full 3″ to spare!

In my niggly opinion, the canal takes a turn for the better from Bridge 9 onwards. The steeply wooded embankments start to rise on either side and everything was washed in calming green light. A bit how I’d imagine the bottom of a lake really; no mermaids here though, but there were a couple of kingfishers.

I sighed with relief as I approached Bridge 10 – it’s such a handsome structure and the canal is lovely. It also meant that I was almost at my destination – Bridge 11. The towpath’s in a terrible state here – at best it’s a bit muddy, at worst it’s a peaty ankle-deep quagmire. It’s not surprising with the recent torrential rain and all the water draining off the embankment but the path really does need some TLC given the many walkers and boaters hereabouts.

Bridge 10 on the Shroppie - handsome structure..

Bridge 10 on the Shroppie - handsome structure..

I chose not to moor before Bridge 11 – there were several recently fallen trees there! I found a spot just beyond the bridge and moored up, helped considerably by the wind (for a change!). I banged in four pins (springs fore and aft) and moved them several times as I mused over which was the best spot in the soft ground. I finally got her secured to my satisfaction and started packing up ready for Richard’s arrival with the car. It’s a darkly beautiful mooring place under the shady trees but it’s not lonely – there was a steady traffic of boats both ways and I was pleased that Indigo Dream was stable with no signs of the pins moving. All of the passing boaters were very pleasant apart from one nuisance with three young teenage boys on the roof who were throwing bits of seeds and twigs at any likely target, including Indigo Dream’s open side-hatch (missed) and the bin on our back deck. The parents on the helm were laughing along with their boys – they seemed to think that it was great entertainment; I was cross!

Richard came back shortly afterwards and we made a remarkably quick getaway. Just as well, our route takes us down the M6 now, reminding us that we’re a long way from home……

Now I know why the words of that immortal muppets song "you can't eat soup with a fork" came into my head as I was banging the pins in!

Now I know why the words of that immortal muppets song "you can't eat soup with a fork" came into my head as I was banging the pins in!

Tuesday 28th July Boat Update

You might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t know how to tie a boat! Indigo Dream’s pins were ripped out of the soft towpath this morning and she was found adrift back towards the bridge (around 200 feet away from where we left her). A kindly boater had retied her and let us know where she was – thank heavens we’ve left our contact details on the boat window! Our rescuer had had her own boat set adrift (not sure where) and she’d drifted a quarter of a mile down the canal before someone retied her. Can you imagine arriving back at your mooring, finding no boat and with no clue where to start looking! Our rescuer also told us that she’d spotted a few speeders going past…..

So, Richard’s had to take the afternoon off to plod back up to Brewood to check Indigo Dream and find some way of securing her to the mushy towpath. Banbury has become something of a jinx for us as he managed to pick up a tyre wrecking puncture at possibly a delicate shade over 70 mph in the fast lane of the M40. His car has one of those silly space saver tyres no good for anything so he popped into Banbury to buy a new tyre resulting in an hour’s delay. I have to work next Saturday so we need a secure 14-day mooring; easier said than done here…..

Photoblog:

Contentment Roll 1: "Hum, it's nice here, maybe I should roll...."

Contentment Roll 1: "Hum, it's nice here, I think it's time for a roll...."

Contentment Roll 2: "Ok, hup...."

Contentment Roll 2: "Ok, hup...."

Contentment Roll 3: "And over I go....."

Contentment Roll 3: "And over I go....."

Contentment Roll 4: "Ooh aah, it's not that easy to roll over...."

Contentment Roll 4: "Ooh aah, it's not that easy to roll over...."

Contentment Roll 5: "That's sorted then...."

Contentment Roll 5: "That's sorted then...."

Blue looking fit....

Blue looking fit....

Lou taking her locking duties very seriously...

Lou taking her locking duties very seriously...

Low railway bridge - in good repair (we think it's disused)

Low railway bridge - in good repair (we think it's disused)

One man and his dog (searching for a man in ablue tracksuit with white trainers). Glad Lou was on board - that would have been a doggie ASBO for sure.

One man and his dog (searching for a man in a blue tracksuit with white trainers). Glad Lou was on board - that would have been a doggie ASBO for sure.

Interesting structures at Aldersley Junction (and the boat beginning her blocking manoeuvre!)

Interesting structures at Aldersley Junction (and the boat beginning her blocking manoeuvre!)

Interesting array of bridges (including huge pipes smelling faintly of sewage...)

Interesting array of bridges (including huge pipes smelling faintly of sewage...)

"Now I can relax; there's just too much for a dog to do on the boat...."

"Now I can relax; there's just too much for a dog to do on the boat...."

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 34

Posted by indigodream on 31 July, 2009

Sunday 26th July

Whittington Lock to Dimmingsdale Lock

Lock gates.....

Lock gates.....

I’m so glad that we remembered to consciously enjoy our cruise yesterday because today our spirits were slightly dampened by a day in our waterproofs!

We set off  in the rain but at 10.30am it dried out briefly in time for our stop at the useful services just above Kinver lock – we emptied the toilet tank, filled the water tank and got rid of some rubbish. There are also showers here.

The clouds looked ominous though and we kept our waterproofs on (it being a well-known fact that taking your waterproofs off makes it rain immediately!)

Shortly after our little pit-stop we felt Birmingham’s siren pull – it was Stourton Junction leading to the scenic Stourbridge Canal, but we resisted and carried straight on. We’re glad we did. If we thought that stretch up to Kinver was lovely, then the next bit is even better.

New views at every lock

New views at every lock

Note: Richard says that he spotted Hadar on our travels but she was all locked up – pity, we haven’t bumped into any fellow bloggers for a while.

A little way up from the junction we spotted a cave on the right of the canal, sealed with a padlocked timber door. It’s a curious object, ominously known as the ‘Devil’s Den’, but apparently once used as a boathouse. It’s impossible to tell how deep the cave is, but the entrance seems to be well-silted so I doubt if you’d be able to drag anything much bigger than a canoe into there now.

Past the Devil’s Den the countryside takes over with waves of meadows sweeping relentlessly against the dark green cliffs of the surrounding forestry.

There are very few long-term online moorings on this stretch of canal but there is a substantial marina at Ashwood with a few lengths of online moorings nearby. We were a bit sad to see a sign at the marina entrance “No hire boats” – it seemed unusually aloof for this canal. “Why?” we wondered – have hire boats been a nuisance? Do they accidentally miss the main channel and end up stranded in the marina’s narrow arm? What would a hire boat be looking for in the marina – there aren’t any obvious attractions (like a shop).  Who knows!

The devil's den

The devil's den

One of the other attractions all along this canal are what I’d call ‘proper’ locks – narrow and deep.  Most are 9′ plus and with each one a new vista emerges – fantastic. BUT watch out for the bywashes below the locks – they’re lively and push the boat all over the place, making for a few untidy lock entries on my part. Richard decided to drive a bit today so I actually did some of the grunt work. It was fine – these are very well-maintained locks with smooth and easy gates/paddles. The locks fill quickly with a combination of two ground paddles and a fierce gate paddle so we made good progress up the canal.

The locks are mainly rural, so the dogs could get off for a rummage at most of them. But they soon lost interest. We soon noticed the pitter-patter of rain on the water in front of us. I hoped that it was just a passing shower but it was, in fact, the start of a torrential downpour which was to last the rest of the day.

Bratch

Bratch Bottom

It was a shame as there is the interest of a deep staircase at Botterham, followed not long after by the famous flight at Bratch.

Now Bratch is undoubtedly interesting but I do hate these locks – they’re such a fiddle. I KNOW they’re a flight not a staircase but it’s really a technicality when you look at how the locks have to be set using their colour-coded paddles. There was a boat working its way down so I had to wait for half an hour at the bottom. I huddled up in my waterproofs, trying to present as small a target for the rain as possible. I was entertained by a father and son combination fishing in the wide basin beneath the lock. It seemed exceptionally boring but the little boy (of only 6 or 7) seemed to be having a good time. I was also amused by a pair of lads who walked through the rain to the underpass leading to the first lock just so they could stay dry while they had a few ciggies. One did risk getting his feet drenched as he perched on the edge of the bywash channel – judging the speed of the water coming out he did well to get his trainers above the flow in time!

You can’t deny the sheer scale of the Bratch locks – they are so deep and surrounded by massive infrastructure of paths and bridges. I think it’s a gongoozler-magnet, on better days. I was alarmed by the fact that the lock-keeper (maybe retired BW volunteer) just opens the gate paddle straight away, with the boat well below the water-level. I was even more alarmed when Richard did the same, as the bottom gate hadn’t shut properly and I was afraid of getting the back fender pinched in the gate. It wasn’t, but it’s nice to be asked whether the boat is ready before letting through a torrent of water at head height!

Bratch Middle

Bratch Middle

Actually, we’ve been a bit lax with our gate paddles throughout this stretch. Once the boat is stable at the back of the lock, and I’ve decided that we probably won’t sink, then I’m signalling for Richard to open the gate paddle. It’s all very safe with the boat in reverse at the back of the lock, but if something fouled the prop then the boat would be sucked straight into the flow. I should really go back to ‘best practice’ and wait until the gate paddles are submerged before opening them.

Once we got to the top of Bratch, we stopped off at the little lock keeper’s shop and bought a few plaques. We’ve not thought of collecting them but the BCN Challenge plaque will look a bit lonely by itself (when we finally get round to fixing it to the back door). But we’ve seen very attractive plaque displays on other boats and it will be good to mark the scope of our wanderings on Indigo Dream.

We’d planned to get quite a bit further today but by 5.30pm it was seriously miserable on deck. We were bone dry inside our waterproofs but it was just too gloomy to be fun. We decided to moor in a quiet rural spot above Dimmingsdale Lock. There are 48-hour moorings on the right just above the lock, but nb The Corridor, from the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, was tied up there and there wasn’t quite enough room for us (though it looked like a top mooring spot). It didn’t matter – there are fine moorings on the left just before the tiny side-branch on the right.

Bratch Top

Bratch Top

Although it wasn’t that cold, we ran the heating just for the sheer comfort of it, and to dry off our waterproofs, of course! I offered the doggies a walk and ran a little way down the towpath to get them going – Blue jumped straight back on board; Lou looked at me, looked at the boat, looked at me, then went back to her bed.

Being a countryside mooring we ate on board and had a cosy gathering in front of one of the the ‘Lord of the Rings’ DVDs. All four of us snuggled onto the sofa (quite a feat) and cuddled together for comfort. When the rest of us retreated to our nests at the front of the boat, Lou was left with the sofa to herself – she whimpered for quite a while – I think she missed the pack! Richard thought she was just hungry, which may be the most likely explanation, as she doesn’t normally want to share her bed!

Photoblog:


Rolling countryside

Rolling countryside

Green and pleasant land.....

Green and pleasant land.....

Riotout plant life at Dunsley Tunnel

Riotous plant life at Dunsley Tunnel

We were amazed that this old wooden hull is still afloat....

We were amazed that this old wooden hull is still afloat....

Jolly toll-house at Stewponey - there's a lively wharf here.

Jolly toll-house at Stewponey - there's a lively wharf here.

We liked this wine holder....

We liked this wine holder....

What is this structure - any ideas?

What is this structure - any ideas?

The girls....

The girls....

Alert lock crew

Alert lock crew

Very neat moorings at Wimsey Wharf

Very neat moorings at Wimsey Wharf

Amazing canalside garden

Amazing canalside garden

Ashwood Marina

Ashwood Marina

Lou in contemplative moods

Lou in contemplative moods

Both Blue and Lou almost fell in the canal today while crossing these lock gates!

Both Blue and Lou almost fell in the canal today while crossing these lock gates!

Typical english scene - rain would have stopped play before they got started!

Typical english scene - rain would have stopped play before they got started!

The Botterham staircase

The Botterham staircase

That's such a dodgy bridge - particularly slippery in the rain

That's such a dodgy bridge - particularly slippery in the rain

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 33

Posted by indigodream on 30 July, 2009

Saturday 25th July

Stourport on Severn (Bird in Hand pub) to Whittington Lock

Falling Sands Lock: Mind the gap, Blue!

Falling Sands Lock: Mind the gap, Blue!

We failed, yet again, to come up to the boat on Friday night and opted for our usual Saturday morning start from home. The Cherwell Valley Services are becoming our regular haunt again – lunch on Saturday afternoons and pre-M25 doughnut stop on Sunday/Monday afternoons. The dogs love their little runs in the fields behind the services, having a good splosh in the stream is an added bonus.

We got to the boat at around 2.30pm and were relieved to see that she was fine. We’d been a bit concerned because the towpath between the Bird in Hand pub and Stourport is very well-used by all sections of society – including old alcoholics and youthful bingers. There you are, you can’t tell a vandal by the brand of his lager – Stourport’s Special Brew brigade don’t seem to be interested in molesting local boats 🙂

It was a magical day – it felt like the first warm and rain-free day that we’ve had this month. I set off on Indigo Dream while Richard took the car to Kidderminster to park up near the station ready for picking it up on Monday. The plan was for me to meet up with him at the next lock, but Kidderminster’s very close by road and he caught up with me long before. In fact, he caught up with me at an interesting spot – Pratt’s wharf

Low headroom at Falling Sands Bridge and high headroom at the viaduct!

Low headroom at Falling Sands Bridge and high headroom at the viaduct!

still has the most skewed and narrow entrance to what used to be a lock onto the River Stour. Mysteriously though, the community of boaters moored up here last year had all disappeared and the canal was deserted.

We haven’t been up this stretch of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal since we had the Dragonfly and I’d forgotten what a great trip it is. Moving up the canal, the surroundings just keep getting better. Stourport itself is a little down at heel, despite the gradual gentrification of the basin. But as we passed through the neat suburbs and their well-tended canalside gardens, we started to run out of superlatives.

The trimmed gardens give way to drifts of wild leaves and the two locks leading into Kidderminster as scenic as you could desire. Surprisingly, both of these rural locks are fitted with anti-vandal locks – you wouldn’t think the lowlife could be bothered to walk that far to cause mischief; but maybe that’s where the high-speed mini-motorbike whizzing along the towpath in the town centre was heading.

Caldwall Lock

Caldwall Lock

The dogs had a good rummage at Falling Sands Lock and unusually decided to run with Richard (on his pushbike) up to Caldwell Lock. Lou soon saw the error of her ways and at subsequent locks just got off for long enough to find a patch of long grass to lie in. Blue was unusually active and ran with the bike between locks a few times.

I’d say that Kidderminster is a boater’s town – you might not moor overnight here but you can’t beat it for towpath shopping centres. There’s everything you could possibly need here (including a decent bicycle repair shop, as Richard found last week). We topped up our supplies at the canalside Tesco, but we could equally have stopped at the canalside Sainsbury’s further up. As we cruised out of town, the urban reality imposed a little and the dark culvert of  Kidderminster Bridge was unattractively graffitied. But all was redeemed as we rose up the 12′ Kidderminster Lock to the superb view of the cathedral and surrounding parkland.

Waterfront at Kidderminster with its excellent town centre moorings

Waterfront at Kidderminster with its excellent town centre moorings

Note: Terry Pratchett defines the shortest unit of time as that interval between a traffic light turning green and the taxi behind you beeping their horn. I’m afraid that’s an eternity – the shortest unit of time is, in fact, that between me buying a hot chicken at Tesco’s and the dogs devouring it!

The local people that we met on the towpath were friendly and open, with tales to tell. One woman was walking her small son along the towpath in a pushchair. Apparently he loves the canal and the boats – she brings him here every day. It turns out that he’s a bit of a miracle baby – born 16 weeks premature, weighing a lot less than a bag of sugar, and here he is over three years later, still slightly wispy, but obviously enjoying his young life.

It was an affirming tale which really set the day. The further north we travelled the more euphoric I became. It’s impossible to resist the charms of this canal, definitely one of the most beautiful that we’ve cruised, matched only by its tranquil and welcoming atmosphere.

Classic view of the church above Kidderminster lock

Classic view of the church above Kidderminster lock

I’ve become a bit fed up with ‘slow down’ notices and various ‘barking dogs’ – people who run out to shout at passing boaters, regardless of what speed they’re doing. I’ve taken to passing boats in neutral – ok, so I can’t steer the boat but I’m definitely not speeding 🙂 But there doesn’t seem to be any of that agro here – everyone seems to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude as we share this truly unique waterway. Mind you, it’s impossible to speed here, even if you felt like it, the offside is shallow with fine red sand ‘beaches’ which quickly build up a wash at anything much above 1,000 revs (in our case).

It’s hard to believe that this area might ever have been considered part of the blighted black country. There’s no trace of it now. You couldn’t find a less monochrome canalscape; with the summer seemingly past, there are more shades of green here than even Dulux could find names for; the autumnal theme is picked up by the ripe clusters of rowan berries but there is some blossom clinging on in the form of purple stands of thistles, willowherb and, dotted with creamy clouds of meadowsweet. Beneath it all, the soft red sandstone smoulders, like some long-forgotten ember, alive as rock can be with its flowing organic formations.

But this was the Black Country. Pearson’s speaks eloquently of the vast ironworks that lined the canal. It makes sense – no industry, no canal!

But this canal is more than the sum of its wilderness. There are the caves at Debdale Lock, gloomy holes where the barge horses were apparently stabled. There are quirky features, like the Cookley Tunnel with houses precariously

The view from Wolverley Court Lock

The view from Wolverley Court Lock

perched on top. The River Stour plays tag with the canal – sometimes alongside, sometimes flowing unseen below us, the stone parapets are the only clue that you’re on an aqueduct. I was reminded that invisibly benign Stour had devoured a large chunk of the Stourbridge Canal last year!

We felt a twinge of regret at not having started  out sooner, but it was a glorious afternoon and it stayed light well into the evening.

Despite the urge to cruise on, we decided to stop just above Whittington Lock at 7.30pm. There are fine visitor moorings here, flanked on one side by an attractive lock cottage and on the towpath side by the ‘old nail mill’ (now a private dwelling) – there must be a story behind that name.

We walked to the nearby Whittington Inn (01384 872110), having checked that it wasn’t dog-friendly, which is a shame. It didn’t matter – the dogs were knackered and more than happy to snooze on board. In the meantime we had a good meal with possibly the most efficient service we’ve ever encountered – result!

So beautiful - and haven't reached Kinver yet!

So beautiful - and haven't reached Kinver yet!

The moorings were largely quiet – a couple of pushbikes startled me by grating along the gravel towpath at 2am, this led to me lying awake, listening for phantoms, for a long while. All in my head though – the boat, and the rest of the crew, were undisturbed.

Lavatorial musings

We did a huge online order for Odorlos Green last week. Now we used to use Blue but we didn’t find it that good for preventing nasty smells from the tank during our 7- or 14- day absences. A few people at the Thames and Kennet Marina chandlery suggested that we try Green. It seemed like a good idea to give it a go, especially if formaldehyde-based treatments are eventually banned from the waterways. Anyway, we flushed the tank, put in the green, took a while to get working properly perhaps due to some residual Blue but it’s been brilliant. But while Blue is Blue; are all Greens Green? We’ve had some difficulty in finding Odorloss Green in canalside chandleries, hence our defection to the web. We did ask the chandlery at Stourport whther they could order it in for us (we’d have bought a year’s supply) but they just said ‘no’ without even bothering to check. What a shame – how’s the chandlery to survive if they don’t even pretend to be interested…… Now the Bosun’s Locker where we bought our Odorlos was great to deal with, good knowledgeable service and keen prices. Thoroughly recommended.

Photoblog:

BCN Paddle gear - south of Kidderminster!

BCN Paddle gear - south of Kidderminster!

Neat moorings just outside Kidderminster

Neat moorings just outside Kidderminster

Proper deep locks with three fierce paddles

Proper deep locks with three fierce paddles

Big works going on here....

Big works going on here....

nb Rome - made famous in Graham Booth's boat building books (read fom cover to cover when Indigo Dream was just a vague concept)

nb Rome - made famous in Graham Booth's boat building books (read from cover to cover when Indigo Dream was just a vague concept)

Shadows at Debdale Lock

Shadows at Debdale Lock

Inside the caves at Debdale Lock

Inside the caves at Debdale Lock

Characteristic circular sluice

Characteristic circular sluice

The web-festooned interior of the Cookley Tunney

The web-festooned interior of the Cookley Tunney

Overhanging sandstone cliffs - mind your head!

Overhanging sandstone cliffs - mind your head!

We are not amused!

We are not amused!

Natural Bonsai?

Natural Bonsai?

Whittington Lock - this canal's so pretty

Whittington Lock - this canal's so pretty

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 32

Posted by indigodream on 20 July, 2009

Friday 17th July

Tewkesbury to Stourport on Severn

Our overnight moorings in Tewkesbury were quiet and peaceful and the river hadn’t come up at all overnight so we were safe and secure. It had even stopped raining, though the clouds promised torrents to come, so we set off relatively early to try and outrun the weather.

A rare sight - shapely bridge over the River Severn

A rare sight - shapely bridge over the River Severn

But that wasn’t before we’d done our chores – dogs needed a run around the excellent Severn Ham, there was fresh bread and croissants to be bought (there are benefits to a town mooring), rubbish to be disposed of at the handy bins on the ‘wharf’ and the engine oil to be topped up. Tewkesbury’s a very pleasant stop and, as always, we vowed to spend some more time here one day.

The mooring cost us the grand total of £3.00, which we paid to the lock-keeper this morning. He was a genial sort and got us out onto the Severn with another hire boat. He was able to advise us on river conditions (no problem) and where the sandbank lies on the way out (on the right as you come out onto the Severn proper). There are lock-keepers all the way up the Severn so we could keep abreast of the ever-changing river as the rain caught up with us later in the day.

Big locks to allow for big flows......

Big locks to allow for big flows......

It’s quite a slog from Tewkesbury to Worcester – if there’s ever an unoccupied mooring at Upton on Severn then that would be a good place for a respite stop. The boats were brested up four deep on the visitor moorings today, even busier than when we passed by last year. With the two dogs on board we didn’t fancy being the fifth boat out, though the river’s more than wide enough to accommodate a whole raft of narrowboats.

I overheard a hire-boater yesterday saying that the Severn was ‘boring’. I disagree somewhat; last year I found the Severn quite dull but this year I’ve come to it from the Avon and have a slightly different view. The Avon is decorated with the bunting of civilisation along its whole length, it feels as lively and frivolous as a country fair. But when you turn onto the grave width of the Severn and its wilderness of high banks you can see that this navigation is barely tamed. It’s a bit like driving through the tiger enclosure at the Longleat Safari Park and not seeing any tigers – it’s very boring but just see what happens if you take a chance and get out for a picnic!

....and for BIG barges

....and for BIG barges

The Severn is very reluctant to yield its secrets. The water is the dark and murky so there’s no hope of seeing into its hidden depths. The banks are high and where they’re not wooded they’re overgrown. You get odd sights of buried barges and then there are these huge timber and concrete loading platforms for what looks like a WWII oil depot but mostly the past history is buried in greenery. The only relief in the relentless green is the purple vandalism of the Indian Balsam, overtaking the native nettles (which may be an improvement!).

Of course, I thought all this in the first 10 minutes or so, the weather, though dry, was really cold and I felt very weary. We got kitted up in four or five layers, topped off with our waterproofs against the intermittent showers and I settled onto a deckchair on the back deck, tucked my head into my metaphorical feathers and had a nap (Richard was on the helm!). Later, when it stated to rain a bit more heavily, I curled up on the sofa – Lou cuddled up tight, not out of affection but in an attempt to stop me from spreading out any further on her bed!

At 9.5 tons apiece it's just as well that the lock gates are electrically operated

At 9.5 tons apiece it's just as well that the lock gates are electrically operated

Never mind, at least Richard got a morning on the helm – he doesn’t often get the opportunity what with operating all the locks and doing the car shuffle.

The memory of the 2007 flooding is still very evident here, both in people’s minds and in the landscape. You can still see the odd cruiser lying where it was dumped on the impossibly high banks, and every riverside structure has some sort of marker, usually well above our heads, to show where the floodwater came to. You can’t deny the sheer size and power of this river, even this far upstream.

I finally woke up in time to help with Diglis lock. The Severn locks are all massive structures with secure chains/cables – just catch your ropes around and hang on while the lock gently fills. Although there are side-paddles, the locks don’t seem to be turbulent and the lock-keepers seem very solicitous. When going upstream the trick is to spot which side the paddles are on and come in on that side.  If you don’t then the lock-keepers will direct you that way.

Worcester itself is a splendid sight from the water. It’s good to see that the basin and the mooring pontoons just upstream of Diglis Lock are now open. We thought about stopping there but decided to go nearer into town where we know there’s a park for the dogs. There are very good council moorings on the right (going upstream) from the railway bridge onwards. We got pole position this year, just in front of the trip boat where the landing is a bit wider. As we moored we were greeted by some very genial men, obviously pleasantly inebriated and working on being properly drunk by the evening. They didn’t feel like a threat to us or the boat – just a part of the river scene here.

Upton on Severn looking positively continental in the distance

Upton on Severn looking positively continental in the distance

As we moored up, the rain started up properly. We had intended to have a wander around Worcester and maybe have lunch in a pub here. But the rain put us off and there followed a big debate. Our target for today was Stourport, but with weather and weariness it seemed like a tall order, especially as we initially thought that the locks closed at 6pm which would make it a mad dash up to Lincomb. But we could leave the boat in Worcester for a week and carry on upstream next weekend, but although the best moorings are on the river, we knew we’d worry about her every time there was a shower of rain; we could go back to Diglis Basin, go up a few locks and moor on the canal, though the last time we passed through (albeit four years ago on Dragonfly) we thought the canal looked a bit unsavoury from the water.

We mused on it while we ate lunch on board and took the dogs for a walk (there are very few dog-walking opportunities on the river as there are few visitor moorings and they can’t run around at the locks). In the end we compromised, we’d head upriver towards Stourport and if it didn’t look as if we’d make the locks we’d backtrack to the pub moorings at Astley Burf or Holt Fleet. As it happens, we don’t have to worry – the sign at Bevere Lock assured us that the locks didn’t close until 7pm – plenty of time.

Worcester looks good too - its even better close up

Worcester looks good too - its even better close up

Of course, there was another good reason for moving on – this time it was Lou being spooked by the noise of the trains going over the railway bridge. Thought she’s more pragmatic than Blue; he didn’t get his confidence back (after the bird-scarer thing) until this morning; in-between trains Lou’s quite happy.

As we moved out of Worcester, the rain came down with a vengeance so I left Richard on the helm. He seems to be enjoying himself even though the rain was doing it’s best to work its way through his waterproofs and multiple layers beneath. I used writing up yesterday’s blog as an excuse to stay indoors with the dogs – we’re not daft!

I did come out at intervals to handle the front ropes at the locks, but they’re few and far between. The stretch between Worcester and Stourport is arguably the best bit of the river. There’s a bit more to see, though Richard was disgruntled to find that there was no sign of the entrance to the Droitwich Barge Canal, which is slowly being restored. He’s made quite a reasonable donation to the Big Lock appeal and, despite being promised newsletters, invites etc. there’s just been silence and not even a sign to show that the work will be done, possibly in our cruising lifetimes!

The first of the staircase locks and Bkue being very brave on the precarious footbridge

The first of the staircase locks and Blue being very brave on the precarious footbridge

We made extremely good time upriver – now that we knew we didn’t have to rush it was as if everything was going our way – including most of the locks. We passed our target pubs but pressed on towards Stourport, noting, in passing, that the pubs looked good and that there were moorings available.

Richard handed the helm back to me at Lincomb, having been drenched all afternoon (though still snug inside his waterproofs). Once we turned off the river we’d be back to narrow manual locks.

Blue and Richard had a wander round the locks while I bought the boat into the first lock (closely observed by Lou). There are two deep, narrow staircase locks here – the first off the river is fine but the entrance to the second is a real fiddle. I have no idea who worked this out, but the second staircase doesn’t align with the first – only a bit of gentle tugging on the centre rope gave me the chance to do a clean lock entry. The top chambers seem to be larger than the bottom chambers so be prepared for a degree of overflow when the bottom lock is full.

The view from the top of the second staircase - almost 25 ft above the river

The view from the top of the second staircase - almost 25 ft above the river

As I waited for the first staircase to fill, I noticed that the dry dock walls adjacent had the names of its previous occupants painted along the walls – it was a nice touch.

Obviously, we were now starting on the long climb back up towards Birmingham now, but I failed to take into account that I’d just turned 90 degrees off the river and climbed 25 feet so that the previously brisk headwind was now broadside and gale force. As I came out of the second staircase the wind just blew the boat to the right, straight into the cruiser pontoons – not a good place to be. Richard helped to push her out, then came an awkward right-angled turn into the next basin. It wasn’t pretty but I never demolished nuffink, honest guv.

We stopped for water below the last lock of the day – the wind actually helped this time. It was interesting to see that although the new basin has made substantial progress since last year, it still isn’t finished and the mooring rings that have already been put in are quietly rusting in their cups.

Swanky development at the top of Stourport's staircases

Swanky development at the top of Stourport's staircases

The wind that had helped me to get onto the water point also pinned me there so Richard had to come back from the lock to give her a big shove out (while I applied a spring). At least the delay gave me time to admire a small pack of whippets living on a residential boat nearby – two or three whippets plus two other little dogs of uncertain breed.

We’d intended to moor above the lock but we were horrified to find that they were now only 5-day moorings right up to Bridge 5A and that they were full anyway. We headed up to the “Bird in Hand” pub where we’d spotted some moorings last year, and that’s where we are now. We didn’t eat in the ‘Bird in Hand’ – it’s not dog friendly; instead we walked back to the Rising Sun and had a huge and well-cooked pub meal. The Rising Sun doesn’t look very appetising from the outside, but some regular visitors told us that it’s the best in the area for plain pub grub. They were a very amiable couple – we got on famously because their daughter owns a greyhound so we had plenty to talk about.

The dogs devoured their usual ration of sausages plus lots of leftovers from our mixed grills (superb) and there was still some to spare for them when we got back to the boat. On the way back we stopped at the strange graveyard walk on the other side of Mitton Chapel Bridge. The dogs had a good rummage until Blue got spooked by something – maybe by ghosts. We met a fascinating amateur historian/paranormal investigator who’d been out photographing and researching some of the overgrown graves in the wood. He was fascinating and Richard did his best to persuade him to write a blog or set up a website with his experiences. But he declined – he, and a group of his friends, do their research for themselves and get a quiet pleasure from it without needing to shout it from the web.

Photoblog:

First view of the Severn after the turn - the giant red-brick building is water pumping station

First view of the Severn after the turn - the giant red-brick building is a water pumping station

Broad vistas

Broad vistas

It's an interesting river - provided you like trees!

It's an interesting river - provided you like trees!

I wonder what the story is here - there was another sunken boat behind it as well

I wonder what the story is here - there was another sunken boat behind it as well

Is it better to be dumped under the water or up on the bank - not much of a choice!

Is it better to be dumped under the water or up on the bank - not much of a choice!

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 31

Posted by indigodream on 19 July, 2009

Thursday 16th July Robert Aickman Lock to Tewkesbury

Tranquil moorings (apart from the bird-scarer!) below Robert Aickman Lock

Tranquil moorings (apart from the bird-scarer!) below Robert Aickman Lock

Poor old Blue had a very restless night as he fretted about the bird-scarer – he worries as much about whether there’s going to be a bang as he does when there actually is one. The result was that we got off to an early start and headed off to the services at George Billington Lock.

The George Billington moorings looked much better in daylight and after a good night’s sleep – it it weren’t for the bird-scarer (still going strong) this would have been a good spot to stay. We stopped off to use the services – there’s useful rubbish disposal and an excellent water point – the tank filled up in no time and Richard hooked up the pressure washer and gave the boat a thorough wash. That changed her colour from dusty grey to blue; when he polished the hatch it changed colour again and Indigo Dream’s original gorgeous hue shone out. We made a resolution to polish the rest of the paintwork at the end of the day. (Ha Ha, some hope).

After doing our chores we locked down with one of the many hire boats on the river and with two canoeists, a father and son, who’d camped overnight above the lock. They’d never been in a lock before (they normally portaged around them) but they were both a bit weary and decided to chance it. They didn’t have any problems – we were all roped up and they were tucked safely at the back – canoes having nothing to fear from the cill.

nb Millie at Heritage Marina, Evesham

nb Millie at Heritage Marina, Evesham

We headed off downriver, enjoying every inch of the scenery. It’s an intimate river, narrow yet generously endowed with stunning views, cheery fishermen and easy company in the form of just enough (but not too many) narrowboats.

It wasn’t far to Evesham, which marks the boundary between the upper and lower Avon navigations. We’ve got mixed memories of the marina here. We almost got our boat build in Heritage – they’d built the innovative nb Millie, with the original dog-proof deck but theirs was intended to be kiddie proof. But in the end we couldn’t get the boat we wanted for the price we could afford so we had to look elsewhere. When we went scouting for boat builders, Millie was out on the river, but today she was moored at the marina and it was great to see our inspiration in the flesh, as it were.

Evesham’s very attractive by water and the park-side moorings below the lock look very fine indeed. Evesham lock itself has 24-hours moorings (fee payable) but there’s a lot of activity there with the lock cottage and residential moorings – not so good for the dogs.

Attractive waterfront in Evesham

Attractive waterfront in Evesham

The lock-keeper at Evesham was a funny old soul – he told us that he’d locked through another Indigo Dream a week ago – exact same colour, artwork and design. We looked askance – there may well be another Indigo Dream on the water but our stern design is quite unique. After the mystery of the mooring last week, we thought that maybe she’d been taken for a joyride, by a bunch of vandals who’d considerately returned her to the original mooring spot……

He sent his wife off to check his locking log but there were no Indigo Dream entries in the last month. His long-suffering wife pointed out that they’d been cruising down the Stratford Canal themselves and had seen Indigo Dream on their way through (while Denise was on board). That may be where he remembered her from; we certainly hope so as the look on his wife’s face precluded any extended investigation of the logbook! We did come across our almost namesake a little further down in the shape of cruiser ‘Blue Dream’; though there was no possibility of mistaking her for our narrowboat.

This des res, in need of 'modernisation, is for sale!

This des res, in need of 'modernisation', is for sale!

All along the Avon I’ve been musing on whether we’d be lucky enough to catch sight of some otters. The guidebooks are a bit coy about whether there are any on the river. But with our big engine grumphing away, it’s very rare for us to see any wildlife other than birds (including more kingfishers). We never did see otters but we did have the amazing sight of a whole family of mink scampering along the river’s edge just by Workman Bridge. They were so bold, there were several fishermen on the bank just a couple of feet above them but they weren’t bothered. I know that mink are vicious predators, but you can’t deny their dark beauty.

The Avon is marked by more fishing platforms per linear mile than any other waterway I’ve ever cruised; many were occupied and apart from two, the fishermen were all extremely pleasant. How nice after the taciturn reception that passing boats usually get (especially on the canals). One was fantastically grumpy – we were just out of a lock so not going fast in any case, we slowed right down to 1000 rpm as soon as we saw him but he was still scowling and muttering about speed limits.

The other regular feature is ramshackle pumping houses, obviously designed for drawing water from the river though it’s not clear to what purpose. We guessed it’s for irrigation – apparently the area’s famous for its fruit crops.

Interesting juxtaposition of the ancient and the merely old!

Interesting juxtaposition of the ancient and the merely old!

It’s difficult to choose between spots of loveliness on this river, but we thought that the scenery just below Chadbury Lock was particularly beautiful. It was at Chadbury Lock that we met the crew of the little cruiser ‘Ratty’ – I’d spotted his empty mooring earlier and here he was, kindly helping people through. It’s something that he and his friends do regularly at weekends in order to raise money for the Navigation Trust, but today he was just doing it for pleasure. We gave a tiny donation anyway, even when we realised that our amateur lockie had accidentally left one of the top paddles open – no wonder we were being tossed around the lock!

Who cares – it’s a wonderful river. As you pass the stretch below Fladbury lock just spare a glance back and enjoy the ancient juxtaposition of lock, mill and weir – stunning! Ah, and while you’re enjoying the view try and avoid the very shallow section to the right of the (going downstream) as you come out of the lock – it would be very easy to get grounded here, though at least you can see the hazard through the clear water.

Lovely old mill building at Fladbury

Lovely old mill building at Fladbury

After that the river just meanders through the landscape – maybe not as extravagantly as the Upper Thames but just enough to keep you alert on the helm. Below Fladbury Lock there’s also the added attraction of the village of Wyre Piddle (an unlikely name but it probably means something significant in ye olde english)! It looked an enticing place to visit, with a riverside pub providing good moorings.

We shared most of the locks today with a hire boat crewed by a Dutch family. We had a companionable trip through the locks. Dad was a pretty competent driver and mum was a careful lockie; the two teenagers were exactly as you’d expect, alternately silently scowling or telling mum & dad off for some transgression or other. It was good that we’d got to know them earlier as Wyre lock is diamond-shaped and though two long boats (60 and 70ft respectively) fit in just fine, there was a certain amount of jiggling around to be done. Apparently this is the last of the diamond-shaped locks (good!) and they were built in order to minimise turbulence and wear to the walls, if I recall rightly.

ire boat 'Silver Dove' doing a good job of the awkward angles at Nafford Lock

Hire boat 'Silver Dove' doing a good job of the awkward angles at Nafford Lock

The nearby town of Pershore looked like a particularly good place to stop. It looks interesting from the water and has two particularly interesting bridges – one ancient and one relatively modern. They weren’t built with boaters in mind, the angle between them is awkward and there are strange currents under the arches. I’m amazed that there weren’t more gouges in the stonework (and no, we didn’t cause any!). Pershore also has excellent dog-friendly moorings adjacent to a fine bit of wilderness just waiting to be rummaged.

But good rummaging would have been wasted on our two today. Sadly Blue was a changed dog – after his fright with the bird-scarer he absolutely refused to get off the boat until he’d decided that we were well out of earshot. This took some time! When he did finally decide that it was safe to go onto the bank, he stayed close to the boat and came back immediately, often before he was called. Now Blue likes to push his boundaries, but I didn’t want his good behaviour to come from fear. Never mind, experience has shown that his confidence will come back with time and he’ll back to his usual shennanigans soon. In the meantime we had a very quiet day with them. Lou did get off at every lock, but she only explored so far as to find herself some soft grass to lie on and that was her exercise done.

Another eccentric bridge.....

Another eccentric bridge.....

The ancient bridges on the Avon are uniquely eccentric features. Most feature multiple arches, though often of different shapes and sizes. They seem to have been put together somewhat haphazardly yet they’ve stood their ground against water and traffic for hundreds of years. I’m annoyed because I didn’t write down the name of the most outstanding bridge – built of red sandstone, the blocks were softly eroding away and looked like half-sucked toffees – it didn’t look as if it should be standing but it’ll probably outlive us!

Pearson’s waxes lyrical about Bredon Hill and I thought it was his usual over-active imagination at work. But this time I agreed with him! The river can’t seem to leave it behind and didn’t move away until it was satisfied that we’d seen the hill from every angle. To achieve this, we had the tightest meanders of the day – starting to the strangely-angled approach to Nafford Lock (with its associated swingbridge) and followed shortly after by the the aptly named ‘swan neck’ – the ultimate 180 degree turn. There’s a mooring almost at the apex of the ‘swan neck’ turn – I wouldn’t recommend it!

That's the Coventry water main...

That's the Coventry water main...

Then we had the long run down to Strensham lock with its warnings of strong slows below the lock from three separate weir streams. It was fine, though maybe ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and I’d compensated before the flows had any chance to sweep us into the bank. Mind you, the river’s well into the green zone – I expect it’s a bit more exciting when there’s fresh water coming downstream.

Our target for the day was Tewkesbury, and with Strensham Lock behind us we had a clear run into the town. I’d been on the helm most of the day and, with the locks done, handed the tiller to Richard with some relief. I swear it wasn’t deliberate but shortly afterwards the rain started, proper heavy soaking rain. I found things to do indoors! By now were tired but still had time to notice the M5 passing incongruously overhead and, equally incongruously, three military planes flying in formation – they definitely weren’t the red arrows – firstly they were grey,  secondly their formation wasn’t perfect and thirdly, they seemed to be carrying some seriously large missiles!

One of the many faces of Bredon Hill

One of the many faces of Bredon Hill

By now the rain was at the seriously soaking stage so we were relieved to get to Tewkesbury. We initially reversed into a mooring spot immediately after King John’s Bridge but it was a little close to the road, and there was a cat strutting on the towpath nearby- disastrous conditions for the greyhounds (luckily locked inside)! So Richard went to ask the lock-keeper whether there were any other likely spots available. While I was holding the boat, I got chatting with the crew of nb Silkwood, moored in front of us. It’s a small world, we’d shared a few locks with Silkwood when we were on the Thames, albeit with a different crew (she’s share boat), then when Richard came back he realised that he’d met Silkwood’ s current crew on the BCN Challenge, but on a different boat. We chatted briefly about the sheer joy of the BCN challenge but conditions really were unpleasant and it was time to move to our overnight spot.

Wyre lock really is triangular

Wyre lock really is triangular

There are plenty of mooring rings on the ‘downstream’ side of the lock, on the left just before the mill building – there’s a £3 fee but that was worth it for the dogs. I decided to turn the boat so we’d be pointing in the right direction for the morning. For information, there’s plenty of room to wind a 60 footer by the mill, just before the bridge, BUT the river current is deceptive and swept me towards the bridge a lot faster than I was expecting. Richard said I looked as if I knew exactly what I was doing as the boat turned neatly onto the mooring spot; what was actually happening was me thinking ‘ohshitohshitohshit……’ and wondering whether I was going to be the first person ever to wedge a narrowboat under the bridge’s iron span!

Richard was keen to explore the eateries of Tewkesbury but I vetoed the idea on the basis of it being too wet to go out.  By now the rain was torrential and seemed to be set in for the evening. For reference, the lock-keeper recommended the food at the Tudor Inn (01453 890306). It’ll be on our list of places to visit next time, if it’s dry!

I said I’d cook on board and while I was doing that, Richard set out to prove what a wimp I was by taking the dogs to Severn Ham for a run. It was a heroic deed but his point that ‘it wasn’t so bad outside’ was belied by the fact that every inch of the large bath towel reserved for dogs was soaking after I’d dried them off.

We settled for an evening in with a DVD – surprisingly there wasn’t a TV signal here. Didn’t matter, we were all in bed by 10pm. It’s been a big day, or rather, a big few weekends. We’ve been locking down and down, and finally we were near the bottom. Having fallen so far, I half expected to see Birmingham perched on its plateau rearing above us like Mount Fuji or Kilimanjaro. But it wasn’t to be, the soft mounds of the hills all around protected the pastoral landscape of the Avon from Birmingham’s industrial influence.


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Photoblog from days 29 and 30

Posted by indigodream on 19 July, 2009

Stratford Canal: unusual lock beam, constrained by access to the road

Stratford Canal: unusual lock beam, constrained by access to the road

Stratford Canal: Watch out for that brick ledge when you're locking up!

Stratford Canal: Watch out for that brick ledge when you're locking up!

Stratford Canal: Industrial Stratford - yard full of cranes waiting to be shipped out

Stratford Canal: Industrial Stratford - yard full of cranes waiting to be shipped out

Stratford Basin and the restaurant boat 'Countess of Evesham'

Stratford Basin and the restaurant boat 'Countess of Evesham'

The recreation ground moorings (River Avon) in Stratford on Avon

The recreation ground moorings (River Avon) in Stratford on Avon

View upriver in Stratford on Avon

View upriver in Stratford on Avon

Colin P Witter lock on the Avon

Colin P Witter lock on the Avon

Disused railway bridge - hope someone gives it some TLC before it falls in the canal!

Disused railway bridge - hope someone gives it some TLC before it falls in the canal!

We're in the green - wouldn't fancy being in the red!

We're in the green - wouldn't fancy being in the red!

The scenic Avon

The scenic Avon

And it gets even better as you travel downriver

And it gets even better as you travel downriver

The navigation trusts have done a good job of publicising their excellent work

The navigation trusts have done a good job of publicising their excellent work

One of many eccentric bridges on the Avon

One of many eccentric bridges on the Avon

But watch out for the weirs- they're not all 'barriered'

But watch out for the weirs- they're not all 'barriered'

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 30

Posted by indigodream on 16 July, 2009

Wednesday 15th July Stratford upon Avon to Robert Aickman Lock

We had a quiet night on the recreation ground moorings in Stratford – the only noise came from the abundant wildfowl, squawking and pecking the side of the boat from about 4am onwards. There was also the persistent creak of our ropes as Indigo Dream rocked in the brisk wind.

The day dawned fair, rainy, fair, no, rainy, make that fair – you get the picture!

I had a very relaxed morning but Richard and the dogs had chores to do. There was the recreation ground to explore, scent marking to be done (the dogs not Richard, just in case you were wondering), and an Avon licence to be paid for. Richard got our licence from the Tourist Information Centre by Bancroft Basin – £55 for a through licence! Whoa – a sharp intake of breath followed – it seemed a bit steep for what will probably be a maximum of 3 days’ cruising. But the more we learnt about the Avon and its restoration, the less we begrudged the money, and by the end of the day I was actually amazed that they’d managed to keep it so cheap!

It’s a convivial mooring here – lots of passers-by and fellow boaters. We had an interesting visit from one of our neighbours who wanted to have a look at our side-hatch. He’s bought an ex-hire boat (bargain apparently) from the stricken Stratford Court Cruisers (we passed a few more of these bargain boats downriver) and is gradually giving it a make-over. He, and his contractors, came on board for a nosey and I was impressed by how much interest his contractors took in the construction of the side-hatch. I’m sure they’ll do a good job for him.

Richard’s next chore was to cycle back to Bridge 63 to get the car and bring it down to Stratford. We’d scouted out some CCTV’d street parking at the back of the train station and we’re now perfectly placed for our return journey. In the meantime, the dogs loafed around and so did I – bliss!

Oh, while I remember, I must mention that the last few narrow locks on the Stratford Canal are incredibly uneven – some are broader at the top than the bottom but one is actually narrower at the top with a nasty brick ledge that could catch you locking up; some have kinks in the middle – name an irregularity and you’ll find it here. No problem for us, as Indigo Dream hasn’t started her middle-aged spread yet; but if you’re in an older/wider boat then beware!

Back to today – we pottered the morning away and ate lunch while enjoying the views and the company. I was allowed to give a big fuss to a very dainty greyhound who was on holiday from Scotland with her owners. She was a gorgeous girly and Blue was very taken by her. Lou, after the initial noisy introduction, just sloped back to bed, disinterested.

We reluctantly got moving after lunch – it was a bit of an effort. Although we’re a bit ambivalent about whether Stratford deserves its huge reputation, the river moorings were a very pleasant place to while away the time. But it was time to go, so we swung back into the flow and headed downstream. I was on the helm and marvelled again at how the river just feels so much more alive than the canals. Immediately past the moorings there’s a chain ferry doing a brisk cross-river trade. We nipped past between trips but they have a fast turnaround so be prepared to hit the gas!

The first lock of the day was the Colin P Witter lock. It’s a curious construction as the lock chamber has a ‘canopy’ of steel beams running across it. I have no idea why, nor do our guide books. In common with most of the Avon locks though, it is named after an individual. I think this gives a really personal touch – speaking, as it does, of the enormous effort and funding that it must have taken to restore the river to navigation.

It’s hard for me to get my head round that – restoring a river. How can a river fall into disuse? It’ll always be there; it can’t be filled in or ignored. But I guess it’s the trappings of the navigation – deep channels, moorings and lock/weir infrastructures that decay with time and neglect.

We met the resident restaurant boat, the Evesham Princess, coming upstream here. They got the lock ready for us and gave us the useful advice that it was ok not to rope up if you were locking down; but it was essential when locking up as the locks are very turbulent. They also only opened the one gate for us, which is contrary to the navigation trust’s guidance. But the locks are enormously wide – Indigo Dream passed through the one gate with plenty of room to spare and we didn’t come close to touching a gate all the way downriver.

I’m so glad that this river is open, it is absolutely lovely – we’ve constantly cursed ourselves for forgetting the camera – we’ve missed so many stunning photographs. After just one day the Avon has shot up second position in my favourite river league table (after the mighty and flamboyant Thames). It’s hard to compare it to any of the other rivers – the Avon is a character in its own right. It has beautiful scenery, enough locks and bridges to give a bit of interest, and, most importantly, plenty of visitor moorings. The majority of the locks have free overnight moorings and most are quiet and attractive. We’re moored up just below the verdant and sheltered Robert Aickman lock. The shelter’s important – it’s been a windy day, which has added to the usual thrill of being on a river!

But our choice of a mooring spot wasn’t without some drama, but I’ll come to that in a minute.

Despite the recent heavy rainfall, the river levels were well into the green and the relative lack of flow made for easy cruising and crystal clear water. This means that you can see the abundant water weed flowing beneath you and easily spot any shoals on the bends. There are a few shallows to watch out for, in particular just below Brake Weir Lock (aka Anonymous Lock and Gordon Grey Lock) – don’t cut the corner coming upstream as there’s an extensive shoal on the inside of the bend leading to the lock moorings.

A little way down from the triple-named lock, the river’s crossed by a massive railway bridge now disused but still carrying the ‘Greenway’ – a lengthy footpath/cycleway. Despite its massive steel construction, the bridge is very obviously rusting away. Richard says that they give up on maintaining the bridges when the railway closes but it seems unlikely that they’ll just allow tons of steel girders to eventually fall into the river, so who’s responsible?

Soon after, we passed through a residential area with large houses set well above the flood plain, each with its own extensive paddock sloping down to the river. In one case, it seemed as if one house had corralled its next door neighbour by taking possession of fields surrounding them. There’s probably a ripe tale to tell there…..

I was also amused by another neighbourly mismatch where one house was flying the purposeful Union Jack at the bottom of its garden, while nb. Aimless Wanderings was moored at the bottom of the adjoining property.

It was also here that Richard saw a foot long fish somersaulting out of the water. We guessed it was escaping from a pike. Many of the very friendly fishermen along the river were after pike, though most that we talked to said the river had no fish in it today. Later on we saw a pair of kingfishers, obligingly perched on a fishing platform – curses, where’s the long lens when you need it. They were beautifully iridescent.

The dogs very much enjoyed the river – it wasn’t too hot for a rummage and as most of the locks seem to be in the middle of nowhere, they were off and exploring at every one. We shared locks for a while with a hireboat and its Danish crew. They soon got used to the saga of us trying to get our errant dogs back on board at each lock, though they never did stop laughing at the spectacle!

There are some interesting bridges on the Avon with some eccentric navigational requirements – although the river navigation is on the right (as you’d expect), both Binton and Bidford bridges have navigable arches on the far left, and they’re only 1-way so do keep a lookout. The bridges are unique in their ancient construction and uneven, low and narrow arches – if you’re not on the helm (there are odd currents through the arches) then take time to enjoy the sight of them.

Bidford itself is a thriving boating town. Unusually (if the guides are to be believed), there were a few visitor moorings free there, but we decided to carry on. Having passed so many wonderful lock moorings, we fancied a bit of peace and quiet and aimed to moor either above Robert Aickman lock or above George Billington lock.

Robert Aickman Lock is a popular spot – the 24 hour moorings above the lock were fully occupied by three narrowboats whose crews had obviously arranged a rendezvous. The lock operating moorings on the other side were occupied by an ignorant cruiser which had been left there while its crew went off for a wander (with no intention of passing through the lock). I had to drop Richard off in the lock jaws then pull back to hover – not particularly desirable on a river on a windy day, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go. There wasn’t a drama – after all I am an experienced helmswoman and the wind, mercifully, had dropped, but it was just so inconsiderate of the cruiser to have blocked the lock moorings.

With the Robert Aickman moorings full, George Billington lock got the vote, not least of which because there’s a pub nearby. But I was disappointed when we got there. It’s obviously a popular spot, flanked by a caravan park and the ‘footbridge’ over the lock cut was open to fishermen and their cars so it didn’t offer the uninhabited countryside that we’d hoped for. We tied up anyway but then we heard the resounding bangs of a bird-scarer in a nearby field; unfortunately so did Blue and he has a real noise phobia. We managed to get him off the boat so that we could go and explore the dog-friendly pub across the river. But although there was a bridge over the lock cut, there wasn’t one over the weir stream so were cut off.

Note: If you want to eat at the ‘The Fish’ then you must moor on the left bank (going downstream) before the river splits for the lock/weir.

By now Blue was beyond of stressed so we gave up, reversed out of the lock cut, turned round and headed back for Robert Aickman lock – fortunately the overnight moorings below the lock were empty. Unfortunately we can still hear the bird scarer in the distance Blue is still a bag of nerves (Lou is completely unconcerned). We forced him off the boat for the essentials but he’s run back to his bed in record time.

Apart from the distant bangs of the dog, sorry, bird scarer, this is a magical place to moor. It’s surrounded by lush woodland and there’s an interesting but overgrown old mill overlooking the lock. There’s the soothing sound of water rushing down the old millstream and the far cry of rooks going home to their rookeries. All very normal, which is just what we need having just watched the hair-raising final episode of the recent Torchwood series (downloaded onto BBC iplayer – brilliant)!

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 29

Posted by indigodream on 15 July, 2009

Tuesday 14th July Bridge 63, Stratford Canal to Stratford Upon Avon

Well, we’re on holiday at last – phew! It’s a long story but it feels as if fate has been throwing little obstacles in our way all weekend and I wasn’t sure we’d actually away. You can tell how tired we are – we managed to forget the camera and we’re hoping that we haven’t actually left it exposed to the elements on the front doorstep! Never mind, we’ve got decent camera phones but no leads to download the pictures so we’ll have to do a photoblog when we get home on Saturday.

We were slow to set off to the boat on Tuesday morning but we tried not to be anxious about it – we were meant to be relaxing! And so we did, having a leisurely drive up (I was driving) and managing to avoid the stress of being stuck on the M25 (closed because of an accident) by meandering our way round to the M40 via the M3 and M4 – quite a unique route but very handy under the circumstances.

Now that we’re back in the Midlands we’re getting reacquainted with the Cherwell Valley Services at Junction 10 of the M40. They have the best service station dog-walking area – a large wilderness of field and woodland secure enough for Blue and Lou to have an off-lead rummage. It’s a big selling point – we go to some lengths not to stop at any other services. The fact that it also has a Costa with outside seating where the dogs can lounge and watch us eating paninis is an added bonus. In the old days, the service stations were largely cloned, but now we find ourselves looking for the ones with the best coffee (Costa’s the best, Café Ritazzo – ok at a push, Coffee Primo – no thanks!).

We got back to Indigo Dream mid-afternoon and were glad to see that she was still moored where Richard had left her on Saturday. We had a look at the towpath but it wasn’t obvious why she’d come adrift last week. There was no damage to the bank where the pins had been dragged out but it doesn’t seem like the sort of area where mischief-makers would have set her loose. We lost one mooring pin in the escapade (3 were saved) but that’s better than losing the whole boat!

We dropped the dogs off and went shopping for a week’s supplies. There’s a giant Tesco nearby on a retail park full of large and useful stores. Richard went off to B & Q to look at bloke-stuff while I sorted the domestics (though he did join me at the checkout in time to pay the bill – top man!).

Note: There’s a wide gateway to the towpath at Bridge 63 – it makes a great temporary parking space for loading/unloading stuff to the boat; not suitable for long-term parking as it seems to give car access to the cottage nearby.

It was gone 4pm when we finally set off but it wasn’t a bad afternoon. We got showered every now and then but as soon as we put our coats on the rain stopped. The gusty wind made for some tricky moorings at the locks, but there are few problems that can’t be solved with a few more revs and a strong arm on the ropes!

Now the Stratford Canal’s been very scenic so I was expecting great things of the last drop into the Avon. But I was unpleasantly surprised. Past Bishopston Lock there’s a really charmless bit of canal, surrounded by modern industrial/retail estates and crossed by bleak graffiti’d concrete road bridges. It doesn’t really improve until you pass under Bridge 69 and the canal opens into the smartly developed Bancroft Basin.

But I’m ahead of myself. Just above One Elm Lock we passed Stratford Court Cruisers – a locked up and deserted boat yard and chandlers. It’s apparently gone bust, as so many boating ventures do. It was shame to see a long length of largely deserted moorings there – it looked like a good spot for picking up passing trade for the chandlery and services.

Although it was mid-week, boaters passing up the canal warned us that the town moorings were congested. I felt very sorry for one hire boater (who’d we’d had a pleasant chat with earlier) who’d asked whether he could brest up to another boat in the basin and was refused – he thought that they didn’t want ‘his sort’ there. How sad, especially when it’s often private boaters who behave the worst – as evidenced by a share boat moored inconveniently on the lock moorings directly below Warwick Road Lock.

The fact that the basin moorings were full actually worked in our favour because it forced us to investigate the river moorings. We went through the lock onto the river, watched by a modest audience who graciously gave us a round of applause. It must be heaving here at weekends. We turned right onto the river – we thought that the flow would help us round but the opposing wind was so strong you’d think that the river was flowing uphill! There are very fine moorings on the opposite bank flanking the recreation ground – perfect – great dog-walking and good access to town. There were plenty of spaces there when we moored up just before 7pm; by 7.15pm they were jam-packed.

We ended the evening with a wander round town on our usual search for a dog-friendly hostelry.  This is where Stratford really came up trumps. Surprisingly, it has several dog-friendly pubs but the one we settled on is a gem – Othello’s Bar Brasserie on Chapel Street (CV37 6ER) – 01789269427. We started off with a table in the garden and the owner came out and made a big fuss of the dogs “would they like some water, would they like a biscuit?” – we said ‘yes’ though they’ll often turn their noses up at a dog biscuit. But no, what the landlady brought out was two slabs of what looked like handmade shortbread – Blue and Lou were very impressed. It was nice in the garden, listening to the sounds of the chapel bells, but it soon started raining so we moved inside to a quiet area at the back of the bar where the dogs could just lie quietly out of the way on their sheepskins. We got settled just in time for the arrival of our food; the menu’s more pricey than our usual but the food was truly superb – a real treat for the taste buds and nicely satisfying portions.

Maybe I was feeling a bit squashed by the dull bit of canal leading to the town, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Stratford. It’s a funny old place – the half-timbered old town is certainly charming, the old bridges over the Avon are lovely and Bancroft Basin had been developed beautifully. But unlike the bard, I failed to be inspired.

But what did shine was the people – the locals are so friendly and the loved the greyhounds. As we walked through the town (and in the restaurant) they got so much fuss and so many complements from fellow greyhound owners as well as other sundry animal-lovers. Blue and Lou behaved impeccably and were proud ambassadors for greyhound rehoming. Forget Shakespeare – they like greyhounds here so Stratford’s made!

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> Tuesday t4h July

Well, we’re on holiday at last – phew! It’s a long story but it feels as if fate has been throwing little obstacles in our way all weekend and I wasn’t sure we’d actually away. You can tell how tired we are – we managed to forget the camera and we’re hoping that we haven’t actually left it exposed to the elements on the front doorstep! Never mind, we’ve got decent camera phones but no leads to download the pictures so we’ll have to do a photoblog when we get home on Saturday.

We were slow to set off to the boat on Tuesday morning but we tried not to be anxious about it – we were meant to be relaxing! And so we did, having a leisurely drive up (I was driving) and managing to avoid the stress of being stuck on the M25 (closed because of an accident) by meandering our way round to the M40 via the M3 and M4 – quite a unique route but very handy under the circumstances.

Now that we’re back in the Midlands we’re getting reacquainted with the Cherwell Valley Services at Junction 10 of the M40. They have the best service station dog-walking area – a large wilderness of field and woodland secure enough for Blue and Lou to have an off-lead rummage. It’s a big selling point – we go to some lengths not to stop at any other services. The fact that it also has a Costa with outside seating where the dogs can lounge and watch us eating paninis is an added bonus. In the old days, the service stations were largely cloned, but now we find ourselves looking for the ones with the best coffee (Costa’s the best, Café Ritazzo – ok at a push, Coffee Primo – no thanks!).

We got back to Indigo Dream mid-afternoon and were glad to see that she was still moored where Richard had left her on Saturday. We had a look at the towpath but it wasn’t obvious why she’d come adrift last week. There was no damage to the bank where the pins had been dragged out but it doesn’t seem like the sort of area where mischief-makers would have set her loose. We lost one mooring pin in the escapade (3 were saved) but that’s better than losing the whole boat!

We dropped the dogs off and went shopping for a week’s supplies. There’s a giant Tesco nearby on a retail park full of large and useful stores. Richard went off to B & Q to look at man-stuff while I sorted the domestics (though he did join me at the checkout in time to pay the bill – top bloke!).

Note: There’s a wide gateway to the towpath at Bridge 63 – it makes a great temporary parking space for loading/unloading stuff to the boat; not suitable for long-term parking as it seems to give car access to the cottage nearby.

It was gone 4pm when we finally set off but it wasn’t a bad afternoon. We got showered every now and then but as soon as we put our coats on the rain stopped. The gusty wind made for some tricky moorings at the locks, but there are few problems that can’t be solved with a few more revs and a strong arm on the ropes!

Now the Stratford Canal’s been very scenic so I was expecting great things of the last drop into the Avon. But I was unpleasantly surprised. Past Bishopston Lock there’s a really charmless bit of canal, surrounded by modern industrial/retail estates and crossed by bleak graffiti’d concrete road bridges. It doesn’t really improve until you pass under Bridge 69 and the canal opens into the smartly developed Bancroft Basin.

But I’m ahead of myself. Just above One Elm Lock we passed Stratford Court Cruisers – a locked up and deserted boat yard and chandlers. It’s apparently gone bust, as so many boating ventures do. It was shame to see a long length of largely deserted moorings there – it looked like a good spot for picking up passing trade for the chandlery and services.

Although it was mid-week, boaters passing up the canal warned us that the town moorings were congested. I felt very sorry for one hire boater (who’d we’d had a pleasant chat with earlier) who’d asked whether he could brest up to another boat in the basin and was refused – he thought that they didn’t want ‘his sort’ there. How sad, especially when it’s often private boaters who behave the worst – as evidenced by a share boat moored inconveniently on the lock moorings below Warwick Road Lock.

The fact that the basin moorings were full actually worked in our favour because it forced us to investigate the river moorings. We went through the lock onto the river, watched by a modest audience who graciously gave us a round of applause. It must be heaving here at weekends. We turned right onto the river – we thought that the flow would help us round but the opposing wind was so strong you’d think that the river was flowing uphill! There are very fine moorings on the opposite bank flanking the recreation ground – perfect – great dog-walking and good access to town. There were plenty of spaces there when we moored up just before 7pm; by 7.15pm they were jam-packed.

We ended the evening with a wander round town on our usual search for a dog-friendly hostelry. This is where Stratford really came up trumps. Surprisingly, it has several dog-friendly pubs but the one we settled on is a gem – Othello’s Bar Brasserie on Chapel Street (CV37 6ER) – 01789269427. We started off with a table in the garden and the owner came out and made a big fuss of the dogs “would they like some water, would they like a biscuit?” – we said ‘yes’ though they’ll often turn their noses up at a dog biscuit. But no, what the landlady brought out was two slabs of what looked like handmade shortbread – Blue and Lou were very impressed. It was nice in the garden, listening to the sounds of the chapel bells, but it soon started raining so we moved inside to a quiet area at the back of the bar where the dogs could just lie quietly out of the way on their sheepskins. We got settled just in time for the arrival of our food; the menu’s more pricey than our usual but the food was truly superb – a real treat for the taste buds and nicely satisfying portions.

Maybe I was feeling a bit squashed by the dull bit of canal leading to the town, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Stratford. It’s a funny old place – the half-timbered old town is certainly charming, the old bridges over the Avon are lovely and Bancroft Basin had been developed beautifully. But unlike the bard, I failed to be inspired.

But what did shine was the people – the locals are so friendly and the loved the greyhounds. As we walked through the town (and in the restaurant) they got so much fuss and so many complements from fellow greyhound owners as well as other sundry animal-lovers. Blue and Lou behaved impeccably and were proud ambassadors for greyhound rehoming. Forget Shakespeare – they like greyhounds here so Stratford’s made!

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Boat Blog: Odds and sods

Posted by indigodream on 12 July, 2009

Saturday 11th July

Very odd! We had a phonecall from a stranger yesterday telling us that Indigo Dream was moored on a water point and to inform us that they had moved our boat out of the way. Bit of a mystery – when we left Indigo Dream two weeks ago she was moored a 100 yards away from the water point on a legitimate towpath mooring. It turns out that some sod has pulled our pins, setting the boat adrift, someone else has rescued her (thanks!) and left her tied on the waterpoint.

What amazed us is that we left her tied with springs fore and aft with a total of FOUR mooring pins banged into the ground as far as they could go. Now, how fast do you have to travel by in order to drag out four pins, or is it just adverse ground conditions after the rain (as Maffi pointed out recently).

Anyway, Richard has gone to the boat today and she’s undamaged despite the adventures she’s had without us – phew.

He’s also serviced the engine and did a bit of wiring. We have an Isuzu engine and manage to buy most of the filters (air filter, oil filter, 2 extra fuel filters) from AllParts, a car accessory shop in Croydon. The one part we have yet to find is an oem version of the fuel filter on the engine. When get that from a chandlery we pay the same for the other 4 filters from the car garage. Shame as unlike Bruce we change our filters every 250 hours. Our oil pressure gauge is a bit strange at times but he found a loose connection so hopefully that is sorted. Our vetus stern tube needs to be greased once a year so that was done – takes about 5g of grease. The gear box oil was so clean that you could almost pour it straight back in ….

It’s a long story but we’ve had to delay the start of our holiday until Tuesday. We’re getting desperate – we haven’t had a proper cruise for almost a month and our feet are losing their webbing…….

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