Indigo Dreaming

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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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