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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!

3 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 32”

  1. Hi

    The Droitwich canals are due to reopen later this year, according to Navvies.

    Cheers

    Bruce

  2. indigodream said

    Thank you for that. I assume that the excavator we saw was something to do with that?

    Richard

  3. Typically, I can’t now find the article I remember, but I’m sure that all was on course for reopening this year.

    They have used contractors for a good bit of this restoration, since it involved lots of bits of new line.

    Cheers

    Bruce

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