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Archive for July 30th, 2009

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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