Friday, 31 July 2015

Droitwich to Tardebigge

Wed 29th July

Droitwich to Astwood Bottom Lock

Hazel went to Wilko for some Ibuprofen, while James went to dispose of some rubbish.

A hire boat crew was trying to close the gates of the Barge Lock, until we signalled that we were coming through.  The water levels were equal, so the gates could be left open.  We managed to get through, and under the swing bridge, without having to move anything.

 The flood lock and swing bridge

For the passage under the M5, and another minor road the canal uses the course of the river, where there were culverts already. The tunnels are very low, and you have to steer kneeling down.

Approaching the M5

There is one more lock before a staircase pair, and then a new bridge that leads to a marina.

Staircase Locks

Going up

The final three locks are the original ones, and they have side ponds, which have now been restored since our last visit. These are intended to save half a lockful of water each time, but they have started to leak, so they waste more water than they save. There were two helpful volunteers providing useful assistance.

The last three locks

At the top of the three locks there is one final bridge before the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.  There were a lot of brambles and nettles in the bridge hole, so James went to work from the bows to cut them back before we had scratches all along the side of the boat.

We turned left at the junction, and found a mooring before the first lock, where the reeds were high, shielding us slightly from the M5 noise a mile away.  Hugo was delighted with the place, and soon caught two mice.

Hugo hunting

7 locks, 2 miles, 2 mice

Thu 30th July

Astwood Locks to Stoke Pound

 Reeds by our mooring below Astwood Locks

Six Astwood Locks to begin with, where, at lock 18, the lock cottage has a garden on the opposite side of the lock.

Lock 18 Cottage

The locks were edged with large blocks of red sandstone, and it amazing to think that the canal was opened in 1815, and these huge blocks would have been put in place with little more than pulleys and beams.

Edging stone

Astwood Top Lock

Then a visit to the Elsan point at lock 23. This is not marked in my Nicholson Guide. There is nowhere to moor, so we kept the boat in the lock while we did the deed.

We noticed quite a number of fishermen around.  We also met a guy who was sitting on a seat reading a book. It looked as though it might have been a Bible, and when asked, he told us it was a book of Masonic rituals that he was learning.

The six Stoke Locks took us to Stoke Pound, where there are visitor moorings and a pub.  We moored beyond the visitor moorings, on some piling, where there is a better view.  We hadn’t met a single boat.

Stoke Top Lock

Ready for the locks in the morning

Just beyond the Queens Head

A boat came down the locks, and we asked what time he had set off. “5.15am” was the answer. He was solo and had taken six hours.  The next boat had left at 8am, had done very well until they came up behind the solo man, who slowed them right down.  We should have asked them whether they had offered to help the guy.

Some solo boaters we have met have refused all offers of help, insisting on doing everything themselves, then hauling the boat out of a lock with a rope, which takes a lot of time and effort, and holds everyone else up.

We went for lunch at the pub, the Queens Head.  Last time we were here in 2013, they were closed for refurbishment.  They have now actually doubled the size, with a big extension, and they have increased the size of the car park as well.  It was very noisy with lots of people including children.  Even outside there was music playing through loudspeakers.  Everything on the menu was very expensive, except pizza, which had a two for one offer, so we had pizza, which was very good.  There was also an excellent salad bar.  When we looked around, almost everyone had ordered pizza.

We met some BCF people there from Ragtime, Emma and Nick and family.

We tried to get an early night, but there was a live band in the pub until late. Three other boats had arrived, pointing the same way as us. A boat had come down the locks in the evening, meaning that all the locks should be in our favour for the morning. No boats had gone up since we had arrived. With 28 locks to negotiate, we didn’t want to be 2nd, as all the locks would be against us. We set an alarm for 6am.

12 locks, 3 miles

Fri 31st July

Stoke Pound to Tardebigge

The alarm woke us as planned at 6am, and we were away by 0625, on tickover to get to the lock without waking anyone.  There was mist on the water, and we entered Lock 29, which was empty, at 0630. 

Early mist

Approaching lock 29

The first lock of the day

A new footpath bridge with a gap for horse ropes

We identified a possible place to moor just after lock 33, and if we do this route again in this direction, we will stay there instead of outside the pub.

Potential mooring above lock 33

Misty locks

Most of the locks were empty, as we had hoped. Lock 46 for some reason was full. It was probably due to leakage at the top gates.  A CRT lady on a quad bike came down the hill towards us and carried on past.

We noticed several buddleia bushes, which should have loads of butterflies, but there were none. David Attenborough was saying something about that the other day. Pesticides and loss of habitat are the main factors.

The view from bridge 50

Looking back down the locks

Bridge 54 and the reservoir bank

Where did the bricks come from?

The first boat we met was about four locks from the top. It was a Canal Club hire boat, and all four crew members were at the bottom gate paddles. When the paddles were opened, the boat began to descend in the lock, and one of the guys ran back to get to the helm. He slipped and fell into the stern, obviously hurting himself a lot. We offered Arnica and Ibuprofen, but they said they had some.
  The reservoir and the first hire boat

The second boat, a Black Prince hire boat, and was two locks behind them. It turned out to be Hire Boat A from our experience on the staircase locks in Stourport the previous Monday.  The real boat name was Layla.  They were heading back to Stoke Prior the next day.

The locks had taken us 3 hours and 10 minutes. Last time, going down, it took 4 hours. James’ pedometer read 2.76 miles.

We moored on the 14-day mooring rings. There were very few boats moving.  The CRT lady returned on her quad bike. Hugo caught a mouse

Moored on rings before the top lock

28 locks, 2 miles, 1 mouse

Tomorrow: 1 lock and 3 miles through two tunnels to Alvechurch, where we will go to the local parish church on Sunday.  Next week: making our way down the full length of the Stratford Canal to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Kidderminster to Droitwich

Sat 25th July

Kidderminster to Stourport

We set off for the short run to Stourport, going down through Kidderminster Lock, and under the ring road. We passed the various towpath bridges that once led to factories or warehouses.  These buildings have now either gone entirely, or are being used as offices or shops.

 The mills now used as shops or offices

The next lock is Caldwall Lock, which has more of the familiar red rocks next to it, and it has two stone steps set into a wall. These must have some historical function but it is not obvious what they were for. Any ideas?

Caldwall Lock

Strange steps at Caldwall Lock

On the outskirts of Kidderminster is the place where the Severn Valley Railway crosses the canal on a high viaduct. Almost underneath this is Falling Sands Bridge, which is followed by Falling Sands Lock, where, unfortunately, we failed to find Gill’s walking pole, left behind on Thursday.

 Under the Severn Valley Railway

Falling Sands Bridge

Further down we passed the remains of Pratt’s Wharf, where a lock used to take boats down onto the Stour. All that is left is a fine towpath bridge.

Pratt’s Wharf

The entry to Stourport is past a Victorian building, which has pillars underneath on the canal side suggesting an old loading bay for a mill or factory. It is now a pet supplies business.

Entering Stourport

The moorings were fairly full, but there was just one space for us, exactly where we wanted to be, and just the right length.  God is good!

Our mooring in Stourport

Our first job was to trundle two cassettes down to the sanitary station, as things were getting critical in that department.  James returned to the boat with the empty cassettes, while Hazel went shopping.

In the evening we went for an Indian meal at Nabiel’s in York Street.  We have eaten here on three previous occasions and had excellent meals. This time it was a little disappointing, probably due to the items we chose rather than the standard of cuisine.

3 locks, 4 miles

Sun 26th July


We decided to try the Baptist Church this morning, rather than Cornerstone, where we have been before.  We had a wonderful welcome, with many people coming to talk to us before the service.  The worship was led with a keyboard, with the songs pre-programmed into it, with percussion and effects. There were two singers in addition to the keyboard player. The songs were all familiar to us. The talk was based on two of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

  Before the service at the Baptist Church

After the service we were chatting to Paul Ella, the pastor, over coffee, and he invited us to bring our guitars along to “Pub church” in the evening.

We went back via Lidl, which is very conveniently sited adjacent to the canal.

Back at the boat we found the Holly Bush on Google Earth, and realised it was only a short walk away.  So in the evening we took our instruments, and went to this pub, which has beer mats all over the walls, and is full of character (and characters!).

We sang Amazing Grace at the start and How Great Thou Art at the end.  We discussed what the Bible says about when people wrong us, following themes of justice and forgiveness.  Matthew 5: 38-48.  It was good to see a church getting out into the community with a gospel message.

Pub church at the Holly Bush Inn

Just beyond the pub is a brand new and very large Tesco, which has been noted down in our Nicholson Guide for future reference.

Back on the boat, we were watching TV, and Hazel decided to put something in the Microwave. As she pressed the button, the TV died, and red lights appeared on the inverter.  We suspected that the batteries needed charging, but it was 10pm, so we couldn’t start the engine.

No boating today

Mon 27th July

Stourport to Lock 2, Droitwich Canal

It was 8am when we woke up this morning after a night disturbed by seagulls making a din.  Thankfully Hugo was on board, so we prepared to make a hurried getaway.  Two boats went past – both hire boats from Starline Cruises, returning to their home in the basin.  Good! They won’t be using the facilities, then, will they?

We put down the pram hood, removed the TV aerial, and set off at 0825.  When we arrived at York Street Lock, the second of the two hire boats was just going into the lock. Only one of the bottom paddles was working, so it was slow to empty.

York Street Lock

By the time it was our turn, another boat had arrived behind us. When Gabriel left the lock, James jumped on board to cross over to the facilities area. At that moment another boat appeared from our right and moored on the facilities block, just where we were going.  We moored alongside and awaited our turn.

Meanwhile we had another look at the inverter.  When we tried to switch it on, all the lights lit up at once. Other attempts resulted in no lights at all. We decided to get on the phone to Victron to attempt to sort out or our inverter and charger gadget. We discovered that they are in Holland, but we rang a UK distributor and got some advice. To get it repaired it would have to be sent to Holland. This would not be very suitable as we would be without power until it was fixed.

We then rang Mick Wilson, who had fitted out the boat, to see if he had any different ideas, and to find out where he had bought it.  It turned out it was from Midland Chandlers.  He was going through the process of describing where the fuses were, when suddenly the gadget reset itself, showing just the usual one green light.  Problem solved! Presumably the battery had recharged sufficiently with our short run from the mooring.

We moved on with empty cassettes, and full water tank. 

The staircase lock shambles

The passage down from Stourport basins into the river Severn consists of two sets of narrow staircase locks, with a small gap between the sets where boats can pass each other. For the purpose of clarity, we will call the top lock of the upper staircase pair Lock 4, and final one into the river, Lock 1.

We arrived at the top of the staircase locks, where a small sea otter, Piccolo, was waiting to go into lock 4. Some other people were struggling to open the top gates, as they had already put the paddles down.  When they had opened the top gates, Piccolo went in. They then discovered that a Black Prince hire boat (A) was already in lock 3 trying to come up. Why the crew had opened the top gates of the top lock is a mystery, but they were very confused.  The sea otter should have reversed out when they realised, but instead, the hire boat reversed out, and was blown across to one side by the strong wind.

There was another Black Prince hire boat (B) coming up in the second pair of staircase locks, so when the sea otter got down the first two staircase locks, they had nowhere to go. There were now about to be three boats in the changeover area, which is a tricky shape, necessitating a zigzag to get from one set of locks to the other. 

The crew from hire boat (A) were trying to set locks 3 & 4, but they didn’t want to fill the lock 4. They wanted to take their boat through the two locks together, leaving the middle gates open.  James told them it couldn’t be done, but they were arguing. Finally James said, “I have been boating for eighteen years. Trust me. You have to fill the top lock, or you won’t have enough water.”  Whereupon, he went to the top gates and opened the paddles. The hire boat crew decided to go and have breakfast!

Meanwhile, thankfully, a CRT volunteer was now on hand to give instructions. He suggested that hire boat (B) should come up instead. The sea otter kept over to the other side, away from hire boat (A), and hire boat (B) came out of lock 2, and tried to make the zig zag into the open gates of lock 3. Unfortunately the wind was against them, and they started to be swept away toward hire boat (A). When their stern was clear of the lock they managed to steer round and put the front fender on the wall of lock 3 above, enabling them to swing round and line up with the entrance, and finally enter the lock.

When they were ascending in lock 4, the volunteer suggested that hire boat (A) should follow, so with a lot of pulling on ropes and thrashing of engines, Hire boat (A) managed to get into lock 3. This is where they had been when my saga started!  This time the top lock was already full, as hire boat (B) had just left, so there was no confusion, and the progression from lock 3 to lock 4 took place without further hitch.

When they were leaving lock 4, another boat (Sam) was manoeuvring in the basin and we thought he was trying to reverse into a pontoon mooring. Later it transpired he had been caught by the wind!  So he was across the channel, waiting to come onto the lock bollards, hire boat (A) could not go forward because he was in the way, and Gabriel could not leave the lock bollards to enter lock 4 because hire boat (A) was alongside.  Eventually Sam managed to straighten up so that hire boat (A) could pass, and we could start our descent.  Meanwhile the volunteer went to set the lower locks for us.

 Descending “lock 3”

We had to wait at the changeover point for a boat to come out of lock 2, and they were swept to one side by the wind. We managed to get into lock 2, just as another boat came off the river into lock 1!  At this point the volunteer blew a whistle and gesticulated, so they had to reverse out again.  The crew took no part in helping with the gates or paddles, and hardly spoke to us when we greeted them.

As we left lock 1 we breathed a big sigh of relief as we cruised off down Severn. It had taken two hours from when we left our mooring.

The entrance to the staircase locks from the river

Redstone Rock
Lincomb Lock

We saw a Greater spotted woodpecker, some sand martins and a kingfisher as we cruised the river. Holt Fleet Bridge

Holt Fleet Bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1829

We turned off into the Droitwich Canal, and were delighted to find some decent visitor moorings had recently been installed above lock 2, and this is where we stopped for the rest of the day, overlooking the water meadows of the River Salwarpe.

The entrance to the Droitwich Canals
The canal map at Lock 2

New visitor moorings at Lock 2

A wire came out of the fuel gauge, and when it was put back, the gauge was not working.  Another challenge to solve.

Only two boats came past.  Strong winds in the evening and through the night.

9 locks, 9 miles.

Tue 28th July

Lock 2 to Droitwich

This morning's wildflower selection

As we were thinking about setting off this morning, we saw a single boat coming up in lock 2, so we rapidly took down the pram hood and the TV aerial and set off with a plan to share locks.  

Before we arrived at the next lock a mile away, we met a boat coming the other way. It was Petroc, and we exchanged hurried greetings. The canal was narrow at that point and the braches of the trees were very low over the water. We ended up in thick foliage, with one of our plastic chairs being knocked off into the water. Thankfully they float, so Hazel went to the bows with a boat pole to retrieve the chair, while James wielded the secateurs to trim back some of the branches before moving forward again.
 In the trees

Linacre Bridge is marked and spelled incorrectly in our Nicholson Guide. None of the bridges are numbered in the guide, and some of them are not named. They should be as follows:
Bridge 1 is the footbridge at the tail of Lock 2
Bridge 2, Hawford Bridge
Bridge 3, Linacre Bridge (marked but not named or numbered)
Bridge 4, by Mildenham Mill Lock is called Egg Lane Bridge.
The next bridge marked as Lineacre Bridge in Nicholson does not exist.
Bridge 5 is Porters Mill Bridge by Porters Mill Lock.

We arrived at Mildenham Mill Lock 3, our first of the day, and the other boat soon caught us up there. It was a hire boat, Western Star, with a German family on board who came from Dresden.  They had four children of different sizes, including one that was still being carried in a sling.  This made any sort of windlass work challenging and slow. They were a charming family.

Sharing with Western Star

Small children and windlasses

The wheat is getting ripe

Soon after Lock 8, the final one of the day, we realised that we had something on out propeller, so we waved Western Star past. Thankfully we had warned them about the sharp bend before the bridge at Salwarpe, as they were now in front.  We retrieved a piece of a heavy-duty plastic sack before proceeding.

The bridge at Salwarpe (called Copcut Lane Bridge) looks very over engineered, as it carries a small lane that only goes to the church and about three houses. A subsequent look at Google Earth reveals that half of it is used for parking cars nose to the wall.

Copcut Lane Bridge 7 at Salwarpe

Just before Droitwich we overtook our German friends again as they had stopped for lunch.  We carried on, planning to use the water tap by the pontoon moorings. There was a strong cross wind, and the pontoons are only half length, so it was difficult to come alongside the pontoon and then walk halfway along the boat to get off with the centre rope before the boat was blown away from the pontoon.  James decided to reverse again and go in on the other side of the pontoon where the boat would be blown onto instead of off the pontoon.  Then he heard a cry from the front. Hazel had fallen over in the bows, trying to put away the plastic chair she had retrieved earlier, as it was now in the way.

With the boat now drifting in the channel, James went to help her up before backing up the boat and finally getting moored up for water.  Hazel has bruised ribs. Steel boats aren’t very flexible.

Pontoons aren’t very good for Hugo, so we attempted to moor a little further on but it was too shallow. In the end we went through the two swing bridges (waterway key needed) and moored opposite Waitrose where there are some bushes not far away for Hugo. We tied with ropes round wooden planking.

We went to visit the shops. As we passed the Talbot we learned that there was a new landlord, and Daniel had moved on since our last visit. Then we saw the Raven Hotel, with a notice about a planning application.

Raven Hotel, Droitwich, destined for change of use and partial redevelopment

6 locks, 6 miles, 2 swing bridges

Plans for later this week: up the Tardebigge flight of 29 locks in two miles.  Next Sunday in Alvechurch.