Sunday, 10 July 2016

Down lots of locks to Stourport and the Sea!

Well it seems like the seaside here in Stourport with big water (the River Severn), seagulls calling, a fairground and ice cream stalls.  And for some of the time the sun has been shining.

It is a week since we turned onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal and we've really enjoyed cruising this canal again.  It has loads of interest, is mostly pleasantly rural and in its lower stretches is often cut through solid sandstone rock.

Monday we didn't cruise much at all, spending most of the day looking round the National Trust property, Wightwick Manor.  It was built in 1887 so is not all that old but is filled with Arts and Crafts furniture and decorations of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

Here is the front view of the Manor which was built by a family in 'trade' manufacturing varnish and paints in the Midlands.  The little yew trees have been cut back drastically since we were last here but are now growing back well.

The detail of the chimneys, the wood carving and other architectural features is wonderful.

In the Great Hall are some coloured plaster friezes reminiscent of work by Bess of Hardwick at Hardwick Hall, but the kangaroo on the bottom left is a bit of a giveaway as the Elizabethans did not know of these animals.

After our visit we cruised on a few miles to get away from the traffic noise where we were and on Tuesday we went down the Bratch Locks.  This is a most unusual piece of engineering, having been built as a staircase of three locks and later altered to give a very short (about 10 feet) gap between the locks linked in each case underground with a side pound by the locks.

Here is Leo in the top lock at Bratch.  The little octagonal brick building is a toll office.

This view is taken looking back from the middle lock.  You can see that there is a gap between the gate immediately behind Leo and the bottom gate of the first lock beyond the bridge.  This very short pound is joined to the side pond and has its own paddle to control that.  Unlike a normal staircase you can refill the middle lock before emptying the top lock.

The Bratch locks are pretty deep.  In three locks the canal falls by over 30 feet.

There are some distinctive features of the locks on this canal:

If you ignore the crude modern scaffolding erected as a handrail by the Health and Safety police, you can see the ornate bridge for those working the lock (this one is at Awbridge Lock).  The gap in the middle is to allow the horse tow rope to pass through.

Most of the locks have circular weirs beside them usually behind a wall.  OK, I know this one is not circular, but you get the idea and most of them are.

On Wednesday we moored at Hinksford and walked up the hills nearby and on Thursday we moved on to Kinver which is a delightful village nestling below the steep sandstone hills beside the canal.

This is the view from up on the hill looking back to our mooring at Hinksford.  If you look carefully in the middle of the picture you can just make out Leo moored among the trees.

We came past this arm of the canal on Thursday morning.  It is called Ashwood Basin and is now a marina.  It was built as a transhipment dock for moving goods between narrowboats and the railway which ran alongside.  Its particular interest to us is that Orion Boats who built Leo used to be based here.

This is the view coming out of Rocky Lock - you can see where the name came from.

If you look to the left (going south) just before you cross the aqueduct over the River Stour, you pass a narrowboat house cut into solid rock by the canal.  It is hiding behind the trees in the photo and has become much more overgrown than last time we were here.

This is the aqueduct over the River Stour.  From this point the canal follows the Stour valley down to the Severn at Stourport.

There are a couple of tunnels on this stretch and both are cut through the sandstone.  This one is Dunsley Tunnel and is only 25 yards long.

This section of canal is rock cut but the rock has had to be supported on brick columns which you can see going down into the water.

At Kinver we climbed up onto Kinver Edge which is a sandstone ridge rising to more than 500 feet above the village.  Here is the view down from the church, St Peter's, which sits high up above the village.

A little way down from the highest part of the Edge which gives views of the Cotswolds and Malverns, there are Rock Houses built into the sandstone.  Unfortunately these were not open when we got there but you can just make out the whitewashed walls and windows here.
Here is the Market Cross at Kinver with St Peter's Church on the hill behind.

On Friday we cruised on from Kinver to Wolverley Court where we met our friends, Cliff and Chris on narrowboat, Thiso.

Just a short way from Kinver is Whittington Horse Bridge shown here which is very photogenic.

At Austcliff the canal comes round a bend and is very narrow being tight up against a cliff.  Fortunately there was nothing coming the other way!

The canal goes underneath the village of Cookley.  You can see the houses on top of the tunnel in the photo.  Quite novel that, having canal boats going under your house.

This hole in the rock by Debdale Lock leads to a cavern carved out of the rock and we have read that it was used for a stable for horses.  However that does beg the question of how you get the horses over the lock gates to use the stable!

Here is another place where the canal goes through a rock cutting.

And here are the ladies of leisure, Helen and Chris sitting by Thiso whole Ian does some painting on Leo.

It was good to see boating friends Cliff and Chris again and we enjoyed a drink and a good chat with them in the evening on board Thiso with two rottwielers, Zebedee and his new young friend Apollo.  Pretty big dogs to have on a narrowboat but they are very well behaved.

On Saturday we carried on once the early morning rain had stopped, shopping in Kidderminster and mooring overnight at Pratt's Wharf a couple of miles before Stourport.

Here is Leo coming out of Wolverley Court Lock.  This again has a split bridge to allow the horse rope to pass through, but the modern railings would stop this manoeuvre.

In this picture Leo is in Kidderminster Lock with the town church behind.  The Lock here is nearly 12 feet deep and one of the deepest on this canal.

Pratt's Wharf is interesting in that a short canal and lock down here used to link the canal with the River Stour which runs alongside.  This side branch used to go right and through the bridge shown here.

In the undergrowth between the canal and the river you can just make out the stonework of the lock that linked the two.

This picture is taken looking out from the old lock towards the canal where you can see a boat passing.

Today we've come just a short distance to Stourport where the Staffs and Worcs Canal joins the River Severn.

The last lock down from the canal takes you into the upper basin where Leo is moored in this picture.  Both the upper and the lower basins are joined by wide and narrow locks which also connect with the river.

There are lots of boats in the upper basin and some fine historic buildings surround it.  The building with the clock tower is a hallmark of Stourport.  The town of Stourport only came into existence because of the canal and its trade.

Behind the pleasure steamer on the Severn you can see the blue road bridge and a mooring on the right to access the first of two double staircases of narrow locks from the river into the basins.

Here is the double staircase from the river to the lower basin.  The curved roof covers a dry dock in the lower basin and the trees on the right surround the double staircase the links the upper and lower basins.

Apart from the canal basins, Stourport is like a seaside town with fairground, chip shops, ice cream sellers and amusement arcades.  It seems to be a resort much frequented by people from the Midland conurbations of Birmingham and Wolverhampton judging by the accents.

From here our way lies down river towards Worcester and we are still discussing where we go after that.  We've really enjoyed the Staffs and Worcs Canal.

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