Thursday, 31 August 2017

Enjoying the Staffs and Worcs

We've been cruising this lovely narrow canal for a few days and we are now getting near to the summit of the canal near Wolverhampton.  So here are some pictures of our progress.

The lower parts of this canal nearer to Stourport are often cut out of the soft sandstone rocks in the valley of the Stour and later the Smestow Brook that the canal follows.  This photo is of Caldwall Lock.

Kidderminster has a deep lock (nearly 12 feet) and waiting below the lock is virtually in the dark, underneath the road shown here looking back from the lock.  Kidderminster used to be famous for carpet making and the tall chimney was on one carpet factory which is now a Debenhams store.

On Tuesday we moored above Wolverley Lock and went for a walk to Cookley.  The bridleway we followed  came through this gateway.

And soon after the gatehouse we came across a field of strange looking sheep and a few pygmy goats.  The sheep seemed very interested in us and  this one even stood on a pile of wood to get a better view of us.

We walked over the canal tunnel at Cookley and returned to Leo along tracks and field paths.  We passed this sign along a cart track.  I think "the Owners" need to go back to school.  The best interpretation I can put on this sign is that it probably means exactly the opposite of what the writer intended!

Not only the canal is cut through the rock.  This road goes down into Wolverley, a very pretty village ....

.... and this is the path up to the Church at Wolverley which sits on top of a high mound of rock with fine views of the valley.

The church is unusual in having a gallery on both sides of the nave.

After a slow day on Tuesday with boaters ahead of us making a five star mess of boating through the locks, we had an easier time on Wednesday coming up a succession of locks to moor at Gothersley.

This is Debdale Lock.  On the offside where Helen is standing is the entrance to a large cave cut in the rock.  We have read that this was used as a stables for canal horses but this begs the question of how the horses managed to cross the lock gates!

At Austcliff a short section of canal is too narrow to pass and the reason is pretty obvious in this view looking back to the narrows.  A huge rock outcrop hangs over the canal.

Coming into Kinver the Whittington Horse Bridge is a delight.

We didn't stop in Kinver this time but carried on and soon passed through Dunsley Tunnel which is only 25 yards long but cut through solid rock.  It even has a towpath.

Above Stewpony Lock is the junction with the Stourbridge Canal and here to one side of the Staffs and Worcs you can see the first lock of four to Stourbridge and many more leading to Dudley and Birmingham.  But our way this time lies straight on.

On a cycle ride on Wednesday afternoon we passed Ashwood Marina.  This used to be a coal wharf where coal could be loaded from canal to railway. It is of particular interest to us as Orion used to be based here and Leo has an Orion shell so was probably made here.

We cut short our bike ride as rain was threatening and got back to Leo before it started.  In the event we only had a few drops but we've heard from others today that it was torrential in places very close to us.  Today (Thursday) we've come up another 11 locks in only 5 miles and we've moored above the Bratch Locks.

This is below a lock called 'Rocky Lock'.  Well named as you can see.

A distinctive feature of the Staffs and Worcs is the circular weir beside most locks.  This one at Greensforge Lock was a fine example.

Between Swindon (a tiny village, not the more famous one) and Wombourne is Botterham Staircase Locks.  This is a pair of locks where the top gates of the bottom lock form the bottom gates of the top lock.  In other words there is no gap between one lock at the next.

And further on we came up the three locks of the Bratch.  These look like a staircase but in fact there is a small gap between one lock and the next.

In this photo the blue paddle gear is on the top gate of one lock and, behind that is the bottom gate of the next one.  In between the two is a space perhaps 6 feet long and too short for any boat.  The answer to this mystery is that the tiny gap is linked to a side pond.  Going up you open the blue paddles first before the red paddles on the next lock.  Fortunately there is a lock keeper to assist.

Near the Bratch is this splendid building hiding behind the trees.  It looks like a French chateau but is in fact a pumping station for Severn Trent Water Company!  Didn't the Victorians build some splendid utility buildings?

The evening light as we came back to Leo after a walk round the area was wonderful.

Tomorrow we will probably get to the summit of the canal (about 340 feet above sea level) and skirt Wolverhampton, aiming to stay in open country for a mooring.  We will be cruising the whole of this canal to Great Haywood to meet the Trent and Mersey Canal there.  We are really enjoying ourselves along here.  It is a lovely canal.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Back on Narrow Canals

As I type this we are moored on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (more easily referred to as the 'Staffs and Worcs') above Stourport.  After our great adventure on the tidal Avon and Severn we have come up the Severn via Gloucester and Worcester.

So this is the story of the Severn.

Last Tuesday we had a wander round Sharpness and the Docks before cruising up the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal as far as Frampton.
Walking through the docks we were lucky to see Shammah, the boat that came with us from Bristol to Portishead.  They had come up the Severn that morning and through the lock with this sizeable ship.  Because the ship had to use the outer basin as well as the lock it  had taken 2 hours to fill both to lift all of them.  Here you see Shammah overtaking the ship!

Balmoral seen here runs cruises in the Bristol Channel.  She was here in dry dock because she had got a rope round her propellor and this had caused some damage.  See, it happens to all of us!

In Frampton we moored opposite St Mary's Church and had a good bike ride in the afternoon around the area.

The church has a lead font which is very unusual and dates from the 13th or 14th century.  Just have to hope the babies don't swallow the water.

The Wool Barn at Frampton dates from about 1550.  Frampton claims the longest village green in England and this is bordered by a wonderful collection of fine historic houses.  It also has a pub called the Three Horseshoes where we went to taste their unusual pies.  The pies have meat, potato and vegetables all in the same pie.  They were superb.

Wednesday was an easy cruise into Gloucester.  There are lots of swing bridges on the Gloucester and Sharpness, but they are all opened for you by bridge keepers.  It's a doddle.

The bridge at Saul Junction is a footbridge, but it is still worked for you.  Here the Stroudwater Canal used to cross the G&S in its course from Stroud to the Severn.  Both left and right arms remain for a short distance and there are active plans to restore this waterway which one day might link from here to the upper Thames.

There are all sorts of interesting boats at Saul Junction including these two lifeboats.  The tower crane is in fact used for lifting boats.

Here is the footbridge swung out of our way.

The bridge keepers originally had houses built by the canal company in a distinctive classical style.  They are all now in private ownership.

The mileposts are distinctive with G for Gloucester and S for Sharpness, so here we are 2 miles from Gloucester and 14 miles from Sharpness.

And here is Leo approaching Gloucester.  Sainsbury's is just on the left (with the white poles) and has its own moorings for shoppers, so an obligatory stop to take on supplies.

We moored in the basin surrounded by the old warehouses which have been converted into flats.  This mucky looking boat came in.  It is a dredger called Riparian and we later saw it working in the  East Channel of the river as we left Gloucester.

There is a promotion in Gloucester at the moment of home grown pork and the Three Counties Agricultural Show with support from Adam Henson from Countryfile.  Pigs are all round the city.  This was pirate pig.

This is a night view from Leo and you can see some of the splendid warehouses floodlit.

We stayed two nights in Gloucester and on Thursday we had a ride on the bikes mainly to explore the Hereford and Gloucester Canal which used to leave the Severn nearby.

This is the restored basin at Over.  From here the canal dropped through a 30 feet deep lock (yes 30 feet!!) down onto the River Severn in the Western Channel.

Half a mile from that basin is the present end of the navigation so there is plenty of work to do to get the canal to Hereford.

We cycled to Maisemore where there is a bridge over the Western Channel of the Severn.  A lady was standing on the bridge with a camera.  We asked what she was waiting for and she told us the  Bore was due.  Five minutes later it arrived with these three surfers riding it.

Here is another view of the Severn Bore.  This occurs on high spring tides just as the tide turns from going out to coming in.  We watched as the tide submerged the Weir at Maisemore and headed on upstream.  A bit fierce for Leo.

Cycling out to Maisemore we had spotted three horses which looked very underfed.  So we gathered some cut grass and apples on our way back and gave them some extra food.  But don't carry hay on a Brompton like this!  Ian had to thoroughly clean the chain and cogs of greasy grass when we got back.

Here is one of the horses enjoying an unexpected feast.

Behind the Waterways Museum at Gloucester a car park had been converted into a beach for the school holidays.

You might think that, having turned onto the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, that tides were a thing of the past.  But you would be wrong.  During spring tides the tide reaches over the weirs at Gloucester and carries on for about 10 or 11 miles up to Upper Lode Lock.  So we asked the lock keeper when would be sensible to leave to avoid the tide.

This is a view of Gloucester Lock from just upstream.  The River around Gloucester splits into two channels, West and East.  This lock lets boats down from the basin into the East Channel.  The current zooms round past the lock to the right heading for the weir. 

Leaving the lock as we are here, you have to come out at speed and keep well to the right to avoid being swept leftwards towards the weir.  The East Channel current runs very fast and we needed plenty of throttle to make any headway for the first few miles to the Upper Parting where the two channels join.  After this, things calmed down.

Finally at Upper Lode Lock we came off the tide.  River currents above here are noticeable but no real problem other than in flood conditions.

Above Upper Lode the River Avon joins, coming from the right in this picture.  This can be cruised all the way to Stratford where the Stratford Canal takes narrowboats towards Birmingham.  But we've decided to give Birmingham a miss this time, so we carried on up the Severn.

The strange looking creature on top of this dead tree is a cormorant drying its wings.

Around Upton upon Severn there are a few gravel barges carrying gravel from an active pit to a place downriver where it was being unloaded perhaps onto lorries.  This is Elver, a gravel barge, having emptied its load ...

And this is another barge, Perch, bringing back a full load.

Upton upon Severn is famous for summer music festivals and there was the Sunshine Festival while we were there.  This is the huge camp for the festival.  Fortunately the volume of the music was not too high where we moored.

Upton is a lovely place but the waterside was crammed with people for the festival and because it was August Bank Holiday Weekend.  This is the main street.

From Upton we cruised up to Worcester on Saturday.

As you cruise north it is worth taking a look behind you.  The view of the Malvern Hills opens out as you can see here.

Having come up Diglis Lock we came quickly into Worcester.  The Cathedral dominates the view.  Just beyond the pontoon on the right the Worcester and Birmingham Canal leaves the river up two wide locks into Diglis Basin.  We moored beyond the main bridge by the racecourse.

After a lovely afternoon tea (sandwiches, cakes and scones with endless refills of tea) we visited the Worcester Porcelain Museum.  The factory ceased to operate in 2008 when the firm went bust.  The museum remains and is worth a visit.  We loved this 'Aesthetic Teapot'.  The Dandy figure has a female counterpart on the other side.  You can just make this out in the mirror.

From Worcester it is quite feasible to reach Stourport in a day.  But we decided we would have another night on the river.  So on Sunday we cruised up to a small village called Astley Burf where there used to be a ferry across the river.  A pub there called the Hampstall Inn has an excellent long pontoon for visiting boats.  The food was good and the beer well kept.  After an hour or two touching up paint on Leo we enjoyed an afternoon walk which took us over some undulating hills and down into a remote and quiet wooded valley before returning along the river.  Today we've come up the last of the Severn Locks to Stourport.

Above Bevere Lock (pronounced 'Beevery') we came to Hawford Junction by the houses to the left of this picture.  This is where the Droitwich Barge Canal leaves the river heading to Droitwich.  From that town a narrow canal links to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

We are not far from Hereford so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see these Herefords drinking in the river.

It was still and sunny this morning and there were some lovely reflections in the water.

This is Lincomb Lock, the last one on the Severn.

Here is Leo approaching Stourport.  Just beyond the Tontine Hotel (the large building on the right) a pair of wide barge locks lead up to a large basin.  A little further on two double staircases of narrow locks lead to the same basin.  Stourport was non-existent before the canal came but is now a holiday resort for the West Midlands.

Here we are coming off the river into the first lock.

Over the top of the lower basin you can see the permanent fairground that explains part of Stourport's attraction and it was Bank Holiday Monday today so the cars were flocking in to enjoy the attractions.

On a rooftop was this line of fairground horses.  I've no idea why but the effect is fun.

Here we are coming out of the top lock into the upper basin.

You then follow a zig-zag course through the basin passing lots of moored boats.  This was the last we would see of big motor cruisers for a long while as the Staffs and Worcs is a narrow canal with low bridges.

This is York Street Lock which is 12 feet deep and lifts boats out of the basin and on their way north.  There was a queue of boats to use this lock and we had to wait awhile.  Above here we moored next to Lidl (by bridge 5A), a handy shopping stop.

 We passed the Bird in Hand shown by this traditional boat and moored soon above this in a quiet spot.  After a walk round the area including down to the fast flowing River Stour, we popped in here for a drink.

We've now said goodbye to the River Severn and our next river will be the Trent.  The strong contrast between the wide river and the narrow canal is one of the delights of cruising.  From here we will be travelling the whole length of the Staffs and Worcs to eventually reach the Trent and Mersey Canal.  So we are on part of the marvellous cross linking of the first canals with the objective of linking the four main rivers, Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames.