Monthly Archives: May 2016

Chippenham Ho…

Chippenham Folk Festival passed very pleasantly, apart from the weather, which was warm and sunny, which meant that the streets were wall-to-wall with Morris Dancers. (Those of a nervous disposition should look away now). And apart from the weird The Pines hotel, run by some well meaning but clearly out of their depth young Greek Cypriot lads. The place is apparently known locally by an anagram. It was however very close to the centre of town.

Anyway, we’re always giving Morris Dancers some stick, so to redress the balance…

Churchwarden's MorrisRed White and Blue Twizzle Stick Morris

First up, instead of Cotswold, Clog, Border or Molly dancing we have Churchwarden Morris (dunno which church they borrowed the sticks from), and Twizzle Stick Morris. The former made us wonder whether we should form a Boathook Morris side – there’s bound to be a tradition somewhere.

Simon Pipe and BroomstickSimon Pipe and Broomstick

And then there’s Simon Pipe doing very odd things with a broom stick.

Hector GilchristLouise Jordan

To echo Banbury Folk Festival last year, here’s a pic of our old friend Hector Gilchrist, and one of Louise Jordan, who was kind enough to lend the navigator a thumb-pick when Hector dragged him up to sing and play.

The final weird experience of the weekend – on being asked to stand in and MC a concert instead of Keith Donnelly because he was double-booked – was finding Keith in the audience, heckling as ever. Ah well…

An Evening Twixt Avon and Severn

Having agreed that we could go to Chippenham Folk Festival for the Bank Holiday weekend, while he deigned to visit home and be spoilt by our neighbour, the Skipper was anxious to be off and resume hostilities with Otto, the new kid in town, who had taken up residence next door. But by the time we’d sorted out everything, it was too late to get a train and fetch a car, so the evening was spent on a quick exploratory look around Tewkesbury.

A first glance made it clear that sitting at the junction of the rivers Avon and Severn, and being prone to flooding recently, there was some heavyweight water manipulation stuff all around.

River Avon, Tewkesbury MarinaRiver Avon, Tewkesbury

Tewkesbury is apparently renowned for its myriad little alleys off the High Street: here are a couple (including one especially for some reneging crew members). Not sure if it’s renowned for strangely named Estate Agents, but it’s got one of those too.

Tewkesbury AlleyTewkesbury AlleyEstate Agent

There were plenty of interesting looking buildings, too…

Berkeley Arms, Tewkesbury

… as well as the famous Abbey at the other end of town, so we determined to spend a day or so exploring on our return, and soon spotted some decent visitor moorings outside the marina, right by the bridge and the lock down onto the Severn.

Tewkesbury: Avon BridgeTewkesbury: Avon Bridge

The bridge lies between two famous old pubs: The White Bear and The Black Bear. They have build a new block of flats between the two pubs, and the access road into them shows that some councils have a sense of humour.


And so, having travelled home by train and returned avec voiture on the Tuesday, an early start to the chauffeur’s birthday on Wednesday saw us driving Sir home, then going out for a splendid steak dinner, while looking forward to resuming the exploration of Tewkesbury after the Chippenham festivities.

Bredon at Last – Or Not

With Bredon Hill in view from various directions for several days, it was something of a relief to actually circumnavigate it: we were actually trying to get to Tewkesbury.

Bredon HillBredon Hill

It really is lovely countryside around here, even if it is impossible to sail in a straight line.

Bredon Hill

Some mandolin musician friends of the Captain had once hoped to do an arrangement of Ralph Vaughan William’s treatment of Houseman’s Bredon Hill, but Ursula ran some kind of interference so they wrote their own tune. Wonder what they’d make of this boat… it’s very big, and a strange way to spell ukelele!

Bredon Moorings

Bredon church and village looked interesting as did the Tithe Barn, and the book said there were moorings: nothing for a narrowboat, though. Another day, maybe. We did like the sentiment behind the blue-and-white Tupperware job’s name!

Tewkesbury MarinaTewkesbury Marina

And so, in the early afternoon, in glorious sunshine, we eased into Tewkesbury Marina, which is vast, with several basins on both the Avon and the Severn, and moorings on both sides of the river. They even have their own private Bailey bridge across the Avon as well. Still, they were friendly and helpful, and the moorings were all flood safe, so it was a good place to leave Song & Dance for a week or so, come hell or high water.

School Runs, Storms, Strensham, and Summer White-Outs

When we woke up on the (nice and sunny) Monday morning, the Eckington Quay/Bridge car park next to Song & Dance was empty, but not for long. A car pulled up – early morning dog-walker, we assumed. But no, a young-ish man got out, accompanied by two young boys smartly dressed in school uniform. Out came a folding table and chairs which were duly unfolded, followed by provisions for a picnic breakfast. They ate and happily chattered away in what sounded like a Eastern European language for half an hour, before fairly rapdily packing everything up and heading off. A whole new slant on the school run!

Earlier in the trip we’d noticed just how much wildlife there was in the hedgerows, presumably due to the mild and wet winter. Another benefactor seemed to be dandelions, which seemed to be rampant – we’d never seen so many covering the fields by the canals and river. And with the warmer weather and a significant breeze, the seeds were coming off the dandelion clocks in such numbers that several times it was like boating in a snow storm. Again.

Flood WarningUnknown Yellow Flower

Setting off for Strensham Lock, and yet another attempt at actually getting around Bredon and Bredon Hill, we soon came across a reminder that the Avon is not always so docile.

Another plant we’d noticed was a yellow flowered jobbie that we originally thought might have been escaped rape, but after a day or two decided it wasn’t the right colour. The banks of the Avon were covered with it: any suggestions as to what it is will receive the customary award.

Strensham LockAnd as for Strensham Lock… the top gate and paddles leaked so much that we actually had significant waves in the lock. Song & Dance isn’t exactly seaworthy, and by the time we exited the lock we were feeling decidedly seasick.

By Eckington

Leaving Pershore behind on the Monday morning, the Avon does a two giant loops around Pensham and Birlingham in an S shape, with Bredon Hill always beckoning from a constantly changing direction. We hadn’t planned to go far, but the few moorings were either full or unsuitable. Nafford Lock provided a reminder that this chunk of water is a river, and can bite… there was a narrowboat half over the weir, half under water, and held in place by the large floating objects that try to prevent even worse disasters. We were too busy trying to negotiate the difficult turn into the lock itself without going the same way to take photographs. Glad we’ve got very calm and docile water!

We eventually found a place suitable for the Captain at Eckington Wharf, where there’s a small car park for walkers, some picnic tables, and room to moor a couple of boats. And a very pretty and ancient bridge.

Eckington Wharffrom Eckington Wharf

It looked a bit gloomy when we moored up, but nothing came of it.

Eckington BridgeEckington Bridge

Despite it’s age, Eckington Bridge still carries heavy traffic to this day.

Eckington Bridge

With a nice sunset to round things off, someone discovered the ship’s camera could take panorama shots, so here’s a couple of experiments.

Eckington BridgeEckington Bridge

The Pleasures of Pershore

The Avon takes a very circuitous route from Stratford to Tewkesbury: places that seem a long way apart on the river are a surprisingly few number of miles as the crow flies. Leaving Evesham just after lunch on Saturday, we’d hoped to make Pershore late afternoon, as indeed we did, after a pleasant wander: it’s as bad as the summit pound of the South Oxford canal for changing direction. The river’s very pretty around here away from the towns, although you need to beware of traps like the rope ferry on the way out of Evesham. Three blasts of the horn several hundred yards from the rope, and a chap scurries out, winds a big wheel frantically, and lowers the rope onto the river bed so you can pass without decapitating anyone. Guess they can’t get that much traffic around here!

We managed to get moored up right at the end of Pershore recreation grounds, where it turns into meadowland. A highly convenient spot: no more than a hundred yards from the football club, the high street and an Asda.

Pershore Recreation Ground and AbbeyRiver Avon at Pershore

River Avon at PershoreRiver Avon at Pershore

The view out the back was splendid: these pictures were all taken from the back deck of Song & Dance on Sunday morning. The Captain scored this overnight spot very highly indeed; the crew slightly less so, as a local mate-seeking cuckoo and a family of sedge warblers were extremely vocal both during the dawn chorus (at about 04:30) and the dusk chorus as well (at about bedtime).

A complete contrast to Evesham, a sunny Sunday morning and the high street was humming, the coffee shops full of happy looking people: a nice place to wander for a bit.

Tree carving, PershoreTree carving, Pershore

In the Abbey grounds we came across a well carved tree.

Pershore AbbeyPershore AbbeyPershore Abbey

The Abbey itself (or what’s actually left of it) is now a parish church. The industrial strength buttressing suggests it had seen difficult times in the past! And we can’t recall ever seeing a complete village war memorial inside a church before.

With a side trip to Chippenham Folk festival looming closer, and a date with a marina in Tewkesbury, we could only stay the one night, so a light lunch, and some more meanderings beckoned: hardly a chore in such pleasant weather.

Ying Tong Diddle I Po…

Evesham on a Saturday morning seemed a bit down cast or down at heel compared to some of the towns we have passed through. It seemed pretty much that way on the Friday night too. We were also slightly intrigued by the restrictions where we were moored: fishing was only allowed if you were (a) handicapped or (b) under 16, and (c) had a permit from the council.

Might have had something to do with a conversation we’d had with a fisherman back on the Grand Union. On seeing him extract a largish fish from the canal, disentangle it and put it back, we gathered he’d found it increasingly difficult to catch anything, as angling is seemingly popular amongst the Eastern European/Polish immigrant community, and they apparently “fish for the pot” and don’t put anything back. Not sure I’d want to eat a fish that had been filtering grubby canal water all its life, but each to their own.

We’d certainly seen lots of Polish anglers everywhere we’d been, and have observed that they also feed the swans and ducks with industrial quantities of bread. Saw a chap at Evesham feeding a pair of swans with a whole white sliced loaf in one go. Perhaps this is the reason for the darkly muttered stories of them taking swans and Canada geese for the pot too. Who knows – bet the Daily Mail knows the truth!

Evesham Abbey Bell TowerEvesham Abbey locationEvesham parish church

Evesham Abbey is no more: the stones in the middle picture mark out its position, and if you click on the photo you can just about see Song & Dance down in the distance. The Abbey site is still interesting though, with the bell tower sitting neatly between two ancient parish churches – both still in use. One of them had some remarkably fine fan vault decorations.

NatWest Bank, Evesham

The centre of Evesham has some half-timbered establishments like the NatWest bank, but one way or another we didn’t feel a great urge to linger after we’d done the shopping.

Tiddle Widdle Island, Wyre Piddle

Heading on down to Pershore, one passes along the edge of the quaintly named village Wyre Piddle. On the opposite bank is an overgrown bit of land apparently called Tiddle Widdle Island, according to the Ordnance Survey. Paging Harry Secombe…

Ding Dong… Avon Calling

Couldn’t put it off any longer, we’d overstayed in the basin until the Thursday morning (as had the hotel boat), and we had to head down to that well known tautology the River Avon.

Just down a little you come to the first lock, hiding in the trees below Holy Trinity Church, where his Bill-ness was apparently buried.

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

This River Avon was restored to navigation by a trust, and all the locks are named after people or organisations who contributed in some way or another.

Colin P. Witter LockColin P. Witter Lock

The first lock, with it’s strange RSJ reinforcements is oddly intimidating: even Biggles didn’t know what to make of it. The Upper Avon lock gate balance beams are made of scaffolding poles, which bend and wobble slightly in a rather disconcerting manner; the paddle mechanisms are highly geared and fitted with counterweights, making it easy but tediously lengthy to raise or lower the paddles. All very different from  normal canal paddle gear. At the first lock, one of the paddles was counterweighted to excess, and wouldn’t stay down and shut, creating an interesting challenge when trying to fill the lock.

Anyway, a gentle pootle through a winding river and pleasantly wooded scenery brought us to Bidford-on-Avon for the night. And there’s another difference: you can’t just moor pretty-well anywhere you like, as you can on the canals – you have to use the approved moorings. There are usually some “overnight only” moorings at the locks, and sometimes some in a village or town.

Robert Aickman New LockRobert Aickman New LockRobert Aickman New Lock

The next morning the gentle meander continued, bringing us to Robert Aickman New Lock. Named for a founding father mover and shaker in Inland Waterways matters, it was a pleasant spot to moor up for lunch, but we were rather bemused by the almost-but-not-entirely-unlike a bridge contraption that straddles the lock. Looks like someone nicked some brick steps at each end. The lock is also very wide, and would clearly take three narrowboats alongside each other. All very odd.

Evesham Lock WierNo Fouling

And so to Evesham for a Friday night on the town. The approach to the lock is a bit scary, with the lock layby a pontoon at the top of the weir. Must be exciting when there’s “fresh” water in the river!

Just below Workman Bridge (named after Mr, Workman, it seems) there were plenty of moorings just a short walk from the centre of town – after two days of steady river cruising in variable weather, winding hither and thither, a pub dinner and early night beckoned: we’d hit the Evesham high spots properly on Saturday morning. Moored just up a little from us was another Piper narrowboat Nice Butt, who we’d seen last year somewhere – on the Thames we think. Could hardly forget a name like that…

Tilting at Windmills

She Who Must etc. decreed that we really ought to take in something at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre as it was so close. So in addition to a wander around the new(ish) viewing tower they’ve built, we booked ourselves into the smaller Swan Theatre to see Don Quixote. The main theatre was putting on Cymbeline, which is (a) very long, (b) rarely performed – possibly for a good reason, and (c) they’d modernised it by changing the gender of the lead character and all that sort of trendy stuff. All in all Don Quixote seemed a better bet.

Tramway Bridge & Clopton BridgeBancroft Basin

Rain heading in from WorcestershireStratford-upon-Avon

From the top of the theatre tower, there are fine views over the surrounding countryside and town: in the Top-Right picture you can just see the tail end of Song & Dance between the two trees.

Shakespearian Morris Dancer Costume

In the foyer, there was a display of costumes from various plays. There was even one for someone playing the part of an ancient morris dancer. Deciding which is which in the picture above is left as an exercise for the reader…

And, as it turned out, Don Quixote did prove most enjoyable: a slightly bizarre melange of serious theatre in the round, a musical, a mummers play and improv comedy, it kept everyone thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

However – even though there were always spare pontoon moorings – we’d overstayed our welcome at the basin, and needed to be moving on from the delights of Stratford. The River Avon and Tewkesbury beckon.


Just before leaving the Excellence Afloat / Valley Cruisers wharf, we’d noticed a hotel boat and butty pass us, heading for Stratford. With two boats to descend the few remaining narrow locks, and the butty – being unpowered – needing to be manhandled through, we thought our chances of making the town centre by lunchtime were remote. But they fortuitously moored up for an early lunch themselves, just before the top lock; we were soon moored up in Bancroft Basing, with the delights of Stratford at our beck and call, even though the Captain kept jumping ship to check out the facilities.

Bancroft BasinBancroft Basin, Stratford-upon-Avon

Bill & FriendsBancroft Basin, Stratford-upon-AvonAlas, Poor Yorick...

The basin was busy but not full and during the day mobbed with tourists of all persuasions, but once the coach parties left and the traffic died down it’ became a nice quiet spot nestling between the river and the town centre. Loads of restaurants, proper shopping HIgh Street and the RSC Theatre all within 100 yards walk max. And with a large flower bed for Sir to hide in and amuse Himself within a few feet from the cat flap, even the Captain was impressed with our choice of a place to stay for a few days.

The hotel boat pair turned up soon after lunch, and we realised that we’d seen them before: they’d been tucked up for the winter like Song & Dance about half-a-dozen berths down from us at Cropredy Marina.

Stratford-upon-AvonClopton Bridge

RSC Theatre ComplexRSC Actors' Digs

Hand-Cranked Chain Ferry

There’s lots of photogenic stuff here (although the RSC Theatre complex is probably not included in that!) so restraint is needed.  But there’s a ceilidh dance called Clopton Bridge, and we were rather taken by the hand-cranked chain ferry down on the River Avon. We’d have gone across and walked back over the bridge but for the fact that he packed up for the day just as we arrived.

And after all that wandering, we decided to eat out at the nearest restaurant to Song & Dance, which proved to be one of Mr Carluccio’s establishments, who at 18:45 were still doing the very good value fixed-price lunch menu offer. Sometimes you just have to take the knocks…