Monthly Archives: June 2016

A Stroll Round Stourport

The rain cleared up, and the sun came out, so even though we knew the place well, an evening stroll seemed mandatory. It’s an interesting place to wander around: once upon a time a serious inland port with several large basins set above the Severn, it transmogrified into a tourist destination that fell on hard times. The Severn riverside is quite an attraction, and there’s a large public park and so on, immediately next to a sizeable funfair. And even though all the pretty lights were on, and it appeared to be open, we never saw a single person on any of the rides. The place was clearly aimed at day-trippers from the Midlands once upon a time, as most of the eating establishments are tea/ice cream related and shut at 16:30 – proper restaurants are few and far between. Early evening and the place was as quiet as a mouse. Mind you, it wasn’t much different at lunchtime in the rain, come to think of it.

Stourport Upper BasinStourport Upper Basin

The basins are full of narrowboats and river cruisers; the upper one with the CaRT facilities on the wharf is always busy with boats moving around.

Stourport Flats

Just across from there are some new-ish flats built around a previously abandoned basin. They’ve been there for quite a few years now, but not one of the private moorings was occupied. Mind you, a tiny stub pontoon and an anchored buoy at the other end to tie up to isn’t exactly our favourite kind of mooring, particularly when there seem to be a few unoccupied berths in the main basins.

Tontine, StourportStourport River Moorings

Down on the river, The Tontine – now “luxury” flats – has long been a landmark when heading up river, announcing one’s arrival at Stourport. And our old friend from Gloucester Lock and Tewkesbury Edward Elgar was moored up where we’d been the night before. Good job we moved, then – he’s a bit bigger than us.

Stourport Lower BasinStourport Lower Basin

Stourport Narrow Locks

Coming up off the river,you have a choice: a large wide-beam lock up to the lower basins, then another up to the upper basins. Or a narrow 2-stage staircase lock to the lower basins, and another up to the upper. The broad locks use way more water, and a rumoured to be seriously hard work, so there’s quite an incentive to use the narrow option if you can. It just looks awful tiny when you try and squeeze a boat in!

Stourport WharfStourport Clock Tower

And we couldn’t go without a picture of the old BWB HQ at The Wharf, and the famous Clocktower (still telling the correct time).

Vikings Ahoy and a Serious Challenge

Lowesmoor Basin at Worcester (where we’d originally intended to moor Song & Dance while Suffolk Girl did her thing) is one of the bases of a large narrowboat hire company, some of whose boats go out under the Viking Afloat brand. We’d helped one of their boat crews on Monday night: after a car long journey, tuition session etc., they’d finally set out, come through Diglis Basin, locked down the Diglis Canal locks (hard work), and were having a complete fiasco trying to moor up on the Severn visitor moorings where there was a modest flow. Let’s be charitable, and put it down to tiredness, hunger and low blood sugar levels.

Anyway, they set off some time before us on Tuesday morning, heading – we presumed – for Stourport-upon-Severn, where we were also heading.

And soon confirmed a theory of ours that hire boats are seriously under-propped/slugged, so that the punters couldn’t go fast enough to get into too much trouble. At Song & Dance’s comfortable river cruising  power, we soon caught up with them and passed them, even though they had loads of revs on and were making quite a wake compared to us.

Overtaking the Vikings

We didn’t see them again, they probably stopped at one of the pubs for lunch.

We eventually made Stourport (11.5 miles and three locks uphill) after about three hours, and given events earlier in the cruise were understandably anxious to get off the river and back onto the canal system, away from the vagaries of the rainfall in North Wales. But mooring up temporarily on the river visitor moorings we soon established that the moorings up in the basin were full, so risked it and stayed there overnight before heading up into town. Biggles was pleased as the river moorings are immediately below the Angel pub, so he was able to go for a swift half while we had dinner.

The next morning the river was still on Green Boards (hurrah) , but after weeks of wide rivers and locks, and more recently manned huge locks, trying to thread Song & Dance  into the narrow bottom lock, (conveniently placed at 90 degrees to the increasing river flow, and with a strong gusting cross wind) proved quite a challenge. We know the lock is 6 inches wider than the boat, but it looked as though we wouldn’t even fit. Fortunately everything went smoothly for once, without any crashing noises or broken crockery and the Captain was most impressed.

A sigh of relied… we were back in our comfort zone! Locking up through the two narrow staircase flights, we picked our way carefully through the several upper basins, and out the other side up one more lock, tied up on the pleasant visitor moorings above the port, and waited for the rain to stop.

Massive Checkatrade Failure

Seems the problem of finding a reliable builder for cathedral improvements was as big a problem then as it is finding a decent builder these days. Bodgit and Scarper Ltd were clearly well established in Tudor times.

Worcester Cathedral: Prince Arthur's Tomb

There are a couple of older tombs just to the right of SWMBO in the picture, and they decided they wanted to build a big tall impressive tomb/chapel/whatever on top, for Prince Arthur. The filigree masonry and everything is just staggering. But when  they came to assemble all that fancy carved masonry screen, they found it was about six inches too high.

Worcester Cathedral: Bodge Job

So rather than go back and do it properly, they just hacked away at the existing fabric of the cathedral, and hoped no one would notice.

Hog Roast

Nearby is a carving of a spit-roasted human… one of the masons perhaps.

Worcester–Cloister, Crypt and Chapter House

Staying with the C theme, there’s a fine crypt…

Worcester Cathedral: CryptWorcester Cathedral: Crypt

… a splendid large circular Chapter House, which defied all attempts to depict properly in a photo…

Chapter HouseWorcester Cathedral: Chapter House

… and a fine Cloister, where the supporting columns had aligned holes, so the head monk could peer down all one side and check the chaps were all heads down and working hard. The middle photo gives an idea.

Worcester Cathedral: CloisterWorcester Cathedral: CloisterWorcester Cathedral: Chapter House

Worcester–Carvings and Ceilings

More by accident than design, we seem to be sailing past loads of interesting churches, abbeys, priories and cathedrals. Perhaps someone’s trying to tell us something. Worcester Cathedral looms over the Severn. A photo from the river is a classic shot, but with a boat to control and indifferent weather we didn’t bother. Anyway, it seemed churlish not to continue the theme.

Worcester Cathedral: Side Chapel TriptychWorcester Cathedral: Side Chapel Triptych

In one of the side chapels is an enormous carved triptych: can only show a small bit here, but the detailed expressions on the faces are remarkable. Took eleven years to complete, apparently.

Worcester CathedralWorcester Cathedral: King John's Tomb

The stained glass is not medieval: being a cathedral at the time, rather than a priory or abbey, good old Henry VIII destroyed it. (Gloucester was not a cathedral at the time, hence it’s glass wasn’t destroyed). King John’s tomb is plonked right in the middle of the choir (you can see it at the bottom of the main photo). That must make dancing in the aisles a little problematic.

Worcester CathedralWorcester Cathedral

Nonetheless, the ceiling is wonderful.

Worcester Sauce

Being unable to afford another night’s stay in Upton Marina without re-mortgaging the cat, Sunday morning found us crossing our fingers and ringing DIglis River Lock at Worcester to ensure it was all OK to head North again. All was fine – apart from the weather which was by and large fairly miserable.

Thinking we had some sunshiny photos of Upton on the computer from a previous visit, we hadn’t taken any pictures while wandering around the Jazz Festival. There weren’t any on the computer either, which either means they’ve gone AWOL, or the previous visit was much longer ago than we thought.

A fairly dull (weather) and dull (lack of nice scenery) transit took something like three hours, without any incentive to get the camera out either. Locking up through Diglis River lock we thought we’d investigate the river moorings before going up the canal locks (known to be hard work) into the basin, only to come back to resume the journey up the Severn. So passing the old Holbrooks Worcester Sauce factory (always far superior to Lea & Perrins), we found what looked like suitable accommodation between the railway bridge and the rowing club/horse race course.

Worcester River MooringsWorcester River Moorings

It being – by now – a vaguely pleasant late afternoon – Skipper went exploring and pronounced himself well satisfied with the towpath, and the embankment gardens above, even if the pedestrian bridge wobbled too much for him.

Worcester River MooringsWorcester River Moorings

Being just five minutes walk to the centre of town and ten minutes to the cathedral, we thought it would probably do too.

Up To Upton

With Suffolk Girl getting home late on Thursday evening, and both the Severn and Avon behaving themselves, we got up early on Friday morning, packed up the cat and the car, and set off back to Tewkesbury at the crack of 11:00. Arriving back at the boat just after lunch, and anxious to resume boating, it was decided that the transport manager would return the car home straight away (summer Friday traffic – lovely) and if feasible get a train back Friday evening. If not, Saturday morning would have to do.

Unfortunately, it proved feasible, and getting back via train and taxi to the boat for the second time that day at about 20:00, we headed out for dinner. Completely knackered, the transport manager decided he was getting too old for that sort of lark.

Anyway, the boat had been fine under lockie Nic’s watchful eye, and the rivers were all just fine, so we were just about to set off when we overheard a boater who’d just arrived remark that there was a jazz festival at Upton over the weekend. Made some enquiries…

  • chances of getting onto the Upton visitor moorings other than three abreast – nil
  • going all the way to Worcester upstream in one hit leaving at lunchtime – unrealistic
  • other places to moor overnight between Tewkesbury and Worcester – none

There is absolutely no substitute for advanced planning.

As the Captain and the Chef really, really wanted to visit Upton, and – not trusting the river -we didn’t want to wait until Monday, a phone call to the Big Tupperware Yacht marina at Upton elicited two bits of information

  • someone had just left unexpectedly, and they would be able to accommodate us for the night
  • the cost, payable in advance, was completely extortionate, and made even Pyrford marina (near home, and part of the same chain) look positively a bargain.

And so, just before she packed up for her lunch, we waved farewell to Nic as she locked us down onto the Severn level, and we made a un-noteworthy transit upstream to Upton-on-Severn, moored up in the marina, and went walkabout.

It was a warm and pleasant afternoon to sit overlooking the river with a Guinness, but wandering around Upton was weird. Almost but not entirely unlike Sidmouth Folk Week or Chippenham Folk Festival, it was full of happy people, and bunting, and food stalls and stuff, and even the trad jazz or squeaky bonky noises spilling out from here and there didn’t seem out of place. But (a) there was no continual background “chink chink chink” from perambulating Morris dancers, and  (b) we didn’t know anybody. Weird.

Some friends we’ve not seen for a while, and who have just sold their house, have a daughter and son-in-law who run a pub in Upton. Turned out they were staying at the pub while house-hunting, but had gone off to Southampton for the weekend. Ah well. There really is absolutely no substitute for advanced planning…

River High, Mountain Deep…

While the transport manager was shunting around the country on trains and cars on Friday, the Severn continued to rise. We stayed overnight and left on the Saturday morning, by which time the Severn had come up three or four feet.

River Avon, Severn Level @ TewkesburyRiver Avon, Severn Level @ Tewkesbury

These pictures are actually of the River Avon, but at the level it flows into the Severn. The previous evening Biggles had been on the mooring pontoon at least six more steps further down, supping from the river. We’d nearly moored under the block of flats in the distance, but decided not to as it meant climbing up several feet from the boat to the quayside (now under water).

It clearly didn’t look like it was going to back to normal any time soon: the decision to abandon ship looked increasingly the right one.

Errata: it seems my reference to the Essex Girl were in error. She’s off to Lavenham in Sussex. Staying at The Swan it seems. Can’t think how she can afford it – must ask for a rise in pocket money!

Man Plans. <Insert Your Deity Here> Laughs

Friday morning, and we wandered down to see Nic and check it was all OK to head on up to Worcester, usually a two day exercise… she asked where we were planning on mooring en-route, and we said “Upton on Severn”.

“Ah…” she said, “I spoke to Upper Lode earlier, and they say the level is coming up and they might need to close later today; Diglis at Worcester are also taking a hard look, and reckon they might need to close tonight”. So we’d get to Upton OK, but maybe no further onSaturday. Calling the Diglis lockkeeper for an update at about 11:00, he said “The river’s coming up faster than we expected: Upper Lode have just closed, and we’ll close just as soon as two narrowboats heading this way get here. We don’t expect to reopen until Monday at the earliest.”

Time for Plan B.

We really didn’t want to go all the way back up the Avon to Stratford (and couldn’t manage it before Essex girl needed to depart), so thought we’d see if we could get a mooring at Pershore or Evesham marinas on the Avon. Both were a day or so upstream, and both had railway stations. We could then come back when herself returned and the Severn had settled down to resume our journey to Stourport,

On returning to Nic with the new plan, she said “Ah… Evesham have just gone on Red Boards, and Pershore will very shortly – there been lots of rain in Rugby and it’s working it’s way down to here…”

Time for Plan C.

After consultation with the Captain, and Nic, it was decided to leave Song & Dance on flood safe moorings near the lock under Nic’s watchful eye, while we all went home for a week. This meant the cook could go to Essex and back from winter quarters, and easier exercise. And so the transport manager was despatched by taxi to Pershore to get a train home – don’t let anyone kid you there’s a useable train service at “Ashchurch For Tewkesbury”. Returning with suitable ground transport, the skipper, the contents of the fridge and freezer, and mounds of dirty washing were stuffed in the car, and on Saturday morning we all headed darn sarf for a week or so. We’ll be back!

Debris Dodging and Jumping Salmon

The chief cook needed to leave the boat and Biggles for a few days next week, and head for Essex (don’t ask…). The plan was to head up to Worcester via Tewkesbury and Upton-on-Severn over the next few days, moor up in a boatyard near Worcester station, and despatch her off. The bo’sun and skipper could then spend some quality time together catching up on the – by now – large backlog of laundry.

A phone call to the Upper Lode lockkeeper at Tewkesbury first thing on Thursday morning elicited the response that there were no problems as far as he could see, and he’d be expecting us. He said he didn’t know what the Gloucester lockkeeper was on about. So we waved farewell to Gloucester Docks, locked down onto the Severn rather more quickly  than  we’d locked up, and pointed Song & Dance uphill.

With miserable-ish weather, the only possible mooring for a pub lunch-stop full of other boats, not much to see, and a fairish flow on the river, it took what seemed an awfully long time to grind all the way up to Upper Lode. There were very few other boats about, and a lot of debris coming downstream: leaves, twigs, logs, branches, even most of a tree, so the helmsman/woman/cat had to concentrate all the way.

Another call to the Upper Lode lockie shortly before arrival had it all set up waiting for us, and once again it seemed a huge lock, just for a foot or so difference in level.

Then, as we crossed past the upper weir entrance towards the junction between the Severn and the Avon, a huge salmon leapt totally clear of the water. Twice. Quite a spectacle.

We locked up onto the Avon so the Skipper could meander round his favourite mooring spot, and Nic the Avon Lock lockkeeper said she once had a narrowboat arrive with a salmon stranded and expired on top of the cratch. The boaters were squeamish, but it was still nice and fresh, so Nic had it for her tea.