We had arranged a very civilised 10.30 start with our locking partners for the day, so plenty of time for breakfast, and the administration of tablets and wound cleaning that the furry crew requires presently. Once underway, it was only a short hop to the first Lock.
The pub in the picture above is the Two Boats, and as previously stated, their steak and ale pie was very tasty. After completing the first two Locks, we met a few boats descending, which should have meant the Locks would be set in our favour, they were not. The mystery later presented itself in the form of a volunteer lockie, who was refilling the Locks. All the pounds were very low, so presumably an attempt to run some water down the flight. Once through Stockton Top Lock, our intended destination for the day, was only half a mile further on. We said our farewells to Full Circle, then slowly chugged along, passing the RYA training base at Nelson’s Wharf. When we came this way before, a pair of swans had made a nest in the reeds opposite. Today the nest contained two swans, and half a dozen cygnets. We found our spot between bridges 20 and 19 empty, and secured the boat. We are now only a mile from Ventnor Farm Marina, where we will visit tomorrow for services.
There are actually two Basins at Ventnor Farm, Sunrise and Sunset. We need to enter the first Basin travelling from Stockton, which is Sunset.
Yesterday was wet, and a little windy, it also felt rather cold for late spring, and certainly not a day for cruising, so we didn’t. It was however a rather busy day for boat traffic, mainly hire boats, but not all. We felt very snug, or was it smug inside our warm dry boat.
Today was warm and sunny, so after breakfast we set off and ascended the Lock ahead. The water point was a couple of hundred yards ahead. We needed a good half a tank, fortunately this water tap seemed to have good pressure. We were not there long. Just as we we about to get going, another boat approached. These would be our locking partners for the remaining seven Locks of the day. It was narrow boat Full Circle, and we had seen this boat several times over the past few weeks, whilst doing the Avon ring, but we never met the owners. It transpired that they had played leap frog with us, all the way to Tewkesbury, where they turned around, when we went up the river Severn. The last Locks of the day were the Bascote flight, including the short two Lock staircase. During our conversation with Full Circle, they indicated they were also stopping at Long Itchington, and ascending the Stockton flight tomorrow. So we made a loose arrangement to set off at the same time in the morning. After securing the boat to the mooring rings, we wandered off to the Two Boats Inn for lunch. When we passed this way before, I’d had the steak and ale pie which was delicious, so I had it again.
Well we ended up spending four days, moored in the pound between Locks 29 and 30 on the Hatton flight. This allowed the crew to jump ship, and go home over the bank holiday weekend, whilst me and four legs did some maintenance tasks. The pound we were in, whilst the longest on the flight, must also have been the leakiest. Several times a day, the water level would drop significantly exposing the propeller, and the water coming down the flight, was unable to keep pace with the water leaking out. Fortunately we must have been directly over a large area of silt, because even when the water dropped, the boat did not tilt much as it rested on the bottom.
The crew returned yesterday, so this morning we headed off down the flight. We also had another reason for moving. Last night the furry crew, inadvertently stepped on his ball and hurt himself. That will teach him to leave his toys laying about. We thought initially he had twisted something, but what he had actually done, was to rip out part of his claw, ouch. We had bandaged it up and stuck a boot on it, but we needed to get him to a vet, so our wallet could be emptied.
We descended the remaining four Locks of Hatton, then the two Cape Locks. A short distance further on, we stopped at Emscote. First a visit to the vets, who were very friendly. Four legs had his toe frozen with some spray, and then the partially removed claw, was fully removed with a quick tug, ouch again. So clawless, with some antiseptic solution, manuka honey to aid healing, antibiotics to prevent an infection building, and pain killers we were done. If only humans could receive such speedy and detailed treatment. Now he has to keep it covered when out and about, so he has borrowed a blue sock.
Back at the boat we had lunch, then the other crew went to the nearby Tesco supermarket, and replenished supplies. We now had two more Locks and three miles to go, to reach our intended destination. On the way through Royal Leamington Spa before, I mentioned that the graffiti was of an altogether different quality. This time I managed to photograph some.
Soon we had left the urban sprawl behind, and entered open countryside once more. We found our mooring spot above Fosse Lock No. 22 and secured the boat.
On our arrival, the water level in the pound was a little low, and we did wonder if this would be a problem. However on further inspection of our surrounds, we noticed that back pumps were active beneath the bywash. This pumps water back from the lower pound, and should therefore maintain a decent level.
Whilst this mooring is nice and quiet, and the sort of place we could easily stay a few days, we are in need of services in the next few days, so we will need to move on.
During our two days at Rowington, we spent the first day cleaning the boat, then relaxing, and on the second day, we walked to Turner’s Green, to the Tom O’ The Wood P.H. The pub is described as dog friendly, and this was confirmed when we saw the sign outside, dogs welcome, people tolerated.
I had the sea bass in a white mussel sauce, and it was very tasty. Back at the boat, we had a second afternoon of recovery from all our Lock working of the previous week. I also checked the state of the batteries, as we had not run the engine for two days. The monitor was indicating 80 percent, so we must be getting a decent amount from the solar panel now.
Today we were up with the lark, well 7.15 am. Underway by 8am, we had three miles and Shrewley Tunnel to navigate, before reaching the Top Lock of the Hatton flight. We needed water as well. Whilst filling the tank, I set the first three Locks, and just as we were finishing two boats came along and pinched them before we untied. It proved to be advantageous. One of them was a single hander, so the crew would have needed to do double the work, and by the time we eventually got going, the volunteers were on duty, and two of them assisted us down at least ten Locks.
You can see the cafe in the photo above, that we would walk back to for lunch. On draining, it appears that this Lock has suffered some recent damage.
After completing the first four Locks, we passed the yard and workshops for the Canal and River Trust. The next six are very close together as they stretch out before you.
There are 21 Locks in the Hatton flight, but today we would only be doing 17. The volunteers left us to do the final three alone, when we met a single hander ascending the flight. His need of help was greater than ours.
Between Locks 30 and 29 is the longest pound, and the bank is lined with piling. This was where we would stop. After descending the Lock, we pulled in, close to the bywash, so as not to impede other boats using the flight and secured the boat. We then wandered back up the flight for lunch. By the time we returned, four legs was definitely feeling the heat, and was very pleased that the insulation on the boat had kept it cool inside.
Today was another day for doing Locks, 19 of the pesky things. First we had a three mile cruise to do. We set off from our mooring and at the next bridge pulled in, whilst the crew popped along to a nearby bakery, which was advertising its wares. Once underway, we passed through the next bridge ‘ole, to be confronted by an Anglo Welsh hire boat wedged tight across the Canal. Apparently rubbish round the prop had stalled the engine, and now they were stuck solid. Despite heaving with a boat pole, it wasn’t moving, so we attached a line and towed them out. Did wonder whether to claim salvage rights, but I don’t think marine salvage law applies on the canals. We also had a few lift bridges to navigate, not the easy sort which work with a key, these ones the crew had to wind up and down.
Soon we were at the Top Lock of the Lapworth flight. We did the first four on our own, then for the next nine, we were accompanied by some volunteers who work the Locks. Have the next Lock set ahead, certainly sped things up a bit.
After 17 Locks we reached the water point. The tank needed a refill, and it was lunchtime. Forty five minutes later we descended the final lock on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, and navigated through King’s Wood Junction.
Right for Stratford-upon-Avon, left for the Grand Union, we turned left. Down the final lock for the day, we joined the Lapworth link, and at the junction with the Grand Union Canal, we turned right, heading towards Warwick. A mile and a half later, we found our mooring spot and secured the boat. Tomorrow we will wash the starboard side, and tend to a few other maintenance jobs, but for now we are just going to relax for the evening.
Mooring pins are required here, but the ground is very solid so I doubt they will move. One other point to note, we have now completed more Locks in the six weeks since leaving Yelvertoft, than we did in the whole of last year.
Where as Friday was a day for Locks, yesterday 18/5 was a day for Tunnels. First we had the small but significant milestone to navigate, Tardebigge Top Lock. Once we had completed our ascent, we could claim, to have completed the longest flight of Locks in the U.K. thirty Locks over two miles, which raises the Canal by 220 feet.
When the Canal was originally built, there was a vertical boat lift where the Top Lock is located, but due to technical problems it was abandoned, and now no trace of it exists. There is however a plaque.
Next was our first of four Tunnels, Tardebigge Tunnel, then a stop at the Anglo Welsh hire base, primarily for diesel, but also a pump out. Our trip up the Severn against the flow, had clearly caused the engine to be a bit more thirsty than usual, we needed nearly a hundred litres.
A short distance further on we navigated our second tunnel, Shortwood Tunnel, which at 613 yards was just that little bit longer. We carried on, passing Alvechurch Marina. It was here that with family we went on a Canal holiday, when we first made our decision to buy a boat to live on. Just beyond the Marina we stopped for lunch. With a few miles still to go, we did not stop long. Passing beneath the M42 and the Bittell Reservoirs, it wasn’t long before we encountered our third Tunnel. At 2726 yards, Wast Hills Tunnel would be the longest of the day.
As we approached the entrance, we saw the illumination of a tunnel lamp within. This meant at least one boat was oncoming. It wasn’t until we were in the tunnel, that we realised the problem we would soon have. Many tunnel lights used today, are way brighter than they need be. This is generally ok, if the boater angles the lamp up towards the roof and slightly towards starboard. In doing this, the lamp will not blind an oncoming boat. This boat however, not only had a very powerful light, it was also angled to port. We were totally blinded by it. Once passed this boat, our remaining transit of the tunnel was unopposed. On entry to Wast Hills Tunnel, we were in rural Worcestershire, when we exited we were in Warwickshire, and on the outskirts of the Black Country. A mile further on we reached King’s Norton Junction, where the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, meets the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
In the photo above we are turning right onto the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Had we continued through the bridge, we would have passed the Cadbury Works at Bournville, and reached Gas Street Basin in the centre of Birmingham, a little over four miles further on. Just beyond the junction, we passed through a Guillotine Lock no longer in use. Presumably in a bygone era, it was used to prevent water from the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, flowing into the Stratford upon Avon Canal. The level of the former, was an inch higher than the latter, and Canal companies used to jealously guard their water resources.
We were now in a fairly urban area, and the next couple of miles would be a little torturous. It seemed as if every 50 yards or so, we collected some rubbish on the prop. Fortunately we were able to rid ourselves of the problem, by engaging reverse gear, and not the more arduous job of going down the weed hatch. Our last tunnel of the day was Brandwood, at 352 yards the shortest we would do.
Three more miles and we arrived at the Shirley Draw Bridge. This requires the use of a key, and is fully automated. The reaction by some of the traffic which was stopped, was rather comical. The prospect of being held up for a minute or two, resulted in screeching of tyres as u-turns were performed.
Shirley Draw Bridge
Once beyond the draw bridge, we were back into our comfort zone, aka open countryside.We found a mooring a couple of miles further on, by the hamlet of Waring’s Green. Conveniently it has two pubs, so Sunday lunch would be sorted.
Today we went to the Bulls Head for a roast dinner. Later back at the boat we gave it a clean and tended to some of its war wounds.
Tomorrow we have another Lock day, the Lapworth flight, ending up back on the
Last night there were three other boats moored at the base of the Tardebigge Lock flight, all facing the same way as us. We had a discussion about whether to get up early and hope to be the first boat up the flight, thereby ensuring the Locks, which would have no doubt drained overnight, would be in our favour. We decided no, we would wake up normally. We heard the first boat engine start at about quarter to eight, and by half past, all three other boats were on their way. No need to rush breakfast now, all Locks would be against us. Slipping our lines at 9am, we made our way into Tardebigge Bottom Lock, only 30 to go.
We quickly got in to a routine. Once the Lock chamber was half full, the crew would go ahead to set the next Lock, whilst I dealt with the current one. The system worked quite smoothly, and by the first hour we had passed through eight Locks. At one point we were even catching up with the boat ahead, which had set off about twenty minutes before us. The halfway point was reached after two hours and fifteen minutes. We were slowing slightly. It was about this time we also encountered a shower, which had not been forecast. Fortunately it was only brief. On reaching Tardebigge reservoir, we knew we had cracked it, only five more to go.
Tardebigge reservoir was built about fifty feet below the summit level, and a pump house was therefore needed further up the flight, to pump the water back up the hill. There is a large field adjacent to the reservoir, so four legs was allowed to get off the boat to have a run around.
Once we passed the former pump house, we had made it. The Top Lock is actually located a bit further on, beyond the visitor moorings. We would not be doing that today. We found a spot to secure the boat, then collapsed into our armchairs, for a mug of tea and a well earned rest.
As you can see in the photo above, we have needed to utilise the wheelbarrow tyres here, because the mooring is shallow. The mooring rings have also not been well spaced for a sixty foot boat, so the extra long ropes have been required. One other reason to stay put for today is, that we need a fair amount of diesel and a pump out. The Anglo Welsh hire base just above the Top Lock, cannot serve us today as they are busy with boat hand overs, so we will wait till tomorrow.
At 9 am we were underway, earlier than usual for us. We had a few miles to go before reaching our first set of six Locks. We navigated through Dunhampstead, which has a small Canal side shop, selling gifts and chandlery items. Next was Dunhampstead Tunnel, which at 230 yards is fairly short. On approach to Hanbury Junction, where the Droitwich Canal, joins the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, there is a line of long term moored boats. We slowed to a tickover, so as not to rock the boats, then just as we were closing on the junction, another boat emerged from the direction of Droitwich, and was now ahead of us towards the Locks.
With the boat ahead, all the Locks would be against us now, still never mind the sun was shining. At the top of the Astwood flight, this other boat moored. We passed them then stopped for water. After a quick lunch break we got going again, this time with nothing in front of us, towards the Stoke flight of six Locks. The only concern we had now was, would there be space to stop above the top lock. There is only a very short pound between Stoke Top Lock, and Tardebigge Bottom Lock, and we certainly did not want to be committed to that flight of 30 Locks today. We were lucky, there was a little space, we secured the boat, then went to the Queens Head P.H. for refreshments.
Just ahead of our mooring, you can see the white posts to the Lock Landing for Tardebigge Bottom Lock.
Tuesday 14/5. Throughout our night moored on the river Severn, our sleep was interrupted periodically, by a swan nibbling away at the algae, on the boats waterline. It sounded like a pneumatic drill, in comparison to when the ducks do it.
On opening the side hatch, the culprit was still hanging around, no doubt waiting for any breakfast titbits. What was even more galling, was half an hour later, when we got underway, the swan had its head tucked under a wing, fast asleep. No doubt tired after its night time of feasting.
A short distance from the mooring is the entrance to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. There are two wide Locks which lift you from the river, and into Diglis Basin.
We shared the Lock with another boat crewed by a team of bell ringers, then through Diglis Basin and onto the Canal.
The difference in steerage was immediately noticeable, and only three hundred yards on, approaching the first narrow Lock, the propeller became fouled with rubbish. Oh how I long for the deep clean waters of the rivers.
On we went passing The Commandary, originally a small hospital, then later the headquarters of Charles II, before the Battle of Worcester in 1651. This Canal is heavily locked as it climbs its way towards Birmingham, with 58 Locks over the 30 miles. It also has the longest Lock flight in the country, a joy we are soon to behold. The weather was warm, and after 16 Locks we called it a day by the visitor moorings at Tibberton. We secured the boat, and then popped along to the Bridge Inn, for well earned refreshments, which later became an evening meal. The pub is very dog friendly, with two of their own, so four legs joined us.
Today, 15/5 we had a non moving day. The crew went on strike, apparently there is a rule, that you can’t be made to do Locks on your birthday. So we walked along the Canal to the next village at Oddingley, and had a birthday lunch at the Fir Tree P.H. It was very nice. Tomorrow we head for Stoke Prior, a fairly gentle day before Tardebigge on Friday.
We had a quite night in Tewkesbury by Avon Lock. We were to be the second boat down in the Lock today. We were preceded by a narrow boat called ‘Wide Man on a Narrow Boat’, it was also adorned with several pictures of Buddha. This boat turned left at the end of the channel leading to the river Severn, heading towards Gloucester Docks. This coming bank holiday, the Tall Ships are visiting Gloucester. We however would be turning right, heading north, against the flow towards Worcester.
Once clear of the Lock, we had a channel of about two hundred yards to navigate, before reaching the main channel of the river Severn. It was important not to cut the corner of the junction, to avoid the shallow silts where the two join. This can be done by looking for the Mythe Bridge in its entirety, before making the turn.
Mythe Bridge was built by Thomas Telford in 1828, and is a 170′ single span, cast iron bridge. Now we were on our way. Not having experienced rivers before this year, we did not know how the flow would affect the speed of the boat. We set the throttle to 1500 rpm, and seemed to be cruising along at the same speed we had, when coming downstream on the Avon. It was 09.30. Our first major landmark was the M50 motorway. We passed beneath the high bridge, and the time was now 10.00. We had covered three miles in the first half an hour, at this rate the whole journey would take just under three hours. We were however to be proved wrong. We had now entered a stretch of river, which still operates as a commercial waterway. Barges laden with gravel and sand, are loaded and transported over this section of the river.
The next landmark to be reached was Upton-upon-Severn, a pretty looking town perched on the banks of the river.
That was another three miles ticked off the journey, but this took longer than the previous three. The engine was still chugging away quite happily, so no problem there, then it dawned, the river was getting slightly narrower, and presumably the strength of the flow was increasing. By twelve o’clock we still had a way to go, so lunch was had on the move. This is the first time since owning the boat we have done this, but on the river, places to stop are a lot more infrequent than on the canals.
Looking back we could see the Malvern Hills in the distance. On route we had seen several boats coming downstream, a mix of river cruisers and narrowboats. On the final two miles into Worcester, we were overtaken by a cruiser heading upstream.
On seeing the footbridge above, we knew we were close to Diglis Locks. These Locks are huge in comparison to what we have been used to, and are all fully automated. We knew we would be directed into the starboard Lock, the smaller of the two, but we did have to wait a short while for the lock keeper to turn the Lock in our favour. The crew remains on the boat, and entry is controlled by traffic lights.
On a green light we entered the Lock chamber, and secured the bow and stern with lines threaded through some wire risers. Compared to the tiny Locks we are used to, the turbulence was minimal.
Once through the Lock we moored on the flood safe moorings, close to the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, and Worcester Cathedral in the background. Securing the boat we took four legs for a walk, and as he has been cheated out of his long walks recently, he got an ice cream as well. The journey had taken four and a half hours cruising, five hours mooring to mooring. Tomorrow we are back on the canals, our river experience over for now. We do have the Thames to look forward to sometime next month.