Staffs & Worcs and Shroppie canals, June 99
Crew: Chris & Terry Rigden and Brian, Joyce & Christopher
Our second trip and first outing on a river, our plan was to travel up the Severn and to join the Staff &Worcs at Stourport.
As it was a Sunday departure, we arrived in Worcester the day before and took a look round this pleasant city. The "hotel" we chose had seen better days and got the impression that guests we regarded as an unwelcome intrusion.
The folks at Viking had kindly offered us an early start so we could get through the river locks before they shut. We arrived at noon started to load our stuff on the boat. Just as Christine stepped on the boat there was a bang and a loud hissing. One of the pipes from the gas cylinders had ruptured upstream of the regulator and the contents were now roaring out uncontrollably. The pipe was quickly replaced and we were soon underway. It was only later that the potential for disaster dawned on us. With all that gas about, had there been a spark then Lowsmoore basin would have been a bit bigger, there seems to be a disregard for gas safety at that yard.
Once underway we made our way through Worcester and settled into the routine as we remembered how to do locks etc. It was immediately apparent that the engine had seen better days, it smoked badly and there was a lot of noise and vibration. Having the engine idling in locks was a definite heath hazard.
The locks from Diglis basin to the river are both wide beam but as there was no other traffic about we went through on our own making use of the centre rope to stop us swinging about too much. Once out of the lock I made a 270 degree left turn to bring us alongside the pontoon just downstream of the locks and retrieve the crew. We then motored upstream to the racecourse where we stopped for lunch and organised the boat.
After lunch we set off up river, the first lock at Belvere the loomed ahead, after the narrow locks we had been used to this seemed like an immense cavern. It would easily take 6 narrowboats, but we just shared it with a Tupperware cruiser. The friendly and efficient lock keeper had the lock set for us as we arrived, and made the process swift and uneventful.
We were soon proceeding upstream again and the other locks were passed quickly and without drama. We caught up with another narrow boat also heading for Stourport ('Snowy Owl', with 5 adults and 7 kids!!). We arrived at Stourport well ahead of schedule, but had a long wait on the river while the crew of Snowy Owl figured out how to operate the staircase lock. Once in the basin it became apparent that were was absolutely nowhere to moor, and as the place didn't seem that inviting we decided to press on. We stopped at the first moorings we saw, just beyond upper Mitton bridge.
After doing the normal morning checks we made an early start. I had my bacon butty breakfast on the move as we cleared the outskirts of Stourbridge. Falling sands and Caldwall locks are delightfully situated and we passed under the impressive Severn Valley Railway viaduct but there were no trains on it.
The deep (11' 10") Kidderminster lock is approached through a dismal concrete tunnel-like bridge but as you ascend you are faced by the delightful St Mary's church. After that Kidderminster is soon left behind and the landscape improves dramatically as the canal takes on its narrow, winding character.
This section of canal has to be one of my favourites as it winds around sandstone cliffs. Debdale lock is particularly charming with its cavern cut into the rock which was used as a stable for the horses.
Just before the Cookley tunnel there is a really tight corner that would be an interesting place to meet an oncoming boat.
We moored beyond the Dunsley tunnel, in the middle of nowhere, and enjoyed
the peace and quiet.
With the Botheram staircase and the Bratch before us it promised to be an interesting day. We were were making good progress, getting through the Bratch in 35 minutes. The lock keeper told us that in the summer delays of several hours are common.
After a few miles Wolverhampton started to close in, we were a little concerned when we spotted a weirdo watching us with great interest from a bridge but he turned out to be harmless. A quick look up the Wolverhampton 21 at Addersly convinced us that we didn't want to go that way.
The crew was getting a bit fed up with all the locks so we changed our plan and decided to head up the Shroppie rather than continue up the S&W as originally planned. We stopped at Autherly for lunch, took on water and had a quick look round the hire boats, but didn't see anything that took our fancy.
a change on the Shroppie - straight but very narrow at first. We decide
to moor near the Stretton aqueduct for dinner, but had trouble getting
near the bank as there is a concrete ledge that sticks out just below
the water. We eventually found a mooring just to the north. After dinner
we trundled on to Weaton Aston for the night.
The Shroppie is, quite different from the S&W with long straight sections going over the horizon. Sometimes we were gliding through the cool, dark avenues of trees, then onto embankments with views over open countryside. We saw a kingfisher in the trees, and several herons.
The behaviour of the herons was fascinating. We would see one on the bank, and it seemed to wait for us to draw nearly abreast. Then it would launch off with a lazy flap or two, glide up the canal a ways, and land to wait for us again. There would be a bit of a tiff, when we crossed from one bird's territory into another one's, with the birds circling one another and squawking a bit, then the next bird would take up where the previous one left off.
That was the day we had to turn round and retrace our course so we spent another night at the visitor moorings at Weaton Aston, the garage there sells cheap diesel, but they don't take credit cards. The pong from the chicken farm is another memorable aspect of the place, but a good mooring never the less.
Up through the lock and on our way again it seems different somehow when heading back. This is where Christopher won the "Enola Gay " prize for the biggest bang, we were heading down a dead straight bit of canal when there was an almighty bang and the boat lurched to the left. He hadn't noticed the narrows where stop planks can be fitted .
Once we were back on the S&W we saw the loony on the bridge again at Wolverhampton it must be his regular place. We were moored just down hill from a lock when a boat came hammering past us in the opposite direction asking if they we going too fast. I commented they would soon find out as there was a lock round the bend. This caused some consternation as the crew went searching for windlasses, whilst the helmsman tried and failed to stop before the gates. We spent an enjoyable 45 minutes watching them go through the lock, sort of Dad's Army meets the Navy Lark
This time the Severn Valley Railway treated us to the sight of a steam locomotive going over the bridge, just as we approached unfortunately our cameras weren't to hand. The trip down the Severn was a bit busier that our upstream trip and we had some short waits for the locks. Fortunately the river was very low so we didn't have any problems with the current. I can see it would be tricky when the river is in full flow.
Going up the wide locks into Worcester basin was trickier than descending and we had problems holding the boat in position and had it swing across the lock and bag into the side. Another lesson learnt, use the bollards ! Christine got off and did some shopping while we locked up into the basin. She rejoined us at the commmandery, telling me I had to try on some trousers she had bought me right now as the shop shut in 5 minutes.
As we had half a day to spare we overshot the boatyard and took a nose up the Worcester & Birmingham canal for a few miles. We spent our last night on board in the company of some psychotic swans who kept attacking the boat. They turned really nasty when Christinetried to cross the top lock gate and she was marooned for a while. I'm told it's due to lead poisoning from the lead shot anglers use.
We got the only rain of the trip as we headed back to the boatyard this made unloading a bit of a pain as we couldn't keep our muddy footprints out of the boat. We mentioned the noise and smoke from the engine to the staff at the yard but they weren't a bit bothered.
We were now well and truly hooked on narrow boating but were starting to develop definite ideas about what we wanted in a boat. It must be clean and quiet with plenty of social space with comfortable seating. During this trip we saw and advert for a shared ownership scheme in a waterways magazine and that started us thinking..... with expensive results.