Go to Allan's Page Part 2, Leek to Froghall Canals Home Page Late summer 2007, Birmingham and the Shroppie Go to Deb's Page
Spring 2007, Thrupp Part 1. MK to Leek View Slideshow Autumn 2007, Aylesbury Spring 2007, the Black Bottom trip

Via Leek and Froghall to Gloucester

Part 3 - Gloucester and Sharpness

Sitting in the Holly Bush pub at Hazlehurst on the Tuesday evening, we had just been challenged to reach Stourport by Friday night, which gave us just 4 days. Could we do it? First thing the next morning we climbed the locks and set off along the Caldon Canal in beautiful sunshine, making good progress as far as Etruria staircase. There was a bit of a hold-up here, the local kids had got windlasses and were having great fun draining the locks (and the pound above them). It took us about an hour to make friends with the kids and persuade them that letting us refill the locks to pass through was a good idea, and that emptying them behind us might not be a good idea. We then managed one of the quickest 'pit-stops' imaginable at Etruria junction, managing to empty our waste tank and top up our water  tank in less than 15 minutes, before going down the Stoke flight and on to the Wedgwood factory near Barlaston for a peaceful overnight mooring. We were glad we'd stopped there because when we walked on to the 'Plume of Feathers' pub, we found that all the moorings there were full. The last time we'd been to the 'Plume of Feathers' had been on our maiden voyage in 1991, and we had been very unimpressed; this time it was completely different and we had a superb dinner.

Much to our surprise and despite heavy traffic, by the middle of the Friday morning we were at Kidderminster and stocking up with supplies at Tesco; we were tied up outside the pub in Stourport by mid-afternoon to wait for our friends to arrive. We still did not know if we could use the River Severn, but our friends arrived with the news that the river was open as far as Worcester, and that it was about to be opened further downstream to private owners who were prepared to sign a disclaimer to the effect that they would not sue BW if they ran into problems caused by the amount of debris in the river. We were not enthusiastic about this option, and wondered what our insurance company would think of it, but decided to go down the river with our friends as far as Worcester anyway.

 

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We joined the river then waited for our friends to join us ...
... before travelling down the river together
Our friends stopped at Worcester as we continued down towards Gloucester

The river was flowing quite gently, but everywhere there were signs of the recent floods. The flood-marks on the banks and jetties were way above our heads, and there were still whole trees floating down the river; the approaches to some of the locks were quite difficult because of the amount of silt that had been deposited in the lock cuts, but in all it was a pleasant journey to Worcester where we were amazed to find hundreds of plastic ducks gently floating downstream in a charity duck-race. We tossed a few coins into the bucket on their accompanying RIB, and waved goodbye to our friends who were heading back up the Worcester and Birmingham canal.

 

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Plastic ducks racing past Worcester Cathedral
A rescue boat stands by on case any of the plastic ducks should sink

The lock keepers told us that the steady flow of the river had cleared the floating debris more quickly than predicted, and that the river was now open all the way to Gloucester. We were a little dubious about proceeding, not because of any risk but because we reckoned that people would be having enough problems clearing up after the floods without having boaty tourists to contend with, but we were strongly encouraged to carry on because the residents of Tewkesbury and Gloucester would likely be glad to see us as a sign of returning normality. Indeed that was the case. As we passed through the leaking silt-encrusted remains of Diglis lock, noting the sanitary station upside down with its access gangway stuck up in the trees, the lock-keeper cheerfully made sure we were OK and helped us on our way. Sure enough we were soon at what little was left of Tewkesbury, where the lock keeper was delighted to pass us through to the next stretch of river, although warning us that we may find it difficult to find an overnight mooring - which worried us particularly because of the need for the dogs to be able to get ashore. Most of the jetties had been swept away in the floods, and we even saw one jetty in the middle of the fields with 6 boats still tied to it. There were scenes of devastation everywhere, with dozens of sunken boats in the river, and most depressing was the discovery that every leaf on every tree or bush that had been touched by the floodwater was dead and just crumbled to the touch. The banks everywhere looked thoroughly uninviting, and it seemed that every possible remaining mooring was fully occupied with stranded boats. I will also add that the stench of decay everywhere was almost overwhelming.

We were starting to despair of finding a good mooring, and I was beginning to think of having to drop anchor overnight (and teach the dogs to use the decks when they got desperate), when suddenly we spotted the jetty of the Coal House inn at Apperley. The jetty was empty and completely intact although covered, like everything else, in a couple of inches of silt. Making fast to the jetty, and taking our grateful dogs ashore to stretch their legs, we climbed the bank to see the pub staff setting out tables in the garden. It turned out that, despite having been flooded to a depth 2 feet above the bar counter, the pub was re-opening that weekend after a massive clean-up effort by the local villagers. They made us every bit as welcome as the lock keeper had predicted, and the evening had a party aspect as everybody swapped tales of the floods. The cellar wasn't yet usable so the beer was in a barrel on the bar, and when it ran out mid-evening the head brewer of the local brewery brought a new barrel in his car. They even apologised to us that they hadn't been able to clean the jetty for our arrival. Full marks to the Coal House at Apperley!

You may be wondering why I haven't included lots of photos here. The truth is I didn't take any, somehow it didn't feel right to record the scenes of devastation: that is the job of the news-hounds, not mine. I prefer to preserve the memories of places at their best, and that is what you'll find here.

Next morning we turned downstream and headed for Gloucester. Raising the lock keeper on the VHF radio, he told us to come straight on but watch out for debris, and he would have the lock ready for our arrival. As we came up in the lock he asked if we had come for the concert. Concert, what concert? It turned out that there was a free "Rock on the Docks" concert that afternoon, with folk-rock legends from Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull, Magna Carta, Blodwyn Pig, Lindisfarne and others. What a wonderful welcome to Gloucester; moored on the visitors' pontoons there was nothing between us and the stage, so we had a perfect afternoon sitting on deck drinking chilled white wine in the sunshine while the bands played our sort of music.

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Upton on Severn. Note the flood marks painted near the top of the pole
Rock at the Docks
The view of the concert, taken from the front of our boat

As we had been travelling downstream, I had been looking at the inhospitable banks and thinking about what I would do if I had a problem such as a jammed propeller, or a broken fan-belt. In most places I reckoned that a few seconds of engine power would be enough for me to turn around and reach a virtual stop near enough to lasso a tree, but the poor state of emergency moorings had been slightly worrying and I really wouldn't want to have to drop anchor. While we were in Gloucester Docks, my thoughts turned back to such problems, and it occurred to me that I had not really examined the fan-belt thoroughly for some time; although I had adjusted it and had a quick look at it, but it was probably over a year since I had taken it off the engine and examined it properly. So the next morning I removed the belt to inspect it, and realised how lucky we had been: although it was completely intact around the outside, it was almost completely worn out inside and would probably have broken after less than an hour's further use. Thanking my lucky stars I put my spare belt on the pulley - except that it wouldn't fit. It was half an inch too short! It had no markings on the belt itself so I measured it and it was half an inch shorter than the label on its packaging stated, and was no use to me at all. The next 4 hours were spent in a search of the Gloucester area for somewhere that sold the right size belt, which turned out to be a specialist industrial size that was not available from any automotive source. Eventually I got one from an industrial belt supplier on a nearby industrial estate, and we set off for Sharpness where we could buy some much-needed Diesel from Stokie.

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Diesel boat Stokie
This plane flew over while we walking
The Severn Bridges, as seen from Sharpness
Telephoto shot of the Severn Bridges

We had a beautiful trip along the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, but John on Stokie had sold out of Diesel and wasn't expecting any more until the next day. We decided to stay around, and to explore the area around Sharpness. It was a lovely afternoon so we walked up to the old point and took a few pictures of the Severn at low tide before making our way up to the Dockers club which had been strongly recommended to us. Sure enough we had a really friendly welcome there, had an excellent meal washed down by a few pints of well-kept beer. We'll certainly go back there again.

 

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Pillars of the old Severn railway bridge (demolished after being hit by a barge in the 1960's)
Pillars of the old railway bridge (demolished after being hit by a barge in the 1960's)
Derelict lock-gear at the old dock-entrance
.The original dock-house ...
... is now used as a base for the Severn Area Rescue Association

 

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Looking across the Barges' graveyard at the old Dock House
Looking across the sandbanks at the Welsh side of the river
Views of the Severn
Views of the Severn

The weather the next day was dreadful, with torrential rain and a howling gale. It was possible that we would have to stay at Sharpness, because apparently the bridges on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal often don't open when it's windy, on Health & Safety grounds. Luckily they were open for us, and soon we were back at Gloucester Docks and making a rather hair-raising manoeuvre to reverse onto the visitor's pontoons between two GRP cruisers. We then spent a wonderful evening in the Tall Ship pub next to the docks; their sea-food dishes are just superb!

The next morning we wanted to make an early start. A few other boats were going to wait until mid-morning and take advantage of the high spring tide which would push them up to Tewkesbury, but we wanted to get all the way to Worcester that night so we couldn't wait for the tide. Instead we locked down into the river as soon as possible, and powered our way upstream against the 3mph current. By the time we reached Tewkesbury the incoming tide was starting to make its presence felt, and there was only about a two-foot rise through the lock. We were above Tewkesbury well before noon, and started to keep a lookout (and radio-watch) for the sand barges which were having handling problems in the strong winds. When we met them, typically we met two at once, and had to perform a little side-stepping manoeuvre to keep out of their way, By now the dogs were asking to go ashore again, and we stopped for them  at the useful little abandoned jetty by Severn Stoke.

Soon after this the weather decided to stop playing with us, and to send us some serious rain. Thank goodness for a good pair of waterproofs; it rained so hard as to be actually painful, and then it started hailing. It was hard work fighting the winds and currents in these conditions, and I was having trouble seeing with so much water on my glasses - so much so that I nearly went up the river Teme by mistake. It seemed that there was still more water coming from the Teme than from the Severn itself. As we approached Diglis I could get no reply on the radio and I was wondering about the state of the locks; as we approached I realised that the usual )small) lock was full of work-boats who were setting about making repairs to the gates, and we had to hang around while the main big lock was made ready for us.

As we left the river, as the weather improved, and we passed quickly through Worcester to the peaceful countryside beyond for the night. We'd travelled 32 miles and 12 locks that day, in bad weather and against the current. I was really glad to put my feet up and have a good meal and a few beers that evening.

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Back in Gloucester Docks
Sand barges on the Severn
Unusual paddle-gear on a culvert by the Tardebigge flight.

Of course the Worcester and Birmingham canal is designed to keep you fit, as it includes the Tardebigge flight of locks. Even before you reach them there are 20 locks to go through, and it didn't help that we found ourselves following a solo boater who was leaving all the gates and paddles open behind him. Sing:

The man in front's a solo,

He wears a boatman's hat;

He opens gates and paddles

And leaves them all like that.

The next morning we made an early start to get ahead of him, but there were problems ahead of us as several of the pounds on the Tardebigge flight were completely empty, and there were 6 boats (including a motor and butty pair) stuck ahead of us. Eventually with BW's help it was all sorted out - although I was rather unhappy at being told off by a BW person for leaving a top gate open behind me when I exited a lock, which I reckoned was perfectly reasonable as a hire-boat which was coming down the flight was waiting to go into the lock. The gentleman from BW was adamant however that  after leaving the lock I should have stopped and shut the gate in front of the hire-boat, so that his crew could immediately re-open it to let it enter the lock. After a few minutes of discussion I gave up trying to argue with him, and carried on up the flight!

We had planned to stop at Alvechurch, but there was no room as all the visitors moorings had been taken over by permanent residents. This is the most likely fate for all visitors moorings unless BW become a bit more active in policing them; the problem of finding an overnight mooring is the one thing that will most likely drive me to give up boating.

Our trip down Lapworth flight was about as wet as it can get; my waterproofs kept me dry but Debbie's just couldn't cope and she was soaked. We'll have to look for some new ones for her. Luckily we found someone to share Hatton flight with, and made good time to Warwick where we met up with some more friends from the Canalworld Forum who had just bought an ex-Black Prince hire-boat as their new home. After admiring the boat we retreated to the Cape of Good Hope for the rest of a very enjoyable afternoon and evening.

By now I was beginning to miss my morning toast, as the grill on our cooker had stopped working. None of the boatyards was able to fix it, and recommended we call out the manufacturers. Unfortunately they wouldn't meet us anywhere other than out home address, so we decided it would be best to take the boat there. Unfortunately the cooker was then declared to be un-repairable (after only 15 years!) so we had to buy a new one; that was a problem in itself, all the free-standing cookers suitable for boats have been declared obsolete, and we were really lucky to get one of the last remaining ones in stock at  the Chandlery (although we had to drive all the way to Stafford to be certain of getting it). That gave me a week at home to fit it (which requires dismantling the kitchen and taking the lounge doors off). Soon we were ready for our next trip ...

 

 

Spring 2007, Thrupp Part 1. MK to Leek View Slideshow Autumn 2007, Aylesbury Spring 2007, the Black Bottom trip
Go to Allan's Page Part 2, Leek to Froghall Canals Home Page Late summer 2007, Birmingham and the Shroppie Go to Deb's Page

 

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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