Go to Allan's Page 2019 Part 2, the Road  to Wigan Pier Canals Home Page 2019 Part 3, Liverpool itself and our return Go to Deb's Page

2019: Going to Liverpool

1. The long way round: via Stratford and Gloucester

 

Farewell Kings Bromley

Jessop looks back in farewell to King's Bromley Marina

 

If you read about our 2018 adventures you will know that our plans to travel to Stratford-on-Avon for the theatre were thwarted by a wild storm known as the 'Beast from the East'. This year we were determined to make it to Stratford, having bought ourselves a couple of really good seats at the theatre, and we set off from King's Bromley before Easter in gloriously sunny (but bitterly cold) weather. We had spent two winters at the Marina, but now it was time to move on.

 

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Approaching the 7ft-wide Armitage Tunnel ...
... which is no longer a tunnel ...
... since they took the roof off it in the 1970's

We had plenty of time for our journey, so we had planned to spend a couple of days in Birmingham on the way. Our route would take us down the Staffs & Worcester Canal to Wolverhampton, then up the 21 locks there and along to the centre of Birmingham.

 

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The residents of Rugeley had dressed up to wave goodbye to us.
Waiting for a boat ahead of us at the start of the Staffs and Worcester
The signpost at the junction to Stafford (which has not yet been restored)

 

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The roundhouse at Gailey is an unmistakeable landmark
CHEMICAL WORKS - NO MOORING OR STOPPING FOR 200 METRES EVEN IF YOU HEAR AN ALARM. Notices like this always worry me!
How would you use this life-ring without a set of spanners?
 And could you use this life-ring without a permit?

It seemed that our luck was in because soon after we reached the top of the flight we received an email from CRT telling us that the New Main Line had re-opened after the winter repairs which would allow us to have a quick and easy run to the City Centre. Sure enough there were no signs of closure at Factory Junction, and CRT confirmed by phone that the canal was definitely open, so we went down through the three locks and set off along the New Main Line - but not for long. A mile later we found a barrier stretched across the canal; and made the next of our many, many calls to CRT that afternoon. On these calls we were variously told that we must be in the wrong place, that we were in the right place, that the canal was open, that the canal was about to re-open, that the local staff were with us, that they were not with us, that they were on-site, that they were at a different site, that they were not on-site, and finally that the canal was not going to re-open. We had to reverse for a mile (which is never easy in a narrow-boat) and go up the three locks backwards (which can be quite hazardous), and by that time it was too late to get to the city centre that night.

 

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Also 7ft wide but not a tunnel, just to the north of Wolverhampton is this half-long cutting
Turning off the Staffs and Worcester, Debbie gets the first of the 21 locks ready
We came to a sudden stop on the New Main Line, where the canal was blocked by a barrier

The following day we continued along the Old Main Line, which is slower but more interesting, to the City Centre where we found a good mooring for a couple of days. It's always good to eat out in Birmingham; we were disappointed to find that two of our favourite restaurants had closed down since our previous visit, but Google found us a superb Chinese restaurant where we had an excellent dinner. We spent the next morning at  the Art Gallery, then felt strangely drawn to the old Roundhouse (you may remember it as a pub and music venue called the Fiddle and Bone) which had recently re-opened with its own distillery next to the bar; it would have been a shame not to buy a bottle of their Roundhouse Gin, wouldn't it?

 

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Where old meets new; the Old Main Line is topped by the M5 Motorway
Debbie finds some new penguin friends outside the Sea Life Centre
The Roundhouse now has its own distillery
The impressive copper still inside the Roundhouse

We were just about to leave Birmingham when we received another email from CRT, informing us that our intended route down the North Stratford Canal was closed by a broken lock-gate. At least the notification arrived in time to let us take the alternative route via Digbeth (where we picked up an old duvet on the propeller, that took me half an hour to remove) Camp Hill (where we picked up a lot of old plastic sheeting on the propeller, which took me half an hour to remove) and Knowle locks (where some idiots in front of us had drained the intervening pounds, which took me half an hour to re-fill). At last the weather is gloriously warm, and we treated ourselves to a large glass of Roundhouse Gin to celebrate making good progress despite the stoppages and obstacles.

 

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One of the Stratford Canal's famous split bridges, which allowed the horse's tow-rope to pass through
One of the Stratford Canal's famous barrel-roofed cottages, supposedly built by navvies more used to building bridges and tunnels
Another very fine barrel-roofed cottage beside the Stratford Canal
 A rather beautiful black swan at Wootton Wawen, on the way to Stratford on Avon
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The Edstone Aqueduct is unusual in having the towpath level with the bottom of the canal
The aqueduct crosses not only a road ...
... but also a railway line
 The canal feels as if it creeps into Stratford through the back door

We arrived at Stratford in gloriously hot sunshine, with 4 days to spare before our theatre booking. It was Shakespeare's birthday that week so the town was packed with people, and we had a fabulous time being tourists ourselves. We roamed the streets amongst the throng of happy people; we visited the parks where there were street performers, musicians, and Morris dancers; and we visited the market where we bought home made fudge, jam, ice cream, and gin (yes, more gin) as well as an ancestry scroll based on Debbie's maiden name of Hytch;

 

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This wonderful statue of a pair of swans is in the park next to the Basin in Stratford
Morris dancers celebrating Shakespeare's birthday
Now you know exactly where you are!

We also bought tickets for a really small production of 'Much Ado about Nothing' which was being performed in an attic next to the Basin; by the Attic Theatre Company ; the intimacy of the small venue, and the superb audience interaction by the small cast, made the whole production utterly marvellous, quite hilarious, and a superb contrast to the lavish production at the RSC which we attended the following evening.

 

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Debbie makes a new friend outside the theatre
We moored on the river opposite the theatre
We had superb seats for the play

Our seats at the theatre were truly wonderful, and the play was one of my favourites 'the Taming of the Shrew'. This production was rather different, as it had been totally gender-reversed; not just in regard to the gender of the actors (which was common enough in Shakespeare's time, as you will already know if you've ever seen the film 'Shakespeare in Love') but actually within the play itself, such that the Shrew was a self-opinionated young man who was tamed by a strong-willed woman. It took me a while to adapt my  viewpoint to this strange transformation, but once I did so I found it thought-provoking and powerful. It was made particularly enjoyable by the fact that for this performance the cast and production team returned to the stage for an excellent Q&A session at the end of the play.

During the week we had moved down from the Basin (where you are only allowed to stay for 48 hours) on to the river; as usual we went down the lock backwards, which saves a lot of manoeuvring in the basin and also is fun because it confuses the gongoozlers. Jessop loved the riverside mooring, with a park where he could run about and a river where he could swim whenever he wanted, and we were all quite sorry to leave Stratford after a wonderful week there.

 

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You have to watch carefully for the signs on the bridges over the Avon
The navigation arch isn't always the one you'd expect it to be
The evening sun highlighted this bridge's richly coloured stonework
This lighthouse doesn't really help with the navigation
At the Anchor Inn, Wyre Piddle

On our way down the river we had a horrendous storm; the wind blew at 50mph all day, and it was really cold, but we were moored behind a sheltering bank outside a good pub so we didn't travel anywhere that day! Then we carried on down the river to the gloriously named village of Wyre Piddle and moored at  the Anchor Inn, which had improved immeasurably since our last visit 10 years ago. We had a wonderful Sunday lunch there, and for a treat we took Jessop in with us for the evening; he had a great time, meeting the other customers (who kept feeding him treats) and making friends with their dogs.

We wanted to head down the River Severn to Gloucester, but the lock there had been closed for a couple of weeks back in February so that the lower cill could be repaired. It had turned out to be a much bigger job than had been expected so now at the end of April the repairs were still not complete. The river was running very fast, and the divers at Gloucester were waiting for it to calm down before finishing their work. We decided to head down the river for just a few miles, to one of our favourite pubs the Yew Tree Inn at Chaceley; this delightful riverside inn deserves boaters' full support, providing as it does a secure mooring on this sometimes difficult river (which responds by flooding their immaculately maintained premises on a regular basis). With the closure at Gloucester and the high level of the river, there had not been much boat traffic that way in 2019 so far; the lock-keeper at Tewkesbury phoned the lock-keeper at Upper Lode and said "If you can still remember how to operate your lock, a boat is heading in your direction", then a few minutes later when we arrived at Upper Lode the lock-keeper laughed and said to us "Ah, so this is what a narrowboat looks like". Our journey down to Chaceley was very quick with the strong current, unlike our return journey which was a lot slower; we continued upstream at Upton where there was just enough room to moor half of the boat on the floating pontoons (the other half of the boat was pointing upstream of the pontoon into the strong current, tied back with a long rope, which was not ideal so as the upstream end of the pontoon was also slightly damaged I attached additional ropes to the pontoon's own mooring posts for safety. Two more boats came up the river shortly after we arrived, including one that we had overtaken on the way, and each made several unsuccessful attempts to moor in the strong current before giving up; indeed one of them was nearly run down by a passing sand-barge as he swung across in front of it. We settled down to wait for a couple of days in this charming village while the river went down a bit more, before continuing upstream to Worcester.

 

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The sand barges were still fully operational despite the fast flow of the river
A delightful shaggy-dog in the churchyard at Upton
The river was full of canoes at Worcester

We stayed at Worcester for several days. This allowed us to get all our laundry done, to have an excellent dinner at the Cafe Rouge which had a live band playing there, to go to the Art museum which had an exhibition about the young Turner, and to visit the food fair which was taking place on the Race-course. At the fair we bought lots of delicious home-made food, rather a lot of cheese, and a couple of bottles of (yet again) craft gin; one of the distillers gave a most enjoyable and informative lecture (with samples!) on how best to enjoy tasting their product including the invaluable tip to use as much ice as possible in the glass so that it can cool the gin without melting which would otherwise dilute it.

 

Worcester

 

Debbie's brother and sister came down for a day and took Debbie away for a Family get-together, leaving me to spend the day playing with Jessop (who loves swimming from the gentle banks above Worcester) and then we were ready to leave Worcester. The level of the river had dropped considerably so the divers had been able to complete the repairs at Gloucester, and we made our way rapidly downstream. Shortly after leaving Upper Lode we met an incoming Spring Tide and had the rather strange experience of travelling down-river against the current; however once the tide turned it pushed us down to Gloucester at a most satisfying pace. We had to be very careful because several trees had been washed up over the weir by the tide, and were now creating something of an obstacle course through the Partings, but we reached Gloucester without incident and were rewarded by having a good choice of moorings in the almost empty Gloucester Docks, to stay comfortably before continuing our journey towards Liverpool  ...

 

 

Go to Allan's Page 2019 Part 2, the Road  to Wigan Pier Canals Home Page 2019 Part 3, Liverpool itself and our return Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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