Monday, 21 September 2015

A game of two halves

Bratch locks: pretty looking and pretty complex
The great footballing cliche seems very appropriate to today's boating. This morning it belted down with rain. After lunch the sun appeared and I stripped down from rain gear to tee shirt.
After the dreary trudge to Gailey that provoked Thursday's blog outburst, the canal gods relented and allowed a little more water into their canal. We reached Autherley, junction with the Shroppie with no trouble (though the half mile long and one boat width cutting through the rocks was very slow going) and on past Aldersley where we turned off up the Wolverhampton locks earlier this year.
From here on we were on a stretch of the Staffs & Worcs we hadn't visited for five years when we came through here on Star. Incidentally we had passed Star a few miles earlier.
After a weekend break from some 'granny duties' we woke this morning at Compton to find the rain pouring down but with our permitted 48 hours just run out we had to don the wet gear and get moving. But three miles and a couple of locks later we called 'early lunch' as it was getting ever heavier, moored up and watched blue skies start to appear. Must try that trick again.
The locks come more frequently now as this canal drops rapidly down towards its eventual destiny with the Severn. They are deep locks, too, but none deeper than the 30 feet drop of the complicated trio of locks at The Bratch.
These locks started out as a staircase (where each lock joins the one below and empties into it). That's a slow and inefficient process so side ponds were added and each lock is now fed or emptied via these. Even though they may still look like a staircase, they are effectively three separate locks.
Disappointingly hidden by trees, the fine pumping station
Get it? No, no did I even after the resident lock-keeper explained it to me. It's a good job he's permanently on site during the season to prevent flooding or the chaos of one boat trying to go up while another is coming down.
The Bratch locks are a canal landmark too, with a pretty, octagonal lock house. Nearby is a fabulous Victorian gothic water pumping station with two of its original steam engines still in place - one of them in working order. Unfortunately it's been closed to the public for five years while arguments went on about its future. To judge from the scaffolding around it, restoration work seems now to be in hand. Hopefully they will also cut back some of the trees which disappointingly hide much of it from sight.
Is it that a phone mast I see?
Talking of trees, way on the horizon we also spotted a rather unusual species of tree, the phonus mastius camouflagius. A good try but you can't hide a mast that's 10 feet taller than the surrounding trees with a few stick-on branches. Still, it means we get a good 3G signal tonight

Thursday, 17 September 2015

A bad day at the office

Yesterday was the sort of day that made us wonder if we were in the wrong game - or maybe the wrong boat.
It was a day of almost incessant struggle as we dragged a reluctant Harry from Great Haywood to Gailey. I say dragged because the canal was more a silt filled ditch than a waterway for us in a three foot deep boat. It seemed worse than on our passage earlier this year and that was slow and sludgy with stretches of reeds and debris in every bridge hole.
The low point was when we tried to moor for lunch at some piling and got so badly aground it took half  an hour of poleing, rocking and revving to get free.
Afternoon saw more locks and as the day drew on so the pounds got lower. We were getting stuck on the entry to every lock and the pole kept coming out. We barely made it through the last couple.
Ah well the sun is shining  now so hopefully today will be better.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Suddenly it's busy

What's this? A queue at a lock
Everywhere we've been this year – and we've been all over – it's very rarely been busy. I really can't recall us having to queue for a lock, save at the notoriously crowded Bradford Lock on the K&A.
Until we arrived on the Coventry Canal, which was like joining the M6 from a country lane. Boats were coming and going all the time, from early in the morning – and by early I mean six a.m. – until after dark.
But we still never had to queue at a lock. Even at Fradley where a clutch of volunteer lockies were speeding everyone through the flight in very efficient style.
Until today when, after a long, long lock-free stretch from Fradley, we arrived at the pretty Colwich Lock on the edge of Great Haywood, and found ourselves number four in a line; a line which very rapidly became six boats long.
Apparently a novice crew at their first ever lock had got in a complete muddle and held everyone up. It doesn't take long for a queue to build or for one to dissipate for by the next lock there was only one in front when we arrived.
It's been strange once again cruising a length of canal we know so well. Little seems to have changed: the dreadfully silted up bridge by the Lengthsman's Cottage on the Coventry is still dreadfully silted up (and the house still for sale). The narrow dutch barge is still moored by the mouth of the A38 tunnel, still with no licence or mooring discs and still causing silting problems. More amusingly the padlock, which CART warned a year ago would be fitted on the little swing footbridge at Fradley is still not there (or has maybe be nicked!) and the bridge still swings to and fro quite happily.
Maid of Oak, the all wood narrowboat ten years on
A few new houses have been built here and there and some familiar foot-dragging continuous cruisers from the Coventry have shuffled a bit further away, under the warning gaze of CART no doubt. And Maid of Oak, the unique all-wood narrowboat that I reviewed at its launch ten years ago is still to be seen on its home mooring near Colwich, looking a little frayed in places but a lot smarter than some would have imagined.
The only thing that does seem to have changed is the weather, which, after all the dry months, has been appalling for the last couple of days, with heavy rain and chilling winds. Summer seems a long time ago.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Back on home ground

Moored in the setting sun at Whittington
If there's anywhere you can call home when you spend your time cruising the inland waterways then we are home.
The stretch of Coventry Canal between Tamworth and Fradley is one that we know almost off by heart. I could probably almost drive it with my eyes shut.
It all started when we spent a winter at Streethay Wharf refitting parts of our last boat, Star. Then we disappeared for three or four years and re-appeared to discover a forlorn and burned-out wreck called Harry sitting at Streethay.
Cue another couple of winters fitting that out before we set off again.
And now we are on our way back once more, just to say hello before we set off on the familiar route up to Fradley and head west.
Tonight we are tied up in what is one of our favourite spots, the village of Whittington, an attractive, friendly, self-contained village with shops, pubs, doctor and school (not that we need this, but it is a marker for a thriving village). It's also a quick bus ride away from the town of Lichfield.
The unique Drayton footbridge, newly facelifted
Over the past couple of days we have meandered to the end of the Birmingham & Fazeley – relieving the no gas panic by picking up new bottles at Fazeley Mill Marina. It was good to see that re-development at Fazeley Junction where the canal tees into the Coventry has finally finished and the dilapidated canalside buildings have been turned into smart flats and houses.
Old canalside buildings at Fazeley finally revamped
Yesterday we stopped at Tamworth where the massive retail parks have grown even larger – a new Mini dealership is now much use to boaters but a new Toolstation depot could be. There's a choice of Sainsburys or a giant Asda plus everything else from John Lewis to M&S or B&Q.
No wonder that the centre of Tamworth has collapsed. It looks even shabbier than when we were last here, full of bargain stores and closed shops. The clientele are the sort of folk who can't make the out of town malls - the old, the disabled and the under-privileged. Every other person seems to be in a mobility buggy (and usually vastly overweight), walking with a crutch or just a pallid skinned smoker modelling leisure wear from JD Sports.
It's a sorry place. An object lesson in the way towns expand outwards to the suburbs, leaving the old centres to implode. A shame because Tamworth has history - the ancient capital of Mercia, it has a Norman castle, a former Prime Minister, Robert Peel (the man who established the police force) was its MP and raise your head from the Home Bargains and Cash Converters and the centre has the remains of some fine buildings.
We were glad to move on.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Fifty eight up, now thirty eight down

Moored in the evening sun at the bottom of Curdworth locks
Birmingham certainly is on a hill. It took us fifty eight uphill locks to get there and only now after 38 down the other side have we reached level ground.*
Today was a quieter day than yesterday; a mere eleven locks of the Curdworth flight. We would have gone further but this is such a nice spot to be and Tamworth which lurks ahead is not an enticing alternative.
We are moored alongside one of a multiplicity of old gravel pits which form the vast, 600 acre Kingsbury Water Park. Some are for the active, with sailing and water ski-ing, but this is a wildlife area with only carp fishermen to disturb the birds. Just the distant drone of traffic on the M42 spoils an atmosphere of total tranquility.
Indeed the second half of the Brum&Faze is a very different beast to the drab, industrial wastes of yesterday. It runs through a gentle farmland landscape, surprisingly remote from habitation. Unfortunately there's always the background traffic noise of busy roads in the air; the A38, M6 Toll and M42 all slice across or run nearby.
Small but a cosy fit, the little Curdworth Tunnel
The eleven locks began a couple of miles from our overnight stop. On the way was the diminutive Curdworth tunnel; just 57 yards of it but a tight
fit and its roof festooned with masses of dangling spider webs, hanging like little stalactites.
It has been a sunny day; Seadog Brian basked on the roof while I sweated through the locks. They were surprisingly busy after the almost total absence of boats yesterday. Three crews were eager hireboaters doing the Warwickshire Ring and in the middle of two energetic weeks.  Fortunately almost everyone was going the other way so every lock ran in our favour.
After the dark tunnel Seadog Brian relaxes in the sun
Tonight we had the embarrassment of running out of gas in mid-dinner. It's a puzzle: this bottle has lasted only six weeks rather than the eight we regularly get. Maybe it was 'pre-enjoyed' before we were sold it? Anyway the Refleks stove came to the rescue to finish the dinner but early morning tea may prove trickier. Looks like I might be getting up early to light the fire.
* No more locks for us now until Fradley but if we turned right there another 17 would take us down to river level which would make 55 in all from the high point of Birmingham, compared with the 58 from the River Severn at Worcester heading up to Brum the other way.There's no escaping it: what goes up must come down.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Into Brum – and out again

Birmingham Main Line from the Library roof garden
Are you still there, readers? If any of you are then you must be patient people and my apologies for being absent these past two weeks. Things have got in the way. Not least of them being locks.
We ended the last episode on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal just outside Worcester. This is a fiendish canal, of 58 locks and five tunnels in its 30 mile climb to Brum. What a challenge it must have been to the builders way back in 1798. And how profitable, they must have hoped, to justify that enterprise.
The early locks are like a warm-up routine for the main act: we went through a flight of seven, then one of six as well as the first, short tunnel. On the way we passed Stoke Wharf where a music festival was under way. The beards, long hair, jeans and black t-shirts in the pub meant just one thing – it was a heavy metal festival; wonderfully named 'Beermageddon'. Sadly the tickets were sold out, he said with tongue firmly in cheek.
Tardebigge where only radio aerials outnumber the locks
The main act in our festival of locks was the Tardebigge flight: 30 locks, one after the other with no space for a halfway breather. They're not as bad as they sound: closely packed flights are easier to deal with than locks a few hundred yards apart. All the same, I was starting to flag after the first two dozen.
Fine views from the reservoir make the work worthwhile
It's then you come upon the pretty feeder reservoir and your brain tells you this must be the top, even though the lock numbers don't add up. It isn't! Round the corner you go to find the final seven. Groan. And it was starting to rain. BTW there must be something about these locks – two of the canalside cottages are serious, and I mean serious, radio hams. Their houses are festooned with vast aerials; one even has some suspended from the mobile crane in his garden.
The Rolt-Aickman memorial above Tardebigge top lock
We moored one below the top, then crossed the summit next day, stopping to view the plaque commemorating the spot where Robert Aickman met Tom Rolt, who'd been moored above the lock on Cressy during the war. From the meeting came the start of the movement to campaign for the resurrection of the canals.
A short run through two more modest tunnels to Alvechurch that day to re-stock at the village Co-op. (Be warned, it's a steep hill down into the village from the canal and an even steeper one back with a load of shopping).
Then came the big one; the 2700 yard long Wasts Hill Tunnel, straight enough to see right through but not especially pleasant with its dank, misty atmosphere and lack of ventilation. Two boats can pass in it, apparently, but it must be a squeeze.
You enter the tunnel from countryside and leave into the outer edges of Birmingham and the canal follows a vaguely squalid and graffiti ridden route towards the city, only brightening in the final mile or two. Then the huge 'Cube' building comes into sight and you round the right angle turn into Gas Street to enter canalside Birmingham at its finest.
As many have said, Birmingham has wholeheartedly embraced the canals here. It's a wonderful spot to be, watching pretty girls tottering on their high heels beside boyfriends en route to the clubs and bars, seeing new graduates from Aston University in their gowns and hats fresh from the awards ceremony at the ICC and being photographed at the canalside by proud mums and dads, dressed in their Sunday best, strolling the few hundred yards to the spectacular library.
We spent a few days doing all that and more before deciding, finally, that we would soon have outstayed our welcome on the short stay moorings.
So, with a couple of weeks to kill before our next diary date, we've headed out northwards for a long loop around the familiar territories of Streethay, Fradley and Great Haywood.
Today we tackled the 24 locks of the Farmers Hill and Aston flights, through increasingly decrepit areas of the city.  Apparently a body had been found on the towpath earlier in the day. It's the sort of spot where that news doesn't sound as shocking as it ought but all evidence was gone when we passed.
Below Spaghetti Junction, four canals meet in their own version
Then under the edge of the motorway Spaghetti Junction we had our own canal version where four canals meet and we continued out of town on the Birmingham & Fazeley – a bleak waterway running through a landscape of factory backsides and electricity sub-stations. At one point the canal disappeared under a factory which straddled it and we spent fifty yards or so in a watery basement.
Below the mysterious 'works' on the Birmingham&Fazeley
The guidebooks give no clue as to this mysterious 'works' as they simply call it, but apparently it was the home of Birlec who made electric furnaces for steelworks. Our basement may even have been bomb-resistant wartime loading bays for boats.
Three more locks finally saw us away from the raucous noise of the nearby A38 and beyond factories. At the first sight of green grass we tied up.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Tibberton post office saves the day

A view downriver from the Cathedral tower
We were going to have a day out on the bus to Droitwich today. Except there wasn't a bus.
I discovered that when I went into the village post office just to check – the online timetable is mighty confusing. Turns out there never was a bus to Droitwich and, even if there was, it wouldn't be able to get there now because the Tibberton canal bridge is closed to traffic.
Tibberton bridge parapet ws damaged by an errant truck
It was badly biffed by a large truck – "I don't know what he was doing there; following his satnav I think," the postmistress explained. "He was a foreigner," she added, knowingly, as if that explained it all. Which maybe it did. I wonder just how many canal bridges a year are getting smashed by over-large trucks – in the hands of British or foreign drivers – blindly following their satnavs? (Actually, though, it's not really shut: local car drivers just ignore the barriers and drive through!)
"Have you been to Worcester, though?," she went on. "You can get a bus to there." I explained that we'd just come from Worcester. "But did you go to the cathedral - you can go up the tower and see for miles and there's a Magna Carta exhibition too?" We hadn't, so we went and we came away well impressed.
The huge vaulted knave of the cathedral
Dominating as it does, the city's riverside, Worcester Cathedral must be one of the most beautifully positioned in the country. It's another piece of powerful Norman monumental architecture with a wide and airy aisle and a massive tower, which I set about climbing up.
Gasping for breath, with my heart thumping like Ginger Baker's drums I arrived at the top of its 235 steps (the last hundred of them especially tight and steep) and gazed out through the misty rain at what was indeed a spectacular view from the top of it. Looking back down the river, I watched a narrowboat turn into Diglis Basin and then gazed out across to the Malvern hills in the distance.
Charles II stood up here to watch Cromwell's armies slowly encircle his Royalist troops down in the fields below leading to their eventual defeat in the battle that ended the Civil War and his flight abroad.
The tomb of King John below the altar
Back down at ground level the cathedral contains a number of fine tombs but none more prestigious than that of King John, one of the great cartoon villains of English royal history. He is remembered as the King who was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 by the country's Barons who were angered by his demands for taxes and his treatment of them.The Magna Carta has become the foundation of democratic legal systems across the world – a copy of it went to America with the Pilgrim Fathers and it became a basis for the American Constitution. Indeed the Founding Fathers there saw Charles's defeat in our Civil War as the ultimate victory of parliament and democracy over the sovereign powers of a king.
But of course John is even better known as the evil king who abused his powers as monarch while his brother the noble King Richard was away fighting the Crusades and whose agent, the Sheriff of Nottingham was embroiled in perpetual antics with Robin Hood. All of which is entirely fictional and, indeed, John is nowadays regarded as a halfway decent ruler, compared with some.
King John's effigy is the oldest of an English monarch
John's tomb stands centrally in front of the high altar. The effigy on his tomb is actually the oldest royal effigy in England, dating from 1232 and, unlike medieval custom, shows a life-like image of him rather than an idealised one. It looks rather modest compared with some of the decorated and embellished tombs around the cathedral but was originally vividly painted and even covered with a golden cage. His will, in which he requested to be buried here, is also kept in the cathedral library.
More fine tombs: here the C13th Baron Beauchamp
And the entire C17th Moore family, clothiers to royalty
All in all, it was a fascinating day: a wonderful cathedral and some historical insights into the Magna Carta, the Battle of Worcester and a king who has proved to be a lot more complex a character than the evil monarch and Robin Hood's nasty opponent.
So thank you Tibberton postmistress for your recommendation.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Rain stopped play

A pair of swans get a free ride up the canal
We were probably optimistic to leave our Worcester mooring in the face of the weather forecast but our 48 hours were up and when you've got to go, you've got to go.
So we went, knowing that at some point in the next few hours we were likely to get wet. Which we did.
First stop was just a couple of locks up the canal where we could moor within a five minute walk of Aldi and Asda for some re-stocking. The Diglis basin area where we had moored might have been the old commercial heart of the waterway but the town shops had been too far away to carry back bags of shopping.
Our first lock of the day had provided some entertainment: a pair of swans had got in there and wouldn't leave so I had to lock them up with the boat. At first they paddled frantically against the incoming water but then settled down and happily grazed the weed off the lock walls as the water went up. Finally I opened the top gate and off they swam.
After the shop stop, it was a mile up to the next lock but the skies were getting blacker and hardly were we into it than the heavens opened. We sat out the worst inside the boat as the lock filled but finally had to venture out into the rain when a hireboat appeared from the lock above. Hire boats are always on a mission - they move whatever the weather.
Locks come thick and fast on this canal and there were four in the next half mile. We'd just got through them when the rain started hammering down again. It had already stopped play in the Oval Ashes test, now it stopped play here too. We moored up, had lunch and listened to the soporific Belgian GP, with only a break to Usain Bolt's 100m world championship win serving to raise pulse rates above comatose.
Last vestige of the old Cadbury cake factory at Blackpole
The Worcester & Birmingham Canal is synonymous with Cadbury's: the firm's boats used it and there is still a canalside factory at Bournville as well as 'Cadbury World'. Less well known is that until the 1970s there used to be another Cadbury factory making cakes, at Blackpole, where we were hiding from the rain. It employed 700 people and in the early seventies the company wanted to build an even bigger factory but were refused permission by the then government. A few years later it closed as part of 'corporate rationalisation'. Nothing remains, except perhaps the bit of wharf building I photographed.
Finally the rain stopped. England lost the test (but not the Ashes) and we moved off. Two single locks brought us to the short, sharp flight of six Offerton locks and, with the arrival of a watery sun, boats were moving again and we shuffled our way up the flight, passing hireboats coming down.
We have climbed steeply out of Worcester through fourteen locks in barely five miles to reach the straggly village of Tibberton. For now the locks have stopped but it's a brief respite for there are plenty to come on this canal.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The three month waterway 'ring'

About the size of a liner and shaped like a house brick
It must count as one of the longest inland waterway circuits that you can achieve. Three months ago we were in Worcester, heading south; tonight we are back there after a round trip that took us down to Sharpness, then the Severn and Avon estuaries to Bristol, the full length of the K&A, up the Thames, up the Oxford, down the Stratford, down the River Avon and finally back up the Severn to re-join the canal system here.
You can't do that sort of waterway ring on your hire boat holiday! Not unless you have a lot of holiday time owing.
Goodbye River Avon; the lock gates closed behind us
The final 16 miles from Tewkesbury to Worcester was without question the dreariest. The River Severn is not an exciting waterway; it runs between high, tree and shrub filled banks and rarely touches civilisation. Indeed the small town of Upton-on-Severn is the only spot, save for the M5, where a road crosses the river and one of the very, very few mooring spots on this run – hence it's always crowded with boats.
We made what is, for us, an early start out of Tewkesbury, heading into the lock at 9.30. We scuttled in a bit quickly, too, because the lock-keeper reported that the 'Edward Elgar' was heading downstream and would make the tight turn into the Avon channel a minute or two after we left it.
"You won't miss it. It's about the size of an ocean liner and looks like a house brick," he grinned. "And he takes up most of the channel." He was right! We shot out onto the Severn just as he was lining up to turn in so we gave him a wide berth, keeping left to let him have room for his turn.
A barge loads with aggregate at its riverside wharf
And that was the excitement for the next hour until we passed an aggregates barge loading up on its wharf close to the M5 crossing. Shortly after we passed, he cast off and plodded gradually closer to us, despite his massive load, evidenced by his freeboard – or lack of it – as he ploughed upstream.
And, laden with sand, it ploughs upstream behind us

This is what they look like when they are empty
But his destination was barely a couple of miles up river at another wharf where aggregates are unloaded and transhipped. This curious little run over a road-free route is the last survivor of what was once busy commercial traffic on the river - every now and then the remains of old wharves jut out from the undergrowth as a reminder.
Above Upton the run gets, if possible, even duller. The monotony was only broken by the occasional fall of an Aussie wicket on R4's Test Match Special (but if only I'd known about the nightmare England collapse that was to come later!) and by the spectacular sight of a couple of
sizeable fish leaping into the air in mid-stream. With no 'the one that got away' exaggeration I would guess the sleek, slim fish must have been a couple of feet long. What were they? Salmon? Trout?
Gradually we eased towards the extremity of Worcester – making better time than I had expected and averaging close to 4mph. The town's ring road bridge, then the new pedestrian bridge and finally Diglis river locks, where the lockie guided us into one of the huge chambers.
From here it was barely half a mile before we could go through the two heavy double locks that guard the entrance to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and arrive back on the canals.
Off the river and in the bottom lock of the canal

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Where the Avon meets the Severn

Hide the yellow lines and it could be 1600
Tewkesbury stands at the meeting point of the River Avon with the Severn. These days that can mean only one thing – it floods. And badly.
In days of yore, rivers were the natural place to build townships and Tewkesbury is indeed an ancient settlement, with a huge and spectacular Norman abbey dating back to 1087 and a town centre with an impressive array of medieval timber framed buildings – all of which seemed to have survived successive generations of flooding.
The 2007 floods were as high as the houses across the river
And, if you look at aerial photos of the worst recent floods, in 2007, you can see why: the abbey and surrounding streets stand on an island surrounded by floodwaters. It's quite a statement about the foresight of the builders and the shortsightedness of their descendants today who happily build estates on flood plains.
It was raining as we arrived yesterday but fortunately that stopped overnight so we could take a stroll around some of the 350 listed buildings in the town centre.
The oldest pub in Gloucestershire
Among them are the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, dating from 1308, and a coaching inn, The Royal Hop Pole, that's now a Wetherspoons but was a favourite dining spot of Dickens' Mr Pickwick in 'Pickwick Papers' who probably enjoyed 'curry night'. Queen Mary stayed here in 1930, though probably not on a 'twofer' as George V was seemingly not with her.
And the Wethersoons where Mr Pickwick had an ale or two
Battle of Tewkesbury banners fly from houses
Timber-framed buildings, some with their street frontages sadly messed about with to become shops, jostle with more modern buildings along the main streets; wherever you turn you seem to find another. Many are decorated with large heraldic flags: Tewkesbury was the scene of one of the critical battles of the Wars of the Roses and every July holds a massive re-enactment (the biggest in Europe, apparently) and the flags are those of the knights who took part back in 1471.
Alleys here
And alleys there

The town is also famous for its alleys, which go back to the 17th century and were a ways of squeezing in more housing into the tight confines of the old town. As well as being the only source of light and air for the overcrowded houses built down them, they also acted as drains and rubbish dumps. Cholera and diptheria became rife at the peak of overcrowding in the 19th century.
The magnificent Abbey boasts Europe's tallest tower
The Abbey is a massive, solid and impressive building – it claims the largest Norman tower in Europe. The interior quite takes your breath away; the wide nave is lined by massive columns, supporting the roof on decorated columns, with intricately carved figureheads at every juncture. The sense of space and strength is remarkable.
A stunning interior; the decorated roof on huge columns
The interior holds some intricately chapels dating back to the 14th century, built as memorials to various local nobles and churchmen. Most famous is 'the kneeling knight' - a statue of Edward Despenser who fought with the Black Prince and was rewarded with various baronial titles as a result. He is carved kneeling in prayer on the roof of his chapel and facing the high altar.
The kneeling knight on top of his chapel
The Abbey escaped Henry VIII's bulldozers because the townspeople bought it from him. He took the cash but turfed the monks out all the same so only the church survives. Aside, that is, from the Mill Avon, a stretch of river cut by the monks to supply their water mill. There's still a mill building there, though non functioning, but now the stretch provides boat moorings and the lock through to the Severn.
The huge Healings Mill near the lock, built in 1869 and originally steam powered, continued the town's tradition of corn milling, with grain coming from Canada and the USA and then transhipped by the firm's barges upriver from Avonmouth and Sharpness. Sadly in 2006 it closed and the building lies empty awaiting some sort of redevelopment.
A fascinating couple of days in a very enjoyable small town, albeit one living something of a fragile existence where watching the weather forecast must be a daily essential.
However the high spot of the stay must be, finally after so many attempts, getting a decent photo of a kingfisher. Not on the branch of a tree or tucked in a riverside hedge but on our way to Tesco. Carrying my camera, just on the off chance, we spotted one perched on a mooring bracket across the river and he posed graciously while I stood on the bridge and snapped him.
And highlight of the day - at last I get a kingfisher photo

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

From secondhand books to hover-van victim

Another couple of canal books for the bookshelf
Secondhand bookshops are alive and well and living in Pershore. The little town manages to support two of them despite the inevitable clutch of local charity shops, all with substantial shelves of reading matter.
I have to admit that charity shops are my usual source of reading matter these days but somehow I couldn't get past the tempting window of Edgeberrow Books without venturing inside. And what a treasure trove it proved to be. It is not the sort of shop you visit for a couple of whodunnits to read on the train. No, it's where enthusiast collectors of 'niche' specialities peruse its tall and closely packed shelves. Remarkably, among the lines of railway, naval, historical, aircraft, motoring and every other sort of speciality I found no less than two shelves of canal books. "I bought a collection of 150 books," the owner explained.
I could have bought several but settled for two: E. Temple Thurston's 'The Flower of Gloster' and 'Voyage into England' by John Seymour. Both are travelogues on the inland waterways, the first in 1911 and the other in the sixties.
Pershore's old packhorse bridge and newer motor bridge
And that was the last of our stay in charming little Pershore. We cast off and headed downstream, with 15 miles but now only three locks separating us from Tewksbury and the Severn. After Pershore Lock and the two bridges (pre and post motor car) the river was wider and slower now, sweeping in long, gentle curves through a wide flood plain – from which most villages had kept a safe distance.
Always in the middle distance, distinctive Bredon Hill
Always in the near distance as we boxed the compass was the steep mound of Bredon Hill, to the left, to the right, in front and finally behind us.
Nafford Lock complete with elderly looking footbridge
Second lock of the day was Nafford where we came upon an oddity on the Avon, a footbridge across the lock which had to be swung out of the way when locking, then replaced afterwards. Nafford also had the first mechanical flood controlling weir on the river, all the others having been open weirs over rocks.
Another tricky old bridge, this at Eckington
After Nafford the river swept through a quick sequence of tight bends, culminating in an absurdly tight hairpin corner before we reached the oddly angled and multi arched 16th century Eckington Bridge. I bet this is a challenge to line up for when running downstream on a fast river. It reminded me of the equally tricky Irthlingborough Bridge on the Nene.
As crashed into by Top Gear
A wide, straight couple of miles brought us to Strensham Lock where we moored for the night on the weir stream, leaving the lock for tomorrow. We are next to a boat we saw earlier at Pershore, a very Pretty Taylor's of Chester timber canal cruiser, famed – or notorious, really – for having been badly damaged by someone on Top Gear while filming a hover-van episode on the Avon a few years ago. Presumably the Beeb's insurance coughed up for the repairs which, being a wooden boat, were probably not far away from the cost of fixing a dented Lamborghini.
Later, looking back up the river later I spotted a bobbing shape in mid-stream – a wild swimmer, the first we've seen on the Avon. Rather him than me; I'll stick with an evening beer and the Champions League commentary on Radio 5 Live.

A late night wild swimmer braves the Avon