Saturday, 9 May 2015

Onto the river

Approaching the towering presence of Worcester Cathedral
We're back on the move! After a month of dawdling, boat repairs and then a short holiday abroad, we are back on the move. And not just on the move but heading for unfamiliar territory.
We left Martin Brookes' yard with our repaired rudder a couple of days ago and headed (once more) for Stourport. Then after a re-stock at the canalside Lidl and a scull round the town's charity shops – of which there are nearly a dozen – we headed out onto the River Severn, heading for Gloucester.
Heading through Stourport Basin en route for the river
It's a complicated escape route from the canal through the wonderful basins of Stourport. A single lock dropped us down from the canal into the basin complex, then we swung right across the first of the basins, avoiding the left turn that is the broad beam route through to the river, to the next basin where a pair of two lock staircases gradually dropped us down to river level, with the town's gaudy funfair in the background.
Bye bye Stourport and its funfair as we head off onto the river
 The Severn is Britain's longest river though it's only navigable for the relatively short length down river from Stourport to Gloucester. It's a big, wide and at times dangerous waterways as those living in the regularly flooded riverside towns will testify. Two days ago, after a short spell of heavy rain, it was up into the 'red' zone but today was a mild kitten, its level safely back down into the 'green'.
It's a largely rural waterway: just a scattering of remote riverside pubs mark the way. Oh, and a sprawl of ugly caravan sites and chalets every now and then. More appealling, in a hill-billy sort of way, are the riverbank timber shacks in varying stages of repair or otherwise, ekeing out a risky existence along the flood prone banks.
There was just one sparkling gem along our route today - Thomas Telford's supremely elegant iron bridge across the river at Holt. A mile or two downstream we passed the entrance to the Droitwich Canal – another time for that one –  and headed into our third and final lock of the day. Bevere, like the others, is a big beast but all the work is done by lock-keepers so no worries for us there.
The elegant arch of Telford's Holt Bridge
The approach to Worcester is delightful. The river swings left after passing a clutch of large and handsome thirties houses and then is lined by apartment blocks on the right and, though hidden from immediate view, the famous race course to the left. Then the big, solid cathedral rears into view ahead, beyond the big stone arches of the town bridge. We swung round upstream and moored just below the rowing club on the town moorings by the racecourse. All was quiet. We'd only met three boats on the river all morning and just two more were moored here.
It's an easy and enjoyable walk down the river towards Diglis Lock where the Worcester & Birmingham canal meets the river. We passed the Watergate where a small ferry has traditionally taken people across the river from the cathedral. It still operates, though trade was slack today and the ferryman was relaxing in the sun reading a book. The Watergate wall, incidentally, has a series of plaques marking flood levels over the years. Scary evidence of the river's power.
"It was this high". Yours truly marks the 2014 flood line
There's a startling new addition to the riverside walkway, the enormous, prow-like shape of Kings School Boathouse. This is – unsurprisingly – a boat house on the ground floor and a gym, training centre upstairs. Funding came in large part from a big donation from an ex-pupil. The Boathouse is just one of several striking new school buildings around the town. Talk about education for a privileged elite, eh.
The stunning boat-like shape of Kings School Boathouse
Like most cathedral cities, Worcester has a range of elegant buildings, of all ages and sizes as we discovered when wandering a roundabout route back to the boat. It also has one of the most attractive canalside townscapes where a small new marina sits easily with modern flats and converted old warehouses. All looks neat, clean and affluent. So it comes as a bit of a shock to discover the nasty sixties era shopping streets. What were they thinking about even in that god forsaken architectural era?
A bit more wandering in Worcester tomorrow then on downriver to Gloucester.

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