Thursday, 13 August 2015

Back where it all began

Moored across the river from Bidford Boats
We are moored opposite Bidford Boats where we began our first narrowboat holiday some 35 years ago.
Our first and our last. After suffering all the mishaps and arguments that befall most newbie hireboaters we vowed 'never again' and spent all our other family holidays on land. Until we eventually bought a little plastic cruiser and edged slowly back towards narrowboating.
The curious steel framed structure of the Avon's first lock
We've left Stratford Basin and its thronging tourists for the tranquility of the River Avon, a simply delightful river that offers pretty countryside and an entertaining mixture of riverside houses and hamlets.
The Upper Avon from Evesham up to Stratford, like the Stratford Canal, was in utter disrepair fifty years ago and its restoration was spearheaded by the same local architect and boater, David Hutchings, who had fought to get the canal back open.
Memorial at the lock to the man who led restoration
Hutchings was, by all accounts, a person whose ability to persuade authorities and conjure money, gung-ho spirit, roll-his-sleeves up and muck-in style would make even the most supercharged of the rest of us feel like sofa slugs.
Locks were rebuilt in weeks rather than months, generally using volunteers from local prisons and borstals as well as enthusiasts. Having not been properly navigable since 1870, it was back in service in five years.
It certainly doesn't look like a bodged-together waterway these days. Far from it: the wide locks are impeccably maintained and there lots of decent, flood-proof moorings. All credit to the non-profit making Avon Navigation Trust that runs it and an object lesson to C&RT perhaps.
Binton Bridges, one of many pretty spots on the river
Speaking of floods, we are sitting at Bidford-on-Avon, awaiting the forecast deluge of rain over the next hours with a mixture of trepidation and expectation. Yes, the river comes up fast but, boy, does it need to come up. It's very, very low.
For the first time on a river we got firmly stuck midstream going into the top gates of a lock and had to be pulled off by another boat. The river's so low it's off the bottom of the  depth scale. Hardly surprising, given the weather. Yesterday was another scorcher. We moored at the remote Pilgrim Lock and Vicky hung the washing out between the floodproof posts to dry in the sun. (Incidentally, hidden behind trees here are a water and elsan points since the spot is, presumably, at times a caravan site.)
A sunny afternoon, drying washing on the mooring posts
Here in Bidford we are in one of the more sizeable spots along the upper Avon but it's hardly big. It's a tiny, sleepy hollow of a spot, a single riverside street devoted, in the main, to the modest passing trade of boaters and picnickers with one-stop shops, take-aways and a couple of pub/restaurants.
Major structural repairs in progress on Bidford's bridge
It's sleepier still right now for the medieval bridge across the river into the village has been closed to vehicles for several months now and won't re-open until October. A crop-spraying vehicle snapped an axle pin when crossing, went part way through the parapet and narrowly avoided plunging into the river.
The sleepy hollow that was Bidford today
Still, we have a phone signal, a shop and a pub. We could be marooned for months and survive!

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