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

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