Worcester to Stourport
The final leg of our journey on the Severn would take us through three locks and end at Stourport on Severn. The locks are all manned so there is very little work to do but they don’t open until 8am so we decided to set off at half past seven and give the first lock keeper time to get settled before we arrived. As with the previous stretches, the river is fairly featureless if you ignore the lush greenery that lines the banks but with the locks spaced out as they are, it made the trip quite interesting.
When we reached the lock at Holt Fleet, we were entertained by the lock keeper. Now I have to say that all of the lock keepers that we encountered were very friendly and helpful but this lockie was in a class of his own. As we approached, the gates opened and the traffic light turned green as usual. Unusually, the lock keeper signalled that he wanted us over to the side that he was standing on and of course that is what we did. Once in the lock, he started to explain to us that there was a fault with the lock and that we needed to listen very carefully to him. As he spoke in a very clear Northern Irish accent, Caxton’s bow was drifting to the other side of the chamber but his explanation cleared that up for us. There was a leak below the gate on his side of the lock which was creating the current pushing us away from him. His first instruction had been for us not to attempt to attach our ropes to the vertical cables as we would not be able to hold the boat. He then went on to say that as the water filled the lock, the stern would move over to his side followed by the bow but that I would need to use throttle, gearbox and rudder to soften the inevitable collision with the wall. When he was satisfied that we fully understood what was about to happen, he operated the hydraulics and away we went. It all went according to plan and as we rose in the lock, he told us of the problems that he had been having with other boats. He said that the main issue was with holidaymakers who didn’t fully understand how locks work and then they stopped listening to his instruction. It had been clear enough to us but he told us that he had been a boat instructor for eighteen years beforehand.
Now that the chamber was full and his new pupils had passed his course with flying colours, he told us some more stories. We had no choice but to listen, with all the gates closed we literally were a captive audience. Still, his delivery was good; he was quite animated and a good orator so it was quite amusing. We heard about the Dutchman who entered the lock, didn’t slow down and looked like he was going to crash into the bottom gate. There was the hire boat crew who didn’t listen to instructions and almost capsized their boat in the lock. Finally, like all good stand-up acts he saved his big story until the end and regaled us with the tale of the narrowboater with Tourette Syndrome. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have known about the person’s condition but with the leaking gate, a two way conversation had taken place with some difficulty. He had then noticed a bugle lying on the boat roof and so asked the steerer, an ex-paratrooper as it turned out, if he could play it. The ex-soldier had then stood to attention, saluted the lock keeper and played the last post as the boat rose in the lock.
Our entertainer, once finished, released us from his one man show and waved us goodbye. We had been his first audience of the day but undoubtedly not his last. As the day went on, the stories would likely continue to change and to be embellished but we will never know.
We carried on to Stourport, the final Severn lock being a more straightforward affair than the previous one. There were no spaces on the river pontoons so we ascended the two staircase locks before weaving our way through the Stourport basins to the service point.
Other boats were either taking on water or waiting to do so but it all worked out and eventually we completed our services before moving up through the lock and on to the York Street moorings where there was plenty of space for us to choose from.