Our second big trip taking us through Rugby, Leamington, Warwick, Stratford, Evesham, Tewkesbury and Worcester.
At seven thirty and with no movement from the other boats on the floating pontoon, we slipped quietly into the middle of the channel and began our journey to Worcester. The flow was light so despite the fact that we were heading upstream, we made excellent progress. There isn’t a lot to see on this section of the river, the only lock is on the outskirts of Worcester so there is little else to do except to let the brain go into auto pilot and navigate the tree lined wide waterway. Three hours after we had set off, Diglis locks came into view. The gates opened, the red light changed to green and we moved straight in. The lock keeper waited until we had secured our ropes before he operated the hydraulic mechanism that fills the lock. A few minutes later we left by the top gates and moved on to the service pontoon where we filled the water tank. It’s a short hop from there to the CRT visitor moorings, another floating pontoon. We found a space quite easily and tied up for the next couple of days. There are no services on the pontoon but it’s a short walk to Diglis basin where we were able to dispose of rubbish and empty cassettes. Sadly, there is a 48 hour restriction here otherwise we would probably have stayed longer.
After we sorted all of the essential stuff out, we went exploring. It was already very hot at midday when we walked along the riverside to find the Cathedral and we were very glad to go inside where it was cool. In general, Cathedrals are impressive both inside and out – Worcester didn’t disappoint, it really is magnificent.
When we emerged into the sunlight, the temperature had continued to rise and it was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable outside. We wandered around the main shopping area which boasts an excellent selection of shops and then went for a coffee. The temperature locally (this was June 26th) was expected to reach 29 or 30 degrees but with the concrete and stone of the town buildings absorbing and then radiating heat, it felt warmer in the streets not helped by the lack of any sort of breeze.
We knew that Caxton was on a pontoon that is completely exposed with no shade on any side so we decided to escape for the afternoon by going to the cinema! The Vue cinema is in the town centre so we bought our tickets and a couple of ice creams and watched Deadpool 2. It was a strange experience because we were the only two people in the room so we were able to laugh and pass comment without fear of disturbing other viewers.
It was almost five o’clock when we left the cinema and although it was still very warm outside, the temperature was just starting to drop a little. Caxton would still be boiling so we took the opportunity to eat out in Cathedral square, carefully selecting a restaurant with air conditioning!
The following day, although just as warm, was different in that there was a breeze blowing and that made it possible to walk around the city centre without the discomfort of the previous day.
After walking along the riverside to the racecourse, we went into town again and did a bit of shopping. We found the local Asda which is very close to the canal so we took the towpath route back to Diglis basin and then down to our river mooring.
With our time on the 48 hour mooring almost up, the following morning we moved the short distance to the council moorings near the racecourse. There’s a £4 charge but we didn’t mind that as we wanted the extra day and those moorings are closer to Foregate Street railway station. With the boat tied up and the mooring fee paid (just buy a ticket from the machine in the nearby car park) we walked to the station and bought two tickets to …………………………….
The first thing that struck us as we left the Avon and turned into the stream was how much wider the Severn is by comparison to the river that we had been travelling on for the previous three weeks. As beautiful as nature is at this time of year, there really isn’t a lot to see when travelling on this section of the river but it was another lovely day so we just appreciated the blue sky and the greenery that lined our route.
After two hours travelling, we reached Upton-upon-Severn and saw that there were spaces along the concrete moorings. When we had visited by bus we had spotted the CRT floating pontoon so we carried on under Upton bridge to check it out, safe in the knowledge that we could always turn around and moor outside the pubs. We were in luck again as there was a space on the end and it only took a couple of minutes to get tied up.
It was still early so we climbed the very steep ramp up to the main road. The ramp is probably at its steepest because we have had so little rain and the river must be somewhere near its lowest levels. I’m sure it will get easier when the rains come in July and August!
The first thing that we saw was Panes Regal Garage, a 1930’s art deco building on the edge of town.
Sue got chatting to the owner, Mike Panes and he told her that there had been warehouses on the site originally and the garage business had operated a few yards away towards the town. When the warehouse closed down, the business moved to its current location and the original building was knocked down. He also told her that he had turned down a number of offers for the site, usually supermarkets looking to redevelop it. He claimed that the last offer was for £1m but that he wasn’t interested in moving, he and his staff enjoy what they do and it is more than just a job for them. We think that it’s good to find businesses like this, they are so rare in this day and age.
On the other side of the road is what is left of the old church of St Peter and Paul, the recently restored bell tower known locally as the Pepperpot.
Our next port of call was The Bell House, not a pub as it name might suggest but a traditional tea room. We resisted the temptations of the home baked goods and settled for some mid-morning coffee. Sue also had a pastéis de nata on the basis that the genuine article is only made in Portugal and that she had to try this one purely in the interest of culinary research.
The town was certainly quieter than it had been a few days earlier and some of the shops don’t open on Mondays so after a walk around we had lunch at the Swan, overlooking the river. With the sun high in the late June sky, the temperature was rising quickly and heading for the high twenties. It seemed sensible to avoid the hottest time of the day so we returned to Caxton and sat in the shade of the front deck and watched the boats go by.
There are proper working boats on this stretch of the river, transporting sand from a quarry to the north of Upton, downstream to a screening plant a couple of miles to the south. Three boats work continuously through the day loading sand by conveyor and being unloaded by a grab on a crane. Each boat carries around 350 tonnes and I reckon that’s about twenty lorry loads of sand for each trip. That’s a lot of truck movements that the local area doesn’t have to suffer every day!
We rounded the day off with a walk over the bridge to visit the marina in the early evening.
It was an early start for us on the Monday that we left Tewkesbury. The lock isn’t open until eight and we wanted to fill the water tank before we dropped down on to the Severn.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been trying to make our minds up as to whether we should head south on the Severn to Gloucester and then on to Sharpness on the G&S canal. We had weighed up the pros and cons but now we had to make a decision – at one point it looked like it could be down to the toss of a coin.
After filling the tank, we were joined by another narrowboat, the name of which escapes me and after they breasted up and started filling their own water tank, we chatted with them about the Gloucester and Sharpness option. They moor their boat at Sharpness and are very familiar with the route. Despite their positive view of the route, their recommendation actually pushed us in the opposite direction, literally!
At eight o’clock and with both water tanks filled to the brim, we brought both narrowboats into the lock. After saying goodbye to the friendly lock keeper, we followed the channel to where the Avon meets the Severn, turned right, headed north and hoped that we would find a mooring at Upton-upon-Severn.
As I mentioned in the previous post, we caught the bus and visited Upton upon Severn on a mission with two purposes. We knew that mooring there is limited and we didn’t really know the location very well having only passed by once before in 2015. Our main aim was to familiarise ourselves with the place and its potential mooring spots with the spin off benefit being that if we couldn’t get in by boat or we saw enough of it on the bus trip visit, we could pass by and not feel that we were missing out.
The first part of the trip didn’t quite go to plan, the two-hourly bus service was late. With other potential passengers, we had arrived ten minutes before the timetabled departure. After half an hour and with the bus twenty minutes late, we gave up and went for a coffee. Undeterred, we returned to the bus stop two hours later and caught the bus which this time, was only five minutes late.
Our perseverance paid off because when we arrived at Upton, we discovered that there was a four day Jazz festival on and it didn’t finish until Sunday night. It was too early for us to hear any live music but the town was busy, many of the shops had taken part in a festival related window dressing competition and there was one road dedicated to street food catering. With the place buzzing on the sunny Saturday afternoon, it made us determined to return and see it at a quieter time and that was why we decided to delay our departure from Tewkesbury by a day.
At that point in time we were still undecided as to whether we would be heading south on the Severn and if we did, it wouldn’t matter when we left Tewkesbury but if not, arriving on the final day of the Jazz festival probably wouldn’t help us find a mooring easily.
Not forgetting the rest of our mission, we stuck to our task and had a good look around as well as checking out the moorings before catching the bus back to Tewkesbury.
I’ve been getting a bit lazy with this blog over the last week or so and I have no good excuse for it so I will attempt to get up to date as soon as possible.
The next leg of our trip took us from Eckington bridge to Tewkesbury and again we set off with the intention of arriving mid-morning. It was sunny and windy again but we hadn’t appreciated that the wind direction had changed and was coming from the north and it was cold, very cold. After an hour, I gave in and pulled a sweatshirt on over my tee shirt. The sweatshirt wasn’t enough and within another twenty minutes there was a third layer (Navy surplus 100% wool jumper) between it and the tee shirt. After braving the elements for a while more, we arrived at Tewkesbury and moored just below King John’s bridge and opposite Ye Old Black Bear Inn, Gloster’s oldest pub according to the signage. Well it may be the oldest in the county but it’s closed now and in fact looks like it was just abandoned one day leaving everything in place.
We paid our mooring fees to the lock keeper and prepared to stay in the town for the next few days. There was a food festival scheduled for the weekend (we arrived on the Thursday – just to get the timeline straight) so we began our stay with a good look around the Abbey. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey was dissolved and all its valuables seized and placed in Henry VIII’s coffers. The Abbey was purchased by the townspeople for £453, the price of the lead on the roof and the metal in the bells, to become their parish church. You can read all about it here.
The town of Tewkesbury has a rich history and its streets are full of old and interesting buildings so we spent a lot of our time exploring on the Thursday afternoon and all day Saturday after our visit to the food festival. If you’re wondering what happened to Friday, well we caught the bus and went to Upton upon Severn to have a look at the place – more of that later but as a result of our visit we decided to move on the Monday morning rather than on the Sunday as we had originally planned. The extra day was spent on a shopping trip to Morrisons followed by a circular walk around the island formed by the Severn and the Avon.
As I wrote in the previous post, we left Pershore early and under blue skies. After we made the short hop to Pershore lock, it became apparent that it was quite windy but this made it easy to get Caxton on to the lock landing while we turned the lock. It’s a deep lock but being a bit longer than the previous locks on the lower Avon, our passage through was easy enough. We passed under the two bridges and then followed the winding course of the river to the west of Pershore. Clouds gradually filled the sky and the wind increased in strength but it was still warm so we were happy enough. As usual with rivers, there are very few landmarks but by following the map, we had a pretty good idea of where we were at any given time. When we reached Nafford lock, we could see that the narrowboat was still where it sank in the floods five or six years ago. As we approached the lock landing, we saw that there was already a boat in the lock, they were waiting for us to join them and a few moments later we were in beside them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room for us and we realised that we would have to back out again so that we could take a diagonal position on our own in the lock. In point of fact, the bow fender was touching the bottom gate and the rudder was about 12″ over the cill marker.
Sue had stepped off and then helped the other crew work their boat down through the lock. The lock landings are awkwardly shaped and sized so I tried to hover but of course the wind, which had abated, decided to start gusting again. The boat ahead cleared the lock and Sue and her locking partner closed the bottom gates, then they opened them again because a boat had appeared below. Now I really did need to secure the boat otherwise I would be impeding their exit. As I fought the wind and tried to manoeuvre Caxton to a convenient place, there was a feeling of familiarity about the scene. I then remembered a conversation that I had had with David & Lisa (NB What a Lark!) last year about this self same lock – read Lisa’s account here. “What a Lark” is two feet longer than Caxton so I knew that we would be able to turn below the lock if we did what they had done.
While the other boat ascended, I reversed back into the channel and turned around, bringing the stern on to the short lock landing. Once the other boat had departed, it was quite easy to swing around and reverse into the empty lock. Sue kept checking that the bow wasn’t going to get caught on the cill, which it didn’t and then we were able to leave. It was difficult to turn below the lock because the strength of the wind was able to overcome the flow of the river over the weir!
Once we were pointing in the right direction, I opened the throttle and we got underway again. Twenty minutes later we could see that the moorings at Eckington wharf were completely free and five minutes after that, we were tied to the bank.
After lunch we went for a walk along the riverbank to Strensham lock and then into Eckington village before returning to our mooring. After the three mile trek, we spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing on board.
Thanks again to Lisa and David for pointing us in the right (or should that be the wrong?) direction with today’s problem.
Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright, pretty much the same as every morning has done for the last few weeks. We had reckoned on a three hour trip to reach Pershore so just got up and set off at half past seven. There haven’t been that many boats on the move on the river this week, probably still too early for holiday makers, so it was no surprise that we only saw three boats on the move all morning. The locks on the lower Avon, from Evesham to Tewkesbury, are all a bit on the short side despite the fact that the river is described as being able to accommodate boats up to 70′ in length. At 68′ long, Caxton should have had no problem but we have had to take our time as we have worked down the locks. Sitting diagonally in the lock, avoiding the cill (only just) and then after opening one gate, using the bow thruster to move sideward around the closed gate.
Anyway, we reached Pershore and found that there was plenty of space on the recreation ground moorings. An hour later and three boats arrived, filling the remaining space in front of us.
Pershore is a lovely little Georgian Market town and the moorings there are excellent. We had a good wander around the place and admired the many beautiful buildings there, including the Abbey.
The village of Wyre Piddle is only a half hour walk away from Pershore so we took the time to visit it and had lunch at the Anchor Old Spot. There’s not much to the village but you can’t miss the opportunity to visit somewhere with a name like “Wyre Piddle”!
The moorings in Pershore are flood proof and provide all amenities, the information board makes no mention of time restrictions so we stayed for a week. We didn’t do much more than just ‘live’ in the town, although we did catch the train to Great Malvern one day, just for a look around. Great Malvern was built as a spa town and it still has that feel about it.
The railway station is a beauty and still has many of the features that it would have had back in the days of the Great Western Railway.
A week after we had arrived in Pershore, we decided that it was time to move on. Wednesday morning was almost a carbon copy of the previous one with blue skies and bright sunshine at half past seven so we untied and headed for the nearby lock, thus starting the next leg of our journey.
It was another relatively early start for us when we left the mooring at Bidford on Avon. We wanted to ensure that we would be able to moor in Evesham so again we tried to time our journey so that we would arrive in the middle of the morning. In the event, we needn’t have bothered as when we arrived, the town moorings were quite deserted.
Our tour began with a visit to the Abbey, we visited both of the churches (All Saints and St Lawrence’s) and the bell tower. Later in the day, we could hear the tune, “Abide with me” being played just before the chimes on the hour. It turns out that there is a whole host of hymns played in this way, the details are here.
When we were last here, in 2015, we quite liked Evesham but some experiences are best left in the memory. Don’t get me wrong, nothing bad happened but the place just didn’t quite seem the same. There are more empty shops than before, and there were already quite a few three years ago. The local market was more of a flea market and was a good representation of the feeling in the town. One of the highlights that we enjoyed on our last visit was the speciality gins in the Royal Oak. On that occasion, we were greeted by a friendly man wearing a white apron and looking like a French café owner. He handed us a gin menu which wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Savoy and took time to explain what each of the concoctions and infusions were. This time around, I was eventually served by a lad wearing jeans and T-shirt and when I asked him if they still had a gin menu, he fished a piece of card from behind the bar and handed it to me apologetically saying, “Sorry its a bit manky, mate but they get like that behind the bar.” The card was no more than an advert for various Fevertree tonics with different gins as the mixers. When Sue joined me a few minutes later, we had a short discussion and decided to leave.
Our mooring was good and quiet and we both slept well. When we awoke the following morning we were rather uninspired when it came to deciding what to do with ourselves. In the end, we took a walk to the edge of town and did a bit of shopping in Tesco – how exciting! In the evening, we walked back up to the market square and found that it was full of motorcycles and their owners. We had a wander around and chatted to one or two of them about their bikes.
The moorings had filled up during the day, one of the boats being Jolly Lamb so after we returned from town, I persuaded Julian to join me in the pub across the road for a couple of pints while Sue returned to Caxton and began her next knitting project.
After the previous night’s entertainment, we were due a peaceful night’s sleep and sure enough, we had one. We were still up early though so we got ourselves organised and worked through the next two locks to Pilgrim lock. One of the gripes that we have with the Avon is that it’s not always possible to visit every town and village along the way. One of those places is Welford on Avon. There is a pub with moorings at Binton Bridges but they don’t look to be narrowboat friendly due to their height and lack of length. Welford lock has excellent moorings but there is no access to the village so they are completely useless in that respect. From Pilgrim lock, we walked first of all to the village of Barton and then on to Bidford on Avon. Pearson’s guide tells us that it is possible to walk to Bidford from Barton lock but this isn’t correct because the there is no access for the boater from Barton lock to Barton village.
The walk was very pleasant, even the half mile on the main road was quiet enough and soon we reached Bidford on Avon where we took the opportunity to walk around the village, visit the local church and check out potential mooring places.
From the garden of the Frog Inn we spotted nb Jolly Lamb on the recreation ground moorings opposite. After a quick drink, we set off again in the direction of Barton and once there, decided to call in to the local pub, the Cottage of Content – purely because it has such an unusual name. We immediately bumped into the skipper of nb Jolly Lamb, Julian so we had a drink with him before returning to our mooring.
The following morning, Sunday, we timed our move to Bidford so that we might improve our chances of getting a mooring and when we arrived, saw that the pub mooring only had a small cruiser tied on it. We squeezed Caxton in behind them and after they moved off a little later, pulled back to the last ring, freeing up the rest of the mooring for other potential visitors. Once we were secured, Sue phoned the pub and booked a table for lunch thus fulfilling our obligation to moor as a patron.
Lunch was very good and so was the service, the price was good so all in all it was very good value, especially for me since it was Sue who picked up the tab! We had another short walk later in the day but we spent most of the afternoon just sitting on the front deck relaxing.
It’s almost three years since we travelled on the Avon but then we were coming upstream and we were limited by time. This time around, it is completely different and we have no such restriction apart from the thirty day licence so after topping up the water tank, we moved down to the first lock and found that it was set against us. On the Avon, boaters are instructed to leave the exit gates open so when the lock is set against you, not only do you have to fill (or empty) the chamber, the open gates have to be closed first. In 2015, our journey was defined by the vicious inrush of water from the gate paddles. Heading downstream is a much more civilised affair with the locks draining in a relatively sedate manner. The first two locks are fairly close together and when we reached the third, we tied above it, near the village of Luddington.
Luddington is a tiny place and is only about 4 miles from Stratford. There’s very little in the village, the population is less than 600 and it is served by a church, a public telephone, a post box and an infrequent bus service to Stratford.
The moorings above the lock have full facilities so it was a great place to wash and polish one side of the boat.
After dinner, we took a walk around the village and back through the churchyard. Unfortunately, All Saints Church was locked so we couldn’t take a look inside but we still managed a tour of the boneyard.