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.
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 …………………………….
Our brief affair with the Severn is over.
We were in no big hurry to leave our overnight mooring at Worcester this morning since the one and only lock that we had to pass through doesn’t open until 8am. We untied at half past eight and continued our southerly journey, passing the city and its cathedral on the way. The lock keeper was cutting the grass when we arrived, he told me that he hadn’t expected to see anyone before ten o’clock and not only were we there but another boat was coming into view. Once through the lock, we revved Caxton up and made our way to Tewkesbury, in all honesty there’s not a lot to see on this stretch, the only wildlife being the odd heron or gull. We passed quite a few cruisers and narrowboats on the way and soon enough reached the mouth of the Avon, we would have missed it had we not been aware that it was not too far past Mythe bridge, the sign being obscured by trees and bushes. We made the turn and headed into the lock, paying our fees as we went. (Navigation – £50, guide book – £4, overnight mooring £3).
We were worked through the lock by the lady lock keeper, her husband and her father; lock keeper’s husband told us that their house was one of the few in Tewkesbury unaffected by the flooding in 2007.
Out of the lock and round the corner, we tied up for the day and then took a walk into town. Many of the shops were closed being Sunday but there were enough open to hold our interest, we had coffee in a lovely coffee shop before have a sunday roast in the local Wetherspoons. We then wandered over the road to Tewkesbury Abbey and were enthralled by its charms, a beautiful and serene place to visit.
On returning to our mooring, which is opposite the Black Bear pub, we could hear football commentary and Sue suggested that I might like to go and watch the second half of the Stoke v Liverpool match. I went but soon realised that it was the sort of match that if it been taking place in your back garden, you would have closed the curtains and done something else. Liverpool scored in the closing minutes, the pub erupted and I returned to the riverbank where Caxton and Susan were waiting. Tomorrow’s forecast is for rain early on so we may delay our start and explore the town when more shops are open.
After wandering around the town, we settled down for the night and listened to some music before going to bed. We had visited the funfair but were surprised to see that there was virtually no one there, strange for a fine Friday evening in August.
We were up and on our way for half past seven, dropping down through the lock into the basin where we carried out all of the services. By the time we had moved on to the narrow staircase locks, a volunteer lock keeper had arrived and helped our passage down and out on to the Severn.
The sun was shining as we pulled out on to the wide river and headed south, it was a magnificent feeling as Caxton found the deep water, exactly the same as when we took our first boat, Phoenix III out on the Soar and then the Trent.
The locks on the Severn are huge and being manned, all that was required from us was to put a stern line around a vertical wire and wait for the lock to empty and the gates to open. We passed through three such locks on our journey down to Worcester and since there is no need to slow for bends, bridges or moored boats, we completed the trip in just four and a half hours (including the thirty minutes on the services at Stourport).
We found a good mooring by the racecourse, paid our mooring fee (£4.00) and walked into town where we had lunch and did some shopping before returning to the boat. Since then we have just been sitting in the cratch, enjoying the sunshine, watching boats passing and being cooled by the breeze from the river.
Sue is happy, Leicester City are top of the league!