Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Time for new things..........

After some ten years and three boats enjoying the U.K inland waterways, we have realised that time and tide wait for no man and the years are starting to catch us up.

Denise broke her leg in two place some years ago, when she did not notice the fishing line I had put across the stairs......( only joking honest )   Serious arthritis has been the result of her injuries  making walking flights of locks difficult to say the least. I have suggested that she took over the steering duties, but she dislikes the lonely responsibility of being in charge of the boat at the bottom of locks intensely, preferring the social chat with other boaters operating paddles, etc.

I have been fortunate to remain fairly fit in retirement, but even I have developed a problem in one eye that has left me with sight difficulties.  I know Lord Nelson overcame such irrelevant problems, but I don't think I would suit an eye-patch and bi-cornered hat until the time comes to mutter "Kiss me Hardy" and fall off the back of the boat.

So a judgement had to be made and we have decided to sell the boat and do other things........perhaps something a little larger, with other people to do the work whilst we study the far sea-scape horizon, sipping some nautical rum-infused concoction. Sound like a plan ?

We have had a great time over the past ten years overcoming the challenges that rivers and canals occasionally throw at you. Fortunately the number of nice people who said 'hello' as we passed by far outnumbered the tight-lipped ones who obviously hate the concept of a smiled 'hello' to strangers. 

Standing on the back of  boat at 4mph for hours gives you plenty of time to reflect on the incredibly beautiful tranquil world of canals and rivers that we are blessed with in the United Kingdom. I never tired of the constantly unfolding parameters of water that revealed such beauty, especially the green field agricultural vistas that you would need a heart of stone to ignore and be unmoved by.

British canals are a time-warp with very little changed since they were constructed over two-hundred years ago. I, for one, never lost sight of the fantastic engineering achievement made principally by the brain, brawn, and shovel of the early 'Navvies'..... occasionally in the middle of a long dark tunnel for example you realise that the thousands and thousands of bricks lining the wall were placed by human hand risking their lives working in dangerous darkness. Following the ghosts of thousands of working boats through the centuries you are just a nano-second in the timescale of canal history that will exist for ever.

Without the boats I would not have enjoyed early glorious June morning walkies together with trusty hound 'Suzy' as the low sun burns through mist lying on the water creating a beauty that borders on a religious revelation. Thankfully these things are given to us for free in life. You do not need a boat, just get up very early and walk the nearest canal tow-path.

So the new crew for 'San Serriffe' who will guide her continuing travels on the U.K canal system are Jan and John Revitt who (if I am any judge) belong in Division One of the 'Genuine Nice People League' ..........give them a wave and some friendly banter at the locks as 'San Serriffe' waits patiently to cruise onwards to new adventures as she was designed to........ 

Only regret things you have never done - not the things you have.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

River Avon............Tewkesbury to Pershore.

Leaving Gloucester we again joined the River Severn and headed in the direction of the junction with the River Avon. It is about a four-hour journey to the Avon from Gloucester dock and we decided on the spur of the moment to moor for the evening at Haw Bridge on the Severn. Our decision was coloured by the opportunity of a vacant mooring on the pontoons near the adjacent Haw Bridge Inn and as moorings are limited on the Severn we decided to have 'have an early bath' as the old rugby term goes and enjoy an evening meal and a few beers in the pub.

Moving to Upper Lode lock in the morning, I tried the lock-keeper on the VHF as his visibility to our part of the river is non-existent and after a quick conversation he had the lock ready for us. 

Turning right onto River Avon junction we saw the Avon lock green light and did the sharp right turn straight into the lock.  A friendly lady lock-keeper welcomed us and took our £60 for a two-week Avon Navigation Trust license on a hand-held debit card machine whilst we were in the lock. All very slick and improved from our last visit when you needed cash or a cheque.

Welcome to the River Avon - locking up from the River Severn.
River Avon lock........Tewkesbury 

We paid the £3 required to use their overnight mooring near the lock (other Avon Navigation Trust Avon moorings are free) so we could do some food shopping in Tewkesbury. 

Overnight moorings River Avon, Tewkesbury.

Heading in the direction of Stratford the following morning we stopped at the nearby Tewkesbury marina which has a riverside fuel-point for both diesel and petrol with a dedicated service mooring. Again all slick and no messing about trying get near the fuel for moored boats only to be told 'cash only' which is occasionally the situation on some waterways.

Tewkesbury bridge over the River Avon

Having cruised the Avon a couple of years ago we know most of the mooring places are not exactly plentiful so were prepared grab the first opportunity before the day became much older and. Certainly before 2pm if possible.

Picturesque Eckington Bridge is the first opportunity going towards Stratford with just two moorings. Both were taken so we decided to continue onto the delightful Pershore where (48 hour) moorings are more plentiful. It was our lucky day and there was a number of vacant moorings.

Pershore is certainly an excellent place to moor with a nearby Supermarket and indoor market.  New pump-out ( ANT token required available from Pershore town hall, five minutes away ) and cassette tip-out facilities together with two water-points were installed during 2012 and you are allowed to use the large bins along the moorings for your rubbish, so in short Pershore has just about everything a boater would need.

Pershore moorings

We stayed the full 48-hour allowed in Pershore and certainly enjoyed our visit to a town that actually seems to welcome boaters. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Gloucester dock to Sharpness........

Nearing the time-limit on our 48-hour visitor mooring in Gloucester dock we decided to spend a few days on the Gloucester and Sharpness ship canal.   Sixteen miles long this canal could take large sailing vessels in it's hey-day.  It still does.......with an annual 'tall-ships' gathering in Gloucester dock.  Over 100 ft wide in  places and 20 ft deep, no locks and all the bridges opened for you. This is easy cruising for a narrowboat or cruiser - a pleasure that is not to be missed after reaching Gloucester from the River Severn.

Gloucester dock from the Gloucester and Sharpness ship cana;. Llanthony bridge is in the foreground.

After an overnight at Sellar's Bridge we used the nearby water point and were delighted to see the Spanish two-master schooner 'Atyla' hove into view from the direction of Gloucester.  'Atyla' is a training ship and was heading for Liverpool from Sharpness after repairs to her top masts in Gloucester. It was a sight you certainly do not see on the Macclesfield canal !!!!!!!!

Spanish Schooner 'Atyla' passes us on the Gloucester and Sharpness ship canal.

After the unique experience of being passed by something that you imagine braving the waves of the Spanish main, the rest of the day was an anti-climax.

A day of anti-climax perhaps, but a beautiful one for all that.  An hour or so and we were passing though Saul junction which boasts a selection of interesting boats all

Boats of all sizes on the Gloucester and Sharpness ship canal.

Struggling  to use the water-point nearing Sharpness with this large vessel moored next to it.

of it's own including several large pleasure boats and a RNLI lifeboat for some reason (no reflection on the trip boats I am sure)

We had stopped at Patch bridge on our last visit a couple of years ago.  Seeing a free mooring we decided to repeat the pleasure. Patch bridge gives easy access to Slimbridge wildfowl trust
 ( about fifteen minutes walk) and the nearby 'Tudor' inn.

A couple of nights moored at the canal terminus at Sharpness allowed us to explore the arm to the old original dock that was once the entrance to the Severn Estuary and Bristol channel when the canal was first built.  Amazing to think that it was once mooring for large sea-going sailing ships before the current modern commercial docks were built.  These would have then used the Sharpness canal and off-loaded their cargo at Gloucester lock.

Old dock entrance to the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.  Severn estuary and Bristol channel are pictured in the background.

Low tide on the Severn estuary looking towards Gloucester from Sharpness.

This canal arm is now long-term moorings for a variety of fibreglass cruisers and narrowboats.  A walk to the end of the arm will supply you with superb views over the Severn estuary and Bristol channel with the Bristol suspension bridge visible on the horizon. Our previous visit a couple of years ago had seen the visitor moorings on the approach to the arm very busy and we were lucky to get the last space. This year for some reason there was hardly any boats there with plenty of room to moor.

With superb weather we decided to return to Gloucester dock without a stop.  Sixteen miles was completed in a little over four hours and by early afternoon we were moored outside the Sainsbury supermarket on the approaches to Gloucester dock. Then with food cupboards re-stocked we looked forward to another couple of days chilling out in Gloucester dock.

48-hour visitor mooring. Gloucester dock.

Gloucester dock lock........locking up from the River Severn into the dock.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

River Severn to Gloucester dock.......

Stourport - southerly terminus of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and our entrance to England's longest River the mighty River Severn.

Stourport Wide-beam locks

Stourport Visitor mooring

Entering the Stourport basins that take you through a series of locks into the river we took advantage of the Limekiln Chandlery fuel and toilet pump-out facility. A full tank of water at the Canal and River Trust water-point an we were good to go.  Narrow locks ( there are wide beam locks also) are a pair of staircase locks with a short pound in between. If a boat is coming the other way you can wait to pass in the pound but do not enter the 'staircase' sections together. Bridges block your view, so you have to make the effort of looking over them to see if other traffic is coming in the opposite direction. 

Once on the river at Stourport there are a very few visitor pontoons together with lock-mooring spaces. Space is very limited on these pontoons so be prepared to carry on and take your mooring chances further on the river. We were lucky on this occasion and found a mooring enabling us to stay in Stourport for the night.

Stourport Basin

This was the first time we that we had the time and opportunity to explore the historic Stourport basins and accompanied by my trusty hound 'Suzy' spent a leisurely hour in the afternoon sunshine enjoying the river views.  Exhausted by our wanderings we 'found' ......just by chance 'The Angel' pub overlooking the river and decided to try (just in the interests of  market research you understand) some of their fine range of beers. They do an excellent bag of local Porky Scratchings and if 'Suzy' had been endowed with opposable thumbs she would have given a positive 'thumbs up' to.  She helped to scoff two bags, so I think this was a very positive canine market research experience.  My 'experience' was also very positive and we all retired to our floating bed on the River Severn in a relaxed state that encouraged instant sleep until the bright sunshine of the morning.

Breakfast over and by 8am we were heading towards Worcester.
Locks on the River Severn are gigantic by our canal standards and are of course manned.  Looping lines bow and stern to the vertical stainless-steel cables ensures your safe rise or fall in the lock. Most lock-keepers like to have you opposite their tall 'office' so that they can see if you are O.K. especially if you are in the lock solo. They will direct you to one side of the lock or other as you approach.

River Severn lock.

Worcester is like one of the many large canal or riverside towns or cities that do not take advantage of the spending power of visiting boat crews. Moorings are basically poor and not exactly plentiful, added to the fact you have to pay !!!!!

We managed to find one of the very poor moorings near the racecourse as you enter Worcester from Stourport. This has steel rings attached to water side of the bank so that you scrape all the paint off your boat hull as you attempt to moor - obviously designed by somebody without the slightest boating experience. We continued on and found a better place near the River footbridge - not exactly ideal but at least the rings were in the correct place.
Being a rule-abiding boater I found the car-park machine as directed and paid the correct fee, putting the boat index number in first.  Oh yes.... they do check, last time we were here a parking warden promptly asked us for our ticket !!  Welcome to Worcester. 

I am glad we persevered with the Worcester moorings on this occasion and spent the day visiting the Cathedral and the riverside walks together with a little shopping .......well worth our £4 'parking' ticket.  Not sure about the scratched paint though.

River Severn. Worcester

Our next destination on the river was Stourport-upon-Severn. A delightful town that suffers from the same problem as Worcester - a lack of moorings. Last time we came through we gave up visiting the town when we had to admit defeat regarding vacant moorings and regretfully sailed on with money meant for Upton- upon-Severn shops and pubs left unspent.

On this occasion we were very lucky ( mainly because it was early in the day) and moored on the Canal and River Trust pontoon mooring which has space for perhaps four or five boats. This pontoon is fairly recent and was a subject of controversy when CRT promptly promised it to a commercial trip boat. Sense prevailed eventually and if your stars are in alignment and you come early, this is the place to moor.  One problem with the pontoon is the 3ft x 2ft CRT sign that explains it is a visitor mooring is the wrong way around and faces the town not the river. As you pass you are left wondering what kind of mooring it the time you guess you are on the way to Gloucester.

Upton-on-Severn visitor moorings.  Strictly copyright author.

Upton is well worth the trouble with plenty of good places to eat and drink including the 'Anchor Inn' founded in 1601 ..... how time flies when you are enjoying a few beers.  It (Upton not The Anchor) also has a laundrette which will certainly be useful for boats without washing machines.

Anchor Inn....serving beer since 1601.  Upton-on-Severn

Arriving at Gloucester about lunchtime we called Gloucester dock lock on my mobile at 'Upper Partings' where there is a sign with their number on it.  I tried the VHF but had bad reception from the lock despite good signals from a trip boat calling the nearby Lanthony Bridge.  When we rounded the corner with the lock facing us it was all ready.

Gloucester dock has plenty of 48 hour moorings and is a very enjoyable place to stay with lots to see and do including the Waterways Museum and Gloucester Cathedral for example. During our stay there was two large schooners and a another sailing ship in the dry-dock, all adding to a visual feel to the docks similar to its heyday during the nineteenth century. 

Schooners including the Spanish training ship 'ATYLA' undergoing repairs in Gloucester dock.    Strictly
'Earl of Pembroke'  in Gloucester dry dock.
Gloucester Cathedral.               Strictly Copyright Author.

Moorings in Gloucester dock are limited to 48 hour so we will soon move out of the dock onto the Gloucester and Sharpness ship canal.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Staffs and Worcester canal.........

Making towards the junction of the Trent and Mersey and Staffs and Worcester canals at Great Haywood we left Stoke-on-Trent into the beautiful Shropshire countryside which was blessed with wall-to-wall sunshine and the wonderful blue skies. This is what we certainly signed up for.

Locks of Meaford passed by with just a little trouble at the top lock when the exit gate would not close. Fishing about with the boat hook would not find the offending item fouling the bottom of the gate, but fortunately there was three guys watching my efforts in the morning sunshine and responded to my suggestion of a combined tug at the gate with good humour.......much to my delight the combined muscle power overcame the blockage and the gate opened to it's proper place.

"Thanks guys" and we were on are way towards Stone.  I love this stretch of canal with it's gentle green countryside which gives way to the canal town of Stone.  After passing through the famous lock next to the 'Star' pub which is the birthplace of the Trent and canal, we found a rare vacant mooring place in this popular canal stop.  A little early to moor but we grabbed the opportunity to do some shopping at the nearby Morrison's supermarket and have lunch and few beers in the 'Star' beer garden.

Following morning found us having another 'pit-stop' at Aston marina to use their pump-out machine, a dirty job, but somebody has to do it - me !!

Turning towards Great Haywood we found a Canal and River Trust 'hopper' boat blocking our way. It was trailing a rope from  the bow and had obviously broke free from the rotten piece of wood it had been to tied to on the non-towpath side of the canal. I toyed with the idea of climbing onto this rusting hulk and using the boat pole to move it back onto it's mooring, but this was accompanied with some risk of jumping into the water on the other bank and then struggle to climb back onto our boat. You never get brownie points for being a hero so I called Canal and River Trust emergency number and they said they would send a 'team' out to sort it.  In the meantime I nudged the bow of 'San Serriffe'  against the side of the hopper and gently pushed it out of the way. 

CRT hopper bars the way on the Trent and Mersey canal.

Turning onto the Staffs and Worcester canal at Great Haywood we made for one our favourite overnight mooring spots - Tixall wides.   Tixall wides as the name says on the tin suggests is a wide expanse of water being almost lake-like in places, an idyllic place to moor. Late afternoon was gloriously sunny, made even more glorious by a visit from our granddaughter Sophie together with her boyfriend, who both live locally and a great opportunity to see them, especially for our hound Suzy who squealed with delight as one of her favourite people seemed to just materialize walking along the towpath.

I woke VERY early the following morning at 4.30am and the sun was even then shining through the 'pigeon box' portholes on the roof.  Grabbing my camera and Suzy's lead we both went for an early morning walk.  Tixall wides on some summer mornings lays a mist just above the water especially if the night has been cold and the sun gives a warmer temperature just above it. It really is a beautiful sight and well worth an early start to see this 'middle earth' beauty.  It is gone by 7am and the world returns to normal without a hint of it's previous visual magic........

Tixall wide.
Early June is the time for Swan Cobs to become very territorial and aggressive.We witnessed a canoeist abandon ship as a testosterone fueled white ball of spitting anger jumped onto his craft and attempted to pull it to bits with it's snapping beak - glad 'San Serriffe' is made of steel !!

Swan attack. Staffs and Worcestershire canal.
Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal is a pleasant cruise as you pass through the agricultural back-drop of  gentle countryside. Passing through the village of Acton Trussell you arrive in the large old town of Penkridge.  A good place to stop for shopping or perhaps just a break for a few hours, we decided to do just that. Visiting the 'The Boat'  a canal-side pub next to the bridge that takes the main road over the canal. Two steaks perfectly cooked to 'rare' were obtained for the £12 bargain price of a 'two-for-one' deal.  If for any reason you are passing 'The Boat' - don,t !!  Stop and have a steak or two.

A few beers at 'The Boat' Penkridge.
.Moving towards the West Midlands we stopped for water at Gailey Wharf and dump our waste in one of the large 'Biffa' bin facilities available there.

Gailey Wharf.
Passing Autherley junction where the Shropshire Union canal heads off in northerly direction towards Chester we soon passed the next junction of Aldersley that takes a route through 21 locks into Wolverhampton and the Birmingham Canal navigations.

Fortunately we were continuing on the Staff and Worcester and left the 'Wolverhampton 21' for another time - we have done them in the past and it is very hard work.   Next few miles is overgrown with large trees and is a little short on visual stimulation and we decided to overnight at Compton where pioneering canal engineer James Brindley designed and constructed his first lock.  Compton has just about everything a boater would need............ Shops,Supermarket, pubs and most importantly for us a Laundrette. We have a small washing-machine on board 'San Serriffe' but washing and drying bed-sheets in the confines of a boat is problematic to say the least. So off to watch sheets spin around and around for an hour or two, oh joy, I love this job.

Next few miles needs you to work a few locks with the delightful names of 'Bumblehole' and 'Bratch' .    Bratch has a lock-keeper during the summer and seems a little tricky with three locks in a\ strange configuration, but with the help of the lock-keeper they are in actual fact very easy. One boat up and one boat down is the rule of the day in this group of three locks with impossibly short pounds (gaps) between them.

Bratch Locks - Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal
Passing through Whittington of 'Dick Whittington' fame we arrived on the outskirts of Kidderminster where the canal opens onto a large shopping centre where you could spend days doing serious shopping if that was your inclination.  We settled for a trip to Tesco which is literally a few yards from the convenient nearby canal mooring.

Kidderminster. Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal

We decided at a late hour of the afternoon to continue out of the Kidderminster suburbs and find a mooring. I noticed one absolutely perfect place next to a pub called 'The Watermill.
It had just one mooring next to a manicured grass area. Manager said we were welcome to moor for the night so we had a few 'sun-downers'  in the beer garden next to the boat and slept the sleep of the just and innocent (ish) afterwards.

Staffs and Worcester terminates at Stourport a few miles further on at the River Severn - our next journey. You are more than welcome to join us............

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Macclesfield canal onto the Trent and Mersey...........

Beginning of June has seen a great improvement in the weather so we have decided to start our summer travels whilst that long waited for season is still with us. Spreading our bets we have plenty of wet weather gear loaded together with sun-cream and we are always the optimists......but wet weather in the U.K rarely sees the pessimist disappointed  :) 

Most of our first day was spent stowing food, bedding and other essentials into various cupboards. Most boats (especially ours) needs some planning to ensure everything is squeezed into the available space - something of an acquired skill. Loading from the car to boat we open the centre hatch and I hand bags and boxes down into the boat whilst Cap'n Denise stows things around the boat.

As the afternoon grew older we stopped at the Higher Poynton water-point to fill the tank with that essential of life I am reliably informed is more important than all the beers in all the world.  So with the day growing older we decided to stay at the next 'watering-hole' called the 'Miner's Arms' for the night and sample just a few of those aforementioned beers.  Travel by canal is often called the  'fastest way to slow down'  so it was decided to leave all the rushing around at four mile per hour until the morning.

Early morning fishing session  for this patient Heron, Adlington, Macclesfiedl canal.

Sun shining through the port-holes of the roof mounted 'pigeon box' greets us at 4.30 am so we tried hard to ignore it for a couple of hours. Sunshine and our West Highland Terrier scratching at the door to go out are difficult to ignore, so 6 am found me pounding the tow-path in my principal occupation as walk-slave for Suzy the hound.

By 8am I was sipping a hot coffee with my arm around the tiller as 'San Serriffe' headed towards Macclesfield under the fresh new blue sky of one of those mornings that we all wish for and money cannot buy........a morning only luck and greater things can give us.

Reaching  the flight of 12 locks at Bosley we looked forward to a couple of hours hard lock-wheeling.   For once the weather and Gods were kind and a couple of volunteer lock-keepers gave us a helping down the flight.......making life easy and by mid-afternoon we were moored for the night under the brooding high ground  of  'Bosley Cloud'

Following day we on the Trent and Mersey and heading for the dreaded Harecastle Tunnel and Stoke-on-Trent.  I must admit the Harecastle is not my favourite tunnel which is a passage of some 45 minutes in the subterranean, dripping darkness. An unfortunate accident last year caused the death of a boater after he fell from the stern.  For the first time in a tunnel I donned my auto-inflate life-jacket as recommended by the tunnel-keepers.   Harecastle tunnel becomes very low in the centre and as I stand 6ft I have to bend to clear the masonry passing near the crown of my head. As a spooky finale to your passage an air ventilation motor begins to give a eerie whirr as you reach the Stoke portal, bringing memories of the 'Ghost train' of childhood fairgrounds.  Yes, I am more than relieved to see the 'light at the end of the tunnel' and have the open sky over my head once more.

Harecastle tunnel

Spending the evening at the tranquil Westport lake just before Stoke we continued the following morning towards Great Haywood to join the Staffordshire and Worcester canal that will lead us past the West Midlands and onto it's terminus at Stourport and the River Severn.

Westport  lake.  Stoke-on-Trent
Canada Geese gosling - Westport Lake.  Stoke-on-Trent

Friday, 29 May 2015

Waiting for the summer............

Have you noticed how winter sometimes refuses to give way to summer ?     April gave us a false 'dawn' with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures, but the month of May has brought the winter cold back again as if to teach us not to be too complacent.

We had planned to embark on our summer cruise adventures about the second week in May, but as John Lennon once said....... "life is sometimes what happens whilst you are busy making other plans"
Family commitments and various other influences has delayed our departure into the beginning of June.   Perhaps this is for the best as the weather has been cold, wet and windy, a combination that takes most of the pleasure out of cruising the inland waterways.

Long term weather pundits in most of the media newsrooms have prophesied a big improvement in the weather from June onwards. I have heard all this before and is usually the kiss of death for a good summer, but we will have to wait and see.

Our 'Plan A' for the summer is to head towards the River Severn again via the Trent and Mersey/Staffs and Worcester canals, joining the longest river in the United Kingdom at Stourport following it to Gloucester docks and continuing  onwards to Sharpness on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.

As we hope to return via the River Avon, we will have a 'Plan B' just in case the hot-summer prophecy is wrong and heavy rain turns both Rivers into raging flooding torrents. Having navigated both rivers in the past we know this can happen.  River Avon in particular is full of 'record' high flood markers well above the level of the locks and until recently a narrowboat hung precariously forty foot above the level of the River Severn where boats lock into the River Avon at Tewkesbury, being swept there during floods in 2012. This boat was left hanging where the water left it until a brave couple purchased it last year and had it craned off it's perch.

Narrowboat swept by flooding onto a high perch between the River Severn and and River Avon, Tewkesbury .

Flood level markers River Avon

So if it rains for 'forty days and nights' during the summer I think we will stick to the watch this space.

Keeping myself amused during the winter I entered the Inland Waterways 2016 calendar photographic competition and they chose both my entries to be used for the months of June and November.  It is nice to see your photographs actually used for a purpose ( apart from this blog ) and I think some family members will be getting an IWA calendar for Christmas  :) 

River Thames at Abingdon - chosen for the Inland Waterways Association 2016 calendar (June)
'A winter's walk'  chosen for the Inland Waterways Association 2016 calendar.

So with boat serviced including engine and gearbox oils renewed,  fuel and engine filters changed. We are good to go at the beginning of June. I just hope the rain gods are kind to us and take a holiday of their own from creating torrential downpours. A little Camelot-like rain in the early hours of the morning will be sufficient........thank you  :)