A spot of winter cruising
Weekend Friday 4-6th March
We were starting to get a bit stir crazy and fancied a change of scenery so we decided we’d go out for a cruise. Due to the Canal & River Trust’s Winter maintenance programme, which actually starts in Autumn and extends into Spring, our range is a tad limited at present. We only have two options – down to Worcester on the Worcester and Birmingham or down to Hawford on the Droitwich canals. Both of these terminate at the River Severn, which can be a bit of a tricky river after a lot of rainfall. If it rains heavily on the Welsh mountains – Plynlimon to be precise, which is its source – you can be sure that, a few days later, the Severn becomes too dangerous to navigate.
We also have the River Salwarp – a tributary of the Severn – and on which some parts of the Droitwich canals are based, which can also be a bit lively, so we set off down towards Hawford hoping to just poke our noses out on the Severn, to turn round.
The Salwarpe was on Yellow – proceed with caution – and so we did. We were planning to spend Friday evening in Netherwich Basin, in the heart of Droitwich. We set off after Paul had finished his work for the day (thank goodness for lighter evenings!). We turned right out of the Marina and did the first three locks, a two lock staircase followed by a single lock. A passing dog walker and fellow canal enthusiast gave us some assistance and we soon polished them off. And then it was under the very low M5 bridge, of which we have written before. This time, though, as the Salwarpe was quite swollen from the recent rain and the clearance was tighter than usual as you can see by the photos below.
We then arrived at the next lock (No. 7 – River Lock) which was a swift process although it is the lock where the Salwarpe enters the canal. The following lock (No. 8 – Barge Lock) is a slightly tricky one. It is where the river leaves the canal over a weir. The stream was pretty strong here and I could feel the boat being dragged towards the weir, somewhat, as I approached. Barge Lock has one of the three Droitwich town swing bridges across the middle of it. so you have to not only get the lock open but also open the swing bridge before the boat can enter. Its quite a shallow lock and is the place where the canal changes from narrow locks to broad locks.
The middle swing bridge is left permanently open but the third and final one has to be opened and closed very swiftly, so as not to annoy the townsfolk who wish to cross the canal to get to the High Street.
We had a choice of moorings when we arrived at the basin and selected a very pleasant spot. It’s a nice secure and actually quite quiet place to spend the night.
By Saturday morning, we had discussed our onward passage and agreed that we were not going to attempt to go out on the Severn, even with just our nose out and tied on to the pontoons at the entrance to the river. It just wasn’t worth the stress and possible danger. A quick look at the map showed that there was a winding hole at the top of the Ladywood flight of locks, so we decided we’d pootle down there, turn and return to Netherwich for a second night.
It was a pleasant day but with the very cold, biting breeze that seems to have been blowing the whole of this year, so far. The Barge Canal is very pretty and well worth a trip, although there are not very many places to moor, sadly.
We reached Ladywood top lock without seeing any other boats on the move, winded the boat and made an executive decision. We would moor at the end of the lock moorings. Now this practice is rightly frowned upon. It makes dropping off crew at the lock more difficult and we are usually a bit cross if we encounter a boat moored like that. But we took into account that we had not encountered a single boat yesterday or today, we were sure that no one would be coming up off the Severn, and we doubted that anyone was following us down. We also promised (to the Canal Gods?) that if any boat did appear and want to use the lock, we would do the lock for them no matter what time, come rain or shine, so they did not need to use the lock landing. You can see it was not a decision we took lightly but, as it happened, nobody did turn up and we had a very pleasant and also very quiet night.
After a leisurely breakfast (dippy eggs and soldiers!) and a catch up on social media, we left for the return journey. We were chugging along nicely (note to self – do you really chug on an electric-engined boat?) when dear old Bill decided to launch himself into the cut. But we are used to it now, and swung into our rescue routine with aplomb and he was soon all snuggly in his much hated drying suit.
We encountered the usual Sunday morning fishing competition on the outskirts of Droitwich town. Sometimes they can be a morose bunch but these were a largely cheery bunch who were very interested in our silent boat. There was one wag eating a sandwich, upon which I remarked “No mustard in mine, ta”. His response? “First bite I’ve had all day!” How we laughed. A fisher-folk joke!
We arrived back at the Marina and still had plenty of daylight left to get tied up, hooked up to shore power, top up the water and ample time to cook dinner and have a relaxing evening. We were very glad we’d made the effort to get away.
Weekend 11-14th March
Our friends Sue and Paul Rogers arrived yon Friday in the pouring rain, poor souls. We had thought we might venture out in the early evening, up through the three deep locks to Hanbury Junction and thence along the Worcester and Birmingham canal to our favourite overnight spot in Oddingley, but the rain put the kibosh on that idea. Instead, we had a very pleasant time catching up on all the news from home, with lots of laughter, as usual.
Saturday looked much more reasonable and the forecast also looked good, so off we set. The deep locks were against us (i.e. they were full and we needed them empty) but we whistled through them. In my opinion four is the optimum crew, particularly on a flight of locks. You have one person to steer the boat, two to do the paddles and open and close the gates on the current lock and one to walk or cycle ahead to get the next lock ready. It seems to work very well.
We stopped for lunch at Oddingley and then continued our journey down to Diglis. We passed through the 12 delightful locks – well, actually only 9 are delightful. The last three locks down to Diglis Basin in Worcester, were full of urban rubbish. We realised we must have picked up something on our screw, probably in the last lock (Sidbury) or in the pound thereafter as the boat was not responding as it should when we moored up. As it was pretty chilly by this point, we decided we’d leave investigation until the morrow.
We had a fun evening, playing that most absorbing of games, “The Game” about which we have waxed lyrical in earlier editions of this blog and then had a very quiet night, considering we were in a city.
Investigation on Sunday morning showed that we had one of those very strong woven plastic coal bags round our screw. Annoyingly, it’s quite likely that it came from another boater, but let’s be charitable and presume it was blown away rather than just jettisoned.
We had a delicious brekker and then sat around for a bit before setting off, back up the locks we had come through the day before. Someone asked me if I prefer locking up or locking down. Its definitely locking down for me, I think there’s something less mentally daunting about locking down. It may just be as simple as going with gravity as you lock down rather than against it when you are locking up? I enjoy both though, really.
We moored at Tibberton for the night and, whilst I prepared dinner, the boys went off for a pint at The Bridge. Sadly, despite Google telling us it was open, the doors were closed and no sign of life. In high dudgeon (do you ever get a low dudgeon, I wonder?) they took their custom elsewhere, namely Speed the Plough.
All locks done, we had a leisurely start on Monday morning and the sun was shining! Hurrah, There were signs of spring in the air, on the canal banks and in the fields. The sun was genuinely warm and we happily made our way along the cut. We called at the Forge Tea Room at Dunhampstead. for a cuppa and perhaps a piece of cake. No such luck. Closed. We weren’t having much luck, were we?!
So on to Hanbury junction to find a boat ahead of us at the locks. It was our friends Jonathan and Karen Warren aboard sister boat Watt Knot, being assisted through the locks by Russell and Helen Green (from recently launched Professor Pat Pending – another of Old Nick’s sisters). We are a nice bunch, we Ortomariners!
We arrived back in time to see the launch of Ortomarine’s latest boat, an electric serial hybrid called “Ollie Owl”, destined to be added to a small hire fleet called Cafwin Cruises, based here at Droitwich Spa Marina. And the first electric hire boat (with sleeping accommodation) on the main canal system to boot! A launch is always a spectacle so everyone went off to watch while I made lunch.
With a few more hours to kill before they set off for home, we left Paul R with the dogs and the washing up, bless him, while we went off to Lakeland for a quick look round.
Again – we’d had a great weekend and were sorry to see them, and especially their dog, Lulu, go. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.
And next we are looking forward to welcoming two lots of family on board and then our son’s wedding . At last! After that we’ll be heading out on our 2022 Cruise. So much to look forward to!Hope you’ll join us? Guests are more than welcome.