Take Me to the River

The start of our journey along the River Avon – Leg 1 – Tewkesbury to Pershore

The River Avon. What can I say? It is a very different river to the Severn, which has high banks and can be – dare I say it – a tad boring. Unless you like trees, which I really do. But not when there is very little else to see. But the Avon – it’s a treasure. More open vistas than the Severn and often very rural. I think it’s fair to say that – so far – we love it.

We made our customary (way too!) early start, so that we could do our travelling before Paul has to start work. We plan to take a slow cruise up this river, as we have a month’s licence, in a series of short hops until we get to Stratford. We will probably travel further at weekends, though.

The first hop (9th May) left Tewkesbury behind and took us to The Fleet Inn at Twyning. It’s an Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) mooring, and very quiet, even though it is in sight of the M5 crossing, near Strensham services. We had the spot to ourselves most of the day, but were joined in the early evening by a pair of boats travelling together.

Just after setting off, we came very close to a deer, standing on the bank, who was off with a flash of white tail before we could whip out a camera. I think we took him by surprise with our lack of engine noise? It was a magical moment though. and then, once we had moored, we were treated to a flock of Oystercatchers with their distinctive “peeping” cry, flying past. We are not a million miles from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, so they might have been on their way there? Beautiful birds.

I spent the day blogging and pottering until it was time for Paul to stop work. We would have eaten at the pub, but we had a couple of steaks on board that needed using, so we compromised and bought a portion of Koffmann fries, with garlic mayo and dusted with Parmesan, some Butcombe (a Bristol brewery) battered onion rings and some mushrooms, plus a couple of drinks. They were happy and so were we.

Our Fleet Inn Mooring – Bredon Hill in background

Day 6 (10th May) was a bit cloudy first thing as we set off, under the M5 bridge that we had crossed so many times in the past, always spotting rivers and canals as we went. It was such a treat to actually be on the river, rather than racing along above it. It was so noisy!

The M5 Flyover

We ascended through Strensham lock – our first unmanned Avon lock. You are required to secure forward and aft on this river when locking up and, as the locks are quite fierce, we dutifully complied. By this time, we had been caught up by the two boats that had been moored by us the previous night. It transpired that this lock was a first for one of the boats, and they had their serious learning faces on. And rightly so. Locks can be very dangerous and there is a lot to remember.

We exited the lock and moored on the adjacent ANT visitor moorings. Handily, these are denoted by their blue posts. They are “flood safe” moorings. This is good, as the Avon has a reputation for being a river that changes rapidly. You moor not to the posts, but to the rings that encircle the post and which rise and take your boat with them in times of spate. It’s worth noting that not all the ANT moorings are flood safe and it’s well worth purchasing their guide, especially as profits go to the Trust.

There were electricity bollards on the mooring but no sign of life and obviously no means of paying. I dashed off a quick email to the ANT asking about their provenance and explaining that they would be a useful commodity for electric boats . I also suggested that they might consider aligning themselves with other waterways authorities (CRT, EA and National Trust for example) and offer a small discount for electric boats, with no form of diesel propulsion. I had a very swift reply explaining that the moorings had previously been residential and that my suggestions would be passed on and discussed at a forthcoming meeting of the Trust. Excellent result. Let’s see what happens?

It was mending day for me. Paul had popped a button off his shorts so I popped it back on. About three hours later, he returned from walking the boys with a great tear in the rear. That was a waste of time then, and they were consigned to the bin, being deemed “beyond economical repair”. I also darned a new top that he had “caught on something” and took in the waistband of a pair of my shorts, which had kept falling down, most annoyingly. What an industrious little housewifey I am! Well worth my keep, I think?

As rain was forecast for the next day, we took the decision to stay put at this charming mooring, where we had frequent visits from swans, ducks and Canada Geese – complete with their adorable goslings. That being so, I set about procuring some fresh produce as we were running a little low. The Lock Cottage had a postcode, ergo Ocado could deliver. I quickly nabbed an early evening delivery slot. This was cunning, as the rain was scheduled to be over by then. How could I have sent my hunter gatherer out a-foraging with his blue IKEA bags in the rain?

We had a lovely visit from Colin from Narrowboat “Tickin’ Along” (great name) who follows Old Nick on Twitter, It was so nice to put a name to a face.

The rain arrived in the early hours of the 11th, as promised, so we had made the right decision not to move on. Paul got up to start work. I just turned over and went back to sleep for a while. And why not? Before we owned our own boat we would very often continue to cruise even when it was raining, as we usually had to get to or get back to somewhere. These days we are less inclined to do so as we usually don’t have to be anywhere in particular and why would we want two sets of wet clothes to dry?

When I arose from my slumbers at a slightly more decent hour, I decided I’d make some Welsh cakes and then a loaf of bread. We carry a bread-maker on board and it’s very handy for days when you can’t get to the shops. It’s a Lakeland one, with quite a small footprint, which is important as space is always an issue on a boat. Its stowed away until we need it. I hate cluttered work-spaces.

The Welsh cakes are made to a recipe by my Welsh step-grandmother, Etta Gunter. I have a bakestone on board, but they could probably be made in a heavy based frying pan. The recipe is in “old money” but most digital scales can use either lbs and ounces or grammes, so if you fancy having a go, here it is

Etta Gunter’s Welsh Cakes

  • 1 lb plain flour
  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 oz raisins/sultanas
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • A pinch of salt (optional)
  • A beaten egg to bind (I occasionally add a splash of milk. depending on how the mixture “comes together”).

Rub the butter into the flour, baking powder and salt (if using) until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the dried fruit, sugar (mix to distribute) and then add the beaten egg. Mix to combine to a dough. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface and then cook on a greased bakestone. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight tin. They keep well, but are very popular aboard Old Nick, so rarely last long!

By late afternoon, the sun had indeed popped out, just in time for a very successful delivery. Our intrepid hunter returned with groaning IKEA bags and we could eat again.

It turned into a beautiful evening, culminating in a grand sunset. We had loved this mooring and felt quite reluctant to leave, but all good things must come to an end.

It was an absolutely glorious morning (12th May) when we left Strensham. We often feel like we’re the only people on the river on these early mornings, and it was a joy to be making our way up river while a cuckoo called. There’s something about that sound that somehow seems quintessentially English.

We passed under the Defford railway bridge and were lucky enough to see a train. The station fell vicitm to one of Mr Beeching’s cuts in the 60s, sadly. We pressed on and soon encountered the very beautiful six arch, red sandstone Eckington Bridge. There has been a bridge on this spot for hundreds of years, and a ferry, even before that, but this one dates back to 1720s. There used to be a wharf here but it is now a picnic spot and we saw a couple of chaps going for an early morning swim.

There is a poet called  Arthur Quiller-Couch  who was so enamoured of Eckington Bridge, he wrote a poem about it. It’s called – “Upon Eckington Bridge” and is a bit florid and grandiose but worth a read.

We had mulled over the possibility of mooring there but there were already two boats that had clearly spent the night there and were probably still snoozing. It was also a bit noisy as traffic over the bridge is controlled by traffic lights. We did, however, stop briefly to get rid of a build up of “poo bags” or “cack sacks” as Paul likes to call them, in the handy dog bin.

Eckington Bridge from downstream

We pressed on to the other place that we hoped to moor, only to find it had only one space, which was already occupied. Their movements around the boat led us to believe that they might be moving on and we were lucky! They actually were just off. We hung back a bit to let them manouevre and then quickly took their place. We may, perhaps, have hastened them on their way but they seemed very happy to go and explained that they had been there for two days. And I can quite see why. It’s a delight! Room for one boat, no road access – so no road noise. Just birds and sheep. Just the job. It’s on a bend in the river, known as the Swan’s Neck , which is also called Birlingham Quay. It looks more like a camel’s hump to me, but perhaps it was given its name before anyone had actually seen a camel? There seemed to be the last vestiges of some sort of industry on the site, but it’s definitely our kind of mooring.

I was particularly sad to leave this mooring. It was lovely and deserved more than one night but we have cruising to do. We set off (13th May) with the goal of getting to Pershore for the weekend. Shortly after we left, I got a message from Jonathan (on board Watt Knott – a sister boat) saying that he and Karen were aiming to be in Pershore by around lunchtime. It looked like we’d finally found a place to meet. Lovely.

Its a very pretty, very rural stretch of the river – although you can pretty much take that as read. We passed through Nafford lock, with its swingbridge over the lock, and pressed on towards Pershore. As you approach Pershore, you get glimpses of the Abbey, of which more later. We then passed under Pershore New Bridge, built in 1928 to carry traffic between Evesham and Worcester. It was proudly promoted as “the first concrete bridge in Worcestershire” and is very utilitarian. Immediately following that, you pass under the much more romantic Old Bridge, which is of a similar vintage to Eckington and is lucky that it no longer has to bear traffic. Apparently, troops fleeing from the Battle of Worcester tried to demolish it, but it withstood their efforts, thank goodness. It’s a charming bridge.

As we worked our way through Pershore lock, we heard that Jonathan and Karen were in position and that there was plenty of room on the Pershore Recreation Ground moorings. So it was with some excitement that we exited the lock, past the riverside gardens of The Star Inn and The Angel Hotel. As we approached the moorings, we could see Jonathan on the bank, camera in hand. We moored right next to them and had a quick catch up. The boys were very excited to see them as, indeed, were we! We made a plan to meet for dinner that evening and then they went off shopping while Paul did some more work.

We booked a table at The Star Inn and arranged to meet the Warrens at 7pm. We planned to go out on our bikes with the boys. It’s been a while since we have done this and we hoped they’d remember the drill. Luckily they did. We took them for a run around the recreation ground to start with, just to wear them out a bit. They had an absolute ball. They love running along side the bikes and could not wait to get cracking. Once we felt that had taken the edge off their excitement and energy levels, we fastened them into the backpacks and off we went. They don’t get any lighter that’s for sure! In the old days, I always used to take Bill, as he was a shade lighter than Ted, but they both now weigh just over 10 Kg. We had a lovely cycle ride down to the bridges and all around and then made our way back to the pub. We planned to do more cycling the next day.

We had a very pleasant meal and then Jonathan and Karen came back to Old Nick for a coffee and a game of “The Game”. Neither of them had ever actually beaten the Game so it was with jubilation that we finally broke their Game duck! We’d all had a lovely evening and after saying our farewells, happily fell into bed.

Saturday dawned fair and we set off on bikes once more to explore Pershore town centre. It’s pretty busy on a Saturday morning, but we really enjoyed our tour. There is a very beautiful park behind the Abbey or “Church of the Holy Cross”. The Abbey is of ancient lineage – records show that there has been a religious edifice on the spot since the days of King Aethelred (of Mercia – 675-704) and it has had quite a chequered career. The building that stands today, though, was begun in about 1100, and has been added to over the centuries. The bells sounding across the recreation ground are a lovely sound to hear.

The Abbey – Pershore

There is a lovely war memorial in the park, of a soldier and his horse. The horse, made by a local blacksmith, is fashioned from horseshoes and commemorates all the animals that fell in WW1 and 2.

Perhsore is famous for its plums – particularly the Pershore Egg, a yellow cooking plum – good for pies and jam, but not prized for eating raw. It’s a real shame we are not here in plum season.

We stopped to quench our thirst at The Angel and then made out way back to the boat. We had a Click and Collect slot at the nearby Asda and Paul went off to do that, while I made some lunch. We lingered a while after lunch, knowing that there was work to do. We needed to deep clean the interior.

We should really have done it before we left home but were so excited to get out there, we didn’t. It involves getting everything off the floor, taking the steps out and sweeping, hoovering and then mopping the floor and skirting boards. It doesn’t actually take that long and it’s such a great feeling when it’s done, although keeping a boat floor clean and dog hair free is a bit like painting the Forth bridge. We do it every couple of months or so.

As afternoon turned into evening, we set off for another bike ride. Our destination was a village called “Wyre Piddle” and a riverside pub called “The Anchor”. Our route took us mainly through fields and the boys had a joyous run before we had to put them in the backpacks for the final, road based leg. It’s probably only a couple of miles, but we all enjoyed it – and the drink that followed. The pub was very busy with diners and drinkers on the lovely sunny evening. It’s a nice spot to while away a couple of hours. We retraced our steps and arrived back at the boat, ready to make dinner and settle down to watch a spot of TV.

The Anchorr at Wyre Piddle

We chose to watch “Dune” – the remake – and we both enjoyed it more than the 1984 David Lynch film. After that we flipped to the results of the Eurovision song contest. Thrilling stuff, with the UK in pole position until the public vote which, understandably, went to the Ukraine. In our minds, the UK won despite being pushed into second place by the public sympathy vote. A historic Eurovision for many reasons, not least the buttock display from the Spanish contingent!

We were up early on Sunday (15th) as we were expecting guests. Another set of cousins – this time Andrew and Pam, whom we hadn’t seen for a couple of years, mainly due to Covid. The weather was not the best, but we managed a couple of hours cruising before the rain set in. We moored at the Anchor for lunch, buying some drinks in return for the mooring. In contrast to the previous evening, it was almost deserted. It must be difficult running a pub that, in sunny weather is heaving but almost totally shunned in rainy weather. But we had a lovely day despite the weather and found plenty to chat about. We arrived back at Pershore at around 5ish and saw them off on their journey back to Herefordshire. Then it was supper and bed.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our first week on the Avon and are really looking forward to breaking new ground as we edge closer to Stratford.

4 Replies to “Take Me to the River”

  1. Thank you Kay, such a brilliant blog. It is a real pleasure being part of your Summer Cruise, I cannot wait for the next instalment. Your fabulous descriptions of the places you visit are worthy of a Travel Journalist.

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