The start of our journey along the River Avon – Leg 1
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.
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!
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
- 8 oz caster sugar
- 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.
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.