Droitwich to Worcester
6th July 2011
9 miles - 9 locks - 4 hours
We were off and away at 8.30am, turning right out of the basin and under the railway bridge. Then it is out alongside the playing fields to the north and neat suburbia to the south with the canal soon adopting its trademark reedy margins, which extend most of the way to the Severn.
Whilst the technical innovations on the narrow section capture the headlines, its these lower miles that will capture your heart. This is a Brindley designed contour canal which hugs the southern side of the Salwarpe valley, rising higher and higher above the babbling book down below. This top end of the Droitwich Barge Canal runs for a lockless three miles from Droitwich, giving plenty of time to savour the atmosphere. Unusually for a Brindley cut, it does have a deep cutting as the canal is forced round the back of the church at Salwarpe - a diversion which was probably demanded by the manor house who didn't want their view across the valley interrupted.
Then its the Ladywood flight, five evenly spaced chambers which have all been lovingly restored. The snag is that they are big and heavy and, on seeing us advancing from above, the boat in front slowed and waited for us to join then in the second lock. Landing spaces are shallow and short, so for the time being it is easiest to send a crew member ahead to ready the lock, allowing the boats to cruise right in. If you are locking down alone its one of those places where a bike is a good idea and if you are a single hander you may have to resort to leaving a bottom gate open as a bridge spans the tail of each lock with no towpath.
Ladywood top lock
Lock 5 is tricky. The towpath is blocked by a gate which is supposed to be accessible with a BW key - don't believe it! The gate seems to be bolted from inside, maybe by the occupants of the cottage. But there is an alternative - you can access it through the car parking space of the cottage or via the bridge at the lock tail. Judging by all the fences I suspect that the occupant is no boat lover!
Abandoned swing bridge
There remains just a mile or so of canal plus two locks before you exit onto the River Severn. This section is particularly attractive as the reeds give way to trees and the canal hugs the cliffs to the south. Curiously, the water is covered in floating weed. Not prop tangling weed and it is easily swept aside, but it does cover the canal from bank to bank.
Cruising the lower reaches of the Droitwich Barge Canal
Look out for the very good interpretation boards by the penultimate lock, attached to an old lock gate. Innovative and informative. The last pound is short and seemingly devoid of a weir. As a result the surplus water cascades over the top of the final lock.
Our locking companions
So, a reflection on this canal. It is very pretty and a marked contrast to the narrow Junction Canal at the top. Its isolated lengths will make excellent secluded moorings but for the time being the reeds prevent all but the most creative and athletic moorers getting ashore. This is typical of restoration projects and these niceties will follow in the future. This is a great addition to the Midlands canal network and I can see it becoming a firm favourite with boaters.
Bottom lock - is a sea of purest green
Maybe the strongest impression is left by the locals. They came out in their droves just to stop and stare at a boat going past. Most have walked the canal for up to 40 years and they admit that seeing boats moving is taking a bit of getting used to. They all seem delighted that "their" canal is back in business - a feeling which was reciprocated from those aboard Wand'ring Bark.
Token picture of Worcester!
And for the rest of the day? Oh - we carried on down to Diglis Basin in Worcester, testing the max speed of the boat as we went (between 6.5 and 7.00 mph), so we are ready to answer questions posed by the Cromwell Lock Keeper on the tidal Trent in a couple of weeks time.