Saturday, 30 July 2011

Droitwich Double - 10 Wolverhampton

Droitwich Double 10
10th July 2011

10 miles - 3 locks - 5 hours

This is my favourite return route to Calf Heath, a few locks, pretty cuttings and finally the winding summit pound of the Staffs and Worcester where we have time to clean and pack ready for the off.

On the way out Belle had pointed out the animal graffiti on the railway bridges between Alderley and Autherley Junctions. Graffiti or art? You decide:

With fuel running low we stopped off at Oxley Marine, the first time I have used this yard. The price is right - 80p per litre pre tax, but it's always blocked off by boats which put me off. This time I decided to persist, pulling alongside the trip boat and seeking out the owner.

My time ashore turned me to a convert. I went into the workshop by mistake and found a room piled high with boating miscellany, including a part built twin for Sarnie, the tiny boat moored outside. The proper way to find him is in via the bar - yes, this place includes a popular local bar complete with pool table darts and TV - a veritable social club. If you do use this site for fuel remember - no electronic payments: cash or cheques only.

And do the end of another memorable trip. A brand new canal, twice, good weather and loads of  friends along the way. Roll on the summer trip to the Huddersfield Canal in August.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Droitwich Double 9 - Wolverley to Dimmingsdale

Droitwich Double 2011 no 9
Wolverley to Dimmingsdale
9th July 2011

13 miles - 20 locks - 8 hours

The area north of Wolverley offers some excellent boating, through wooded hillsides with the canal carved into rocky cliffs. Lock after lock rolls up, each in its unique setting rarely separated by more than a mile of water.

Dimmingsdale moorings

Kinver is something of a boating hot spot in there parts, crowded with moored boats which we passed by, the summer sun beating down on our heads and the air a heady mix of warm water and newly mown hay. What little traffic existed petered out at Greensforge Lock leaving us to carve a solitary course into the evening, 5.00pm became 6.00pm and then 7.00pm - a day you want to go on for ever.

The tail end of the day offered some the the boating gems I particularly love:

First the Botterham Staircase pair which have been the site of high spirits over recent weeks, tempers flaring as boated failed to follow the golden rule - walk to the other end first and check that the way is clear.

Bratch Locks

Then there are the massive ramparts of The Bratch, three towering chambers stacked one upon the other but oddly, not a staircase. It feels like a staircase and there is no way to pass within the flight but, as if by magic, water swirls into and out of side pounds hidden from the boater. Having travelled this way many times the operation of the flight was familiar and I was left to my own devices by the lock keeper, but guidance is needed for the uninitiated. Don't worry if you have to wait your turn, this gives you time to get the camera out and get some great shots of this unique site.

Echo's of Austria at Bratch Pumping Station

The plan was to moor on the offside above Dimmingsdale Lock and I was a bit disappointed to see it fully occupied. But its not a real issue, the area has loads of good moorings and we pulled over opposite the arm which usually contains nb Aquarius. Quiet and tranquil with just the distant roar from the lock by wash to lull you to sleep.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Droitwich Double 8 - Wolverley special

Droitwich Double 8

9th July 2011

After more overnight rain, it dawned clear and bright. Just the sort of day for a wander into Wolverley. We have been here before, but the village is so lovely its worth a repeat visit.

Wolverley from the canal

We marched up the hill to St John the Baptist, the red brick parish church perched on top of its sandstone outcrop. The sun came out and we soon found ourselves discarding our fleeces in an attempt to keep cool.

St John the Baptist, Wolverley

Belle went off foraging in the graveyard and I went for a wander round the church itself. Much to my surprise, the door stood wide open so I went inside to take a look. The verger was in doing some cleaning and after a slightly cautions greeting she soon realised I was genuinely interested and warmed to her theme, and she should know - she is a third generation verger!

Wolverley's stained glass window
 ... and historical tapestry

There is more to this church than meets the eye. There has been  place on the site for hundreds of years but the present church was mainly built between 1772 and 1812. On the face if it, it is a mordenish redbrick building but scratch away at the surface and you will find a more traditional sandstone tower which has been covered over. This inner layer of sandstone can be seen among the foundations and within the bell tower. This little village is proud of its church and has developed it over the years, upgrading its bells to its current full compliment of eight but retaining the tenor and trebles which date from 1737, ringing out the changes since before the canal was dug.

Berenice Holyland - verger and ambassador for the village

But it was the verger that I found most fascinating. Her name - Berenice Holyland, 7th child of Mary Magdalene Matthews - with a pedigree like that a commitment to the church appears unavoidable! But it didn't stop there. She was born in the now demolished lock keepers cottage at Court Lock (Wolverley), a property devoid of water, electricity or sewage. She explained that her father was a boatman moving coal from the Cannock coal fields to Stourport using horse drawn boats, as poor as a church mouse but offering a great childhood.

Scenes from the village square (triangle)

Everything about Wolverley feels cared for, the church, the pretty village shop, the putting green and the thriving pub. Perhaps the village shop was the jewel in the crown at the time of our visit, doubling up as an al fresco coffee shop and cafe with locals sipping lattes and downing bacon butties in the warm summer sunshine. You could be forgiven for thinking you are in France.

Wolverley houses carved into the rock

All this enthusing about Wolverley isn't getting us home - more of that in my next post.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Statisics that deceive to flatter

Statistics never lie (well nearly never!)
July 2011

The Capt Ahab Blogsite has become too sprawling and now even I cant find my posts any more! It was never supposed to be this way, but it seems to have grown like topsy.

My solution has to been to create pages with links to the initial posts on each subject, be they lost canals or trip reports stretching back over the years. These initial pages then carry links to subsequent posts (well, they will when I get round to setting them all up).

The end result is an easy to navigate structure which is flexible and simple to update.

So, having spent four hours tinkering with the blog, flicking from page to page, I noticed my UKWRS ranking clicking up and up. By the time I finished I referred back to the rankings and noted that I had  bubbled up to No3 in the Blogsites - being above Heth for the very first (and probably last) time.

Granny Buttons and Epiphany are way out ahead so I'm happy to claim the bronze medal position, if only for a few hours (Sunday morning 11.30am)!

On a more serious note - I hope the links help you access all the material on the blog.

Blog Sites
RankSite DetailsHits
(7 days)
(7 days)
1Granny Buttons
Andrew Denny's opinions and pictures


2nb Epiphany
An everyday story of boating folk. Continuously cruising, we tell you how we `find it`. Canals and rivers, backwaters and tourist hotspots - anywhere we can get our 57 foot narrowboat!. Includes an index of our journeys by waterway


3Captain Ahab's Watery Tales
A photographic record of nb Wand'ring Bark's travels and other watery themes which capture my imagination!


4Takey Tezey
Heth tells it like it is in this amusing boaty blog


5NB Siskin
The ups and downs of constructing NB Siskin from scratch



Sunday, 24 July 2011

Droitwich Double 7 - Droitwich to Wolverley

Droitwich Double  7
Droitwich to Wolverley
8th July 2011

14 miles - 18 locks - 10 hours

Yet another night of torrential rain, but there is something reassuring about being tucked away in the boat all warm and dry.

Octavia on the Droitwich Barge Canal

Belles foraging last night has left her with a chronic shortage of jars so she was off at 7.45 to be ready for Wilkinsons opening at 8.00. She duly returned with assorted jars and bottles by which time the rain had come to an end and offering the prospect a pleasant trip down the Barge Canal.

Canal Balls - Treasure from the Droitwich Canal

On our last trip on these waters I saw a very nice football bobbing in the reds near the sports grounds and knowing Jeff's passion for canal balls I prepared the keep net for a drive by scoop. Much to my pleasure (and the footballers angst) I found not one but two perfectly inflated balls - enough for Tilly as well.

Boats came up explaining that there was bad weed ahead, and that the gates were stiff - I didn't have the heart to explain that I already knew, and that they are exaggerating more than a little.

Salwarpe Cutting

Last time we descended we skirted Salwarpe with only a snatched photo of the church on the hill to mark our passing. This time I determined to undertake a more comprehensive recce but the  shallow margins made this a challenge. After a few attempts in the cutting I managed to pull over just west of the bridge, the bows jutting out into the canal and the boat held by its centre rope on a single pin.

That dodgey mooring at Salwarpe

A scramble up the bank took me to a very pretty churchyard with an attractive lytch gate. There is not a lot up there, but what there is is worth a look.

St Michaels, Salwarpe

By the time I did a round trip and returned to the boat nb Octavia had emerged into the cutting and offered a locking companion for the 8 locks down to the river, which was extremely good news.

The lock landings are both shallow and short and are not really adequate for a pair of boats. In the end us lads worked the locks and the girls steered the boats, travelling slowly to give us time to get them set and have the gates open, ready to receive them. In a couple of sites other boaters had decided to use the limited lock landings as impromptu mooring spots - very inconvenient. One moored at Ladywood top lock was rewarded with a hearty clunk as I came alongside and then stepped across their stern to reach shore.

The old gentleman at Ladywood Top Lock came out to say hello and express his delight at seeing boats pass his living room window. This gentleman almost single handedly maintained a navigable channel between the locks and the town, spending two weeks a year cutting the reeds back. He is a delightful man - do say hello if you are passing.

Goodbye to Octavia

Octavia made an excellent companion for the journey but as she led the way she highlighted a notable feature of the waterway - methane. She was a deep drafted boat and pressed on at a good crack - stirring the silt as she went. We trailed in her wake with a roiling maelstrom of black water swirling around us interspersed with bubbles of gas rising from the decaying vegetation below. Lets say it introduced an added texture to the experience.

Out on the river things speeded up and we hustled through Holt Lock and then Lincomb, neither who seemed to be listening out for VHF so the set remains untested.

Lesley and Joe (nb Caxton)

Then it was up the two staircase pairs at Stourport, with one walkway bridge taped off where a lad died recently. I am truly sorry about the boy and the tragedy his family have suffered, but I cant see the point of blocking the bridge off. Its like dozens of others up he canal and there is no way it can be made safer - these little iron foot bridges are just a feature of this canal, and shouldn't be ridden over on a bike.

We stopped for water and a pump out in the basin and were delighted to see Jo and Leslie from nb Caxton wander over. I knew that they had been in Stourport for a while, but I didn't realise that they would be staying put for six months whilst their new boat is being built. A lovely bonus.


Our plan was to reach Wolverley for the night so we presses on, pausing under a bridge at Caldwell Lock for 20 mins whilst the heavens opened. Eventually the thunderstorm rumbled on and left us with a perfect evening, perfect for photographing Kidderminster Church whose picturesqueness belies a less than lovely town.

Tilly's Catch

We made it to Wolverley and indulged in a spot of fishing. I seem to have lost my touch, first I am thrashed by Jeff and this time Tilly lands a lovely roach. An excellent end to a grand day's boating.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Droitwich Double 6 - Diglis to Droitwich

Droitwich Double
Worcester to Droitwich
7th July 2011

11 miles - 22 locks - 7 hours

Today's objective is to haul ourselves back up to Hanbury and then drop down the Droitwich Junction Canal into Netherwich Basin for another night in Droitwich. 

Droitwich Junction canal - with audience

It all feels a bit like the Beatles "Helter Skelter" - was that on the Double White Album? I think it went along the lines of.... I get to the bottom, and go back to the top, of the ride, turn and go for a slide..... helter skelter, helter skelter.... Well, we enjoyed the ride down the first time so after two days we have got back to the top for another run on this aquatic flume.

Diglis gets mixed reviews. Some complain of noise, overcrowding, failed pump out machines and even eggs thrown from the adjacent flats. We have never encountered any of these problems and it remains one of my favourite moorings.

Cherry Plum picking in Worcester

Its a bit of a slog up out of Worcester - 14 locks to reach the Dunhampstead level and the junction with the Droitwich. But this bash up the hill was interrupted at the very start. We had only just left the lock at the Commandery when Belle spied a yellow cherry plum tree overhanging the canal, its branches literally groaning with ripe fruit. Chery Plums are Nirvana for foragers I am told so we pulled up beneath its branches, climbed onto the roof and accumulated about 7kg's in ten mins - Belle in her basket and me in my keep net! More jam, jelly and syrup coming up.


That moment of excitement aside, we ground on up the hill with intermittent showers hitting us every 30 mins or so. Finally, the climb ends with a flourish of six locks at Offerton where the canal passes under the M5. This location offers an automotive overture, with the steady drone of the motorway overlaid with the scream of cars and bikes pulling away from six ways down the hill and the high pitched tenor provided by the two stroke moto cross course on the hillside beyond the motorway. Against this cacophony the poor old bass line rumble of the narrowboats is all but lost.

But then, just as all the noise and bustle seems overwhelming, peace descends as you pass through the tree lined cutting into Tibberton. From here the canal acquires is distinctive reedy image - similar to the lower Droitwich. Long narrow stretches where opposing boaters play chicken to see who will dive into a slightly wider sections last. We passed Waterway Routes at Dunhampstead, probably waiting for the rain to stop before filming the Droitwich.

Then it was back to Hanbury and the start of the Droitwich. This time the heavens obliged and we were blessed with fine weather and we had the canal to ourselves.

A helping hand down the locks

Whilst the crowds have gone, all that draw on the water has taken its toll on the Worcester Birmingham. There is enough water, but the pounds are low all the way down. With the side ponds of the Droitwich Junction full we operated the locks in the conventional way, still under the watchful eye of the lock keeper.

The new bit

The emptiness of the canal allowed us to stop and get all the photos we missed 1st time round. This time the locals were out in force, still fascinated by the sight of boats moving up and down their canal. They continually engaged with us, asking us our opinion and seeking confirmation that the canal will be popular. They needn't worry, its a guaranteed hit!

Inside the M5 culvert at Droitwich

After the euphoria of the first run, the second descent into Droitwich allowed for a more objective view. The top end is functional rather than beautiful and my observations of the locks in practice are consistent with those I made a year ago. There are no wings to guide boats in so entering the new locks is an unforgiving exercise. Any error is rewarded by a huge bang and a visit from my Irish boating cousin Rick O Shea! This issue can be remedied by the installation of some timber guides to offer jaws for the less than perfect steerers among us.

Droitwich and one her favoured sons - Edward Winslow (Pilgrim Father)

Then it was back into Netherwich Basin and another night in Droitwich. What a great spot!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Droitwich Double 5 - Droitwich to Worcester

Droitwich Double
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. 

Salwarpe Village

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.

Salwarpe Cutting

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.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Droitwich Double 4 - Droitwich

Droitwich Double

The reopening of the Droitwich Canals brings with it a major bonus in the shape of Droitwich itself. Its a fascinating little town steeped in history and brine. 

St Augustines Church, Droitwich

The town town is literally built on salt and as well as its prosperity, it has also been its downfall - literally. The last brine pump was operating in Curney Street till 1920, sucking out thousands of  tons of white gold and in so doing undermining the foundations of a whole section of the High Street. Now, 70 years after pumping finished, the town is still sinking and the resulting depression has created an extremely interesting shambles area.

The High Street, Droitwich

And the last Brine Pump

Its a forward thinking town, making the best of itself and deserves the relative prosperity it is enjoying.

and the sagging buildings

For the boater the park offers good moorings alongside Waitrose with the option of Morrisons in the new shopping centre, a location it shares with other brand names like Wilkinsons and Argos.

 St Augustines on the hill

And  the parish church down below

Standing high above the town is St Augustines church, a local landmark and well worth a visit. Just take any footpath into the woods and keep heading up.

There are several pubs, restaurants, cash machines, a whole host of second hand shops and also, on a Wednesday evening, a community cinema. All in all a welcome addition to the elite of canal side towns.

Official graffiti at the drop in youth club 

But don't take my word for it - the pictures speak volumes. Better still, go there and spend a bit of time getting to know the place.

At the time of out visit nb Spey arrived, an old wooden Thos Clayton tanker. Her skipper had a good idea about what he wanted to achieve but his crew seemed to have trouble caching on. Even his Bolinder cut up rough and refused to engage in reverse, finally restarting in a plume of blue smoke!

Wand'ring Bank in Droitwich Basin