Saturday 16 July 2011

Droitwich Double 3 - Into Droitwich

Droitwich Double
Tardebigge to Droitwich
5th July 2011

7 miles - 19 locks - 5 hours

This was a real red letter day for boating. Not only is it new water to travel on, but its also a new canal and therefore something of an unknown quantity - very exciting! Our aim is to reach Droitwich today so we will cover just the narrow Droitwich Junction Canal, leaving the wide Barge Canal for tomorrow.

Netherfield Basin, Droitwich from St Augustines

Having seen the multitudes flocking away from Droitwich yesterday we felt a bit like the Biblical foolish virgins who arrived at the wedding after the feasting had ended. The party may have finished but the locals were still coming to terms with the changes they had wrought. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself.

We were up and away by 9.00am, marching down to Stoke Prior (6 locks) and then the Astwood flight (6 locks). I always find it difficult to say where Tardebigge ends. Technically I know its at the Queens Head but the short pound feels like an interruption in a greater descent - a bit like a ledge on the face of the Eiger, just big enough for a handful boats to rest on their way up or down.

A helping hand from BW

BW were hard at work by Black Prince, also catching up after the Droitwich opening. They set the lock for us and shared inside observations about the new canal and were rewarded with slices of Belle's Rose Hip Bread. 

The garden at Astwood Bottom Lock was its usual glorious self and the offer to buy six duck eggs was an opportunity too good to miss. Huge yokes and full of flavour.

Side pounds in use at the top locks

Finally, we reached Hanbury Junction with rain clouds building over our heads. All morning the hay bailers have been dashing round the fields but this all has to come to an end. Its just a shame it ended at the exact moment we started down the new canal. I tried to grab some photos but keeping the camera dry was a major headache. No matter - we will be going down again in a couple of days - this is the Droitwich Double after all!

Map of the Droitwich Canals

It was like Paddys Market at the junction, two boats emerged and one of the on line moorers, his boat fendered to the hilt, was repositioning his craft, plus BW were moving a dumb barge and tug down the first three locks. These first few days have been a baptism of fire for the canal, probably carrying more concentrated traffic than it will for many years to come. As a result they are juggling water levels and ironing out the teething troubles. 

New section at the Rugby Club

The top three locks are very deep at nearly 13 feet each, comsuming copious quantities of water. To help contain this pressure on the Worcester Birmingham Canal the side pounds are being used, which is something of a novelty and found only on the Foxton Staircase to the best of my knowledge. A volunteer lock keeper was also on duty, keeping an eye on things - a resource soon to be withdrawn.

There was quite a crowd at the restored top locks, we passed Martin Ludgate on a Viking afloat boat -  he seemed familiar but I couldn't place him as I dashed down the towpath shrouded in my waterproofs - but he recognised Wand'ring Bark and Belle at the tiller. Then Vaughan Welch (Deputy National Chairman of the IWA and Vice Chair of the Droitwich Canal Trust) came up making his acquainatance. Awareness of Captain Ahab spreads far afield it seems.

The staircase pair on the Droitwich Junction Canal

And of the canal itself? Well, the first section comprises the original three locks restored several years ago. In the intervening years the entrance of one has moved in to less than 7ft, and this issue was only discovered at the 11th hour. The offending stones were removed and await a permanent repair.Then the course of the canal is lost beneath the gardens of some houses to the south, so a diversion takes place pretty much all the way into Droitwich. This is effectively a brand new line, set maybe 100 yards to the north of the old.

First there is a shallow stretch past the Rugby club, site of a soon to be built 200 berth marina, and then on to the new staircase pair - all clinically white in fresh concrete. The top paddles were built with an over generous capacity, causing a huge surge in the lock below. It seems that some principles of lock design have been lost in 200 years! The solution is to peg the paddle gear to allow them to be only 1/3rd lifted.

That low M5 culvert

Then it's another short pound to the new single lock which drops the canal into the stream which is used as the means of getting under the M5. This box culvert is tight, there is no contesting the fact. Because you are on a stream the water level fluctuates and this can render the tunnel either too shallow for beep drafted boats (as Barnet discovered) or with too little air draft. There is very little margin for error. The good thing is that the height warning bars are 100% accurate - not like the noddy guide at Froghall which is 1.5 inches pessimistic. If you can get under the bar you can pass through the tunnel - unless someone draws a lock above or below you, and then all bets are off. I can see this tunnel being a talking point for years.

Then you burst out into a beautiful winding river section before dropping through yet another new concrete lock into the canalised River Salwarpe. In time this area will soften I am sure, but at present I can only describe it at utilitarian. Lots of steel piling and concrete capping, the banks are bare earth as work only finshed a couple of weeks ago. Nature is good at healing such scars but for now it does the job without a lot of concession to beauty.

The last narrow lock

Then its into the Barge Lock - a wide lock but still part of the Droitwich Junction Canal and gateway to Vine Park. At the time of our visit it was merely a flood lock with a fall of maybe  an inch, so having moved the swing bridge we sluiced through with both gates open. 

Vine Park, Droitwich

The park itself is beautiful, with three swing bridges carrying footpaths from one side to the other. Luckily, one is chained open but that still leaves the shore based crew member dashing like a mad thing through the park to unlock the other two (BW key needed) and swing them out of the way before the boat arrives.  You are not left with much time to stand and admire the view.

The new Droitwich pass time - boat spotting!

Then there is Netherwich Basin, a truly great mooring ringed with reeds and room for about 30 boats hanging off finger pontoons. Its quiet and secure, all protected by a locked gate and a moat like surround of water behind the reeds. The town is a real delight too, but more of that tomorrow. I have bored you enough for one day!

1 comment:

Halfie said...

Not at all boring, Andy. I can't wait to get down there!