Wednesday 31 October 2012

Avon 2012 - Bascote

Avon 2012 
Hatton to Bascote
August 2012

11 Miles - 29 Locks - 10 Hours

The descent into the Avon valley is no light undertaking. It was the nemesis of my youth with so many boat trips involving an ascent or descent of the Hatton Flight, but on those occasions a days journey involved a trip down and up both sides in a single day. Oh those paddles!

 Hatton Locks

The forecast was poor for later so we were up and away by 8.00am lockwheeling ahead for the first four as far as the road bridge. By the time we got the boat there two volunteers, Eddie and Paul, had arrived and proceeded to work us all the way to the bottom. 

They were enjoying their 1st year on the job where they are left to their own devices and able to do what they want and when they want. I am not sure that all the other boaters operating the flight quite understood the concept of non contractural volunteers - and their ability to pick and chose their duties..

Anyway, we plied them with tea and jam sandwiches and they stuck with us, giving me time to forage the towpaths which yielded a surprising volume of material - Rose Hips, Damsons etc. The weather remained great and offered some good photo opportunities and even with these distractions we were through in 2hrs 40 mins. 

I had never stopped in the Saltisford Arm but all this cooking takes it toll on the gas tank. Predictably, the current tank expired so I looked into the arm to buy a replacement. I obtained my gas but gained the distinct impression that our presence wasn't entirely welcome. What my official welcome lacked in enthusiasm was balanced out by the greeting I received by Graham from nb Armadillo who I last was on the Llangollen back in Easter.

Saltisford Arm

There were damson trees on the exit from the arm, but most were under ripe. The Cape of Good Hope offered more plums but once again these were under ripe - the story of this season. The plum haul got better and better as we progressed through Leamington where we found oodles of ripe Damsons  and a huge haul of big red plums, the trees groaning under their weight. 

The fruits of the Grand Union

We made a start back up the other side of the valley, paired with another boat which made life easier. We stopped just short of Bascote Locks which represented 29 doubles in a day - plenty for a crew of two I think - and absolutely no rain, which is something of a novelty. As you can imagine, the evening was spent on a mammoth plum stoning exercise!

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Its no Hurricane Sandy - but

Views from the Wild East
28th October 2012

We picked an unfortunate weekend to visit North Norfolk. Autumn seems to have lurched into winter overnight, and far from the balmy evenings of late we found ourselves driving through sleet and temperatures of 2C.

Happisburgh looking east - this bay wasn't here in 1980.

Saturday dawned wild and windy, just the wrong sort of day to be effecting fence repairs for Mother Ahab, but at they say in Outward Bound - its not the wrong sort of weather, its just the wrong sort of clothes. So I donned my warm winter wear and pressed on with those pesky post replacements.

Happisburgh's last line of defence

With the battle of the fences won I went out to the coast to see the impact of the howling northerly winds at high tide. The water was crashing over the sand banks and Happisburgh (you say Haisbro) had lost yet more of its clifftop with old foundations dropping to the beach below. Its amazing to think that as a schoolboy one of my friends lived in a house withe was about 300ft beyond today's cliff edge, and there were gardens, another street and yet more houses beyond that. The sea must has taken 100 yards in 30 years.

 Walcot's holiday beaches

Having been blasted off the cliffs we moved on to Walcot, a mile or two from the gas terminal at Bacton. Here the seas had thrashed themselves into a fury of creamy foam which was being hurled high over he road and the houses beyond. The sea is a scary place in conditions like this.

Flying foam

Monday 29 October 2012

Avon 2012 - Hatton

Avon 2012
Yarningale to Hatton
August 2012

Last night's stop was a bit impromptu. We had been chugging along when suddenly Helen came over all weary and I worked a couple of locks solo. Then we had a bit of a lurch and she fell over under the cratch so we pulled in between locks 34 and 35 and tied up.

We woke to rain which eased off at 10.00 so we made a start. This proved to be a bit premature as by 10.45 the heavens opened and we abandoned progress just below lock 32 and decided to wait it out.

And so it rained, and rained and rained. Canal Traffic was virtually non existent so we found other things to do. We wrote book reviews and prepared a jumbo chutney which had to be labeled "chunky" on account of my sloppy chopping! Mrs quality control can be a pain.

The raid did eventually ease off, 5 hours later at 4.00pm. The clouds were replaced by blue skies so whilst it was a bit late we decided to make a move. We rewatered at lock 31, and gathered a basket of apples which were overhanging the road from the lock cottage garden.

Shrewley Tunnel

The Lapworth locks from 28 on have been ruined by the din on the M40, a blight on the whole area. The noise faded as we approached Kingswood Junction and with the light holding up well we decided to make up some of the ground we had lost. Suddenly we were out on the Grand Union, relatively wide and deep letting us bash on into the gathering gloom. The light failed at 8.30pm so we stopped just short on the top of the Hatton Locks where the motorway noise was down to a muted rumble. 

Saturday 27 October 2012

Avon 2012 - Yarningale Common

Avon 2012
Stratford to Yarningale Common
August 2012

9.5 miles - 21 locks - 7 hours

After yesterday's downpour today was clear and bright, with us through the basin and into the South Stratford Canal by 10.00am. After a week of rivers and ship canals it was good to be back in the intimate embrace of the midland's narrow canals and the don't come much narrower than the Stratford.

Wilmscote Stores

Progress may be slow but with the banks so near you can spot all the potential foraging fruitrees easily. The locks in the area are notoriously slow to fill and empty and the big single gates have a habit of swinging open under their own steam. 

After our extended stay in Stratford we were planning to stop for water just beyond the town. However, like the locks, the tap is slow and there were already two Anglo Welsh Boats breasted  up so we gave it a miss and stopped instead at a bed shop and looked at new mattresses - one of the boat jobs for this winter.

Mary Arden's Cottage

We stopped at Wilmcote and paid the village stores a visit, peering over the wall of Mary Arden's cottage and taking a good look at the period veg growing in the garden. There are some lovely flowers around the shop, which stocks lots of local produce.

On out return to the boat we found some Crab Apple trees which were duly harvested and provided two baskets of fruit. In the process we met a couple who were moored waiting for a couple of Japanese tourists to arrive to stay on the boat for a week. They bought jam, as most do, and generally enthused about the concept of foraging. Later we started to chat with another boat descending and before long another few jars had changed hands. There appears to be a strong demand for  Helen's produce and the idea is forming to buy a short butty and develop the business further. Possibly an idea for the future.

Edstone Aqueduct

The hunt for fruit was not easy, the blackberries were few and far between and the cherry plums were rotting before they even ripened. We were hopeful for more Greengages at the Edstone Aqueduct but even these usually faithful fruiters were bare.

We then had the Anglo Welsh experience, a whole host of first timers heading downstream with the predictable mayhem of boats heading in every which way. We pressed on till 7.00pm, stopping just short of Yarningale as the rains returned. Tomorrow we head for the Grand Union and start another southerly leg of this two week journey.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Avon 2012 - Stratford (again)

Avon 2012
Stationery in Stratford
August 2012

This was bank holiday Monday, and for us it was a day of rest. 

Helen had been busy with her jam making, making use of all that fruit on the Gloucester Sharpness Canal. So busy in fact that she had used up her 200 jars and was looking for more. The only viable course was Lakeland where she managed to do a deal which saw 20% knocked off the price - but she had to buy 240 jars.  That's a lot of glassware to move from the town centre and the plan had been to move into Bancroft Basin to shorten the distance. The snag was that the trip boat had left a paddle open the night before and the basin was nearly empty. As an alternative we tied up next to the rowing club and hired a taxi which eased the challenge a fair bit.

We also took a look at the craft fair but it was a half hearted effort with the stalls flapping around in the breeze and a thin crown taking a look at the indifferent items on offer. We were told that the whole season had been indifferent with many Americans staying away due to the weather and the anticipated crowds travelling to the Olympics.

We spent the morning sorting the boat out, rearranging all the stock and cramming jars into every nook and canny we could find, and then made a start on stoning those Upton Greengages. Two hours later and I was still stoning when Helena from Canal Boat arrived to do an article on Wild Side Preserves. It was a very laid back interview involving lunch, chat and perhaps most crucially  jamming and chuitnifying anything and everything in the shape of a plum!


Then it rained, hard, so we were not inclined to move. We moored up again near the Chain Ferry and settled in for the day, working on photos, eating fish and chips and watching a DVD. Its good to have a static day once in a while. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Avon 2012 - Stratford

Avon trip 2012
Evesham to Stratford
August 2012

We slept moored to Workman Gardens with the old 14th century bell tower measuring out the night in its fifteen minute intervals. ever present but not intrusive, just there on the edge of your sleeping consciousness.

Evesham market place

We paid the town a quick visit on Sunday morning and were rewarded with an impressive array of Medieval half timbered houses clustering around the Abbey gate house. I was particularly taken with Nat West Bank with its pronounced lean, shored up with enormous props.

The Monastery grounds contain two fine old churches, but Henry 8th did hist worst on the Monastery itself and even 100 years after the dissolution there was just a huge pile of rubble between the bell tower and the river.

Half timbered buildings in Evesham

We took our leave at 11.00am passing the decaying remains of Evesham's iconic A framed lock keepers cottage which marks the boundatry between what was the Lower and upper Avon Navigation Trusts. Above Evesham we passed dozens of abandoned plum orchards, the trees gone wild and untended. Here and there an gnarled old tree hung over the river and it wasn't long before we had collected a bucket of Damsons for jam and another of sweet eaters.

But a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Avon was a sluggish stream with a barely discernible flow but today it was running high looking like chocolate coloured soup. Yup, the Avon had gone into flood on us and had risen high into the Amber. In the main this was OK, but where the river approached the locks and started to shoal the flow increased dramatically, as high as 3mph in places and made for very slow going. We opened the throttle and barreled on, water swirling from the bows and a deep trail of bubbles following behind as the crept from bend to bend. 

Bidford on Avon

The locks passed at regular intervals, all set against us. These were restored / rebuilt in about 1970 and they are not doing badly. Some are a bit crude in their construction and are fitted with recycled paddle gear from the Thames, and the cranked tubular lock gates are one of a kind, but it all works. Watch out for the strong water flows in the locks - no ground paddles here.

I had been re reading Charles Showell's Shakespeare's Avon and I found the arrangement of locks confusing. Whilst the mill locks are generally still in the same places, many of the others have been moved to permit the removal of the old water gates. As a result its difficult to reconcile the old maps with today's configuration. 

Stratford church at dusk

The flood waters were entering from the east and the high flows ceased as we passed the Stour south of Stratford, easing into the riverside moorings at 8.00pm, just as the sun was setting and about two hours behind schedule. 

The Avon is a fickle river.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Small Boat to the Skagerrak - book review

Small Boat to the Skagerrak
by Roger Pilkington
October 2012

I have to admit that Roger Pilkington's watery tales from the 1950's and 1960's are casting their spell on me.

This volume, the fourth in the series, follows the progress of the Commodore from a winter berth in Holland and across Eastern Germany towards the Jutland Peninsular taking in a whole range of waterways previously unknown to me. 

As with contemporary water journeys, the best laid plans don't always come to pass and variations are needed if progress is to be maintained. This volume follows the Commodore as inland routes are blocked and she is forced to take coastal passages which place her at some peril. Eventually the dogged crew make it to the Kiel Canal and we are treated to an extensive review of its construction and the alternate trans Jutland routes mooted over the centuries.

From the surging tides of the North Sea they tell a delightful tale of their exploration of the Danish islands and channels which thread between them, carrying the currents and shipping from the Baltic. This is an area about which I knew almost nothing, but Roger draws out a rich seam of history and geology which makes for a fascinating read. Perhaps this volume carries a bit too much history and not quite the right balance with the travel report aspect. But its a mild criticism and it was fascinating to learn of the navigational opportunities in this area. 

In the end the crew reach the 3 mile wide gap between Denmark and Sweeden, making a crossing to the northern lands fairly straight forward. They then sailed north aiming for Gothenburg and the entrance to the Gota Canal, but once again fate intervened and a huge landslip blocked the route for months. As an alternative they pressed on up the coast, nearly reaching the only Norwegian canal at Skien, only to be driven back by a petulant Skagerrak. and re- entering the Gota Canal - gateway to Sweeden's extensive waterway network. 

It is a little daunting the this journey involved about 400 sea miles, all undertaken in a craft of about 45 ft by 10ft and  a 30hp paraffin engine. Its not one I would try in a narrow boat but quite possible in something a little wider.

If you fancy a trip into the wilderness than you could do worse than follow in Rogers wake.

Possibly not an area which offered Pilkington the richest scope for a book, but highly readable none the less.

Friday 19 October 2012

Banbury Canal Day 2012

Banbury Canal Day 
October 2012

We took the Wild Side Preserves stall to Banbury on Sunday 7th October for our last open air boating festival of the season.

The sun shone and the crowds descended in their droves, and we sold lots of Helen's yummy preserves. Word is spreading about her skills with hedgerow produce and people are starting to seek us out.

Here are some photos of the event, which even featured a little bloggers gathering in front the stall including Bones, Maffi and Neil (Herbie).

 Banbury crowds

 Self portrait

 Waterfront activity

 The stall (before the hoards devoured the stock)

Wildside's latest product

 Canal day attractions

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Kingfisher close up

Kingfisher close up
17 October 2012

My apologies for a break in the sequence of posts, I have been insanely busy of late and am very behind with my trip reports, and yet another trip to Istanbul wont make things any better.

We have just returned from a week on the Caldon Canal during which time we saw a number of Kingfishers, usually flashes of blue in the distance but once one of these beautiful birds swooped into a bush beside the canal and remained there whilst we passed.

Helen spotted him and took over steering whilst I tried to get a decent image.

I think this has to be the best Kingfisher photo I am ever likely to get.

Monday 15 October 2012

Avon Trip 2012 - Evesham

River Avon 2012
Strensham to Evesham
25th August 2012

20 miles - 5 locks - 6 hours

The thunderstorms ratted on all night, dumping gallons of water on us but finally came to an end as we polished on our breakfast bacon butties, with the sun peeping out from a water washed sky.

Eckington Bridge

With a forecast for more of the same we set off on our long circumnavigation of Breedon Hill, its summit shrouded in brooding mist. At it's foot the River Avon is sublime, winding its serpentine route up the valley via en endless series of twists and loops. All along its path the banks are lined with pollarded crack willow and offering frames for a thousand photos.

Breedon Hill

The locks on the Avon are slow fillers, really slow, but demanding attention and offering a wide variety of design. But they are not the main attraction. That honour has to go the bridges, some of them hundreds of years old. The first bridge of the day was Eckington Bridge, narrow and achingly pretty in the early morning light. Note for next time - there is a great mooring just upstream from the bridge.

Getting our ducks in a row

I had wanted to climb up Breedon Hill to its 1000 ft summit, but the weather was poor and the visibility hopeless so we pressed on passing Tildesley Wood just south of Pershore, home of the Pershore Yellow Egg Plum. By the time we got here we had travelled eight water miles, but only achieved 2.5 miles as the crow flies. Then its the old and new bridges of Pershore immediately before the deepest lock on he river, gateway to the town.

Pershore Bridge

Now there was a reason we had pressed on to Pershore - the Pershore Plum Festival. 2012 has not been a good year for plums, first there was a late frost in May which destroyed most of the blossom, and then the endless days of cloud and rain meant that the fruit which survived refused to ripen. All this resulted a small, late crop which was in direct contrast to 2011 when there was bumper crop early in the season. 


This left the plum festival high and dry without a crop to display, so it was all very low key, just a handful of stalls in Plum Alley. But to compensate, just about the whole town was decked out in purple. Even the local library has dressed its windows using books, you guessed it, with purple covers. No 50 Shades of Grey here! The most distinctive product in Plum Alley was the Pershore Tricolour Jam - Red, Amber and Green achieved by layering three types of plum jam.

Gathering Damsons at Wyre Piddle

But for all this Pershore left us cold, so we moved on from our mooring near the football ground, through Wyre Lock, to the exquisitely named Wyre Piddle. Wyre Piddle's crowning glory, has to be an island in the river called Tiddle Widdle Island. I am not joking - check the map! Actually Tiddle Widdle Island contains lots a Damson trees overhanging the river, so we pulled in and collected a big basin full.

Evesham rope ferry

All afternoon thunderstorms were bowling up the valley, each missing us but when we were collecting yellow egg plums below Chadbury Lock we were finally caught out and endured a short but torrential drenching. The rain killed of what little boat traffic there was and then we had the river to ourselves. We expected to see a line of boats on the Evesham visitor mooring. but no, there were only four boats moored below Evesham Bridge and we had out choice of spots, selecting one directly opposite Abbey Park and the site of the Evesham Angling Festival.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Avon Trip 2012 - Strensham Lock

Avon 2012
Gloucester to Strensham Lock
24th August 2012

21 miles - 4 locks - 5 hours

I discovered the delights of the Gloucester Quays shopping centre today. I guess it must have been here two years ago, but it passed me by. The shopping centre has not one according to plan, with a much slower take up rate and the section nearest the water virtually empty. But they have a plan... All the shops have been moved into one consolidated block and it has dropped the "Designer" tag which makes it more of a shopping  destination and the aim is to move the multiplex in as well thus creating a vibe all through the day. Good news for shoppers but possibly less good news for boaters who like their moorings quiet.

Tewkesbury from the River Severn

I made a bee line for Mountain Life and their supply of lightweight walking boots and trousers whilst Belle took a good look at Regatta. Our summer wardrobes have become a bit thin lately and this was a good opportunity to set this right.

We were on the move by noon, dropping down onto the Severn and were immediately hit by the 2.5mph current which sweeps down from Upper Parting. This adverse flow always comes as a surprise, slowing progress to  crawl, its not for nothing that this was called skippers reach and even today its tricky waters catch boaters out.

 Tewkesbury Abbey

We proceeded upstream with the diesel booming out under heavy clouds which produced intermittent showers if rain. Not enough to soak me, but heavy enough to have me reaching for my waterproof. 

It was a relief to enter Upper Lode Lock, its gates standing open and ready following an advance call on Channel 74. As I idled in the chamber waiting for another narrowboat to catch up I asked the lock keeper why the outer, newer section of the lock is so large. I was told that it was built large enough to accommodate two dumb barges so that when they were towed up in strings they could all find shelter in the lock at the same time. Thus was particularly important at times of flood - you learn something new ever day.

At last we were able to enter the Avon and it wasn't in flood. Our last two attempts have ended in failure so it was a relief to pass through the Tewkesbury Lock and pay our £50 fee to the Avon Navigation Trust. Having finally made it to Tewkesbury we moored up and spent a couple of hours exploring the old town and the Abbey. A nice place but on a Friday night it is absolute gridlock.

We decided to press on a bit as we want to visit the Pershore plum festival tomorrow, and we commenced what was to be a very long route round Breedon Hill which dominates the landscape. We have entered cruiser territory and suddenly the slow deep drafted narrowboat seemed out of place. Instead the local boats are small plastic cruisers with high speed and good maneuverability. These are not the towering gin palaces of the Severn, but much more modest craft, much loves and full of character. 

Cathedral Choir

For an hour or more rain clouds built up round Breedon Hill, bowling up the valley like skittles in an alley. We avoided most but eventually one hit us head on at Strencham Lock, so I worked through alone and gave up an unequal struggle, mooring on the water point immediately above the lock. We retire for the night with the drumming rain competing with the drone of the M5 a mile or so away.