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Cider Country - part two

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So here we were, tied up by the Yew Tree Inn on our way down the Severn. This is an interesting place to unload coal, as the pontoon is a little wobbly and wheel-barrowing is an aquired art on it. I have had to paddle ashore here before now, when the river has been high, and on one occasion had to get a lift back onto Roach in a rowing boat as the river had risen a fair amount whilst I had been enjoying the hospitality on offer.

Together with the Lower Lode Hotel at Forthampton (where we had our wedding reception all those years ago), the Yew Tree has had more than its' fair share of flooding over the last few years. The proprietors of these establishments are very stoical, however, and maintain a cheerful demeanour resulting in a good atmosphere to both places. They maintain good beer too, and deserve your patronage.

We had passed the gravel-boats below Upton-on-Severn; they seem to be very busy at present, which is a good thing. The crews always appear content at work, and wave in acknowledgement as we pass. I think they’re waving at any rate. This traffic shows just how effective water transport can be, they are moving thousands of tonnes annually, quietly and efficiently with no disruption to pleasure traffic, as well as keeping lorries off the surrounding roads.

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The run down to Gloucester is always enjoyable to me as the Severn is just a little wilder and more remote once Tewkesbury is passed. This last trip down was livened up by strong winds blowing up a swell on some of the straight racks. The spray from the fore end was wetting me through, and Jenny was complaining of sea-sickness.

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One of the more surreal features of this length of the Severn is the mistletoe adorning many of the bank-side trees like huge pom-poms. The river front at Ashleworth Quay is especially well endowed with this parasitic plant. Ashleworth Quay is the last place that you can stop before Gloucester, and it is well worth taking the trouble to call in. The Boat Inn is a fine establishment, selling good beers straight from the barrel. Behind the pub is a fine collection of ecclesiastical buildings, including an extremely impressive tithe barn. The landing at Ashleworth Quay is not of the floating type, so care is needed when tides are due. The staging was not there when I first stopped at this pub - I had to tie onto a piece of scaffold bar that protruded from a pipe crossing just down-stream and scramble up the muddy bank. It’s a good job that the pub is not carpeted.

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The river definitely runs down-hill from Ashleworth to Gloucester, and a phone-call to the lock-keeper at Gloucester Lock to advise him of your approach is recommended, as stopping on the quay wall below the lock can be tricky. 

I remember when the IWA National Rally was held at Gloucester twenty odd years ago, and lots of boats were tied to the wall awaiting their turn to use the lock. They were all tied on by their stern-lines, as the flow held them facing the right way, that is until the tide came in. They all swung round like cards in a magicians hand, and ended up facing up-stream! 

Gloucester Docks are a sight to behold. There are still many of the original, brick-built warehouses around the docks, and these are fine buildings. There has been, however, development. Sadly, but to no-ones' surprise, completely un-sympathetic development has been allowed around and between these warehouses. I cannot bring myself to photograph such awful buildings, so you will just have to find pictures for yourself. I’m sure that Google is not too proud to have some in its' own on-line warehouses. 

On a brighter note, I happened across Richard Clapham whilst taking a stroll around the docks with Nicholas Hill recently. Richard used to carry coal with his narrow boat Cepheus a long time ago, but, unlike Jenny and I, he has moved on to something more befitting his age. He was busy remaking the mast for “Mascotte”, the superb Severn pilot cutter that he is skipper of. Check out the “Mascotte” website here. He invited us into the workshops for a look, and we were very impressed. He informed us that the mast was made from a huge length of pitch-pine that had been growing during the reign of Elizabeth the First. Astonishing! 

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Anyway, on down the canal in the direction of Sharpness. Every time we come down this canal we are saddened a little more; as yet another of the timber yards have been either closed or relocated, and the land filled with “little boxes made of ticky-tack” for people to live in. Pretty soon all our canals will look exactly the same.

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Just before Saul we passed the CRT reed-nursery, which is located in a mud-hopper tied to the towing-path. This has been tied here for a number of years now, and is slowly pulling the bank protection over.

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Further down the cut, we tied alongside the massive Dutch barge “Ambulant” in order to make a delivery to Jo, the owner and skipper. This is probably the largest vessel currently moored on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, and certainly looks impressive. I’m not sure that CRT are so keen on craft of this size though. Jo recently took “Ambulant” up the river to Worcester, a trip that highlighted the need for the recent tree-cutting that has taken place. The big lock at Diglis was only just navigated - the twin rudders had to be turned right over to enable the bottom gates to shut. This was fortunate, as it appeared that no-one at CRT knew how long this lock was.

Purton is a lovely place, and the Berkeley Arms on the foreshore is well worth a visit for a taste of old-fashioned farm/pub atmosphere. The hulks lining the river-bank between Purton and Sharpness are fascinating to look around, and at low water, the wrecks of Arkendale H and Wastdale H, the two Harkers petrol tankers can be seen, as can the remains of the piers which supported the Severn Railway Bridge. The bridge was dismantled after being struck by the petrol tankers in heavy fog on the night of 25th October 1960.

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Watching the tide come in along this stretch of river is a wonderful pastime, and is enhanced by the variety of birds that can be spotted. I like to sit on the stern of one of the old concrete barges to watch the tide, and to ponder what steering one of these would have been like in bad weather - stood on an open deck with no shelter, just a long iron tiller to hold on to.

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Sharpness itself is a busy little port, but is not as accessible as it used to be. One used to be able to walk around the docks and up to the entrance lock, but all is now fenced off. It’s a shame. The Dockers club is worth a visit, but be quick as residential development looks likely all around here. Do walk down to the end of the old arm, where the old entrance lock can be seen. It is a daunting sight when the tide is right out.

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Above is the view along the towing path towards the old dock, and below is a view from the old dock wall looking down the Severn estuary in stormy weather - very atmospheric.

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I love boating down the Severn, particularly in winter when you can have the entire river to yourself. The other thing that is good down this part of the world is the cider; lots of people make it, and we get given the odd bottle, (mainly plastic ex-pop bottle it has to be said) some of which is very nice. Some of it is akin to nail-varnish remover though - it still has the desired effect but requires much more application to imbibe.

Cider Country - part one

We’ve just been a run round the South-West; canal-wise South-West that is, not Somerset or Cornwall. Stourport, Droitwich, Worcester and Gloucester are South-West to me. In fact, anywhere that sells still cider in industrial quantities is South-West in my book.

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The run down through Kinver from our yard at Awbridge is one of the nicest, and most scenic stretches of canal in the country. The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal is one of the earliest canals to have been built, and, as was the modus operandi of the time, it was built to follow the contours of the land. This ensures that the canal is generally narrow and that there are many challenging bends to catch the unwary (or, more likely, inattentive) steerer. Some of these bends have the added attraction of deep mud where the channel should be; dredging is a dim and distant memory along here. I have been informed, however, that one million pounds is to be spent imminently on dredging this canal. Great news, but I think that there is a nought missing from this figure - there is no chance of dredging all the places that need it for this sum. That probably sounds churlish, and it probably is, but I do feel that the Canal and River Trust (CRT), the guardians of our inland navigations, are great at spending money on peripheral nonsense rather than on the basics of maintenance.

The canal through Kidderminster is rapidly becoming a shallow ditch between dismal new housing estates, the monotony only broken up by a couple of supermarkets and a “Drive-thru” (whatever is a thru?) MacDonalds. There is a new pub opened, though; "The Weavers", which sells proper beer and is a few doors along from the old “Old Parkers Arms”, which has been converted into flats. This was a proper old fashioned pub, with cider drinkers and very little expense expended on un-necessary decor. 

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Stourport is an excellent little town, deserving of more than a single paragraph in this blog, so I’ll save this for a later date. Suffice to say that there are plenty of good licenced establishments in which to while away an hour (or a day) or two. I’m happy to report that we whiled away our fair share. We had to lock down onto the river through the barge locks, as CRT’s contractors were having another go at the  (un-scheduled) repairs to the basin wall by the narrow locks. It appears that using the existing stop-plank grooves between the basins and simply draining the water away through the bottom locks was too simple an option.

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Down below Lincomb Lock, we tied up by our mate Pete’s place for the night. It was suprisingly deep near the edge even though the river was at summer levels. Not easy to get a photo though! We didn’t venture to the pub as it”s a long walk and we were fairly knackered, and we had a boat-load of bottled beer in need of drinking. Pete manfully volunteered to assist with this task, and I have to say that he has lost none of his skills in this department. We didn’t make a particularly early start the following day for reasons that escape me. We finally set off, heading for the Droitwich Barge Canal.

I do like the Droitwich Barge Canal, it is very rural and very scenic (me waxing lyrical again). It is also deep enough for the most part; indeed, there is a sign by an old bridge-hole near Ladywood warning of a “shallow” sill of 1.1m depth. I bet that there is not much of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal that is as deep as 1.1m.

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The above picture shows Jenny steering Roach between the bottom two locks at Hawford on the Droitwich Barge Canal. Once we reached the length bove these locks, we were astounded to find that CRT had dredged out the infamous reeds, and that we could actually see where we were going. It seems that common-sense has finally prevailed here, but it remains to be seen if they will keep the reeds from encroaching back. Lets hope so. 

There appears to have been a national tree-cutting campaign along the canals, and the Droitwich canals are no exception. Much improvement is to be noticed but, it must be said that the tree-cutting has been planned and/or carried out by people with limited knowledge of navigation. Even though the whole canal appears to have been attended to, there are still eye-gouging and can/chimney removing branches overhanging the channel right on the tight turn at Ladywood where they cannot be avoided by full-length craft. I can tell you that I did not make the turn as a result of avoiding these branches.

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Before all the rat-spotters get up in arms, there are still plenty of reeds along this canal, it’s just that they are no longer causing a problem to navigation.

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We slipped back down to the Severn at Worcester by way of Hanbury Wharf and Tibberton, which actually means “ Eagle and Sun” and “ Bridge Inn”. After a fairly quiet night in the “Anchor”, we locked out onto the river with a very tidy “ Lead-Us”, steered by Mr Hatchard, who may or may not have been going to Ellesmere Port for the Easter Boat Gathering, it depended on how he felt as he and Jean progressed. We paused to deliver vital supplies of coal to the lock house at Diglis Island, and then zoomed down to the Yew Tree Inn at Chaceley where another good night was had. 

We do like the Severn; it is particularly nice not to worry about getting stuck on the bottom, and it is also an opportunity to blow the spiders out of the engine exhaust.



coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014