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.



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