Friday, December 17, 2010

South West On The Severn

Coming down the Severn from Worcester, we were exploring one of the few remaining parts of the English waterways system which we hadn't visited – apart from the disconnected bits! The Severn has a bit of a reputation for strong flows after heavy rain, but the levels were OK and there was no immediate prospect of HEAVY rain, just the persistent drizzly stuff.

We left Worcester's Diglis Basin after filling up with water and getting an early lunch, down through the wide locks and out onto the river, then almost immediately into our first Severn river lock, also called Diglis Lock. The lock-
keeper 'did the honours' for us and asked where we were planning to stop that night. When we told him, he said, "I'll see you at Upper Lode Lock tomorrow, then."

An uneventful 2½ hour trip down as far as Upton-on-Severn, where we found space for the night on the mooring pontoon, and were rewarded with beautiful, slightly misty light the next morning.

Spiders' webs in the nearby field were suitably adorned with water droplets too!

Setting off in the morning, we were down in Tewkesbury before 11:30, going under Mythe Bridge and then past the entrance to the Stratford Avon. That's another waterway we haven't visited yet. We had wondered about tackling it this year, but decided to leave it until we can enjoy it in sunnier weather! (So it's pencilled in for 2011)

Just a few minutes later, we were in Upper Lode Lock, where the same lock-keeper greeted us and also gave us a leaflet about the approach to Gloucester – special precautions needed. We had heard about them before, and had plenty of time to read the leaflet over the next 14 miles or so. About 2½ miles north of Gloucester, the Severn divides into two channels, with boats taking the narrower East Channel – and that's where the fun begins!

The unusual feature of Gloucester Lock is that you come DOWNstream on the river and then the lock takes you UP to the level of the Docks and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. In a more normal situation, boats coming downstream would pull into a short length of canal leading to the lock, while the river pours over a weir to a LOWER level, where boats arrive having gone DOWN the lock.

As the previous picture shows, at Gloucester the lock looms high ahead with no approach canal, while the river flows vigorously off to the right – and you have to wait for the lock-keeper to open the lock! That's where the chains on the long wall are absolutely vital; you have to hang onto those (preferably with the engine in reverse) until the lock is ready, the signal changes to green, and you enter the lock quite quickly to avoid being pulled past by the river current. Not as scary as it may sound, but you need to have some idea what you are doing! As this picture shows, we made it OK without a problem and were soon on our way up into . . .

 . . . Gloucester's historic Dock basin, surrounded by tall former warehouses which are now business premises, flats, a waterways museum and Council offices, not to mention British Waterways offices and a specialist in wooden-hull boats!

We were just in time to witness the arrival of the former lightship 'Sula', which had been towed up from Sharpness and was about to start a new life as an 'alternative therapy studio', moored just outside the docks.

A couple of days later, David and Mary joined us for a few days, and we set off down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. No locks, but quite a few movable bridges – all operated for us by bridge-keepers, so very leisurely travel! Talking of which, we met up several times with the 'Edward Elgar' cruise ship, which we had already met further up the river near Tewkesbury. The weather was fairly bleak and grey, so the view down the estuary to the two Severn road bridges did not look specially inviting! It is possible to take narrowboats down the estuary, into the Avon at Avonmouth and then up to Bristol, but you need a pilot and good weather. We hadn't planned to do that trip this time, and simply turned round at Sharpness and headed back to Gloucester.

David and Mary headed back to Devon and we planned our return upstream. Apparently, while we had been down to Sharpness, the Severn had been in flood and was only just returning to navigable condition. The lock-keeper told us that, if the level was down enough, we could leave through the lock at 8 am the next morning, and that the incoming tide would help us upstream.

All was OK, and we left with another narrowboat as scheduled. The tide had not started rising yet, though, so we were battling against the river flow UP the narrow East Channel, plus we also met the 'Edward Elgar' again, coming downstream. Several miles upstream, at about 10 am, we suddenly found ourselves accelerating as the tide reached us and took us nicely up to Upper Lode Lock just on the high tide time. The levels above and below the lock and weir were the same and we could almost have cruised straight through!

Upstream to Worcester again, but not to turn off the way we came! We came under the new Diglis footbridge, through the lock and past the entrance to Diglis Basin, mooring up next to the racecourse. The next morning it was Saturday, and the river filled up with rowing boats!

On our way upstream, we thought we might just visit the Droitwich Barge Canal and go up into Droitwich itself. Dave had walked into the town from the other end on our way down, and the waterways press was full of the fact that the Barge Canal had been restored and re-opened, so we were pleased to see Hawford Lock apparently ready to welcome us – only to find that the top gates were padlocked shut! The story goes that yes, the canal was restored and yes, some boats had been up to Droitwich but no, we couldn't go in as the necessary Health & Safety signage was not in place. No notice explaining anything, we just met someone who knew. After all the razzmatazz, rather an own goal, British Waterways!

And so to Stourport! We had been here before, but only via the canal, so it was nice to come up the two pairs of staircase locks and into the upper basin.

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