The Stratford-on-Avon River Festival

It was a bit overcast and cool when we set off this morning at a more reasonable  08:40.  We had a very short trip, with no locks, to Hill Farm Marina.  Peter skilfully managed the rather narrow entrance and then had plenty of pontoons to choose from.  We decided on the canal side of the marina to avoid reversing into the quite strong wind.  David Cooke was on hand to meet us and make us welcome.  He complimented Peter on how neatly he had managed the mooring.  By now the sky had cleared completely and it was getting a lot warmer.

Sarah and Toby arrived about half an hour later and after a quick cuppa we drove into Stratford-on-Avon to visit the River Festival.  On our way there Sarah pointed out one of the most difficult locks on the canal.  

A lock or an instrument of torture?

Our first stop was to meet Richard and Jane moored in the Basin on “Casual Water”.  The temperature was still rising rapidly and we were very grateful for the iced drinks they supplied.

After a picnic lunch we started our tour of the festival.  It was incredibly crowded and blistering hot in the sun. 

The Avon looking back towards the town
People, people everywhere
Boats, boats and more boats. About 70 we were told.

We bought an Avon Licence for Monday, had a chat with a few of the exhibitors and Sarah introduced us to the first of the Avon River locks.  A useful insight into what we will face next week.

Traditional embroidered bonnets and belts

By now we were all feeling hot, tired and in need of something cooling.  We decided to head back to Oliver but not until we had first visited Hooray’s British Gelato Kitchen.  Large ice creams with lots of choices of flavour.  Between us we had coffee, salted caramel, chocolate, ferrero rocher and toffee.

After dropping us off Toby and Sarah drove back to Oxford and we had our first go at cooking on the Cobb.  M&S Best Ever Burgers, potatoes, carrots and beans all done to a turn.  Shame there wasn’t any more ice cream!

Our first full day

Oliver was handed into our tender care by Toby and Sarah just before lunch time on 28th June when we moored up on the visitor moorings between locks 14 and 15 of the Lapworth Flight.  We stayed there overnight while we got ourselves organised.

Our loading and offloading point at the Canal Shop


Feeling he needed some exercise Peter cycled about five miles along the towpath and found an idyllic mooring for tomorrow night.  It was unfortunately another five miles to get back to Oliver.

We awoke fairly early on the following morning and decided we may as well get going so we could be the first boat down the remainder of the Lapworth Locks.  So we set off at 07:15 and this worked really well for us.  Most of the locks were in our favour and just needed a bit of topping up.  We reached Kingswood Junction just before another boat turned towards Stratford from the Grand Union.  Perfect timing for us!

Split bridge Kingswood Junction
A nice example of a Barrel House

There were some very heavy lock gates and some tough ground and gate paddles but we managed by sharing the steering and locking between us.

Lock 34 created a bit of a problem as the gate would not open fully and we came to a halt at our first attempt to leave the lock.  We managed to back out of the gate close it again, poke around with the boat hook and reopen it so we could eventually get through.

What the “bleep” is going on here?
That’s better
Reflections by a canal

We arrived at our chosen mooring at 14:10.  This is a great spot with about 200 metres of Armco, deep water and good shade.  There are no roads or pubs close by so perhaps that’s why it is not popular and we were there all on our own.

What a lovely place to spend an evening

We really could not have had a better start to our journey.

Our last full day :(

Today was our last full day, before we handover to Mum and Dad for their holiday to begin tomorrow.

Before we start for today though, one photo from yesterday evening – this little fella flew into the boat, and couldn’t understand why it couldn’t get out through the window. I coaxed it onto my finger to get it out but it didn’t seem to want to fly off, so we got some close-up photos. Just a shame we didn’t get a more colourful specimen!

Our damsel fly guest

We didn’t have far to go today, just a few hours to the start of the Lapworth flight, the Stratford canal is very pretty along here. One thing we weren’t expecting, was a field of Christmas trees.

Christmas trees galore!

Sarah timed the first lift bridge to perfection, arriving just as another boat came the opposite way and opened it up for us! They very kindly let us through first – and probably regretted it when I then got stuck in the mud on the bend, so they had to wait a little longer until I could get clear!

One more lift bridge, which Sarah steered us through, and then just 4 locks for the day. At the bottom of one lock, there was a garden with some nice looking raspberries overhanging the canal. Oliver must have been hungry as he picked one (or maybe I got too close and brushed the edge, I’ll let you decide)

Two of the four locks we did today

We moored up at 11:40  on the the Lapworth flight; the plan was we’d then have time to do an oil change and clean the boat. We then had the pleasant surprise of seeing our friends Richard and Jane walking up the towpath – we’d arranged to meet them for dinner this evening, but weren’t expecting to see them quite so soon! We had a nice chat, and found they’d also seen my Mum and Dad down at the pub, so we ended up with my parents popping in for a quick visit before tomorrow too.

Well after all the chatter, what can I say… sorry but Oliver didn’t get the clean he was due, but the good news is I did get the oil change done and Sarah got all our stuff packed up ready for tomorrow.

Doing an oil change before tomorrow’s handover

There won’t be a blog entry for tomorrow as we’re doing the handover – but then Mum and Dad will be taking it on so look out for further updates from them over the next few weeks.

One last selfie to say farewell for now

Tunnel Rage

A different alarm wake up this morning, with boats heading down the flight a bit too quickly and us bouncing off the side. First boat at 6.25, and then another one ten mins later – that second boat must be gutted to be following the other.

Tardebigge Top Lock

One lock and then a quick water stop with this tap more than the previous trickles. Four tunnels today, first two I steered and no boats (yey!), Toby steered in the third one with was quite long and took 40 mins, we didn’t mind as it was lovely to be in the cool and shade.

In the tunnel
Me steering in the lock

The last tunnel didn’t go so well. We entered the tunnel as we have the others, and the boat coming the other way beeps his horn and starts shouting. I go up to the bow and ask if they’re a widebeam (silly really as it’s narrow locks, just not too familiar with the canal here). He states it’s one way and we’re in the wrong, we state it’s two way traffic, he’s adamant and won’t move.  So Toby did an awesome job reversing out, as did the boat behind us who had just entered the lock. The sign by the entrance had a lot of graffiti on, and I read the instructions when we were back out stating one way, what I hadn’t realised is that referred to non-powered traffic. I apologised and off he went, Toby then pointed out we were in the right, I’m kicking myself as he’s gone off thinking he was in the right. I can only hope he’s doing the Avon Ring like us, and had another three tunnels to follow – let’s hope there were LOTS of boats coming the other way!

Some much welcomed shade
Not sure this would pass an MOT, we assume it was pulled from the canal

Lots of opportunities to see Heron’s today, we must have seen half a dozen – or was it the same one?

Another Heron picture

One electric swing bridge, and the power to stop the traffic. Slightly delayed with a boat just finishing the swing bridge and their key stuck, they’s set the swing bridge going a couple of times trying to get it out. I walked up and said could I have a go, I turned the key and out it came!

The power of holding up the traffic

Finally moored up at 4.15, we’ve got a nice shady spot.

Our home for the night

The Tardebigge Trio

An unusual alarm call this morning, and swans pecking the weed on the boat’s waterline.  We lifted the curtains to blue skies and even at 9am, it was getting hot.

We worked our way through Stoke Locks knowing at least one boat was in front of us, so we had to empty and fill each lock.

Closing one of the many gate paddles of the day

Our friend Simon has caught the canal bug, and offered to take a day off work and ‘do Tardebigge’, I’m not sure he quite knew what he was signing up for. We reached the bottom of the Tardebigge flight at 11am, and met Simon who had parked at the top and cycled down – the great ascent began.

The bottom of the flight

After a couple of locks of steering tuition from Toby, Simon was helming all on his own, and in to some very tight locks.  There were a couple of nudges, but in the main, silence as Oliver glided in to the lock.

Simon helming through the locks

There was a working boat in one of the locks, with the CRT staff fixing the wobbly deck board. They pulled out of the lock when we were ready, and we showed out appreciation with ice poles (the first of four for each of us).

Good job you couldn’t see my face in this shot, you could fry eggs of my cheeks!

There is very little space between the locks, so we stopped inside one lock with a bench and ate our sandwiches, there were no boats in front or behind – it was very civilised.

In a routine of Simon helming, Toby opening/closing the top paddles and gates, and I went ahead and prepped the next lock

We did swap, and Toby helmed for a few locks, while Simon opened some paddles and gates.

Simon opening a top paddle

I was pleased that the flight meanders, and you rarely see more than one lock in front of you. I’m not sure I could have coped with 30 locks in front of me!

The reservoir at the top of the lock flight. Levels are low and there are water conservation notices at the locks

We finally moored up at 3:25, out came the camping chairs and we sat out in the shady towpath with another ice pole to recover.

Now here comes the silly bit. We then walked back down to the bottom of the flight to the pub (very nice pizzas), and had to walk the 2 miles back up to the boat.  Toby walked with Simon back to the car and we said our farewells – a BIG thank you to Simon for coming all of this way to help us through the locks, you’re welcome aboard any time.

The Tardebigge Trio – smiles all round after mooring up


Sunday in the sunshine

With the England match this afternoon, it was a busy morning on the canals. Trying to get Toby up and moving is quite a challenge, he’s still in bed and one boat goes past going our way – damn!  Finally ready to cast off at 8.30 and another boat comes in to view, which is also going our way.  Bad etiquette to pull out in front of them, so another boat passes going our way – double damn!!

Sunshine in the lock with the most beautiful flowers
If only every canal lock looked like this

Only six locks today, one pound was quite low and Toby was grounded, luckily emptying the lock pushed enough water through to pass

Toby approaching the lock

We moored up at 10.30, and it felt really odd to be finished so early (only two hours cruising). Toby decided to wash the roof and the canal side of the boat, every passing boat says the same ‘I bet you wish you’d bought a shorter boat’!

Toby washing the roof of the boat

An indulgent lunch of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup (it had to be done!), aerial up, TV tuned and Toby watched the footie, phew they won.

Toby made some ciabatta rolls for lunch tomorrow.

Toby kneading the dough

Thoughts turn to tomorrow and the Tardebigge flight and 36 locks, perfect timing with the hottest day of the year so far.

From Summerhill Farm Bridge No 38 to Astwood Bridge No 41, a distance of 1 mile, 2¾ flg and 6 locks.

Four Waterways in One Day

I’ve managed to escape most of the World Cup, but with the England match looming on Sunday, I had to agree to plans, so we would be moored up for tomorrow’s 1pm match.  That meant a longer day today, and an early start – well 7.30 cast off, that’s early for Toby!

Calm waters on The Severn
It was so early, even the swans were still sleeping

We turned on to the recently restored Droitwich Barge Canal, no lock keeper here, it was back to DIY.  A bird was sat on the first lock gate and wouldn’t move, I didn’t like it and sent Toby to open the gates. Picture below of the defendant – any ideas what it is? (he was a LOT bigger in real life!)

A new bird on the canals

We slowly worked our way through the various twists and turns, this canal felt quite different with the very high reed beds between the canal and the towpath.  Toby did a great job steering with oncoming boats, although had a near miss with a bend and bridge.

Getting used to the narrow canal after the wide river

Not that I knew it at the time, as it felt like the same canal, but we soon entered the Junction Canal

Just in case you needed help in where to aim!

I’d been having sleepless nights about the next tunnel which runs under the M5 and is low. We were advised to fill up with water so our bow sat low (water tank filled to the brim), and Toby removed the chimney. Luckily for us and all this dry weather, the water levels were low, and we passed through with inches to spare.

Height level board for the tunnel under the M5
Not much room to spare!
Toby wasn’t able to stand at the tiller, and had to sit on the locker and steer

A staircase lock, and then three final locks which were manned by volunteer lock-keepers…yey!  The lock paddles are different here, with side channels in the lock connected to side pounds.

Entering the staircase lock

After 16 locks, we turned on to the Worcester and Birmingham canal. We soon moored up and celebrated making such good progress with an ice pole.

Our mooring and home for the night

From Worcester Race Course moorings to Summerhill Farm Bridge No 38, a distance of 10 miles, 7 flg and 16 locks.

To Worcester we wend our way

We set off from the Lower Lode visitor moorings at about 8:45 – it was a beautiful sunny and calm morning, though with a bit of a chill in the air at that time. The Severn is very samey and a little dull, but it wasn’t too long before we were back to where the Avon meets the Severn at Tewkesbury. Another narrowboat pulled out from the junction just ahead of us, but they soon disappeared into the distance, clearly in more of a hurry than we were.

One of Telford’s, just North from Tewkesbury.

The tree-lined banks of the Severn are covered in Willow, with a dash of beech, chestnut and others. The odd other boat, bird or lock makes a welcome distraction!

Sunbathing? Drying his wings? Preening to his mate? You decide!
Couldn’t resist yet another heron shot!

Another couple of narrowboats overtook us later on – are we going really slowly or are they all fast?!

Later in the day we met this rather large barge coming from the opposite direction; he tooted his horn and I counted the blasts to try to work out what he was up to. 4 short blasts, a gap, then one more. Well. 1 is going left. 2 is going right. 3 is going backwards. 5 or more signals danger.  I’m not sure what he was trying to tell me, but he then proceeded to turn across the river in front of us so we kept well clear!

These barges are all the same size – but the near one is full of aggregate so sitting very low in the water.
We got to watch them tie up and start unloading – very quick and efficient!
Further up river we met Pike, Perch’s sister ship. Note the crew sunbathing!

The sun really came out later in the day and drove off any remaining chill. By the time we reached Worcester it was T-shirt and shorts weather.

Worcester cathedral from the river.

We’d hoped to moor just after Diglis lock on the pontoon, but it was full even at 1430. We rejected the next spot as it was inundated with swans and seagulls, and we didn’t want to have to clear yet more muck off the roof, so we ended up just past the rowing club, next to the racecourse.

I enjoyed a long glass of pimms, and we both had some strawberries as we tried to keep cool and relax at the end of today’s journey. Tomorrow we leave the river and head on to the Droitwich Barge and Junction Canals for our first time.

From Tewkesbury Lower Lode to Worcester Race Course moorings, A total distance of 18 miles, 4 flg and 2 locks.

Summer Solstice on The Severn

A strange sound to wake up to on the narrowboat, with seagulls squawking in the docks ( and pooping on the roof). We’d planned to have at least the morning in Gloucester, so it was teas and coffees in bed which made for a pleasant change to the usual rush.

We walked to Gloucester Cathedral, and what a mighty cathedral it is, with so many panes of stained glass, and still so bright in colour. We lit candles for loved ones past and present.

The best pic we could get from the outside – other options included a DPD van, or random folk walking past. I thought I’d show some loyalty to my employer
Modern stained glass window in the catherdral

We also visited the Mariners Chapel by the docks, what a contrast it is to the Cathedral.

Mariners Chapel

We had lunch at the cafe on the docks called ‘On Toast’ we went for two savoury toasties, and what whoppers they were.  I do regret playing it safe, I should have gone for the Mars Bar toastie (next time!). We walked back to Oliver via the lock keeper, and asked him to set the lock as we were about to leave and it was still quite windy. Toby did a great job reversing off the pontoon, and then we were in the lock, a much faster descent, and then we were back out on the open waters.

Leaving Gloucester Lock, the dark line is the water line
Rowers on the River Servern

We decided to moor up on the visitor moorings at Lower Lode, we passed it on our way through on Tuesday and it was empty, well it was full on our return journey!  The lovely gentleman on the nb already moored on the pontoon said we could moor up next to him – phew!

Buddying up on the pontoon

From Gloucester Docks to Tewkesbury Lower Lode, A total distance of 11 miles, 6½ flg and 1 lock.

Toby and Sarah Went to Gloucester

There was a little shower of rain, but nobody stepped in any puddles (or marina basins) on this particular visit.

We set off from Sharpness to return to Gloucester, but this time we’re going to stop off in Gloucester to see the sights before moving back on to the Severn.

Just outside Sharpness are the remains of an incredible bridge. Completed in 1879 it used to have 21 spans, and crossed both the Severn and the canal. The span across the canal was a steam-powered swing-bridge, 200 feet long.  Sadly it was destroyed in an accident involving two oil tankers in 1960 most of the remains dismantled later – you can read more about it here.

The original Severn (railway) bridge

From one wreck to another – next stop was at the ‘Purton Hulks‘. These were new to Sarah and I, but my Dad being a keen photographer had heard a lot about them, so we thought we should at least have a look and see what we could make of it. I think Dad would love it here – we expect him to visit before too long!

Purton Hulks

Sarah did a quick top-up of our water supplies whilst I took a few very amateur photographs, and then it was back on towards Gloucester, through the various swing bridges. We played around a bit with the new camera, and tried to get a timed selfie going through a swing bridge – the timing failed, but the photo wasn’t too bad. Sarah’s looking up to keep an eye on the bridge – hence the facial expressions!

This swing bridge is high enough that it doesn’t need to open for us, but Sarah’s keeping a close eye on it just in case!

We stopped off for a pump-out, which seemed to take forever, and then it was another couple of hours before we started to enter the outskirts of Gloucester. If anyone fancies their very own light-ship, this one is up for sale!

The lightship ‘Sula’

We took our more modest boat up to the modern looking pontoons opposite some new restaurants and bars. The docks area around Gloucester is the scene of a lot of redevelopment at the moment and they’re doing a good job of keeping the feel of the old warehouses alive whilst still modernising everything.

Oilver safe and sound in the moorings at Gloucester

They also have their own waterways museum, so we had a little meander around there, and took the obligatory selfie shot…

Toby and Sarah, circa 1830

Tomorrow we head back on to the Severn towards Worcester.