A feast of Morris dancing in Evesham

If Pershore suffered more than Tewkesbury during the dissolution of the monasteries, Evesham Abbey had it even worse. Only the bell tower remains. There are two churches beside it, St Laurences and All Saints and these satisfied my love of looking at beautiful stained glass.

As we left St Laurence’s Church we spotted a group of Morris dancers and followed them to see where they were going to perform.

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It turns out that we had arrived in time for National Morris Weekend. There were Morris Sides there from all over the country.

There were dancers with sticks…

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… a side with its own horse…

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…clog dancers…

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…ladies showing their drawers…

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…dancers with hankies…

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…dancers with swords…

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…pirate dancers…

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…and finally a Welsh side dressed as priests, with their own dragon and a saxophonist in their group of musicians.

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The temperature there was well into the 30s. I can only admire the energy and enthusiasm of all the performers on such a hot day. I found it hard enough just to sit and watch!

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Up the Avon to Pershore

It was a bit cloudy, but clearing nicely, as we set out from Tewkesbury up The Avon towards Stratford.

By the time we got to Pershore Lock the weather was lovely. The weir there has a couple of Archimedes Screws for electricity generation. We spotted some beside a lock on the River Ouse a few years ago and I’m surprised there aren’t more around as it does seem like an obvious way of generating power.

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The moorings in Pershore are beside a park and playing field and also (conveniently for boaters) beside an large Asda and a good indoor market.

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We took a wander around Pershore, which is a pretty town. Some buildings have balconies that are more reminiscent of New Orleans than Worcestershire.

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We also had a look around the Abbey which is comtemporary with Tewkesbury Abbey but didn’t fare quite so well during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monastries. A large chunk of it was demolished but the part that remains was saved by the locals to be their parish church.

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What is now the nave was originally the monks’ choir.

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There’s also some lovely glass from the 1800s.

Outside, in Abbey Park, there’s a sculpture created from a tree stump called ‘Leafing Through History’…

…and adjacent to the Park is the old abbey Almonry, which dates back to the 1500s, was restored in 1973 and is now a rather lovely private residence.

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That evening we found our way to The Millers Arms on Bridge Street, a lovely pub with great beer. We managed to meet up and have a few drinks with the Lockie from Tewkesbury who was there with her hubby on her day off. Great to hear all their tales of what the lock keepers house is like during a flood! In mild floods, wellies are the order of the day but in the worst conditions they have a wire set up connected to a neighbour’s house up the hill. They can then get to dry land in a boat using the wire to pull themselves across. That’s what I call being prepared!

 

 

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Down the Severn to Tewkesbury

Last week we set out from Stourport onto our first river of the year, The Severn.

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As we were descending the Stourport staircase locks I noticed the working boat Bramble and thought the number seemed a bit familiar. It turns out that Bramble has the same Fleet Id number as Mallus – just different fleets.

Heading out on the Severn can be a bit risky if the river is running high after heavy rain so we always check the flood warning boards before we set out. As we left Stourport the river was down in the green area indicating that it’s safe to head out…

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…by the time we got to the next lock and had a look, the river here was in orange which means you can continue to travel but should be cautious.

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There wasn’t anything much to worry about so we carried on down to Worcester where we stopped for the night. We’ve been there before quite a few times so didn’t do any sight seeing before setting out the next day to head for Tewkesbury.

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The Severn is wide and, like the Trent, is used as a kind of boat motorway to quickly get from North to South and vice versa. It is also very beautiful, specially as you approach the section with views across to the Malverns.

It had been several years since we stopped in Tewkesbury and we spent a day being tourists, wandering around the town…

…visiting the Abbey…

…having lunch in the Berkeley Arms, an old and very friendly Wadworth’s pub where Gordon got an excellent pint of 6X (it was an extremely warm day so the Santa hanging in the alleyway looked particularly out of place!)…

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…and walking around the Severn Ham, a large meadow between the Severn and the Avon, that acts as a flood plain for the town. Tewkesbury does still flood in particularly bad weather, but, without this area of ground, conditions would be immeasurably worse.

We’ve been along the Avon twice now. Once in our own boat, once on a hire boat. We always took the minimum amount of time to do it and didn’t stop off at any of the local towns. This time we got a 7 day licence and decided to make the most of it as we headed off under King John’s Bridge heading for Pershore.

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A visit to the Kinver Rock Houses

We’ve visited Kinver before on a couple of occasions but each time the Holy Austin Rock Houses were shut. This time we made sure we timed our stay for when the houses were open.

It’s a bit of a trek uphill from the village, but there’s a cafe when you arrive and the view is wonderful.

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The houses are on three levels. Nobody quite knows when they were first inhabited but their hey day was in the 18th and 19th centuries when industry flourished in Kinver and housing was at a premium. Even when the industry died out there was a brief flourish of prosperity for the inhabitants, who took advantage of the influx of tourists brought to the area by the Kinver Light Railway. On Whitsun Monday 1905, 16,699 visitors were transported to Kinver and business for the cafe run from the house below must have been booming.

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Houses on the middle level are unrestored and cannot be visited by the public as the sandstone is crumbling.

On the upper you’ll find the cafe. These three houses were the most recently occupied on the site, having been forcibly abandoned in the 1960s after the gable wall of the end cottage collapsed when the front door was slammed! Despite the appalling dereliction of the houses, the owners were extremely reluctant to leave.

 

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The insides of all the restored houses have been returned, as closely as possible, to their original state using paintings from the time and accounts from people who actually lived there.

 

When we left the rock houses, we headed up to Kinver Edge…

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…to experience the incredible 360 degree views before heading back down to the boat…

 

…for a well earned drink.

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All in all a lovely day out.

 

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A change of scene

Last week we said goodbye to the BCN (for now) and headed south. We’re doing a chunk of the Avon ring – down to Stourport, out on the Severn along the Avon and then back towards Birmingham on the Stratford Canal.

This time we used the New Main Line which passes under the Old Main Line and the M5…

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…turning off at the Dudley Port Junction through the Netherton Tunnel and onto the Dudley No 2 Canal at Windmill Hill.

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At Park Head Junction we met our only lock of the day

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…before we moored up for the night at Merry Hill. Here we stayed for a day while a storm passed through.

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The rainbow over the shopping mall lived up to its promise and the following day was much better. A touch breezy but with plenty of sun and, most importantly, dry. It was as well really – we had twenty nine locks to do before getting to Kinver on the Staffs & Worcs canal.

The start of the Delph flight of locks, just below Merry Hill, is urban and unassuming…

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…but by the second lock you feel more like you’re the middle of the country. It’s an absolutely beautiful flight, specially when the weather is as pleasant as it was for us.

After the eight locks of the Delph flight we carried on to do the sixteen Stourbridge locks. Again, another lovely flight, although, like other boaters over the years, I had problems at lock 15. The bottom lock gates will not stay shut! Shut one, rush round to the other side and by the time you’re half way across the first gate is wide open again. It’s definitely a two person job. As Gordon was finishing off lock 14, I dragooned a passer by into holding one of the gates shut for me as I went round and shut the other. The flight goes past the Red House Glass Cone, which is now a museum. No stopping this time as we’d had a good look around a few years back when we passed up the locks.

There was a brief respite when we finished the Stourbridge flight…

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…while we nipped up the lockless Stourbridge Arm to take water…

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…before starting down the four Stourton Locks…

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…that take you onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal. This marked the point at which we were well and truly off the BCN. We had an amazing two or three weeks in and around Birmingham and the Black Country and we will definitely be back but for now …

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…just Stewpony Lock to do…

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…before we stopped for the night at a beautiful rural mooring just outside Kinver.

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The end of a wonderful day’s cruising and a great few weeks on the BCN.

 

 

 

 

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Farewell to Atlas and Malus

On the day after the BCN Marathon Challenge, Atlas and Malus were heading back to their home at Hawne Basin. Gordon and I volunteered to join the crew. The boats would be taken via the Gosty Hill Tunnel through which Ewn Ha Cul would not fit – a great opportunity to spend another day on these amazing boats and to travel a piece of the canal that would be otherwise unexplored by us.

 

There were five crew – Paul Smith the skipper, Phil Wild, Colin Wilks, Gordon and me. Aided by Kirsty and Tug along with ever helpful Phil Barlow we headed off down The Crow. Only nine locks today – a doddle after the challenge!

 

The weather was a bit miserable but nobody seemed to mind. When we reached Factory Locks Gordon and I swapped places. He hopped off to do the lock wheeling while I steered Malus – an incredibly easy job as the pounds are short and there’s not a lot of actual steering required.  Phil did his usual sterling job of hauling the boat from lock to lock while Colin and Paul went ahead with Atlas.

Factory Locks

There was a minor mishap when Atlas went aground at the bottom of Factory Locks…

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…but Colin and Paul soon managed to get her back on track.

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By this time the rain was really coming down and I hid in the cabin as we went through Netherton Tunnel. I must admit to having a quick nap but I woke up before we went through Gosty Hill Tunnel.

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The entrance to Gosty is actually quite roomy but the tunnel shrinks about half way along. It’s here that Ewn Ha Cul would have problems. White paint and this painting of dracula warn of the impending reduction in height.

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Phil had let me know to look out for this ventilation shaft, the chimney of which is now situated in someone’s garden. The greenery you see at the top is a tree that has been planted in a vain attempt to hide the structure. I think if I owned this house I’d be making a feature of it instead.

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Heading towards Hawne Basin, at the south end of the tunnel,  the boat passed the remains of the massive Stewart and Lloyd Steelworks that closed in 1967. It must have been incredibly busy back in its hey day but is now crumbling and covered in greenery.

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All in all it took about six hours to get to Hawne Basin from Titford. The journey back was considerably quicker as we were lucky that Phil and his wife Anne gave us a lift taking just 15 minutes or so.

The weather had cleared by the time we got back so we were able to sit down outside the Pumphouse with Phil Barlow and his dog Charlie and have a relaxing drink.

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We’d like to thank Phil for his welcome to us and for all his help during our stay there. He’s an absolute star! We’d also like to thank Paul Smith for allowing us to join the crew of Atlas and Malus both for the Challenge and the trip to Hawne Basin. It was an absolutely amazing experience!

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Crewing on Atlas & Malus for the BCNS Marathon Challenge

Last Saturday saw the commencement of the 50th Anniversary BCNS Marathon Challenge in which around 50 boats travelled as much of the Birmingham Canal Navigations as possible in 24 hours with an added compulsory 6 hour break.  Points are picked up for locks done, miles covered, obscure destinations reached and various other achievements . Luckily, as crew, Gordon and I didn’t have to worry about any of this. All we had to do was turn up and pitch in wherever we could help. Boats can set out from wherever on the BCN that they choose but this year’s finish was at the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society headquarters at Titford Pumphouse.  Atlas & Malus were built in the 1930s and are owned jointly by the BCNS and Coombeswood Canal Trust.  It was a real privilege to have the chance to take part in the Challenge on them. Paul, the skipper of Atlas & Malus, also chose this as our starting point. Wonderful for us as we were moored up there and only had to crawl out of bed, dress and wander up the pontoon to join the boats for the off. The start was a bit damp….

…but started to clear up as we headed down the  locks known locally as The Crow and onto the Old Main Line.

By the time we’d gone under Summit Tunnel…

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…past Smethwick Pumphouse…

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…and into Smethwick Locks, the weather had cheered up completely. The sun was shining for our encounter with Charlie on Felonious Mongoose.

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We picked up some points for heading round the Soho Loop…

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…and past Hockley Port Junction…

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…before making our way into central Birmingham where we encountered Annie and Colin on nb Eli who kindly took these photographs of our progress past the NIC.

We turned left at the ’roundabout’ and headed down Farmers Bridge Locks.

I got to steer the butty down Aston Locks with a fairly stiff breeze and a varied amount of success! Thanks to Kirsty for the photos of me steering.

I enjoyed it but am much happier just plodding along doing locks.

Gordon took over the butty steering as we passed on under Spaghetti Junction and met our first, and luckily only, real problem. There were a group of about 20 or so kids, obviously well organised as they had masks and hoods, who started chucking stones at the boats. They followed us on bikes for a short while, aiming mostly at people. Gordon took a stone to the head which caused a minor scratch as he was protected by his ‘happy hat’ but it could have been an awful lot worse. The incident was reported to the police and we headed on through Salford Junction not too much the worse for wear.

It was getting on to evening by this time and it was around 8 o’clock by the time we got to the top of the Perry Barr Locks.

By 11pm we were safely moored up at Ocker Hill for the night and appreciated a great bean and sausage stew that had been lovingly made by Tug. The two ladies were lucky in that we were given the boatman’s cabins to sleep in – not much use for most of the blokes as the bed space is way too short.

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Very snug but even a bit too short for me! I did manage about three hours sleep.

We set out again just after 5am the next morning for a much easier day lock-wise. Just 18 to be completed before the 2pm finish. Jeff did a grand job of cup washing before we set off up Ryders Green locks.

We had originally planned on taking the longer route through Factory Locks as it’s an easier turn but unfortunately the wind chose differently as it blew Malus past Atlas at Pudding Green Junction forcing Paul to turn left and head for Spon Locks instead. It was a lovely day and a relaxed one as there was no time pressure.

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The turn out of Spon Lane Locks is a tight one but we eventually managed to get both boats round and headed towards home at Titford.

By the time we headed up the Crow we were all pretty knackered but our challenge was not quite finished.

We still had enough time to moor up Malus…

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…and take Atlas up to Titford Pools for a few extra points. Not much for the non steerers to do so time to enjoy a celebratory beer.

With Atlas back in it’s spot and the log handed in on time (after a slight panic where it couldn’t be located) the crew posed for a photograph kindly taken by Phil from nb Petula whose dog Charlie muscled in on the action.

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The crew were, from left to right, Jeff, Gordon, Paul, Colin, Kirsty, Phil, me, Tug and Mike and a better bunch of people I couldn’t have hoped to crew with. A challenging but incredibly enjoyable experience!

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