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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Day 8

Last mooring before Saul
We managed to keep the stove running all night, which is just as well as this morning feels like the coldest yet.  It also feels a bit strange without the full crew onboard and I'm sure the boys wish they were still here to complete the last part of the journey, but unfortunately the tides stole time from us yesterday.

We had a lie in though, not getting up until about 8.30am then our visitors from yesterday, after they had dropped the children to school, came back to Hardwicke and came aboard for the free ride to Saul.

As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so with 10 seconds or so of tuition, I had the stowaways working for their passage and guiding Angel towards Parkend Bridge, and a good job they both did!

Even though we have been on the slowest speed today, as we don't have the pressure we've had of recent parts of the journey, it doesn't take long to traverse the 4 miles down to Saul.  Two swing bridges is all that we had to contend with and these are both manned, the power to stop traffic!

It appears that we can't turn immediately left towards the marina and will have to go past Saul Junction, turn around and approach from the Sharpness end.

There was a large boat, run by the Willow Trust, waiting in the winding hole to set sail, so we moored just south of the winding hole and waited for them to turn around.  The skipper of that ship made it look easy and he spun his boat around with such grace and precision, like a swan.
And so we turn around and head towards the final canal system of our journey, the Stroudwater canal.  Of course we are only on that for about 3 minutes and a couple of hundred yards, it will be great when this canal is fully restored.

The Stroudwater Canal

And so with one manoeuvre left, to park 'Angel' into bay 35, our journey home comes to an end.  This will take some precision piloting, having not attempted this before, but I look at this as if it was one of those narrow locks and managed to swing around at exactly the right angle and park her perfectly, a relief.

Angel, safely in her home Mooring
Well it's been a real adventure and experience for us all.  Even though it has been a little fraught at times, and a lot of mucking about moving cars and carrying lots of bags down dark wet towpaths, we are so pleased that we did this ourselves and not paid a helmsman to bring her back.

We have learned so much, met so many nice people, seen so many idilic places and had such a great time, switching off for three weekends in a row.  It's been really good for us as a family as everyone has a job to do, but also there is time to relax.  The boys have enjoyed themselves and particularly waking up to us travelling along and always having to ask 'where are we'.  They have carried out their duties like professionals, and although some of the locks have taken quite a bit of physical strength, they have both stepped up to the challenge and worked without complaint, 117 locks, well done boys!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have helped us on our journey, to Shelley's mum and Allen for their surprise home coming welcome, but especially to the crew, Shelley, Ryan, Aaron, without whom, this journey would not have happened (and I am told thanks to me for skippering).

The Crew

Todays Travel Map

Monday, 11 October 2010

Day 7

Today marks probably the most exciting, nerve wracking and memorable part of bringing Angel home.  We are joining the River Severn, after a new moon only the day before, which means that the tide is extra high.  We have a health & safety talk so that all crew know what to do and what not to do.  Everyone we have spoken to has warned us of the perils of the Severn and in particular, the lock at Gloucester.  Life jackets fitted and checked, life buoy within a hands reach and anchor at the ready all before we set off.  We leave our pirated mooring before we were caught! 

The Avon Lock keeper starts work at 9am, we moor up just before and the nerves are beginning to kick in!  Geared up and ready to face the challenge, we call in on the Lock keeper ......... He advises us that the high tide is on it's way and we will need to wait for it to turn before even thinking about going anywhere, and it's likely to peak at lunchtime and be safe to travel at 2.00pm,  so we moor up and look forward to a 5 hour wait!

The Severn walk at Tewkesbury is lovely, Alfie & Shelley enjoy the morning sunshine with the sheep and eyeball the Upper Lode Lock, the entrance to the Severn.  It's so nice to have a leisurely time, on board.  The 5 hours pass quickly and it's 2pm before we know it.  Again, anticipation of what's ahead fills us with dread, but we're ready as we're ever going to be.  We lock through the last avon lock and head towards Upper Lode.

We share the Upper Lode lock with a friendly couple in Vark, we have a companion along the River which is reassuring.  We have been in broad double locks on the Grand Union, large river locks on the Avon, but the Upper lode lock is on another scale again.

The lock fills, the front gates open, and we leave the Avon behind us and enter the Severn,  Really pleased to report that the journey down the Severn is probably one of the most enjoyable.  It was as relaxing as some of the smallest canals, only faster, much faster! It's great, we have all driven the boat, there's so much room on this river!  Quite different from the Avon, which had a current.  Even when you cut the engine (or rather knock it back to it's slowest speed), the boat still steams ahead being carried by the returning tide.

The scenery begins to look familiar and it feels like home.  In 2 1/4 hours we arrive at Gloucester Docks.

Approach to Gloucester docks from the eastern channel of the river servern

We have had strict instructions here.  There is a strong current towards the weir and we have to keep close to the left hand side wall, using the chains if necessary if the lock is closed.  I tried out reverse thrust and didn't quite manage to bring Angel to a dead stop, however, we have rung ahead and the gates are open waiting for us. We were told to keep the power on right until we entered the lock then slow up and moor next to the other boat (Vark).  This is the one part that I was warned would be the most difficult, yet when it came to it, everything went like clockwork, what a relief.  We continue our chat with the owners of Vark who inform us that they are heading for Saul Marina and it turns out that their mooring is two platoons up from ours!
Entering the Gloucester Sharpness canal with the docks behind us

We receive a call from two "pirates" who want to hitch a lift at Sainsbury's.  Mum & Allen are waiting excitedly as we pull up and let them aboard! They have walked two miles from Sims bridge to meet us and are now relieved to get a lift back!   We drop them off again at Sims Bridge so they can pick up their car and arrange to for us to meet at the pilot Inn.  They had very kindly driven to our start point at this last leg of the journey to pick up our car, for which we are very grateful.  Having that extra travel at the end of each weekend has been very tiring.

We are trying to get through the bridges to get to Saul but time & tide has been against us today and we will now have to go only as far as the Pilot at Sellars Bridge.

Sunset on the Gloucester Sharpness Canal

We were surprised to see on Sellars Bridge, a bi welcome home banner courtesy  of Mum & Allen with their artistic talents, what a great home coming.  We moored up, cracked open a bottle of bubbly and celebrated our return journey.  We finish the evening with a meal at the Pilot before seeing the boys off so they could go to school in the morning.

It's chilly tonight and the stove is lit, just another hour would have seen us through the next manned bridge at Parkend but the lock keepers go home at 6pm this time of year.  We'll finish the journey tomorrow with mixed feelings of a real sense of achievement and sadness that our weekends of 'bringing her home' have almost come to an end.

Todays Travel Map

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Day 6

We survived the night without floating up the adjustable moorings or disappearing down the weir, and what a morning to wake up to.  The predicted warm sunny weather looks like it was a day late so with dog walked & engine checked we set off through the Robert Aickman Lock at  around 7.30am.  Breakfast on the run again as we have quite a bit of travelling ahead of us.

After the George Billington Lock we had a 'nice' surprise.  Services not on the normally reliable Nicholson guides were available, water and elsan points.  This allowed the 'blue' job to be activated and the water to be topped up (neither blue or pink, just a job!).

We travel through some beautiful scenic countryside leading up to Evesham with it's Workman Gardens.  It's a lovely warm, Sunday morning and canoeists are everywhere like a swarm of bees! The horn was sounded on more than one occasion as the rowers have their backs turned to oncoming traffic.  Alfie, for some unknown reason, thinks the horn is a signal to run to the back (stern) of the boat.  He's had quite a bit of exercise already this morning!

Workman Bridge, Evesham

Sankey Marina

The sunshine is highlighting the autumnal colours as we glide by.  We are on the look out for the passenger ferry before Glovers 'island' (3 blasts of the horn is needed for the ferryman to lower the cable).    No need to worry, he's seen us and surprisingly, no one wants to cross this early on a Sunday morning. Alfie is relieved and settles himself for a nap!

The weirs along the river create powerful turbulence but the Vetus engine in Angel is dealing with these and the cross winds expertly.  At Fladbury Lock there's an unusual Lock hut which is apparently floodproof.  We meander through the countryside which affords us glimpses of wildlife, we see herons, flashes of kingfishers and in particular, this Cormorant who dutifully posed for this shot!


Wyre Lock

The lock at Wyre Piddle is diamond shaped and is the last of it's kind on the river.  Not really sure why this was built this way, but it does stand out from the norm.

At Pershore we come across two bridges, Pershore Great Bridge and New Bridge, the navigable arches are not aligned so takes a little concentration at this point.  Arrows above the arches help enormously.

Eckington Bridge - looks so harmless!
Arrows didn't help however at Eckington Bridge! After traversing a swan neck bend we find ourselves coming into a cross wind which takes the boat awkwardly towards the arch. The current pulled us sideways towards the pillar, time for evasive manoeuvres, full reverse thrust.  Onlookers watched in anticipation, but after resetting the boat position and pointing across the current, I managed to swing the backend around for a second time, and traversed centrally through the arch. A round of applause was heard from the bystanders, no 'when boats go bad' moments on my watch!!

This photo captures most of our day today, makes you glad to be in England this time of year.  We moan about the rain, but it makes our landscapes lush and green.

As the sun is beginning to set on the day, our minds focus on mooring for the night.  Our plan is to stay near Strensham.  However, we can see as we approach that it's a popular place with the cruiser boats and there's no room.  The lock here is hidden and we soon see that there are two boats waiting for it and no where else to stop and wait! We are now contending with a cross wind and current which gently pushes us past the lock. After a not so perfect turnaround we were back on track and lined up for the lock, unfortunately although plenty of room, the boats haven't waited for us and have closed the gates.  We moor up and wait, glad to have a breather, and work out where else we can moor up.

The M5
With our planned destination full, we carry on to option 2, the Fleet Inn at Twyning passing under the M5 en route.  I have passed over the Avon so many times on this stretch of motorway and kept thinking over the last few weeks that eventually we will be going under it, and here we are.

As we approach the Fleet Inn we think that although it would be a popular place in Summer we are sure it would be ok this time of year.  There is tape across the moorings, we are a little concerned as the windows on the pub are boarded up and there's little sign of life.  We pull over just outside the pub and find ourselves grounded!  After sorting this we reverse back to a couple of friendly locals who inform us the moorings have been condemned by the council and we would have to carry on to Tewkesbury!  Great, the sun is setting quickly and we have another half hour to get there, full diesel ahead!  

We breathe a sign of relief when we see Tewkesbury marina, a sign confirms overnight visitors are welcome.  It's another popular place but luckily we spot an opportunity to moor just outside the entrance, not great the metal sidings are high and we have to lift Alfie out!  We're pirates tonight, although we did try to pay, but no one was around at that time of night! Relieved and ready for a well earned rest, nearly 29 miles under our belt and another dusk drive done.

Todays Map

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Day 5

Wilmcote Locks
After a quick walk with Alfie and the first morning coffee, we set off at 7.20am.  It’s starting to take longer to get light enough to move, being overcast doesn't help.  It’s a very mild morning, and going through the 7 Wilmcote locks certainly keeps us warm.  It was definitely the right decision to turn around and head back upstream last week as it took us about and hour and a half to get to bridge 62 this morning which we wouldn't have managed before nightfall.

The levels in the locks are high and over lapping and the wind is making it very tricky to line her up to go through each lock.  Our job becomes easier when the boys finally wake and decide to join us.  Against the wind and the push from the spillway, I have managed quite well, sadly however, the current coming out of one of the locks pushes us right up against the port side bank and inevitably claims the life of a fender!

It was not long before we entered the outskirts of Stratford upon Avon, which was very pretty. The locks have changed from solid wood levers to metal and  there was a very heavy lock No.55 which needed a kind passer by to help!

At 12 noon, we arrive in historic Stratford.  It's great, we have the best parking space in the centre!  You know you are in Stratford when you see lots of tourists taking photos of just about anything, and street entertainers trying to pull in the crowds on every corner.

The Avon Navigation Trust have their information centre at the basin where we are able to purchase a licence to traverse the River Avon and gained some useful information on the river.  We also managed to buy a replacement fender but I needed to get some rope.  There were lots of jewellers, cafes, souvenir shops and the likes, but could I find anywhere that sold rope? Well I did eventually, after walking around the whole of the town centre. We headed off to buy lunch at the bagette barge and then strolled back to "Angel" to continue our journey.  

As we entered Bancroft basin, we were surprised to find an audience gathering to watch us go through the lock onto the River.  We have locked many tricky locks, some with spillways with the wind blowing us off course, but yet I still managed to perfectly line up "Angel" into the lock, however, if there was ever a place to mess us, it would be now, when there are many witnesses and cameras from every angle, ready to broadcast our misfortune around the world.  Well I am sorry to disappoint, but we entered the lock with mundane precision. I was half expecting a round on applause when we finished! 

View from lock towards Stratford

All change, from canal boating to the river, we now have canoes to avoid and small boats weaving through the large open waters like ducks. Straightaway you can feel the slight pull of the river current. The wind and weirs are determined to make manouvering tricky but the Vetus engine has enough power!

Both a heron and a 'fisherman'
It’s stunning, even on this dull day, the Autumn leaves brighten the landscape with their red, gold and brown splashes of colour, herons pop out from the waters edge and fishermen blend into the crevices between reed beds.

So many people we spoke to said to us that the river Avon was a beautiful place to cruise down and they were so right.  It's a shame that the weather is so overcast (we were supposed to be having bright sunshine and 23 degrees), but even so, this is a river with much character and interest.

On the canal system, the locks are generally numbered, with occasional place names, but all the locks on the Avon appear to be named after people.  Also, the locks here are of all metal construction and can be quite turbulent, so fore and aft ropes need to be used (at least that's what it says).  Having now met along the way, 'pleasure' boats (as opposed to narrowboats), I have to say that my observation is that they do tend to drive faster than us narrowboats and they do seem to be in more of a hurry to use the locks.   Compared to narrowboats on the canals, it's like going from a village to a town, with a little more hustle and bustle.   

The canal 'village' has been varied, always friendly, and people just seem to have the time of day to talk and wait for things to happen, and maybe that's the difference because life on a narrowboat is at a slower pace, people have the time.  Narrowboats are used to being up close and personal in locks, with little more than an inch or two either side, and the helmsmen (and women), are at the same level to chat, even if it is at the mercy of the engine noise!   

The cows seem quite friendly, actually coming into the river to drink, they don't seem to be at all bothered by the boats! 

And so with morning light coming later, sunset is getting earlier and we have to make a decision where to moor.  Bearing in mind, on the river there is no tow path, so you need stop at designated moorings.  We make our ‘planned’ mooring just as the last few minutes of light are with us, it’s 6.40pm phew!

At Robert Aickman Lock we moor for the night on rings around the mooring posts.  These allow the ropes to move up or down with the water level.  The stove is lit, dinner’s in the oven and time to fit the new navigation light, as I have no more tunnels on route to knock it off!

Mooring at Robert Aickman lock
Todays Map