Exploring new waters

Stourport-on-Severn to Droitwich: 14.2 miles, 14 locks
        The stats say it all: 28 lock miles is a lot and the crew is fatigued!
         Stourport was distinctly damp this morning so waterproofs and life jackets were donned before the trip downstream got under way. Just finding your way out of the Stourport Basins can be a challenge: there’s the ‘Birmingham Navy’ moored in front of the Clockhouse, craft of all shapes tied to the wharves and finger pontoons for narrowboats of all lengths. Only when you get a good way across the watery space do you see a signpost to the narrow locks.

Overshoot when you are aiming for the locks – and you’ll end up in a paint dock. The top two locks form a staircase – and then the route takes you across a lower basin at an awkward angle, not helped by a strong cross flow of water.

Then it is down another staircase of two onto the river

(helped this morning by some Stourbridge College students) – in a sharp rainstorm…
         Not far downstream on the Severn’s west bank some trees have been cut down and in the rock face a multitude of caves (one time cave dwellings?) has been revealed.

         How does the river differ from a narrow canal? Well, you see bigger craft on the river – as well as some really small ones. Properties are fewer and further between, but many try to maximise their waterside locations.  A line of orange floats warns of a weir and of the lock channel.

No paddle winding or gate pushing in the river locks – just follow instructions and feed ropes at bow and stern around the guide wires inset in the lock walls. Several narrow boats (and a kayak) passed going northbound,

though a straight line of Canada geese were practising downstream drill!  Cleddau performs well on deep water – the hull slides smoothly onward and the sound of water passing the bow remains magical. Road traffic intrusion is rare but what catches your attention is the surface-skimming birds and the occasional swan.
         It was a 9.30am departure from Stourport, Top Basin and six locks down it was a midday arrival at the Droitwich Barge Canal entrance.

It’s an easier approach coming upstream but in today’s benign conditions a 120 degree turn was not difficult. Then the surprise: barge locks are double width and these locks have gates heavier than those on the Kennet and Avon –  and paddle gear just as stubborn! The naive plan to moor up overnight somewhere on this unfamiliar stretch proved futile; the canal’s restoration (1973 -2011) has involved much planting of reed beds to encourage wildlife, making towpath mooring impossible.  So, once started on the Droitwich Barge Canal you need to finish…

At the eighth lock a small plague on a lock beam was spotted. It was eight heavy locks and 5.75 miles of twisting, weaving waterway to Droitwich where a mooring (48 hours free of charge) was found in Netherwich Basin. Often the Captain has proclaimed that boating is a contact sport: various incidents today have confirmed just that!
           Droitwich owes its existence to salt. The striking model Volunteer in Vine Park

just beside the town illustrates the very particular shape of the salt barges while a couple of mosaics, a striking statue of a salt worker  

and a fenced off brine well beside the canal provide continual reminders of the town’s past. There’s a heritage centre in the town centre – wonder if there’ll be chance to sneak in for a look?
         Tomorrow is the final day of Cleddau‘s Summer Cruise (Phase 1). Just a few more locks then a mooring at Droitwich Spa Marina for about a week…

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