Downstream on the Warwickshire Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon (river moorings) to Evesham Marina: 18 miles, 9 locks
June 2011 – that was the last time Cleddau was on this river. Then she cruised upstream, all 47 miles from the Severn at Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire) to Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire). (Goodness, that 47 number again …!)
Now it’s a 47 mile downstream trip, being undertaken in two stages. There’s a past history to Cleddau’s boating on this river – so while there may be structures and installations not seen before, there’s likely to be nostalgia too…
Of course a navigable river is going to look different from a narrow canal. The first indication that this waterway is a different species entirely from the Stratford Canal is the first lock. Confusingly it has been known by three names, Stratford Lock, Trinity Lock (as it’s opposite Holy Trinity Church?) and the Colin P Witter Lock. Approach it – and it’s as if you are encountering a metal framed box. Though the principle of canal locks and river locks is the same sometimes the design and appearance can be a tad alarming! When the lock was rebuilt the girders were installed to stabilise the lock chamber. The paddles are operated by standing on a sturdy platform on top of each gate and the gate beams are extended metal affairs… When these locks on the Upper Avon were restored in the 1960s and 70s they were fitted with French paddle gear – and they do look and feel different from paddle gear found elsewhere.
Despite any consternation at operating such an alien-looking structure (this was on 2nd May) the boat was smoothly lowered to the river below.
It is early May – and there is media speculation about the possibility of water shortages this summer. Unusual photographs of Seathwaite in Cumbria are showing a dried up rocky riverbed The Avon’s waters originate at Naseby in Northamptonshire and the river level can rise fast in times of heavy or continuous rainfall. At each lock a river level marker is positioned by the bottom gates. On this one you can see how the river level currently is low, very low…
There is other useful information provided at the locks too – many of them have dumb barges moored beside the lock landing upon which is displayed locational details in case of emergency. Additionally, each lock has a large information board displaying an Avon map and Avon Navigation Trust regulations.
Wide sweeping weirs designed to keep the water levels navigable are an attractive sight – though sometimes the channel approach to the lock seems to take a scenic route very close to the tumbling waters of a weir.
Finding suitable overnight mooring on the river was always difficult, but on the Upper Avon at least conditions are much improved with the provision at several locks of blue-topped mooring posts and pleasant mooring space.
This is wealthy Warwickshire, a world away from the disused coalfields of north Warwickshire which the Cleddau crew were observing just a few weeks ago while on the Coventry Canal… From the river can be seen gracious houses and wide expanses of well-kept lawns, room too for a fine solar panel array. There are occasional holiday parks and assortments of boats: narrow boats, cruisers, Dutch barges, wide beams.
The village high street, spreading east and west of the Bidford Bridge, has a fair range of shops and eateries and a Saxon church upon a knoll. It seems nothing is overlooked in providing information and encouragement for visitors. Shakespeare, it is said, represented Stratford in a drinking contest at the Falcon pub here.
But maybe this delightful place attracts mishaps… The bridge has had its fair share of misadventures. In June 2015 a crop sprayer found itself too wide for the ancient bridge . (See here).
Now from the river, and from the bank, the repairs are very apparent.
One of the Captain’s pet theories (There are two types of boaters, those that have fallen into the water – and those who are going to…) is always recalled right here at Bidford… It was probably about 1990, on a late May Bank Holiday Monday. Saltie and Senior Sis on their own vessel, nb Markland, had hired a small weekend boat for use by the (subsequent) Cleddau crew. Upstream from Evesham the two-boat convoy came. Full steam ahead towards and through Bidford Bridge, it was assumed. Markland’s crew though had other ideas, turning and mooring up at Bidford Boats, right opposite the popular riverside park. (Pictures above). Boatwif scrambled to the bow of the hired boat, the Captain made a sharp turn – and Boatwif’s feet slid off the gunwales, trailed in the water until her arms gave way and mobility could only be achieved via some unplanned swimming. The Captain grabbed a life ring from the boat’s roof, hurled it towards the bank, it whizzing way over Boatwif’s head, while she, in full view of the bank holiday crowds, swam steadily to the bank. Staff from the boatyard rushed to retrieve the dripping mermaid. “Go to hospital if you feel ill,” they insisted. For Boatwif a quick shower, a change of clothes and a mug of soup were all that was necessary before the cruise could resume.
Oh, the ignominy of it… clothing swilled and wrung out, the (very) damp items were strung out at the bow. Arriving at the next lock down-coming boaters viewed the small boat heading towards them. Two crew on board; only one gender’s set of clothing on very obvious view: “So you fell in then?!” stated one of the boaters. Reader, with such evidence on public display there was no purpose in denying it – yes, she had fallen in…!
Leaving Bidford on Thursday (4th May) required skill, nerve and determination: the wind was gusting strongly but the boat needed to be turned midstream to head back down river. Cleddau, a craft of mature years, does not possess a bow-thruster so it takes engine power and judgement to cross a breezy river and to avoid other moored craft.
More locks – each one different from the one before: there is the Inland Waterways Association Lock, near the unprotected weir. Then comes Harvington or Robert Aickman Lock, a memorial on the side commemorating Aickman’s contribution to waterway restoration.
Each lock required a discussion as to how and where the lock operator would re-board the boat, within the lock chamber via the lock ladder – or on the lock landing stage.
Next comes the greatest surprise, the lock with a tower, George Billington Lock.
Just beyond is Evesham Marina, location of Cleddau’s first home berth (1994-96). Of course things will have changed in the twenty odd years since leaving. Where Cleddau (green then with a red roof) used to moor in splendid isolation alongside the riverbank and opposite the football ground, is now taken by three wide beam boats – and the football ground is full of houses. Where on summer Saturday evenings the boaters used to play rounders and have barbecues on a grassy field beside the basin, now boats are moored there. New marina office buildings overlook the river – but the black sheds, the former offices, perched above the floating docks are still there. Alarmingly, high up on the wall beneath the sheds is this small notice… but there is no sign to indicate the even higher flood mark of July 2007.
So with the first Warwickshire Avon leg safely concluded, the crew has gone on shore leave. Once back the downstream trip to Pershore, Tewkesbury and then onto the River Severn will continue…
Stats since Higher Poynton: 255 miles, 4 tunnels and 143 locks
Monkton Moments*: 2
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)