Never make assumptions

To Tewkesbury – a two-umbrella day

Pershore to Tewkesbury14½ miles, 3 locks.

You’d think that a 14½ mile, 3 lock trip would be a straightforward sort of journey.  Sometimes though unexpected factors cause delays – and even consternation…

After two nights at Pershore Cleddau needed to move on down to Tewkesbury. Just as the Captain prepared to pull away from Pershore Recreation Ground on Monday morning voices from behind were heard. There was activity outside the Canoe Club – and not one,    not two, but three catamaran canoes pulled out onto the river. Instruction was given to the children as they practised and manoeuvred right in front of the boat. Two other narrow boats appeared from upstream. Only once all boats were out of the way could Cleddau move. It felt a green-fingered move – the blossom from the park’s sweet chestnut trees had taken lodgings, confetti-style, on decks, gunwales and roof.

And the water point (some 120 metres further along) was shrouded by veils of weeping willow leaves…    Try judging the moment to jump off the boat with a rope when your eyes have to peer through a dense screen of leaves. A crew on an Avon Trust barge was working the patch up and down the river     –   a pair of shears and a tree ‘haircut’ would have made the water-filling task so much easier…

The cruise proper began: first obstacle was Pershore Lock. Memory: this is an odd lock with a side-filling paddle that must be operated first.    The Avon Trust boat arrived at the lock behind Cleddau, its crew intent now on refuelling the tree chipping machines that were being worked on beside the lock.

Close the bottom gates… raise the side paddle…

wind the gate paddles…     Unassisted by the Avon Trust staff Cleddau and crew eventually worked their way down the lock, managed to re-board the boat (by poking the bow in between the two moored dumb barges)    and headed off downstream under the two Pershore Bridges.

One lock down: two to go.

The Avon twists and turns,    cruisers line stretches of the river bank   and hills begin to loom in the distance.    This is rural Worcestershire, a swan on a nest,   a water pump in the field.

Lock two of the day was Nafford Lock. It’s a pretty place; there’s a swing bridge for pedestrians across the lock,   a seat nearby. And there are weirs, one straight ahead as you approach downstream    – and one to the right. There’s a chilling sight here.


The lock landings above the lock are short for narrow boats, and the wind can increase the difficulty. A memory (not a happy one) surfaced that this was the lock where ‘Mr Obnoxious’ had vented his spleen and raised his voice and fists at the Captain some six years ago

The pedestrian bridge was moved (not easy) and the water drained from the lock. How was the Captain to re-board the boat since outside now loomed a monstrous shape…?     Down the ladder he came and the boat continued its sinuous passage downstream…

…twisting round the Swan’s Neck, under Eckington Bridge   (a wide beam approaching, would the bridge hole be a tight squeeze?),    past the first of three sailing clubs,    the skies broodier, the wind windier…

The final lock, Strensham, came into view, moored boats along the millstream and not a soul about. This was to be the final self-operated Avon lock, not one of which had been shared with another boat. No extra hands, anywhere!  Strensham’s drop is a mere 4 feet, all went well; there was time to observe the lock side cottage and its flood markings from 1998 and 2007.     There was still chance though for frustration, the bottom gates drifting closed while trying to exit and the layout of the lower lock landing and channel exit being supremely awkward…

The wind worsened, the clouds spat angry water down, wavelets banged against the hull,    the (first) protective umbrella turned itself inside out and the second was used as a bent shield against the bad-tempered elements.

After a blustery and unpleasant fifteen minutes or so visibility and stability gradually improved. Here was the pretty village    you can see from the M5,    here’s The Fleet Inn (years ago it was totally foodless after a busy bank holiday weekend),     and then there was a glimpse of Tewkesbury Abbey’s tower.    Drenched yellow flowers stood high on the river bank,    there’s another sailing club, a marina, wide beams    – and suddenly there was King John’s Bridge,    with town moorings immediately after it.

While the Captain assessed the umbrella damage (one a lost cause, the other repairable)     Boatwif prowled round Tewkesbury’s streets. Traffic along the High Street is busy    but refuge can be taken in bookshops various,    or in gift and clothes shops. There are alleyways, back streets, pretty cottages,    a Friends’ Burial Garden,


 riverside walks,  mills,    and the Abbey (closed for recording).


Moored ahead of Cleddau was nb What a Lark  . Before respective departures on Tuesday morning the boat crews exchanged tales, condolences even, after their downstream adventures. What a Lark is ten feet longer than Cleddau, their squeezes in and out of locks even tighter…

Are there lessons for boaters on this beautiful waterway? Yes, wear life jackets, assess each lock carefully on a case by case basis – and hope for umbrella-free days!

Stats since Higher Poynton: 252 miles, 4 tunnels and 150 locks

 Monkton Moments*: 5 (Latest –  the lock keeper at Avon Lock in Tewkesbury has lived in Haverfordwest and Fishguard)

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)


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