The old and the new

Tuesday 7th June, Wolverley to Stourport-on-Severn, 6 miles , 5 locks

“Have you fallen out?” shouted the man from the towpath, as we were coming into Stourport.

             “No, not today!” Boatwif responded to the unexpected question.

                She was perched, a windproof-clad figurehead, a duty observer, on the front locker, scanning for hazards or obstructions ahead.  Not that there were either hazards or obstructions, but the morning did seem to have rather too much incident and adventure.  At the first lock there was a surprise fourth paddle to be raised, but access to it was impossible for those with insufficient leg length to position one leg on the lock side and the other on the gate. 

Then there was the dark underworld beneath Kidderminster Lock. Boats need to exit in a tunnel underpass, and as eyes grew accustomed to the gloom it became apparent that another upcoming boat was waiting there, and another heading up behind. “Don’t worry, the boats can kiss,” came the echoing words from the first boat.

            Next came the lock that seemed impossible to draw away from, so strong was the outfall from the bywash. So some “greenery kissing” occurred while the Captain, windlass in hand, pounded further and further away down the towpath.

            Then at York Street Lock, the last lock down into Stourport Basins, a most torrential downpour all but obliterated views of the lock gear and gates. The gearing was so stiff an onlooker offered help, but even so the Captain ordered a change of duty and while Boatwif retreated to the back deck he heaved the paddles open.

To the old and the new: it is seventeen years since Cleddau cruised these waters. Kidderminster comes as a surprise: new waterside apartments and houses on the outskirts, then World War 2 factory sites and eighteenth century warehousing. Next comes a large Sainsbury’s , being extended of course like so many others. Then the fine church on the mound (sole memory of Kidderminster from before) followed by an extraordinary mill type building, now Debenhams – and in sight Marks & Spencer, McDonalds and Matalan but no sign now of KIdderminster carpets. A boater had warned that the town centre had moved, well obviously so!

Soon the canal creeps again past sandstone rock formations and, four miles or so later, into Stourport.  Once a small village it grew rapidly in canal fever days. Now old and new rub shoulders with each other with astonishing ease. Beautiful buildings, many with Ancient Monument plaques, surround the basins. The famous Tontine Hotel is being remodelled into townhouses and apartments.  A spanking new Barratts development, surrounding a restored basin, with moorings provided, has few residents as yet… On our slow creep for days we had gazed at the old: old wharfs, old locks, old scars on the rock cuttings. Loud traffic, garish signage, modern buildings thus come as a surprise.

Stourport has long regarded itself as a trippers’ destination. There are boat trips on the river, amusement arcades in the town, a permanent fairground on the riverside. The town offers opportunity for tanning, for tinting, for tattooing. You can buy flowers in numerous shops, hunt a bargain in the factory shop, arrange a funeral – but maybe not buy a book. Yet today the flashing lights of the fairground right next to the bottom lock seem so pointless.  Fencing around the lock is festooned with about fifty floral tributes in memory of the young boy who lost his life trying to cycle across the lock footbridge, the bridge the same design as that photographed on Sunday’s blog.

Old and new: at Stone Boatwif treated herself to a new whistling kettle since the whistle on the existing kettle had developed a nasty habit of falling off. The new kettle, deemed “too expensive” by the young helper in the chandlery, seems to leak water from its base… old kettle has been reinstated, so “new’s nice, old’s best”, perhaps?

    The wharf clock strikes nine. Tomorrow to Worcester for a couple of nights.

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