Thursday, 9 August 2018

Avon calling! ( Groans...)

So that's it. The days of manned locks and bridges are over. Time to dust down the windlass once again and put it to use. The last time it was used in anger was at Stourport, which seems long ago now.

After arriving in Teweksbury and mooring up, we chilled. Chatted to fellow boaters and had a short walk around towards dusk, Otter spotting. No luck though unfortunately.

The next morning was cloudy, but very warm even at 0800. After completing our ablutions, we set off about 0930. First stop, Teweksbury marina. This was in order to obtain a replacement gas bottle. No joy though, as they did not have our size in stock, but the staff member we spoke with was very pleasant and helpful. It's no problem as we carry two gas bottles and the first has lasted months.

This really is a very pleasant section of the river. It's quite open, affording great views and without a flood bank or too many willows to impede this. The banks are lined with various rushes and reeds, whilst water Lilly's float on the margins. Almost no perceptible flow either, so we chugged at 1200 rpm, the engine quiet and allowing us to enjoy the environment. For the first hour or so, we saw not another boat moving.

The first lock of the day finally hove into view. Strensham lock is for a narrowboat, a little awkward to enter as the lock landing is at an odd angle. But Ali hopped off at the bow and prepared the lock. These are broad locks, but not over long. However, the practice here is to leave the gates open on exit, so Ali had to close the top gates and drop the lock before I could enter. Then it's roping the boat up before ascending. The paddles can be a little fierce.

Twisty like the upper Thames

At the top, we used the very convenient services, then continued up this lovely waterway. The sun had by now broken through the clouds and it was getting hot and humid.

At Harford lock, there was a slight problem. A large plastic cruiser was in the lock descending when we arrived to go up. Good lock landing here though. It became apparent that something was behind the gate when they tried to open it. This turned out to be a rather large log. By using a large pole, they managed to get it from behind the gate and into the middle of the lock mouth, but still within the lock. When we suggested opening the top paddles to flush said item out, we were looked at with bewilderment. We explained and this was done, expelling the log. So they exited and we went in and up.

By late lunch time, the heat was getting to us. If we pushed on for Pershore, chances were it would be busy, with few if any moorings.  There were some quite isolated moorings at Comberton Quay. With no attractions other than solitude, we thought these may be free. And they were, so we tied up and chilled.

Enjoying the late afternoon sun was a little tainted by a local farmer. It's harvest time and the combine started in the  field opposite our mooring. We were soon engulfed by clouds of chaff.  The harvester made quick work of the field, quickly followed by the bailer. Amongst all this disturbance what did I spot, not once, but twice, running along the far bank, but an Otter! Could not believe my eyes. Ali missed it again, but then she did see a fallow deer. Wonderful area for wildlife this.

We started the next morning with a wash cycle. Not planning to travel far and an early stop might be productive in finding a mooring. The Avon Trust have made strides in expanding the available moorings, but as the banks are privately owned, this is achieved with some difficulty.

The river here is splendid. I don't think we saw another boat moving in our first few miles. Bredon Hill is still our skyline landmark, we seem to be going around it. We gently chugged on and soon reached our only lock of the day at Pershore.  Luckily for us, the bottom gates were open and a friendly family off a hire boat waiting to descend assisted us. This lock unusually hereabouts has a ground paddle, which must be opened first when ascending, before the gate paddles. Our helpers enthusiasm all most got the better of them though, but Ali saved the day and up we went very smoothly.  A nice family enjoying their holiday.

Deep joy, we found a mooring at Pershore easily, even able to move later in the afternoon to get out of tree shade. A short walk for a bite to eat in a lovely bistro, a walk around town, then an Asda shop, it being only a couple of hundred yards from the moorings. Then sit out and enjoy the sun and the world passing by. Bliss.

Looks like the bog fix has been a success. Now that has made us happy! Strange us boaters....

Now this is a different exercise class, aerobics on a paddleboard! 

The next day, after a short reverse to the services, we were off. Another hot day in prospect so not too far?

The river is starting to narrow now in places, but still retains an unspoilt feel. The last time we were here, it was after flooding and the trees and bushes had retained some of the debris. This time, all was pristine. It reminds us of the upper Thames in many ways, beautiful.

Bredon Hill is starting to disappear now and we are well on our way into the Vale of Evesham. Much evidence of orchards and market gardens now, plus innumerable pumps dipping into the river to water the crops.

a rope ferry

This was a very hot and humid day. Evesham  loomed, and whilst a pleasant enough place,it did not appeal to us as an overnight stop, so we pressed on. We collected a hire boat which then accompanied us up the lock, but then left them behind somewhat on the next leg and we were by no means travelling at any speed.

As we past through Evesham it was the Battle of Evesham re-enactment 

few logs left from the floods!

Mid afternoon saw us approaching  George Billington lock. We were both rather hot and bothered and ready for a stop. Up the lock and we spied a free mooring, so dodged in. Now this sounds strange, but for a boater, it has much to commend it. A water tap in reach, what they call a " Tip out Station " close by ( Elsan point ) and refuse bins. There is also a pub in sight! Just one problem, you cannot get to it...  The pub has its own moorings, but they were full. From our mooring, you could see and smell, but there is no way to cross, so forbidden fruit. Something a hire boat crew of all females found out! So we sat out, cooled down and drank wine.

we did take the wine bottle in!

Another hot one forecast. Used the services and cast off by 0930. We reasoned that if we got to Bidford upon Avon before lunch, we should get one of the very limited mooring spots.

The only fly in the ointment was an arsey fisherman. This river is lined with fishing platforms. But this gent decided his chosen spot, was the lock landing as you exit the IWA lock onto the river. The passage is narrow and kinks and not wide, but he had established himself on the landing. His keep net was out, as was his rod. As I passed he remarked " did I not see his rod?". What I should have said was did he not see our boat, but I did remind him he was sitting on a concrete lock landing with moorings posts and as ever when confronted by idiots, I am sure the Scouse in me was more evident!

Late morning we arrived and slotted into one of the three moorings on the park side, opposite the town. This is a really beautiful spot. The ancient  stone bridge here spans the river. It's not a big place, but has some superb buildings. Sadly, as with many places now, shops have closed, including what used to be a very good small bakery, but we had a potter and chose our venue for an evening meal. This was the Bridge Riverside.

Boat movement wise, it remains very quiet. We keep leap frogging the same boats going upstream, but have seen very few boats coming in the opposite direction.

We sat out the afternoon on the bank, shaded by a willow, well they do have their uses sometimes! As the shadow moved, we did play musical chairs somewhat, me to stay shaded, Ali flitting between shade and sun. Then to the Riverside for a superb meal. Bliss.

Our penultimate day on the Avon. As we only purchased a weeks licence,  our time is nearly up. The upper Avon is not blessed with many mooring spots above Bidford and so our onward journey was dictated on finding a spot. However, before setting off, we just had to make the most of the weather and the fact we were moored next to a water point and do a wash load, in fact two! So it was not until late in the morning that we actually moved, but this allowed Ali to visit the local butchers, which was closed on Monday when we arrived.

The river is very pretty hereabouts and teeming with life. Under the rather low arch of Bidford bridge we went.  The river channel towards Stratford varies in width and depth. In places it is rather narrow, rocky but faster flowing, then opening out to broader calmer waters.

The locks also vary in their rise. Some only a few feet, others several feet. When ascending alone as we did on all the locks, you must show them respect though. Tie bow and stern to counteract the currents created by the gate paddles. No ground paddles here.

Our intention was not to travel too far and moor up by early afternoon. It was not to be! All the moorings were taken. These only exist near the locks on this part of the river, so as the heat built, we motored on. It was looking like we would be in Stratford before we got one, but just above Weir brake lock, we spied a mooring . It was opposite the lock landing and just big enough to accommodate us. So in we popped. We are effectively on an island. The weir one side, the lock on the other. Boat wise, it remains very quiet, a good job really when you look at the mooring availability .

We are one lock now away from the end of our Avon sojourn. Then off the river and back onto muddy waters.

So our final day dawned on this beautiful river. A little cooler than of late, but still dry. We were up and showered at a time which for us, was early. Casting off at 0830. A short hop under two bridges, and up the final river lock, Colin P Witter and we were into central Stratford.

Our last mooring on the river tucked around the corner

Most of the locks along the Avon have information regarding the support
received for the restoration

The river was busy, but with rowers rather than powered boaters. We bimbled on tick over passed the narrowboats moored on the river and to the water point. A quick top up and we were ready to tackle the lock from the river, up onto the canal.

It was a little breezy.  Whilst early, rowers under instruction were darting about and two narrowboats were descending the lock onto the river. We sort of hovered mid channel, whilst I stressed out, as usual. Eventually, the rowers dispersed, the narrowboats exited the lock and in we went.

Only one problem here. What must originally have been the lock landing, is now the home of trip boats. So coming off the river is a little challenging if the gates are against you, without a long walk. But Ali climbed the ladder in the lock chamber and we began the up.

Now I was hoping our timing would mean we could moor in the basin. Need not have worried, there was not only space on the pontoons, but Ali had already spotted that the one linear bankside mooring was also available. So, wind assisted, we slotted on. The pontoons are fine, but a mere breath of wind makes the boat shiver, as they are a lot shorter than most boats.  Moored with our full length against a solid bank is therefore, luxury.

After settling in, we did the obligatory tourist walk. Sorry, but £3 each to walk up the central isle of the church were the Bard is interred, was too much. We viewed from afar!

Stratford does not change. Of course the geography is the same, but the shops change, however the tourist demographic is as diverse as ever. This place is uber cosmopolitan. And very busy, something of a shock to the system after our rural rambling on the river.

We seemed to dodge the threatening clouds that skirted our location. The sun was hot, the cloud shade was somewhat chilled, but the sun won! Lunch was taken at a rather good cafe we have visited before. Hobson has excellent food, brilliant staff and for the middle of a tourist mecca, very reasonable prices. We really enjoyed lunch, so much so that later in the afternoon, we returned for a cream tea, or in our case coffee. But it was a scone too far really. We were stuffed!

Hobsons is well worth visiting if you are in the area though. Superb.

Another walk, dodging the tourist parties, which included a chain ferry trip across the river, then back to the boat to shoo errant eastern tourists from jumping on the boat for photos .

The clouds built, but in a sort of untheatening way, so another walk then a meal at one of our favourites,  Carluccios . Fantastic food, ambience and staff. Well sated, we walked back to the boat.

So that's the Avon completed. A splendid river. Far more interesting than the Severn and in many ways more reminiscent of the upper Thames. The moorings are easier to find in The lower reaches, but it was not busy anywhere. You just had to time your stop.

Strange to think that the Avon rises near Naseby, not far from our new home.

Total 42 miles and 18 locks.  2 moveable bridges.

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