Our aim is to travel from West to East across Britain, along its navigable waterways, rivers & canals; explore its unfolding scenery & landscapes, and go ashore as often as possible. No tides, cross currents or weather to worry about! The other aim is to meet up with as many friends & family as possible! This takes some planning.
A chance to reminisce about the old working sail days, re-visit historic quays, sad almost forgotten commercial ports, and of course, re-visiting favourite haunts and stretches of the K & A and Wilts & Berks Canal by foot.
We know that the River Severn is Britain's longest river. And while delightful on its upper reaches rising in the wild moorlands of mid Wales, it flows into the wider waters of the Bristol Channel. How different the Upper Severn is to the lower tidal Severn. The Upper Severn is a wild place to be, as it tumbles along through valleys, gushing waterfalls and gorges. By the time we pick it up near Stourport, it rolls through hills & woods, quiet and undisturbed. We know the Severn Estuary can be a dangerous place, with shifting sands, a rapid rise of tide and strong tidal currents.
Meanwhile, upriver, it is a navigation ( canalised river) hereabouts, enabling craft to navigate safely over the past 150 years to small towns and deliver their cargoes to the Midlands and beyond.
We resolve to do some proper passage planning. At Stourport we see four locks leading to four different directions. With signs like Stafford & Worcester Canal & Stratford-upon-Avon, it is easy to stray off. Before leaving Stourport, we take the mast down with the help of the previous owners. After encouraging words and farewells, we set off and rather proudly we enter our first lock. De Sperwer magnificently takes up the whole chamber. We manage our first lock without incident, and then another. Minnie is adept at locks, and stronger than me.
De Sperwer is a Zeeschouw, a traditional design from the Friesland islands. She has working boat history, gaff rig, shallow draft, roomy, robust and proven sailing ability. Bristling with nav equipment this barge has been to sea. She has the comforts one needs, including the smallest woodburner, a sardine! In short, she is the perfect base for exploring our beautiful rivers, canals and waterways.
Armed with our Nicholsons we head south in early Autumn. We chug through the unfolding landscape, remind ourselves about its history, great Civil war battles, passing under bridges built by Thomas Telford no less. On through wooded hills and fertile green pastures, and we moor up, enjoy the still warm sunshine & lunch near Holt castle. Beside it is the discreet tower of a small church. There are few landing places.
The Cathedral spire of Worcester beckons around the bend. Having successfully negotiated the 3 locks, one is reminded that canals took you and your cargo into the heart of the cities and towns. Not always a pretty sight these days. Canal restoration revives cities & towns, neglect saddens them. We moor up a stones throw away from the Cathedral and step off the boat to explore the fine old city and meet Elgar with a parking cone on his head. We meet several working barges still plying their trade. The warmth and friendliness of boaters constantly infuses us with the desire to stop and natter.
We treat ourselves to an excellent supper right on the waterfront. The early Autumnal sun sets across the river.
Next morning we cast off in warm sunshine and soon the distinctive landscape of the Malvern Hills beckons us in the distance. We pass through medieval villages built at the time of King John in the 13th century, half-timbered and brick cottages abound, forgotten churches, almshouses, old village schools, dilapidated jetties, all a reminder of a village life of long ago. And not a soul to be seen!
The delightful town of Upton upon Severn hoves into view with its remarkable 13th century tower right by the water’s edge, topped with a copper-covered cupola.
The river winds its way through peaceful countryside, before narrowing as we approach Gloucester. The bank and bushes draw ever closer to us and we anxiously turn on the depth sounder.
Beyond the outlying industrial works and old quays of Gloucester, we enter Gloucester Lock with some trepidation – a massive chamber with tall sides. Just as one wonders how the dickens we throw a line up to the top, a helpful Canal & River Trust staff lowers a long pole and invites us to turn a bite or two around the hook. How simple.
Emerging into the Historic Docks and Gloucester Quays, we are taken aback by the superb renovation undertaken. An excellent example of what water can do for a Victorian port once derelict and littered with wrecks and untidy boats. It is very popular, and boasts a museum, visitor attractions, inns and restaurants, a reputable boatyard, offices and flats. We moored up opposite a fine restaurant.
Strolling around the Docks we come across T Nielson & Co their skilled craftsmen working on large vessels. Good to see several youngsters learning their trade.
We chugged to our winter mooring along the Gloucester & Sharpness canal and were greeted by several wintering boaters, some live-aboards and others with local jobs. They couldn’t have been more helpful. We left De Sperwer in safe hands and a sheltered spot, all battened down and covered up for the winter. Time for the winter comforts and armchair planning, inviting best friends, younger crews, passage planning & reading up the next Leg.