Monday, August 10, 2015

Jolly Boating Weather

It’s July; there’s a heatwave in England; anyone from the Gulf might consider wrapping up warm because 30°C might feel a bit chilly. By August the weather in Britain had changed a lot, to sun and showers and comparatively swutting freezing.

The Goat had spoken to Mr Richard and organized a week or so on the good ship NB Great Escape. Richard and his family don’t get to use the boat as much as they’d like, and are happy to lend the vessel to competent friends, of whom the Goat is evidently one. Tentative additional crew members ended up having other stuff to do, and thus the Goat and Beloved Wife were the sole crew for most to the week. Initial plans for the Avon Ring were revised. Up Tardebigge flight then down all the locks of the Stratford Canal would seem unreasonable with a crew of only two. Stratford-on-Avon would have to wait.

Droitwich Spa Marina is a new development at the northeastern end of the newly reopened Droitwich Canal. The marina was built in about 2012, and has all mod cons including fuel, water, power hookup, civilized ablutions, and secure parking for both boats and cars. The Goat picked up the keys from Mr Richard (in the rain) and then, inexplicably, headed off to Norf Landun.

The Goat and Beloved Wife
The thing is, at very late notice it had been revealed that by happy coincidence there was an English Civil War re-enactment at Forty Hall in Enfield slated for the very weekend that the Goat and Beloved Wife arrived in Ingerland. The preceding weekend was Eid, during which the Goat collected a minimal amount of his seventeenth-century clothing from the Crumbling Villa to take with him to the muster. Meanwhile, Beloved Wife scanned the interwebs for 1642 costume patterns, and had a local Dubai tailor run up some wimmin’s costume. As Beloved Wife enjoys camping about as much as drinking bleach, she asked the Goat to sort out a hotel. Holtwhite’s Hotel represented the nearest reasonable option at 1.3km from the campsite, so it’d be possible to stagger back on Saturday night when the beer tent finally closed.

As it happened, the rain stayed off all Saturday. The Goat was not equipped to go into battle, and instead stood innocuously beneath a tree out of sight of the crowd, taking pictures with his secret seventeenth-century digital camera.

The Gentlemen of the Pike.
Pikemen in action.
Give fire!

More musketry.

Muskets on stun, lads. We want them alive.
The big guns.
More artillery.

It seems that Mr Lawful Good of Cowplain took one for the team, awaking on Sunday morning with the regimental hangover. He couldn’t face the second day’s battle because he’s a shandy-swilling southerner. Before the rain started, the Goat suggested that Mr LGoC pack up his still-dry tent. Then after an English myocardial infarction breakfast of podium finish, the Goat and Beloved Wife drove to the campsite, picked up their passenger, and headed off to Cowplain in the driving rain.

More driving followed. At last the setting sun broke through the clouds and the rain had stopped when the car finally rolled into Droitwich. Which was shut on Sunday evening. How unreasonable and inconvenient.

The boat’s food supplies were duly raided, and on Monday morning NB Great Escape cast off and set sail for Droitwich. The Droitwich Canal is something of a baptism of fire for novice boaters, with a narrow exit from the marina, some extremely narrow and low bridges, a staircase lock, locks with side pounds, and locked swing bridges to be de-padlocked to allow boat access. It’s got the lock, er, lot.

Beloved Wife had agreed that food supplies should be limited to breakfasts, with lunches and evening meals taken in waterside alehouses. A plan with no drawbacks. Waitrose, conveniently located next to the canal in the middle of Droitwich, was duly raided for haraminal products and breakfast was taken.

Great Escape shared most of the broad locks to the Severn with NB Lilia in order to save both time and water, and clearly with two boats, the manpower working the locks was at least doubled. Lilia went downstream on the Severn; Great Escape turned north and headed upstream until mooring overnight adjacent to The Wharf Inn. Oh, no food on Mondays. No matter; the inn had menus from a couple of local takeaways, and the Goat and Beloved Wife eventually enjoyed the large Chinese meal delivered to the inn and washed down with ‘FUBAR’ Pale Ale.

NB Lilia emerges from a lock and bridge
Circular weir, or "Don't divide by zero!
Lock sharing with Lilia

At last Stourport Basins. Access from the Severn is through two staircase locks that are inexplicably not in line with each other, and thus a long narrowboat may be tricky to align without some gentle percussive manoeuvring. They’re very tricky indeed on the way down with a howling side wind, as the Goat was to discover the following day.

After mooring for water and availing themselves of full-size loos, the Goat and Beloved Wife headed into Stourport for liquid lunch and, in the Goat’s case, a steak and kidney pudding. Stourport appears, incidentally, to have a chip-shop souq. Three of them all in a row, plus various other restaurants and takeaways that doubtless also serve chish and fips.

From the Severn to Stourport
Parked in Stourport Basin

The guidebook says that the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal is extremely pretty, and the section to Kidderminster certainly is. Having spotted The Weavers, a canalside public house that promised inter alia no TV, no music, no SKY sports, no lager (and thus, presumably, no yahoos), Great Escape turned around in a nearby winding hole and moored next to a 24-hour Tesco for replenishment of hop-flavoured supplies and use of los facilidad. The ship’s log suggests that local yobs may be troublesome overnight, but the Goat did not find this to be the case. The Weavers looks like a Victorian alehouse that’s been established since forever, but the elves over at Google Street View show that in 2009 the building was empty and To Let.

So back to the Severn, with the Goat rinsing some towpath dogshit off his hoof rather than inadvertently tracking it all over the boat’s carpets. Another brief pause in Stourport for the loo, and then off down the Severn at a heady five knots according to Clarissa the GPS. The plan for a lunchtime stop was thwarted by a gigantic yellow narrowboat being inconveniently moored all over the pub’s landing stage, and there was nothing for it but to continue downstream, sheltering from the occasional rain showers beneath an umbrella, eat ham sandwiches, and drink bottled ale from a pewter tankard that the Goat had accidentally borrowed from Mr LGoC.

Worcester is very pretty from the river, particularly with interesting clouds. Less picturesque was when the said clouds emptied all over poor Beloved Wife as she worked the unnecessarily heavy Diglis Basin lock gates. The Goat could have done it, but as the boat was inaccessible whilst in the locks this sadly wasn’t possible. Of course, the rain stopped the very moment Great Escape was out of the locks and on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. So up a couple of locks to Worcester Marina for an overnight stop. Formerly Lowesmoor Basin, half of the marina has been filled in and turned into industrial units sometime since the 1980s, and it’s a bit congested. It’s amazing how being watched by amateur and professional narrowboaters concentrates the Goat’s mind and boat-handling as he executes three separate U-turns to reverse Great Escape into its parking spot. There were power hookups but no showers, and the loos are only open during office hours. However, the marina is behind a locked gate and the boats are therefore inaccessible to stone-throwing yoofs.

The river Severn and Worcester Cathedral

In the three days spent in Worcester – where the sauce comes from - the Goat and Beloved Wife were able to sample many pubs, several of which date back to the sixteenth century. Also there was the Commandery (a complex of buildings dating originally from the medieval period and with oodles of history) to visit, a little shopping, and Worcester Cathedral. In the Commandery, visitors are each issued with audio guides. It is recommended that one does not attempt to listen to the commentary for all six of the highlighted time periods in each room. At the cathedral, a very nice guide was happy to tell anyone who’d care to listen that he was a direct descendent of one of King John’s many illegitimate children by one of John’s dozen or more mistresses. That was King John (he of Magna Carta 800 years ago this year) lying just over there right in the middle of the nave. The Goat started to take photos and was instantly descended upon by a Valkyrie from the Women’s Institute who informed him in no uncertain terms that he should go and buy a photography permit first. Genuine honest mistake.

Worcester cathedral and ruins of the Priory.
Window in the cloister.
Cloister and bells.
Nave and choir.

On the last evening, Mr Thrash and Dr England (the well-known superhero) arrived by car, and this party of four then headed into town for beer, cider, pies, beer, and cider. The plan seems obvious: sleepover party, followed by a morning of lock-winding and sedate travel back to Droitwich. And after refuelling the boat, the Goat drove Mr Thrash and Dr England back to Worcester so that they could pick up their car and drive home. Forty minutes from Droitwich to Worcester and back, including becoming confused by Clarissa’s lack of knowledge of Worcester’s new and improved bus lanes.

Tudor building in The Shambles

The deal from Mr Richard is that his boat be left in a state of readiness: clean, full of fuel and water, all used food replenished, and the chemi-khazi empty. The Goat and Beloved Wife set off by car towards Nanny Goat’s, with a detour to Mr Richard’s in order to drop off the keys and to confess to any breakages, of which there were none except for the boathook that was replaced with a new one.

As for the second week’s holiday…? That can wait for a later blog post.


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