I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Riverside - Stratford-upon-Avon (River Avon) - Friday 30th July

A really wet and yukky day.  We were so lucky that there was no mooring at Luddington yesterday as we would have got soaked if we had done the trip today.

The river was a sad place today.  No boats, no people, but there were soggy swans, grizzly geese and drowned ducks who weren’t happy as there was no-one around to feed them.  

It rained almost all of the day though it cleared up early evening which was lucky as we were going out for dinner.  I had booked us into The Bear at the Swans Nest.  The food was good though not very inspiring, but the service was good.  Muffin liked it as he got a biscuit!

We saw this vehicle outside The Bear.

I have been talking about the locks on the Upper Avon as having two names.  Here is some information for you. 

Stratford Trinity Lock (Colin P. Witter) – this was the most difficult to build because of its unusual depth and the unstable nature of the ground (silt pit), which accounts for the unusual girders used to stabilise the structure.  The work was done by men from Gloucester Jail and other volunteers.  Apparently, it was once famously described by a lady councillor as "Mr Hutchings' monstrous erection in the park."

Weir Brake Lock (Gordon Gray) – is the biggest, best and last of the new locks and was built in 38 days by boys from Hewell Grange Borstal and other volunteers.

Luddington (Stan Clover) – was built by men from Gloucester Jail. 7-ton piling hammers were needed to break through layers of stone.

Welford (W A Cadbury) – was paid for by the Cadbury family.

Bidford Grange (Pilgrim) – the money for this lock was donated by the Pilgrim family and was hand built with thousands of steel-reinforced concrete blocks by men from Gloucester Jail.

Barton (Elsie& Hiram Billington) – Elsie and Hiram Billington were the parents of George Billington (Offenham Lock) and was built in 6 weeks by boys for Hewell Grange Borstal.

Marlcliff (IWA) – the subsoil, marl, resembles diamond-hard rubber which shrugs off huge machines and heavy explosive charges.  Royal Engineers from Belfast eventually blasted and gouged out the lock chamber.

Harvington (Robert Aickman) – is a national memorial to Robert Aickman who was one of the modern canal pioneers - fighting to keep our canal system open back in the 1940s and 50s alongside Tom Rolt.  This lock was built later than the other new locks during the restoration. The original attempt was on the site of the old 17th century lock, but the foundations were impenetrable, and it was not successful.

Offenham (George Billington) – George, knowing he didn’t have long to live, donated the money to build Offenham Lock.  Again, volunteers from Gloucester Jail along with the Waterways Recovery Group set to work and within 6 weeks the lock was completed.  George sadly died a week later.

As today hasn’t really been a photographing day here are a few from our trip so far which haven’t made it to the blog yet.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Riverside - Stratford-upon-Avon (River Avon) - Thursday 29th July

A bright sunny day but windy. 

Our goal today was Luddington Lock which meant 4 locks.  In the first lock, Barton, there was a small sailing boat without a mast, but there were already on their way up, so we were just too late.  At the second lock, Bidford Grange, there were just leaving the lock and said that they had waited for us and thought we must have stopped, however they helped us through the lock.  At the third lock it was all set, and they were in and waiting for us.  Luddington Lock wasn’t the best experience.  There was quite a fast stream flowing from the weir which made it difficult for Richard to get into the lock and he certainly couldn’t get alongside the lock landing to get off.  He climbed up the steps of the lock, which I will not do, and went to the bow to get the line to tie up.  Meanwhile the stern drifted into the middle, and I was so conscious of the fact that the plastic sailing boat might get thumped by 60 feet of steel!  It’s quite a vicious lock and the whole thing wasn’t nice   What made it even worse was that there was no room on the moorings.

As we couldn’t moor at Luddington we continued up to Stratford.  Our lock buddies had turned round so we were on our own.  Weir Brake was set for us, but Trinity Lock had a boat going up and one waiting to come down.  I saw a rather last log floating just before the lock which I was very mindful of as the last thing I wanted to do was get it stuck on the prop as once happened on the Basingstoke Canal 7 years ago.  One Log Ness Monster is enough! 

The log that was stuck on our prop in 2014

We moored up in the same place as last time.  The park was much busier than it was before but then it is the school holidays and people are having their staycations.

The starboard side of the boat was really filthy and as it was the side looking onto the park Richard decided to wash it.  He felt that he might leave the other side as his walking on water needs more practice!

When we were here last the chain ferry wasn’t operating as it was before the July 19th Covid restrictions were dropped, but it is up and running again now.  Alderman Smallwood had left £1,000 in his will, to help fund a footbridge across the river, but it wasn’t a popular idea.  After seeing a similar chain ferry in Cambridge, it was decided to have a chain ferry to cross the river instead — a bridge was more expensive and would not be ready in time for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.  The ferry was built by Collins Boatbuilders, with the late George Onions in charge. On 10th May 1937, two days before the Coronation, Stratford’s Mayor, Cllr Ernest Ray piloted the chain ferry across the river on its maiden voyage, from the Recreation Ground to Waterside.  It was the last of its kind to be built in Britain. By 2006, the ferry was carrying 100,000 people a year, and it was proposed that it be moved to make way for a new bridge. However, in 2010, the ferry vessel resumed service at its original location after an overhaul and restoration work, undertaken by the local boating firm, Avon Boating Ltd.

9.71 miles
6 locks

Friday, 30 July 2021

Bidford (River Avon) – Wednesday 28th July

I mentioned on Sunday about Cleeve Lock and said that there wasn’t and hadn’t been one, but I may have been wrong.  As we were coming up the river, I was checking our location on Waterway Routes, and saw that there had once been a lock which was next to a Cleeve House.  I mentioned it to Richard, and he said that there was an old brick wall coming up, and lo and behold there was – so was that some of the foundations of the old Cleeve Lock? 

I reckon Marlcliff lock is probably the deepest lock on the river.  I can’t find any information on lock depths but, as Richard said, it depends on the height of the river! 

It wasn’t far to Bidford and there was just one space left, though our bow was held by a pin.  It was a fairly wet afternoon with one thunderstorm.  We didn’t see any lightening and the thunder wasn’t that close, but Muffin was still petrified.  He hates bangs of any sort and thunder is his nemesis.  He normally hides under the table if he hears a bird scarer but as this went on and on Richard kept him on his knee, but Muffin was seriously shaking.  I have heard about thunder shirts for dogs which apparently applies constant pressure to calm all types of anxiety, fear, and over-excitement issues.  We don’t have one, but we wrapped him up in a towel and Richard reckoned it was better than without it.  Maybe I will get Muffin one.

The moorings at Bidford are on the edge of a large park.  Not only is there a large open space but there are playing fields, some outdoor gym equipment and plenty of tables with a large piece of metal on them for disposable barbecues – what a good idea.  After the rain had moved away for a bit, we took Muffin round the field and played ball.  Muffin will be 9 in October and is certainly slowing down.  He can’t chase the ball for nearly as long as he used to.

My cousin, Simon, lives in Bidford but he had been at his mother’s and his wife Deb had been to London – bad timing on our part, however Simon and Marley (Schnauzer) came to the park, and we walked the dogs.

Yesterday we were at Harvington Lock or Robert Aickman Lock.  I got so excited about the Battle of Evesham that I didn’t get round to giving you some of the history of the lock, which in my mind, is probably the most interesting lock on the river (but then I am biased!).

The original stone lock was circular so that the walls resisted ground pressure and was built on the site of where the dry dock is today.  In 1963 the lock was rebuilt on this site, but the site suffered badly from silting was abandoned in 1981.  It was rebuilt on a different alignment.  In 1982 the Robert Aickman Lock (Harvington Lock) was opened.  The 'bridge' over the chamber is to prop the walls.  There were ladders to the bridge but were pretty non-compliant so removed.

The lock was named after Robert Aickman who led the battle for many years to save the inland waterways from public indifference and hostile official attitudes. Robert Aickman was an author and literary agent and was also a Chairman of UANT (Upper Avon Navigation Trust) and joint founder (with Tom Rolt) of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA).  A plaque to Robert can be seen next to the lock.

When the South Stratford Canal was re-opened on the July 11th 1964 in the presence of the Queen Mother. It was, he said, “a pivotal moment – conclusively demonstrating that volunteer-led restoration was a viable model for the recovery of the waterways.”  At that 1964 event Aickman told the Queen Mother that he now intended to start working on the restoration of the Upper Avon Navigation, which was still in a state of dereliction. The Queen Mother vowed that, if he did, she would be pleased to formally reopen it. Ten years later, on 1st June 1974, she met her promise, and the reopening ceremony was held at the Upper Avon’s new top lock.  Here is a video of Queen Mother on the occasion. 

3.78 miles
1 lock

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Harvington Lock (River Avon) – Tuesday 27th July

A hot and humid day – not nice.

We walked up into town to collect the Amazon package that I couldn’t collect the other day as the shop was shut.  We also went to Waitrose to fill up the cupboards again.

We walked into the Market Place and decided to have a coffee.  We sat down and ordered our coffee and it started to rain, only spots but it was rain   We stayed outside as we had the dog but it didn’t come to much.  In the Market Place is this wonderful 15th Century Grade I listed building.  It is called the Round House now, but it used to be called Booth Hall.  Despite its names, it is not round and was probably not a booth or a hall, but may have been built as an inn. It was restored in 1964-5 and now houses a NatWest bank branch.

We also saw this vehicle and wondered why Fletcher Access needs such a posh truck but looking at their website they have lots of intriguing vehicles for accessing very tall buildings.

Back at the boat we got under way and headed up to Evesham Lock and then on to Offenham Lock.  You may remember last week we had got told off for sitting on private property at Offenham Lock.  I emailed the Avon Navigation Trust and got a reply this morning which told me the parts of the lock ANT own.  We were most definitely not sitting on private property.  However, the email did say that since lockdown and especially in the hot weather people have been picnicking and partying on the lock side.  I do feel that signs should be put up though.

Our favourite mooring spot at Harvington Lock was free again so we moored up just before it started to rain.

While we were in Evesham this morning, we saw advertisements for the Battle of Evesham (1265) which is held over the first weekend in August.  This year it is the 7th and 8th of August.  I have learnt a lot about the Battle of Evesham and Simon de Montford, but I’m now in a bit of a dilemma as I can’t decide whether Simon was a goodie or a baddie!

Now for an interesting history lesson!  This is taken from the Battle of Evesham’s website.

The battle of 1265 was about the power of the king and the way he exercised it. This issue had troubled England throughout the 13th century. It had been taken for granted that government was the business of the king, helped by various officials. It was also accepted that he should rule justly and with the support of his barons. However, there was no clear idea what should be done if he mis-used his authority.

One solution had been tried in 1215. The barons rebelled against King John and forced him to accept the Magna Carta. This “Great Charter” was a long list of things King John promised not to do in the future. The charter did not work. Both John and his son, Henry III, broke their promises whenever they could. Complaining groups had to work out a better way to make the king keep his word.

The opportunity arose in 1258. Henry called a parliament, which criticised his policies and drew up new rules for the king to follow. They were known as the Provisions of Oxford (where the parliament met). A permanent council was set up to supervise the appointment and actions of the royal officers. Simon de Montfort was a leading member of the group.

During the next five years, amid shifting political alliances, two things remained constant: de Montfort always wanted to restrict the king’s freedom to govern as he wished, and Henry sought to evade such control. In 1264, the two sides were evenly matched, and quarrels flared into civil war. Henry’s army was soundly beaten at the Battle of Lewes. The king himself was captured and Prince Edward also became a hostage. 

Simon de Montford’s Coat of Arms

De Montfort and his allies now ruled England in the name of the captive king. They tried hard to arrive at a lasting settlement and called parliaments in June 1264 and January 1265, but both failed. The parliament of 1265 included a new element: representatives of several towns were summoned to attend along with lords, bishops, abbots and knights of the shires.

At this point de Montfort's support began to crumble.

On 28th May 1265, Edward escaped from his guards to join with Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and the Earl of Gloucester. The civil war resumed.

During the Battle of Evesham Simon was surrounded and unhorsed yet continued to fight bravely on foot. Swords clashed as a storm brewed overhead. As thunder roared, de Montfort was encircled. Several beat him to the ground and struck with their steel. Finally, Roger de Mortimer swung the final and fatal blow. His body was cruelly dismembered.

De Montfort's remains, and the bodies of his son Henry and that of Hugh le Despenser, were carried away by the monks and buried near the High Altar of the Abbey.

The Battle was one of the bloodiest battles ever to be fought in England,

I have really enjoyed researching this as I have discovered so much about a man who I had heard of but knew nothing about.  The festival sounds fascinating, and I am sad that we won’t still be in the area to attend.

4.33 miles
3 locks

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Evesham (River Avon) – Monday 26th July

It was a lovely morning, but we were in no hurry to leave as we were only going to Evesham.

I was minding my own business when I heard children laughing and having fun.  I looked out of the side hatch and there were three “dragon boats” (but without the drums) coming up the river.  One of them was investigating the bushes on the bank, but they finally got going again.

Chadbury Lock is a very special lock for me.  I mentioned yesterday about our friend, Mike Rayne and his partner Jenny.  Well, all the locks on the Avon have a nominated Trust member to look after them.  Mike and Jenny’s lock was Chadbury.  Mike and Jenny put plants on a lock beam that had been placed on the lock side along with a watering can and a sign asking people to water them if they looked thirsty.  The new lock carer has obviously carried on the tradition.  I checked on them today and they were well watered, but I noticed that the watering can has now gone and there is a large water bottle there which was empty, so the least I could do was fill it up.  

We moored up in Evesham once again.  Richard took Muffin for a walk while I planned how many days we have left on the boat, how many meals there are in the freezer, how many guests we are expecting and how much shopping I needed.  I do like to be organised 😊 

Evesham Abbey was founded by Saint Egwin between 700 and 710 AD following an alleged vision of the Virgin Mary by a swineherd by the name of Eof.  According to the monastic history, Evesham came through the Norman Conquest unusually well, because of a quick approach by Abbot Γ†thelwig to William the Conqueror. Only one section of walling survives from the actual abbey, although fragments of the chapter house, the bell tower and the gateway remain, which were added later: the chapter house in the 13th century and the bell tower in the 16th century. Simon de Montfort (1208–1265) is buried near the high altar of the ruined abbey, the spot marked by an altar-like memorial monument dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1965. The abbey is of Benedictine origin, and became in its heyday one of the wealthiest in the country. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey was demolished leaving only the bell tower surviving into the 21st century.

In the Abbey grounds are All Saints Church and its neighbour St Lawrence's Church which were built by the Benedictine monks of Evesham Abbey in the 12th century to serve the people of Evesham. All Saints is now the town's parish church, as St Lawrence's was declared redundant in the 1970s. 

All Saints Church

St. Lawrence Church

In the Bell Tower there is a carillon which plays on the hour between 9am and 9pm.  Check the website for more information – it’s very interesting. 

The Bell Tower

There are some pretty lights along the riverbank.  When I Googled them it appears that they were switched on in 2002.  I remember seeing them last time we were here but not before.  Originally there were blue, green and purple lights, but there only appears to be blue and green.

4.32 miles
1 lock

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Craycombe Turn (River Avon) – Sunday 25th July

Another dry day when we thought it was going to rain. 

We left just after 10am and went up to Wyre Lock.  As we were setting it a hire boat came up.  They were dubious about both boats getting into the diamond shaped lock, but we assured them that they could do it.  It was at this stage that they told us that it was their first lock!  It was totally uneventful until they went to leave.  For some reason one of the crew didn’t get on in the lock and the skipper found it very difficult to pull along side the lock waiting to pick her up.  After investigating the bushes on the bank a few times they went on their way!

There are some amazing houses on the left bank after the lock.  Most are modern but this one looks old, but I bet it is modern too. 

We met up again with Transcendence in Fladbury Lock.  They are 69 feet, and it was an interference fit to get them in. 

Cropthorne Mill

I have made a startling discovery today.  Fladbury Mill isn’t the one by the lock, that is Cropthorne Mill.  Fladbury Mill is across the weir pool.  I might be mistaken but I am pretty sure I am correct.  I guess everyone assumes that the building next to Fladbury Lock would be Fladbury Mill – wrong  

Fladbury Mill

Fladbury Mill was first mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1086 the Bishop of Worcester held the mill.  It was worth 10S a year and the yearly rent was 20 sticks of eels.  Eels were usually counted in units called sticks 25 eels – this is likely from the number of eels you could smoke on a stick at one time. 10 sticks of eels were called a bind.  Don’t tell me that I don’t tell you anything!!!

After Fladbury Lock they are doing some work on the railway bridge.  There are two Trust boats at either end of the works directing traffic.  At the upriver end the Trust boat was called Mike Rayne.  We knew Mike Rayne.  His wife, Jenny, was a friend of mine and Richard and I had stayed with them in Evesham as well as visited them on our cruises through Evesham.  Sadly, Mike died in 2013 leaving Jenny very unwell with cancer.  She passed away not long after Mike.  Mike was a volunteer with the Trust and was well known and liked by so many people. I had been told that the Trust had named one of their launches after Mike, but it was the first time I had seen it.  I ran Mike’s name through Google and discovered that Mike had been awarded a Royal Humane Society testimonial on parchment in 2008 for saving the life of the suicidal woman who jumped off Workman’s Bridge in Evesham – he kept that one quiet 😊 

We hoped that there would be room for us to moor at Craycombe Turn.  We have only been lucky once but today the whole mooring was empty. 

I bought some nice steak from the butchers in Pershore, so Richard barbecued it.  It was excellent, but not quite as good as the steak we had the other night.

6.37 miles
2 locks

Monday, 26 July 2021

Pershore (River Avon) – Saturday 24th July

The weather forecast for today was for heavy rain and thunderstorms, so we decided to stay put for the day.  

I had had another bad night’s sleep as there was loud music playing and then a motorbike driving round the park.  It stopped quite close to us which made me lie there waiting for someone to climb on the boat to nick something off the roof.  It was 3am when I finally got to sleep.  As we weren’t going anywhere, I went back to sleep for an hour after breakfast.

After lunch we walked into Pershore as we both wanted to go to the hardware shop and then into Asda to buy a large box of Diet Coke.  I found these two guarding a toy shop.

As you may recall we have had all sorts of problems with TV aerials.  Our new aerial should work on a short pole as most people have then either on low poles or mounted on the roof, but we just don’t seem to be having much luck unless it is on along pole.  We couldn’t get any TV channels on the telly in the saloon.  Almost son-in-law, James, came to our rescue on Facetime and showed Richard where he was going wrong, rather a rookie mistake actually but I won’t go into it!!  I downloaded some films onto my iPhone so that we could play them when we no internet or TV reception.  As I had left my adaptor to connect the phone to the TV at home, I had bought a new, non-Apple one from Amazon.  It didn’t work.  My fault entirely and I am really cross with myself.  The first time I bought a cheap adaptor it didn’t work and had to go back.  I really should have known better, but the difference in price of £27 was too tempting  

Yesterday, in the blurb about the locks I noticed that a Cleeve Lock was mentioned.  I was fascinated and did some research.  There had, in fact, never been a Cleeve Lock, but there had been a Cleeve Weir with a mill.  The history of the mill goes back to AD 872 when The Manor of Cleeve was given by Ethelred to the Prior of Worcester. The first written record of a settlement at Cleeve Prior comes in the Domesday Book of 1086 which records a priest, a mill and around 108 persons farming some 120 acres of surrounding land, indicating an established settlement by this early date. It was likely established as a farming community by the Prior of Worcester and worked by peasant tenantry of the monastic estate to contribute to support of the monastery at Worcester. 

There was a rather gruesome 'find' in 1824 when numerous skeletons were unearthed - probably Simon De Montfort's soldiers fleeing from Evesham and drowned crossing the river.  They were re-buried under the Pilgrim's Praying Cross base, above the Nature Reserve Notice.

During the early part of WW2, the Royal Army Service Corps were stationed at the mill.  They were reputedly there to practice bridge building.  However, the Army occupation was short lived and the abandoned the mill in 1940.  They didn’t leave it in a particularly good condition.  With the mill becoming unsafe the owner of the Manor had it demolished.

Cleeve weir was substituted by a weir at Marlcliff in July 1970.  Cleeve Weir had, until it failed, controlled the water level up to Bidford on Avon. The remains of Cleeve weir were removed in January 1970, and the river dredged up to Marlcliff in early 1970.

If you want to know more, have a look here.  The two black and white photos are taken from the Birmingham Anglers Association.

So, after all that, I guess Marlcliff Lock must be the Cleeve Lock that was mentioned!