This diary was written in November 1996 so some things may well have been left out. However it is supposed to be a collective document to draw on the memories of all concerned who went on the trip, so if you are one of those people and remember anything I've missed then please email me and I will put them in.
Well the day dawned bright and sunny and various people set off via their chosen modes of transport towards Wootton Wawen. Clive and Alec were coming by train and hence really enjoyed the two mile walk to the station carrying their rucksacks. First they travelled up to London and then across the country from Marylebone to Birmingham where they changed onto a miserable little train with route maps for some line near Reading. This was actually heading down the miserable little branch line from Birmingham to Stratford on Avon, calling at Wootton Wawen.
For the final stretch of their journey they had the pleasure of sitting opposite a woman who was quite obviously deranged and kept picking up her greasy little dog and kissing it, so they were quite glad to leave the train and walk down to the canal side, calling at a general store on the way having remembered that they had forgotten their toothpaste. They were presented with a very odd selection kept in the most obvious of places, hidden behind the bread.
On arriving at the canal side they found Ben, Louise and Duncan had already arrived, having been given a lift over by Ben's parents who were going off camping for the week. They had already sorted out the boat, so after a brief run through by the hire base staff and the dumping of all the stuff on the boat we were ready to depart. Alec and Clive were particularly glad to dump their stuff as they had been carrying an infamous "neutron" fruit cake made by their Great Aunt Winifred the entire distance. This had probably been affecting their rate of travel significantly due to the effect of its localised mass on the spin of the earth. Fortunately canal boats only doing about 4mph aren't so badly affected.
On the hire base staff's enquiry about our route they recommended going the other way round the ring, but kindly turned the boat round for us when we declined to go that way! One of their people took it to the aqueduct where they managed to smash into the side quite hard. This eased our fears about scratching the paintwork and then we were on our own.
We had set off at about three o'clock, which meant that time was short in terms of making it to Stratford that evening. But with a bit of slick lockwork, which got slicker when Duncan realised that standing watching the boat move out of a lock meant that he wasn't ready by the next one, we managed to make it down through the double lock onto the Avon just as dusk was falling.
It being quite late on and Stratford being a popular place the moorings were rather full. In fact the only space appeared to be on a bend, almost directly opposite the junction and partly on the bend but there was nothing better so Alec, who was driving at the time, headed straight for it. Unfortunately he had never driven on a river before and had reckoned without the current, so he found himself rapidly heading towards sandwiching the small dinghy behind the last boat on the row between the concrete riverbank and fifteen tons of steel narrowboat; an experience from which the dinghy would probably never have recovered. However with a bit of rapid steering and with the aid of Ben leaping to the shore with a rope the dinghy was missed by a good four feet and the boat was safely moored, although somewhat sticking out at the end!
That evening the party went out to explore the basin, and ended up in a pub by the name of the "Red Lion" which was fairly comfortable and had mild, and more importantly Flower's Original.
Well the day dawned bright and early as indeed most days tend to do, however we weren't up to see it. Alec went off to see the man at the boatyard about a licence for the Avon, where we had been somewhat illegally moored the previous night. Having procured one, on which he was most impressed to see himself described as "Master of the Tewkesbury" he returned and the party set off downstream, through various wide locks and pleasant bits of countryside.
One of the locks was notable when an annoying man came along and decided to tell us all how to go through a lock, which involved stopping the engine and tying up which was rather unnecessary. He had official role, however he most certainly was officious but we soon left him to his self appointed job and carried on west.
Eventually we reached Evesham, and on the approach encountered some small sailing dinghies out on the river. Now power gives way to sail, so we kept well over to the side, and scraped the whole length of the boat down a piece of angle iron; unmarked and unprotected, left there as the end of a fisherman's platform and disguised in the reeds. We were most impressed.
We managed to spot the lock and go that way rather than straight over the weir, despite the awkward turn which Clive had to make, and then maneouvred our way into the lock itself, with its most helpful lock-keeper, who insisted that not only was the engine stopped but also the key was out of the ignition. However he wanted various people to come and stand on the side and hold ropes and wind paddles and generally listen to his orders. Consequently when Clive came to restart the engine he found that Alec had the key and was up on the quayside. The lock keeper was not amused, but we were!
The original plan had been to moor in Evesham but it was still early and it looked busy so we headed on, with Duncan taking his only turn at driving on this wide stretch. We made good time through the open countryside and demolished railway bridges. Hang on, let's clarify that a bit: we cruised past what had once been railway bridges and had subsequently been demolished. We didn't do the demolishing ourselves, contrary to popular opinion this was a civilised cruise! Our proposed mooring site turned out to be fully occupied and not only that, it was also very boring with no pub! We therefore carried on to Fladbury and once again it was getting on a bit by the time we moored.
Ever since the proposed booking of the trip Clive had wanted to try shooting the boat over Fladbury weir at dawn. This was due to an artistic photograph his parents had on a calendar of Fladbury weir with the sun rising through the mist, which he though would be much enhanced with a narrowboat running full speed through it. Consequently in order to preserve the boat as far as possible it was decided to take the boat through the lock that night and moor up on the bank just beyond. This was a difficult mooring as any closer would have infringed the "No Mooring" notices on the lock waiting place, and any further the other way would have been the edge of a farmer's field, luckily we just fitted! After dinner we set off down the narrow, muddy lane towards Fladbury itself.
Although Fladbury has a weir, mill and lock there is no actual crossing of the river and the village is on the non towpath side, so it requires walking a mile or so downstream to cross over, then back up again to reach the pub. This done we went into the ? which was very busy and none too friendly. We decided to move, just down the road to the Chequers inn which proved much more friendly and after a nice pint or two of mild we set off on a rather bendy course back to the boat.
Well whatever anyone else was doing that morning, Alec was certainly up bright and early as he had to go off to Fladbury again in order to buy some bread. Having finally found a shop in the place which was a) open and b) sold bread he then had to wait for the baker to turn up and deliver it. About half an hour later he set off with two loaves and returned to the boat briefly in order to drop them off. As he approached the boat he saw another one coming down through the lock, so in view of the tight nature of our mooring site Clive rapidly got the boat moving while Alec went off again, this time to Cropton which is supposedly famous for its roadside stalls selling fruit.
After a nice invigorating walk up several hills and having failed to find any fruit of any description he returned to the bridge where the boat was waiting, sort of hovering by a mooring site in order to avoid the charge! Clive had tried to moor up on the other side of the bridge by a jetty but the canoeist didn't seem too impressed, so they waited around until Alec showed up, then rapidly set off towards Pershore.
On reaching Pershore lock, the diamond shaped one, we found that there was a problem and divers were down in the lock looking at the sills. By this stage it was raining so we stood around looking damp until after about half an hour or so we were able to go through. It was at about this stage that we first caught sight of another boat, a good half mile ahead of us which was to provide much entertainment a bit later on.
We carried on through the wide open flood plains, and round the meandering bends, through small villages and little marinas, and as we went we were gradually gaining on the boat in front until we were about a quarter of a mile behind it. By this stage they noticed us and opened up to full throttle too, achieving the enormous speed of 5mph, which being the lower river is within the speed limit. The two boats proved to be perfectly matched for speed, so we went down the river together, level pegging. However Clive was driving, and with much care to take the racing line and removal of all obstructions from the roof for maximum streamlining we slowly overhauled them, until eventually we overtook them on a half mile straight outside Tewkesbury. The look they gave us as we passed with a cheery wave was priceless!
We slowed down past all the moored boats in Tewkesbury and went on past the junction to moor at the public (and free!) moorings by the park. Louise, Ben and Duncan went shopping for food and such items while Alec went to Boots to buy a toothbrush, toothpaste not being the only thing he had forgotten! Clive and Alec then went to buy some apples and amazingly everyone managed to meet up and return to the boat, which was much happier for having been moored in its home city.
"Tewkesbury" is quite long, about sixty three feet, so on advancing to the widest point up near the bridge and bringing in the fenders we found that we were still about six inches too long to turn round. At this point a little man popped out from his boat which was moored in the widest point right by the bridgehole and said "You're too long, you'll have to reverse out", then stood watching us. This was the most brilliant comment of the week, both for its sheer obvious nature and also the fact that the only reason we couldn't turn was because of his mooring position. So instead Alec backed the boat against the current and turned into the lock, with some helpful directions from the lock keeper, made even more helpful when he shouted at Duncan to get off the roof so that Alec could even see what he was talking about!
We locked down through the last lock of the Avon, down the short linking stretch past the wharf with a few old oil barges moored to it, and made the wide turn out onto the Severn itself. It was huge, fast and driving upstream killed your arms! We chugged away against the current and eventually made it to Upton for the night.
All the mooring spaces were taken so we had to moor under the bridge itself, slightly jammed across the rocks and rubble and only accessible from the stern. However we managed to make it off the boat and into the pub, the Upton Muggery, where Alec and Clive both had Desperate Dan Cow Pie, which was most excellent. We then moved on to another pub, right by the waterfront with the advantage that when closing time came we could just roll down the steps and onto the boat!
The following morning after a brief shopping trip by Alec and much effort to unground the boat we set off upstream towards Worcester. This stretch was wide and bendy with a fast flowing current. The countryside was boring due to the deep cliffs which the river runs between in its gorge. Alec drove most of this stretch, "assisted" by Clive, who found that if you hook a piece of string round the tiller and pull against it then Alec doesn't notice and can't work out why the steering has suddenly got even more difficult! Clive also had much fun with the game "will Alec notice that his coffee mug is gradually vibrating its way over the side of the boat?" The answer, unfortunately as far as Clive was concerned, was yes, but only just!
We made our way up to the large Severn lock at Worcester, which was fortunately set with us. The lock is so large we could probably have driven the boat around in it quite happily! We then turned off across the current and into Diglis bottom lock without even scraping the boat down the side, and up through the pair of wide locks into Diglis basin. Here we disposed of the rubbish and then went on up into Worcester.
There is a very good mooring in Worcester, just past the Sidbury lock and by the old barracks which have been restored and are now open as a museum but with public moorings by the canal side. Clive and Alec had been there before, so they went off shopping with Ben and Louise to the big Sainsbury's in the city centre leaving Duncan to mop down the outside of the boat which was getting a bit dirty.
Sainsbury's was located without too much difficulty, up the hill past the cathedral and into the main shopping precinct. Those who had been shopping soon returned with full bags to the boat where they were able to view Duncan's handiwork. The tops of Anglo-Welsh boats are painted in sand textured paint to improve grip. Thus scrubbing them with a mop is not a very effective way to clean them. It is however a very effective way to disintegrate the mop head. When you then go on to mop the sides of the boat all the little stringy bits fall out and get caught round the windows. Duncan had indeed proved himself to be a master of the art of mop wrecking.
We carried on up through the flight to the outskirts of Worcester and then out into open countryside. Part way up the flight Louise decided to relieve us of one of our windlasses when it got stuck on a paddle spindle. By letting go she found that the windlass went merrily sailing off into the lock chamber. This stretch was pretty with open countryside and we soon passed Hanbury Wharf where the Droitwich canal joins from the left, currently still derelict. We were aiming for Stoke Wharf where the next pub lay, but it got rather too late for us to carry on so we gave up and moored for the night just to the south of Stoke Works, on what for once was a good, deep mooring.
We walked up to Stoke Wharf for the evening at the "Navigation Inn" which was excellent. At about closing time the bar staff wandered round and asked what drinks we wanted to buy for the next two hours! However we had to get on the following morning and so walked back down the cut through the nice industrial site with its lurid lighting and strange smells to get an early night, ready to face the infamous Tardebigge flight in the morning.
The day dawned grey and grim. We hadn't made it to Stoke Wharf the previous evening so we needed to set off early, and headed off through the five locks of Stoke flight, then a short stretch and on to Tardebigge flight itself. It had been spitting as we got moving and by the time we reached Tardebigge bottom lock it was raining with a vengeance. Clive drove while Ben, Alec and Duncan worked the locks. Louise had a cold so she stayed inside and cooked breakfast. We met another boat coming down at the bottom lock, but from then on we were on our own in the cold, driving rain as we slowly climbed the hill with most of the locks against us, past the reservoir on the right and round the sharp bend. It was on this flight that Clive perfected the art of driving from lock to lock and what's more he didn't even scrape the sides, this was optimised lock driving!
We all got steadily wetter and colder until finally after thirty locks and two and a half hours we reached the fourteen foot top lock and were clear of the flight. We pulled alongside on the left for some water using a very interesting manouevre which at one stage had the boat jammed across the cut, and Clive finally gave up driving. His german army parka was by this stage so wet that you could wring it out, and it took two days in the airing cupboard to dry. Alec stayed outside to deal with the water while everyone else went inside to dry off and prepare lunch.
After lunch we set off again with Ben and Alec driving by turns. The first bit of fun was the Shortwood tunnel immediately at the top of the flight. It was at this point that we discovered our headlight was broken so we made do with a bike light.We decided that tunnels are good things, as it doesn't rain on you in them, except when you pass under the ventilation shafts that is!
We then came to a rather windy stretch, on embankments and in cuttings by turns. It was here that Ben decided that due to the foul nature of the weather he would save time by driving the racing line, as Clive had done on the Avon. There is however one subtle difference between the two, which is the number of trees obscuring the corners and although the weather was foul we weren't the only idiots out in it. Hence round one particularly blind bend we found a boat heading rapidly straight for us. On calling out Alec who surfaced rapidly from the cabin we managed to avoid said boat with nothing more than rather hard stares!
Finally we reached one of the best parts of the trip. Tunnels are great. There are two approaches to driving through them. The first is to drive through at tickover with all the windows open and the stereo on full blast so the sound bounces off the tunnel walls giving an excellent noise. The other is to run the engine faster and drive through at normal speed which is particularly fun in narrow tunnels where you have to be very careful to avoid the walls. Once you get in close it is very tricky to get out again since the boat pivots about the centre. Wast hill tunnel is 2726 yards long and gives plenty of opportunity for both. We drove through most of the way in the former style and then noticed that another boat had entered the tunnel behind us. It was time to speed up a little and we ran through the last quarter flat out.
Once outside again it was still raining and Ben drove the last section up to King's Norton. We moored up early but the weather was so foul that we couldn't be bothered to go any further and tied up opposite the junction. That evening Louise still felt ill so we didn't go to the pub and drank wine on board instead.
As we set off it was still raining a bit, but much less. We headed off north for a brief detour up the Worcester and Birmingham into the centre of the city via a detour to the Cadbury's Chocolate factory at Bournville and Cadbury World. This was great fun, lots of exhibitions and production lines and of course many samples! We stayed for a couple of hours and enjoyed the smell!
On returning to the boat we carried on up towards Birmingham, past the university and through the Edgbaston tunnel. It was on this stretch that Clive and Alec co-wrote the epic folk song "The Crop", about life in a cherry orchard. When we reached the centre we filled up with water just before the right angled bend, by a couple of lovely old ex-working boats with many cats on. We negotiated the turn and went through the Worcester Bar at Gas Street Basin, then moored up just opposite the Conference Centre. There was much building work going on here but it looked promising, with a great deal of interest in the canals and deliberate echoeing of the theme in the architecture.
We walked down the Farmer's Bridge flight to the science museum which was greatly enhanced due to the fact that there were very few school children there, it being a school day, so we got to play on all the toys! This is an excellent museum. Smaller than London but full of exhibits, many of which are interactive or working, and even a canal exhibit about water pumping. It also happens to be free which suited everyone present, all being poor students!
The one problem with the museum is that there is so much to see that we ended up staying far longer than we should have done, and on leaving we rushed back to the boat, via an interesting route through the centre of Birmingham due to Louise's desire to find a post box. Alec navigated it and managed not to get lost, despite having only ever been there once before, and he managed to get back to Gas Street Basin, a place which both he and Clive know well and love dearly.
We set off back down the Worcester and Birmingham, having turned round at the roundabout which Alec managed to drive right round, only touching the side once. It was late afternoon by the time we reached King's Norton Junction, but we needed to make up some time so we drove down to the tunnel
On leaving the tunnel we found that the area looked rather grim, and more importantly there were no pubs, so we carried on; still making good time. They knew there was an aqueduct somewhere along the route and decided to moor by it but when they reached it there was still some light left so Alec decided to carry on as it made the walk to the pub shorter. A few hundred yards further on he saw that the pub was in fact right by a lift bridge, so we decided to stop there for the night. Just as we finished mooring up Louise had dinner ready so we sat down and ate, then straight into the pub!
The pub was "The Navigation Inn" which was rather dodgy. Alright if you sat in the corner and the beer was good but it was the only pub I've ever been in which had people thrown out for fighting in the bar on a Thursday evening. However we had a nice quiet drink and then back to the boat.
After Alec had walked down to Hockley Heath to buy some more bread we set off again, firstly through the swing bridge, just at the end of rush hour. Having caught about thirty cars who were very unimpressed we carried on down the North Stratford towards Lapworth. We reached the flight at around lunchtime after a rather tedious stretch with lots of boats moored along it and a couple of very tight turns. There was also another lift bridge just before the flight but this one was very boring as we didn't catch any people at all!
The locks on the Lapworth flight are closely spaced and require lock wheeling to save water. They are also the first place you encounter the traditional barrel roofed cottages and split bridges of the Stratford. We made good progress down the flight, which was necessary as some of the locks were shutting at four due to water shortages. We made it through however and headed on south through pleasant wooded countryside with the occasional lock.
It was at one of these locks that Ben decided that we still had too many windlasses and so threw another one in. This proved impossible to fish out despite many efforts with a boat hook. We were debating throwing the final one in for good measure, but decided to leave it until we had cleared the final lock. We were also wondering whether we were going to have another short day, as we had made good time and were clear of the bottom lock with its subsequent bridge very soon afterwards.
We did try mooring but there wasn't enough depth, so we carried on, trying the edge every now and again. We did find a spot where we could get the back of the boat in, on the off towpath side just beyond a bridge. Alec thought it was a perfectly reasonable mooring site, Clive however disagreed and a battle of wills ensued. Alec lost and we carried on.
We eventually found somewhere which was deep enough to take the boat. About a hundred yards from the Anglo-Welsh base at Wooton Wawen! This had just been freshly piled and dredged and we got in easily. Fortunately the pub sold Flowers so a final pleasant evening was spent in the pub, followed by an interesting route back to the boat which proved that it was indeed not possible to cross the canal at the bridge by the boat unless you wanted to cross several barbed wire fences to get to it. We gave up and went back the way we had come.
We had debated the idea of opening the weed hatch and running full speed towards the base simply to see the look on the faces of the staff as their boat sunk before their very eyes. However we decided that all our things would get wet if we did so instead we took it gently back, inscribing a neat circle as we turned in the absolute minimum of space to back the boat gently into its mooring. The hire base staff weren't too worried about the missing windlasses or the scratch on the side, or the shredded mop! In fact they were quite happy to have their boat back, seeing as everyone who had followed their advice and gone round the ring the other way had got stuck due to fresh water in the Severn and Avon, and had been brought back by taxi! We were quite pleased with our choice of route at this point! We unloaded the boat and packed up the luggage, Ben's parents having come back from their camping trip to pick Ben, Louise and Duncan up. Goodbyes were said and everyone set off for home after a most excellent and enjoyable week. Indeed the bug was caught and this is where the seed was sown for the Easter 96 trip.