A Travellerspoint blog

A Stratford soliloquy

The River Avon is only navigable for about a mile beyond Stratford on Avon so the options are to either turn round and return to Tewkesbury or head north onto the Stratford Canal which heads uphill to Birmingham. Wren last took this route up the Avon and onto the canal about five years ago so certain places and landmarks on the river have been familiar. It really is very pleasant.
The journey from Bidford was punctuated by a few very sharp showers which seemed to coincide with arriving at a lock so avoiding the rain was not an option. Apart from that the sun shone and the southerly gusts counteracted the strengthening currents of the river into Stratford. The only drama of the morning was sharing a lock not only with another boat but also with two large swans - we all survived the experience.
Once through the final lock the river immediately became much busier with professionally driven trip boats, an occasional wandering rowing boat and an awful lot more swans. The entry to the centre of town is dominated by the imposing theatre to the north and the large open space of the town park to the south where there is a continual flow of dog walkers and tourists and where the public mooring spaces are situated so that is where Wren found her berth for the night. It's a lovely spot, there's always something or someone to watch.
We hoped to be able to pick up some tickets for either Midsummer Night's Dream or Dr Faustus but alas and alack, as the Bard once said, it was not to be! However, while sitting waiting (in vain), we were somewhat surprised to see two familiar faces from the Llanymynech Amateur Dramatic Group, Pam and Marg. What a coincidence.
As it was a warm and sunny evening we decided to take a stroll around town - it's nearly all restaurants and hotels interspersed with a few posh shops. Eventually the walk took us into the Windmill pub where it just happened to be quiz night so Wren's Crew took on the challenge. It was quite a jolly affair and we didn't embarrass ourselves too much - no wooden spoon thank heavens.
This morning the ship's engineer is doing a bit of investigating - there's been a bit of a water leak in the cooling system for a few days so while he's doing that the ship's cook will go and find a suitable coffee shop so this installment can be uploaded.

Posted by peterandclaire 02:02 Comments (0)

An Avon haven

As Wren approached a park side mooring at Bidford on Avon on Sunday evening Andy Murray hit the winning shot in the Wimbledon final - it was a bit distracting as the available space was very tight and the breeze was pretty fresh! However, now we're safely moored, freshly showered and Peter is playing Smooth Operator on his ukelele.
It's been three days since the last episode of the Voyages of Wren so here's the latest news; we left Gloucester Dock with its noisy seagulls and peaceful pirates at 10.45am on Friday and rejoined The Severn as far as Tewkesbury to meet the River Avon (fifth river and second Avon of the trip). Once there Wren was moored up and Peter and I jumped on our bikes to ride to the railway station to catch a train to Worcester where we would meet son Sam to enjoy the Worcestershire v Lancashire T20 blast - there were an awful lot of fours and sixes and Lancashire won. After that it was back to Wren by train and bike.
Saturday morning was spent exploring Tewkesbury - it was the annual Medieval Fair with banner lined streets and a fair amount of dressing up. There was an excellent farmer's market where some tasty local produce was purchased. This was situated next door to the Abbey which was absolutely stunning.
After a couple of hours it was time to cast off once again and pay the dues for entering the Avon Navigation - it's run by a voluntary organisation so a separate license is required to travel along the waterway. For much of the first 15 miles the river winds around Bredon Hill - you seem to see it from various directions. The surrounding countryside is very pretty and preferable to the Severn where the high banks prevent you from appreciating the views. Pershore was the destination for Saturday night where the excellent Brandy Cask public house was awaiting our visit (recommended by some well known Ellesmere boaters). Again the town is very pleasant and the pub is a little gem.
Sunday morning saw Wren continuing along the lovely Avon, still with views of Bredon Hill via a number of locks, one of which is diamond shaped and a little disconcerting particularly when there are two boats sharing. Approaching Evesham all boats are requested to sound their horns loudly three times to alert the ferry which runs on cables across the river and after passing through the town Peter decided it was time to don his wetsuit and try out the waters while Wren acted as a swimming platform and rescue boat (luckily not needed).
Now it's time to explore Bidford with friends Craig and Helen who've just arrived from nearby Kineton.

Posted by peterandclaire 10:54 Comments (0)

Safe passage to Gloucester

After the somewhat turbulent trip down to Portishead it was with a little trepidation that at least one of the crew on the good ship Wren awaited the opening of the lock gates onto the Severn at 6am on Wednesday morning. But as they slowly opened the water of the estuary gleamed like a smooth sheet of glass and a light breeze blew very gently - a lovely clear morning with the rising sun shining on the water and the distant Welsh hills. It was a big relief!
Tim, the pilot, came aboard to guide skipper Peter through the channels and currents up to Sharpness where all boats have to leave the narrowing and increasingly winding river to travel up the straight and wide Gloucester and Sharpness Canal to the junction with a more sedate River Severn. Wren reached the entry to the canal at 9am - just 3 hours and 3 cups of tea after leaving Portishead. The pilot then left to guide another narrow boat back down the estuary on the ebbing tide and the crew relaxed for an hour - Peter even had time for a shower while Wren was moored in the lock!
At 10am the lock was opened and Wren progressed northwards passing through a series of swing bridges; some electric, some manual and all operated with traffic lights by Canal and River Trust employees. The canal and the river run parallel for much of the way and sandwiched between them at one point is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge where the skipper, first mate and cabin girl took a break to go and do a bit of twitching (birdwatching) for a few hours. It was a beautifully warm afternoon for wandering around looking at swans, geese, ducks, flamingoes and even some otters. It was also a lovely afternoon to have a little rest (for Peter) after the early start and excitement of the morning.
Returning to the waiting Wren the next priority was finding a mooring for the night and this was found near Frampton on Severn, a pretty village with, reputably, the largest village green in England. From the canal it was just a short stroll to the north end of the green where The Bell public house was situated and where a hearty meal was enjoyed followed by about an hour of the Wales v Portugal Euro 2016 match. After the second goal was conceded the crew decided to call it a day and returned to the mooring which, perhaps unwisely, was right opposite a large illuminated corn mill that seemed to operate day and night. However, neither the humming sound of extraction fans or the security lights seemed to prevent anyone from getting a good night's sleep.
On Thursday morning it was a peaceful 2 hour cruise through a few more swing bridges and up the canal to Gloucester Docks where Alex packed up his small amount of luggage and unpacked his Brompton folding bike to make his way back to Ellesmere by train and cycle while Claire and Peter set off to do their own thing - Peter to go swimming and Claire to replenish the ships' provisions. The only little mishap was a malfunctioning debit card for Claire - Peter will have to do the shopping from now on!

Posted by peterandclaire 12:56 Comments (1)

Bristol is gorgeous

After a lovely weekend in Shropshire with friends and family (and chickens) Peter, Claire and First Mate Alex returned to Wren on Monday 4 July for the next exciting stage of the trip - the final part of the K&A into the heart of Bristol followed by a voyage through the Avon Gorge (hence the title) prior to the anticipated encounter with Sabrina, or the River Severn as she is usually known.
The entry into the Floating Harbour at Bristol was fascinating as Wren chugged up the river passing under buildings and bridges, old and new, and by moored and moving boats of all shapes and sizes. Wren's berth for the night was right in the centre of the city and shortly after mooring an experienced local guide, Allen, came aboard to take the crew on a walking tour to a suitable hostelry, the Nova Scotia. This riverside walk included a brief stop at the Library, where Jess was about to finish work, and also to reconnoitre the big locks leading out of the harbour through which Wren would be navigating in 24 hours or so.
Tuesday was warm, sunny and breezy - a good day for some more exploring as well as a bit of preparation for the challenges ahead. The engine was checked over, the diesel and the water were topped up and, perhaps most importantly, the toilet tank was emptied! Then it was a quick trip down to the Underfall Yard to learn about the history of the harbour and the ingenuity of a certain Isambard Kingdom Brunel and other such engineers. After that there was just enough time to cruise back up the harbour to visit the historic SS Great Britain (even if Wren's entry to the site was a bit unconventional - narrow boats are not supposed to moor right next to the mighty vessel). The ship and its story was fascinating and looking at the condition of the 200 year old hull with the water suspended on thick sheets of glass above your head and hearing about the details of the salvage operation in 1970 was an amazing experience.
Wren's passage through the locks was booked for 7pm and at about 6pm the crew were joined by Jess and Al for the final run down the harbour. As the lock gate opened the impact of the incoming tide and the strong Westerly breeze hampered the boat's progress but eventually the Avon Gorge opened out and the distant hills of South Wales appeared on the horizon. At Avonmouth life jackets were donned and, with Peter at the helm, Alex navigating and Claire taking safe refuge below deck Wren passed under the M5 before bearing south past the docks to Portishead where a secure mooring awaited her. The waves were vigorous to say the least but by 9.30pm the lock into the marina was sighted and the mooring secured about 20 minutes later (a little pricey at £41!). Then it was a quick meal, a shower and bed so that Wren and her crew would all be ready for the arrival of the Severn Pilot at 6am on Wednesday morning.

Posted by peterandclaire 12:46 Comments (0)

Who pulled the plug out?

No water in Bath!

8am and it was time to move down the last 6 locks before the K & A would join the River Avon proper. Well, that was the plan, however, someone or something had decided to pull the plug out of the pound below the second lock - it was just a muddy puddle! But brave Peter leapt to the challenge; he grabbed his bike and whizzed down the towpath to inspect the damage then pedalled furiously back up to put his plan into action. 'Open the paddles' was his cry so that's we did and within the hour the muddy puddle was restored and Wren and the other boats could continue descending the flight, including the Bath Deep Lock at 19 feet deep! (The second deepest on the canal network)
The weather improved on yesterday and the trip up the River Avon towards Bristol was delightful, and, made more so when a Kingfisher was sighted. But Wren was due for a few days rest at Keynsham while Peter and Claire would head back to Ellesmere for some gardening, laundry, music and, in Peter's case, the annual Bishop's Castle Triathlon. Life is good!

Posted by peterandclaire 14:22 Comments (0)

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