Part of Stourport Ring via Droitwich Canals on Waterway Routes

2-5 May 2014

We were delighted to be invited by Paul and Christine Balmer to join them for a long weekend on board their boat Waterway Routes, carrying the name of their excellent canal DVDs and maps business. Back in March 2006 Stephen was Paul's first online customer, buying their Leeds and Liverpool Canal DVD, and our collection of both DVDs and maps grows ever more extensive. We'd not previously met, however (though we'd seen the boat at its home mooring in 2012 when we travelled along the Oozells Street Loop) and later this weekend, once we'd found out how well we got on, both parties later revealed they'd had a slight anxiety beforehand - exacerbated by Lucy's brand of self-deprecatory expectation management on our arrival.

We drove to Wolverhampton and, following Paul's advice, winded and moored the car, before walking with him to the boat which was moored just below Compton Lock on the Staffs & Worcester Canal.


A little later, we reach the three locks at The Bratch

When we were last here in 2009, it was raining heavily, and had been for some time, but today is bright and dry.

The locks here were originally a staircase of three, but were later altered to be three separate locks with the top gate of one very close to the bottom gates of the next, with an extended side pond to the left of this photo - the result was better throughput of boats and easier water management, with relatively modest engineering work (compared to rebuilding as three conventionally spaced locks)

Although we are on the Staffs & Worcester Canal, some of the paddle gear is from the Birmingham Canal Navigations, presumably reclaimed when parts of the BCN were closed down.

We moored just north of Stourton Junction and had a walk into Stewponey to post a DVD order received during the afternoon - I wonder how many people realise when their map or DVD pops through the letterbox that it may have been prepared and posted from the boat.


Next morning was lovely and sunny. At Stourton Junction here, we travel straight on, thus entering new territory for Stephen and Lucy since in 2009 we had turned left to climb the locks of the Stourbridge Canal back towards Birmingham. This weekend will thus complete our journeys along the Staffs & Worcester Canal

More reflections at Hyde Lock

This lock is somewhat unusual in having three sets of lock gates - the third being the garden gates for this cottage, complete with paddle gear in front of the fence. The gates can be made with enough skill, but I wonder where the paddle gear came from.

The weekend was accompanied by a little bit of geocaching where the caches were located in convenient locations such as next to locks. Lucy is having trouble finding this one.

Bluebells by the side of the canal

Sandstone makes its presence felt at many sites along the Staffs & Worcester Canal, with a number of sandstone cliffs having been created by the canal engineers

After passing through Kidderminster, the canal has crossed the River Stour to the western side of the valley, and thus the red sandstone is on the other side of the canal.

Lucy measures the depth of Caldwall Lock - as well as enjoying the cruise, we are checking for any updates or inaccuracies for the Waterway Routes canal maps - and once onto the Severn later, Paul was scouting out possible sites for future filming.

As we headed south towards the viaduct carrying the Severn Valley Railway over the canal, we were hoping for a steam train - no such luck, but once we were under the viaduct and sufficiently far past the pipe bridge to see the viaduct again, a heritage DMU did cross.

We paused briefly on the first five-day visitor moorings coming into Stourport, while Paul went ahead on the fold-up bike to scout out whether there were moorings closer to the basin and the river, not least as tomorrow would be a longer day than today. Reasonably confident that we would get a mooring on the river, he called us to move on, and we have now reached the lock which takes the canal into Stourport Basins.

There are several linked basins and lots of permanently moored boats, with the route through to the remaining locks far from clear if you haven't been before - though the board above York Street Lock (far right of this photo) is helpful if you notice it. Fortunately Stephen, who was at the tiller, had a good briefing from Paul beforehand, and was thus able to be confident about the route.

The route to the Severn consists of a two pairs of narrowboat staircase locks or a pair of broad locks, the latter to be used only by broadbeam boats.

The route from the upper staircase to the lower is far from straight, but today with no wind and equipped with a bow-thruster presented no difficulties.

Watched by Christine on the pontoon, Stephen steers Waterway Routes in a big loop on the Severn to face upriver on the mooring pontoon.

Later, Lucy and Stephen had a wander around Stourport, picking up three more geocaches and having a fun game of crazy golf.

Part of Upper Basin, with Lichfield Basin to the left and Clock Basin to the right behind the Stourport Yacht Club building which houses the clock

From the road bridge over the Severn, the funfair on the left; Waterway Routes is just visible in the distance on the mooring pontoon.

Part of the Lower Basin, one of the basins at Stourport on the middle level between the locks: the lower broad lock is in the background on the right.


Next morning, we head up river for a voyage of exploration, quickly passing the point where Gladder Brook joins the river and the sign declaring the end of the Canal & River Trust's navigation authority. There is a legal right of navigation upstream as far as Pool Quay, Welshpool. Canoes and other small boats regularly use the upper stretches, but larger boats such as depend on water levels which are very variable and uncertain. Lucy and I were stationed at the bow to watch out for any evidence of difficulties ahead. This barge is for sale - apparently ideal for conversion to a houseboat.

Some three miles upriver of the normal limit, here is the bypass bridge at Bewdley, where Paul decided that was far enough.

Looking downriver to Blackstone Rock on the left, a bit more of the sandstone which has accompanied our journey so far, and an impressive little cliff to pass when you are unsure how much water is under the hull of the boat

Paul explored the edges of the river with a view to winding the boat, but decided to go backwards for a while, with the benefit of the bow-thruster to assist steering, until we found a wider section to turn. We passed a few rowers on our way back to Stourport, and somewhat surprised them - they won't often see a narrowboat this far upriver.

Safely on the more regularly cruised part of the Severn, we continued down through Stourport. Here we pass more sandstone, this time with caves, though from this distance you can't see the ugly fencing trying to keep them out of reach of locals

After the narrow locks of the Staffs & Worcester Canal, the keeper-operated locks of the Severn are huge. And look how low the upper water line is at this time of modest river flows.

We've now passed through Holt Lock too, seen in the distance, well signalled for those going upriver by Holt Fleet Bridge.

Mooring pontoons and balance beams show we have reached Hawford Junction, the point where we turn onto the Droitwich Barge Canal.

The Barge Canal was opened in 1771 to link the town of Droitwich Spa to the Severn. It was abandoned in 1939 and reopened in 2010. It is quite an attractive and rural canal, though sadly with nowhere really suitable to stop and moor.

Paul holds the boat to the side of the broad lock with the middle rope, while Lucy is at the tiller

As we come into Droitwich, Paul at the tiller needs to be extra vigilant because the Droitwich Festival is this weekend, and the canal is very busy.

Heading through Droitwich with the boat being powered by the electric motor, which means for almost silent operation at low speed and allows the steerer to talk with people on the bank.

Above Barge Lock (where we had great difficulty operating the padlock with the BW key), and we have joined the River Salwarpe, whose waters are disappearing over a weir to the right.

Ahead, the River Salwarpe comes in from the left, while our route lies through the first of the locks on the Droitwich Junction Canal, a narrow canal opened in 1854 to link the town with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. This canal also closed in 1939, but after a major restoration and rebuilding project was reopened in July 2011.

A staircase pair, newly built as part of the restoration project since the original route of the canal was unavailable.

The last three locks are back on the original line, and are equipped with side ponds. These were employed in a number of places on the canal network to reduce the amount of water used - when emptying the lock, the water from the top half of the lock is emptied into this side pond; the side paddles are then closed and the more conventional paddles at the bottom of the lock opened to drain the remaining water. This saved water in the side pond can then be used later to half fill the lock, thus saving half a lock of water. This site is unusual in that the side ponds are still in use.

We had planned to stop at Hanbury Junction after a longer day, especially as a our upriver trip on the Severn had been longer than originally anticipated, but we'd made such good progress that we pressed on along the Worcester & Birmingham, climbing through the six locks of the Astwood flight before stopping for the night at Stoke Prior.


Thirty-six locks to do today, and this sign shows that the six of the Stoke flight are safely under our belts, but there is no pause before the 30 locks of Tardebigge begin. It is fairly quiet on the canal (though the towpath is busy with cyclists), and many of the locks are already empty; with Lucy lock-wheeling it is a fairly easy job for the three of us taking it in turns to steer and measure lock depths.

The banks of the reservoir towards the top of the Tardebigge flight is a classic spot to take photos, either of the lock below the bridge or this one, and here is Waterway Routes leaving lock 50 - just eight more to go.

And from the same point, heading for lock 51.

In the planning stages, we'd contemplated one person leaving part-way up the flight to go to Bromsgrove station and fetch the car, but we made good progress over the long weekend, and so we continued to the top of the flight and on to Alvechurch, where we caught the 1402 train. We changed at New Street and got a train to Wolverhampton from where we got a taxi back to the car. No ticket machine at Alvechurch, "permit to travel" machine not working, guard on the train stayed in her cubby hole, "fares to pay" office at New Street closed, no guard on train to Wolverhampton, no ticket barriers at Wolverhampton.

A lovely four days - our thanks to Paul and Christine for making us so welcome. They've even invited us back again so we must have been ok.


Back Up Next

Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson