With only four units eaten from our 15 unit card we weren’t ready to pull the mains plug, the washing machine frenzy felt too good. Genuinely lost count of cycles so far, we’re just washing for fun now…dog towels, trainers, guest bedding (the next lucky visitors get to sleep clean). Up in the high street this afternoon there wasn’t as much wet washing in Dizzy Dolly’s laundrette as there was hanging about this boat. A mish mash of shops you can get everything from Le Chameau welleis to ‘All the baking your body can take in a month’ sunbed vouchers. Nick longed to stay the month, to turn tantastic again.
A walk along the river bank with Murk, strong streams carrying huge bits of tree make it hard to believe self drive motor boats are ever let loose out there. Most of the basin has resigned itself to January but Treasure Island is refusing to give in to winter.
Not even contemplating riding any red boards this time round, tomorrow we’ll begin the climb back up the Staffordshire and Worcester fully charged. Stourport’s electricity injection has been a luxury mid winter retreat.
A pretty gloomy morning, dropped under the ring road and past Slingfield Mills. Not a great write up in various guides but Kidderminster was way better than expected – beautifully restored mills, plentiful rings and a choice of two supermarkets slap bang on the canal – someone couldn’t get enough of launching trolleys into the water…a total count of nine outside Tescos, luckily they’re pretty heavy to get very far, keeping well right we found a metal free passage through.
Countryside and bulging sandstone soon returned. Just us and a couple of canonists out in the middle of nowhere all stocking up on more firewood, fortunately there’s only so much a canoe can carry – a couple of logs onboard they paddled off popping a wheely.
Stourport is die-hard canal territory, real pubs, businesses that still bother to sell waterside and no-nonsense boat facilities. One lock drop and a whole world of Georgian splendour unfolds. At it’s peak Stourport was one of UKs busiest inland waterways. A complex series of interconnecting basins linked the River Severn with the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Opened in 1788 The Tontine Hotel was the jewel in the Staff and Worcs Canal Company’s crown. A place of business for directors, committee members and shareholders, revelry always followed a deal…it boasted 100 beds, a ballroom and served the best food and finest wines for miles around. In 1862 the railways threw and spanner in the works and before long the magnificent Tontine was regarded as a bit of a money pit, rooms were let in hope it might pay it’s way. Now immaculately converted into apartments.
It is pretty wet around here, not exactly flooded but not that far off. Two hundred metres from our mooring, the Severn rushes past. The bottom lock gates are under water.
With riverside walks, canal history, boats bobbing about, showers, water, bins and ELECTRICITY this is a bit of a busman’s holiday but it’s amazing how free and easy life feels with lights blazing, the washing machine whirring and ‘water in mind’ showers that aren’t interrupted midway through by a chilly ‘soaping up’ session. Ew.
A bit of a mixed bag today. The sun shone for a while, we found some dry logs and have ended up on a mooring that’s practically inside Sainsburys – on the flip side there’s a pair of trousers waiting for the wash with a knee full of dog shit, and Nick’s arm is only just coming back to temperature having been immersed in chilly water more times than he bares to remember freeing the prop from nasties.
The canal is windy, huge chunks of sandstone overhang the water making an interesting trip down to the outskirts of Kidderminster. With Lego houses flying up it seems some canal character might be lost forever, for a scary moment we thought we’d wound up back on the ever revolving Milton Keynes carousel of monotony. Signs of the carpet industry that bought prosperity during the 19th century live on though, even the local newspaper is still named The Shuttle – ‘Huh?’ No! Don’t switch off SFR…just sleep happy knowing that shuttles are used on carpet looms…
You can’t have it all ways round, stocking up with heavy groceries ealier today we were loving close supermarket proximity but since daylight faded, replaced by floodlights, the car park is looking and beginning to sound like Worcestershire’s version of Le Mans.
Kinver takes some walking. Not really one for mapped routes Nick came up with own right to roam version. The Edge (every inch of it) delivered views that rolled for miles. Nearing the end of the hike we dropped down to the ‘rock houses’. Soft sandstone allowed settlers to carve houses from the rock, rumours surrounding these mystical dwellings include home to a giant that once roamed the woodland, but generally accepted as true is that the houses were inspiration for Tolkein when writing The Hobbit. Inhabited until the 1950’s they’re now restored and managed by the National Trust.
We had planned to take a turn and head back up onto the BCN but its lovely out this way so we’re heading on for a little while longer. New plans left us a bit short of water, nothing that reversing up through a lock and back a mile didn’t solve.
Wonky bridges, crooked tunnels, split bridges, pretty junctions – they’re all back in abundance out here on the Staffordshire and Worcester. Saturday morning bunny all the way down Stourton Locks before turning left at Stourton Junction. For a few days this week we hardly saw a boat either moored or on the move so today was treat to see so many colours bobbing under the rocks and tangled in the ivies that line this stretch.
Kinver high street is only a short walk, some quirky buildings and interesting shops. There’s only so long you can spend in the Co-op but in that time the sky turned from a clear sunny one to an ominous blanket of darkness – soon dumping flash hail and spine cracking lightning.
A happy cratch cover tonight, it has come home.
A trip down the Stourbridge Town Arm was much more successful than the Wednesbury Oak Loop. Clean deep water and leafy sections of towpath that must be beautiful in summer. Like many, this stretch fell into dereliction in the 1960’s, now restored, the end of the arm is home to some very friendly long-term moorers and boasts the Bond House where goods once sat waiting for taxes to be paid up. A tight squeeze to turn, we began to wind our way back out.
Pitched up at Ruskin Glass Centre, then climbed the steps into an unusual kind of place. College come visitor centre, we seemed to be the only visitors. It was the sort of door we’d never usually venture through but in for the whole hog we ducked inside. Greeted by a very welcoming volunteer the story of glass began…in 1467. Not a great student at the best of times, prone to feelings of spontaneous combustion, Nick shuffled impatiently. As luck would have it a retired glass blower arrived and took over for the second part of the session. Unbelievably skilled and knowledgable the talk was interesting but drifting into the second hour lunchtime took a hammering…never a good thing. Practically climbing the walls by the time we made our exit Nick was muttering incoherently ‘soporific, strange’… Still dazed but sandwich in hand things were looking a bit more rosy until a bang on the roof and a shout to move the boat on as ‘students with special needs like to visit the moorings in times of crisis and one was having a crisis right now’. Not the only one.
So lunch on the go, we swung back onto the Stourbridge Canal and headed out into the country. The first true greenery for a while it even looked healthy through the dank grey mizzle. Back into the land of tie up where you fancy we stopped before the rain hit hard.
Metres on from the manicured Merry Hill moorings we were back into genuine stuff again. Wound our way past factories and round shopping trolleys, under a chimney skimming bridge and along to Delph Locks. The flight is impressive with an edge of the world feel looking down from the top. Originally opened in 1779, they’ve been butchered in number and shape over the years, restored to re-opening in 1967.
Leaving the Dudley no. 1 behind we turned left onto the Stourbridge Canal. Lunch was done with fairly quickly as plans involved clearing the Stourbridge Flight before dark. Not the greatest start with bottom gates left open, empty locks etc but Nick was winding paddles and yanking gates like a lock hand possessed. Until the men in the high vis jackets whistled.
By mid afternoon, at a standstill, I cleaned the shower and Nick washed the cratch out while a lock inspection took place. An hour or so later with not much found other than a few windlasses the stinking pound was re-filled and we crept on through, light fading and still plenty ahead. The last few locks dropped down through some beautiful old bridges and buildings – give or take a satellite dish here and there it could have been a time tunnel. Coloured bulbs strung outside Red House Glass Cone, a great example of catapulting canal history in style.
So we didn’t quite finish the flight. Not exactly sure what’s outside, there’s definitely one lock looming in the darkness. We do have a bit of a tilt on, perhaps the pound is seeping away…