mapCompleted route:

From:                        Via: *
Mercia Marina            Trent & Mersey Canal
Great Haywood Jct     Staffordshire & Worcester Canal
River Severn
Worcester                   River Severn
Tewkesbury                River Severn
Gloucester                  Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
Sharpness                   Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
Gloucester                   River Severn
Tewkesbury                Lower Avon / Upper Avon
Stratford                     Stratford on Avon Canal / Worcester & Birmingham Canal
Birmingham                Birmingham & Fazeley Canal / Coventry Canal
Fradley Junction          Trent & Mersey Canal
To: Mercia Marina            * Click on waterway name for more information.

276 Miles    193 Locks

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Click on "Calculate Route"

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July 1
We have arrived in sunny old England. Yes, really. It was 114 when we left Phoenix but here it is a beautiful 19-22C (68-72F), a few clouds, light breeze, perfecto. The journey gets more difficult as we get older. Over 10 hours on the plane (over an hour late), wait for the luggage, seemingly ages on the shuttle bus to get to our hotel which was just the other side of the airport. Crash out for 12 hours straight. Walk 45 minutes to the rental car place, wait there, get car, grind to a halt on the M1 for two hours because the road is closed due to a wreck. Barb develops a cold, we can't sleep 'cos of the 8 hour time change, moan, groan, etc., etc.

Once aboard Basil, however, things have improved radically. Feels like home. A family of coots with three chicks have set up home next to us, the boat is rocking gently in the breeze and we are watching Murray play Nadal at Wimbledon on TV. Basil has survived a brutal winter quite well, it seems. There was a moment of excitement when I turned on the water pump and water gushed out from the cupboard under the sink. The drinking water filter had cracked open from the -12F winter frost. I had drained down the water system but the filter must still have been full. I had a new one so all is well. The electrical system is fine. I have to work on the engine tomorrow, so I hope there won't be any nasty surprises there. Basil's interior is quite clean but outside he is filthy and the paint has lost its gloss. Some neighbors gave me a print of Basil covered in snow. I'll try and get a digital copy and post it here.

Just before we left Phoenix, I went to close my duffel bag and there was a large scorpion hiding under the flap. As most of you know, I was stung recently. Here, 10 million spiders have taken up residence as usual while we were away.  I think the global insect population are out to get me. Some of the British spiders are pretty scary looking, but none have a bad bite, luckily.

Tomorrow is the annual open day at Mercia Marina with loud rock bands blaring music over the tranquil waters, stalls selling all manner of canalia, rides for the kiddies and all that jazz. I will report on that, and more, in a few days time - hopefully with some pictures.

July 2


Disaster struck in the wee hours of the morning. I heard the water pump start up at 2:30 a.m. and panic set in. I checked the cabin bilge and, sure enough, lotsa water. Another sleepless night worrying about the cause. Sometimes I think boating ain't worth it, but then I think "what else provides me such challenges in my golden years!". I awoke from a dream about a flood in our Arizona mansion (not the humble abode we actually live in) during which the Mesa fire brigade arrived in huge numbers to help us out. No such luck here. I fumbled around disassembling various cupboards, drawers and bulkheads and eventually found the culprit - the hot water tank pictured on left. I was moaning about the issue to a neighbor boater and he said "Well, that's what the B stands for in boating, mate, 'Bloody expensive'!". So now we have no water but at least I know what to fix.


Nadee Alfresco

As I said yesterday, the marina is rocking tonight, but I'll spare you those pictures. Instead, here's our meal from our favourite local restaurant, Nadee. They had a stall at the fun fest and were very pleased to see Barbara again. They are so enamoured of her that one of the waiters sent her a birthday card last October. Anyway, for lunch they served chick peas (daal), samosas and onion bajis. We ate them on a dock at the marina. For a mouth watering virtual treat,you can enlarge them by clicking on them. 

July 5
The calorifier (hot tank) was leaking from the immersion heater port. The immersion heater (electric) is one of three ways of heating water, the other two are by waste heat from the engine and by a diesel-fueled heater. Anyway, a heave on the heater with a huge wrench borrowed from a local fitter seems to have cured the problem. I paid him an hour's wages because he went to a lot of trouble, came to give an estimate, etc. Today Basil was meticulously safety inspected by a marine surveyor (required every four years) which took 3 hours. He was passing with flying colours until the last 1/2 hour when a small gas (LPG) leak was discovered. The surveyor is not supposed to fix things but we soaped all the connections and finally found it. I tightened it up, and all was well. Sometimes I feel like the captain of the USS Enterprise, not a humble narrowboat. Phew! The river Gods are smiling fondly on us today.

In case you think we are not having any fun, there are a couple of photos below. We do get out for a nice walk occasionally, or out to the pub, and tonight we are hoping to go to Nadee's, the aforementioned favourite restaurant. On Thursday we are going to Hartington in the Peak District for a three-day reunion with my two brothers, my sister and their families. The weather, which has been superb up 'til now is set for rain the next few days. I will resume this journal when we return.

Willington < The canal at Willington. Our nearest town - a ten minute walk from the marina - 3 pubs, Post Office, sweet shop (candy store), a Co-Op general store, etc., etc. Click to enlarge.

A collection of boat nameplates. Taken along the towpath (right and below)
July 11
We are back on the marina now, having had a great time with my family at the Charles Cotton Hotel in the Derbyshire Dales, otherwise known as the Peak District. We visited Chatsworth House, home of the Duke of Devonshire and surely the most opulent mansion I've ever seen. Not that I'm much into opulent mansions, as regular readers of this journal will know. The house contains classical art looted (or, as they call it, "collected") from all over the Mediterranean and Aegean. There are also a few interesting pieces from our era, much of it on loan. The huge box of a house is set in the most extraordinary landscape of hill and dale, river and meadow.

We also went hiking in the Dales, a six mile walk down to the River Dove and a climb out through Biggin Dale and Dovedale and back to our hotel in Hartington. Some of the family went on to Haddon Hall by car. The latest iteration of Jane Eyre was shot there, along with numerous earlier period movies and TV dramas. Cousins Selwyn and Cate joined us when we arrived back at the marina yesterday, and we rounded off a memorable weekend by cruising around the marina with the whole family perched on Basil's roof. Now we are ready to leave on our journey to Sharpness (see map) tomorrow, so the next journal entry will be after a few days travel. Thanks for all your e-mails, keep up the correspondence!
Chatsworth House
GIANT FOOT, part of a lost sculpture
The gang arrives at the centre of the maze
Barbara, Sandra, Angela (sis) Joshua (nephew),
Michael and Nigel (brothers).


Angela (sis-in-law) and Barbara >>

July 14
We have had three days of superb cruising in glorious weather. We moored at Alrewas the first night, after a long (for us) 6-hour day, motoring sedately through the countryside. Barb is happy to be operating locks again. She aches all over, but then she ached all over before she started, so nothing much has changed. "I'm not one to complain...", she says. Alrewas is a beautiful little village centred on the canal, which includes a dreamy river section on a short stretch of the Trent. We shopped in the excellent butcher/greengrocer shop and ate excellent pieces of fish in the George and Dragon for dinner.

On the 13th we passed through the usual chaos at Fradley Junction without a scar. As I approached the lock before the
Swan pub, another boat was exiting and the steerer said "It's crazy up there, there are 500 people brandishing windlasses and only a few of 'em know what they're doing. You'll be lucky to come out the other side." But I did. Barb was a mere speck in the distance, walking up the flight to prep the next lock.  We moored in a sweet spot next to a view which would have inspired Wordsworth (see right). The weather continued fine but with a chilly Northwest breeze.

Today we continued up the Trent and Mersey canal to Great Haywood junction (see map) and turned South on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. I had more than my fair share of navigational mishaps today. The worst was encountering another boat on the sharp right turn on to the Brindley aqueduct over the Trent. He was in the wrong position and I was fumbling with my camera before I realized I was about to hit him broadside at speed. It would have done considerable damage to his boat, rugged though narrowboats are. I yanked
Basil's helm hard over, hit full power to bring his head round, then went hard astern to minimize the impact and gritted my teeth waiting for the bang. By some miracle, we missed each other by a quarter of an inch.

We stopped in Rugely where Barb went shopping and I did some odd jobs on the boat, painting mostly. Now we are moored in what surely must be one of the most beautiful spots on the waterways, Tixall Wide. It is an artificial lake, created to appease a local landlord who insisted the canal could only pass his property in the form of a lake. He and his old house are long gone but the lake remains. The weather will deteriorate tomorrow, strong winds and rain are forecast, so we may hole up here for a while.

By the way, I apologize (apologise?) for the mixed Anglo and Yankee spelling. With both audiences, what can one do? (flicks hair, miss Piggy style).

This is a taste of what Basil had to endure last winter.
At times the temperature reached -16C.
(Courtesy Mick and Cathy, neighbours.)

Barb Chats
Barb chats up the local beefcake

Evening Light - view from our mooring July 13.

Tixall Wide
Moored at Tixall Wide

Sign at Great Haywood Junction


July 17
Today is Basil Boat's 4th birthday, so we sang 'appy birthday to him first thing this morning. He responded by performing excellently, creaming down the cut, purring like the pussycat he is, with nary a weed on his prop. We did start off with a bit of a domestic - the first mate interpreted my unsolicited advice suggesting that she leg it down to the first lock and not worry about the garbage as an 'order' by the overbearing captain who must be obeyed. I never heard the end of it all morning and neither did any other boater at the locks. In general the women were sympathetic: "Oh yes, love, they all think they know best, don't they!?" was a typical response. The men suddenly had something to do in their engine rooms. Suitably chastised and embarrassed, I was on my best behavior for the rest of the day. Barb's psychology training sure does her proud.

We are now on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal (or the Staffs & Worcs, as everyone calls it) having left Tixall Wide in perfect weather two days ago and cruised down to Stafford where we stopped to explore the town. It was a long walk so we came back by bus. There was an exhibition about the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest ever find of Saxon artifacts. Worth millions of pounds, the finely detailed gold and gemstone sword and armor ornaments were found by a local treasure hunter and will go on display in Washington in October, so we were glad to get a preview. Also Mary and Mo, who are looking after our cat Marni while we are away, are avid treasure hunters so we got a few mementos for them.

Then on down to Penkridge, a fine market town whose market was in full swing yesterday (Saturday) and where we bought a tasty piece of real French Brie and other delicacies. I don't know why nobody else can make French cheeses like the French, but they cannot. We dropped in for a pint at the Boat Inn but were unimpressed. The promised rain hit in the morning so we decided to hole up for the day and though the afternoon was sunny and fine for wine on the poop deck in the evening, we cruiseth not.

Today dawned gray and cloudy with showers, most of which we dodged. Barb worked 8 locks and we did 5.5 miles in 3.5 hours before mooring at the Hatherton Branch - a disused stub of a canal which may be restored. Doesn't sound like much but it beats the 'planning average' of 3 lock/miles an hour so we were happy. Our happiness was sealed when we found a restaurant serving Sunday lunch a short stagger from the boat. We gorged on leek and cheese crumble, new potatoes, cauliflower cheese, carrots, stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, green beans, peas and gravy - the vegetarian 'option', washed down with a robust Chianti. After a short nap, I am writing this journal and the rain is pelting down outside. We have the fire on in July!

Thanks to all who pointed out a bug in this web site, I think I fixed it now.
Sunset at Tixall Wide
Stafford Museum
Relaxing aboard Basil
July 19
Well, I must say (and Barb actually said it) that the southern section of the Staffs and Worcs is one of the most beautiful waterways we have ever been on. It is almost entirely rural, skirting the towns and villages for the most part. It is heavily locked and the locks have huge drops for a narrow canal, about 9 feet on average. Barb has been working hard dropping us down towards the Severn Valley as we wind hither and thither through farmland, sometimes high above the scenery and other times down in deep wooded cuttings.

Yesterday we twisted along the long and winding summit pound through Gailey and Wolverhampton. Although the latter is a huge conurbation on the edge of Birmingham, the canal carries a ribbon of green through the town and, apart from a few factory buildings and imposing bridges, it was hard to believe that we were in a major city. At one point, the canal narrows to a single channel for about half a mile. We waited for three boats coming towards us, then Barb walked down the channel to warn oncoming boaters that I was coming down. One of the boaters got quite stroppy with her but she told him to cool it. "I may have an accent but I've been doing this a long time. You're on canal time now, so try and relax." The other boater and a moored Norwegian were much amused. Thank heavens for assertive spouses (sometimes)!

We passed the junction at Autherley where the Shropshire Union heads north, and then immediately Aldersley Junction with the bottom lock of the Wolverhampton 21 visible at the entrance.
We moored above Compton locks, the first of many that will drop us 294 feet down to the River Severn. In Compton we found a launderette that takes in washing and does it for you.

Today we negotiated the famed Bratch locks, a cluster of three that are staffed (unusually) by two lockkeepers. They were quickly enamoured of Barb and her infectious American chat routine as all three assisted me and Basil down the flight. The bottom lock of the three has the distinction of having the deepest drop (13 feet) of any lock on the whole system. More scary to me, though, was the middle gate of the Botterham staircase locks down the canal bit. I felt like I was in a huge dungeon as I stood on Basil's deck dwarfed by the giant gates looming behind me and holding back tons of water.

Tonight we are in the tiny hamlet of Swindon which, in spite of its diminutive size, boasts all that the boater could need  - an unspoiled pub, a village store, a bakery and the best fish and chip shop in the area, by all accounts. We went to the pub and befriended a few locals, though the accents are so thick it's difficult to understand them, even for me. Barb fed a little dog pork scratchings. Then we bought cod and chips in the chippy and took them back to the boat. There were way more chips than we could eat but the fish was very good.

Sadly, during this period we heard that Barb's 95 year-old Dad, Marty, is in hospital again with atrial fibrillation and assorted complications. We are hoping for the best but it has put a damper on our enjoyment.
Toll House

July 21
I am blogging early as (a) I've some nice photos to show, (b) we are staying in Kinver for the day, and (c) I am sick.
Barb had to call 999 (911  equiv) at 7 a.m. as I had been suffering severe gastric pain for over two hours. It was the worst pain I can remember except maybe when I passed a kidney stone a couple of years ago. I was throwing off a cold sweat, moaning and clutching my stomach. As Barb was answering innumerable questions on the phone, I began feeling better but they sent an ambulance anyway. The paramedics were great - friendly and efficient and they gave me a good check up including a full 12-lead EKG. They found nothing wrong but suggested I go to hospital anyway. As the pain had all but gone we declined but said we'd stay here for 24 hours just in case. Now I'm feeling weak and my stomach is a bit sore, but no pain. No fee for the paramedics and no forms to fill in apart from a release saying I declined to go to hospital.

Yesterday, we had a great day cruising and walking in the Stour Valley. The scenery is amazing - temperate rain forest, rolling hills and the little River Stour flowing alongside the canal. We tied up by an aqueduct and walked around for an hour or so. We were boating later than usual and by the time we got to Kinver it was 5 p.m. and we still had to pump the waste tank, a gutty job made more difficult because the pump-out machine was on the wrong side of the boat. I wrestled the huge hose over the top of the boat and, perched precariously on the gunnel, managed to force the nozzle into our receptacle. We were so tired by the time we got to the visitor moorings that we abandoned the plan to cook on board and went to the Vine pub, where I ate and drank too much - the probable cause of this morning's episode. Or maybe I strained something using the pump-out, who knows?

By the way, I just finished reading, and Barb is now reading 'Too Narrow to Swing a Cat' by Steve Haywood. My family bought it for me at Chatsworth House. For anyone who likes my style of writing (Steve does it better), canal boats, cats or all three this is A MUST READ. A wonderful, wryly witty book about life on the cut with a cat.

HYDE LOCK and COTTAGE, above Kinver
Hyde Lock
July 25
We are stranded in Stourport until Thursday, 28th due to a broken alternator and continuing problems with my health. After we left Kinver we continued south and moored the next night at Wolverly, not far down the cut. We intended to explore the village but what with one thing and another, including continuing episodes of severe gastric pain for me, we stayed aboard. It was a beautiful spot, though, one of many on this gorgeous canal. We were about to retire when I noticed the domestic battery bank was quite low even though we had cruised for two hours. Further investigation with a voltmeter indicated that the huge 150 amp alternator which charges the batteries had died. The engine runs a separate alternator/battery for starting. Panic set in as we were about to lose all our perishable food in the fridge and freezer, the toilet would stop working (B's main concern :-) and the water pump would fail.

Next morning everything was still working and we set off for Stourport where there are boatyards with repair facilities. However, it was a Sunday and neither yard answered the phone so I was not too hopeful. Barb was, as usual, sunnily optimistic, if concerned. "Everything will work out, it always does", she said. It was a shame about the angst as it spoiled my enjoyment of the cruise in sunshine through Kidderminster and beyond. Clutching the tiller with one hand and my stomach with the other, we limped southwards. Neither of us had slept much overnight so it was no picnic for Barb either.

On arrival at Stourport basin, one of the signature architectural features of the system, our luck changed dramatically. Not only did Barb talk us into the last remaining mooring with electricity in the basin, but an engineer happened to be on site, even though it was Sunday, and took a look at the alternator. Today he confirmed that it has to be rebuilt and it won't be ready until Thursday. This will put us a bit behind the original plan, but we have some slack built in.

I am taking antibiotics as I self-diagnosed a diverticulitis attack. I've had it before and carry antibiotics around just in case. So far, they have not had much effect.

Anyway not all is doom and gloom. Barb has been promoted from First Mate to God, on account of her predictions and ability to chat up crusty old canal people. The sun is shining and Stourport is a fascinating conglomeration of canal history. It was a thriving inland port connecting the river Severn with the canal system. Large Severn trows would come up river to transship goods to and from the narrowboats in the basin and head downstream again to Worcester, Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Bristol. After a long period of decline and stagnation, Stourport has been restored to its former glory but this time mostly for leisure boaters like us. Away from the canal and the river the town is rather seedy and run down. At the weekend it was more like Canvey Island or Southend-on-Sea. There's a huge noisy fairground down by the river and gangs of bikers roared through town yesterday. Peace has descended today, though.
Hiking to Kinver Edge

Stourport - Clock Basin Mooring
Old House in Kinver

Kidderminster Church and Lock
July 28
We finally escaped Stourport today, not that it felt like prison - it's a luverly canal town, but we are glad to be on the move again. Basil boat is fixed, his shiny refurbished alternator humming away and powering our domestic systems once again. Before this journal leaves Stourport, though, you may read the story of Mabel the cat.

We were walking around the basins last Monday and we found a cat outside the chandlery. She was going crazy trying to get in the locked door. The chandlery is closed on Sunday & Monday and apparently they had inadvertently locked Mabel out of the store by mistake. We asked around but were met with blank stares or, in one case, outright derision by two men who turned out to be on a hire boat. Mabel is a beautiful tortoiseshell cat, white, ginger and black, and very friendly when not frenetic.

Finally we found a British Waterways worker who laughed and said "Oh, don't worry, that's Mabel, she lives on a boat but she spends all day in the chandlery but unfortunately she doesn't know a Monday from a Thursday so she goes nuts when it's closed." Sure enough, we went back to the chandlers the next day and there was Mabel sitting on the counter and soaking up all the attention she could get, which was a lot. See photo below. Yesterday, I was walking by in the evening and I met her walking down the middle of the road, meowing her head off at me.

Tonight we are moored in Worcester where they charged us £3.50 to moor! Outrageous! What a welcome! Even in London and Birmingham they don't charge mooring fees. We'll make sure we don't spend any money here, that's for sure. We had to abort the planned side trip up the newly restored Droitwich canal because of the delay and the need to pick up Kathleen and Jack, American friends, somewhere near a railway station, on August 6th.
Mabel. Limekiln Chandlery, Stourport
Dusk at the Clock Basin, Stourport

Severn Bridge, Stourport

                        Severn above Stourport
The Severn, above Stourport
Aug 1
An eventful few days to say the least! We left Worcester after a night on the town mooring, during which some youths threw a life ring on to the boat at 2:20 a.m. Scared the hell out of me but no damage. From Worcester we had an easy cruise down river to Upton-on-Severn, a nice town with several pubs, shops and good visitor moorings. Next day, we continued on to Ashleworth and moored at the Boat Inn. Not only was the pub quaint (no good food, though) but the small village behind it was very interesting, including a medieval (1496) tithe barn and church. Patrick and Angela Marks from the Piper Owner's Club came out and took us back to their house for dinner, which was very nice of them. I had another long pain attack from 8:30 to 11:20 p.m., but nothing since, so hopefully I am getting better.

Yesterday we navigated the Severn to Gloucester, an adult dose of boat handling if ever there is one! The tide crested over the weir at Gloucester and brought tons of trees and other rubbish upriver, so we were negotiating a sea of trash all the way down the narrow channel to the lock. Fortunately we liaised with the lockkeeper by phone and he slowed us down so that the huge lock was ready when we arrived. Waiting at Gloucester is a difficult process as you have to moor on a steep wall with a strong current sweeping past.

Gloucester Docks are magnificent. No pictures yet as we cruised straight through. We will be coming back this way to pick up Kathleen & Jack on the 6th. Once on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal we moored to view the famous Severn Bore but I discovered to my horror that our alternator had died again. The sun shines brightly on us this summer but the River Gods are against us. So we had to find electricity. Patrick and Angela were also out cruising on their boat, Chouette, and they advised us to go to Saul Marina. So here we are, plugged in and awaiting another engineer to come and fix us up with a third alternator.

Two unexpected things about the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. Although it is a ship canal that can handle quite large craft it is very scenic, with sweeping views over the countryside to the east and the Severn Estuary to the west. Also, it is a very remote dead-end on the westernmost end of the waterways system so I was not expecting much traffic but it is very popular with lots of boats buzzing up and down the wide, deep waterway. There are no locks but many swing and lift bridges which are operated by British Waterways staff. The running costs must be enormous.
The Severn at Worcester
We all need this!
Upton-on-Severn Mooring

The River at Upton

                          Barn1496 Tithe Barn at Ashleworth

AshelworthBasil at Ashleworth

Boat Inn
The Boat Inn, Ashleworth
Ripening field of barley or wheat
August 6
While we were at Saul, we made several new human friends and one feline friend, Prudence, who came aboard Basil several times to check us out (see photo). One advantage of constantly breaking down! The engineer came and installed another alternator, so we were able to sever our umbilical and cruise up to the end of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.

We stopped for several hours at Slimbridge Wild Bird Sanctuary which was opened by Sir Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic) in 1946 and is reputedly the world's first conservation area for wildlife. It is huge, stretching over the wetlands to the Severn Estuary and buzzing with hundreds of birds. We could have stayed much longer but we didn't have time and we were suffering from heat exhausion. The day started cool but became hot and humid and we were unprepared. We we made one more stop at the Purton Hulks, abandoned small ships which were scuttled and filled with concrete to act as a barrier between the canal and the erosive tidal forces of the estuary.

At the end of the line, Sharpness is a fascinating and thriving port with several large ships in dock. It was high tide while we were there, and a multitude of boats corkscrewed in from the estuary and into the safety of the huge sea lock. It was beautiful weather and we moored overlooking the estuary, a constantly changing scene of water and light.

Next day we cruised back down to just below Saul Junction and moored up in the country. Now we are back in the majestic basin in Gloucester, tied up and awaiting Jack and Kathleen's arrival today. Gloucester is a little disappointing except for the dock area and the Cathedral. The G&S canal has been a wonderful experience (not counting the boat's technical problems) and we are really glad that we ventured this far away from our home base. Now we have turned around and will return home via Tewkesbury, Stratford-on-Avon and Birmingham (see map).
Prudence Pussycat at Home aboard Basil
Sharpness Mooring
Sharpness Mooring

CLICK to ENLARGE any photo
Dusk at Sharpness Point
Seagoing Yachts Locking up at Sharpness
Flamingos at Slimbridge
Gloucester Dock
Gloucester Dock from Basil's Stern
Basil in
Basil in Gloucester Dock
from the Waterways Museum
Seagulls gather by the hundred in the Dock
Gloucester Lock
Gloucester Lock

Trad Cabin
Tradtional Working Narrowboat
Cabin in the Waterways Museum

Stained Glass detail in Gloucester Cathedral
Monument to Elizabeth, wife of the Bishop of Gloucester who died in 1622 at the age of 17, presumably while giving birth.
August 13
Footpath Signpost

Been a bit lax in the journalling department lately as we had our good friends Jack and Kathleen from Phoenix aboard and we pushed up the Avon all week to get us all to Stratford on time to see a bit of the town and see them safely on their way today. That we did and here we are.

We set off with them on Sunday, 8th from Gloucester and slogged up the river Severn all the way to Tewkesbury where we locked up into the Avon. We cruised over 6 hours and I didn't realize quite how tired I was until we ventured into town that evening and I became exceedingly grumpy. To cap it all we were thrown out of Tewkesbury Abbey by an imperious lady just so they could conduct a service! A pox upon all religion.

The next day made up for everything as the Avon is simply a wonderful river. We cruised upstream through crystal clear water and gorgeous remote scenery to possibly the best mooring that Basil has yet nudged. A tight bend in the river known as Swan's Neck, miles from anywhere and a perfect fit for one boat. We walked into the village up a farm track and had a beer in The Swan, a classic old pub. Ken the engineer somehow managed to find us in the evening and returned the original alternator which we will use as a spare.

I used to live in this area when I worked at the BBC Engineering College at Wood Norton, so I was revisiting old haunts for the next couple of days. I had often walked sections of the Avon but never visited by boat, so it brought back a lot of memories of my 'yoof'. We stopped in Pershore for lunch and to shop. We were impressed with the High Street which has a multitude of thriving little stores thumbing their noses at the Asda (Wal-Mart) Superstore which looms over the town. We also stopped at the Anchor in Wyre Piddle, where I misspent much of the aforementioned youth. I once had to be taken to hospital from there, overcome not by booze but by an asthma attack. Wood Norton Hall, no longer a BBC property, was glimpsed through the trees as we passed. That night saw us at Craycombe Turn, another country mooring but crowded this time, so we were breasted up with another narrowboat on the outside. Kathleen and Jack picked dozens of ripe plums from an abandoned orchard nearby.

Next day we stopped in Evesham, a large market town where I lived - so radically changed that I didn't recognize much at all. There was a gale raging as we turned into Evesham marina to pump out the toilet. I banged Basil's taff rail badly on the entrance. To add insult to injury, they charged £20 - the most we have ever paid for a pump-out. I complained bitterly but they justified the price gouging by saying they are the only game in town! At the end of the day, we found a nice quiet country mooring above George Billington Lock on the Upper Avon Navigation. All the locks on the Upper Avon are brand new. When it was restored in the 1960's, the old infrastructure had all but disappeared and David Hutchings, the driving force behind the restoration, did incredible things including building new locks in 6 weeks or less and dynamiting new channels through the rock. Each lock is named for a benefactor who paid for construction. The only downside is that everything is made of steel and concrete instead of wood and brick, so the possibilities for boat damage are great. I took full advantage but blamed it on the strong winds which continued for much of the week.

The next two days were spent cruising the remainder of this fascinating and magical waterway, culminating in one of my long-standing dreams. Here we are moored up in Stratford-on-Avon right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We went there last night to see "The Homecoming", a revival of Harold Pinter's masterwork. It is a play about a brutally self-destructive family. For me it was an experience akin to watching an anaconda slowly throttle its prey, but the acting was great. Macbeth is on tonight but there are no tickets, so we are going to paint the town red to ease the pain of losing our friends, Jack and Kathleen.

Jack and Kathleen
Swan's Neck Mooring
Fladbury Mill and Weir
Swan Pub
The Swan Pub
The Anchor, Wyre Piddle

Moored Opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon
As for the terrible riots in England, they have largely passed us by. Not that we are not shocked and appalled, we are. But we have been in the country without any TV coverage and we have only learned about them from the newspapers and word of mouth. Everyone here is in shock. It will take a while to fully understand the causes but my own theories are youth unemployment, government cutbacks in youth services, and the general dissatisfaction that working class people are falling behind the rich and privileged (even Warren Buffet agrees :-).

Aug 16
We have been charging up the Stratford-on-Avon canal. So many locks (sigh). 16 yesterday, 9 today, 25 in our future. We are trying to recruit help - friends Colin & Sue wanted to come for a while but they can't find a kennel for their dog, Alfie, so now it's maybe only for a day. Well, we must go on... The canal is beautiful in the light - when it's cloudy and drizzling it's not so much, but then the sun breaks through and a glorious panorama of trees, golden corn and imposing farmhouses are revealed. We crossed the Edstone aqueduct, an iron trough and the longest on the system. It crosses a stream, a road and a railway. Not as imposing as the Pontycyllte, but pretty grand. We also saw several barrel-roofed lock cottages and squeezed through many brick and wrought iron bridges.

The water is shallow, going is slow, but it's all very bucolic. There are many hire boats of varying aptitude but most skippers are able and all are friendly. The bridges are microscopic, I banged a few but greased through some more. The locks are also very narrow but diverse. Filled up on the first dose of diesel/biofuel mix today - we'll see how the engine likes that! The political situation continues to deteriorate ~ fresh-faced Prime Minister David Cameron looks like a choirboy bereft of music. The streets are burning with disaffected, unemployed, hopeless, hooded youth. We are headed for Birmingham, centre of mayhem - I'll keep you posted.
Mary Arden
Mary Arden's House (Shakespeare's Ma)
Barb in Shakespearean Mood
Moored in Stratford Canal Basin
The Mason's Arms, Wilmcote
Typical Barrel-Roofed Lock Cottage
One of Many Wrought-Iron Footbridges
August 20
Lapworth Link
Basil backs out of the "Lapworth Link"
(Photo: Colin Clode)

Quick journal - because over the next two or three days we are venturing into the beleaguered city of Birmingham, where some of the worst riots occurred and where rioters shot at police. Unheard of in Britain. Up 'til now all has been quiet - we completed (finally) the mammoth Lapworth flight of locks with the help of our friends Colin & Sue who drove for two hours each way just to be with us for a day. Now we are moored in the country by the most peculiar village of Dickens Heath, a brand new re-creation of a village which hasn't quite got it right, somehow. You'd think the English, with their long history of building livable attractive villages, would be masters of the art, but somehow the scale is wrong here and the soulless, people-less (it's a commuter village for Birmingham) village seems sterile and unattractive, despite very high building quality standards and the best community planning. The 'village hall' is gigantic, for example; most cities would be proud to own such a place, but I've a feeling it's not much used to its full potential here. The pictures below are not really representative of the above polemic, but enjoy them (or not) for what they are :-)

Boat Leaving a Lapworth Lock
Canal Shop
The Canal Shop, Lapworth
Tight Squeeze!
A Woman and her Dogs
August 23
SignpostWe have had two full days in Gas Street basin, Birmingham, arriving on Sunday afternoon. The Cavalry, in the shape of our friend Colin Clode, is arriving by train this afternoon to help us down about 28 of the 38 (see sign, left) locks to get us out of the city tomorrow. He's a real gent, and no mistake; not to mention scholar, etc, etc. We are very glad for the help. Right up until yesterday the weather forecast was for heavy rain today, so we put off our exit until tomorrow. So, of course, there's no sign of rain. This would have been a perfect day to do all those locks.

Birmingham is Britain's second largest city and we are smack in the center of it, moored under high rise buildings and the Hyatt hotel. Gas Street is a hub of night life with restaurants and nightclubs all round the basin. We found a quiet spot around the corner from the hubbub. There's been some drunken revelry at night, but nothing where we are. The recent riots were focused on several areas of Birmingham, the closest being the Bull Ring shopping centre a mile away, but we have seen no aggro.

Barb found an art gallery with an exhibition of Bob Dylan's prints. Who knew he's an artist as well? He has more talent than his fair share for sure. The signed limited edition prints are £1,750 ($2,900) each, a little out of our league, but we bought the whole set of colored sketches in art book form for £40 ($66).

Basil moored in Gas Street Basin, Birmingham
Gas Street Basin

Working Pair in Gas Street
Classic 1827 Horseley Iron Works Footbridge

                        Bridge Flight
Farmer's Bridge Locks - our way out of town

August 27
Brum at NightColin duly arrived on Tuesday and after an evening of debauchery we decided to cruise through Gas Street in the middle of the night, er, actually about 10:30 p.m.(see left). Barb washed her hands of the whole thing and disappeared. I managed to negotiate the Worcester Bar without scraping the sides, no mean feat even when sober. We tied up opposite Handmade Burgers, retrieved Barb, and fell into a coma. At 3:00 a.m. we were awoken by bumping and grinding. Three security guards were attempting to tie Basil up
after he had been un-moored by persons unknown. So a night of 'firsts' was complete as I started Basil up in my pajamas.

Next day we set off at 8:45 a.m. to negotiate the 13 Farmer's Bridge locks and the 11 Aston Locks to get us through industrial Birmingham. New apartment blocks loom over the canal all the way down the Farmer's Bridge flight, and many of the locks are in tunnels or underneath high-rise buildings. Very weird. The Aston flight is set among relics of Birmingham's industrial past - old warehouses, machine shops and equipment rental stores. Barb lockwheeled ahead to set locks and Colin and I worked the boat through. We achieved an amazing 6 lock/miles an hour, double the speed used for planning journeys. After Aston there is a long lock-free pound under a huge freeway complex known as 'spaghetti junction'. The canal here is filthy, full of trash and very silted up and shallow. We passed Salford junction where four canals head off in different directions. After the three Minworth locks, the country returned and we gratefully moored up above the Hare and Hounds pub, safely out of the Birmingham conurbation at last. Colin and Barb went to check out the pub and met the chef. He was a psycho who claimed to have killed several Afghans, played American football ("I was The Enforcer") and performed unmentionable acts upon referees. They were careful to listen politely in case he added a purgative, or worse, to our food.

We survived a meal at the Hare and Hounds and, next morning, said a tearful goodbye to Colin. As a parting indignity, his senior bus pass was refused by an Arriva bus driver because it could not be read by her ticket machine. His journey, which had taken us over 5 hours by boat, was completed in 15 minutes by bus! Barb and I then cruised down through 7 locks and a couple of miles to Bodymoor Heath, to meet our next guest, Liza Moore, who is with us for the holiday weekend. We have visited the nearby Kingsbury Water Park and are going out to eat in the Dog and Doublet pub tonight.
Farmer's Bridge Lock
Locking Through under Birmingham
Birmingham & Fazely canal at Sunset
Colin Boards the Bus to Birmingham
Model Traction Engine at Kingsbury Water Park
Barb and Liza at Kingsbury

                        & Doublet
The Dog and Doublet, our current mooring
August 31
The major lock flights are all done and we are mimsing our way back 'home', stopping at every little village, reluctant to give up the cruising life. After Bodymoor we stopped at Fazeley Marina to pump out the toilet tank and fill the diesel tanks. As we turned on to the Coventry canal, the weather turned gray and steely, with a biting north-westerly wind, but only the occasional shower. We lit the stove which raised Basil's interior to Arizona temperatures. During August there has been half the normal rainfall but lower than average temperatures.

We came through Fradley Junction today which, according to British Waterway's lock usage statistics, is the busiest spot on the canal system. It was the usual zoo but we came through unscathed, saw some interesting boats and replenished our water supply. The weather is improving and we are now moored in the country above Alrewas on the Trent and Mersey, our home canal.
The Amazing Variety of Flora on an Average Canal Bank.

Bagnall Lock

Barb Befriends a Horse >>

Alrewas Sunset
Sunset at Alrewas
September 6
We are now back 'home' at Mercia Marina after a most enjoyable final few days dawdling along the Trent and Mersey. The weather was perfect, as you can see in some of the pictures below, and we found a lovely mooring just below Tatenhill lock and adjacent to Branston Water Park. It was so peaceful there that we stayed for two days before making the final push back to the marina. We went for long walks along the numerous footpaths bordering the lakes and had an excellent lunch in The Horseshoes pub in the village. I spotted Savoy Hill at the lock. I had helped to purchase this boat back in the mid seventies when I was treasurer of the BBC Club Inland Waterways section. Now here she is, looking good at about 35 years old, still going strong, and still owned by the BBC Club!

As soon as we arrived at Mercia,  the weather collapsed and there are howling gale force winds sweeping bands of rain across the country. Last night it felt as though the boat was being grabbed by a giant hand and flung against the jetty. Now we are huddled round the fire reading two-day old Sunday papers.

NadeeWe were able to walk to our favourite restaurant, Nadee (left), where we were welcomed enthusiastically by the staff. We had a long slow Indian meal, after which it began to rain so the owner's daughter gave us a ride home in the car. Unfortunately, in my haste to keep the weather out, I prematurely slammed the back door of the boat shut - with Barb's thumb in the door jamb. She must be in agony but she doesn't complain.

Final Mooring - note blue sky!
Ancient Runes on Bench from
the Age of Aquarius (circa 1960)
Savoy Hill, still going strong!
Tatenhill Lock
Lockmaster Barbie - 191 done, 2 to go!
Local Boozers in the Horseshoes Inn.

A few concluding notes about this year's big ring navigation: We did 276 miles and 193 locks and added 140 hours to the engine meter. About 20 hours was for electricity generation only, so we cruised at an average speed of just under 4 lock/miles an hour. I will add the fuel consumption figures when I top up the tank later. Our favourite waterways were the section of the Staffs and Worcs south of Aldersley Junction to Stourport and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. The latter was a surprise on two counts. I was expecting it to be an uncrowded backwater but it was teeming with boats. Also I was expecting it to be boring as it is a big ship canal, but it is full of interest and offers stunning views of Wales, the Malvern hills and the Severn Estuary. Problems with the boat and with my health at the beginning of the journey stressed me out a lot, but I managed to recover my composure later :-)

Sept 16
We are almost finished for this summer, so this will most likely be the last journal entry. The weather really deteriorated from the day we got back to Mercia Marina so I am somewhat behind with the annual boat maintenance and paint touch-up. We had two great visits since I last wrote. My brother Michael and his wife Angela stopped for a night on their way back from holiday in the Lake District. We went for a walk with them and had dinner in Nadee's. Later, our friends Norman and Nanci from Phoenix stopped in on their way to a Rhine River cruise. We did a short cruise with them up to Swarkestone lock and back. Next day, we intended to go for a short drive and a short hike in the Peak District. We went to Leek first and were not very impressed, though we did enjoy our first taste of Staffordshire Oat Cakes for lunch. They are like crepes made with oats, very delicious. Then we set Norman's Garmin to take us to Hope, a tiny village in the heart of the southern Derby Dales. Before I knew what was happening, we were heading miles out of our way. Who would have guessed that there are two Hopes in the Peak District - we ended up about 30 miles north of our intended route. There was no time for a walk and Norman showed extreme stoicism in the face of adversity as he drove on the 'wrong' side of the road all day in heavy traffic on only his second full day in England. I could not have done it myself, the eight hour time difference wipes me out for days!

Today I am picking up a car for our remaining time here. We are looking forward to celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary tomorrow and to going out next week with Robert, the manager of Mercia and later with our friends Paul and Linda. We are flying back to Phoenix on the 25th.
Darkening Skies

Barb, Rog, Ange
Barb, Roger and Angela
Barb, Ange,
Barb, Angela and Michael
Nanci & Norman at Stenson
Norman and Nanci at Stenson Lock
Norman at
Serious Business, being a Lock-Keeper
Moon over Mercia
Head CaseP.S.  Just after posting the above, I went for my nightly walk around the Marina before retiring to the floating pit. A car came towards me and I stepped aside on to what I thought was a hard shoulder, but it was a drop on to grass which pitched me forward on to gravel. So now I have much to complain about (right) and am, of course, taking full advantage.

Come back next year for more whining, sniveling, and maybe even some canal cruising.