David: Spring cruise

Published: Monday, 22 April 2019

OUR Spring cruise has taken us up the Grand Union via Hatton, down the South Stratford and then down the Avon.

Then up the Severn and Staffs & Worcs, via Droitwich, up Wolverhampton and round the Wyrley & Essington to Walsall Basin. In all that time we have not been affected by any maintenance issues, except for the odd defective paddle; perhaps we are just lucky.

Most impressed

I was most impressed by the state of the Avon, which I have not cruised since 2013; every lock now has good overnight moorings available and decent lock landings, everything was working as it should and all the paddle gear and gates were easy to operate.

It is very liberating to be told to leave exit gates open. We had the river almost to ourselves, seeing only three other boats moving in the whole cruise. My only criticism is that if there is any notification of the state of the Severn at Tewkesbury Lock then I missed it.

Slow going

We made slow going up the Severn to Diglis and it was only there that I discovered that the river was in the yellow zone, from the high-tech panels that CaRT have installed there and at all the river locks. Perhaps there should be one at Tewkesbury too.

On the Avon all the locks have a red/yellow/green gauge, which were actually below the green level; we had been warned at Stratford not to go past the old bathing station upstream as the levels were low; this does not bode well for the rest of the season.

Plauge of broad boats

At Hanbury I was disgusted to find that the width of the canal was reduced to less than 14ft by a couple of broad boats moored there, one at the wharf which looked like a permanent live-aboard and the other on the towpath side. This is a narrow canal—why is CaRT allowing New Boat Co at Hanbury to put its broad boats into it?

According to a volunteer at the Droitwich locks, they do this regularly. Last year there was a broad boat on the Trent & Mersey near the Anderton Lift and they now stray onto the North Oxford. They are a nuisance on the canal between Braunston and Napton, which while technically a broad canal is not maintained to that state as the offside vegetation often limits the available width.

Wolverley slip 2Wolverley Slip

The landslip at Wolverley on the Staffs & Worcs seems to have been dealt with efficiently by CaRT, especially as the problem was not of its making. In fact there are two landslips in the area, the other being at Wolverley Forge bridge, which looks as though it was caused by a vehicle strike on the bridge.

I was impressed that CaRT have published the time restriction for this section by paper notices on lock beams at Stourport and Kidderminster, not just relying on the internet. It has also notified the restrictions on the Wolverhampton Level similarly; I hope this represents a change in policy for something which I and others have been complaining about for some time.

Use by date

James Henry is far too pessimistic in suggesting the canal system has passed its use by date. There are thousands of structures in this country far older than the 200 year old canal system.

Bridges, cathedrals, churches, stately homes and even some castles. The White Tower of the Tower of London was built in the 11th century and still fully functions today. All of these buildings have been subject to constant use and careful maintenance, which is why they survive.

Where structures have ceased to have a use they fall into disrepair and eventually disappear, unless the ruins are preserved—witness most of our monasteries. Never has the slogan 'use it or lose it' been more relevant.

Walsall basinWalsall Basin

Where I am writing this, tied up in Walsall Basin, is a prime example. 20 years ago it was surrounded by derelict buildings and inaccessible because of subsidence under the approach arm. The subsidence was fixed and the whole area redeveloped, so it is surrounded by modern buildings and one surviving canal warehouse, converted to a bar.

There are new mooring jetties and there is no rubbish in the water (which is more than you can say for the
rest of the BCN). All that is lacking is some boats; I am alone here apart from the small plastic boat which sank yesterday eveningand which CaRT turned out to check when I reported it. Projects like this, the Avon and the Droitwich restorations show what can be done and that it is perfectly feasible to maintain and restore our canal system, irrespective of how old it is.

David Hymers