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Friday, 8 June 2012

Canal Cruising - Stourport Ring Days 1 & 2

We returned on Jubilee weekend from a hot and sunny week on the narrowboat. We wanted to cruise the Stourport Ring, From Alvechurch, down the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towards Worcester, onto the newly re-opened Droitwich Canals, up the River Severn to the limit of navigation at Stouport and onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. After Kidderminster and Kinver we will take a right turn onto the Stourbridge Canal and into Stourbridge basin, followed by Dudley No 1 Canal near Merry Hill, then the long tunnel to the New Main Line to Birmingham, then back onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal returning to Alvechurch.
Map of Stourport RIng

If you dont like canals look away, cos this is a long one, the route length was a mere sounding 66 miles, however we used 103 locks, 5 tunnels, and 64 litres of diesel.
Day 1
We set of from Alvechurch Marina on the Sunday morning, in glorious hot weather, heading through the 2 Shortwood and Tardebigge tunnels before hitting 36 locks at Tardebigge and Stoke.
Lovely - Sunshine and Blossom.

Light at the end of the 613 yard Shortwood Tunnel.

In the deep Tardebigge Top Lock

There are 30 locks in the Tardebigge flight, dropping the canal 200 feet, the top lock at 14 feet is one of the deepest narrowbeam locks in the country. The Tardebigge flight for boaters is an accomplishment that pales other groups of locks into insignificance. Time to navigate these locks is approx 7 hours, although we had a lunch break half way down.
Midway down the flight.

With locks so closely spaced and with so many to do we equally took turns at steering and locking, we also had a boat in front with a 2 man crew which slowed us a little, no worries on a nice hot sunny day. We caught them up after lunch. With a boat in front going downhill you have to have a routine as every lock needed filling before we could enter. So one of our crew would steer, the second would open the top gate, let the boat in and shut top gate, then as the third crew member began to let water into the lock below they would let water out of the preceding lock, this way the water, approx 50,000 gallons per lock would go into the lock below and not be wasted over the finely balanced overspill weirs which prevent flooding.

Toni letting out the water from the lock above.

Occasionally an upward bound boat breaks the routine, which gives the lockers a brief respite as the upward bound boat crew help at the lock below and our crew do not have to shut the lock gates above thus allowing upward boat entry to lock.
Passing upward boat traffic.

Nearing the bottom of the Tardebigge flight.

Duck family.

After Tardebigge we completed the 6 locks of the Stoke flight before calling it a day at Stoke Prior where welcome cold ciders awaited, not the first of the day!
Stoke Prior was until the 1970's the site of the largest Saltworks in the world, 200,000 tons of salt a year was produced by pumping water into the ground salt deposits and extracting as brine, then drying out to produce salt. Little remains of the works and the area is landscaped.

Day 2
Monday was again hot and sunny. After the obligatory fry up, we set of heading for the 6 Astwood locks before turning off the Worcester and Birmingham Canal on to the newly restored Droitwich Junction Canal. This was originally abandoned in the 30's.

Waiting for Top lock of Hanbury flight to fill.

The first 3 locks have side ponds to conserve water supplies and are equipped with their own side operating paddles, again going downhill, the lock is filled from the canal, the boat is motored into lock and top gates shut, half a lock full of water is emptied into the side pond by opening the side paddles, the paddles are then closed trapping half a lock full of water in the sidepond, the bottom gate paddles are then opened allowing remainder of water from lock into canal below, bottom gates are then opened to allow the boat out. When going up, the boat is let into the empty lock and the bottom gates are shut, the side pond paddles are opened allowing the saved half lock of water back into the lock, the paddles are again shut then the top gate paddles are opened allowing the rest of the lock to be filled, then the top gates are opened to let the boat out.
Getting this sequence wrong can result in the intervening pond between locks being drained as the side ponds are only designed to hold half a lockful, any more goes over a overspill weir to the pound below.

Filling the sidepond at Hanbury Top Lock.

After the 3 Hanbury locks the canal heads towards Droitwich, a section of the canal was obliterated during construction of the M5 motorway, the canal has had to be re-cut and diverted in order to use a culvert under the M5 to allow access to Droitwich. This entailed building 4 new locks, 3 to drop down to the level of the M5 culvert (2 connected as staircase locks) then one after the M5 to drop onto the River Salwarpe. Info here for those interested. http://www.leepd60.net63.net/DEIcanal303.htm
In the new staircase lock, new "cut" of diverted canal behond.

In a staircase lock consisting of 2 rises going downhill there are 3 sets of gates, the top rise has to be full to allow the boat in, the bottom rise has to be empty, water is then emptied from the top rise into the bottom rise, the middle gates are then opened, and the boat moves into the bottom rise and middle gates are shut behind it. The water is then released from bottom rise into canal below, bottom gates opened and the boat motors out into lower canal.

Leaving the top rise of the new staircase lock.

Leaving the lower rise of the new staircase lock at lower canal level
. Middle gates behond.

The next new lock would drop us down to the level of the culvert under the M5, as the canal was disused when the motorway was built they only put in a small culvert to carry drainage water from the canal and not a full sized bridge, luckily it was large enough to allow later passage with the canal level lowered, though it will be a tight squeeze for some boats, we where not sure if we would fit through due to the cratch cover over the cockpit on the front of our boat. The level of the canal can vary here as a brook flows into it which can affect clearance.

Tight clearance at M5 Culvert, just a couple of inches
between cratch and roof.

The next new lock would drop us on the the river Salwarpe and on into Droitwich.

Leaving the last new lock on the river Salwarpe.

After approx 1/4 mile the river meets the recently restored widebeam Droitwich Barge Canal which was abandoned in the 30's, the old river lock has been restored here, at low water the level difference is only a few inches, but at times of heavy rain this can rise dramatically.

Waiting in the turning basin for the girls to shut the river lock gates.

The restored canal then swings through Vine Park, with 3 swing bridges to be opened before reaching Netherwich Basin where new pontoon moorings have been created in the transhipment basin.

Swing Bridges in Vines Park.

Netherwich Basin.

We arrived and moored up early on Monday afternoon, so we spent some time in Droitwich, quite a nice town centre, dotted with old buildings and Brine pumping houses from when salt was pumped from underground. A lot of the buildings show signs of previous subsidence where the land has collapsed due to brine pumping. Some history here.
Was a pleasant place to moor and the supermarket is near to the canal.

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