Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Rolling in the Deep

Our last blog concluded with me ranting that I had just received a text alert from our Lord and Masters, the Canal & River Trust, saying we could not proceed to head north upstream on the Severn as it was in full flood. Of course, that text came precisely after I had just taken down the chimney, the TV ariel, taken off the fenders, checked the weed hatch, attached the tiller bar and was about to flick the ignition key.
Evidently it’s all the fault of the Welsh. Half the rain that falls there, ends up in the Severn, three days later, and they had been experiencing a wet patch. Sounds a bit unsavoury to me!
So we had to sit tight, and too be perfectly truthful, there are a lot worse places to be stuck in. As it looked like it was going to take a few days for the river to subside, we decided to enter the main basin on the docks and hook up to one of the four power points they have there for visitors.
In our experience, this arrangement is quite rare, so we had to go and buy a pre-paid card to make it work. Blow me down, as we opened the box the previous person using it had left us a card with 18 units on it. We only used three units all weekend, so we left it for the next boater.
Our view, at night, of the restored warehouses in Gloucester Docks

We had one of the best views of the basin from our mooring, especially at night when all the restored warehouses are lit. The downside was a bit of jump up onto the quay, we had to run the gauntlet of the hundreds of gongoozlers that visit the docks every day, and we were slap, bang, outside a very popular cafĂ© called “On Toast”. You can get every conceivable combination of toasted sandwich here, and we have it on good authority that Gloucester’s Lady Mayoress’s favourite is the Moroccon  with cream and minted lamb. We know this as she gave us a lift back to the docks last week, when we were visiting our pals who are big dog agility fans.
Our mooring in the basin, opposite "On Toast"

So is Gemma, the Mayoress, and she thoroughly recommended we try one of their specialty toasties at this very popular stop on the quay. We did, I had the Canadian, with brie, bacon and cranberries and Pat had a boring Ham and Cheese. Very good they were too, and great value.
Right, that’s this week’s restaurant review done and dusted.

So we had a sleepy weekend in Gloucester and the weather was rather good, especially Sunday, so I set about the boat with a paintbrush and tidied up a few areas that needed attention. The docks have loads of visitor moorings, which is certainly not typical of other marinas and basins we have been in, where residential moorings rule and you’re lucky if there are one or two spots for visitors. We were invited over the Yacht Club for drinks on Saturday night by “Jude”, who is a live aboard on narrowboat “Rambling Rose” in one of the adjoining basins. I wondered if I should break out the Blazer and cravat, but it was all very low key and guess what: they have their own ukulele group there as well. I don’t know what it is with this part of the world but they are uke crazy in the South West.
Having shoreline power changes a lot of things on board, especially, if you are stationary for a long period. We don’t have to run the engine and annoy the neighbours in the flats close by. It means we can run our washing machine for a change, and I can use my laptop whenever I fancy, rather than charge up its battery when we are moving and then hurry to use it before it runs out.
Several times a day I have been monitoring the EA website showing river levels which are updated three-hourly, and by Sunday morning the Severn had started to drop and looked OK all the way up to Shrewsbury, but Steve, the lock keeper at Gloucester, was adamant that it was not low enough and we would have to sign a disclaimer if we insisted on going through, negating our insurance.
Roger is pleased to see the river levels decreasing over the length of the Severn

The keepers at either end of the docks seem to work seven days a week -they were always on duty when we passed by and after nearly a week in the docks we got on first-name terms with them both. Each has a large loudspeaker above their cabin and I have heard one of them shouting a tirade of instructions at one boat when they did not follow the rules of engagement.
So Monday morning saw six of us waiting for 8am when the lock opened and for a sign from Steve the lockie that we could proceed upstream. It was a big lock and took all of us. If I had been him I would have made the announcement “Gentlemen, start your engines”, but it was the jungle telegraph of diesel engines bursting into life that indicated it was showtime.
Shoehorning all the waiting boats into Gloucester Lock

I reckon the closure of the river is partly “Health & Safety” driven. We had this discussion in the Yacht Club and the Rear Commodore (tee shirt and cargo pants - what would the commodore say?) made the point that we could turn the boat around, cruise down the ship canal and out into the treacherous Bristol Channel and no-one would stop us. We’d be pretty stupid to do it, but you see the reasoning. I am sure if this scenario had happened 15 years ago, we would have been back in Worcester by last weekend. However, I would not have fancied battling upstream against a roaring current, turning a bend to find a Welsh tree trunk hurtling toward us at 10mph, which can clearly happen if the river is running very fast.
It was extremely slow progress pushing through the fast current and we only averaged 3mph, even with a lot of revs. It took us six and a half hours to get to Upton, where we moored overnight next to a very amiable couple from the North-East on NB Minna, who we had several pints of Hobgoblin with (£2 a pint - absolute bargain) in The Plough in Upton. We followed them up to Worcester and went through the two locks and I breathed a sigh of relief to be back in familiar territory. We were joined at the locks by a school party who insisted on helping us through. See pictures.
Pat lets the school party open this one

Boaters of the future?
We meet up with some of my pals in Gas Street, Birmingham, the first weekend in June, and before that we have a rendevous with the famous Stoke and Tardebigge flight of 35  locks to negotiate, the longest flight of locks in the country I believe, and one of the longest (and wettest) tunnels follows it. Who said boating is glamorous and relaxing.

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