Saturday, 11 June 2016

There and back again!

Thursday 9th June 2016
Droitwich Spa Marina to Netherwich Basin, Droitwich and Return
3 miles, 10 locks and 6 swing bridges

A reunion for us and 4 friends who all spent a year at RAF Cranwell from 1991 to 1992 had been planned.  We have met up as fours since then, but never all six together, so as you can imagine there was a lot to catch up on and a trip out on the boat in such perfect weather just seemed to fit the bill. This day trip is a good one as there is plenty of variety and lots to do.  The first two locks are a staircase - for those who do not know - this is two locks joined together with no pound between them. You go into the first lock making sure that the lock below is empty.  Open the paddles on the middle gates so the top lock half fills the bottom lock, open the middle gates and

move into the second chamber, close the middle gates and then open the bottom paddles to empty the half full lock into the pound below.  And no, it was not cold - this is a Blue Peter photo - ie one I took earlier!!

There are another three locks to negotiate along with three swing bridges, one of which is in the middle of the last lock.

Then there is the dreaded M5 culvert.  There had been a lot of rain the night before, so would we fit?  As it has been so dry and there were five of us to act as ballast in the bow we risked leaving the cratch up.  The water was certainly higher than it had been for a while.  Chris inched forward very slowly.  There is a gauging board at each end - hit it and you will have problems.  The board below is actually at the end coming from Droitwich and we reckon it's height is spot on.  At the other end the board is slightly low, so it swung as we went under it.  On Chris went inch by inch and phew - we made it with about 2 inches to spare.  I was too busy checking the clearance to take any photos! Without the extra people we would not have made it of that I am certain.  By the time we came home the water had dropped by several inches, so a much less stressful passage.

So who were the crew?  Well there was Gil complete with crutch as she has hurt her knee.  There was some doubt if she would make it, but thankfully things are improving and she coped valiantly.

Then Dee and her husband Steve (with the hat) and Laurie, Gil's husband.

Gil was determined to wind at least one paddle

Once safely moored in Nethewich Basin we headed to The Gardener's Arms for lunch where a table was booked for 1pm.  If you come this way and want to find the pub the alley way below is the one you are looking for!  Many hands really did make light work and we were an hour early.  No problem they said and we sat ourselves under an awning in the garden.  An excellent meal was enjoyed by us all along with a lot of chat.

Steve and Laurie both had a turn on the helm, however I failed to get a photo of Laurie in action (sorry!).

At the last lock we met up with some people Chris and I had helped on Tardebigge last week when they were on a hire boat.  We handed over the camera to get this shot of us all - well nearly all.  Steve had miscounted and walked on to the next non existent lock!

All too soon the day was over, tea had been drunk and our guests departed. All that was left was for us to pack up our bits and bobs (we had stayed on board on Wednesday night), lock up the boat, check there is enough money in the electric meter and head home to prepare for our trip to France (we leave on Thursday).  It will be a while before we are back on the cut in the UK.

Unusually Monty failed to get into any of the shots, so here is waiting patiently for Chris to come back with the car from emptying the toilet, so we can load and head home.

And finally the newest inhabitants of Droitwich Spa Marina

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Somewhat late, but at last Droitwich and the St Richard's Festival

24th April - 3rd May

Over a month has passed since we were last afloat and this should have been written ages ago, but other events always seemed to have priority. Still better late than never.  It is long, so feel free to skip bits or ignore altogether - they are primarily written for our benefit as a record of our time afloat.

Having finally settled in to our mooring in Droitwich we had several days of 'down time' before we were due to help with the preparations for the annual St Richard's Festival.  So what did we do?  Well recovery from Chris's fall and some tlc for my back were on the cards, so we were both glad of the respite.  There were plenty of Monty walks including one back to the marina to get our car which gave us the freedom to roam.  We had, of course, to do the trip in reverse before we left.

Droitwich is a small town in Worcestershire whose history is firmly based on the salt industry.  In Roman times it was called Salinae, then later Wyche - the Droit was added on 1 August 1215 when the town was given it's charter by King John.  'Spa' was added in the 19th Century when the 'Salt King', John Corbett developed the town's Spa facilities.  The town is situated on massive deposits of salt, and salt has been extracted there since ancient times.  The natural Droitwich brine contains
2  1/2 lbs of salt per gallon - ten times stronger than sea water and rivalled only by the Dead Sea.
There is evidence of this past history both in the town - these are at the site of what was Gurney's Lane Pumping Station, now situated just past a very conveniently placed (for boaters) Waitrose

and in Vine's Park through which the canal runs.  The park area is where most of the brine pits and wells had been situated. This is a replica of one of them - The Great Upwich Pit.

There is also a replica of one of the old Wyche Barges which has lots of information about the past salt industry, but it is also a rather nice seating and picnic area.

My most interesting walk took me along the Barge Canal from Vines Park to Salwarpe.  The weather was clement and once out of the environs of Droitwich we hardly saw a soul.  Birds singing, bulrushes swaying in the breeze all marred a little by the constant drone of traffic from the ever present M5.

I came across this sign - there are two entrances to this reed bed

Both with these signs.  You would expect them to have been a duplicate of each other, but there is one glaring difference - the first has a spelling error and they have not done much better with the second.

Anyway I digress - I am not one to forego a bit of a diversion to see what can be seen - Monty duly attached to his lead we ventured forth - would we find the reed bed or some cows?  At the first entrance before very long you come to this gate with an inviting view on the far side

Unfortunately it is closed to public access, so we re-traced our steps

And ventured to the second access where we had more luck.  This is a great place to view the reed bed, but there were no birds around and did we find any of those cows?  Sadly no.

We got as far as bridge 7 at Salwarpe before retracing out steps back to the boat.

That was our week in brief, but we were in Droitwich to help out with the festival.

So just how much was there to do to ready the site for the many visitors they hoped to attract?  A lot! The work is mostly undertaken by volunteers from the Worcester Birmingham & Droitwich Canal Society (WBDCS) along with some C&RT staff and volunteers.  We are members of both, so were we doubly useful - probably not, but we did our bit.  All the equipment needed to be loaded into two 7.5 ton trucks from where they are stored - something we were not able to help with.  So what exactly are we talking about?  Well all the electrical equipment, lights for the site, lighting for the marquee and stage, bar equipment, table and chairs, fire extinguishers, marquees plus they have 4 trailers and two caravans to move and only two people with tow bars.

Thursday morning saw us ready and willing for whatever needed to be done - first things first - get the marquees up before it rained!  I did wonder how on earth the poles and connectors were all sorted out when we helped dismantle the site after the Worcester Festival last June - scroll to the bottom of this post for the reverse of building a festival.

The answer is carefully and with great precision.  There are long poles and shorter one, connectors with three or four 'prongs' and they all have to be in the right place.  The man with the clipboard is the Chairman of the WBDCS doing a very important job - taking orders for sandwiches to be sourced from The Gardener's Arms.  Bacon and egg for me and very welcome it was too.

Every pole has to be fully inserted into the relevant connector - if a hammer is not man enough, the ratchet and strap have to be deployed.

Once the frame of the roof is built the roof itself was unrolled.

All together now and it was
pulled over to cover the frame.  The next step is for the side poles to be attached and the roof raised. First one side with a person at every joint, then the other.  I was too busy helping to take photos!  Do, however, note that sky!

The next bit of the puzzle is the sides - some have windows, some are emergency exits and some are solid - a very large jigsaw

They clip onto the roof with small bungees - I could really have done with being 2 inches taller!! My tip toes saw a lot of action.

As you will have seen most volunteers were of a 'certain age', however, thankfully we did have one young fire fighter (on the right) to help with the really heavy stuff which included positioning the cement blocks at strategic points to ensure nothing blew away.  The 'headless man' at this end is the main volunteer coordinator and I have to take my hat off to him - the hours he puts in are almost endless.  In fact there was a core of folk without whom none of these festivals would get off the ground.

A small JCB is required to move the generator

Which is slowly lowered into position. The beer has arrived which is all to the good!

One of the final pieces of the puzzle is to erect the security fencing - most of which is taken down each morning and re-erected at the end of each evening.

But in time it was all done - the marquee was ready

as was the bar

It was many hours of hard work (we only did half a day on both Thursday and Friday, but every little helps I guess).  Once back on board with the marquees safely up the threatened rain arrived.

Friday afternoon for us was the time to 'dress' Tentatrice

She was easy to find in the dark

So all was ready in time for the opening of the marquee for beer and bands by 5pm on Friday.

Saturday morning saw the official opening with a ceremony performed at the Great Upwich Brine Pit.

It was 'performed' by 'St Richard'

The Town Crier was there, sadly silent

Once over they processed to the

entrance of Netherwich Basin where the Mayor officially unveiled the information about

this painting opposite Netherwich Basin done by local children.

I think this is big enough for you to read all about it should you wish to

We had Saturday off as our daughter, son in law and their two boys were coming to visit.  The highlights for the boys was some rather realistic and noisy fights

and having their faces painted by the talented Sandra from AreandAre

I gather it has become a tradition at this festival for some of the adults to get in on the act on the last evening.  This is one of our local C&RT Managers who spends the entire weekend in charge of the sound system in the marquee.  He is also a point of contact for the rest of us if he is needed.

I could hardly leave Barry out!  Seen here taking a few minutes off to admire this rather magnificent Barn Owl.

The people did come despite the cold - and oh boy was it cold.  On the Thursday when we were busy erecting marquees I was wearing a thermal vest, a polo shirt, a sweatshirt and a fleece and I was so cold I went back to the boat to add an extra long sleeved thermal vest to the layers!  I was still cold and I am not usually prone to the cold!

Unfortunately we also got a lot of wet stuff.  This was Saturday and it got a lot worse on Sunday and Monday.  At one point on Monday I dived into the marquee to avoid a particularly heavy shower along with nearly everyone else attending. The comment from the band leader was 'Wonderful - just what I like - a captive audience!'  The volunteer is the 'headless man' in the photo above placing the cement block - he was trying valiantly to stop the rain cascading onto the electrical equipment at the back of the marquee.  He really was ever present throughout the entire event.

We spent Sunday and Monday afternoons on the C&RT stand - our main duty was to operate the main swing bridge into the park and then the lock and swing bridge to exit the park for all moving boats.

This swing bridge has always been notoriously hard to unlock and even worse to re-lock. Running repairs were done, but not to any great effect.  We shall see this week if a more permanent solution has been found.

On Monday I entered Monty for 'the most handsome dog' in a little fun show they have each year.

He behaved impeccably which is more than one Staffie did - there was a completely unprovoked attack on a 5 month old GSD.  Appallingly they were not told to leave and the owner had the brass neck to stay put!  Needless to say they did not win and it was noticeable that everyone else gave them a very wide berth.

It was the GSD pup who won (and quite rightly so, not just in sympathy as he was gorgeous).  Monty, well he got a highly commended, but it was so wet by the end he did not seem very impressed with his rosette!

We also had a go at a fun agility round - very noisy as he barks with excitement all the way round.

The weather just got worse and worse, but he enjoyed it.  My friend took the pictures despite the rain - thank you Thalia.  Above and beyond the call of duty!

To mark the end of the festival there is a mass duck race.  I think they sell around 1000 ducks, so at a pound a go they are quite a valuable asset.

This is just a taste - there was a lot more going on.  We had a great time despite the weather.  We did one late night stint helping to erect the security barriers, but compared to some volunteers our help was fairly small beer.  I will never again attend any function like this without appreciating the amount of work that goes on before, during and after and, in this case, probably 95% done by volunteers.

My bargain of the year - Chris spotted this small brandy glass on one of the stalls.  I asked the price - 20p!!  It is safely with the rest of the glassware on Tentatrice.

We had anticipated helping take everything down on the Tuesday and then heading off on Wednesday down the Barge Canal to the River Severn before picking up the Worcester/Birmingham Canal back to Droitwich.  However it transpired that we had a funeral to go to in Lincolnshire on the Wednesday, so we headed off passed AreandAre on Tuesday to go home

And all that was left to do was sort this lot out.

Total stats for the trip:
85.5 miles, 207 locks, 13 swing/lift bridge and 10 tunnels.

So what have we done since then?  Apart from grandparent duties (well not much of a duty as we had great fun) over half term, litter picking and some lock keeping I am not sure, but we always seem to be busy.  Watch this space for a short boat trip due this Thursday.