If you have ever sat in your car at the junction between a quiet side road and busy thundering A road watching a never ending flow of speeding cars and racing juggernauts going by, and wondered if you were ever going to get out into the traffic, you will have a pretty good image of where we are right now. Having drifted at a ridiculously leisurely pace down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal (side road) we have now been sitting patiently watching the millions of gallons of water and thousands of tons of debris speeding past us on the river Severn (A road) with no possibility of us joining the fray.
We have been informed by the Canal and River Trust volunteers that they don’t actually have the authority to prevent us from going on the river when it is in flood but then again we don’t have the desire to drown in the Bristol Channel having broken the narrow boat equivalent of the sound barrier to get there, so here we remain, in Stourport.
We arrived here on Friday after spending the previous week sitting out ominous rain storms in between making delightful progress south through some very pretty countryside. There was an abundance of wildlife, historic churches and tempting pubs to occupy us during the wet spells and when the sun did come out we made short relaxed journeys south.
This particular stretch of canal is made more interesting by the sandstone outcrop that frequently tries to bully the water aside, creating narrow gorges and torturous blind bends to navigate. There is nothing more exciting than rounding one of these bends, even at two miles per hour and finding two double width canoes full of terror stricken children in your path. Once the screaming had subsided, some from the children but more from a Beta Marine 3.8 engine at 2000 revs in reverse, the instructor, yes I did say INSTRUCTOR, asked us which side of an oncoming craft they were supposed to pass on! Having avoided featuring in all the national newspapers for accidentally killing twenty small children and intentionally murdering their instructor we plodded on via a surfeit of locks to reach Stourport.
Stourport is a bit like a bacon and Marmite sandwich, some bits are lovely and I can’t get enough of them and other bits are best left untouched. The town consists largely of a rather tired main shopping street culminating by the river in a loud, brash, gaudy fun fair in contrast to the beautifully maintained area containing the historic basins and buildings that were constructed to link the canal to the river Severn.
It also has great pubs with a thriving live music scene so perhaps I’m being hard on it because overall it’s not a bad place to be marooned. We arrived on Friday knowing that the river was high and we might not be able to go on it straight away but what we hadn’t anticipated was the delight with which the many helpful locals informed us that they had lived here for “ten years, twenty years” or “all my life” and “this is the highest the river has ever been”. (It isn’t, as any brief search of the internet will confirm) They went on to speculate as to whether we might be stuck for three, four, five days, or maybe even a week and that the best pub was The Black Star, The Swan, The Bridge etc. etc. The people of Stourport are unquestionably friendly but there isn’t much they agree on. Fishermen and lock keepers informed us that the river was still rising, had peaked or was falling all on the same afternoon and mentioned a couple more pubs we might like to try.
That James Brindley bloke that I have mentioned before built the Stourport Basins when he began the construction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Before he came along there was just one pub by the mouth of the river Stour but like all developers he saw an opportunity and as a Worcestershire historian named Nash put it in the late eighteenth century, “Near this Brindley has caused a town to be erected, made a port and dockyards, built a new and elegant bridge, established markets and made it a wonder not only of this county but of the nation at large.” Oh well, it doesn’t look like we can blame him for the fun fair then.
I have studiously been watching the river levels via an excellent web site that actually uses science to measure the rise and fall and reports it to the millimetre once every hour. So far it has proven to be totally reliable and agrees with the old fisherman who pulled a small perch from the river, waved it around his head three times whilst walking in an anti-clockwise circle, looked to the sky and declared: “Yow should be all royt by Fridoy”. We’ll see, there are plenty more pubs we haven’t tried yet.
Photos mostly by Gill Pearson