Saturday 28 May 2016

If Disney did rivers: skiffing the Severn and Avon:

If Disney were setting out to create the perfect river, they would surely use the Severn and its dainty sister the Avon, as a model.

On a two-day skiff tour there, we found exquisitely pretty river banks lined with cow parsley and some kind of yellow flower (I’m a rower not a botanist, OK), quintessentially English church towers and fields of unicorns. Frankly, it’s amazing we weren’t surrounded by rainbow bubbles… oh, wait, we were…

About those unicorns
You’d probably like this one cleared up before we start, which is fair enough. Well, the thing about being immersed in a perfect land complete with little butterflies, is that you start expecting magic wherever you look. So when we saw some ivory-cream horses in a flower meadow, gently tossing their flowing manes, and snorting rainbows from their nostrils (we may just have had too many sugary snacks at that point), the mere detail that they didn’t have any horns didn’t seem to matter.

Route: Worcester to Pershore (Day 1), then on to Stratford upon Avon (Day 2)
Distance: About 30 miles each day.
Locks: 17 (4 on Day 1 and 13 on Day 2).
Diamond-shaped locks: 1 (Wyre Lock. We have no idea why: it made a change, but took longer to fill because of the greater volume, and mooring a long narrow boat in it might have been interesting.)

I have say that the relentless charm of the Severn and Avon can become almost too much of a good thing after a couple of days. I don't know about you, but if I were in a chocolate factory, I'd start wishing for a pickled onion after a while, and after the umpteenth mile of confectionery-style countryside, even a hint of brutalism might give you some contrast to help you you appreciate it all the better.

And the samey-ness makes it a bit like being plonked in a Monet for the weekend: it's lovely, but nothing HAPPENS.

That said, I thoroughly recommend the Severn and Avon as a rowing tour destination, and if you go and do it, and here are some top tips and fab facts to help you live happily ever after.
    Impressive red cliffs at Cliffey Wood
    (stating-the-obvious names have apparently been around
    since long before the “Boaty McBoatface” episode)
  • For the Severn, you need to buy a Canal & River Trust license from their website in advance (it allegedly costs more if you buy them at a lock).
  • Don’t bother to buy the key that lets you into their “sanitary stations” as there aren’t any at the only lock you go through on this route.
  • There are hardly any cruisers or narrow boats on the Severn, especially when  compared with the Thames.
  • However, those cruisers that there are often go too fast and cut their speed too late (in our experience, and according to a nice, chatty coach at Upton Rowing Club).
  • There are lots of static caravan parks on both the Severn and Avon.

Me (in green) demonstrating the usefulness of a
boat hook in the inexplicably
diamond-shaped Wyre Lock.
  • Take a boat hook.
  • Avon Lock (where you pass from the Severn to the Avon) is shut from 12.45pm to 2pm, and you can't self-operate.
  • You can buy licenses there. 
  • And bubbles.
  • The static caravans mostly have balconies.
  • Just before you turn off the Severn onto the Avon at Tewkesbury you go under Mythe Bridge which has a notable lattice structure and we thought was rather fine. Reading the guidebook later (which unfortunately arrived through the post a few hours AFTER we set off), it turns out we must be bridge connoisseurs as it's one of Thomas Telford's.

    As one lock keeper put it very accurately,
    "Hang on tight, it's a rough ride."
  • The sluices on most Avon locks are in the gate and visible when the lock is empty, so you get great fountains of water coming out of them as the lock starts to fill. So don't have your bows too close to the upstream end of the lock! 
  • Take ropes. Most locks don't have chains.
  • You pass through the village of Wyre Piddle on the Avon. Snigger.
  • Almost every village has a highly picturesque church with a square tower.
  • Some of the static caravan balconies have glass panels, not quite of the design standards of the Huf Hausen on the Thames, but you can't fault them for their aspirations.
  • If you go at the end of May, as we did, there are hawthorn bushes laden with pink and white blossom all over the place.
  • And swans carrying their grey, fuzzy cygnets between their wings.
  • And lambs whose little black ears bounce up and down like Shaun the Sheep's as they gambol about.
  • Incredibly, there were no bluebirds flying overhead.

Approaching Bidford bridge. Charming but challenging.
  • Bidford-on-Avon bridge has quite a lot of aches, which are a bit like those children's toys where you have to put things through the same shaped-hole as they're all different shapes and sizes. 
  • Don't get excited about trying to decide which arch your boat might best fit through, though, as only the one on the extreme right (as you're going upstream) is actually navigable, and it's so narrow you have to pull your blades right in to shoot it, and even after approaching at firm, and gunwaling blades at the last possible moment (rather skillfully I thought, though I sez it myself) we ground to a halt getting through going upstream because the stream all funnels that way. You are warned!

    Flood-proof lock keeper's hut. 
  • The lock-keeper's hut at George Billington Lock is apparently flood-proof, which explains why it looks like it's been pinched from the top of a lighthouse.
  • If all the static caravans we passed were occupied to capacity, I imagine Birmingham would be virtually deserted.
  • Incidentally, the yellow riverbank flowers that were hanging out with the cow parsley were probably Wild Charlock aka Field Mustard.

And finally, those rainbow bubbles...
I've been rowing for nearly 30 years, but I can safely say I've never been involved in rowing-generated bubble creation. Could this start a trend?

1 comment:

  1. Definitely more colourful than the boatrace videos, and thankfully shorter ;- )