Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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ROUND THE CANALS: Continued. FROM THE THAMES TO BIRMINGHAM.
THE Thames and Severn (Now closed for navigation) was our first experience. It is 29 miles long, with 44 locks in all to Walbridge Stroud (Glos); one enters at Inglesham, about three-quarters of a mile above Lechlade Wharf. This canal, like most others, has had a varied career, and has consequently not developed as perhaps it might. The report about the condition of the weeds there again was such that we re-engaged our horseman, "John Gilpin," who not only stood by, but did yeoman service in pulling us through the parts where the propeller refused to go round, and glad we were of the auxiliary assistance.
Incidentally, too, our boat was well equipped against contingencies after our many experiences, and we had two coils and two accumulators, one set being fixed on each side; in addition to this, we carried a dry battery, good for many miles; then we had our tube ignition (which, however, was unsatisfactory), and, lastly, a stout towing mast - used also for the masthead light - with a strong rope, so that we were in a measure prepared for any trouble that might arise. The last resort was, of course, the horseman, as already described, and in this again one enjoys a new and pleasant sensation after the vibrating engines, although, of course, this mode of progression is infra dig. to the motor boat tourist.
En route we passed Latton (Wilts), the junction for the North Wilts Canal, leading to Abingdon, via the Wilts and Berks Canal, but both these waterways have now been abandoned. Hitherto this formed a convenient, and not too long, circular tour to the Thames for those doing such trips. Such circular tours from and to the Thames, I may say, are not many, and the one we are now traversing is about the last left to us that can be so undertaken. The scenery along the banks of the canal is pleasing at many points, and it is the rural character that makes this class of travelling so attractive. We passed such places as Kempsford (Glos) and Cricklade (Wilts), and eventually reached Cirencester (Glos) by a cutting about 1½ miles from the main canal, and at this point, as already mentioned, we had to break our journey and leave the boat, owing to the repairs to the canals. From there we all hied back to town by rail quite pleased with our trip and experiences so far Cirencester (Glos) is a typical English market town of considerable antiquity.
Travelling down from London on the following Friday night to Cirencester with our party of five all told, we resumed our journey on the Thames and Severn Canal, making an early start next morning, as we had a heavy day's work before us. The weather broke badly at our start, but cleared up afterwards very fine; there had been a very heavy rain all night through, but we were rather pleased at this, as the Thames and Severn water was not then over-abundant on the summit. After what we had come through with weeds, etc., we again had a horse and man provided, so as not to lose any time, and we were towed right to Sapperton Tunnel, some seven miles on.
This Sapperton is a fine piece of tunnelling, and, I understand, one of the longest in England, being 3,808 yards, or 2¼ miles in length. It was built at the end of the eighteenth century. Our intention was to motor through, but with the engine racing a little, and with patches of weeds here and there in the tunnel (although the water is comparatively clear) we decided to work the boat through. This we did by the aid of our boathooks and of a wire running along the side. We eventually accomplished this rather exciting piece of work in one hour and 35 minutes-all hands being at work. Both at the entrance to the tunnel and at the exit the rural scenery is very striking.
After this, the lock work begins seriously from the summit at Daneway, with group after group of locks, there being 28 for the remaining seven miles to Walbridge Stroud (Glos), and this took us from 2.15 p.m. up till half-past eight. The scenery on the latter run is of the finest description: one has the splendid advantage of seeing what is known as the Golden Valley to the fullest extent As one wends one's way down the scenic effects are very fine indeed; in fact, this part of the trip amply repaid us for any tediousness there was in coming through the multitudinous locks, which are so slow in filling. After the tunnel, our motor, working well, was brought into requisition, and we continued with it right through from there. We had the service of lock-keepers nearly all the way down, or got assistance, otherwise it would have entailed a heavy day's work. We were rather unfortunate with our locks here, in so far that a barge was ahead of us and the locks were against us all the, way through. In consequence of this, our day's run was curtailed by, say, a couple of hours, but one must accept the inevitable in canal life. As before mentioned, we duly reached Walbridge Stroud, the end of the Thames and Severn Canal.
The Stroudwater Canal was our next move, and we decided, although late, to proceed, the moon being clear and the night fine. We travelled down as far as we could, having arranged in the meantime to have a conveyance to drive us back to Stroud, where we rested for the night, reaching there after 11 p.m. This, made a 14-hours' day.
Next day, our eighth, we resumed our voyage below Stroud in beautiful weather, doing the remainder of the canal, when we joined the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal at Saul (Glos). There we had a delay of about three hours, owing to a misunderstanding about the lock pass. Although it was a pleasant point to stay at, we were sorry at the stoppage, as we had a long day before us Eventually we got started on this canal late in the afternoon, and had a fine run of eight miles through to Gloucester without any locks, but with many drawbridges. This canal is worthy of special remark, being of a very substantial character, and is both wide and deep.
Entering the River Severn through the Dock Lock at Gloucester we found ourselves on the" high road" to Worcester, 29½ miles, with two large locks for this distance. We decided, with our engines going splendidly, although it was rather late for so long a journey, to make a bid for Worcester, so "full speed ahead" was the order of the night. The Severn, from what we saw of it before dusk, is not in any way striking in the way of picturesqueness, but it is a wonderful river for its long reaches, with extremely good depth of water, and the width all the way along surprises one. The moon on that evening was at its fullest, and the effect thereof was charming, fully compensating us for our late efforts. The locks on the Severn at Tewkesbury and Diglis are the largest I have seen, the former being a double one. After passing through Tewkesbury Lock, we duly reached the " Port of Worcester" about midnight, after a most satisfactory run, having been on two canal systems and the River Severn. We were fortunate to find some people about, working late on the river steamboats, and they piloted us to our hotel: a haven of rest we were glad to see after having again been some 14 hours - more or less - under way, and having covered in all 42 miles - a very creditable performance with the conditions described.
After a pleasant stay at Worcester we made a late start, the Worcester and Birmingham Canal being our next route, and Stoke Prior (Worcester), 13 miles ahead with 22 locks, being our goal, thus making it an easy day after our big run from the Stroudwater Canal. The time taken over this stretch was six hours. The locks themselves, known as narrow locks, are smaller than usual, there being a margin of only a few inches over our beam, but they are easily handled and filled. With such a very large number of locks in front of us, although we had our two men, we chartered a canal boatman at Worcester to assist us, rather than make a toil of a pleasure.
The extra man we found very useful, as he also watched the launch over night, a duty which we found essential, as there are few conveniences for housing en route. As no accommodation was procurable at Stoke Prior we trained to Droitwich (Worcester), about four miles off, and put up for the night there.
Our tenth day found us starting from Stoke Prior. The weather, which had previously held up fairly well, with fine spells of bright sunshine, quite broke down on that day, and we had an almost Continuous downpour all the day through; however, that in no way interfered with our progress. Shortly after starting we had to encounter 36 locks in 12 miles to the summit of the canal. This we accomplished in 2¾ hours, not a bad feat, we thought, but by this time we were becoming adepts in motoring into the locks instead of working in with boathooks: it was adventuresome, but saved considerable time. After reaching the summit we had quite an enjoyable afternoon going through the tunnels; we traversed no less than five of them, four of which we motored through ourselves, and through the fifth, 2,750 yards long, we were towed by the Canal Company's tug; the respective lengths of the others were 326, 352, 568, and 608 yards, all capacious and well-built tunnels. Then we came to King's Norton (Worcester), some few miles from Birmingham, the most northerly point of our journey, where we landed for letters.Pictures related to this cruise