We reached the locks just before end of the Droitwich Barge Canal yesterday. From here the only way back is to go forward – there is no way to turn the boat round without going through the locks on to the River Severn. Once on the Severn our options are limited too. During the winter, the locks are no longer staffed routinely. By booking at least 24 hours in advance, it is possible to arrange passage through the locks, but even then only five days a week (not Tuesdays or Wednesdays).
My plan was to make the best of the turning round manoeuvre by using it as an excuse for a slow cruise up to Holt Lock and back. We set off mid-morning, trying to make sure we had time in the shortening days to cruise slowly.
Clare elected to let me operate the locks, having been forewarned that they were very heavy. I managed them, but I was pleased to be using the fancy windlass with its long handle and built in ratchet. Several of the gates were hard to get started, and slightly damp ground made getting purchase tricky.
We got through the locks and Clare waited for me on the pontoons just outside the locks (“Oh, not those pontoons!”). We then had to turn more than a right angle to head upstream. Last time we did this we used the bow thruster! The stream is stronger in the middle of the river, but that is just where the bow is when trying to push it with the stern. There was a disconcerting time as we drifted down the river sideways, but eventually we turned to face upstream very close to the opposite bank.
We went upstream using the diesel engine at maximum charging efficiency, which meant we were going through the water at under 3mph and over the river bed at less than 2mph. Before we reached Holt Lock the batteries were full. We moored up and went to see Holt Fleet, but didn’t find very much, so we had lunch on the boat.
After lunch we set off downstream. Turning downstream was easy, the bow was caught by the faster water and pushed the right way. We had the propellor turning just enough to allow steering, so we were travelling at the speed of the river in silence. We were rewarded with multiple views of kingfishers, cormorants, buzzards, little grebes, long-tailed tits, blue tits and a woodpecker.
The sun came out for a while, and the wind stayed light, so we had no problem keeping warm. We returned to last night’s mooring above the locks.
We went for a walk along the canal as the sun was setting. The mistletoe in the bare trees was easy to see but impossible to reach.