Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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FROM STRATFORD-ON-AVON TO WORCESTER ON THE RIVERS AVON AND SEVERN through the Counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
WHERE shall we spend our Whitsun?
Such was the prominent heading on a poster which caught my eye; and this, rather than the weather, reminded me that another holiday was near at hand.
After much cogitation it was decided by the crew that, for this time of the year, the Warwickshire or Upper Avon should be the scene of their next exploration.
We travelled down comfortably on the G.W. Railway by "diner" to Stratford-on-Avon (Warwickshire), changing at Leamington into a motor train, or auto-car, consisting of one coach only, for the remainder of the journey. We duly reached the starting point for our cruise, putting up at the Swan's Nest Hotel, adjacent to the river and bridge.
One object in choosing this particular outing was to embrace the opportunity of carrying out a long desired wish to visit Stratford-on-Avon, with its renowned Shakespearean associations.
Chartering a "chaise" next morning, we made an early start and visited Ann Hathaway's Cottage, about 1½ miles outside the town.
The place is interesting indeed with all its quaintness, and a pretty picture it makes. Driving back to town, we next went to Henley Street, to the poet's birthplace, and here we went religiously over relics and records, likewise the library and museum. The attendants gave us all the information at their command, and we felt ourselves, after our short sojourn, so carried away by everything that we became at once devotees of the subject; in fact, had we stayed much longer there would have been nothing in our "noddles," asleep or awake, except the immortal Shakespeare.
We then visited the poet's tomb, saw the register of his birth and death, and then proceeded to the Sheldonian Theatre, a fine building, said to have cost some £13,000, where there is a fine collection of paintings.
All this gave the" aquatic" tourists great gratification, and they came to the conclusion that Stratford was one of the nicest towns yet visited on our travels.
Hero and heroine worship is strong here, and Marie, Corelli, whose house is in the town, is even mentioned in the same breath with the great poet by the enthusiastic tourists!
As before mentioned, this sight-seeing was part of our programme, and although the foregoing facts are, of course, known to many, still it shows what can be combined when undertaking such a trip.
And now for the waterway part of the journey.
The River Avon rises in Northamptonshire, and is navigable under certain conditions from above Warwick to Tewkesbury, where it joins the River Severn, but the permissible route only extends from Stratford-on-Avon for the through journey down, and that only for a skiff at best.
We procured such a boat from Mr. C. Bathurst, Tewkesbury, who railed the boat on to here (Stratford), where we found her in the water, all ready for the "voyageurs."
After an early lunch we made a start on our way down stream, the crew consisting of "Three Scots aboard." An energetic and assiduous lot they were, so much so that when the rotation of sculling came round, say every three-quarters of an hour or so, one was rebuffed with the remark, "Don't speak to the man at the wheel," which made it appear that it was a privilege to assist in propelling the boat!
Some two days previous to our arrival the water had been so abnormally high that acres of meadows were flooded, and it would then have been impossible for us to start at all, as the source of the channel could not be traced; besides, we could not have got underneath the arches of some of the bridges.
When we arrived, however, it had gone down considerably and in a very surprising manner for that short period. This was aided very much by the large weirs there are at different places en route, and this Was quite contrary to the reports we had received of the state of things generally, we having been told to beware of the shallow character of the river in places.
This flow of water was very helpful to us in our progress, although it made certain parts at the weirs and disused locks rather dangerous to navigation. However, as old water-dogs, we enjoyed this experience, always keeping our little "ship" well under control. With the water thus, we could have shot a number of the weirs, but not knowing our ground sufficiently, caution was the order of the day.
The river is of considerable width in the higher levels, and widens very much in parts as one gets, along. Strangely enough, as we afterwards found, it narrowed down considerably in the lower reaches to our destination.
The great drawback in the upper portion, say down to Evesham, is the portage entailed at the weirs. This is particularly troublesome at Welford and Cleeve Mills, and it meant that on our route we had to haul our boat over nearly every time, involving a laborious operation, including the removal of the baggage and gear on each occasion. These breaks, of course, hampered us very much, and, as far as we could learn, nothing is done in any way to assist boating by removing such obstructions.
The lower section of the river, that is to say below Evesham, is in much better condition, and the workable locks, nine in number, begin near there. These locks are in fair condition, although slow to work.
In my experience, this is the first instance where no charge was made for lock dues, in contrast to the usual custom. It may be here mentioned that there is no towpath on any part of the River Avon.
Traffic at one time used to be conducted as high as Stratford-on-Avon with barges up to about 40 tons, and we came across Mr. Spraggs, the boatbuilder, at Evesham, who informed us that his father navigated the last barge on that part in the year 1873.
Now only occasional water transport is used to Evesham, the railway opposition being too competitive. We did not come across any trading barges on the whole route, but we learn there is a small steamer that does business about this part.
The motor boat has ample scope in these reaches, and I found many patrolling the river, the greater number being on the lower section, where there is good available water. The attractiveness and beauties of the river were quite a revelation to us. We had, of course, heard of the Avon, but never imagined there were so many pleasing spots, with such plentiful foliage.
The flooded condition of the stream showed the surroundings to the best advantage, there being no exposed banks to be seen, and the scenery was brightened by clear weather and sunshine.
Some five miles down we made our first stop at Binton Bridges, where there is an inn, The Four Alls, of local fame, which building stands alone on the boundary of Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. Here we stopped to see a famous signboard with various figures painted thereon, and which probably was erected in the time of the early Georges or William IV. The legend on same runs thus :-
The King rules all;
The Bishop prays for all;
The Soldier fights for all;
And the Farmer pays for all.
Bidford (Warwickshire), a market-gardening town, was our next port of call, where we had tea. This was intended to be our stopping point for the night, but, getting on so well, we decided to make Evesham our halting-place, and this we reached about 9 p.m. after an enjoyable day.
We made for the Crown Hotel, to find there was no room available, the town being inundated with rowing men and visitors for the regatta on Whit-Monday. The landlord put himself about, and procured sleeping accommodation for us "At Home from Home," and after supper we were glad to turn in after our long day on the water.
To give some idea of the importance of aquatics here there were over 40 entries for a one-day's programme at the local regatta, and there were competing crews from such places as Chester, Leicester, Birmingham, etc. The whole town gives itself up to this event of the year, and, compared to Henley, it shows a monster programme.
Evesham (Worcestershire) is a market town of some, importance, and, like other places in this part of the country, is dependent upon agriculture and fruit culture. It has a fine bridge crossing the Avon and a prominent Norman tower, which shows to great advantage and is visible from a considerable distance. Our run for the day was 18 miles.
Camping out and bungalow life is much indulged in down this way, and we came across many young folks so enjoying themselves.
Close to Evesham we had rather a curious experience coming up to the ferry at Offenham, which is worked by a wire rope. This was awash, and tightly laid on the surface. We skidded right over the top, and had we not been going at the pace we were, the consequences might have been more serious; as it was, the rudder came right off. However, all's well that ends well.
Early in the following forenoon we left Evesham in fine, sunshiny weather, and, with the full state of water already referred to, we decided to finish the Avon the same day, some 26 miles down.
The river at this part assumes a tortuous character, and the distance from start to finish is just about double that as the crow flies. There is a fine, long wooded range of hills, with a conspicuous beacon on the summit, known as the Bredon Hill, situated at the extreme northern end of the Cotswolds. The beacon apparently, as one man puts it, haunts the traveller for miles, as does the " Clump " on Sinodoun Hill on the Upper Thames.
We broke our journey at Pershore (Worcestershire) some 12 miles down, where we lunched at the Angel Hotel. This is a fine specimen of an English town, and is well and cleanly kept.
The scenery all along is interesting, and reaches its height as we approach Nafford Lock, some 10 miles from Tewkesbury.
Our visit to the Avon Valley amply repaid us, and we can confidently recommend it to any prospective tourists.
Tewkesbury, the junction of the Avon and the Severn, was our stopping place, and we reached there about 8 p.m., finishing our trip so far as the Avon was concerned.
The Bell Hotel, a well-known house, described in the novel of "John Halifax, Gentleman," was our abiding place. It is just close to the abbey, which is a particularly grand and imposing old structure, and many tourists visit the edifice. The town itself is full of interest, and has many old associations, as history can relate.
The Cheltenham College Boat Club have their headquarters here.
As before mentioned, this was to have been our final destination, but, thanks to the continued energy of our crew and the assistance of the current, we were enabled to save a day on our programme as mapped, out, so we proceeded thereafter on the Severn to Worcester, 17 miles ahead.
Starting from the meeting of the waters of the two rivers on our third and last day, in perfect rowing weather, we made our way up stream. One could hardly believe that from this point the whole character of the river could change so rapidly.
The Severn at once widens into a fine majestic river of extreme width, with commanding-looking, well wooded banks on each side. It struck us as being a river of some importance and quite a contrast to the Avon. The volume of water is very great, without any apparent stream; only we discovered this to be very deceptive, as although it made very pleasant sculling, our progress was under three miles an hour against the current. There is here a towing-path, which can be used to more or less advantage, but we pulled all the way to our destination.
What struck us was the absence of communication from one shore to the other, there being, apart from ferries, only some two or three railway and road bridges, in the distance travelled.
Another thing that seemed strange to us was the fewness of the towns en route; in fact, in this 17 miles stretch we only came across one, viz., Upton-on-Severn, six miles from Tewkesbury. There we landed for lunch at the Star Hotel, and had a pleasant little stay at this old-world place.
Notwithstanding this being a fine river for commercial purposes, we did not meet any barges until, near Upton, we passed a tug towing no less than seventeen canal boats. A fine sight it was, and this procession, which stretched, I should think, nearly a quarter of a mile, was bound for the "Port" of Gloucester. On the Thames, in comparison, the regulation is that six barges only are allowed in tow together at one time.
Proceeding, there is not much to note. The same broad river continues to the finish of our journey, but without that variety of scenery one experiences on the Thames.
There were few pleasure boats about. We only saw half a dozen skiffs and a few motor boats.
Approaching our journey's end, 5 miles from Worcester, we would note Pixham Ferry in passing - a floating bridge for heavy traffic. From here a good view of the Malvern Hills can be obtained, Malvern being only some five miles distant.
The absence of locks also strikes one, there being' so far only two on the Severn, these being very large ones. Diglis - a double lock - we reached after a stiff, pull; and now our delightful trip comes to an end, reaching the fine old town of Worcester early in the evening.
Being delayed somewhat on our journey that day, our programme to visit the Cathedral and city had to be abandoned, so we made our way to the G.W.R. Station and caught a train which brought us back to town not very far off midnight.
Our holiday had been a very satisfactory one, and if open one's eyes to the beauties and pleasures one can have on other rivers far away from the dear old Thames we appreciate so much.
The geographical interest is great, while the continual change to new scenery is refreshing, leaving memories that are never obliterated; and this is one or the particular benefits in such excursions There is so much to look back upon afterwards, with the covering of so much ground, and with so many things interest at the different places as one travels along.
So closes another pleasant experience, voted by some of the crew to be the best we have yet had (the fact of being the most recent); however, one thing is certain, we all enjoyed ourselves.
The distances travelled are
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