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Friday, 18 September 2020

More Canal Cruising in a COVID World (Part 3)

 The sun rose, the water levels dropped and, after a day and a half at Holt Lock, we were allowed to resume our journey upstream to Stourport-on-Severn. It was clear, sunny, with a chill breeze, but we made good time. We negotiated the two staircase locks up to the basin, filled with water and saw Andrew off on his return home all before taking lunch in, what was for us, a new pub in Stourport.

Stourport Basin

The Angel overlooks the River Severn and is next door to what was The Tontine (which probably explains why we've not been there before!). It was quite busy in the garden and we managed to get the last table in the Bar area. It seemed to be quite a local's bar, from the banter, and I suspected that we'd taken someone's regular table...but nobody said anything to us!

The 'banter' got a bit more interesting when one bloke (his two mates - all middle aged - had popped out for a fag or a comfort break) upped the ante on his banter with another table by pulling down his trousers in the middle of the bar and, when this didn't get enough of a reaction, he pulled his pants down as well! (Fortunately, his shirt was long enough for there to be no real exposure of his parts!)

Once this table of people left, the three blokes moved to that table...and then...when we left they moved onto our table before we'd even got out of the door! (I'd had a feeling all along that we were in 'their spot'!)

We then had a long afternoon of boating along the lovely Staffs & Worcester Canal, passing up several potential stopping places, ending up at Kinver for the first of our three-in-a-row fine dining and drinking sessions.

Yes, we were entering Batham's Country! The Plough & Harrow was taking the COVID restrictions very seriously and we almost had to sit in the garden, but a table became vacant just in the nick of time. Several pints and a few cobs (plus Scotch egg) later and we were sated.

Next morning we continued north along the Staffs & Worcester Canal and turned off at Stourton Junction onto the Stourbridge Canal for our lunchtime stop in Stourbridge itself. It was the first time for many years that we'd ventured along the Stourbridge Arm, but I had a particular pub in mind for our Sunday lunch!

We've visited Stourbridge on several occasions in the past, but never before ventured outside the ring road where this gem, the Royal Exchange, is located.
...and this was our sumptuous Sunday lunch! (I did manage to squeeze in another cob!)

After an afternoon of ascending the Stourbridge Sixteen and Delph Locks we moored up quite late in the gathering gloom before setting off on a longish stroll to our pub for the evening.

Our third Batham's pub in three sessions, the home of their operations The Vine...or...Bull & Bladder as it is more commonly known. More fine dining on cobs, crisps, nuts and scratchings! I must be becoming more attuned to the subtleties of real ale because I could detect that each of the three pubs had a slightly different taste to the bitter! Nothing unpleasant and I'd probably not have noticed if we hadn't done three Batham's pubs in 24 hours.

After a couple of long boating days, it wasn't a long journey to our final Black Country experience.

It's a bit of an uphill slog from the canal but, The Old Swan...or...Ma Pardoe's as it is colloquially known is well worth the effort. The price was £2.60p per pint (Batham's had been a massive £3.10p!) and I had the proper Black Country fine dining experience with a plate of Faggots, Chips and Mushy!

After this it was, literally, all down hill from here both physically and in terms of the beer! Next stop...Birmingham!

From here onwards our itinerary was exactly the same as for our previous trip in July, so I'll only dwell on the different pubs we visited.

In Brum, whilst The Shakespeare remains closed, the Prince of Wales has reopened and we had a couple of pints there before revisiting the Rajdoot!

The next stage of our trip took us to The Bull (in Birmingham's Gun Quarter), The White Horse at Curdworth, The Fazeley Inn and then The Royal Oak at Polesworth. We had a curry in the same place as before and then popped downstairs for a pint (or two) in The Bulls Head.

This is a pub that has taken a 'light touch' to the COVID regulations, but backed up by a no-nonsense gaffer who knows his customers (mostly of my vintage!) It was interesting to chat with him about how much trade they've lost - no darts, no bowling, no dominoes which would all have been big nights for the pub.

Next day and our destination was Atherstone which we reached in a reasonable time. (Having several volunteer lockkeepers can be a great help!) This time we found that the Market Tavern had reopened and, despite not doing food, we stayed there for the whole session. Sharp's Atlantic Pale Ale (keg version) was very pleasant!

Lunch was taken on the boat, on the move, following the acquisition of Cornish Pasties from a local shop...our sumptuous fine dining knows no bounds!

Our next stop was, again, The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction which operates by table service and ordering via their app. (No change from previously).

Then we were headed for Newbold-on-Avon where we decided to pay a visit the the Newbold Crown, just a couple of hundred yards from the Barley Mow which is canalside (and our usual go-to pub).

This is a proper pub with two rooms, but I don't think that we've been into the lounge. The COVID signs were all evident and procedures followed that didn't detract from the a nice lunch and Sharp's Atlantic Pale Ale on draught.

Our last evening was spent at The Boathouse in Braunston - a fairly uneventful boatload of heavy drinking students this time!

This just left us a short journey back to the marina, pack our bags and get on the road home...but there was still time for one final calamity!

Whilst we are travelling, my car key and my house keys are hidden away in the bottom of a bag and, normally, I retrieve them as I get to the car with my bags. On this occasion I put both in my shorts pocket before we'd moored up. We moored up without incident and, bags ready, William went to find some trolleys to get our stuff to the cars.

Whilst he was gone, as I was standing on the mooring pontoon, I felt a ticklish nose starting to turn to a sneeze so pulled my handkerchief from my pocket. Unfortunately, my house keys came out as well...straight into the water!

It is a well equipped marina (also a boat hire base) and I was confident that they'd have a magnet that we could borrow. William knew the people to speak to and a few minutes later he was back with the magnet. Fortunately, I'd taken note of where I'd been standing and followed the 'flight' of my keys. So, first throw of the magnet...nothing! Second throw...I changed my technique as I'd noticed that 'magnet fishers' tend to drag the magnet along the bottom. So I did this and there were my keys firmly stuck to the magnet!

That's one of the great things about canal boating, some trips pass off without a hitch and the only worry is a bit of rain or whether the pub is open. Others are beset by calamity throughout...we've had a fire in the engine room and floods on the same trip; lock flights closed and 12+ hours a day travelling; vandals emptying lock flights...but that's often what makes these trips more memorable!


  1. I need to come on one of your trips! If it's not kicking off in broad Street or blokes doing the full monty in Stourport it's magnificent beer in.legendary bathams boozers!!!
    A top effort Pete you are the Alan Winfield of the waterways

    1. That's high praise indeed! Thank you. It's just been a funny old year on the's not normally like this! It's usually so much more sedate and genteel...maybe COVID had brought out a bit of devilment in people!

  2. Really enjoyed this series of posts Pete and pleased you've still been able to enjoy the waterways even with all the Covid uncertainty around. I've had many happy moments around the pubs of Stourport but never quite as memorable as the Angel incident you recounted, and what can I say about the Bathams places - about as Black Country as it gets, superb! I had been hoping to revisit Atherstone this year so fingers crossed it won't be too long before I get there again. Cheers, Paul

    1. Thanks Paul! This year's trip has taken us to some great places and had more than it's fair share of incidents! Some cruises are jam packed with out of the ordinary happenings...and others we sail along unperturbed by anything out of the ordinary!
      Atherstone is always worth a visit for a wide selection of pubs!