With much of the Avon Ring passing through Shakespeare Country the focus understandably falls on The Bard but the route has many other attractions and the River Severn between Tewkesbury and Worcester demands closer inspection.
Leaving Birmingham behind at King’s Norton the increasingly rural northern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal offers several hours of lock free cruising interrupted only by the occasional lift-bridge. Towards the bottom of the Lapworth flight of 25 locks there is a short arm to the left with one lock that links with the Grand Union Canal, to the right the southern stretch of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal continues through almost constant greenery towards the town, meeting a flight of 11 locks at Wilmcote.
At Bancroft Basin in Stratford the canal meets the Upper Avon almost adjacent to the theatre dedicated to the town’s most famous son, William Shakespeare. There is a short navigable section of river to the left; to the right heading downstream the first lock is soon encountered. The Avon is a charming river that for much of its journey flows timelessly through idyllic countryside, its low banks affording panoramic views across Warwickshire and the Cotswolds beyond. At Evesham the river becomes the Lower Avon and although increasing in size it never assumes overpowering proportions.
Tewkesbury sees the Avon locking into the larger River Severn and the difference in scale is brought home by the turn upstream under Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge. The Severn is commercial and though much of its trade has disappeared the size of its locks and the occasional large vessel leave no doubt as to its significance with the double river-lock at Diglis being particularly imposing.
Diglis Basins are accessed by broad-gauge locks. Beyond the basin the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is narrow gauge and it soon becomes apparent why it is known colloquially as ‘the 58’. A few hours spirited effort is required for navigators to negotiate Tardebigge, its 30 locks comprise the longest flight in the country, though weary lockwheelers can then rest on stretches that pass through dank tunnels and unspoilt countryside. Around Wast Hill tunnel the signs of conurbation reappear. King’s Norton Junction lies to the right, with the line ahead leading directly into Birmingham city centre.
Tewkesbury was once busy with waterborne trade. There is a sand spit on the confluence between the Avon and Severn and so the navigational advice not to turn upstream before all of Mythe Bridge is in view, though intended for large commercial craft, holds equally good for narowboats. The tidal effect is documented to Diglis and it is not unusual to see seaweed around Upper Lode Lock. A lode in Old English denotes a watercourse.
High embankments restrict views so the arrival of a town comes as a respite. A former busy port, Upton-on-Severn is now a haven for holidaymakers and host to festivals some of which are of international standing. Signs of where the civil war impinged upon its fabric are easily spotted. The White Lion pub is the same that appears in Tom Jones.
The confluence of the Teme and Severn below Diglis was the site of the Battle of Worcester. Near the old corn market is the house from which King Charles II led his troops. Worcester takes its name from Wignorna Caestra, the camp of the Wigoran tribe from the Wyre Forest, before becoming a city in 880 AD. Its centrepiece is the magnificent cathedral.
Synonymous with the City is the composer Edward William Elgar who proclaimed to his mother that he wanted to be so famous that people could write to ‘Edward Elgar, England’. His wish was granted.
Typical duration - Two weeks will allow ample time to navigate the route without hurry whilst also allowing opportunity to appreciate its features and attractions.
Distance in miles - 108
Number of locks - 131
Last date edited: 14 November 2016