GREAT CANAL WALKS: WORCS WAN­DER

Take a walk that com­bines two contrasting wa­ter­ways: the broad reaches of the River Sev­ern, and the ru­ral me­an­der­ings of the Droitwich Barge Canal

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY MAR­TIN LUDGATE

Join us for a stroll along two very dif­fer­ent wa­ter­ways – a broad river and a ru­ral canal

Un­til six years ago, fol­low­ing the tow­path would have been the only way to en­joy this month’s route from Worces­ter to Droitwich – but all that changed in 2011 with the re­open­ing of the Droitwich Canals to nav­i­ga­tion af­ter al­most four decades of restora­tion work.

So now you can make the jour­ney by boat too. How­ever, it’s still an en­joy­able walk, en­livened to­day by the pas­sage of boats rather than the chance to catch up on restora­tion progress.

But we’re get­ting ahead of our­selves: the first three miles fol­low the River Sev­ern, start­ing at the 1781 five-arch main road bridge near the cen­tre of Worces­ter city. Al­though our walk fol­lows the east side of the river, you have the choice of fol­low­ing the west bank for the first quar­ter mile be­fore cross­ing on a foot­bridge: do make sure you cross the bridge be­cause it’s seven miles to the next one – in fact, the nav­i­ga­ble lengths of the river are noted for the scarcity of cross­ing points. If you choose the east bank, you will start out along North Pa­rade be­fore bear­ing left onto a foot­way where the road leaves the river. A flight of steps de­scends to fol­low the river­bank past the town moor­ings and row­ing club, with the race­course above you to the right.

It all looks very ru­ral and you could be for­given for think­ing the city has been left be­hind, but, in fact, you will pass through more of the built-up area first.

The path turns right, away from the river, and a gate on the left leads into Waterworks Road, which also bends to the right. Where the oddly-named Pope Iron Road turns off on your right, turn left along the path op­po­site. This leads

‘By con­trast, the next two miles are the re­motest on the canal, which winds its way along the quiet Sal­warpe Val­ley with lit­tle sign of habi­ta­tion and just two bridges’

to Tower Road: turn left, fol­low it around to the right; then keep straight ahead to con­tinue along a foot­path. An­other foot­path leads off on your left, and brings you back to the river­bank at last. Don’t worry if this sounds com­pli­cated – there are signs to guide you.

Af­ter that, it’s easy: the path may be in­dis­tinct in places and there are choices of route at times, but you just need to stay close to the river be­cause it me­an­ders north­wards, fi­nally leav­ing Worces­ter be­hind. Pass­ing Be­vere Weir (with a glimpse of the lock on the op­po­site bank, along with the frus­trat­ingly im­pos­si­ble-to-reach Camp House Inn), the path even­tu­ally leaves the river and meets Haw­ford Lock Lane. Turn left, and the lane turns into a dirt-track which ends near a flight of steps lead­ing down to the lock – the first on the Droitwich Barge Canal.

From here you’re on a ‘proper’ tow­path at last, head­ing east­wards away from the Sev­ern past a sec­ond lock (where the path crosses to the op­po­site bank) to reach the A419 main road bridge. This was one of the last ma­jor ob­struc­tions dealt with when the canal was re­stored: the re­sult was a tun­nel-like con­crete bridge which won’t win any ar­chi­tec­ture prizes, but it does the job – and in­cludes a tow­path, so you won’t have to cross the dual car­riage­way.

By con­trast, the next two miles are the re­motest on the canal, which winds its way along the quiet Sal­warpe Val­ley with lit­tle sign of habi­ta­tion and just two bridges. These in­clude Li­nacre Bridge, an orig­i­nal dat­ing from James Brind­ley’s con­struc­tion of the canal in the 1760s and still bear­ing the scars of the odd scrape from the masts of sail­ing barges which used the canal in its early days.

Civil­i­sa­tion re­turns at Porters Hill, with a bridge and a lock cot­tage be­side the first of the flight of five Lady­wood Locks. A sec­ond cot­tage marks the top lock, then an­other quiet ru­ral length leads to the tiny Sal­warpe vil­lage.

Boaters would scarcely no­tice the canal cross­ing the Sal­warpe Brook on a large cul­vert pass­ing through a high em­bank­ment, as there is no nar­row­ing of the chan­nel and trees con­ceal the steep banks. How­ever, walk­ers can scram­ble down to in­spect the struc­ture which took up a great deal of the restora­tion vol­un­teers’ time in the 1980s.

The only em­bank­ment on this typ­i­cal

Brind­ley con­tour canal is fol­lowed by its only cut­ting, pass­ing un­der a tall bridge lead­ing to the me­dieval Sal­warpe Church – it’s worth a de­tour to see it.

From here it’s only half a mile un­til the out­skirts of Droitwich be­gin, but al­though on the right-hand side the canal is ac­com­pa­nied by hous­ing es­tates, on the left bank the land be­tween river and canal is un­de­vel­oped, with a com­mu­nity wood­land, na­ture re­serve and sports fields reach­ing all the way into the town.

The sec­ond of two rail­way bridges on the ap­proach to the town is an­other struc­ture which won’t win any beauty prizes, con­sist­ing of a large metal tube be­tween two func­tional con­crete por­tals, dat­ing from the 1970s. How­ever, it too marked a sig­nif­i­cant stage in the canal’s re­vival: that a nav­i­ga­ble bridge was pro­vided at all in the early stages of restora­tion was a great step for­ward.

Rail­way en­thu­si­asts will note the im­pres­sive sur­viv­ing sig­nal box and semaphore sig­nals still in oper­a­tion (but per­haps for not much longer, as re-sig­nalling is pro­posed); en­thu­si­asts for a dif­fer­ent kind of ‘rail­way’ will be able to take ad­van­tage of the Rail­way Inn, once a pop­u­lar haunt of the restora­tion vol­un­teers.

The pub stands on Kid­der­min­ster Road: cross the bridge car­ry­ing this road over the canal, turn right into Union Lane, and a five minute walk will take you to Droitwich rail­way sta­tion for a fre­quent ser­vice back to Worces­ter.

‘From here it’s only half a mile un­til the out­skirts of Droitwich be­gin, but al­though the canal is ac­com­pa­nied on the right by hous­ing es­tates, the land on the left side be­tween the river and canal is un­de­vel­oped, with a com­mu­nity wood­land, na­ture re­serve and sports fields’

Worces­ter Row­ing Club, on stilts to save it from floods Li­nacre Bridge, dat­ing from the 1760s

9 miles

The top lock of the Lady­wood flight

Sal­warpe: stop here to see the church

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