Sunday, 1 August 2010

A tale of two basins

Moored in Stourport basin with the famous clock warehouse in the distance
In Diglis amid the new and the few surviving old buildings
Compare and contrast - as they used to say in school exam questions - Stourport and Diglis canal basins. Well let's start with the obvious stuff: both started life as basins and wharves where canals met the River Severn. Stourport at, er, Stourport for the Staffs & Worcs interchange and Diglis at Worcester where the Worcester & Birmingham Canal arrived at the river.
Both have also been the subject of substantial regeneration programmes having fallen on considerably hard times in the last 20-30 years as the last of the commercial river traffic fizzled out.
But there the similarities end. The regeneration of the Stourport basins, with the exception of the impressive resurrection of one old basin which is now back in water and surrounded by apartments and houses, has essentially been a washing up the dishes, vacuuming the carpets and plumping up the cushions affair. What was there, in short, has been licked into shape: the huge Tontine Hotel is being converted into homes, there are new facilities, various slightly odd 'interpretation' features and a new Windlass Restaurant. (It's very good.)
The basins, though, are still active and busy. Long term moorings may dominate but boats still cross the basins to ply between the river and canal. Housing is peripheral.
Diglis is very different. Inevitably so, I guess, given that Worcester is a large and largely appealing city whose long river frontage is a key element of its aesthetic appeal. Cruising down the Severn past the huge riverside cathedral is a memorable boating experience.
Virtually nothing remains of the past in the Diglis basins, bar the old pub and a couple of heavily reworked wharf buildings. The rest has become the hub of a massive riverside redevelopment programme that is still going on, edging on down the side of the Severn. The boats are now an almost static exhibit since both basins are used solely for long term mooring and craft moving to and from the canal simply skirt up the side of the first basin.
For all that, I have to say I was surprised and impressed by the place. The flats and offices show some real architectural flair and genuine waterside feel. Before any canal traditionalists fire a broadside in outrage, much of the old industrial wharfage of Diglis was pulled down in the seventies. Unlike Stourport there was not so much to save.
I wouldn't want every city waterscape to be a Diglis but this one works. It's quiet, civilised, easy on the eye and interesting. I could almost live there!Striking modern townhouses at Diglis feature much clever detail - their rears have balconies that overlook the basin

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