To all staff at Viking. I want to thank you for the fantastic holiday my family and I had last week on one of your boats. We had a"Nene" class boat from Gailey, where the staff were VERY helpful and friendly. I have been hiring canal boats from various companies for over 18 years and yours will definatley be my first choice in future. We now try to go canalling twice a year in Februay/March and October so I will call you first to check what you have available, before I try anywhere else!
Once again a BIG thank you from all of us!
It was a wonderful holiday which we all enjoyed. We would not hesitate to recommend the experience to family and friends. thank you to all concerned.
Mr A Payne
From all of us on Gotrik last week,thank you for the usual high standard. Despite the weather,which wasn't as bad as we'd been warned about,we had a great time,went as far as the Black Country Museum,had a wander around Birmingham and Worcester. I would recommend you to anyone wanting to book a narrowboat holiday. We are already looking at booking for the same time next year,but from Whitchurch.
Thanks again. JanYeo,Rob Umney and 1st Carmarthen Scouts
We had the boat 'Erik' and it handled perfectly. The best boat we have had in 3 years with you. Everything went fine, including the weather. Best wishes to you all and we hope to travel with Viking again.
Mr S Crook
Best boat we've ever had, bar none.
Mr J Todd
It was superb. Will book again for 2005 shortly.
Mr K Warwick
Very nice holiday. The boat was in very good condition even at the end of the season. Hope to see you at Worcester in the new year.
Mr & Mrs Turns
I've hired boats for the last 30 years. This is the first time I've used Viking Afloat and the boat we hired was the best i've ever hired. See you next year.
Steve Holt & crew
The whole experience was excellent, can't wait to have another go!
Thank you again Viking-Afloat!
Romulus is an excellent boat with a beautifully quiet engine! The hairdryer and extra hot water heater are great additions, along with the lovely roomy and well thought out interior. We enjoyed a wonderful holiday in September from your Rugby base, in perfect weather, cruising the Warwickshire ring.
As frequent visitors to the canals in Britain and also France in the last 20 years, this is the 15th time we have hired a narrowboat from a Viking base, our first holiday being on 2 boats (14 of us) Ingemar and Alrik from Worcester in 1986 and since then we have enjoyed holidays on large boats with friends or just the two of us on 2-4 berth boats from lots of the Viking Afloat bases.
I don’t suppose 15 times is a record with Viking Afloat but certainly must show how good you are as a company.
Very impressed with Viking Afloat. Have used several other narrowboat holiday companies and yours is definitely superior. Well done and Thank you.
Mrs D Cox
We've had two wonderful holidays with you so far, see you in 2005.
Mrs A Callow
It was slow to get us away, but it was a very enjoyable holiday. The boat was excellent (probably the best in my experience of at least a dozen narrowboat holidays) and the weather was very kind.
Mr P Bennett
Brilliant holiday and boat, we will doing it again. Thank you.
Mrs L Wharton
The people at the boatyard were really helpful and friendly and we had a wonderful break.
Mr & Mrs Driscoll
It really was an exceptional boat -well equipped and very comfortable.
Mr K Mellowes
We really enjoyed our canal holiday and were very impressed with the fiendly welcome from Viking and the smooth start and end to our holiday. We are highly recommending you to all our friends.
Pat Smith & Jan Wind
I am writing to thank you and your staff for the excellent service and care. The boat was excellent and the friendly, efficient and caring personnel at Gailey could not have been bettered. We hope to holiday again with you in the future. Please express our gratitude to your staff.
We had a great holiday again this year and are already looking forward for another narrowboat holiday! Greetings.
Lucia & Henno Van Dyk
Just a few lines to say thank you for a wonderful 2 week holiday. This was our 2nd narrowboat holiday but our 1st with your company. We completed our own route Whitchurch to Chester back to Whitchurch and on to Llangollen. The boat was marvellous very clean neat and the complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits were a very nice touch. Staff at the base were extremely helpful nothing seemed too much trouble.
Thanks for an excellent holiday once again.
Mr S Sharp
We had a great holiday (despite variable weather). With boys aged 10 & 8, we found it an excellent family formula, combining activity (locks!) with leisure amidst changing scenery. Well done & thanks.
Mrs C Ayton
Our holiday was perfect. Special thanks to Charlie at Rugby. His guidance and tuition was first class and we suggest you award him "employee of the year"!
Mr L Brazier
We had an excellent holiday. Full marks to all the Viking Afloat staff.
Congratulations on the Awards (Boating business of the year) it shows how managing a business works when done properly and its good to see a family business being successful whilst being able to provide a quality and flexible service.
Mr I Fleetwood
I must thank Brian and all his staff (Worcester) for yet again (3rd) fantastic holiday. Thanks to you all.
This was the best boating holiday to date and this was our fourth, but it's the first time we have used you and we will be using you again.
Mrs M Burnard
The staff were more than helpful, it was a brilliant holiday.
Spot on for first timers, we followed the plan you gave, ate in the restaurants you suggested, all very good and welcoming.
Mrs S Parker
You are the best boat company we've ever used and the boat was the nicest we've ever hired. Overall we were all very impressed and have recommended you to other people planning a canal holiday. Thank you very much for everything.
Mrs S Handley
Just can't wait to do it again.
Mrs S Boothby
By far the best company we have ever used for Narrowboating breaks. Staff at Gailey are a credit to your organisation. We'll be back!
Mrs D Hughes
Everything was excellent. Lovely staff, lovely well equiped boat, loveley weekend. thank you!
We have just returned from a wonderful time on "Valhalla" from Worcester. This was our third holiday with Viking Afloat.Many thanks to everyone at the Worcester base for making the fortnight a "Heavenly" holiday.
Chris and Sue Butterworth
We all thoroughly enjoyed our first experience of canals and narrowboats and we liked the good 'family feel' of the business and all the employees we met. We hope to join you again sometime.
Mrs M Bright
My family and I had a wonderful holiday. The boat and service was excellent, my wife is disabled and she really enjoyed it and was very comfortable. Thank you from us all.
Mr J Wilson
Just to let you know we had a wonderful holiday-Viking afloat did us proud providing everything we needed and more. The staff at Gailey were charming and friendly and we are already thinking about next year!!!
Thank you for all your help in the pre run up to the holiday It makes such a difference when queries are answered so efficiently.
We keep waking up thinking we are still on the boat-unfortunately we find we are not!!!!
Jo and Eddie Ferris
We wish to express our great appreciation for the past week aboard a Viking Afloat narrowboat out of Whitchurch. The boat was extremely clean and well laid out and equipped for maximum enjoyment aboard. We would like to especially note the courtesy and outstanding service rendered by the Whitchurch Viking Afloat headquarters team in answering our questions before we arrived. We would like to especially commend and thank the Whitchurch Base Manager, Andy, and his Assistant, Chris for everything that they did. Both were extremely helpful and went out of their way to insure our needs, particularly our transportation requirements, were met. We assure you that we will highly recommend Viking Afloat to anyone that expresses an interest in narrow boating on the canals of Great Britain. We will, most certainly, suggest Whitchurch as the base of preference based on our experience.
Thank you very much.
William and Pat Howard, USA.
have now hired from Worcester, Whitchurch & Gailey.
I don't know where you get your staff from! I find them
all very helpful & cheerful. They cannot do enough
for you. Very well done! See you again soon.
Mrs D Robinson
The whole Viking
experience was so good, we really do not think it could
be improved. Keep up the good work! Many thanks for
a wonderful holiday.
Mr & Mrs G Jenkins
with Viking and on a canal holiday. All aspects exceeded
our expectations, we will return next year!!
We will book
again, all the staff were very friendly and helpful.
A good weeks holiday.
Holiday, boat, staff, scenery,
pubs all excellent. Can't wait to do it all again
Mr J Peel
looking forward to going again.
This was our
first boating holiday which we enjoyed immensely and
hope to repeat in the future.
Mrs S Flynn
All in all,
one of the best holidays we have all had in our lives!
Mr D Hall
We spent an
excellent holiday on board your narrowboat in September
2003, but this is not the reason that i am writing to
you. The reason is your staff at Whitchurch, particularly
Gerald and Lee who were both extremly kind and helpful
in my hours of need. I had dreadful toothache and they
found me a dentist, Gerald picked me up from the boat
and dropped me at your Whitchurch base, where Lee took
me on to his own dentist in Whitchurch and after treatment,
he picked me up and returned me to the base. Then Gerald,
in his own car, took me back to the boat.
What wonderful staff you have -
I congratulate you, especially as many of your other
boats were hired by foreign clients - what better ambassadors
could you have? Excellent!
We have just
arrived back home after our visit to the UK. Our last
week there we hired a Canal Boat from the Whitchurch
branch and spent the week on the Llangollen canal, and
what a great week it was.
I would just like to record our
thanks to your company and the staff at Whitchurch.
From the time we made our booking on the internet several
months ago right through to leaving your base at the
end of the trip everything went exceeding well.
The staff were always cheerful,
efficient, courteous and very helpful at all times.
We were very impressed with the boat, the "Knut",
it certainly exceeded our expectations. It was spotlessly
clean and tidy and ran extremely well.
At the beginning of our trip "Gregory"?(I
think it was) ran through the boat with us and we were
impressed by his clear and careful instructions and
outline of what we should know and do. Thankyou to you
all, and I guess now we will need to start saving for
Rex & Robin Mossman
We had a wonderful
holiday, the boat was by the best we've been on.
Mr P Osman
a holiday we really enjoyed. Thank you all very much.
We shall be back!
Mr M Bourne
Sorry to be
boring, but you really are excellent through and through
and I truly can't see anything that would need improvement.
Mrs M Mattex
We only booked
the holiday 2 days before but I was so impressed with
the friendliness of everyone. I had a phone call to
check everything was OK and on the day we were due to
arrive we had a lot of problems getting to the base
and everyone was brilliant. I cannot fault any of the
staff, they were all so friendly and helpful it was
a pleaseure to have been on holiday with Viking Afloat.
Mrs K Silcock
went smoothly. We had an excellent holiday. I'm sure
we'll be back and for longer next time. Thank you for
making first timers want to return.
Mr G Brookes
Well done -
a rare exception in the UK!
Mr R Iggulden
We had a lovely
holiday. Very restful, wonderful scenery. Great pubs!
Definitely do it again. Everyone was very friendly and
helpful. See you again soon.
P R Woolvett &Party
This was our
third time boating from your Whitchurch Base and each
time it has been excellent. Keep up the good work.
Mrs M A Collins
I would like
to thank everyone at your Whitchurch Base for making
the holiday really great. We took some Australian visitors
who have been waiting 7 years to have this sort of holiday
and they say they certainly want to this again, next
time they are in England. Mrs R P Brown
Just like to
say Thank You for a great holiday
Mrs G L Goddard
From our first
enquiry, when it was apparent that we may have some
time available for a boating break in England, right
through to being dropped at the railway station at the
end of the trip, our experience with Viking Afloat was
Both of us were taken with every aspect of your service;
the promptness of replies, the interest and detail apparent
in those replies, Brian's guidance and tuition on the
use of the boat, the state of the boat and the willingness
to provide a shuttle service to the railway station.
Everything was ready and delivered as promised which
left us free to make the most of the time available
to us. Thank you sincerely - we will certainly be in
touch to repeat our experience at some future time.
Mike and Fiona Greeff - South Africa
best barge (sic) we've had in terms of design, layout,
storage, handling and facilities.
Mr G Ryder
We had an excellent
holiday. Everything went well and we look forward to
repeating the experience in the future. Our thanks to
all who made our holiday one to remember.
Mrs E J Middleton
We only had
a four day break, but the whole experience was very
Mrs V C Healy
From the map
showing us how to find you, the boat and the itinerary,
everything was just perfect. We were first timers and
really enjoyed our trip. Well done!
Mrs P F Pilbeam
We had a brilliant
time and will definitely be booking again.
Mrs B Kennedy
The staff were very helpful throughout and administration
was always on time and 100% correct. The staff were
always pleased to help and nothing was too much trouble
for them. I shall be holidaying again with you! Thank
Mr P Davies
A wonderful team who put us at ease and added
to a fantastic weekend. Thank you.
Miss A French
Apart from not managing to scrounge an umbrella
(to match my golf bag) everything was excellent, once
again. The best boat hire company in our extensive
experience, thank you.
Mr R Myners
I take my hat off to you and the staff. I could
not have wished for a more polite and kind service.
Your company and staff are to be congratulated.
Miss J Barber
We had an excellent holiday, as first timers
we were a bit dubious, but we will be back!!
Mrs J Lewis
I was really impressed with the service, the
boats and your friendly staff - and the week of sunshine
and we had a perfect week.
Mrs K McLean
We had a wonderful time and will use Viking regularly
in the future. It's not everyday that a new world
is opened up to you - a world that is a perfect complement
to our love of walking.
Mr G Davies
You provided another excellent holiday experience
for the whole family - the kids want to know when
we'll be back for the next one!!
Mrs L Wilson
Just a little note to say thanks for a lovely
holiday. Even the weather was fantastic. After hiring
other boats in the past you will be pleased to know
yours rated the best. To top it off the steps leading
into the boat were great for our two elderly dogs
Jess and Jasper.
Mrs J Knapman
We have recommended you to everyone who has asked
us about our holiday as we had a fantastic time. Thank
Mr K Lawrence.
We were impressed with our holiday - The boat
exceeded our expectations by a long way. The route
plan given to us helped us no end and really added
to our weekend! I have been recommendingyou non-stop
since our return! We will definitely be back.
Miss L Deans
We have been hiring boats for 5 years and this
was the best yet.
Mr D Stretton-Smith
Hello from Texas to Viking. I am writing to tell
all of you thanks for such a great vacation (holiday)
We really did not know what to expect but we found
the experience to be one of the most enjoyable events
in our lives in the last several years. We will tell
everyone who will listen about our trip. Thanks again
and hope to see you again someday.
Marylin and Ron Dow. USA
We got back last week from our British holiday
and our canal boat trip was the absolute highlight.
We had one of the best vacations we have ever had
and Doug and I wanted to thank you both for all the
help you gave us. Everything went so smoothly starting
with Mr. Hall and his taxi meeting us in Manchester
and our lodgings in Whitchurch and of course our boat.
It was a new boat and so very nicely arranged for
2 couples. We got very attached to our home on the
water. The groceries we had ordered were there and
waiting for us and just what we needed. We were given
a very informative orientation by Gerald at Whitchurch
and felt pretty ready for our adventure by the time
we set out toward Llangollen. Everyday was more fun,
more beautiful, and more exciting than the last. Thank
you both so very much for your kindness, information
and patience as we planned our very special holiday.
Libby Lefeve. USA
This was our first canal boat trip, so we did
not know what to expect, but we were very pleased
and can't wait to go again.
Mrs C Kettlewell, UK
We've just returned from a wonderful weeks holiday
on Elbereth. We wish we'd booked for a fortnight!
It was the best of the eight previous canal holidays
we've taken. Thank you all and especially the team
at Gailey. We hope to have another canal holiday,
with Viking, in 2003.
Chris and Sue Butterworth. UK
A few lines to say a big 'thank you' for making
our holiday on the Llangollen canal so enjoyable.
Our first time novice crew were really thrilled and
will be back again.
We enjoyed it so much that enclosed is our 2nd booking
form for October. All the staff @ Whitchurch
were brilliant and so helpful. Once again, thank you.
Yours respectfully (and soon to be regulars!)
Barrie & Tina King. UK
"I would like to take this opportunity to
thank you for your excellent service before, during
and after our holiday. Every enquiry by phone was
answered fully and courteously, with with careful
attention to detail. Your staff at the Rugby
base were very friendly and helpful, to the extent
of phoning to let us know we had left a camera on
board and posting it back to us by recorded delivery
within a few days. We will certainly recommend you
to our friends, and hope to book another narrowboat
holiday in the future."
Anna Brooker. UK
"Just a note to thank you all for your assistance
in planning our canal holiday in June. I found the
E-mail experience to be wonderful. The online brochure
offered by Viking is excellent. Your prompt attention
to my continually changing requests and your initiative
in organising the accommodation at the B&B at Whitchurch
(very highly recommended accommodation) and the taxi
from Manchester was much appreciated. Everything
went without a hitch, even with our last minute call
from Europe when our flights were delayed".
Alan Curtis. New Zealand.
Probably the best presented narrowboat we have
taken over in more than 15 years hiring. Thanks.
Mr A Culley. UK.
Pauline - Already two months have gone by since
we returned from our canal boat trip on the Four Counties
Ring. It's high time we said thanks to you in particular
and to the other folks at Viking for all your help
and excellent service. Your patience with our early
enquiries, your recommendation of the Bridgehouse
Hotel in Penkridge, the competence of the boat-yard
staff, all first rate and much appreciated. You may
be sure we will recommend Viking Afloat to whoever
asks and my wife and I are looking forward to doing
it all again.
Dave Whyte. Canada
Overall a terrific holiday, staff great, boat
excellent, want to come again definitely.
Mr & Mrs T. Gray.
We have now been with Viking Afloat four times.
We come back to you because of the service and good
quality of the boats.
Mrs C Young.
Just a note to let you know how much we enjoyed
our weekend break on one of your narrowboats. Gandalf
was a great boat and we were all very impressed with
the specification and facilities on board. As this
was our first narrowboat holiday we did not know quite
what to expect but we are now looking forward to our
We like to thank you very much for the great
service and perfect boats you have provided to us
during our holiday!
We have had a wonderful time doing the Warwickshire
ring, and my husband and I hope to do this again in
Laetitia Veenstra, Wemeldinge, the Netherlands
A brilliant holiday! Thank you so much!
Mrs P Thomasson.
We cannot fault the holiday in any way (except
for the weather!!) The equipment on the boat was excellent,
staff at the Gailey base were friendly and helpful.
I would certainly highly recommend Viking Afloat holidays
to friends and family.
Miss K Brough.
Everything was honestly fantastic. Frank did
a brilliant job of showing us around the boat. People
say that no-one or nothing is perfect but I would
say that Viking Afloat couldn't do anything more to
please us. Congratulations on such a well run and
.I have been all over the world
but my 4 days on 'Ragnar' were fantastic.
Mr M Ellis.
We had a thoroughly wonderful holiday yet again.
Many thanks indeed to all concerned.
Mrs D Stygal.
We have had a brilliant time. One of our best
holidays ever. We will definitely be coming back and
we will certainly recommend you to our friends.
Mr S Moult.
It was really a fantastic honeymoon for us! Brilliant,
no complaints, absolutely perfect!!!
Mrs L Rogers.
Many thanks - This holiday rates as one of the
best yet!! Our first time with Viking Afloat and we
were very impressed - keep up the good work!!!
Mr S Hill.
We had a fantastic weekend - very memorable.
Nothing could have been done to improve on this!
Miss C Stevens.
We enjoyed a fantastic week's holiday and all
felt very relaxed.
Mrs A Floyd.
A very special holiday and one we shall long
remember. We shall be back !!
As usual the boat and its fittings were of a
very high standard as was the cleanliness of everything
in it. Se you again next year.
Mrs S Smith.
This was our first boating holiday and we really
did enjoy ourselves. We will certainly do it again.
Mr J Watson.
Brilliant, only hope our customers in our self-catering
business feel as satisfied as we do after our holiday
Mr A Burns-Smith.
We had a fantastic week and will certainly do
it again. It was the feeling of total relaxation we
all had - including our dog Jasper. Many thanks.
Mrs P Simpson.
Thanks for another great holiday. Keep up the
Mr J Beever.
Staff at your Gailey base were excellent. Very
friendly and helpful, couldn't ask for more. Thank
Mrs D Comber.
Dear all, Here goes with a quick synopsis of
the June canal holiday, with a company called Viking
The narrow boat was 6' 6" wide, which is why
they call it narrow - and 70' long. Ours was called
Aragorn and it was long because it could sleep 8,
but we were only 4 which was nice - room to put "stuff",
and we Americans do like a double bed each!! We started
out near Stafford, in the town of Gailey and we did
70 miles of canals in one week - that means you move
at a speed of 2 to 3 miles/hour! You can see immediately
why it is relaxing - one can walk the tow paths alongside
the boat with no trouble, and keep up. It is immediately
back to nature - we saw herons, a fox and as it was
Spring lots of baby ducks, goslings, coots and moorhens.
There were horses grazing and galloping, and whole
fields of buttercups. It does not get dark until 10:30
PM and is light again by 4:30 am, and you cannot imagine
the bird song at 4:30 am!!
We were extraordinarily blessed with good weather,
it only rained on one night. Walking the towpath in
dappled sunshine, the greenery almost like the Amazon,
and there were very patient fishermen along the banks
to pass the time of day with. We couldn't get over
the immense variety of beautiful trees, and with expert
tuition from our hosts, we just about managed to identify
them all by the end of the week. We prepared meals
in the galley, ate out sometimes in canalside pubs
and moored up to walk into towns for provisions. We
played board games at night after dinner. The silence
on the canals is immense!
The locks were hard work - 50,000 gallons of water
to fill or empty in each lock. Lock gates weigh about
3,000 lb., but there is that "magical moment"
when they open with your body weight, when the water
equalises on each side of the gate. It really is incredible.
But after a hard day of locks you are tired. We went
through locks with names like: Dimmingdale, Ebstree,
Bratch, Bumblehole, Giggetty, Botherham Bottom, and
Stewponey - only in England!
A warning in the canal guide, if you wanted to shop
in a certain town -"Beware of the Goose -
avoid carrying plastic shopping bags"!!!
All in all, we had a great time and it sure was relaxing,
highly recommended to all.
Jeanne. Arizona U.S.A.
An article in the Travel Section of Edmonton
by Bob Fell - 22.07.01
Set a leisurely pace by narrowboating
An hour or two's instruction, the keys
to the boat and a "See you in two weeks!"
was our comfortable start to a relaxing holiday. With
the 57 feet of our narrowboat under way, a 200-year-old
canal system in the heart of England was ours to explore
for the next two weeks.
As typical Western Canadians who think
nothing of a 100-mile highway drive, the idea of taking
two weeks to travel almost the same distance would initially
appear to be glacial in speed.
We had, however, done our homework
and were looking forward to the slow unfolding of scenery,
cities and activities as we travelled around the Avon
We had picked a ring for our first
cruise in hopes of sampling a little of all that narrowboating
has to offer. Departing from Worcester, the Avon Ring
allowed us to travel a circuit using four connected
legs - Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Stratford-on-Avon
Canal, the Avon River and the Severn River.
The ring includes the Tardebigge flight,
which climbs 217 feet using a flight of 29 locks, the
2,726-yard-long Kings Norton Tunnel, a 200-yard aqueduct
a Edestone, plus both a small and a larger river. Beyond
the canal, the ring travels through changing countryside
and small villages, into the city of Birmingham, and
down through Shakespeare country through the city of
Stratford on Avon.
The narrow canals that cross through
the English countryside were built in the late 18th
century to develop commercial trade at a time when roads
were poor and railways did not exist. Engineering marvels
in their day, the canals moved goods from coastal and
river ports up into the central parts of England by
using long flights of locks, tunnels to go through hills
and aqueducts to go over small valleys.
To the builders, securing a source
of water and conserving its use were vital to the viability
of the canals. Consequently, the canals are frequently
narrow and shallow. Waterways as shallow as three feet,
stone brides and tunnels at eight feet and locks that
are about seven feet wide by 70 fee long determine the
maximum dimensions of the narrowboats.
Commercial barges were originally drawn
up and down the waterway by teams of horses, and today,
both boaters and hikers use these towpaths.
When commercial traffic ended, many
canals fell into disrepair and could have been permanently
lost but for the recreational use that has developed
over the past few decades. Today work of restoration
and historical societies assure that the canals will
Unlike the open wooden barges of yesteryear,
out steel-hulled narrowboat with its reliable diesel
engine had a galley equipped right down to the corkscrew,
a dinette which made up into a double berth, two bedrooms
and two bathrooms. As a home for two weeks, it was very
comfortable for five adults. The galley was perfect
for breakfast and our evening meal on board A pint and
pub lunch or a prawn sandwich and a custard tart from
a village bakery hit the spot during the day.
The folks at the Lowesmoor boat basin
in Worcester were thorough in going over the boat's
equipment, safe operation, amenities and daily maintenance
requirements. We were also told how and where to moor
safely, the operation of the locks and etiquette of
narrowboating. Important information as, unlike on large
canal systems, on narrow canals all the locks are simple
We started out with a rough timetable,
just to be sure we would have the boat back in two weeks.
After that, we decided as we went on what the day's
activities should be. When travelling, we went from
bursts of activities moving the boat through a lock
to pleasant walks along the towpath or relaxed cruising
on the longer canal and stretches of river.
We snooped and explored some of the
small, interesting towns, such as the salt works town
of Droitwich, a church in Wootton Wawen that still retains
its 11th-century Saxon sanctuary, and the market town
Country pubs are frequent along the
canals and a daily pint is not to be missed.
In the smaller villages, the pub, often
with outdoor seating a children's play area, seems to
be a communal living room for the neighbourhood.
Some are several hundred years old,
with low ceilings and doorways low enough to bump nearly
every 20th-century head. Canal boating allows you to
see the countryside in depth rather than in breadth.
We chose to start our trip by going
up the Worcester & Birmingham, a distance of 30
miles and 58 locks, or in canal boat parlance, 88 lock
miles (it takes approximately the same time to navigate
one lock as to travel one mile of open canal). At first,
our skipper (or one of his second-in-commands) may have
scraped a bit of paint off the bow by entering a lock
a bit too quickly, but arriving a few days later in
Birmingham, we were congratulate ourselves on being
During these few days, we began to
understand one more attraction of waterways travel -
the people you meet.
As travel is slow around the locks,
you have plenty of time to chat with travellers you
meet. Some are vacationers but many others are boat
owners who have moorage sites and use the canal for
much of the year.
Owners take immense pride in their
boats. Most are traditionally painted and ornamented
with bright colours, painted flowers and polished brass.
Many keep painted kettles of potted flowers on the tops
of their boats.
Experienced folks are quick to answer
questions or just chat about boating. At one stop, we
moored in front of a retired pilot who had spent his
life flying around the world and had now switched to
the slow pace of a canal boat.
he was wealth of information and when
we moved on, he passed over some back issues of canal
boat magazines so we could "further our education".
Birmingham, the hub of canal activity
a century ago, is still largely an industrial city,
and still dominated on our approach from the south by
one of the original major canal users, the Cadbury chocolate
This section is very industrialised
and is a sharp contrast when the canal turns into the
shops and restaurants of the restored down-town Gas
Unlike the quiet countryside, Birmingham
is a busy working city filled with people of diverse
cultures. Our overnight stop in the Gas Street basin
gave us plenty of time to tour the city and shop in
a lively market.
The trip down the Stratford-on-Canal
provided some changes in scenery and some changes in
canal engineering. Our first challenge came in the form
of bridges. First a swing bridge and then a couple of
lifting bridges, one of which was on a fairly busy laneway.
Unique to this canal are its split
cast iron bridges and a number of barrel-roofed lock
cottages. I was provided a haunting experience one evening
walking past one of these dimly lit lock cottages, out
of which came the sounds of the 1920s played over an
old wind-up phonograph.
The next morning, as I stood by the
lock, sketching the cottage, I was able to listen to
the elderly resident as he chatted with a passing boatman
about the cottage, which had been his home since birth.
Stratford served as a base for local
sightseeing. The canal ends in a large basin in the
centre of Stratford, just before entering the Avon River.
As we come under the last bridge an entered the basin
on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it appeared we had floated
into a carnival.
The park and walkways were crowded
with sightseers, picnickers, buskers and vendors. The
adjacent roadway was crammed with hundreds of motorcycles.
The motorcyclists, it seems, were part of the show,
wandering, chatting and comparing machines. We were
told later that the motorcycles are only allowed in
this part of the city at certain times, son days like
this, everyone comes down to the park.
The first night in Stratford we found
a wonderful curry house and celebrated a birthday and
an anniversary with what had to be the best meal and
most gracious service of the trip.
Warwick and Warwick Castle, a short
bus ride away, offered another day for sightseeing and
touring of antique shops. Not to miss the main attraction,
like most visitors we spent the evening at a Shakespearean
Down the Avon
After a final day in Stratford, we
headed off down the Avon. Wider and with less frequent
locks, our trip changed again to where we often seemed
to be meandering through meadows. Here, we needed to
pay closer attention on approaching a lock, as a weir
contains the main part of the river and the lock is
off to one side. At one point, a breeze pushed me past
the lock entrance as I slowed to turn. I had to quickly
manoeuvre back wards. Getting the boat stuck on the
top of a weir would definitely not look good in the
Evesham was a pleasant stop along the
way - a bustling town mixing older buildings and streets
with modern business. This was an enjoyable place to
browse around, with plenty of those great English bake
shops. Down on the river, there were also plenty of
those famous Avon River swans to clean up the leftover
We departed the Avon at Tewkesbury,
joining the Severn for the trip back up our departure
point at Worcester. This was the least scenic part of
the cruise. Wit no locks and high embankments, it was
time to speed up and give ourselves an extra evening
a full day to explore Worcester before we had to dock
and depart for home.
Canal boat vacation again? You bet!
Britain has a wealth of restored waterways and we will
do it again.
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Point of view
Article in the magazine Norfolk Afloat by Nick
Crown (August 2003)
Reproduced by kind permission from Norfolk
Norfolk writer Nick Crown heads
away from the Broads and suggests trying a narrowboat
to enjoy Britain's extensive canal network. Here is
a diary of a seven-day journey around the Stourport
Ring in the Midlands.
Historic Royal Worcester and the imposing
square tower of the cathedral dominates the skyline.
This is an historic city famous for its fine porcelain,
and, of course its love affair with the River and the
starting point for our most ambitious narrowboat holiday
yet - a circumnavigation of the Stourport Ring.
This is a popular West Midlands cruise
route taking in canals and rivers, beautiful countryside,
industrial heritage and, yes, Birmingham (a bit low
in the kudos stakes as a cruise destination even for
As we pull up at Lowesmoor Wharf, the
start and finish point for our adventure, I contemplate
what lies ahead - some 83 miles, 55 hours cruising and
118 locks. And, of course, the narrowboaters' Rite of
Passage - the 36 locks of the Tardebigge Flight. This
looks like being quite an energetic week and poses a
nagging question - will we get round in time?
Casting such doubts aside we get on
with the necessities of checking in. Out boat holiday
operator is Viking Afloat - one of Britain's largest
- with the impressive yellow and maroon livery of its
narrowboat fleet moored majestically in the canal basin,
an offshoot of the Birmingham and Worcester Canal.
Here we are introduced to Viking's
Clyde class boat Fredrik, our floating home for the
week equipped to accommodate eight to ten people, so
there will certainly be enough space for four adults
(my wife Joy and I being joined by my parents Audrey
and Derrick) and children Luke, 14 and Alice, 11.
This is Viking's LONG boat - four separate
sleeping areas, two galleys, two shower rooms, two loos
and a spacious saloon all ingeniously encased within
a 69 ft steel hull. For the canal side it looks a leviathan!
After receiving detailed instructions
on how to handle the boat, operate the all-important
central heating (it is still only Easter week you know),
I volunteer myself to take the tiller to negotiate the
sharp right-angled turn out of the basin, luckily without
any loss of face, and on to the main line of the Worcester
Armed with windlasses, the rest of
the crew, except our chief tea-maker Audrey, take us
through the three locks to Diglis Basin at its junction
with the River Severn itself.
Lock-wise we are a bit rusty at first
- struggling to open the stubborn gates on Diglis Lock
until we realise Alice has left the front sluice gate
open by two notches so the lock isn't emptying properly.
Then it is out on to the Severn, cruising
at about 4mph with stunning views of the cathedral and
a flotilla of swans in pursuit of Alice's bread-throwing
off the stern.
Passing rowing clubs and the racecourse
we head upstream for more rural locales as the Malvern
Hills come into view in the neighbourhood of Bevere
and our overnight mooring - just before the first of
the three river locks we will navigate tomorrow. So
far, so good!
Sunday: Day 2
A good old fashioned fry-up sets us up for the day as
we continue our idyllic encounter with the Severn and
the unruffled routine of the automated locks, complete
with traffic lights. Our boat seems lost in these huge
compounds, and with the lock-keeper doing the button
pushing, it all couldn't be simpler.
Here we are trundling along, breaking
the calm waters and observing the wildlife - can it
get more relaxing than this? I hope not, as I hate to
admit it, I am getting a little bored!
Before we know it we are approaching
the Stourport Basins and the end of our brief encounter
with the river. Providing a link between the Severn
and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, this
is a sort of inland port. Certainly all the trappings
of a costal resort are evident as we lock up into the
basins - funfairs and fish and chips, steamer trips,
paddling pools and amusement arcades.
Here day-trippers pour in from the
West Midlands and it seems they are here in force to
watch the spectacle of Fredrik being crewed round three
fiendishly difficult 90-degree turns through the basin.
As we nudge our way around I can't help thinking I wouldn't
want to risk mooring up a privately-owned boat here!
Joy, Luke and Alice spend the afternoon
walking along the towpath in pleasant spring sunshine
as we make for Kidderminster and an overnight mooring
near Wolverley Lock.
Monday: Day 3
An 8.45am start and we're off through the pretty village
of Kinver as the canal winds through copper sandstone
cliffs and tortuous Z-bends. With a boat this long you
soon discover its unique handling characteristics -
ie point the bow and hope for the best - especially
when the bends are sharp and waters shallow.
At Cookley we encounter the first of
many tunnels. At just 65 yards it's a tiddler but a
gentle introduction to what is to come.
We take on water at Stewponey (a daily
necessity) before turning eastwards for the Black Country
and Birmingham's backwaters at Stourton Junction on
to the Stourbridge Canal. Here we meet the Stourbrige
16 - a 16-lock flight that provides a new challenge,
water-born debris of every size and description.
Passing a beautifully restored glassworks
complete with huge brick cone, Luke has to pole a two-seater
sofa out of the way and we run aground in a lock due
to shallow water and the crushed remains of an exhaust
system trapped beneath the hull.
With Derrick on the tiller and the
rest of us on ropes, Joy's developed muscles like Popeye's!
It is also the first time we use our
lock-key, used to prevent vandals from emptying the
flights - something we repeat at the nine Black Delph
locks at Brierley Hill. Then it is a sudden change as
we leave the dingy factories behind and the canal opens
out on to the impressive billion-pound Waterfront development
adjacent to the vast Merry Hill shopping centre.
Here commerce mixes with nightclubs,
pubs and restaurants, on the site of a long-gone steelworks,
and provides us with safe moorings for the evening.
It's been a long day - 36 locks and 14 miles in about
Tuesday: Day 4
The green and blue neon nightlife of the Waterfront
gives way to brilliant warm sunshine and breakfast cups
of tea surrounded by the sweet perfume of hyacinths
growing in pretty, immaculate flowerbeds - and we haven't
even left our mooring!
I take the opportunity to delve into
the oily depths of the week hatch to remove a T-shirt,
and numerous bits of debris from the propeller before
we head towards Dudley and Blower's Green Junction where
we have a choice - locking through to the 3154-yard
Dudley Tunnel (no engines allowed so you have to "leg"
your way through) or the no less impressive (but easier
to navigate) Netherton Tunnel, a few yards shorter,
but much wider, higher and with twin towpaths. No contest
Toting a huge iceberg-type lump of
polystyrene out of the way (well the Titanic's anchors
were cast at Netherton) our headlight does little to
penetrate the blackness. No light at the end of the
tunnel here as crew members dodge frequent, freezing
drips from the roof, and peer up the occasional air
shafts which cast eerie transport-beam columns of light
on the water's surface.
Forty-five minutes later we emerge
but, to our amazement, are subjected to an overhead
arson attack as kids toss handfuls of flaming grass
on to the roof of the boat from the hill over the tunnel
mouth. The flames swiftly extinguish in the breeze,
so luckily no damage done.
Now on to Bimingham's New Main Line
and the Spon Lane top lock under the M5 where disaster
strikes. The engine cuts out, the throttle jams and
we're going nowhere.
The weed hatch seems clear and we reluctantly
call out the boatyard to discover a big block of wood
has jammed the propeller, locking up the gearbox. The
problem is quickly sorted within a couple of hours of
our distress call, and we throttle on in evening sunshine
to negotiate four more locks, heading with renewed determination
for Gas Street Basin in the heart of the city centre.
The basin forms the junction between
the Birmingham Canal Navigations and the Worcester and
Birmingham Canal, and the area has been redeveloped
with new pubs and hotels and houses a community of residential
We find a spot to moor up and soak
up the cosmopolitan café-bar atmosphere. For
once the hackneyed analogy of Birmingham with Venice
Wednesday: Day 5
It's lunchtime, and here we are supping Italian beer
and downing pizza slices at a canal-side café-bar
after exploring the piazzas, walkways and bridges surrounding
the basin (not forgetting a clothes shopping expedition
for Alice and Joy).
It's boiling hot so it's on with the
shorts as we chug slowly out of Birmingham, through
modest Edgbaston Tunnel, past the university campus
and the "hard to resist a stop" Cadbury's
World at Bournville.
I'd hoped to walk alongside the boat
through the 2726-yard King's Norton Tunnel, only to
discover the absence of a towpath, so it was all aboard
to emerge from the gloomy depths 40 minutes later into
the Worcestershire countryside.
No locks on this leg and we moor up
at Alvechurch, near the aptly-named Crown pub.
Thursday: Day 6
This morning Luke and Joy almost miss the boat when
they go for a "stroll" over the top of Shortwood
Tunnel. The guidebook said to imagine they were leading
our horse through the woods while the boat was legged
through underneath. They get temporarily lost but hear
the sound of Fredrik leaving the tunnel mouth in a cutting.
The water is shallow and we run aground
by a fishing party, managing to pole off with difficulty,
before negotiating the big one - the Tardebigge Flight.
Once you have tackled this flight, which, coupled with
the neighbouring six locks in four miles, other groups
of locks, however formidable, pale into insignificance.
The 30 chambers raise the canal more
than 200 feet, the top lock being, at 14 ft, one of
the deepest narrow beam locks on the system.
But they are there to be enjoyed, not
dreaded, and we navigate the whole flight in an impressive
three hours in glorious sunshine, with just enough cool
breeze to make it a labour of love.
Trundling on through Stoke Prior, formerly
home to the largest salt works in the world, we moor
up in near-open countryside ready for the Astwood flight.
Friday: Day 7
Our most leisurely day to date, despite packing up ready
for the off tomorrow, sees us lock through Astwood where
canal and railway join forces through lush farmland.
Close at hand are the twin 700 ft high masts of Wychbold
radio transmitting station, from where the call sign
"Droitwich Calling" broadcast the "voice
of Freedom" throughout occupied Europe during the
Second World War.
We stop off at Hanbury to seek out
the route of the Droitwich Canal, still under restoration,
and marvel at the "true depth" of the bone-dry
lock flight. Past Hanbury Wharf, rows of moored boats
stretch from one bridge to another with little sheds
and gardens on the bank. At Offerton locks Joy is able
to help some novice narrowboaters with their first lock
and gets a thank-you pat on the back.
We wind back down into Worcester, leaving
ourselves just four locks for the morning. Worcester
is only about 25 miles from Birmingham and it's taken
us two days to get here!
Alice makes a "water vole trap"
- an apple dangling from the bows (none take the bait),
and Luke succeeds in not falling in the canal this year.
Instead he falls in the nettles.
Saturday: Final day
What a difference a day makes! It's freezing as we lock
down towards our finish point at Lowesmoor. The water's
low and Luke steers the boat around "islands"
of mud. A nifty manoeuvre and we're back in the basin
- and all before 9am.
We made it!
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