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Canal boat and narrowboat holidays

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Customer Comments

General Comments From Customers

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!
Alan Dickinson.

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!
Mr Jarvis

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.
Denise Dodge


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.
Wendy Packwood


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.
Cheryl Heath

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.
Mr Dunstall

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.
N Holloway

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.
Mrs Robinson

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!
Mrs Roberts

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

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.

I 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

First time with Viking and on a canal holiday. All aspects exceeded our expectations, we will return next year!!
Mr Maton

We will book again, all the staff were very friendly and helpful. A good weeks holiday.
Mr Stokes

Holiday, boat, staff, scenery, pubs all excellent. Can't wait to do it all again
Mr J Peel

Great service, looking forward to going again.
Mrs Smith

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!
Veronica Brown

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 another trip...
Rex & Robin Mossman

We had a wonderful holiday, the boat was by the best we've been on.
Mr P Osman

Once again 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

Everything 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 a pleasure.
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

Probably the 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 enjoyable.
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 you.
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 you all.
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 next trip!
Edwina d'Arcy

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 the future!

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 presented company….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 !!
J Bourne.

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 with you.
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 good work.
Mr J Beever.

Staff at your Gailey base were excellent. Very friendly and helpful, couldn't ask for more. Thank you.
Mrs D Comber.

Dear all, Here goes with a quick synopsis of the June canal holiday, with a company called Viking Afloat.
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.


Wandering England's Canals
An article in the Travel Section of Edmonton Journal
by Bob Fell - 22.07.01

Set a leisurely pace by narrowboating through countryside

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 Ring.

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 be preserved.

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 and self-operated.

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 of Evesham.

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 seasoned boaters.

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.

Boater's Pride

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 factory.

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 Street basin.

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 theatre.

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 skipper's logbook.

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 bread.

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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Narrow Point of view

Article in the magazine Norfolk Afloat by Nick Crown (August 2003)
Reproduced by kind permission from Norfolk Afloat

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 some narrowboaters).

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 and Birmingham.

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 11 hours.

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 then!

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 moorings.

We find a spot to moor up and soak up the cosmopolitan café-bar atmosphere. For once the hackneyed analogy of Birmingham with Venice seems apt.

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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