Birmingham Mail - July 09


Casting off for a bit of R & R afloat

by Justine Halifax

A heron takes a rest aboard a narrowboat on the Birmingham and Worcester Canal.

It never ceases to amaze me how tranquil canal life is. After just three days aboard a narrowboat my husband and I were completely refreshed and relaxed. Then it's not hard to forget the everyday stresses when all you can do is kick back and enjoy life at a sedentary pace of about four miles an hour. While we're both seasoned boaters, six to eight-berth Olive, at 69ft long, was our biggest adventure to date.

Our starting point was Black Prince Holiday's base at Stoke Prior in Worcestershire. Following a briefing around the boat and after kitting out our two children with life jackets which were provided free of charge we were off with two friends in tow. Our narrowboat home was clean, cosy, classically decorated and well equipped. It boasted two rooms with comfortable double beds and a third with twin single beds. There were also two bathrooms, including one with a powerful shower, ample storage and wardrobe space, and a lounge and dining room, which, if needed, could convert into another double bed.

And we were not without a few gadgets. There was a small flat-screen television, dvd player and radio in the lounge, which featured horseshoe sitting around a large table with two foldable chairs if needed.

A small kitchen included a four-ring hob, oven, grill and fridge with freezer compartment and towels, teacloths, cleaning equipment and soap was all provided. The boat was more than warm enough when the heating was on. We opted to turn it off at night so it was cold when we woke in the morning, but it only took an hour to warm up.

With a choice of Birmingham or Worcester to explore on our long weekend break we decided to head south towards the latter with our trusty Pearson's Canal Companion for the Severn and Avon (priced £8.95) to guide the way. This not only shows the route ahead, turning and mooring points and where to fill up with water, but also some of the features along the way, including boat- friendly pubs to stop at. It has proved invaluable on every canal trip we have taken.

Our main reason to head south was that we would have been forced to tackle a barrage of locks if we had opted to go north. No less than a staggering 36 locks in four miles would have greeted our arrival at Tardebigge. It represents a boater's rite of passage as the canal rises over 200 feet. But not brave enough to tackle such a mammoth challenge, we instead opted to enjoy a more restful canal journey taking in the picturesque landscape along the Birmingham and Worcester Canal .

Our journey was very pretty all the way from Stoke Prior with banks flanked with reeds and views over fields of cows and sheep until we reached Worcester . Then, once the other side of the city, we were on the River Severn and we were back in a greener landscape. It's not recommended to moor up in Worcester city centre itself, so we moored up just outside the city on the River Severn, close to Worcester Rowing Club and we woke to rowers going past the barge and Worcester Cathedral's bells ringing.

We shared a lazy breakfast on the front of the boat and were joined by moorhens and swans as rowers wished us a good morning. We headed a bit further along the pleasant River Severn before we had to start our journey back home. As we left the urban landscape of Worcester city centre behind, Gregory's Mill Locks marked the return to views of fields.

On our second night we moored at a quiet spot in the pretty village of Tibberton. As we neared home we stopped off at Hanbury Wharf for lunch at the popular Eagle and Sun pub, and enjoyed a large meal. Interestingly, you also pass one of Cadbury's old wharfs along this route.

We were all genuinely sad when it all came to an end and we had to leave Olive at Stoke Prior. Both my husband and I, and our two friends, were completely relaxed after our trip. We were all grateful for the chance to spend time in the open air and enjoying the peace and quiet, rather than being cooped up in an office, more than glad to leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind. On top of that our four-year-old son had thoroughly enjoyed helping daddy to drive the boat!

We can't wait to climb aboard another narrowboat and return to the canal, hopefully sometime very soon.