Sunday Times Travel - Aug 2009
12 Great British Weekends
Stourport Ring, Worcestershire
Summer is at its blooming best and the UK 's beaches, boroughs and backwaters never looked so good: it's time to step into the sunshine with 12 short-break itineraries.
In a nutshell: With 5,000km of waterways dissecting the UK, choosing a cruising spot is tough – but the Stourport Ring sails into first place thanks to its kaleidoscopic scenery. It's a favourite among old canal hands, but it's also perfect for those who don't know their port from their starboard. Idling along on a traditional painted narrowboat (maximum speed: five kph), you'll see the great British countryside in a whole new light.
The perfect weekend: Earn your boating stripes by tackling one of the steepest sections of canal in the country. Tardebigge Flight is a boaters' rite of passage, and a great way to master locks (there are 30). Crack open the cider (supplied with the barge), and join in the boating banter as you drift past humbug-striped wooden barriers and wisteria-clad locksman's cottages. By Bottom Lock, there's a fine reward at the Queen's Head (01527 877777, www.queens-head-inn.co.uk ). Moor beside the pub for a night, and dine beneath the weeping willow in the garden on tender fillet steak (£16).
Rise early to a chorus of blackbirds and ducks, and get some mileage under your belt before lunch. At Lock 27, there's just time for one of you to hop off and grab a scoop of creamy toffee-ripple (£1.20) from Towpath Ice Creams. Then it's on past patchwork fields flecked with cows and buttercups, and banks clothed in bulrushes and tall yellow iris.
For lunch, stop at the Fir Tree Inn (01905 774094, www.thefirtreeinn.co.uk ) in Dunhampstead; try the sandwich platter with chunky chips to share (£9.50) and read about the gruesome 1806 Oddingley murders. Come evening, park your vessel at The Commandery in Worcester and walk to dinner at The Glasshouse (01905 611120, www.theglasshouse.co.uk ; £17 for two courses and wine). At a table upstairs, overlooking Worcester Cathedral, you'll get the best Provencal soup this side of the Channel.
Next morning, head back to Tardebigge. Don't worry, you'll be pledging to come back one day to cruise into the River Severn and complete the circuit.
Boat Hire: Anglo Welsh (0117 304 1122, www.anglowelsh.co.uk ; twin-berth from £565 for four days) hires out boats from Tardebigge, near Bromsgrove. To make it cheaper still, opt for a larger berth, and take friends. The spacious boats are equipped with everything you'll need; just bring food, drinks, a torch and wet-weather gear. Or try Black Prince (01527 575115, www.black-prince.com ), which also hires out boats on the Stourport Ring. And don't leave without a Canal Companion guide , the waterways' version of Ordnance Survey.
Get me there: Motorists can leave their car at the boat company's base and collect it when they return the craft. Alternatively, the nearest train station for Anglo Welsh is Bromsgrove; for Black Prince it's Birmingham New Street . For routes and timetables, contact National Rail (08457 484950, www.nationalrail.co.uk ).