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England Canal Travels - The Avon Ring

Lucille T from MN

Orly and I have worked the canals in England since 1985. A wonderful way to see and meet England!

We have a passion for the English canals and the joy it brings to travel on narrowboats, seeing another side of the United Kingdom! This has been going on, for us, since 1985. The following is our journey in June of 2004 with Karin and Ruth.

The choice of routing belonged to Karin and Ruth. They chose the Avon Ring and were looking forward to an evening at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. There was time to do research and reading before we left, as we had reserved our narrowboat six months ahead. Having traveled the Ring three times before, we felt the ladies had picked a winner!

Our flight went into Heathrow, where we were met by our pre-arranged taxi and traveled comfortably for about two hours to our pre-arranged B&B in Bromsgrove, close to the base at Stoke Prior on the Worcester and Birmingham canal.

Karin and Ruth had an opportunity to scout out the countryside and visit the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings. This open-air museum has an array of buildings from all over Worcestershire, including a corrugated metal church where weddings are still held, a windmill and various barns, some from as far back as the 14h Century. It is unique.

Saturday morning our hosts, Roy and Maureen, bade us farewell for two weeks. Karin, Ruth and I took our taxi to the supermarket for the first groceries pick up, while Orly went to the base to be sure the narrowboat was set up to his satisfaction. At noon we all met for lunch at The Navigator, a short distance from the base.

Narrowboats on the canal

Narrowboats on the canal

The Avon Ring, plus our side trip into the Black Country Museum, took us on 130 miles of canals and 140 locks to open and close! The trip took us two weeks. The waterways we traveled were:

  • the Worcester and Birmingham canal,
  • the Severn River,
  • the Avon River,
  • the North Stratford canal,
  • back on to the Worcester and Birmingham canal to Birmingham for our trip into the Black Country Museum in Wolverhampton and then back to Stoke Prior.

On the Canal

Leaving the base at Stoke Prior aboard Shoveler on Saturday afternoon, we had 13 days in which to make the trip. Shoveler was on her maiden voyage, as were Karin and Ruth. The anticipation was high as we went through our first lock at the base! The sky was English blue and the sun was warm and inviting.

The next days took us to Worcester, where we visited the the Royal Worcester Porcelain Works, the Commandery, so prominent in the English Civil War, the lovely Guild Hall on the High Street and Worcester Cathedral where Elgar did choral works.

Leaving Worcester, we took the Severn River south to Upton-upon-Severn with the Pepperpot tower left from an old church and the black and whites (half timbered housing whitewashed with their timbers painted black) and two wonderful museums run by a lady named Lavender.

At Tewkesbury, where the Severn River and the Avon River meet, we had our first opportunity for a market day! The wonders of homemade baked goods, gorgeous cut and potted flowers and fresh out of the garden produce were second only to the double yolked eggs just out from under the hens! Time was spent in the second largest Abbey in England, owned by the village of Tewkesbury. The townspeople purchased the Abbey from Henry VIII in 1540 for the large sum of 453 Pounds Sterling, in order that he not tear the buildings down. Today the Abbey stands well cared for by the town and is a priceless treasure.

Market in Tewkesbury

Market in Tewkesbury

The days were dry and the rain confined itself to the nighttime hours - we were so happy!

At Tewkesbury we started up the River Avon, heading for Stratford-upon-Avon. The next three days were filled with new sights: weirs, an abandoned mill and different locks than we had experienced on the canals. A stop at Evesham gave us a day to go into the Cotswolds by bus.

Saturday morning, a week after leaving the base, we headed for Stratford. We carry a mobile phone with us and the ladies had phoned ahead for tickets at THE THEATRE! We moored at Weir Brake Lock and Karin and Ruth walked the mile into Stratford. They were excited and came back to the boat with outstanding reviews of MacBeth. Such a treat!

Sunday we moored in the Stratford basin. Karin, Ruth and I went to the Garrick (a restaurant on that spot since the 14th century) for lunch. They went off on a city bus tour and I went shopping for groceries. When they returned from seeing all the Shakespeare spots, we loosed from our mooring and headed up the North Stratford canal and a LOT of locks for the next two days.

We made a long, arduous Monday with 39 locks in 11.5 miles. Karin and Ruth are great ones who learned to lock wheel quickly (sending someone ahead of the lock being worked to work the next lock, by the time the boat arrives it is ready - it is an art form!). The day went smoothly. Day's end, outside Lapworth, we found the Boot Inn pub just off the canal, had supper and went back to the boat ready for a good night's sleep.

On the canal

On the canal

Tuesday we pushed on and arrived at 20:10 in the middle of an absolutely lovely Birmingham! It had been six years since our last visit and what a pleasant surprise to find the center of the city's canals so safe and clean!

Wednesday we left Birmingham and continued on the canal to the Black Country (so named because of the coal mining) Museum, a Victorian village set up around a coal mine. Here we experienced an old time pub, an early movie theatre, saw early shops: hardware, sweet, bakery, dry goods and a glass blower at work. We also saw a traveling amusement group, a Victorian school setting, a Methodist church and a large commercial narrowboat building/repair depot. It is worth the time to visit.

While moored at the Museum, two dear friends, who came across by bus from their live-aboard narrowboat, met us to spend time with us and meet Karin and Ruth.

We arrived back in the middle of Birmingham by 19:35. Karin and Ruth cleaned up and headed out for dinner and some sightseeing. I cannot stress how wonderful the city of Birmingham has become. For we who enjoy the canals, this is a super place to be for a few days.

Our trip back to the base began Thursday morning as we left Birmingham, passing the University of Birmingham and the Cadbury chocolate buildings done in purple and gold, like the chocolate wrappers!

Our destination was the top lock of the Tardebigge Flight: 30 locks to be tackled, plus five of the six locks of the Stoke Flight. When we left the base to begin our trip, our first lock was the sixth lock of the Stoke Flight; we have come full circle!

Friday dawned overcast, but soon brightened, though we had a lot of wind. Our day with the locks started at 09:35, and we did quite well: 30 locks in four and a half hours! At the bottom lock of the flight we stopped for lunch at the Queen's Head pub. Lovely spot, and Karin and Ruth remembered it as their first view of a canal on the day they went scouting when we arrived! After lunch, we finished the five Stoke locks arriving at the base at 16:00.

John, the base manager, made dinner reservations for us at The Navigator. Then, back to the narrowboat to pack, as we needed to be out of the boat by 09:30 on Saturday.

The trip was behind us as we taxied back to the B&B. We had many good memories, a lot of pictures in our cameras and the opportunity for a relaxing, retrospective time at the B&B before flying home on Sunday morning.

Life on the canals is truly slow travel and wonderful!

View along the canal

View along the canal


English Canal Trips: Lucille S Thornsjo. Lucille writes: "We help Americans understand the glories and pitfalls of narrowboating in England."

www.stratfordcanalsociety.org.uk: The Stratford upon Avon Canal Society (with maps of the canal).

www.drsteveanderson.com/canals/map.html: This page has a map of central England (very slow to download). The list of canals is on the left of the page. Click the button for the Avon Ring and the route is shown on the map (you may have to scroll to see it).

www.canalshop.co.uk: The Canal Shop Company, online shop with books, videos, DVDs, etc. of canal travel in England (including a Narrowboat Teapot).

Lucille S Thornsjo organizes canal trips in England and travels there regularly. English Canal Trips.

Lucille S Thornsjo, 2005

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