Hi All, thanks for the helpful replies...
We've just completed the ring and had a really good time. 116 Locks from Saturday to Thursday - boy what an introduction...!
Picked boat up at 1pm at Warwick (Kate Boats) and went up the Hatton Locks. Moored the Top of Hatton Locks, thanks to a lovely chap I think was called Keith in the narrowboat Serendipity (grey boat). He taught us how to do locks and pretty much gave us the hands on training to take us both up.
To the Kingswood junctions and then onto the Stratford on Avon canal up Lapworth locks... crew now getting very efficient at locks (talk of mutiny averted by pub visits!). Moored at Shirley Draw bridge.
We made our way into Birmingham via Bournville and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Stopped at Gas street to eat and look around/get water then on up Farmers Bridge Locks (very interesting scenery going under buildings etc!). We were due to go up the Aston Locks, but these were closed so had to go round Digbeth branch back onto the Grand Union. Had a moment under the motorway when I though we wouldn't be able to turn right onto the Birmingham & Fazely canal - both ends with ropes pulling! it was now getting a little late and not keen on hanging around so we pushed through to Minworth where we moored up - what an oasis compared to the dodgy areas we'd passed today!
Continued through the Curdworth locks onto the Coventry Canal and moored up in Atherstone.
Continued down , turning off at Hawkesbury junction and grabbing some food - lovely area! Continued down the Oxford Canal to Clifton upon Dunsmore where we moored up.
Made our way back down the Stockton Locks (thanks Jo and Ron for helping us, sorry don't think this boat was named?? - beautiful Tug though with a perkins!). Ended up getting back to the boatyard in Warwick around 7pm. We were early so looked forward to unloading and going home the following day........ but Kate Boats Warwick don't open on Friday so we were stuck until they popped round late that day...
All in all we had a great time, but it was tiring. We did it too quickly looking back, but as a novice we had no idea on realistic timings or how far we can go in a week/day. The large late charges by the hirer always in our mind. Highlights for me were the lovely scenery especially between Warwick and Birmingham. I was interested in Birmingham itself, but didn't realise how intimidating people could be along the canal side - nobody did anything actually threatening, but the area felt unsafe and gangs of people put us on our guard - people appearing out of the undergrowth freaked me out a little! The graffiti was all over the place and didn't make you want to hang around. Gas street was lovely, just a shame the nice bits in Birmingham are concentrated in that small area and the rest left to the 'wilderness'.. Rugby was a nice surprise - lots of new development to make it nicer and pictures under bridges rather than graffiti. Leamington Spa was a disappointment, with the nice town not quite reaching the canal side (received verbal abuse from several drunks under bridges there).
We met some really nice people along the way, but one interesting thing my wife picked up on as she was doing the locks was lots of the people were obviously retired and living their wondering days as they wanted, but they seemed to be in a rush and impatient with us. We've never been shouted at so much on our holiday even when we weren't actually doing anything wrong. We came across a fair few serious boaters who blanked us completely - suspect the hire boat may have had something to do with this? - is this all normal experience? Don't get me wrong we loved it, but just an observation from a newbie point of view.
We were impressed with the boat and Kate Boats generally. It would have improved the experience if they had spent more time on discussing our route and advising of waypoints to reach to ensure we were on schedule, this would allow us to plan it all better and spread it out to fill the time we had. Anyone using Kate Boats keep in mind their Warwick office is closed Monday and Friday so don't arrive back early unless you've arranged it (its all in the T&C's you sign as they helpfully reminded me whilst I was waiting).
Not sure we'll do this again for while, but I hope we do eventually!