After all the help during our tour planning from the nice people here in the forum, today I would like to share our experiences on our very first narrowboat trip through England's canals.
Maybe it will help some of you who are also planning your first narrowboat trip or at least contribute a little bit to entertaining the old hands.
Short the dates: Date and duration: early August 2020 (10 nights)
Route: Strouport Ring (via Aldersley Junction)
Hirer: Black Prince (Stoke Prior)
Shortly before 2:30 pm we were at Black Prince's base in Stoke Prior for the boat takeover. The boat was already prepared and the really nice Black Prince people were ready to hand it over, but we wanted to provisionally unpack all the stuff from the three big suitcases we had with us because of the flight, so that we could leave the suitcases in the car and wouldn't waste any space on the boat. So it took almost until 4:30 pm until we were ready and had received the very good briefing and could cast off and our boat was turned south-west in the Winding Hole next to the base.
Then came the first lock, into which the Black Prince man let me enter without help. And, what can I say, it worked reasonably well.
A nice gentleman, who was also standing at the lock, gave me the tip not to stand in the middle of the lock entrance, but at the left edge, so one would have a better overview.
In retrospect this is absolutely clear, but as an absolute beginner I had never seen this in any of the many narrowboat videos I had watched before.
Also the next locks, which we had to master on our own, worked out very well. For a long time we have another boat in front of us that doesn't seem to know what it wants. At a snail's pace it goes on until they finally decide to go to the edge and let us pass.
Shortly after that the first tunnel on our journey comes. The kids assure me that the headligths are on and so we enter the tunnel. But somehow it seems very dark and as it turns out later the headlights were not on. So it's not surprising that I touch the tunnel wall with the boat once, which sounded worse than it was in reality, only for a beginner this is difficult to estimate.
Meanwhile you can see a wonderful sunset, but there are still about 20 minutes to the planned landing stage. Shortly after 9:30 pm we moor shortly after the Tibberton Winding Hole, next to us there are two other boats lying here and shortly after that we get the first delicious meal from the board kitchen.
Picture: Mooring place near to Tibberton Winding Hole
The night was pleasantly quiet and after a good breakfast we slowly set off for Worcester. We pass the Offerton Locks. Shortly before the Worcester area becomes very urban, we stop and have tea. Afterwards we enter Worcester. Right after the Georg Street Brigde we stop because we want to fill up our fresh supplies in nearby Asda and because it is very warm today and there is a special offer for ice cream, we take an ice break on the boat.
Afterwards we decide to move the boat a few more meters towards the river to avoid the direct street noise of the bridge. And so we moor in the middle between Blockhouse Lock and Georg Street Bridge.
The rest of the afternoon we stroll through Worcester. Unfortunately the cathedral is closed because of Corona and there is not much going on in the streets. So we go back to the boat and prepare dinner. 3rd day
Also this night was quiet and after breakfast we went to fill up the water at the Waterpoint just before the Diglis Locks. The entrance to the Diglis Locks takes some getting used to for a beginner, because you can only tie up to a narrow footbridge next to the lock. The lock is very wide and it takes a long time to fill and empty it. On the river we keep quite far left, because under one of the bridges a lot of flotsam in the middle blocks the passage. The trip on the river is very pleasant, because you have a little more leeway than on the narrow canals. The first of the three river locks comes in sight and since its signal is still red, we moor briefly, but a little later we have free passage to enter the lock.
I didn't quite realize that I had to pull the center line behind one of the steel cables in the lock to keep the boat stable in the lock, but already at the second river lock this was no problem anymore. At the third lock we had a very nice chatty lockkeeper who once again pointed out the special features of the entrance to the Stourport Basins and strongly advised us not to stay in Kidderminster. But we hadn't planned to do that anyway.
Arriving in Stourport, we moored at the pier on the river and took a look at the lock stairs. Another boat was just about to go down to the river and a CTR man was also helping with the lock operation. Then we went up through the first locks to the first basin and through the strangely sloping entrance to the upper locks in the upper basin. Once there, the passage through the basin was a challenging task, not only because of the refreshing wind, but also because of the narrowness. But we got through quite well. Before we left the Basin we wanted to have a pump-out, but we were probably there 5 minutes after 4 pm and even though the Germans are often said to be punctual, the English boat service staff seems to keep it at least as accurate :-).
So without a pump-out we continued up the Staffs&Worcs Canal. Because of the many moored boats and some oncoming traffic, the progress here was very slow. Shortly after the Falling Sands Lock we stop for today. There is another boat in front of us, so we are not alone, which is good.
Today we get up a little earlier than usual, because we had booked a trip with the Severn Railway, which had just finished the Corona lockdown. We walk to Railwaystattion (about 40 minutes) and spend a nice day with a steam locomotive excursion. Around 5:20pm we are back at the boat, which is lying there peacefully. We drive to the Waterpoint in Kidderminster and fill up with water. We want to find a garbage container, but there is no one there and later I realised had I just made a mistake with the symbols on the map. Shortly after we stop next to the Tesco supermarket in Kidderminster and fill up the supplies, I stay on the boat "for safety". Then we continue on to just behind the Wolverley Lock.
From Wolverly Lock we drive through Kinver where we refuel at the Waterpoint and decide not to visit the Rock Houses but to continue towards Aldersley Junction. Shortly after Stourton Junction it starts to rain heavily for the first time on our boat tour. Since the time was right for a little scones break, we moor up and enjoy the tea while it clears up outside and we continue our trip. Between the Hinksford Lock and the Swindon Lock we find our place for the night.
We continue up the Staffs&Worcs Canal where we stop just before the Wombourne Bridge to shop in Sainsbury's Supermarket. Soon we reach the very interesting Bratch Locks, where we luckily have to wait too short, while in the opposite direction some boats are waiting to go down. So very slowly the beautiful rural landscape around the canal turns into a suburban one. Today we want to make it to Oxley to have a pump-out there, shortly before we want to get rid of the garbage and look for the garbage drop-off point marked in the Nicholson just behind the Hordern Road Bridge - but we can't see anything. Maybe it doesn't exist anymore?
No matter, but now comes the first adventure on our route over Aldersley Junction. Because suddenly a big obstacle in the canal appears in the distance. A bigger tree has fallen into the canal and blocks about 90% of the channel, only at the extreme left edge there seems to be a possibility to get past it.
When we approach the tree, from the opposite direction only a shorter Narrowboat drives toward the narrow place, makes then turns around immediately on it again to it to drive. Somehow the boat comes through and the captain calls to me that it would be alright, even if it would rumble a bit. So we try to pass it as far left as possible, but unfortunately the left edge of the channel is not already vertical, but with some shallows (bigger stones under water) on which we touch down immediately before we get close to the tree. The light current immediately drives the bow of the boat into the middle and even further to the other shore while the stern is still resting on the stones. Somehow we get free there, but the light current pushes us to the next stone. During this action the rudder is hanging out of the lower bracket. I guess it is possible to put it back in place by lifting it up and putting it back into the holder, but somehow it does not work and I assumed that something broke off. Oh dear, now that we were farthest away from the base and we didn't want to afford a repair day. But first we had to get past this tree. While we were holding our boat on the left bank and I was looking at the tree from close by, another boat came towards us.
However, these people didn't seem to mind that there was a tree in the water and another boat was stuck on their side of the shore shortly after the obstacle, because the boat was coming towards us at a " breakneck speed ". The lady in the bow just shouted loudly and hectically "Push back, push back" - which was not so easy, since the stones at the edge were still blocking our boat. Nevertheless, I was able to pull it back a few meters and the other skipper did a fantastic job and drove loosely "through" the tree and past us with a great distance.
Shortly after that another boat approached the obstacle, then stopped in front of the obstacle and tried to turn the boat. But this did not work, because it was too long. So the boat went backwards to the Aldersley Junction - respect!
We made another attempt, this time with lines and sticks. It worked! We were through and with shaky rudder we headed for Oxley Marina. There we were able to do a pump-out despite the late hour, and the service man also tried to lift the rudder back into its holder. It wasn't quite tight and slipped out again when we started, but at least I knew now that nothing had broken. When we stopped on the opposite bank to spend the night here, I tried to get the rudder into the holder again with patience, this time it was really tight.
Here we stayed over night and although the sewage plant was not far away, in the evening other smells (like “weed”) were rather dominant.
Today we are going up the Wolverhampton Flight. The weather is very nice and it should be quite hot again. Already after the first locks the astonishingly clear water in the channel is noticeable.
However, the growth of aquatic plants is constantly increasing, often spreading far into the channel. In the middle of the flight the boat can hardly be steered anymore and it is impossible to move forward. The propeller was wrapped around a few water plants and some plastic bag remains. After these were removed give it further up. Up to the Broad Street Basin Bridge, where we wanted to fill up water and dispose of rubbish, but there was no trace of the Waterpoint, only after some time it became clear that the Waterpoint was hidden behind a door to the inner courtyard of the Basin. Actually we wanted to take a short break here, too, but the surroundings are really not very inviting. So we drove on towards the Coseley Tunnel. Shortly before, the engine stalled again and the boat was hardly steerable. This time a really thick plastic cloth had been wrapped around the propeller and I had real trouble to get it out again. There was also a lot of other rubbish floating in the canal section here. Nevertheless there were many water birds, which had built their nests partly with the rubbish. Except for the rubbish in the water, there were some nice canal sections that made you forget that you are driving through urban areas. The water was also clear and many water plants narrowed the channel quite a bit. At the Factory Junction we turned into the Old Main Line and hoped to find a mooring near the Fontain Inn. But all places were overcrowded. So we drove on towards Dudley Tunnel to reach the moorings in front of the BCLM. There was also a lot going on here - one boat was so "wide" that it took the two moorings in front of the shower houses for itself. So we turned our boat in the Winding Hole under the museum bridge and stopped at the museum side. Here too I cleaned the propeller again - unbelievable how much the channels here were piled up with rubbish.
Online we ordered a delicious menu with many different dishes from the Mughal Massala Indian Restaurant. Later we picked it up there (about 10 minutes walk) and enjoyed it on the boat. It must also be said that the area of the moorings is fenced in and can only be entered and left with the CRT-key. A great thing.
Actually we had thought about going to the BCLM the next day, but because of Corona this was only possible at fixed times with pre-booking. The first free slot would have been at 13:30 on that day. We didn't want to wait that long and started along the Old Main Line towards Birmingham. The canal was now a bit cleaner and the water plants were no longer floating openly on the canal but were firmly rooted. There were also very nice sections, but also very "special" ones. For example the "entrance" to Birmingham, if you drive under the motorway for a longer time. In case of rain this "canopy" would certainly be welcome.
Interesting were also the canal sections where the Old Main Line and the New Main Line are close together.
I also found the narrow bridge from the Old Main Line over the New Main Line to the Engine Arm very interesting. Since you have to stop here for the Smethwick Lock anyway, you can also walk on this bridge and have a look at this great structure.
Then we went into Birmingham and turned into the Oozells Street Loop, which I had chosen as my mooring before. We were lucky and there was only a three-quarter mooring left under the Blue Bridge. It was a little bit difficult to moor the boat, because we had no possibility to tie it up at the stern, but somehow it worked. It was a very warm and beautiful day in Birmingham and so there were crowds of people on the streets along the canal. Trying to find a place to eat or even drink here was doomed to failure without a reservation. So we strolled through the city and ate on our boat instead of in a restaurant. Until about 22 o'clock some "party boats" with drunk and loudly bellowing passengers passed us several times. But fortunately it became quite quiet afterwards.
Unfortunately the weather is cloudy this morning and so the exit from Birmingham is not quite as good as it looked the night before. Nevertheless it is impressive to drive through the middle of a big city with the narrowboat. At the Waterpoint just behind the Mailbox we refuel again, then we take the Worcs&Birm Canal. At our briefing the friendly man from Black Prince had warned us to stop between University and Wast Hill Tunnel, because it is a "problematic" area there.
But on these Sunday morning there seemed to be a lot of "normal people" along the canal, so that we didn't have the impression to drive through a dangerous area. However, I had read this warning elsewhere about this section of the canal, so we were a bit cautious if there was a large group of young men under a bridge. But everything went smoothly. Only a few shopping trolleys thrown into the canal probably showed the danger of this section.
Then we went through the Wast Hill Tunnel, with two boats coming towards us in the tunnel, but everything worked out perfectly and we passed each other without collision, even though it was quite narrow.
After the tunnel we stopped just before the Redditch Road Bridge and enjoyed a tea in the sunshine. Afterwards we continued through the Shortwood Tunnel and the Tardebigge Tunnel. We arrived at the Tardebigge Top Lock in the early evening and moored shortly after Bridge 56 between Locks 57 and 58 (Top Lock). There was a wonderful evening mood in the beautiful landscape with the sheep and the tower of Tardebigge Church on one side and the horses on the other.
A little warning to all drone owners: If you think, like us, that a little drone flight from Top Lock with a view over the whole Tardebigge Flight is a nice holiday memory, you should be warned about two particularly "nice" residents who are very allergic to drones.
My tip: Do not fly with your drone between the Top Lock and the next lock if you want to avoid trouble. 10th day
After an extensive breakfast we went to work. 34 Locks were on the agenda today. There was a lot going on and so we had to wait every now and then until the lock in front of us was free. But the weather was almost ideal again (maybe a bit too warm - but I really don't want to complain :-)) and so we arrived at the end of the Tardebigge Flight with a small break after 25 locks after 4 hours. We used the opportunity and the nice weather to have something to eat in the garden of the Queens Head Restaurant. For sure Queens Head is not a quaint English pub, but the food tasted very good and thanks to the "Eat-Out" discount it was also quite cheap. Thanks to the English taxpayers - like German taxpayers, on the other hand, our Corona aid trillions are saving big airlines. I think you get more out of the English "Eat-Out" model.
Afterwards, we continued to the Black Prince base in Stoke Prior, where we could get our suitcases out of the car and pack everything up the night before.
The next morning, just before breakfast at 7am, we noticed a strong rump. Behind us a boat had moored, which apparently also had to be returned today. Unfortunately their captain didn't seem to have learned how to "park" properly in the last 10 days.
The handover was friendly, fast and completely smooth. We only had to pay about 80 pounds for the fuel. And so we sat in our car shortly after 8:30 am and left the Black Prince base and with it our first narrowboat adventure.
Driving through England on a narrowboat is something special. We had a lot of variety and also "a lot of work", but all crew members enjoyed it. For the teenagers there were enough "smartphone" breaks (maybe not on the 10th day), for the adults there were many beautiful landscapes to discover along the canal.
Even for beginners it is not an insurmountable obstacle to drive through a long tunnel or many narrow and wide locks.
The Stourport Ring was a good choice, also because we had 10 days for it and so we could also take attractions like the Severn Railway into our program.
A good route planning is very helpful - and at this point again many thanks to all here in the forum who supported us with very useful information and advice.