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Looking for holiday advice from across the pond


Ozwaldster
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Greetings all;

 

My wife and I have been wanting to make a canal trip for about 5+ years now based on a friend's trip experience.   We retired last year and were intending to go then as we could spend more time but, you know...    Although it seems things have become considerably more expensive and hectic, we're still going to go for it.   

 

Our thought was a 2-3 week trip so we can piddle along, stop often and enjoy strolling some market towns, visit some ancient stone piles, sit on a pub patio and watch the world go by, or take a train for a day trip.    Not afraid of doing locks but don't think dozens in a day would be all that relaxing.    We're thinking first of September to avoid the crowds.

 

With those in mind, what are your thoughts on routes, hire vendors, boat size recommendations, must see stops etc.     We've been to England, Scotland and Ireland before all as road trips or metro visits but haven't spent any time 'up country' in England proper. 

 

Any and all advice would be much appreciated. 

 

Warm Regards-

 

Dan & Judy

Edited by Ozwaldster
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As you are flying a long way maybe go for 3 or even 4 weeks, just not so good if you decide you don't like it. Some companies might offer a good discount. September is a good choice.

Maybe do the 4 counties ring with a diversion up the Caldon Canal, or if you have time the Macclesfield and Upper Peak Forest. Or maybe Chester?

If you like cities and decaying industry then a diversion into Birmingham is possible, but this will involve a lot of locks.

Get a decent size boat to have a bit of comfort, no less than 50 foot but probably a bit bigger, larger boats are, in some ways, actually easier to handle than shorter ones.

 

Unless you have any specific things to see then day trips are not required, the canal system itself and its towns and villages should keep you busy.

  • Greenie 3
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Do you want to do the usual American tourist thing and visit locations like Stratford on Avon, Warwick, Chester or York, all of which can be visited by boat (although York is away from the regular narrow boat waterways)? Or do you want to visit the smaller towns and villages of Middle England?

If you want a bit of both, the Shropshire Union Canal will give you plenty of quiet countryside, as well as take you alongside the city walls of Chester, and for ancient stone piles, Beeston Castle is only a short walk away.

Edited by David Mack
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I think I might consider going in June. It's very pleasant in September but there is more risk of restrictions due to water shortages whereas in June it should still be OK.

 

I would look to be flexible in the route plan. That way, you can establish what is enjoyable for you. For example, we went round the Four Counties plus the Caldon in a week this August, but that would be a week of long days travelling. If you had three weeks to do that, if you just potter along, stopping at pubs and towns, it would be very relaxed. If you were enjoying travelling more, you could add more side-trips in, for example heading to the centre of Birmingham, stopping at the Black Country Museum on the way (maybe with a trip into the Dudley Tunnel), or down the southern Staffs. & Worcs. which is very scenic, or up the Llangollen which has some spectacular engineering, or up to Chester and Ellesmere Port with its Boat Museum, or go and look at the Anderton Lift. The thing about a ring with branches is that you can decide to head off down them or not.

 

When we plan routes of that type, we try to put the side branches we really want to do nearer the back end of the trip rather than at the beginning. That way we don't have any issues with knowing whether we can fit them in or not. This would have a bearing on where to hire from, so for example if your top choice was the Caldon you might hire from Great Haywood and go round clockwise, but if your top choice was to head into Birmingham you might hire from Autherley, Brewood or Norbury and go round clockwise, but if you wanted to go up the Llangollen or to Ellesmere Port you might hire from Norbury and go round anticlockwise etc.

 

As a very specific recommendation, if it fits your plans then Phoenix from Norbury Wharf was an excellent boat and might suit well for an extended cruise, although note that it has a trad stern, so you can't have two people sat out at the back. That's another consideration actually - a trad stern only really has space for the steerer whereas a semi-trad or cruiser stern has more space for other people. However, a trad stern does keep the steerer warmer and drier, and if the other person/people want to sit at the bow anyway away from the engine noise then there is no disadvantage.

 

Alec

 

 

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13 hours ago, dmr said:

As you are flying a long way maybe go for 3 or even 4 weeks, just not so good if you decide you don't like it. Some companies might offer a good discount. September is a good choice.

Maybe do the 4 counties ring with a diversion up the Caldon Canal, or if you have time the Macclesfield and Upper Peak Forest. Or maybe Chester?

If you like cities and decaying industry then a diversion into Birmingham is possible, but this will involve a lot of locks.

Get a decent size boat to have a bit of comfort, no less than 50 foot but probably a bit bigger, larger boats are, in some ways, actually easier to handle than shorter ones.

 

Unless you have any specific things to see then day trips are not required, the canal system itself and its towns and villages should keep you busy.

I agree about the Four Counties and if you follow the advice of a three or four weeks trip you could have a look at one or two hire companies and use combine their suggested weekly or two weekly  holiday routes into a slightly extended cruise. Another diversion off the Four Counties ring would be the Llangollen which will not be quite as busy in September once the children go back to school and the run up to Llangollen is very scenic with not too many locks. 

 

Enjoy your search.

 

Howard

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Avon Ring, plus an extra bit if there's time.  Very varied, lots of pretty countryside.  Bigger towns and cities:  Birmingham, Worcester, Stratford, Pershore, Evesham, Tewkesbury, Bromsgrove sort of.  Gloucester on an extra bit.

 

Small towns and villages:  Lapworth, Lowsonford, Wilmcote,  Preston Bagot, Bidford, Wire Piddle, Fladbury, Hanbury, Stoke Prior, etc, etc.

 

Ancient buildings, cathedrals, and stately homes along the route too.

 

The only downside are two big lock flights, but both of them can be worked quite easily and are less trouble than many small flights.

 

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Some years ago a friend and I (together with our respective wives) managed the four counties ring and the Cheshire ring in a total of 10 days. Early starts and late finishes. If you are ready for some beautiful scenery, some amazing industrial heritage and some locks, then I would say three or four weeks would be a satisfactory period to spend cruising this route.

As far as hire companies go, there are still quite a few despite Covid. We have booked two weeks next spring with Black Prince whose boats are always well looked after and very smart, do a google (or web search engine of your choice) for Canal Hire Boat Companies and see what you can find.

Good luck and have fun at your own pace.

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Like me you are retired, and i would guess need some comfort in your prime ? I find bench seats of an evening time extremely uncomfortable, and prefer to recline on my own "Captains chair " Few hire companies offer a reclining chair but 2 that do are Anglo Welsh, and Napton Narrow boats . In the case of Napton, they also have bigger beds that offer that much more comfort. Lets be honest, most 4 foot double beds leave a lot to be desired. Over the course of a 3 week hire, these 2 features make a lot of difference . 

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The Grand Union Thames Oxford ring might be another thought too, If you share the wide locks of the GU it can be very sociable and not too strenuous if sharing and the Thames is a delight. You could go up some of the Arms of the Grand Union, higher up the Thames beyond Oxford or The River Wey as detours. 

it just shows what a brilliant inland waterway  system we have as all the other suggestions are very good too. 

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4 hours ago, pomkitanner said:

Like me you are retired, and i would guess need some comfort in your prime ? I find bench seats of an evening time extremely uncomfortable, and prefer to recline on my own "Captains chair " Few hire companies offer a reclining chair but 2 that do are Anglo Welsh, and Napton Narrow boats . In the case of Napton, they also have bigger beds that offer that much more comfort. Lets be honest, most 4 foot double beds leave a lot to be desired. Over the course of a 3 week hire, these 2 features make a lot of difference . 

I've hired boats from both companies and would agree on both seats/chairs and beds -- but this does only apply to their most expensive "luxury" boats, which tend to get booked up early. It makes a difference even on a 1 week hire...

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Thank you all for the very valuable comments!  I wish there was a way to respond to you individually, but it seems it's not possible on this forum type.   And so..

 

dmr: yes actually we were initially thinking about a 4 week trip originally to be sure we could really relax, but as you say, we'd be committing to a long stretch, plus, there's the cost.   I'm again thinking heavily about a longer trip per your comments, also the longer boat for comfort on an extended stay.

 

David:  Not really needing to do the 'American tourist thing' we're more inclined to spend some time getting to know a place vs. checking off places, we did that approach while younger 🙂The S-U canal sounds promising esp. based on some of the vloggers..

 

Agg221:  another vote for the four counties ring so that's moving up the list.   Yes, we'd like to do the semi- trad / cruiser stern so the boss and I can both have a place to rest our bacon while enjoying the stand-up view!   Not too keen on Birmingham based on some comments of safe places to moor, but excellent comments on the side trip scheduling.  

 

howardang: You're one of multiples citing the four counties ring so that's hopped to the top of the list!    Hadn't considered multiple hires, but that's worth investigating.  Would need to figure out the logistics of packing / moving to a different vendor but could be adventuresome to do two different legs / vendors...hmmm..

 

dorathexploere:  An alternate view from the four counties!  Say more about longer locks being potentially less hassle than the smaller ones???

 

manxmike:  Thanks for the Black Prince recommend; we've been looking at them as one of the bigger vendors.   Might also be a good idea if we decide to do two different canals with a boat switch between, and still get the volume discount via a single vendor.   Another vote for four counties ring.

 

pomkitanner:   Great observations regarding comfort as we're back to planning a longer trip.   Not too worried about the bench seating vs captain's chairs but we are used to a king size bed and 4 weeks in a simple double might have one of us (me) sleeping on the bench after a few days.    Esp. if I might have a cigar and / or a glass of red wine.   (snore like a chainsaw..) 

 

shroudwater:  The G-U looks wonderful on the vlogs as well and has lots of potential per a post/pre stay in London and a hookup with friends there and in Cambridge.   Not sure I'd want to try the Thames or Wey in a narrowboat for my first outing, however.  

 

IanD:  Thanks for the second comment on comfort; has me thinking again...

 

Again many thanks all, you've given us both lots to consider and more research to do!  I'm sure we'll have more questions as we go along

           

 

 

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Howardang mentioned that it should be quieter in September once the school holidays are over, but we find it's nearly as busy, especially the popular canals such as the Llangollen, because all we retired folk think the same thing and wait till the kids have gone back. Better in my opinion to go in June and/or early July before the school holidays begin around July 18th.

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13 hours ago, Ozwaldster said:

Thank you all for the very valuable comments!  I wish there was a way to respond to you individually, but it seems it's not possible on this forum type.   And so..

 

dmr: yes actually we were initially thinking about a 4 week trip originally to be sure we could really relax, but as you say, we'd be committing to a long stretch, plus, there's the cost.   I'm again thinking heavily about a longer trip per your comments, also the longer boat for comfort on an extended stay.

 

David:  Not really needing to do the 'American tourist thing' we're more inclined to spend some time getting to know a place vs. checking off places, we did that approach while younger 🙂The S-U canal sounds promising esp. based on some of the vloggers..

 

Agg221:  another vote for the four counties ring so that's moving up the list.   Yes, we'd like to do the semi- trad / cruiser stern so the boss and I can both have a place to rest our bacon while enjoying the stand-up view!   Not too keen on Birmingham based on some comments of safe places to moor, but excellent comments on the side trip scheduling.  

 

howardang: You're one of multiples citing the four counties ring so that's hopped to the top of the list!    Hadn't considered multiple hires, but that's worth investigating.  Would need to figure out the logistics of packing / moving to a different vendor but could be adventuresome to do two different legs / vendors...hmmm..

 

dorathexploere:  An alternate view from the four counties!  Say more about longer locks being potentially less hassle than the smaller ones???

 

manxmike:  Thanks for the Black Prince recommend; we've been looking at them as one of the bigger vendors.   Might also be a good idea if we decide to do two different canals with a boat switch between, and still get the volume discount via a single vendor.   Another vote for four counties ring.

 

pomkitanner:   Great observations regarding comfort as we're back to planning a longer trip.   Not too worried about the bench seating vs captain's chairs but we are used to a king size bed and 4 weeks in a simple double might have one of us (me) sleeping on the bench after a few days.    Esp. if I might have a cigar and / or a glass of red wine.   (snore like a chainsaw..) 

 

shroudwater:  The G-U looks wonderful on the vlogs as well and has lots of potential per a post/pre stay in London and a hookup with friends there and in Cambridge.   Not sure I'd want to try the Thames or Wey in a narrowboat for my first outing, however.  

 

IanD:  Thanks for the second comment on comfort; has me thinking again...

 

Again many thanks all, you've given us both lots to consider and more research to do!  I'm sure we'll have more questions as we go along

           

 

 

The Avon Ring has 130 locks in total.  At least a couple of these will be manned and you won't have to do anything.

 

The Four Counties Ring has 94 locks but is shorter so you may well want to go up the Llangollen Canal or Caldon Canal, so you'll end up doing a similar number of locks to the Avon Ring.

 

The Avon Ring is generally prettier than the Four Counties Ring and it's more interesting and diverse from a boating perspective too, including canals, a small river and a big river.  The Four Counties is all narrow canal.  It also contains more of those historic towns and cities than the Four Counties, which you Americans like to visit.  Lots of lovely old architecture, cathedrals, castles, half-timbered buildings etc.

 

My comment about short lock flights versus long ones is that there are some short flights which are notoriously hard work, often from poor maintenance.  The two main flights on the Avon Ring are Lapworth and Tardebigge, which have locks which are fairly easy to work and empty and fill quickly.  The biggest is Tardebigge with 30 locks but you can leave that until the end of your holiday, by which time you'll be an expert!

 

Don't get me wrong, the Four Counties Ring is nice, it's just not as nice as the Avon Ring.  I wonder how many commenters on here have done both, since the Avon Ring involves getting an extra licence for the River Avon, and that seems to put some off.  It shouldn't affect you in a hire boat though.

 

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We like the Avon Ring and the Four Counties Ring, having been moored at Tewkesbury and Bredon for many years I know how quickly the Avon can go in to flood so something that needs to be considered.  Our most recent trip was the Four Counties and the Llangollen which is busy but some careful planning meant we went through all the hotspots without any delays.

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I did the Avon Ring last year and the Four Counties+Llangollen this year. I was cruising both with an overseas partner that was new to narrow boating so I think she gave a good perspective of a typical visitor. She liked both routes but her preference was the Avon Ring because of the variety of scenery - she found the Four Counties to be nice but a bit "too much of the same". Both will give you a great holiday but I think overall I tend to agree with her.

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20 minutes ago, Rob-M said:

We like the Avon Ring and the Four Counties Ring, having been moored at Tewkesbury and Bredon for many years I know how quickly the Avon can go in to flood so something that needs to be considered.  Our most recent trip was the Four Counties and the Llangollen which is busy but some careful planning meant we went through all the hotspots without any delays.

Good points.  If I were them, I'd be looking at May/June which IMO are the nicest boating months and coincidentally have the lowest chance of any flooding.

1 minute ago, Awayonmyboat said:

I did the Avon Ring last year and the Four Counties+Llangollen this year. I was cruising both with an overseas partner that was new to narrow boating so I think she gave a good perspective of a typical visitor. She liked both routes but her preference was the Avon Ring because of the variety of scenery - she found the Four Counties to be nice but a bit "too much of the same". Both will give you a great holiday but I think overall I tend to agree with her.

This neatly sums up what I was trying to say!

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4 hours ago, doratheexplorer said:

The Four Counties is all narrow canal. 

Not strictly true. It is wide beam from Barbridge Junction to Nantwich, although you are very unlikely to meet a wide boat. But all the locks are narrow.

3 hours ago, doratheexplorer said:

If I were them, I'd be looking at May/June which IMO are the nicest boating months and coincidentally have the lowest chance of any flooding.

Or water shortages.

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5 hours ago, doratheexplorer said:

The Avon Ring has 130 locks in total.  At least a couple of these will be manned and you won't have to do anything.

 

The Four Counties Ring has 94 locks but is shorter so you may well want to go up the Llangollen Canal or Caldon Canal, so you'll end up doing a similar number of locks to the Avon Ring.

 

The Avon Ring is generally prettier than the Four Counties Ring and it's more interesting and diverse from a boating perspective too, including canals, a small river and a big river.  The Four Counties is all narrow canal.  It also contains more of those historic towns and cities than the Four Counties, which you Americans like to visit.  Lots of lovely old architecture, cathedrals, castles, half-timbered buildings etc.

 

Don't get me wrong, the Four Counties Ring is nice, it's just not as nice as the Avon Ring.  I wonder how many commenters on here have done both, since the Avon Ring involves getting an extra licence for the River Avon, and that seems to put some off.  It shouldn't affect you in a hire boat though.

 

I have done both. I have also been caught once with the Severn going into flood. The time we did the Avon ring, we went from Wootton Wawen and, against the advice of the hire company, we went down the Avon first and then up the Severn. We were very glad that we did as all the boats which went the other way around got caught and did not make it back.

 

To be honest, I found the Avon rather dull. Limited mooring choices and although the towns would be interesting if that was what you were looking for, the actual waterway didn't have much to offer. I didn't enjoy the stretch upstream on the Severn much either, even fewer mooring options and running flat out against the current on a large river. It was a real relief to get back to canals at Worcester.

 

Having just done the Four Counties in late August, and added in the Caldon (which is probably my favourite canal of all) I still prefer that one.

 

On an earlier point, I am not trying to sell Birmingham, but it is perhaps worth mentioning why I suggested it as a side trip (which coincidentally is equally possible from the Avon ring). If you look at a canal map of Birmingham, you will see that there is a lot of it! Most of the network is now a bit of a backwater, often little used and not generally somewhere you would choose as a first place to see. This is where some of the mooring issues also arise. But, straight through the middle of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, running East to West from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, is the Main Line, which is actually two parallel main lines in parts, Old and New. A trip down this gives a real sense of the industrial purpose of the canals. I would not describe it as a tourist destination but it does give a view on the history and a fair amount of that still survives. I am not aware of anyone having any issues travelling this route, and it allows for a very nice city centre mooring in Birmingham itself, around the redeveloped heart of the network with plenty of choices for restaurants and a walk around the centre. Stopping at the Black Country Museum provides a nice mooring too, and a real insight into the area 100 years ago. Look up the museum website if you want to see more. The top of the Wolverhampton flight also provides a safe mooring if you don't want to tackle the flight until the following day, and a walk around Wolverhampton is again surprisingly enjoyable. My personal favourite is to visit the art gallery there, particularly because of their collection of works by Edwin Butler Bayliss, but others may have different preferences!

 

Alec

 

 

 

 

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18 hours ago, agg221 said:

I have done both. I have also been caught once with the Severn going into flood. The time we did the Avon ring, we went from Wootton Wawen and, against the advice of the hire company, we went down the Avon first and then up the Severn. We were very glad that we did as all the boats which went the other way around got caught and did not make it back.

 

To be honest, I found the Avon rather dull. Limited mooring choices and although the towns would be interesting if that was what you were looking for, the actual waterway didn't have much to offer. I didn't enjoy the stretch upstream on the Severn much either, even fewer mooring options and running flat out against the current on a large river. It was a real relief to get back to canals at Worcester.

 

Having just done the Four Counties in late August, and added in the Caldon (which is probably my favourite canal of all) I still prefer that one.

 

On an earlier point, I am not trying to sell Birmingham, but it is perhaps worth mentioning why I suggested it as a side trip (which coincidentally is equally possible from the Avon ring). If you look at a canal map of Birmingham, you will see that there is a lot of it! Most of the network is now a bit of a backwater, often little used and not generally somewhere you would choose as a first place to see. This is where some of the mooring issues also arise. But, straight through the middle of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, running East to West from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, is the Main Line, which is actually two parallel main lines in parts, Old and New. A trip down this gives a real sense of the industrial purpose of the canals. I would not describe it as a tourist destination but it does give a view on the history and a fair amount of that still survives. I am not aware of anyone having any issues travelling this route, and it allows for a very nice city centre mooring in Birmingham itself, around the redeveloped heart of the network with plenty of choices for restaurants and a walk around the centre. Stopping at the Black Country Museum provides a nice mooring too, and a real insight into the area 100 years ago. Look up the museum website if you want to see more. The top of the Wolverhampton flight also provides a safe mooring if you don't want to tackle the flight until the following day, and a walk around Wolverhampton is again surprisingly enjoyable. My personal favourite is to visit the art gallery there, particularly because of their collection of works by Edwin Butler Bayliss, but others may have different preferences!

 

Alec



 

 

 

Echo all of the above.

Brum has taken advantage of the lockdowns to revitalise the centre - reducing vehicular access and converting the roads to run trams there's -

A wacky library

Art Gallery

Smart shopping centre(s)

'Back to back' house museum

Concert hall with a fine organ

Jewelry quarter to rival London's Hatton Garden

Loads of restaurants - ethnic or otherwise and pubs

All of which are within walking distance of Gas Street basin

 

There are currently loads of videos on YouTube so that you can do your research first

18 hours ago, agg221 said:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We recently spent a week moored in Birmingham. It's a great place to visit by boat except for having so many locks to and from there whichever direction you enter from. It's vibrant and has a nice ambience about the place . There's lots to see and do, including some great canalside pubs, cafe's and restaurants, and unlike a lot of cities and towns there's plenty of decent moorings. Avoid mooring in the Gas Street and Mailbox areas on Friday or Saturday nights though, because they are close to the nightclubs in the Broad Street area.

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