There are some 2,000 miles of navigable canals in England and Wales, mostly dating from the early 19th century, when they were an essential way to move people and goods around the country. Nowadays, the network of canals, locks, tunnels, and bridges is mainly used by pleasure boaters and holiday-makers. All around England, you can find marinas that will rent you a narrowboat for a week. With what seems like very cursory instruction on how to operate the locks and your boat, they send you off in a 17-ton, 6-foot 10-inch wide hunk of steel. Mazel tov!
We set off from Worcester marina on a sunny Monday evening. Susan’s parents had done a few previous canal boat holidays, and they joined us most days (sleeping elsewhere, since the quarters onboard were quite tight for four, let alone six). Still, with 2/3 of our crew either under 7 or over 70, we chose a relatively leisurely itinerary, taking 7 days to cover what is normally a three-day route. We successfully navigated our way up to Droitwich Spa, and then back down the Severn to Worcester. Along the way, the boys became quite expert at opening and closing locks and we are mostly adept at navigating the boat into narrow canals. It’s a very peaceful activity — you can’t really go faster than 3 mph — so we spent hours motoring through bucolic countryside, mostly with swans and ducks for company. Every now and then you’d pass another boat and exchange pleasantries. But every day’s itinerary was gloriously uncomplicated: get yourself to the next mooring a few hours along the canal, preferably next to a pub.
On the whole, it was a very pleasant way to spend a week. We were blessed with beautiful weather, and nobody fell into the canal. Because we didn’t have that much ground to explore, we also had time to explore Worcester and the surrounding countryside a bit.