Trudi, part of our team here at Waterways Holidays, has been gracious enough to write up her experiences of the River Avon on her most recent canal boat trip:
On a lovely bright Saturday afternoon in May, we collected the narrowboat ‘Ostentatious’ from our boatyard just outside Pershore on the River Avon, which flows between the historic towns of Tewkesbury and Stratford-upon-Avon (home of William Shakespeare). Onboard were Captain Ken, my Mum and Dad (both in their 70’s) and myself. This was my parents’ first narrowboating holiday….would they enjoy it?
Ostentatious is a 52 ft. long, 2 to 6 berth narrowboat, with a double cabin, a dinette area with a lovely solid table (3-pin plug socket underneath) and a free standing sofa bed in the saloon. The kitchen is fully equipped and has a microwave. The bathroom has a shower and electric flush toilet. Wifi is available, a map book provided and the walkie-talkies were a nice touch (so that you can talk to the steerer when you’re doing a lock, or even order a cup of tea from the galley).
After the initial ‘show-through’ our hire began at around 3pm and we headed off in an easterly direction towards the town of Evesham. The slow flowing river was bordered by lovely countryside, overhanging willows, pretty riverside homes and thriving wildlife (being Springtime, there were plenty of fluffy ducklings, cygnets, lambs and calves to coo over).
After just half an hour, having navigated under the broad stone arches of the two bridges at Pershore, we came to a weir and our first lock. The locks are large enough to fit two boats side-by-side. At this particular lock you need to open a third paddle first, which is situated to the side of the lock. After this you have the option to moor up at Pershore town itself, with plenty of quiet moorings at the bottom of the Recreation Grounds. There is also a supermarket very close by.
As we continue on, the river meanders through fields and woodland, farmland and small villages. We pass a few pubs en route to Evesham, like the riverside Anchor Inn (at Wyre Piddle) but decide to continue on, looking forward to a nice meal out and a wander around Evesham. Wyre lock, just before the village, is diamond shaped which is quite rare on the UK waterways’ system. Between Wyre Piddle and Evesham there is a tiny river ferry which runs along wires from one side to the other….look out for the signs telling you to sound your horn 3 times to warn the ferryman of your advance, so that he will lower his wires!
At Evesham the river gets wider and there are plenty of moorings available before the bridge. We found that it was best to moor further away from the bridge (well before it) rather than right next to it, as people socialize in the gardens there late into the evening and it’s quieter if you keep your distance. Walking into the town there is a real mixture of new and old, with plenty of modern shops mixed with cobbled squares and historic architecture. Having had a look around we returned to the water’s edge and chose an exceptionally good Indian restaurant for dinnertime, very close to where we were moored.
The next day we headed through Evesham lock towards the village of Bidford-on-Avon, where a local event was taking place. En route, the scenery was calm and serene with a surprising amount of holiday homes lining the banks, many of which were mobile chalets in various shapes and sizes. Stopping just before the gorgeous medieval bridge at Bidford-on-Avon, with its ‘passing places’, we moored next the ‘big meadow’ and walked to the bustling Steam Engine Rally. There were craft stalls, food stalls, classic and vintage cars and gigantic steam traction engines to inspect. After visiting the Rally we walked into the village to look around and buy provisions. We stayed here for the evening and, although there were two nearby pubs that served meals, ate a relaxed dinner onboard the boat.
Continuing east, we struck out in the direction of Stratford-upon-Avon, encountering square church towers and pointed spires in the distance as we passed each new village or hamlet. There were more arched stone bridges to pass under and plenty of posh country homes situated on the banks of the river. This area seemed very affluent and many people had their own rather ‘swish’ motor cruisers moored at the ends of their gardens, or sometimes their own narrowboats.
After couple of rather heavy locks, the skies opened and torrential rain poured down. We fought on through 3 more locks (dripping wet) then decided enough was enough and moored up at the water point at Luddington, filling up with water at the same time as taking a break with a much needed cuppa and some brunch. The skies still looked ominous and we weighed up the options of doing just two more locks and walking around Stratford-Upon-Avon in the rain (which we had all visited before) or turning around and returning past Bidford-on-Avon towards Evesham. We turned around.
For those of you who have NOT visited Stratford-upon-Avon, it is a very interesting town with plenty of tourism celebrating Shakespeare and the well-known characters in his plays. There are numerous Tudor timber-fronted buildings and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre sits on the riverside, easy to visit in the evening if required. There are abundant restaurants, pubs, bars and cafés and lots of shops (some modern, some more ‘crafty’ and historic). There are open-top buses which can show you all of the sights and walking tours available too.
On our way back towards Pershore we bypassed Bidford-on-Avon and cruised towards Evesham. However this time we moored up next to George Billington Lock, near Offenham, where there was a lovely quiet mooring spot just a short stroll from the Fish & Anchor pub, which did excellent food (very impressed). There was also a lovely pub garden at the back for sunny evenings.
One of the things that sets the River Avon apart from other waterways I have been on, is that there is a wide weir next to each of the locks that you do, obviously for run-off if the river gets high. Some of these weirs are very pretty with old mills or warehouses nearby. Behind these weirs there also tend to be small boatyards or marinas with lots of moored boats, just waiting for their owners to arrive again for the weekend and take them out for a run to their favourite pub or waterside restaurant. The locks on the river are quite large and the force of the water can be powerful when you open the paddles, so I would recommend that you always open them half-way first and then fully when the lock is half full. Boats must be kept steady with ropes whilst they are in the lock to stop them buffeting about (Dad was a dab hand by the end of the holiday).
On the Tuesday evening we moored at Pershore and walked into town via the Recreation Grounds (5 minutes). We visited the supermarket there for provisions and had a good look around. The town has numerous shops, cafés, restaurants, takeaways and pubs. Much of the local architecture is really interesting and mainly Georgian. Some buildings had ornate balconies or intricate wrought iron decoration. The town has a market square near its centre and many of the shops surrounding it are very traditional. We called into the Angel Inn Hotel in the heart of the town for refreshments. It has loads of character, with exposed beams, fireplaces, rickety old steps (quite safe I’m sure) and a pretty garden overlooking the river. It also has a rather lovely restaurant area, which we didn’t try, but would have liked to. We had dinner on the boat again that evening and put our feet up whilst watching a DVD.
As we had time to spare on Wednesday morning, we cooked a late breakfast and after that, enjoyed feeding cream crackers to the multitude of ducks and tiny ducklings that homed-in on our boat once they’d heard the recognizable ‘splosh’ of food hitting water. A lovely warm day, we continued through Pershore lock back towards the boatyard at a very slow speed in order to take in the glorious weather and picturesque surroundings. The Canada Geese nursing their young in the fields all around, nestled close to grazing sheep and cows. Willow trees, bright yellow Rapeseed and Cow Parsley moving in the breeze as we chugged by.
Bypassing the boatyard, we began the next leg of our journey down the western part of the river towards Tewkesbury. The scenery along here seemed more open and less wooded, with more water meadows. A couple of Kingfishers flashed past, swans came closer to the boat to say hello and we even spotted a small herd of deer on the nearby hillside. Parts of the river grew curvier and there was actually a hairpin bend called the ‘Swan’s Neck’ to navigate around at one point (slowly). The next lock along, Strensham Lock, has a swing bridge overhead which needed to be moved before the boat could enter to the lock and then put back again as we left, which was different, but easy to do. After that, no more locks stood between us and Tewkesbury itself. We noticed along the last stretch that there were lots of sailing schools and private boat moorings, even a group of children in double canoes paddling down the river.
Skirting past Tewkesbury Marina with its posh private yachts and fabulous Dutch barges, we ducked under the narrow arch of King John’s Bridge to a quiet spot and moored up to the left before the Avon Lock (there is a charge of £3 per night to moor here). There were two bridges in sight, King John’s stone bridge and another cast-iron bridge next to the old Healings Flour Mill (which is now closed). Both bridges will take you into the town centre and one of the main areas, with shops and local supermarkets close by. There are lots of notable buildings here with half-timbered Tudor shops and houses strewn throughout the town with overhanging gables, all overlooked by the central tower of Tewkesbury Abbey. Alleyways lead to little cottages tucked behind the main sweep and there are plenty of pubs, many of which are quite historic, such as the Royal Hop Pole Inn and the Bell Inn. We walked through the grand entrance of the Hop Pole Inn, past some quaint wood-paneled rooms and into to their pretty sun drenched garden, which overlooks the river, where we sat and enjoyed a late lunch and a glass of wine (or two). That evening we got a Chinese takeaway from a nearby shop and ate onboard the boat, with our feet up, watching another DVD.
Having had another walk around Tewkesbury the next day then returning to the boat for breakfast, we told the live-in Avon lock-keeper that we were ready to pass through the Avon lock onto the River Severn and waited for the traffic light to change to green, letting us proceed into the lock. Holding the ropes tightly, it was nice for someone else to be doing the work for a change and the friendly lockkeeper also advised us on parts of the navigation to be aware of on the way to the Severn.
It was a fantastically clear and sunny morning and we happily chugged up the river towards our lunchtime destination: Upton-on-Severn. En route we were passed by several motor cruisers with people out on ‘jollies’ and saw a much larger tanker carrying sand to and from nearby works. The Severn is much wider than the Avon and feels a little bit ‘samey’ as you cruise along because the scenery doesn’t change very much – mainly fields of cows and various hedges. However, it is well worth the effort to visit Upton-on-Severn which is a fabulous, ‘quintessentially English’ country town. As we approached, we had a lovely view of the town and moored up just before the bridge, where moorings are free of charge for 24 hours.
Looking around the town we wished we could have spent the evening there as it actually has one of the most highly recommended Indian restaurants in the country (with lots of awards) but we knew we could only stay for a few hours this time around as tonight would be our last on the boat. There are some truly lovely local shops in this town and so many pubs that we lost count, many serving food. There was a bakery there with a long queue out of the door and people leaving with large boxes of goodies. Loads of events take place at Upton-on-Severn throughout the year, including Jazz and Folk festivals. There are some very interesting historic aspects of the town too, such as the ‘pepperpot’ church tower quite close to the river as you walk into the town and there is a Heritage Centre to wander around with information about the civil war of 1651. It is a very pretty town with lots going on. After a delicious lunch at the Swan Hotel overlooking the River sitting in the sunshine, we got back on the boat and turned around, returning to Tewkesbury at a very leisurely pace to enjoy the fabulous sunshine.
In the morning, we thought we’d have another look around Tewkesbury. As we walked down the main road we couldn’t help but notice the delicious smell of home-baking wafting towards us and located its origin at Halfords Family Bakers. There were pies, pasties and freshly baked goods of all kinds in their shop and we purchased two gorgeous-looking pies for that night’s dinner. This was our last full day, so we made our way back towards the boatyard at Pershore, with just a few locks to do between Tewkesbury and there. We were in no hurry, so enjoyed a relaxing journey east, bypassing the boatyard to moor again at the recreation grounds in Pershore and thoroughly enjoying a couple of glasses of wine in the pretty waterside garden of the Angel Inn. We heated our scrumptious pies from Halford’s Bakers in the oven, having them for our dinner and enjoying our last evening on the boat.
The next morning we passed back through Pershore Lock, under the two stone bridges and moored up at the boatyard. Back at our starting point we made sure the boat was clean, dishes done, rubbish out.
The whole family, including my parents, thoroughly enjoyed our cruise along the River Avon which can be absolutely recommended. And yes, my parents will definitely be joining us again next time around.