In the middle of August I finally set out in my narrowboat/home to explore some of the canals and rivers of the UK. Initially I plan to travel for just over a month before going out to Spain to visit friends. I stayed in Gloucester for a few days and then nervously went out onto the River Severn on a day of high tides, strong wind and heavy rain. The adventure was underwhelming and other than getting damp I arrived in Tewkesbury with only the fascination of seeing the river flow gently in the ‘wrong’ direction for an hour. From Tewkesbury I followed the River Avon for a couple of weeks, stopping here and there for a few days. My cousin and her granddaughter joined me for a few hours on the river and a couple of days later another cousin visited me on the boat in Evesham. I stopped in Stratford for several days and saw two plays, one at each of the two Royal Shakespeare Company theatres.
Then from the river onto the Stratford Canal, which has locks and bridges only inches wider than the standard narrow-boat. My boat now has a few scars. Some boaters travel from Stratford to the Grand Union at Kingswood Junction in a couple of days – so far it has taken me a week – but I’m enjoying the pace and taking in the beautiful English countryside.
The water world is very different from the world of roads – each river or canal seems to have it’s own characteristics. The Avon wound through wide flood plains connecting ancient towns like Tewkesbury, Pershore, Evesham, and Stratford. At times the currents need careful negotiation but the rise is steady with few locks. The Stratford Canal on the other hand is narrow and rises through dozens of locks until it reaches a level that takes it right into the Centre of Birmingham. The region – once the Forest of Arden – is delightful and the canal meanders through typically English fields and forests. There are very few villages on the canal.
This is the way to see England. No shopping Malls or outlets, no gas stations, no cars or trucks, very few houses, and those that one does see are interesting for their age or unusual architecture. Travel is hard work; I find the locks pretty exhausting, but at the end of the day even if if I have only covered a few miles I feel satisfied.