An extraordinary narrowboat hire season

From the doldrums of lockdown to the busiest summer on record, Matt Lucas-Stern looks back on the 2020 narrowboat holiday season at Wootton Wawen.

“The coronavirus pandemic has bought dramatic changes to our lives, particularly for those of us involved in the world of travel and hospitality.

When the main 2020 boating season got underway at the beginning of March, even though we knew that Covid-19 was devastating communities elsewhere in China and parts of Europe, we still didn’t have any idea how much it was going to affect our lives.

Here at Wootton Wawen, we were focussing on getting all our boats in tip top shape ready for the main boating season, and making plans to hold an open day to show off our newly painted day boats. When Boris announced a national lockdown on that unforgettable evening on 23 March, everything changed and our boats were suddenly grounded until further notice.

At first we focused on enjoying watching the waterway burst into life as a particularly sunny and warm Spring progressed. As for many people, the peace and quiet of lockdown gave us the chance for reflection, family time and to connect to nature.

But as the weeks went by, we worried more and more about what the future would hold for our industry and when our holidays would be able to resume.

Then on the 20th of June, we received the fantastic news that domestic holidays could resume on the 4th of July. We needed to get our team back from furlough and put in all the necessary measures to ensure our holidays were safe.

We put in new social distancing measures at our boat yards, introduced extra cleaning regimes and we made a video showing people all the facilities on board our boats and how to operate them, to give holiday-makers extra information in advance of their boat handover.

It was a busy and exciting time, both for everyone working at the boat yards, and for our bookings team who were inundated with calls and emails from people wanting to book their canal boat holiday. Many of them were newcomers who had often thought about taking a canal boat holiday, but never quite got around to it before. They realised how perfect our staycation holidays are – offering the chance to escape into the countryside aboard a self-contained, self-catering floating holiday home!

The next two months were full on. For the first time ever, literally all our boats were booked out for the six week summer holiday peak. The first few weeks of July were a bit strange as everyone got used to the news ways of working and just being around people again. But we soon got everything working like clockwork and before long, it became the new normal.

With canal boat holidays, people usually turn up to the boat yard a bit stressed and anxious to get their holiday underway. But by the time they return, the slow time of the canals makes people much calmer and more relaxed.

It was great to see the smiling faces of families returning from their holidays, with kids telling us about some of their experiences. We had a 13-year-old lad who was really keen on narrowboating and ended up working all 113 locks by himself on his family holiday to Stratford on Avon and Warwick. He proudly told the staff about his achievements when they got back at Wootton, and has decided he is definitely coming again next year! He’s even bought his own windlass.

Another really enthusiastic group of newcomers to the world of narrowboating made friends with our boat yard team, and even took a hand painted dipper from my boatman’s cabin to hang over their fireplace to remind them of their boating adventures!

Going into the autumn, particularly in September and over the October Half Term, we were still extremely busy with most of our boats booked out by people taking advantage of the mild weather, and the chance to see the changing colours of the autumn leaves on the trees that line our waterways.
Now it’s November, and sadly another lockdown has just been announced. Here at Wootton Wawen we stay open all year round for winter cruising, so we hope our boats can get back out again in December.

In the meantime, here at Anglo Welsh we are all extremely grateful to the vast majority of our customers who have been prepared to postpone their holidays with us, rather than cancel. We are glad that our holidays were able to resume and have been more popular than ever, helping to support other businesses like canalside pubs and village shops.

As we continue to live with the coronavirus and the changes it has made to our lives, the future remains uncertain. But spending time by the water always somehow makes things feel better, watching nature peacefully continue to change with the seasons.”

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Spotlight on Tardebigge

Worcester & Birmingham Narrow Boat Holidays

Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove offers narrowboat holiday-makers the chance to explore some of the most beautiful parts of the West Midlands – including the Forest of Arden, Shakespeare country, Tolkein country and the River Severn Valley. It also offers boaters the option to travel right into the heart of Birmingham – Britain’s vibrant second city with more canals than Venice.

Jonathan Nowell, Anglo Welsh’s manager at Tardebigge, says, “Our Tardebigge base enjoys an idyllic rural setting and is the perfect place to start a leisurely cruise around some of the gorgeous countryside to be found in the Heart of England.

“Perhaps the most popular route for beginners from Tardebigge is to take a short break and travel into Birmingham and back. There are no locks between here and the centre of Birmingham and it takes just five hours to potter along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to moorings in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace and a host of exciting City centre attractions.

“And along the way, boaters pass Cadbury World in the historic village of Bournville, where visitors can find out how chocolate is made and explore the World’s biggest Cadbury Shop!

“Narrowboating newcomers wanting a more rural experience can connect onto the Stratford Canal at Kings Norton Junction and travel to the pretty canal village of Lapworth and back – which takes around 14 hours in total, again with no locks.

“Another popular short break route is to travel into Birmingham to visit the Black Country Museum, often used as a film set for the BBC’s Peaky Blinders. Here visitors can step back in time where the world’s first industrial landscape emerged and meet costumed characters, explore period shops and houses, enjoy a fair ground ride, take a 1912 school lesson, eat traditional fish & chips and visit the Bottle & Glass Inn.

“From Tardebigge, more experienced boaters on longer breaks can enjoy there-and-back cruises to Stratford upon Avon, Warwick or Worcester. Shakespeare’s Stratford is probably our most popular destination for people on a week’s canal barge holiday from here. The journey takes boaters along the beautiful Stratford Canal with its distinctive barrel-roofed cottages, peaceful countryside and fantastic choice of canalside pubs – including the Fleur de Lys at Lowsonford, which is famous for its homemade pies.

“There’s also a choice of circuits to navigate from Tardebigge, including the popular Stourport Ring, which can be done in a week and involves travelling 74 miles, through 118 locks, passing through Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stourport and the lovely Cathedral City of Worcester.

“As part of this journey, boaters get to tackle the mighty Tardebigge flight of 30 locks – the longest in the country. The locks are spread out over two and a quarter miles and allow boats to ascend or descend 67 metres in height. To recognise this major waterway landmark, the Canal & River Trust offers a certificate to boaters who complete their passage through the flight.

“On this route, narrowboat holiday-makers also have the option of taking a short cut along the newly restored Droitwich canals and experience narrow locks, staircase locks, wide beam locks and swing bridges all in a single seven-mile stretch.

“Luxury canal boat hire options here at Tardebigge include the 65ft long four-berth Constellation Class ‘Hydra’, and the 67ft six-berth Bond Class ‘Braithwaite’ – both of which have semi-traditional sterns, two shower rooms with toilets, plus two cabins which can be configured as a double bed or two single beds. In its spacious saloon, ‘Braithwaite’ also has a bench seat and table which can be converted into either a double or two singles in the evening.”

To book a holiday or break on any of Anglo Welsh’s fleet, call our friendly booking team on 0117 304 1122.


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Be Inspired

We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations

City Breaks
Rural retreats
Popular places

So why choose Anglo Welsh?

Over 55 years providing unique canal boat holidays in England and Wales.
Modern and spacious narrowboat and wide beam barge hire – from 2 to 12 berths.
Wide choice of narrowboat hire locations and canal boat holiday destinations.
Canal boat holiday routes for novices & experienced boaters.
Flexible holiday booking, no hidden costs.
Family friendly and pet friendly holidays.
Great days out on the water.
Luxury canal boat hire and Thames boating holidays.

Anglo Welsh. So much more than narrowboats

...but don't just take our word for it