In November 2020, we were lucky enough to be invited on a narrowboat staycation with ABC Boat Hire. We explored the Grand Union Canal in Northampton, learning how to drive a narrowboat, with some scrapes – literally – along the way and taking in everything the British countryside – and British pubs – had to offer.
So, when we were invited back to join ABC Boat Hire over the Easter break, we jumped at the opportunity. This time we visited ABC Boat Hire’s Worcester Marina. We spent three days and two nights driving around the Droitwich Ring, which combines the River Severn and the Droitwich Canal.
Now, you may have thought that because we had driven a narrowboat beforehand we would have remembered all the key details and safety measures. Unfortunately, you would have been incorrect. So, when we arrived at Worcester Marine and took through another safety briefing, we were somewhat relieved. We were reminded how to start the boat, drive the boat and how to moor it. Most importantly, how to stay safe on the boat.
We were also shown around our narrowboat, the Aquatic Warbler, which was an absolute beauty. It had everything we would need for the next three days, including three double beds, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a lounge area.
This time around we were also going to be going through some locks – 33 locks to be exact – something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do last time due to another boat having a slight accident. And by slight accident we mean they sunk the boat in the lock. So, we knew how important this safety briefing would be.
We were taught all about the canal highway code, lock etiquette, how to save water and how to open the locks with the windlass. Yet, the most most important thing we learnt was to avoid the cill in the lock. The cill is a horizontal ledge that sticks out in the lock, further than the lock gates. It is critical to be beyond the cill before you begin to empty the water, otherwise you’ll have a sunken boat. Luckily, at some locks there are British Waterway volunteers who are experts in locks.
Do. Not. Forget. About. The. Cill.
Once we had thoroughly had the life scared out of us about the cill – which was apparently the intention – ABC Boat Hire handed us the keys to our very own 69ft narrowboat. FYI, the locks are only 72ft.
Now we will not lie, we were a little rusty since our last adventure with ABC Boat Hire. Our exit out of Worcester Marina was a slight disaster, we nearly crashed into another narrowboat and made quite a scene. So much so, ABC Boat Hire decided it was probably best to take us out of the marina themselves. In all honesty, this was the right decision.
Once we were a little more comfortable with the narrowboat, and the Captain had been demoted to Chief Mate, the journey became very enjoyable. Although, it wasn’t long until we came across our first lock. We all readied ourselves and went to work to open the lock.
The lock was not in our favour, which is not a reference to Hunger Games, but a boating term which means the water level is favour of boats travelling the other direction. Therefore, the lock needed to be filled before we could move ahead. However, lock etiquette means that you need to check whether another boat is coming in the opposite direction. This means that the lock doesn’t need to be drained and filled twice, saving water.
On this occasion there was not another boat coming in the other direction. So, with our windlasses in hand Natalie and I headed to open the lock paddles. Now, we feel like we’re both pretty strong people, but in all honesty, opening the lock was tough at first. We really had to put our backs into it, but luckily over time the lock paddles began to open and the water started to fill the lock. Success.
It usually takes around 5-minutes to fill the lock, in that time the Captain can line up the narrowboat to enter the lock. Although this is easier said than done, and in all honesty, our first few attempts meant the boat bounced off the walls of lock before being in the right position.
Once the lock was full, we were able to close the lock paddles and open the locks gates so the boat could drift inside. Then its most critical part was making sure the narrowboat was beyond the cill before draining the water. Luckily, the water drained and the narrowboat was still afloat. A very successful first lock.
We have to admit that opening and closing the locks became one of our favourite activities over the weekend. It was surprisingly fun, a great opportunity to speak to the locals and very satisfying when the boat makes it to the other side. Which was a good thing as we still had 32 locks to go.
Afterwards we continued up the River Severn, driving through Worcester town centre and the cathedral, and past another three locks before mooring up for the night. Of course, outside a classic British pub called the Camp House Inn. The Camp House Inn is located in a beautiful setting right next to the river and wide open fields. During our meal we were also visited by the local wildlife including a very friendly peacock and a gaggle of geese.
Now, one thing that is key to note about the Camp House Inn is that it is cash only. We hadn’t been aware of this before arrival, but luckily we were able to scrape together enough cash for a fish and chips each, finished off with a lovely bottle of red wine. It was great to sit in the open air and watch the sunset with a good meal.
After dinner we headed back to the narrowboat where we had our own stash of red wine. We changed into our comfy clothes, gathered around the table in the lounge area, opened a bottle of red and played Monopoly Deal. It was a great way to spend our first night on the narrowboat.
The next morning we were up bright and early as we had a big day on the narrowboat ahead, including 12, yes 12, locks. We showered then ate our bacon sandwiches and drank our tea watching the ducks float along the canal in the early morning sunshine – it was bliss.
Our first task of the day was a river lock. Now, a river lock is slightly different to a normal lock. In the fact that we didn’t actually have to do anything. River locks have Lock Keepers who fill or drain the lock for you. All we needed to do was drive the boat in and out of the lock and listen to everything the Lock Keepers told us. Once we had successfully made it through the river lock it was time to join the Droitwich Canal.
We spent our morning drifting along the river taking in the beautiful sights and going through the multiple locks. When there were no locks in sight we even found time to snuggle down at the front of the boats with our books and blankets. Throughout the day we also came across some Swing Bridges, which essentially is a moveable bridge which you swing out of the way when you need to drive the narrowboat past. In all honesty, this trip was putting us to much harder work than the last ABC Boat Hire adventure we spent most of the time sitting and watching the world go by. But, we absolutely loved it.
When it came to lunch we decided to moor up on the side of the canal and have a mini picnic on board. However, after lunch we hit a little bit of a hurdle. It turned out as we had moored up for lunch, a jumper had been caught around the propeller, meaning we were unable to drive. Now, in this situation our first reaction was to call ABC Boat Hire for some help, but then we remembered our induction and thought it would be best to cut the jumper free ourselves, saving us and ABC Boat Hire time.
So, we opened up the propeller hatch armed with some kitchen scissors and got to work, cutting the jumper free from the propeller. It took about 20-minutes to cut the jumper free and once it was free we felt such a relief. We were finally able to continue our afternoon along the river, opening the locks.
In the evening we moored up alongside another classic British pub called the Eagle and Sun. The Eagle and Sun has a perfect beer garden right by the canal where you can tuck into a good burger and watch the sun go down. We stayed here for most of the evening, drinking wine and watching the world go by. Of course, we finished the evening on the boat with more wine and a few more rounds of Monopoly Deal.
Our last day on the boat bought even more new experiences, we had a whopping 17 locks to go through before arriving back at Worcester Marina. Plus, we went past Side Pound Locks, which means there’s an extra set of paddles at the side of the lock. First, we had to empty the water in the side paddles and then empty the rest into the river, saving water and also to help prevent flooding.
After our final lock, which we have to say we are now pros, we made it safely back to Worcester Marina. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend with ABC Boat Hire, the weather was incredible, we were able to put our new boating and lock skills into action, as well as drifting past some of the most beautiful British countryside.
Are you interested in finding out more? Read our answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here.