Manchester Evening News
All aboard the magical world of boating by Denise Watson
Canal boating has always had a certain fascination for me. It's something to do with the completely different pace of life that imposes itself the second you step off the tow path and on to your barge. The boats aren't meant to go fast, so, inevitably, you slow down to the tranquil pace which the chug-chug of the diesel engine sets. Boating in Britain comes with its own secret world, although it's always more than welcoming to new- comers. And, once you've experienced the calm and beauty that go with a waterways holiday, most people find they're hooked for life and. try to return year after year.
So my husband and I had looked forward with relish to the three-day break which awaited us at Stoke Prior, the starting point of a journey which would lead us through Worcester and on to the River Severn. What did worry us, however, was how would the children take to it? Our last boating holiday had been exactly one month before Sam, our six-year-old, was born. He was joined by Emma three years later, and since the arrival of children we felt a canal boat holiday was far too risky What if they fell in? How could we manage the locks with youngsters to look out for? Would they be bored by the lack of TV and toys?
Last August, however, we decided to, well, stick a toe back in the water - and booked a short break. Holidays. Kiddie life jackets, we were assured, would be awaiting our arrival! Still nervous about the prospect of two lively children being able to settle down and be sensible enough not to fall in, I insisted the lifejackets were worn from morning till night - a rule which, to my surpr ise, they accepted without question. They were far too busy doing other things
Our journey from the boatyard to just past Worcester Cathedral was truly stunning. There were locks to keep us busy - but not too many to become a chore - and lots of unexpectedly beautiful scenery and village stop-offs along the way despite the canal being sandwiched between the railway and motorway at times. We passed through the Dunhampstead Tunnel, which, although not that long by some standards, proved a huge hit with Sam and Emma, as drops of water fell from the black- ness that engulfed us. Shortly afterwards, we started our descent to the Severn with a series of locks. Luckily, many of them are hydraulic, and so even Sam could manage to open them with a lock key that was bigger than his arm! The look of satisfaction as he managed this great feat, however, is something we'll never forget. He was truly proud. Once in Worcester, it's worth mooring up - literally within minutes of the city centre - and getting off to explore. Although we wanted to spend as much time as possible afloat, there is much to be seen in Worcester, so invest in a few hours on land.
Back on board, we took in a few more miles before confronting Digits River Locks - something we were a little apprehensive about, to say the least! The locks separate the Worcester and Birmingham Canal from the River Sev ern - so they're pretty big, and very deep! And when you know you've got to manoeuvre a 62ft boat through them, while at the same time keeping an eye on a three-year old sitting next to you, and her big brother is peering down from the top of the lock gate while dad is getting to grips with opening the paddles - well, to say I was nervous is an understatement.
But why was I concerned? We sailed through without any problems, and, as if to reassure me that we'd done OK, the resident lock-keeper complimented my skills on the way out. Success! And certainly worth, the effort, for, after a sharp right turn - to avoid the weir - we were heading straight up the magnificent River Severn. What a memorable sight.
The weather, which had been kind to us throughout, complimented the perfect, picture-postcard setting. Sunday Sunday afternoon boaters passed us, as did families who'd hired one of the rowing boats moored up along the way And the unmistakable landmark of Worcester Cathedral, framed by lush green parkland, was the crowning glory to the day. But it had been a successful adventure. And it proved to us that canal boating, even with children, is still the magical experience we remembered it had been.