A week on the Avon River and surrounding canals, traveling at four miles per hour in a narrow boat, is about as leisurely a trip as one can have. The countryside is dotted with stately homes surrounded by lush gardens and acres of green grass. Hopeful sport fishermen sit quietly at the river’s edge patiently awaiting a bite. Serene and peaceful, this life in the slow lane is compelling.
By day we pass through agricultural countryside and small towns, and by night we stop along the canal banks to enjoy dinners at historic pubs with centuries-old beams, partaking of specialty savoury pies, fish and chips and local ales. The publicans and fellow boaters offer up immense good will. We are even invited into a canal-side cottage to share a glass of wine and much laughter.
A land tour of the nearby Cotswold villages, nestled amongst rolling hills, delights us with picture- perfect Chipping Campden, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh and Bretforten. Known for their beauty, and built of blocks of golden limestone, these thatch-roofed medieval villages preserve centuries-old charm.
The eighteenth century canals, born of the Industrial Revolution, and the world of the Cotswolds was also home to England’s greatest playwright. We are in Shakespeare country, and this unhurried mode of exploration is a perfect way to experience his neighbourhood.
We complete twenty-one locks between Wootten Wawen and Stratford-upon-Avon in six hours. By car, the journey is seven minutes. As we round a final bend approaching Stratford, the late afternoon sun reflects off the windows of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and I wonder … “what light through yonder window breaks,” for it is exquisite.
We are novice boaters but for our skipper, and at first we find the handling of a sixty-five foot boat and the confines of the narrow canals and locks a challenge; a humbling experience, until, by day two, we become proficient in our duties. At four miles per hour, it sometimes feels too fast for the approaches, and we slow down to a pace where walkers along the tow path overtake us in mere seconds.
Cruising the narrow passages, we have time to take in the scenery, take photos and prepare for upcoming locks. As we slide past other vessels, boat sides almost touching, we converse with their occupants while only inches apart and share tales of upstream and downstream sights. Unusual for Britain, the weather is sunny and hot, making our journey most pleasurable.
Homeward bound, a narrow, single-lane aqueduct, constructed high over a highway, leads us over speeding cars, railroad tracks and forest. Looking down over an edge, it feels like we are floating in mid-air. The lip of the aqueduct holding us in is only inches high. We tie up back at Wootten Wawen and head for our last supper at yet another enticing centuries-old pub.
“All that glistens is not gold” … but this trip surely is.
Peggy Wright, CTC, CITM, CATS is ‘The Travel Agent Next Door.’