TOTAL LOCKS: 116
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7.5 HOURS (52 HOURS IN TOTAL)
A route which takes in the whole of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and parts of the River Severn, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Birmingham Canal Navigations. Can be done in 7 nights or a more relaxing 14 nights.
A journey spiralling through Britain’s hidden industrial heritage, tip-toeing into the great cosmopolitan city of Birmingham, and in a silent twist of the water, slipping away into secret rural havens of unrivalled tranquillity. It’s hardly surprising the Stourport Ring is one of the most popular one-week cruises.
Cruising away from the idyllic setting of Alvechurch marina, the canal enters a tree-lined cutting before heading through Shortwood Tunnel (613yds/ m long) with just a short winding stretch past a boatyard and moorings before entering a second tunnel. You emerge from Tardebigge Tunnel (580yds/ m long) at Tardebigge Wharf and a good place to moor up for a cuppa before tackling the breath-taking main event. While you’re sipping your tea, spot the plaque just above Tardebigge Top Lock which commemorates the famous meeting between Tom Rolt and Robert Aickman aboard narrowboat Cressy. Rolt and Aickman were the passion and brains behind the founding of the IWA (Inland Waterways Association) in 1946, with the aim of helping to keep Britain’s canal networks navigable.
An uplifting panorama of Worcestershire’s unspoilt countryside awaits. But hold on tight to your goosebumps here, because the Tardebigge Lock Flight launches into staggering descent of 220ft in just over 2 miles. It’s the longest lock flight in Britain, with the exhilarating challenge of 30 locks, including the mighty 11ft top lock for you to remember travelling through!
The Tardebigge Flight is quickly followed by the Stoke and Astwood Lock Flights, leading down through glorious Worcestershire countryside to Hanbury Wharf, where the Droitwich Canal heads off to the west. A lazy lock-free section lined with an abundance of reeds winds through Dunhampstead, with its short tunnel (230yds/210m long), and ambles onwards to Tibberton, where there are good visitor moorings. Prepare to descend a series of locks through the outskirts of Worcester, heading south along the canal travelling peacefully past the Commandery, next to Sidbury Lock. The Commandery was used as the war rooms of Charles II in 1651 during the Civil War and is now a fascinating museum dedicated to telling the story of the Civil War including the Battle of Worcester which was its final battle. If time allows, there are convenient moorings alongside to stop and visit the city centre which has much to explore.
In its industrial heyday, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal once carried cargoes of porcelain from the world-famous factory here, and the Museum of Royal Worcester offers a fascinating insight. Diglis Basin, which provides mooring for many boats, is ringed by restored warehouses (many of which were originally part of the Royal Worcester porcelain factory) and new apartment blocks, and it is where the Worcester & Birmingham Canal meets the River Severn via its two wide locks. The canal then carries on to the river under the watchful eye of Worcester Cathedral.
Cruising the leafy River Severn is an undistracted affair, with the chaos of the ‘real’ world blissfully out of sight. Just beyond Bevere Lock, one of the manned river locks, you’ll notice the entrance to the restored Droitwich Canal, reopened in 2011. Just north are the fabulously restored historic basins at Stourport-on-Severn which carry you from the river to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Georgian buildings and the charismatic 18th-century Clock Warehouse line the basins. Stourport is the only town in Britain built solely for the canals, and it was once the busiest inland port in the Midlands after Birmingham.
Of course when the steam train was first invented, it was a brutal rival that stole trade from the ‘slow’ canals. Two centuries later steam railways have become heritage attractions alongside many waterways. For added adventure, you can take a trip on the Severn Valley Railway running from Kidderminster to historic Bridgnorth.
The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal is renowned amongst boaters for its distinctive winding route with foxy red rocks that perilously overhang the water. So be prepared to steer well and soak up the idyllic waterscape of the miles ahead. The canal was built to carry cargoes of coal, steel, carpets and all kinds of materials that scarcely fit the delicious green ambience of this waterway. And the stretch that meanders from Wolverley to Stourton can rival anywhere along Britain’s canals for sheer appeal. Along with his contour-led method of building, the canal engineer James Brindley’s canals are also distinctive for beautifully crafted brick bridges, many of which are now Grade II-listed. As you leave Wolverley, the canal strolls onward, bending almost back on itself, curling under a mass of red sandstone.
Speak to any of the locals in this area and you're bound to hear a story about their canal. It's said by many that the intriguing small cave beside Debdale Lock was chiselled into the rock to provide overnight stabling for boat horses. But there are others who claim they've spotted Santa in there around Christmastime too! The quirks of this canal continue with a row of cottages precariously perched above the short Cookley Tunnel (65yds/59m long) – look round (and up!) as you come out of the end of the tunnel.
You’ll cruise past a stone erected by the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Society, which marks the border between Worcestershire and Staffordshire before arrived at Whittington Lock and its pretty lock cottage. Visitor moorings soon tell you that you’ve arrived at Kinver. It’s worth mooring in Kinver for the night to explore the village and the beautiful walks around Kinver Edge with its distinctive rock cave houses, now looked after by the National Trust. Cave houses were once dug into the soft red sandstone of the area and were lived in up to the 1960s. One of the houses has been restored to give visitors an insight into Victorian life as a cave dweller, while another tempts you to tea and - what else? - rock cake!
At Stourton Junction, you leave the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal behind and join the surprisingly rural Stourbridge Canal which swirls towards the Black Country and peeps into the ‘spit and sawdust’ heritage of the Industrial Revolution. The area once thrived on the industries around local coalmines and Stourbridge became world-renowned for glass making. Just beyond Wordsley Junction, where the short Town Arm heads into Stourbridge, you’ll reach one of those glass cone furnaces which survived, and stands like a cathedral of the glass industry. The Red House Glass Cone, 100ft tall, is one of only four surviving cones in Britain. It’s a surprisingly awesome sight that makes you feel as close to the beauty of canals as any leafier miles ahead.
The Stourbridge Canal joins the Dudley No.1 Canal then climbs the eight Delph Locks (originally nine locks but rebuilt as eight in the 1850s – the pub at the foot of the locks is called the Tenth Lock) before meeting the shoppers’ heaven of Merry Hill. To link from the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN), you’re treated to the multi-sensory thrill of travelling through the echoing Netherton Tunnel (3,027yds/2,768m long - a bonus for any adventurous crew, and the perfect chance to put the kettle on for those crew members less keen on the dark charms of tunnel-travel). At the other end of the tunnel, a short detour left towards the Dudley Tunnel offers the opportunity to tie up next to the Black Country Living Museum for a special encounter with the region’s past.
Boats cruise into Birmingham through the backdoor of the city, yet arrive at its thriving heart. The bronze bull of the Bullring, the markets, Antony Gormley's sculpture, designer shopping, multi-cultural panache and a spectacular controversial library - that's Birmingham. Yet first impressions don't give away the city's biggest secret. It is at the heart of Britain's canal network and spaghettis more miles of water than Venice (over 100 navigable miles of it!).The historic waterside hub is alive with bars and restaurants. Symphony Hall, ICC, Barclaycard Arena and Brindleyplace spoil visitors with choice and beg you to stay as long as you can. Birmingham’s famous markets are only a short walk from the canal, and there are also art galleries, museums, theatres and dizzy opportunities for shopping too.
Back on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, you head south out of the city and yet another treat spikes your journey. Mr Cadbury built his chocolate factory and Bournville village for his workers on the canalside over 200 years ago. Today, what chocoholic could resist stopping off for a while to visit Cadbury World?
Passing King’s Norton Junction, where the Stratford Canal heads off eastwards, you now reach the immense Wast Hills Tunnel (2,726yds/2,493m long) and emerge into lush Worcestershire countryside at Hopwood. Through a wooded cutting, you cross the valley on a high embankment past Lower Bittell Reservoir before turning under the noisy M42 to return to Alvechurch.
Max: 4 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 7 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People
Max: 12 People