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TOTAL LOCKS: 41
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7 HOURS (28 HOURS IN TOTAL)
A journey that is relentlessly idyllic, with fiery red sandstone rocks and leafy canopies that defy this route’s proximity to the urban Midlands. There’s some very special scenery to savour and history oozes from each twist in the water too. A relaxing short cruise with oodles to explore, from Worcester’s whispers of Civil War in the 17th century, historic Stourport’s claim to be the only British town built for canals, and quirky cave dwellings in Kinver.
In its industrial heyday, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal carried cargoes of porcelain from the world-famous factory here, and the Museum of Royal Worcester offers a fascinating insight. Setting off from the marina, you head south along the canal towards the river, passing under a number of bridges then through two locks. The Commandery, next to Sidbury Lock, was used as the war rooms of Charles II in 1651 during the Civil War. Diglis Basin lies just beyond with irresistible moorings. The basin is ringed by old restored warehouses (many of which were originally part of the Royal Worcester porcelain factory) and new apartment blocks. Two wide locks separate the calm water of the basin and the sparkle of the River Severn. Travelling along the river, your journey now takes you out of Worcester under the watchful architecture of Worcester Cathedral.
Cruising the leafy River Severn is an undistracted affair, with the chaos of the ‘real’ world blissfully out of sight. The river locks are manned so your crew can relax. You’ll notice the entrance to the recently restored Droitwich Canal just beyond Bevere Lock, but continue along the river through Holt Lock and soon after Lincomb Lock, you’ll climb up from the river through two sets of staircase locks in the fabulously restored historic basins at Stourport-on-Severn. Stourport is the only town in Britain built solely for the canals, and was once the busiest inland port in the Midlands after Birmingham. In 1766, when James Brindley started building the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, his plan was to link the existing trade routes of the River Severn and the River Trent. In order to safely lift boats up from the River Severn to the canal, he built a series of locks and basins. Georgian buildings and the charismatic 18th-century Clock Warehouse still line the basins today and there’s a fascinating 'Discovery Trail' to follow. The riverside park serves ice creams and has family entertainment too.
After exploring the town, your journey follows the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal northwards. As you near Kidderminster, a boater could sway into heretical thoughts as the old steam railway offers trips.
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. If time allows, take a trip on the Severn Valley Railway running from Kidderminster to historic Bridgnorth.
Passing through the distinctive Kidderminster Lock overlooked by the church of St Mary and All Saints, the canal heads out of town and winds alongside the river Stour towards Wolverley. Few boaters manage to pass through the lock here without stopping for a while at the Lock Inn or the adjacent tearoom – there’s a long stretch of moorings just above the lock if you decide to stop.
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. 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. And amongst boaters it’s famous for its narrow winding route and roaring red sandstone rocks that perilously overhang the water. So be prepared to steer well and soak up the idyllic waterscape of the miles ahead. 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 others 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 exit the tunnel.
The canal feels quite isolated for a while as you cruise past a stone erected by the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Society which marks the border between Worcestershire and Staffordshire before arriving at Whittington Lock and its pretty lock cottage. Visitor moorings soon tell you you’ve arrived at Kinver. It’s worth mooring in Kinver for the night to explore the village and 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!
Heading out of Kinver past a long line of residential moorings, you arrive at Hyde Lock, one of the Britain’s most idyllic canal locks, perched above the village looking down from a green woodland oasis. Just beyond is the very short Dunsley Tunnel (25yds/23m long), before you reach Stewponey Lock followed shortly by Stourton Junction, where the Stourbridge Canal heads off eastwards towards the heart of the Black Country. Look out for a plaque on the wall here commemorating the 40th anniversary of the reopening of the Stourbridge Canal. It reminds us to pay tribute to the plucky people of the famous 1962 IWA (Inland Waterways Association) Rally, known as the battle of Stourbridge, who challenged the canal’s closure and pressured the move to reopen it in 1967. After exploring the junction, and perhaps walking up the first few locks of the Stourbridge Canal, it’s time to turn round and retrace your journey back to Worcester.
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 7 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People