TRAVEL: Inland cruising, from Gloucester to Sharpness
- Credit: englishholidaycruises.co.uk
Candia McKormack enjoys a relaxing cruise along the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal on board the MV Edward Elgar
If I could bottle this moment, I would.
I’m standing in one of my favourite spots in Gloucestershire, facing the setting sun as it appears to almost melt into the dark depths of the River Severn at Purton. The skeletal remains of the ‘hulks’ – the abandoned ships and boats deliberately beached to reinforce the river banks – are silhouetted against the fiery sky. I’ve been here before, of course, but this time I’ve a chilled glass of wine and a cosy cabin waiting for me, just a few paces away...
I’m enjoying a small taster of what inland cruising onboard MV Edward Elgar – a four-star hotel boat – has to offer. And, given that overseas jaunts are largely off the menu at the moment, a slow trip down our canals and rivers was the tonic I hadn’t realised I needed.
We start with a welcome tour of Gloucester Brewery (who also stock the onboard bar), and it’s a fascinating – and refreshing – glimpse behind the scenes of the award-winning business. They’re based in the heart of the Docks and, as well as making first-class beers and gins, they are also committed to becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2022. They’re just one of the local companies that English Holiday Cruises work with – they also source meat for the galley from Over Farm just outside Gloucester – and it’s one of the things that sets them apart from other cruise companies. As part of the package, you are offered three freshly-cooked meals a day, delivered straight to your dining space which is screened from neighbours for diners’ safety. We are told from the outset that this is our own, personal space that no-one else will be using for the duration of the cruise, and that we’re welcome to use it at any time and enjoy the complimentary tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Other measures put in place to ensure guests feel safe during the pandemic are one-way systems throughout – including access to the cabins below deck – and it works like a charm. Each cabin is beautifully equipped with two compact but comfortable bunks, a window to watch the river and canal flowing by, and en suite shower room. The ‘no-share’ airflow ventilation kept us all reassuringly comfortable and safe during our stay.
Our overnight stay took us along the 16-mile stretch of the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal from Gloucester Docks – via Saul Junction, Frampton on Severn and WWT Slimbridge – to our destination at Purton. Sights to take in along the way are the decommissioned Sula Lightship (now a unique events space with accommodation); the old Cadbury chocolate factory at Frampton (where chocolate ‘crumb’ was made before being shipped by the sackful to the chocolate-finishing factory at Bournville); canalside WWII concrete bunkers; the waterways ‘crossroads’ of Saul Junction; and – perhaps most thrillingly – the abundance of wildlife along the canal banks. The crew – who were all brilliant throughout our stay – are keen to make sure you get the most out of your stay, and will helpfully point out where you might spot the odd kingfisher or water vole.
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The cruises include as part of the package trips to places of interest along the way, as a chance to stretch your legs and get to know a little more about the area. During our overnighter, we were taken to WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, established by Sir Peter Scott in 1946 and always worth a return visit, and also a visit to the Cotswold Canals Trust visitor centre at Saul Junction. Here, volunteer Polly told us a little about the history of the canals in the area – from 1779 when the first stretch of Stroudwater was built, to the manufacture of Stroud’s famous red, green and yellow felted cloth, and the opening of the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal in 1827. Other cruises on offer take you along the River Severn, from Gloucester – via Tewkesbury and Upton-upon-Severn – to Worcester, where you can visit its magnificent cathedral and world-famous porcelain museum.
Despite social-distancing measures being in place, conversation flowed freely between passengers, with the open top deck being a great place to go to chat, enjoy a game of quoits, or just take in the views of the surrounding countryside, while trying to spot that elusive otter. Though the onboard crew are keen to share their knowledge with you, you really are left to enjoy things at your own pace if you prefer... with just the occasional reminder when food is about to be served, or a not-to-be-missed excursion is about to happen.
If you don’t think cruising’s for you, do dip your toe in the water with a gentle trip on the Edward Elgar, and you might just be converted.
Prices start at £360 pp for a two-night stay.
Cruise packages available from two to six nights on the River Severn and Gloucester-Sharpness Canal.
Book online at river.englishholidaycruises.co.uk or call 01452 410411.