The people at Worcester marina are really good, they explain everything you need to know and the... read more
The people at Worcester marina are really good, they explain everything you need to know and the... read more
We hired our canalboat (the Swainsons Thrush) from ABC at Hilperton for 11 nights, during which... read more
I have been on a canal holiday with my parents three of four times as a child (many years ago) and have been nagging my wife for a few years that we should take our two children on a canal boat. Not to keen (my wife prefers guaranteed sunshine), she finally gave in along with another family of four, I booked x2 6 berth boats from the Worcester Marina for a mid-week break, starting Easter Monday. We arrived at approx 2:00pm on the Monday, and after a short video about locks, we were shown to our boat and got ourselves comfy and unloaded. We had a walk through the boat features, instructions and general information and were left to it.
We had decided to do the Droitwich Ring, however, were advised to go anti-clockwise as the river severn at the time was closed, and going anti-clockwise gave us a number of route options in the event the river remained closed. We opted to stay in the marina that night, and ate out in Worcester, before heading off Tuesday morning. We had a good first day cruising with 12 or so locks, and given I was the only one with previous experience (albeit 25 years ago), we all got on with our tasks and thankfully, with some pleasant weather had a great time and moored at Droitwich Spa Marina that night. On the Wednesday the weather was not good, and as...I have been on a canal holiday with my parents three of four times as a child (many years ago) and have been nagging my wife for a few years that we should take our two children on a canal boat. Not to keen (my wife prefers guaranteed sunshine), she finally gave in along with another family of four, I booked x2 6 berth boats from the Worcester Marina for a mid-week break, starting Easter Monday. We arrived at approx 2:00pm on the Monday, and after a short video about locks, we were shown to our boat and got ourselves comfy and unloaded. We had a walk through the boat features, instructions and general information and were left to it.
We had decided to do the Droitwich Ring, however, were advised to go anti-clockwise as the river severn at the time was closed, and going anti-clockwise gave us a number of route options in the event the river remained closed. We opted to stay in the marina that night, and ate out in Worcester, before heading off Tuesday morning. We had a good first day cruising with 12 or so locks, and given I was the only one with previous experience (albeit 25 years ago), we all got on with our tasks and thankfully, with some pleasant weather had a great time and moored at Droitwich Spa Marina that night. On the Wednesday the weather was not good, and as the river severn was still closed, we stayed in the Marina and went into Droitwich for brunch. I the afternoon I took my boat down the stair-case turned it around (as the river was still closed) and came back up and we moored at Hanbury Wharf. Thursday, another glorious day, and we headed back arriving back at Worcester Marina at about 5:00pm, before departing the next day.
All in all we had a great time. My eldest daughter, really took to it, and at 12 years old was confident to navigate solo through the locks while we did the hardwork with the paddles and gates. Everyone at ABC was great, and I'd book again in a heartbeat, as would the children, my wife, on the other hand, although she had a great time and enjoyed the fresh air, the excercise and seeing the children get involved fancies France next time - we shall have to wait and see.More
Slightly nervous about the outcome of my family surprise day trip once I’d realised it was winter and we were bringing two kids to scare us for the day!
The marina give a great introduction to the boat, and lent us life jackets. We appreciated the fact that the engineer stayed with us for the first couple of minutes and didn’t make us feel anxious that if we did hit the bank or another boat, that it was a big deal (we didn’t!). The boat is split so the kids could be indoors (heated) or at the front and I felt they were safe (6 and 10yr old). Clearly we had to keep reminding them of the basic rules.
The stern of the boat wasn’t great for them, but with the rest of the space it worked well. The route was ideal for 1st timers, no locks and some relatively small tunnels to challenge yourself with.
We prebooked a picnic too from The Weighbridge. This was waiting for us on the boat by 10am which made us all smile and the food was great.
Fantastic day, super friendly staff
Thanks for your lovely review of your time out on our day boat from Alvechurch Marina.
We joined the canal boat below on the Forth and Clyde Chanel just below the Falkirk wheel basin . It was 64ft long and sleeped 6 although there was only the three of us. We had read a review in October last year that had perturbed us as it was so scathing that we had considered cancelling the booking which had been made in June after seeing Prunella and Timothy West on television do the same journey we had planed.
We contacted the booking agents who assured that the problems highlighted in the review had been dealt with? and if we had any problems once we arrived on board to contact them and they would sort it out. I'm very pleased to say the boat was immaculate and we could not have asked for more . The gentleman that did the hand over was very good and explained the full workings of the boat and marking up the places to stay making notes for us on the "skipper's" guide map of the canals.
We decided to use the Falkirk Wheel and proceed to Edinburgh through the Rough Castle Tunnel and the one lock before the contour canal takes you all the way to the big city. As it was late in the day before we started we took advantage of the long summer days and traveled just short of Linlithgow. The following morning was spent in the town visiting the castle and the surrounding grounds before setting off down the canal to Ratho where we spent the night. The following day we continued on our journey arriving in Edinburgh Quay around midday. We spent two nights in the city and we're lucky enough to see the pipe band championship in the Princes Street Gardens on the first day and the Palace of Hoiyroodhouse, the new Scottish parliament building together with a tour bus trip around the city on the second day.
We depart Edinburgh just after eight on the following morning and made our way back to Linlithgow where we enjoyed a walk along the lake and a drink or two in a very nice pup in the main road before returning to the boat for our evening meal.
We set of from Linlithgow around six thirty and arrived in the Falkirk marina basin around midday after descending the Falkirk Wheel where we had to stay for the night as l haven't arranged by giving twenty four ours notice that we needed to have the locks man'd so we could continue on to see the Kelpies as there were no volunteers available to man the locks! This was my fault for not listening probably to our instructor when we took over the boat but as the Kelpies were only a short distance away we took the car, well worth a visit something special.
All in all a great holiday and if you wanted to visit Edinburgh it’s probably cost affective to have the boat as a base in the centre of the city.
We chose this trip as the small number of locks are all assisted. The staff were all patient and helpful. The boat was very smart. extremely well equipped and everything worked. We were given comprehensive information at the handover but very little practical instruction. Make sure you have memorized the instructions on mooring so that you can do it at your first stop as you won’t have had a chance to practise. The Falkirk wheel is quite an experience and really makes this trip. We are both over 70 and managed very well. Turning the boat was the most difficult thing.
The essential map app, which shows the location on the canal, worked on my phone, but not on the iPad. I think this may have been down to the poor wifi, which was, however, adequate for browsing and emails.
If you have dogs, it is better to have more than two people. The boat only really goes at walking place. If there is someone to go ashore with them, they can do some sections running on the towpath, otherwise it is quite boring for them.
At the handover we were given a map of the canal. It would have been useful to have this in advance. We received detailed information on the holiday only 2 weeks before going. It was at this point that we realised that the billed ‘Falkirk to Edinburgh’ trip was not going to be possible. Best to book this trip in Summer when you will be able to reach Linlithgow on the first night. You can then do a very long day on the second day ( 7½ hours) to get to Edinburgh. Stop to eat in Ratho (5 ½ hours) where there is a very nice restaurant. You need to get back to Linlithgow the next day, and will have a 4 hour trip to get back to the top of the locks on the last day. You need to be there by 1600 because the Wheel closes at 1700 hours.
You can get superb fish and chips at the Union Chippy beside Lock 16 at the end of your trip.
In October we were very limited in what we could do. We were able to get only to Polmont the first night before darkness fell. There is a Tesco in Polmont and not much else. The second day we made Linlithgow in about 2 hours. We then didn’t have enough time to get to Ratho, and we couldn’t go half way as we’d been warned not to moor near Winchburgh or Broxburn as the natives wouldn’t be friendly. We had lunch at The Park Bistro, a short distance on from Linlithgow and then sailed on for half an hour to find a turning place to return to Linlithgow. We walked the dogs up to the Palace and returned via the excellent ‘From Italy to Scotland’ which has superb pizza and icecream. We then gave up and took the train to Edinburgh next day. It is not far from Haymarket Station to Lochrin Basin where your trip might end, so we walked up to have a look. A short walk away, on Bruntsfield is the excellent Montpelier Restaurant.
I don’t know what options the company might have to alter the schedule but I do think the handover should be at least a couple of hours earlier on the shorter days, to ensure that boats can make it to Linlithgow the first night. And perhaps a safe haven could be highlighted between Linlithgow and Ratho, if there is one, as this would also give more options.
SYNOPSIS : Poor management and maintenance at Alvechurch Marina meant that we lost a full day's cruising of our potential 10 days. The boat was so badly designed that we, as national and international advisers on marine construction and safety issues, felt that some features should be rectified before injury occurred. ABC were informed of all our concerns, as follows, after the boat was returned but disappointingly have not responded to any of these. Hence this published review.The cost of the hire was not cheap at £2,201-18 and the loss of the cruising time meant that we were very limited in what we were able to do when tied up.
DETAILS : Having left Alvechurch we discovered on the first evening that we had no gas for either heating or cooking, despite your staff having "checked" the bottles at Alvechurch. Although the literature supplied states that we would have two cylinders of gas with automatic changeover plus an additional third bottle for manual changeover if required, none of this information was correct and, moreso, both fitted bottles were empty.
Having called Alvechurch - but not getting any response for the first two calls - they did, after some three hours delay, arrive with a single bottle, which was then fitted. When queried about this, Alvechurch staff assured us that this was more than sufficient for an 11 day trip. It patently wasn't, despite the central heating being only turned on in the evenings and our eating ashore for 6 of those evenings, rather than using gas for cooking. On arriving at Worcester on the evening of September 10th we again ran out of gas and,of course, having eventually got a response, we were told to go to a any marina, buy a bottle, and present the bill for repayment on our return to Alvechurch. When the supplier opened, at 10:30 we did this brought it back to the boat with some difficulty and fitted that bottle only to find that the central heating boiler did not operate due to the shut-down. The weather during that week was cold and wet. Alvechurch were informed and arrived at the boat around 11:00, explaining that the micro switch fitted to that system had frequently failed but got round that problem by fitting a separate switch, leaving around 12:30. Since we had planned, at all stages in this trip, to sail at 08:00 each day, we had now lost a total of 8 hours - equivalent to a full day's cruising time taken from out total available 10 days ( The first and last "days" of the 12 must be discounted due to pick-up and drop-off time limitations ) We were not able, other than a day we spent in Stratford, to visit any of the points of interest offered in the intinerary.
Although not the fault of ABC we were delayed for some hours after passing through King's Norton on the first full cruising day ( September 4th ) when a rock was thrown through one of the windows, showering broken glass throughout the forward cabin space and the galley area. Having reported this to Alvechurch we then waited for a replacement glass to arrive and be fitted. The staff stated that this was a fairly common event in that area and therefore we suggest that you inform customers of this so that they are warned of this possibility to prevent possible injury.
There were other problems which might appear minor but, in the cramped confines of a canal boat in wind and rain and with very limited access to other sources, were significant. As one simple example, the gas cooker rings had no fitted ignition system. We were supplied with a small both of damp matches which would not light and broke after the second strike. However, because we had no gas, this did not become apparent until later when we were then able to buy useable matches from a pub ashore.
More important was the fact that the fresh water hose, which we were advised to use whenever possible to fill the tank, which had a limited capacity of 250 litres, was originally unuseable. It had a connection which, not only had no "O ring" seal, but blew off the hose when we tried to use it. We later found a marina where we could buy a jubilee clip but were not able to get a seal, hence more water was spilt around the watering point each time than went into the tank. These, the result of poor management / maintenance, all wasted more time. Of the supplied windlasses only one was of the correct shaft length to fit the majority of lock paddle mechanisms along our route. This again wasted both time and effort.
The general design and structure of the boat's interior was very poor. Simple things such as fitting hinges to the under-seat compartments in the forward cabin would have life so much easier for the boat's users, rather than having to dismantle the seats each time we needed something. Much of the boat's large accommodation volume (in comparison to the average caravan) was wasted space. There was no place to hang clothes in the after cabin other than on coat hooks which then obstructed access to and from the stern. What appeared to be a wardrobe in that cabin was full of electrical equipment. Space under the bunk, where we could have stowed suitcases, was restricted by poorly designed supports. The shelves between the two cabins, next to the shower / heads unit, could not be accessed without opening the door to the forward cabin. Silly.
Of particular concern was the design of the heavy,solid 8 mm steel rear hatch which could not be secured from the interior and had no interior handles with which to lift or slide back to open in the case of emergency. We suggest that would pose physical difficulties to some persons in those circumstances, if not potential injuries to fingers. None of the doors had any heat or sound insulation nor any means of closing off the ventilators in the doors. During heavy rain and wind driving against the stern doors, the cabin was very uncomfortable. Whilst cruising in rain all these structures had to be battened down to prevent the bed from getting wet, but rain - and noise - were still driven through the door ventilators and other gaps in the stern structure.
Although appreciating that barges cannot have balanced rudders, the steering of our barge was physically difficult. Either there was significant wear in the rudder pintles and gudgeons or the structure was particularly badly designed or made. If the rudder was moved to an angle of more that 10 degrees at normal cruising engine revolutions, it would snap over to that side. When correcting for that increased angle, it would snap over in the opposite direction. This required considerable physical force to maintain a straight heading even by experienced helmsmen.
From a domestic point of view we were not able to use any of the pump out facilities suggested in the itinerary. We were worried that the sewage tank would overfill - as Alvechurch had told us it might - but had not been been advised about the tokens which needed to be purchased in the later stages of the trip. We found that many of the places we could have bought tokens were closed from the end of August and suggest that ABC advise customers of these factors, ideally providing a tokens card with the boat, the unused value of which, as with the fuel deposit, could be redeemed at the end of the trip.
We appreciate that inland water boats do not have to conform to the requirements of seagoing leisure vessels but do feel that basic needs should have been addressed before handing over at the beginning of a relatively expensive holiday. We also feet that, particularly in respect of the after hatch and doors, these would not pass a simple HSE inspection - let alone ISO 9000 assessment.
An additional problem we found with the after hatch of the barge was the inability to close that hatch from inside the boat, caused largely by the lack of handles on the interior of the hatch. It was only possible to do so from the afterdeck area, where a handle is fixed on the outside of the hatch, and then re-enter the boat having walked round to the forward end. Most of the time, when alongside a quay or bank where one could walk, this was not a great problem. However, when berthed at Stratford in heavy rain and alongside their half length jetty, it was necessary to make one's way back to the boat by manoeuvring along the outside of the hull. This could cause problems for some people, particularly when, as in rain, that 6 inch steel strip is slippery and could lead to accidents.
POSTSCRIPT : If these boats were old, converted, commercial vessels, we could understand some of these faults and failures, but they are not. These are purpose built leisure craft intended for tourists of varying abilities and as such should comply with reasonable standards and practices. ABC at least should acknowledge concerns raised by its customers. A final point is that ABC told us that, regardless of the 8 hour delay caused by their management failures, we would be charged £50 for each hour we arrived after their 09:00 hand over time on the final "day" of the cruise. We were also told that, after a few hours, the Police would be informed that the barge had been stolen !
This was a "bucket list" experience, never having been anywhere near a narrowboat beforehand we booked a 5 day hire with friends. Overall the experience was a positive one, a very positive one to be fair but there were a couple of "niggles" that marred the week.
On the positive side the handover of the boat took place like clockwork, clearly the Alvechurch Marina staff are well trained in this. We were given instructions on lock use and two of the party were given a thorough walkthrough of everything on and about the boat.
However, their attention to detail must have been lacking in other areas as during the hire period we discovered a broken cafetiere (devastating to the only coffee drinker aboard) a badly fitting/broken fridge door - a problem for the whole 5 days - a faulty speaker in the sitting area, a non-functioning igniter on the cooker and a non-functioning grill on the cooker. All minor problems but they shouldn't have existed had the pre-hire check been carried out by the supplier.
The main problem, and I am not too sure whose door to lay this one at, was the very patchy wifi. This may seem like a minor issue and certainly a 1st world problem, BUT, we had bought the map app beforehand and the app was supposed to tell us where we were, how far it was to the next point of interest, where the pubs, fuel stations, refuse disposal points, drinking water and waste disposal points were. Without the app we were stuffed and had totally wasted the cost of the app as for the most part of the entire 5 days it was TOTALLY USELESS.
We managed, but only by the application of plenty of common sense, several phone calls and extensive use of mobile data plans.
The experience was brilliant, the scenery is impressive and the whole package was a lesson in tranquillity and taking life at a much slower pace. It was very high on the enjoyment scale but it could have been better and better value for money if others had done what they were supposed to do, and if things had worked as they were supposed to do!