BLOODY battles, wild waters and tales of the unexpected – a staycation river cruise can be a real adventure.
I’m travelling along the River Severn out of Gloucester on the Edward Elgar, a boat owned by English Holiday Cruises that’s as British as its namesake.
There’s full English breakfasts, fish and chips on Fridays, scones for afternoon tea and bottles of Old Speckled Hen in the bar. It’s no time to start a diet.
The boat has 11 cabins, all for two people and en-suite.
Usually there would be 22 on board, but Covid restrictions limit our numbers to 18. The restrictions also mean we must wear masks when moving around indoors and sit at allocated tables for meals.
It’s a pain, but doesn’t stop us making friends over the free — and free-flowing — wine and beer served with lunch and dinner.
We’re all Brits, some from the leafy Home Counties, others from just down the road.
“We know all these places but have never visited by river before,” Linda tells me as we puff along on the Severn Valley Steam Railway, one of many free outings organised by English Holiday Cruises.
Mine is a five-night cruise, heading north to Stourport and back to Gloucester, that calls into Worcester, Upton and Tewkesbury. Truly, the magnificent Severn.
Here are seven things we discovered about the Severn on our adventure . . .
A not-so-civil war
It’s September 3, 1651, and King Charles II has just raced up the 235 steps to the top of Worcester Cathedral’s tower to see how his Royalists are faring against Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads.
In a word, badly.
By the end of the day, thousands of his troops are dead and he is legging it to France.
But he has the last laugh. Less than a decade later, Cromwell — who becomes king in all but name — is dead and Charles is back on the throne after promising to be a good boy and not do like his dad and upset Parliament.
When social distancing is no longer an issue you’ll be able to climb the steps again and take in the stunning views from the top.
And you always thought Tewkesbury was famous for its grand 900-year-old Abbey, mustard and medieval half-timbered houses built back in the days of yore.
But no. Its real claim to fame is Glennie Nos, a husky that escaped being eaten on Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1912.
He was brought back to England and spent the rest of his days enjoying walkies in Tewkesbury’s water meadows.
His owner loved him so much that when Glennie died, his pelt was made into a mitten that could be passed down the family.
It’s no yoke
Shropshire’s Bridgnorth, one end of the Severn Valley Railway, claims to serve the world’s best Scotch eggs.
Cooked to order at The White Lion pub, they are so big they would easily have qualified as a substantial meal in the great Scotch egg debate of 2020.
I choose a traditional one. Adventurous sorts can try black pudding or spicy Mexican versions.
Bridging the gap
It’s the Civil War again, this time in Upton on Severn, where you realise why the Royalists lost.
They were so confident they had destroyed the only bridge into town that they didn’t bother with a guard and instead indulged in a drop or two at the pub, fell asleep and didn’t spot the Roundheads wobbling over a plank.
A week later the king’s troops were defeated in Worcester and it was game over for Charlie.
Go with the flow
This river is wild, though not quite Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean, of course.
We struggle to make headway upstream and race south to go with the flow.
With the river rising, we need to beat an early retreat from Upton to get under Worcester’s low stone bridge before it is impassable.
We make it through with inches to spare and get an unscheduled few hours to explore more of the city into the bargain.
The rail thing
You don’t have to be a trainiac to enjoy puffing along on the Severn Valley Railway.
First up, there’s a wildlife park to visit.
And then there are movie locations to spot on the journey from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth, including Bewdley Station, from Nineties romance Howards End, and Arley Station, to Disney’s Candleshoe.
As we chug over Victoria Bridge, I picture Robert Powell hanging below us to escape the baddies in The Thirty Nine Steps. Just don’t look down.
GO: RIVER CRUISING
STAYING THERE: A five-night Heart of England cruise round-trip from Gloucester on the Edward Elgar is from £1,370pp, departing April 25, 2022 and including all meals, wine, beer or soft drinks with lunch and dinner, excursions and wifi.
See englishholidaycruises.co.uk or call 01452 410 411.
Thumbs the word
Turns out there is more to Worcester than sauce.
It was the birthplace of composer Edward Elgar, the cathedral is magnificent and the river there is swan central.
It’s also the final resting place of dastardly King John, of Robin Hood fame, who lost Normandy to the French, his London power base to rich barons and, after his death, his thumb bone to souvenir hunters who nicked it out of his tomb as they reckoned it was used to “sign” the Magna Carta.
What a loser.
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