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ABC Boat Hire
Canal boat hire like you've never experienced before. With 15 starting locations across the waterway network and canal boat sizes to accommodate 2 to 12 people. You, your family or friends can afford to kick back and relax as you enjoy watching Britain's most stunning countryside drift by. See for yourself just how relaxing and enjoyable a canal boat holiday can be - watch our boating videos if you don't believe us!
Dogfriendly Magazine Review
Read our comprehensive review of this listing printed in our bi-monthly magazine.
Name: Alvechurch Marina
Reviewer: James Waters
I have always been fascinated by the allure of the quiet and tranquil life of the canals. It has always seemed like the perfect holiday break to take with your dog resting by your side as you steer through the peaceful countryside. We were given the opportunity to hire a narrowboat by the kind people at ABC Boat hire and I jumped at the opportunity to take Stanley and the family on our first boating holiday.
With some supplies packed, we headed down to Alvechurch Marina (Worcestershire) on the second weekend in May. The weather was changeable but showed some good signs of sun on the Saturday. Having worked some of the Friday and after hitting traffic we didn’t arrive at the marina until 4.30pm. Ideally you should arrive before 3pm as the office closes at 5pm, but there are still people on site sometime after. ABC Boat hire gave us a quick handover on the Friday so we could sleep on the boat and promised us the full ‘boating’ instructions on the Saturday morning.
We were shown to our 66ft narrowboat, which is a Lark Class and sleeps six. I had imagined quite a rustic, gipsy-esque barge. But we were extremely impressed by the modern clean layouts and good amenities (oven, hob, microwave, fridge) on the boat. The sleeping arrangements consisted of two singles, one main double bedroom and the dining area converted into a double bed. With four of us and Stanley we had plenty of room.
On the Friday we were shown how to get the heating and lights on and basic safety and were left until the morning. Alvechurch Marina has a pub on the same site. It is extremely popular with so many visitors docking and launching from the marina so we didn’t manage to get a table that evening. I would recommend booking ahead. Also, dogs are not allowed inside the pub as it has a cramped seating space, but they can sit in the outside area. We opted to go into Alvechurch and had a meal at The Red Lion. With it’s ‘Muddy Paws and Boots’ signage we were assured of a good welcome. Dogs are allowed in the bar area which has good table seating and plenty of space for dogs not to be on top of each other. It is a gastro pub so the food is good, although not the cheapest. Think seared fillets of sea bass or aubergine parmegiana. They also had some lovely burgers and lasagne, which suited us.
On Saturday morning we were ready to go at 9am to start our voyage. We didn’t want to be too ambitious and, obviously, the most challenging aspect of canal trips is the locks to go upstream or downstream.
But the Alvechurch to Lapworth route we chose (which I had seen on the website) avoided locks and, as beginners with a 66ft boat to navigate, we were quite happy to avoid those at this stage. But there were a couple of bridges to open and a long one-mile tunnel to pass through so it wouldn’t all be straightforward. We were given full instructions on controlling the boat and docking on the banks of the canals. We donned our life jackets with Stanley (which had an easy grab handle in the event of a doggy overboard) and we were on our way. We were due to return at 9pm on the Sunday.
The first thing you notice about operating the narrowboat is the time it takes a turn of the rudder to affect the steering. The boat turning is a few seconds behind, so you really have to think about turning well in advance and if you oversteer you can easily end up by the bank. However, there is no necessity to go at speed. In fact, most of the time you should be moving at walking pace so you don’t create waves for stationary barges or cause bank erosion.
The first challenge of the trip was the mile-long tunnel under Wast Hill. It is somewhat surreal entering as it is so long you can’t see a light at the other end. This appears when you’re halfway through so it is somewhat space-like. We put Stanley inside the cabin so we knew where he was. (There’s a light on the front of your boat so it’s not pitch black.) As a beginner I had only just got used to the steering. It does look like there’s only space for a little more than one barge, so there was some panicking as another narrowboat came towards us from the other end with its light looking like a star getting closer and closer. I pulled over to the right as much as I could and the other boat passed by effortlessly. I think I just earned my first captain’s star.
Out of the tunnel finally after half an hour, we were back in the open canal. The next point of reference was Kings Norton where we would have to turn right at the junction, rather than heading up to Birmingham. It is important to note that the barges have no steering in reverse. If you go off in the wrong direction, which is unlikely at 4mph, you have to find a turning point – not easy in a 66ft boat when the canal itself is only three boats wide in a lot of places. Although you could, of course, hire a smaller boat, such as a 42–47ft one.
We safely steered right at Kings Norton and we were on the straight path to Lapworth, although we wouldn’t arrive until about 5pm.
We came to a canal bridge an hour or so later, but the boat in front of us had moored up and was raising the bridge (via a key you are supplied with). This became simple as they allowed us to go through first, while they got their boat back ready to pass.
What is lovely about the canal trips with a dog is you can just pull up and moor yourself at any point, take a short break and go for a walk (following mooring etiquette of course). Near bridges, locks or rest points there are mooring posts; if you aren’t near any of those you can use the large stakes you are given with the boat, which you hammer in and attach the ropes to. We stopped off shortly after the bridge and got out with Stanley for a little walk and had a quick drink at the pub where the bridge was located, aptly called the Drawbridge.
After our short break we then headed to find our stopping point for the night with the intention of turning around in the morning. Passing through another tunnel a couple of hours later we found a suitable spot about one mile from Lapworth to a pub and village so we could have a drink and get some supplies. This was Nuthurst and the pub (The Wharf) situated on the canal is dog friendly, spacious and offers affordable pub grub. It also has a good-sized beer garden and children’s play area if your dog prefers to be outside (and it isn’t raining). We had a refreshing beer after the day’s steering and popped to the small Co-op in the town to get some dinner before settling back at the boat for the night. You may prefer to find some official mooring spots to stay for the evening and these can be found en route. They provide water and diesel as well as other services. As we were only on the canal for two days there was less requirement to use some of these services. In fact, ABC Hire told us that we had enough diesel to last a week so we weren’t going to run out of fuel on a weekend trip, but you could probably do with the water tank being filled up after a couple of days if you use the shower several times (we didn’t run out but don’t let that suggest to you that we don’t wash).
In the morning, we woke up to consider our journey back along the same route. But, in advance, I walked up the towpath to see how far it looked before we would be at the turning point just before Lapworth. It took about 15 minutes with Stanley so it wasn’t going to take much less in the narrowboat. There was however another bridge to navigate. Arriving at the bridge Nicola jumped out of the boat and crossed the bridge to other side of the canal. She then put the key in and turned the bridge pulley system using the crank we were given with the boat. This slowly raises the bridge in a jerky fashion, so she needed to put her back into it. We then proceeded to the turning point. This was somewhat more difficult to figure. The turning circle is quite a bit bigger than our narrowboat, but not massive and you don’t have reverse steering. You therefore need to steer yourself forward so you can reverse deeply into the far end of the turning area. Once there you can turn the other way. However, it is easiest for your navigating companions if you get off and pull the stern along the tow path to help get the boat on its way. This tip was given to us by fellow canal users who were also at the turning point.
We were back on our way to Alvechurch Marina and had successfully completed the two big challenges of the trip. Stanley didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
It took most of the day to get back to the marina and we arrived about 7pm. The boatyard team then took the boat off us, filled it up and parked it in our night-time space for us to unpack in the morning. We treated ourselves to fish and chips from the town and relaxed in the boat for the final evening.
We had a wonderful experience on the canal. ABC Boat Hire provided great instructions for beginners and the boats are first class in how they are equipped and presented. Stanley was extremely content on the boat and enjoyed the towpath walks and pub stops, so it is a nice dog friendly holiday to try. It would be great to try the locks next time, but one thing we did learn is don’t expect to go too far in a day. Barge life is to be enjoyed, not rushed.
Alvechurch Marina, review by James Waters and appears in DogFriendly magazine issue 79. For more information on the DogFriendly magazine visit https://www.dogfriendly.co.uk/magazine
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Listing Updated: 21/09/2023
Changes to businesses do occur. Please do double check this business is still dog friendly before you make a booking
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