One of the joys of cruising on the inland waterways is planning a route.

There are constraints to be considered and the hirer has a distinct advantage over an owner, this is because the hirer can decide where he or she wants to travel and then choose a suitable boatyard along the route to start from. The owner will often have a fixed mooring and this will restrict the range of exploration.

The traveler can choose to go in one direction and then retrace their steps or else choose a circular route – known as “Rings” by boaters.

Rings take differing times to travel due to distance, number of locks etc. Care must be taken to ensure that a return to the start co-insides with the end of a hire period and the advice of the boatyard is vital to ensure that the projected route is possible.

Two popular Central England “Ring Routes” are set out below; references are included in a clockwise direction.


This Ring includes The Stratford Canal, the River Avon, the River Severn and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

The route includes a great number of heritage sites, including, Stratford-upon-Avon with its associations with William Shakespeare and Worcester with its historic Cathedral and a multitude of historic events (including the start of the epic escape of Charles II after the battle of Worcester). Explore pleasant back streets, the Guildhall for afternoon tea, or visit the Commandery, a magnificent grade 1 listed site which dates back to the 12th Century and is now a museum. There are audio sets available for commentaries on the Commandery building in several different eras.

The Avon ring route is mainly through countryside, although in the north, passes through the suburbs of Birmingham, so that with the aid of public transport it is possible to visit all of Birmingham’s attractions.

Indeed, the Stratford-on-Avon canal almost (or perhaps it does!) pass through “The Shire” home of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo and all of the rest of JR Tolkien’s Hobbits. Just where the canal turns southwards to make its way out of Birmingham, take a bus for just over a mile towards Birmingham along Yardley Wood Road and you will arive at Sarehole Mill and the Moseley Bog to spend a pleasant half day exploring the Mill and the Bog.

The route also passes the busy towns of Evesham and Tewkesbury.

Narrowboat on River Avon

Narrowboat on the River Avon


This Ring includes The River Severn, the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal, the Birmingham Canal Navigation (BCN) and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

This “Ring” shares the Worcester and Birmingham Canal with the Avon Ring. The route takes the visitor along the River Severn north of Worcester, (the Avon Ring passes along the Severn south of Worcester).

Stourport on Severn is an interesting place to arrive at by boat as it was once a port, with interlinked basins. After Stourport the canal passes through the carpet making town of Kidderminster.

The traveler then enters “The Black Country” and a change from countryside to built up areas. Although the route passes through areas including factories etc the areas are no less interesting

The traveler here has to make a decision as to whether to make a turn along the Stourbridge Canal passing the glass making town of Stourbridge with a chance of taking in the glass making quarter (pages will be coming soon, but if the names Tudor Crystal, Brierly Crystal,or Stuart Crystal interest you then a right turn into the Stourbridge Canal is a must). The canal then joins the Dudley No 2 canal passing through the Merry Hill shopping complex before offering the chance of passing through either the

Dudley Tunnel or the Netherton Tunnel before proceeding towards the City of Birmingham.

If the traveler decides against the Stourbridge Canal then the route to continue northwards to pass through more countryside (including the Bratch Locks) towards the City of Wolverhampton, a City which undersells itself, there was total amazement on the faces of locals one day when a lady with an American accent declared the place to be one of the best she had visited in England. There are moves afoot to improve the City, so visit quickly!! Hopefully they will not “improve” the Grand Theatre which is a joy to visit.

The Wolverhampton and Stourbridge routes then join up and pass through the centre of Birmingham, allowing the traveler a marked change of pace and all the pleasures of England’s “Second City” are available including, shopping, eating, nightlife, theatre, sport, museums and art galleries to name but a few.

The route then leaves Birmingham, passing the Campus of Birmingham University which has public access to the Barber Institute of Fine Art (A must for art lovers – pictures by Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso to name but three) then on through the suburb of Bourneville, home of Cadbury’s Chocolate (yes! there is a chocolate museum to visit) and the public house free “Village” that the famous Quaker family built for its workers and then on through Kings Norton and once again passing into countryside.

At Stoke wharf the Canal is a mile away from the Avoncroft museum of Buildings

At Hanbury there is a National Trust property to visit, the village also is said to be part of the fictional Ambridge in the BBC radio series The Archers.

The real problem with this ring is to visit everywhere and still get back to base on time.

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Canal Rings