Cruise the English countryside on a staycation like no other

CRUISING took a titanic hit this year, leaving lifelong cruisers like my wife and I wondering if we would ever board a ship again.

There seemed little hope for a high-seas holiday in 2020, as the Foreign Office advised against all voyages. That is when English Holiday Cruises sailed to the rescue.

The family-owned firm operates Britain’s largest river boat hotel, which meanders along the River Severn and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

At sea, the world’s largest ship is a 4,000-passenger floating city. Our vessel, The Edward Elgar, tops the scales with a modest capacity of 22 guests.

Based in Gloucester Port since its launch in 2000, the boat offers everything a 150-client Danube river craft has but on a smaller scale.

In the cosy cabins, there is a combined loo and wet room with the latest shower spray system, more than enough storage space, a three-pin electric point and twin USB outlets, plus individual reading lights too.

But here’s the catch. The two single beds are at right angles to each other in an L-shaped layout. Make what you like of that.

Air-conditioning runs throughout the vessel but at night it is battery-powered, so no engine noise.

There are all sorts of Covid-19 adjustments, such as no library, guide books nor leaflet store for instance. It is masks on for internal public areas and dining is in a bubble for two.

There is also fogging between cruises, overnight UV atmosphere and surface sterilisation, pre-boarding health checks, contactless check-in, hand-sanitisers with four-hour virus protection, a one-way distancing system, table service and a reduced-contact cabin- cleaning routine.

Managing director Richard Clements and his ultra-friendly team are still tailoring the trip to the new requirements. Evening talks, yes — but no musicians or other entertainment.

It is a fully inclusive trip: Three meals daily including wine for lunch and dinner with diets welcome and the majority of dishes prepared from local produce.

The open-top deck provides fine viewing of the riverside without the need for wearing masks. The hub of activities is the saloon and dining area. Up front is a bar and social area.

From the saloon it’s a few steps to the bridge where Captain Steve (former Royal Navy) would always make us welcome. He gave a running commentary, whether it be the view or the abundant wildlife.

He hosted the cocktail evening, and while not driving was able to partake, with anecdotes regarding the river and his 20 years of serving on submarines.

There is no TV on board, but you get free wifi and the BBC iPlayer works. A 56in plasma screen in the saloon provides a bow view when on the move and a running schedule of activities.

We were aboard for the first four nights of a six-night round trip from Gloucester’s historic docks. The first day was a cruise to Tewkesbury with cream tea en route.

The following morning it was on to Worcester and its cathedral, the last resting place of King John — he of Magna Carta fame.

From here it was up to Stourport, where the Severn Valley steam railway is temporarily closed.

But the burnt-out shell of the massive and still magnificent Witley Hall and Gardens proved a popular visit instead.

The Edward Elgar turned (and stopped overnight) at Stourport, our finishing point and halfway mark for the rest of the guests.

Here, the start of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal links the Severn to the Birmingham waterways.

It was once Britain’s largest inland port and today, with its four huge mooring basins, is home to 200 narrowboats. A local guide joined us for a short walking tour of the historical Georgian complex.

As a commercial endeavour its short life began in 1768. With the coming of the railways, by 1850 the age of canals as industrial waterways was reaching its end.

Go: Edward Elgar

A SIX-NIGHT Seven Wonders of the Severn cruise boarding September 21 is from £1,595pp full-board including wine and beer at lunch and dinner.

Ports of call include Sharpness, Tewkesbury, Upton, Worcester and Stourport-on-Severn, with a guided tour every day starting within a short distance of the boat’s moorings.

A two-night Unique Weekend Break along the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal is from £315pp based on two people boarding on October 23 or 30.

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In a fitting finale to this most English of cruises, fish and chip fans can pay homage at the site of the old Sarson’s vinegar factory.

Sailing between Gloucester and Stourport is a world away from a voyage on the Caribbean or the Mediterraean.

But as we found, cruising the English countryside has a charm all of its own.

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