Well, the original loose plan had been to head North and over the Pennines. We don’t know that area canal-wise well at all. But Storms Desmond and Frank at the end of 2015 had done a lot of damage to the canal infrastructure oop North, and in retrospect, some routes didn’t reopen until much later in the season. So we started off on a meandering route, from Oxford via Warwick to Stratford on Avon on the canal system, then down the Avon and Severn Rivers via Tewkesbury to Gloucester. We travelled down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, fell in love with Slimbridge reserve, and at the end thought about getting a pilot to transit down the channel to Bristol, and come home via the Kennet & Avon. But looking at the flow on the Severn, and taking consideration of the fact that if you have to wait several days or weeks for a weather window, then Sharpness is probably not the most amenable stopover, we decided that If we’re going to do this, we’ll do it the other way round, and wait in Bristol or Portishead!
We headed back North with no clear target in sight but there was a section of the Shropshire Union that we’d never seen. So it was back up the Severn to Worcester and Stourport, then back onto the canal system via Kidderminster and the outskirts of Wolverhampton to Nantwich. Our best bet for leaving the boat to go to Sidmouth was a marina on the Llangollen Canal just a few miles (by canal) or a mile and a half (by flying crow) from Nantwich. The Llangollen canal (and the Montgomery) are favourites of ours, so despite it being high season we thought we’d give them a try, and had remarkably few problems with other traffic. Well worth the effort.
To finish off, the Macclesfield Canal was now open again properly, so we went across to Middlewich, down to Kidsgrove, then spent a lovely few weeks journeying back up North on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals into Bugsworth Basin. Both “must return” places. By then we’d covered large chunks of England and bits of Wales, so we beat a hasty retreat back down through familiar territory to Cropredy for the winter.
It wasn’t planned, but our route took us past many splendid ecclesiastical piles, and an abiding memory is of loads of wonderful ceilings. Ah well.
All in all, we covered 695 miles, worked through 440 locks, and considered it a great way of doing not much… Wonder where 2017 will take us!