We are commemorating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare this year.
This means that Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire is the place to visit in 2016, as this special anniversary year see the home town of the Bard hosting new and unique events suitable for all the family.
Black Prince narrowboaters can head to the birthplace of this renowned playwrite via the Stratford upon Avon Canal. Starting from our Napton canal boat hire base or Clifton canal boat hire base in Warwickshire you can cruise along the Grand Union Canal through Warwick to reach the Stratford upon Avon Canal.
Perfect for couples boating holidays or family canal boat holidays, this route is challenging but hugely enjoyable, with a perfect mix of countryside cruising and historic town stops.
Allow yourself a relaxing seven-night break (or longer) to appreciate the cruise through this beautiful stretch of Warwickshire countryside
Events in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s England (shakespeares-england.co.uk) will celebrate his legacy with a range of exciting new exhibitions and events including a new immersive theatrical experience at the Royal Shakespeare Company; a reimagining of Shakespeare’s final home, New Place, and Shakespeare’s Schoolroom will open for the first time to the general public.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is transforming New Place, the site of Shakespeare’s family home in Stratford-upon-Avon for the last 19 years of his adult life, to create a new heritage landmark where visitors can discover Shakespeare at the height of his success. The re-imagination of this unique site will be the single most significant Shakespearian project anywhere in the world to commemorate his legacy.
Visitors will be able to walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps through a new threshold on the site of his gatehouse and trace the footprint of his family home in a contemporary landscape setting. Commissioned artworks and displays will evoke a sense of family life and the 26 major works written during Shakespeare’s ownership of New Place. A new exhibition will throw light on Shakespeare the family man, homeowner and successful entrepreneur, featuring rare and important artifacts relating to his life at New Place, many of them on display for the first time.
From the canal to the theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)’s season includes productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Cymbeline, Doctor Faustus, Don Quixote and The Alchemist. A major new exhibition, The Play’s The Thing, will open in June in The Swan Theatre front of house areas. It will celebrate the magic of Shakespeare on stage and reveal the secrets and stories from 100 years of theatre-making in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Special celebrations – 23 & 24 April 2016
Stratford-upon-Avon will also host the very special Birthday Celebrations weekend and parade on the 23 and 24 April 2016.
Crowds will line the streets as actors, foreign diplomats, civic dignitaries and local children join a 1,000-strong grand Birthday Procession through the streets on the Saturday as Stratford pays tribute to the most famous playwright and poet who was born and died on the same day – 23 April.
Starting at the Town Hall the procession will wind its way through the town to Shakespeare’s Birthplace and return passing his School before arriving at the altar of Holy Trinity Church.
You can even meet Master Shakespeare in person, as his gives tours of his beloved hometown. William will guide visitors along the beautiful streets and past wonderful old buildings whilst relating tales of his life and works. From birth to grave, he will take visitors through his life history and the town in the 16th century. Tours take place every Saturday and holidays at 2pm from Tudor World in Sheep Street. The cost is £5 for adults, £4 concessions, £3 children, £13 family ticket (2 adults & 2 children), 5 and unders are free.
The Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal
The Stratford-upon-Avon canal connects the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Kings Norton to the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. It consists of two sections, divided by a junction that connects it to the Grand Union Canal.
Head south from the Grand Union at Kingswood Junction to go onto the South Stratford canal which heads directly to Stratford-Upon-Avon via Wooten Wawen. This route is memorable for its split bridges, built with a gap to allow the tow ropes of the boat horses to pass through, and its unique barrel-roofed lock cottages.
The charming conservation area of Wootton Wawen has many ancient timber-frames houses. Nearby is Edstone, or Bearley, Aqueduct, with its cast-iron trough.
Just before Stratford, the canal passes through the tiny village of Wilmcote, where you can stop and visit Mary Arden’s house. The historic half-timbered Tudor farmhouse was home to Shakespeare’s mother before she was married.
The South Stratford canal makes for fairly easy cruising, with occasional locks until you reach the Wilmcote flight of eleven locks just before Stratford-upon-Avon.
The canal joins the River Avon at the Bancroft Basin in Stratford-upon-Avon, where a pretty park and waterfront paths are overlooked by the famous Royal Shakespeare Theatre. You can moor along the Stratford upon Avon Canal or the Bancroft Basin which then gives you an easy 10 minute (approx.) walk into town.
Follow the online conversation using #Shakespeare2016
Find out more at www.shakespeares-england.co.uk
There are some great folklore stories and traditions associated with Leap Year.
According to an old Irish legend St Brigid struck a deal with St Patrick to allow women to propose to men every four years.
St Brigid was clearly ahead of her time in wanting to balance the traditional roles of men and women in a similar way to how leap day balances the calendar.
There are various penalties if a man refuses a marriage proposal. Our favourite is that he has to buy the lady 12 pairs of gloves, (the intention here being that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring). We think that is just a highly practical gift to have for a canal boat trip.
This lead us to thinking that we here at Black Prince Holidays should invent some narrow boating folklore to accompany the traditions of leap year.
What do you think of the following for Waterways Leap Year traditions?
- In Leap Year tradition the woman takes control of the narrow boat tiller for the entire day. It is her responsibility to choose the direction in which the couple is headed.
- The Leap Year folklore now dictates that the woman should be served tea / coffee / red wine on demand throughout the day, without having to wash up any of the cups.
- When a woman’s gloves fall in the canal due to any unfortunate incident of tree-sweeping** the man must give up his gloves for the lady to wear.
- The woman has the right to request help from any passer by on any aspect of map reading, directions or water tap points.
- The man cannot refuse the woman’s request carry her home after too long a session at a canal side pub.
What traditions would you create for a Waterways Leap Year?
**Tree sweeping is when the canal boat is steered too close to the side of the canal where low hanging tree branches sweep all loose objects off the roof and into the water. This is generally accompanied with much shouting from the canal boat occupants and much mirth from passers by on the towpath.
The New Year is a brilliant time to set new resolutions. But let’s face it, life is continually full of goals – things to do, places to be, constant demands from friends and family alike.
It’s no wonder those good intentions tend to frizzle out not long after the champagne cork has been popped.
That’s why we here at Black Prince Holidays our simple resolution for 2016 is to encourage everyone to allow time to recharge themselves.
Like the new gadgets you received from Santa, too much intense use will lead you to be become drained of energy. So what’s the best way to unplug yourself from stress and plug yourself into relaxation?
The power of the waterways is an obvious choice for a place to go to chill out. Experience the peacefulness of the surroundings, the rustlings of wildlife, the community spirit. Take time out to take the dog for a walk, sup a drink at a canal side pub or hire a canal boat for a relaxing break.
Don’t forget that resolving to do too much can lead to you missing out on what’s most important – ‘you time’.
So make your mission for 2016 to recharge yourself on the great British Waterways. We look forward to seeing you there
For some, a winter canal boat holiday conjures up images of ice breaking along the waterways whilst frantically blowing warm air into your mitts.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
However our Facebook fans seem to disagree. When asked who would be brave enough to take a narrowboat out at Christmas we were surprised by their responses.
“What a fantastic idea for a Christmas break. It would be lovely snuggled up in front of the heater, looking out at the snow covered embankments.”
“First time I fell in love with the canals was on a snowy walk along the tow path and a canal boat came through breaking the ice as it went.”
“Hmm….Christmas on a narrow boat, sounds lovely!”
So we’ve been talking to our partners at our base near Rugby, Warwickshire, in the heart of historic England and they are keen to continue to offer winter breaks, including Christmas, New Year and February half term holidays.
We’ll be making the boats as cosy as possible. You’ll have a well-insulated narrowboat, with central heating and of course hot and cold running water for hot showers. Extra blankets and duvets are available on request just in case! There is also a television and DVD player, plus free WIFI to keep in touch with the outside word if you feel the need.
“Would love to try it…”
“I am ready. On or near water any time.”
“Got ours booked for February. It may be cold, but it’ll be cosy.”
“I’ve done the canals in spring/early summer and late fall….I SO need to be on the cut again.”
However, there was one concern from our hardy explorers and we’re not sure we can help with this one:
“Will Santa be able to find me?”
Would you spend Christmas on a canal boat? Let us know!
If you had a friend from overseas coming to visit you on your narrowboat holiday, where would you take them first?
Here’s our list – do you agree?
Any overseas visitor to the UK will surely be looking for the full-on traditional ‘olde England’ experience. The old cosy pubs, the towering cathedrals, the quaint shops and little cobbled back streets. We say, head straight to Oxford!
Oxford often feels familiar because it is used as the backdrop for so many films and TV programmes, most famously Inspector More and Harry Potter. The world famous University buildings include Christ Church College, Wadham College and Magdalene College. Other interesting sights are the Ashmolean Museum, Carfax Tower, Botanic Gardens – the oldest in Britain – and Sheldonian Theatre.
Cruising to Oxford on a narrowboat also means you take in some wonderfully named villages including Thrupp, Lower Heyford and Shipton-on-Cherwell where you’ll find traditional stone built houses, the afore-mentioned cosy pubs, ancient churches and village greens that date back centuries.
You can visit Oxford from our Napton narrowboat hire base, located at the head of the Oxford Canal.
6) Leek, Staffordshire
Apart from being able to snigger at the name, Leek makes our list due to its location at the end of the Leek and Caldon Canal, on the southwestern edge of the Peak District. It stands on a hill in a large bend in the River Churnet and is locally known as ‘The Queen of the Moorlands’.
The Caldon Canal is arguably one of the most beautiful and quiet canals in the UK, and narrow boating along this route gives you the chance to see a fascinating mix of the UK’s industrial heritage and traditional countryside.
You can visit Leek from our Peak District canal base.
5) Cadbury World
Ok, so we’ve included this because we are big fans of chocolate. And Cadbury’s in particular. So ignoring the fact that the company was recently taken over by a big American corporate, we’ll tell you why this is a great place to visit.
Cadbury World has become one of Birmingham’s largest leisure attractions – welcoming over 500,000 visitors each year, and offering an education programme which links directly back to the educational advancements of the company’s original founding fathers. On the visit you can explore the 14 zones that tell the story of chocolate and the Cadbury business through various static sets, animatronics, video presentations, multi-sensory cinema, interactive displays and activities, and staff demonstrations.
You can visit Cadbury World from our Stoke Prior base in Worcestershire.
The birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare has to go near the top of the list, surely he’s the most famous Briton who ever lived?
If you’re a first time visitor to the UK then join the Avon Ring and cruise to Stratford where you can pay homage to some of the UK’s most important cultural areas, such as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Shakespeare’s house. You can visit Stratford-Upon-Avon from our Stoke Prior base.
3) Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales
The breathtaking Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is located in the beautiful Welsh countryside and a World Heritage Site. It’s a fantastic spot to witness a pioneering feat of engineering that amazed the world back in 1801, designed by the famous engineer Thomas Telford.
You can reach the aqueduct from our Chirk canal boat base.
This may cause some debate. Not at number one? Why on earth not? There’s the Grand Union canal into Little Venice and Camden right through to the historic Limehouse Basin and the Canal museum, plus easy transport links into the centre of the city to see the top attractions such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace…the list could go on.
You can reach London from our base, click here.
1) Linlithgow, Scotland
The name Linlithgow is said to mean “loch in a damp hollow” from llyn (loch), laith (damp) and cau (a hollow), which doesn’t really do much to recommend it.
However, delve a little deeper and you’ll discover why this becomes a fascinating place to visit.
Linlithgow is an ancient royal burgh located near the Union Canal, which lies south of two famous landmarks, Linlithgow Palace and Linlithgow Loch.
Head first to the remains of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of James V and Mary, Queen of Scots, and probably Scotland’s best surviving late medieval secular building. Pack a picnic as the grounds are home to a beautiful public park known as The Peel, where you can relax with your rug and sandwiches
After your lunch you’ll be thirsty to make your way into town where you’ll find the High Street which is particularly famous for it’s high number of ancient taverns as well as many historic buildings such as the Cross Well of 1807 and the Town House dating back to 1668.
If you’re feeling sporty then head over to Linlithgow lock as it’s popular for water sports and is also a notable spot for bird watching. It is three quarters of a mile long and contains a fishery.
You can visit Linlithgow from our Falkirk canal boat base in Scotland.
You’ve probably heard about the BBC new programming idea which featured The Canal Trip – a two hour uninterrupted, unedited narrowboat journey, designed to encourage us to ‘go slow’.
It certainly split the nation – you couldn’t decide if it was the most boring television ever made or the best!
In All Aboard! The Canal Trip, viewers are taken on a two-hour, real-time uninterrupted journey down the Kennet & Avon canal, from Top Lock in Bath to the Dundas Aqueduct. It was filmed almost entirely from a camera fixed on the front of the narrowboat.
“It is one shot all the way, no music, no editing, no commentary,” said its executive producer, Clare Paterson.
The film was part of the BBC Four Goes Slow series, a selection of ”unrushed programmes giving audiences the chance to sit back, unwind and watch some very unhurried television”. It was inspired in part by a successful series featuring similarly slow topics in Scandavia, including a famous eight-hour train journey and nine hours of Norwegian knitting.
Clare Paterson previously admitted that some people will ”hate” the programme and find it ”boring” but added that canals are ”incredibly British and important to our history and landscape.”
Social media certainly came alive about the programme. Twitter comments included “That’s it. No gimmicks or music. What a time to be alive.’ And “I actually don’t want this BBC4 canal trip to end. So I am going to watch it in rewind on X2.”
What do you think about going slow?
If you fancy a cruise to a city that changed history – well, the history of your tableware – then take a look at a canal boat holiday in Staffordshire.
The English city of Stoke-on-Trent has been shaped by the pottery industry for over 300 years and is affectionately known the world over as ‘The Potteries’.
The Trent and Mersey Canal and the Caldon Canal allowed the development of some of the most famous names in pottery and a tour along both these waterways will give you an incredible insight into this fascinating history.
Staffordshire became a centre of ceramic production in the early 17th century. This was because there was an abundance of potters clay and coal substitute to fire the ovens. Plus there were plenty of other raw materials necessary for potting close by: lead in Derbyshire, salt in Cheshire, and fine sand in Mow Cop.
Hundreds of companies produced decorative or industrial items. By 1800 the pottery industry was well established and expanding, with over 300 potworks in north Staffordshire.
Perhaps the most famous name in pottery is Wedgwood. This name comes from its founder, Josiah Wedgwood, an independent potter who became Britain’s most successful ceramics pioneer, leading English pottery from a cottage craft to an art form and international industry.
Did you know?
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- Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey.
- Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money back guarantees, travelling salesmen, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.
- He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin.
The Caldon Canal joins the Trent and Mersey at Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, and was built to carry minerals from the uplands of the Peak District to the Potteries. Reminders of the Industrial Revolution along its banks include the remains of lime kilns, ironstone workings and ironworks.
Image © Martin Brent / VisitBritain
Did you know?
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- Most of the roads in the Potteries were in a poor state in the 16th and 17th century, and this was not helped by the habit of some of the potters of digging their clay pits in the roads – a practice that gave rise to the term “potholes”
- You can discover the somewhat gruesome history behind the origins of the term ‘bone china’ at Bone Mill at Etruria.
The industry has remained in the area thanks to the skills of the local people and Stoke-on-Trent is still famous for its quality ware which is sold all over the world. Wedgwood, Moorcroft, Aynsley, Burleigh, Dudson, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Doulton, and Royal Stafford are just a few of the leading brands you will find in the city.
Potteries to visit:
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- Throw a pot, paint a plate or mug, or have a go at turning, lithography, or ornamenting at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre. Find out more about the Wedgewood visitor centre at www.wedgwoodvisitorcentre.com.
- At Emma Bridgewater, choose a classic piece of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery and design and make a masterpiece of your own with the guidance of expert helpers. For further details see www.emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk
- Visitors to Gladstone Pottery Museum can take away a real souvenir of their visit by having a go at throwing a pot, making a bone china flower or decorating a piece of pottery.
- The Ceramic Café at Royal Stafford is a place where you can create your own unique and colourful piece of tableware or giftware. There are a wide range of pieces to choose from including Plates, Cups, Mugs, Bowls, Teapots, Clowns and Teddy Bear Figurines.
7 facts you didn’t know about Cambridge
Cambridge is perhaps best known for being a university city. It lies in East Anglia, on the River Cam, about 50 miles north of London.
1. Punting along the River Cam in Cambridge is famous. However did you know that you can cruise from our Black Prince canal boat base at Ely along the Ouse, to Wicken Fen – a stunning wetland nature reserve – then down the beautiful River Cam towards the city of Cambridge. A different way to enjoy the river!
2. Cambridge isn’t a huge city – in fact it’s a fairly small, pretty old town that you can easily walk around in a day. It escaped damage in the Second World War, unlike many other towns in England, so it still has many beautiful old buildings in narrow, medieval streets.
3. The University of Cambridge, founded in 1209 is now ranked one of the top five universities in the world. The university includes the renowned Cavendish Laboratory, King’s College Chapel, and the Cambridge University Library.
4. Cambridge was important long before the University existed, due its perfect location of fording the River Cam between dense forests and marshy fens. In the first century BC an Iron Age Belgic tribe built a settlement on what is now Castle Hill. Around AD40 the Romans took over the site and it became the crossing point for the Via Devana which linked Colchester with the legions in Lincoln and beyond.
The Saxons followed, then the Normans under William the Conqueror, who raised a castle on a steep mound deep in the Fens at Ely. The motte (or remaining mound) of William’s castle still stands and Ely Cathedral is visible from the top on a clear day.
5. Today, Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the city. Its economic strengths lie in industries such as software and bioscience, many start-up companies having been spun out of the university.
6. Parker’s Piece hosted the first ever game of association football. This green space is a 25-acre flat and roughly square green common located near the centre of Cambridge and is now regarded as the birthplace of the rules of Association Football.
7. Cambridge has provided a stunning backdrop to many films and TV series, most recently for the film ‘The Theory of Everything’. This romantic biopic is based on the life of world famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who famously studied at Cambridge University. The film has been such a success that it has won two Golden Globe awards, one Oscar and ten BAFTA nominations.
You can enjoy a narrowboat trip to Cambridge from our Ely base in Cambridgeshire; find out more about Ely here.
It was a great pleasure to meet John Sergeant whilst he was on location cruising the Trent & Mersey Canal.
We caught up with him onboard a Black Prince Narrowboat in Middlewich, amidst the festivities of the Folk and Boat Festival, and he was lovely to chat to, a very friendly character.
Here is an interview with John following the completion of the shoot, it sounds like he is now a big fan of canal boating!
Q: How would you describe the series?
It’s the most exciting canal programme you’ll ever see. There are so many twists and turns, you think it’s just going to be an ordinary journey but it doesn’t have that ordinariness about it. There are people we meet that will surprise and interest you and there are scenes that I don’t think people will expect in a travelogue.
So we’re trying to get a mixture between telling people exactly where we are and it’s a beautiful day and it’s British summer, but also having a bit of fun. But the amusing bits come out of the people we meet and the places we go. We’re not trying to impose comedy on the canals but the comedy naturally stems from the scenes we come across.
Q: Where does your own interest in barging come from?
I’m very keen on boating and I’ve been keen on boats all my life. I go sailing every summer with my brother and so the whole life on board, I don’t really know why it’s fascinating or intriguing but I just like messing around on them. The whole boating thing, I enjoy.
Also I’m very interested in history so when we get to anything historical, I find that just easy because it’s what I know. There are moments when that feel for history, particularly with canals is very important.
It’s an astonishing thing to have the canals still there and able to use them. There’s no real equivalent. If all the steam trains were still working and if you could go by steam all over Britain then yes, that would be. But we actually can do that with canals. OK, they’re not horse-drawn. But the sensation and living and what you are seeing are exactly the same as when they were built. That is really something. And of course because we’re going to the best places, it can’t be boring! It was a bit of a dream project really. I was thrilled to bits to be asked.
Q: Was there anywhere you hadn’t visited before that took you by surprise?
I used to know Bath quite well because I went to school near there and I hadn’t realised the extent to which the Bath stone which you see in beautiful buildings, that honey coloured facing stone, I didn’t realise that that was totally dependent on the canals. It wouldn’t have become a famous facing stone. It sounds nerdish but it gives Bath this lovely colour, a lovely warm honey brown colour.
You see it in Bath on the buildings and every now and then you see it in London, when we go to Lancaster House. To think everyone wanted his Portland stone, you couldn’t have transported it without the canals.
Q: You meet some interesting people along the way, any stories that touched you?
Well, Freddie, the horse I met. He was this great big horse, and I don’t normally spend a lot of time with animals but I did bond with Freddie. He was pulling a narrow boat with tourists in and I was given the charge of him as we plodded along near Newbury and most of the time I was just on my own with Freddie and we had a good chat. It was funny, at the end I took out some peppermints for him. It was so daft but lovely.
The live-ons were always interesting too, a guy called Badger, they really were escaping. And there was a shy woman we met, her husband had died so she was living on her own on the narrow boat, like an incredible Viking leader where his wife would stay on board.
The tailor we meet in episode one was great, like out of central casting in Hollywood. A very thin, pencil like guy and so quick, of course he could immediately measure me up. The contrast of him and me I found funny. Also the guy in the whisky distillery was fun. I was tasting the whisky and very slowly getting drunk but he is wonderfully serious about the whisky and I’m sipping away and I love all that. Not rehearsed, but he was just brilliant. Then I run off with the barrel.
Q: Any other personal highlights during filming? The beer tasting? Aerobics? Smashing ceramics? Making flour?
Going over the Aqueduct was a highlight. Amazing. Also on the Aire and Calder Canal programme we went to a flower club and I completely mess up doing some planting and they are all so charming and nice and I am the worst gardener in the world. That was a fun day, just because they were so sweet.
Then I had to join the women exercising… People are more used to television cameras now than they used to be, they know it’s going to be good fun and the joke’s going to be on me, and so they want to get involved. We meet some great people.
Q: Why do you think barging is so popular in this country?
There’s a real element of mystery and adventure, and people like a mystery. What are these strange waterways? Where are they going, tunnels, you’re not on an ordinary road. Whatever happens, there is a mysterious journey.
There is also a companionship with the people you are with and the kids love it and your holiday home is with you, if you’re on holiday. But I think there’s a deeper reason too, the British thing about how do we use history? I think we use history because we enjoy it and it gives us comfort and it strengthens us.
The idea that we are able to dip into the time of Henry VIII and at that point Britain was at the top of the world because of the Industrial revolution and you are looking at what at the time was the greatest, most important canal network in the world. I think people are proud. The fantastic, British engineers. The whole thing is a sort of celebration of our country and that might sound pretentious but I don’t think it is. I think it gets people. They don’t need to know a great deal about it but are kind of proud of it.
Q: Any top tips for first time bargers?
Planning. Choose your route, that’s the main thing. You’re only going at 4mph so if you make a mistake in the route planning, you can’t just take the barge and drive off down the road with it. Decide how far you can go, what you want to see and obviously what the crew want to do and are capable of. The planning is more important than anything else.
Barging Round Britain with John Sergeant starts on Friday 13th February at 8.00pm on ITV.
The official companion to the series, Barging Round Britain by John Sergeant and David Bartley is available from Michael Joseph (Hardback and Ebook, £20).