Boarding the charming Edward Elgar, all vintage cream with maroon trim, feels like walking into an Agatha Christie novel. There are no Art Deco interiors or chandeliers, but it has a quirky English atmosphere and its multi-talented crew of five couldn’t be more friendly.
At just 88ft, with only 11 double cabins, the 3 deck Edward Elgar was purpose-built for English Holiday Cruises to sail the River Severn and Gloucester Sharpness Canal and has been certified a four-star hotel boat by Visit England.
It’s not that this is a fancy ship; there’s just the cosy bar, a lounge that doubles as a dining room and an open deck for taking in the views as you glide serenely through green and pleasant Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, but it’s a lovely place to call home for a few days. Comfort is a priority on board with quality seating, mattresses and furnishings.
Tea and coffee is always available and there’s home-made cake each afternoon as well as unlimited house wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks. Every day there’s a free excursion and at night the crew will entertain you with quizzes and singalongs – and there’s also free wifi. An advanced battery system means there is no need to run generators at night ensuring the boat is perfectly quiet at her mooring.
The cabins have twin beds and en-suite shower rooms, with reduced rates for single occupancy on every cruise, and although they’re small they’re beautifully kitted out.
We joined at The Boathouse, the company’s canal-side HQ, near Gloucester’s superbly restored historic docks, where the Georgian warehouses are now home to bars and restaurants, with museums and cathedral a short walk away. English Holiday Cruises offer a secure parking facility at the boathouse and after a welcome lunch and drinks, we were off on our adventures, sailing to Frampton on Severn for a guided tour of Berkeley Castle in the Cotswolds, a 12th-century Norman keep with fabulous medieval kitchen and glorious gardens.
Back on the boat we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked dinner on the way to Purton along the world’s first shipping canal, mooring for the night within sight of the River Severn where it widens before flowing into the sea.
Up bright and early I took a pre-breakfast walk to see Purton Hulks Barge Graveyard on the river – a surreal collection of old boats and barges deliberately sunk to prevent the river’s banks breaking. It was fascinating to see how nature has colonised these old wooden and even concrete vessels.
I was definitely ready for breakfast after my walk and tucked into a full English, although there were lighter offerings such as French toast with cinnamon.
The dining room has picture windows so we could watch the world go by even when eating, and during breakfast we sailed the canal towards Slimbridge Wetland Centre for an included tour to see the hundreds of swans, ducks, geese –even flamingos.
There were taxis on hand to take us to and from the centre, although it was an easy walk from the boat, and as well as wildfowl there was Scott House Museum where World Wildlife Fund founder Sir Peter Scott lived when he set up the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
The artist and TV broadcaster – a friend of fellow conservation pioneer Sir David Attenborough – was the son of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott and many of his wildlife paintings are on display in the house and visitor centre.
Back onboard we sailed for historic Gloucester Docks and a visit that most guests were eagerly looking forward to – the late afternoon Gloucester Brewery tour with gin tasting included!
Next day we sailed along the river to Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire, arriving after lunch to be taken by coach to Croome Court. Now looked after by the National Trust, the estate has a fascinating history.
The parkland was Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s first major landscape gardening project and made his name. Started in 1750 it includes a lake with a Chinese bridge and a grotto once lined with semi-precious stones. Part of the 18th-century neo-Palladian house, also designed by Brown with superb interiors by architect Robert Adam, is now open after restoration, but our favourite part was the RAF Defford museum.
The quirky displays in old RAF buildings reveal how the place was used for radar testing during the Second World War and Cold War operations.
That night we were moored in Upton, so we had the chance to explore the town’s pretty streets of half-timbered and Georgian buildings. Most famous is the Pepper Pot – the remains of a church tower – which is central to several music festivals each year. After dinner we enjoyed sloping off to Ye Olde Anchor Inn, a ‘black and white’ half-timbered pub with leaded windows, low ceilings and beams.
Worcester the next day was a revelation. The cathedral is one of the finest in the country and once so important that Richard the Lionheart’s brother King John is buried here. My cruise was over far too soon and as I reflected on the friendly atmosphere, new friends made and the excellent food and service I thought maybe next time it must be the full 6-night cruise!
English Holiday Cruises runs two, three, five and six-night trips in the Severn Vale, with its six-night Classic Severn Cruise available May to September.
All are round-trips from Gloucester with the longer itineraries a mix of stops along the River Severn and Gloucester Sharpness Canal, while the three and two-night cruises are confined to the canal and run only in April and October. And for those who want to extend their stay in this gorgeous region there are hotel packages available
Edward Elgar fact file
For more information visit English Holiday Cruises or call 01452 410411.
If you enjoyed David’s review of his Edward Elgar cruise, you’ll find more ideas for UK holidays on our Travel channel.David Powell, Edward Elgar, Severn Valley Last modified: July 4, 2023