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English Holiday Cruises is a family-run firm launched in 2004 and currently has one ship, Edward Elgar, a charming cream-coloured vessel with maroon trim and a vintage look. At first glance you might think the ship dates back to the jazz age 1920s but it was purpose-built for the River Severn in the 1999 by a specialist boat builder at Stourport-on-Severn.
The adults-only ship is based in Gloucester’s historic docks, overlooked by beautifully refurbished old Georgian warehouses now home to bars and restaurants, and a few minutes’ walk from the lively Gloucester Quays shopping centre.
Visit England has certified the ship as a four star hotel boat and as well as its regular itineraries it has two and three-night Christmas cruises plus group bookings and private charters.
THE WOW FACTOR
This is not a fancy ship full of amenities but it does have a very special atmosphere thanks to the welcoming staff who are genuinely friendly from the welcome drink onwards.
The wow factor, though, is the truly relaxing effect of travelling at just four miles an hour through some of England’s most beautiful lush green countryside.
It’s impossible not to slow down and enjoy the natural rhythm of the waterways, whether you’re sailing down the Gloucester Sharpness Canal with views of the mighty River Severn as it broadens out before reaching the sea – or if you’re dawdling up the river itself through the Cotswolds to the picturesque towns of Tewkesbury, Upton-upon-Severn and Worcester.
One word sums up the lifestyle onboard Edward Elgar: peaceful. There is very little do except soak up the sun on the top deck, chat to other passengers in the saloon or cosy bar and enjoy the included guided tours if you feel like getting off.
You don’t have to do anything at all if you don’t want to – you can just stay on board with a book.
That would be a shame, though, because then you would miss the local expert-led tours of sights you’d never know were there. These include the strangely moving Barge Graveyard at Purton – a collection of old wooden and even concrete boats and barges deliberately breached beside the River Severn to prevent it breaking its banks.
Free excursions on the short canal cruises include a visit to WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre where there are almost as many flamingos as swans, ducks and geese.
The River Severn cruises include free guided tours of Worcester Cathedral, where you may be surprised to see the tomb of Bad King John – Richard The Lionheart’s brother – and there are trips on the Severn Valley Steam Railway and a visit to the Tudor House Museum at historic Upton-upon-Severn, plus a tour of Gloucester’s lovely docks.
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Edward Elgar is just 88ft long and with 11 cabins on the lower deck it’s no surprise that they are very small.
All have twin beds, although one or two are sometimes available as single cabins, and each has its own shower room.
These are not luxury cabins by any means but they have everything you need: comfortable beds with soft white duvets; a clever shelves and rail space for storing clothes and room for bags under the beds. There are reading lights for night owls, bottled mineral water by your bed and – during the Covid pandemic – a bag of masks and hand sanitiser.
The ensuite is a small wet room with a curtain to stop your toiletries from getting wet and a powerful overhead shower or handheld shower if you prefer. Shower gel and soap is provided but you may prefer to take your own shampoo and conditioner. There’s also a very good hairdryer in a cabin drawer.
Don’t expect televisions, mini-bar fridges, or balconies – although there’s a reasonable sized window, USB sockets and British plugs.
There’s plenty of food available and all of it traditional British dishes such as braised beef and mashed potato followed by sticky toffee pudding or Cotswold gin-cured salmon with fennel and orange followed by treacle tart. Local cheeses are also a feature.
The full English breakfast is particularly good, although there are lighter alternatives such as French toast with cinnamon.
Lunch is also included, perhaps a homemade Scotch egg with salad followed by apricot fool, and there is always afternoon tea – either homemade cake or scones with jam and cream.
All meals are served in the saloon, which usually has tables for six or four so that guests can get to know each other.
During the Covid pandemic, however, there were reduced passenger numbers and tables for two or three only, with clear Perspex panels between each table.
Tea and coffee is always available and meals include wine, beer or soft drinks, while the bar sells premium brands virtually whenever anyone wants a drink.
As Covid restrictions are lifted Edward Elgar will return to full capacity and there’s a waiting list on English Holiday Cruises for 2021 while 2022 cruises continue with the same itineraries.
These are its six-night Severn Wonders Cruise, five-night Heart of England and Cruise to the Views itineraries and four-night River Heritage Cruise – all on the River Severn – from April to October.
There are also three-night Historic Canal Cruises and two-night Weekend Breaks on the Gloucester Sharpness Canal, also from April to October.
Prices start from £360 per person (02452 410411; river.englishholidaycruises.co.uk)
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