Holidays: Michael O’Leary slams UK travel restrictions
It has to be said that the rowers, from the local club based on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, know what they’re doing. Many have put their oar in for Britain. As Steve, our genial captain aboard the MV Edward Elgar, explained when he gave me a quick tour of the bridge, he has to be mindful and respectful of other waterway users, which he was as we chugged along at often well below the maximum speed limit of 6mph. And this was a whistle-stop tour; usually it would have been a two-night adventure, but we got the potted highlights with just a single night on board. That said, we were treated royally, with a crew who could not do enough to entertain us, keep us fed and watered, and indeed safe.
Boarding was at Alexandra Quay. If some of us were a touch unsteady going up the gangway (luggage thankfully having been taken aboard for us), it may have had something to do with our brief pre-cruise tour of the Gloucester Brewery micro-brewery, shop and tasting room in Fox’s Kiln – staggering distance from the boat.
We saw the processes that led to shelves stacked with their own beer, vodka and flavoured gins, the latter infused with local fruit.
Glasses were clinked and samples enjoyed. The packing room was evidence of people’s changing habits, with growing numbers having booze shipped to their home the next day rather than having to shop in person.
Then it was on board for a welcome drink – and it was all downstream from there.
A cream tea followed after we slipped the quay berth and headed out of the city – Steve having booked a few minutes’ disturbance for motorists on Netheridge Bridge, just off the A38, which was dutifully swung open for us.
The MV Edward Elgar is the largest-capacity inland hotel boat in the UK. At 88ft long, and with 11 twin cabins and three decks, it was built to be as big as it could be and still fit through the canal system’s locks, and slide under bridges. It can be a squeeze.
The MV Edward Elgar offers a warm welcome (Image: PR Handout)
“There are some bridges where, if the water is high, you have to time your journey,” says Steve. “And a couple where we go into Ikea-mode – the glass around the bridge and the railings up top, fold down.”
Thankfully, we didn’t need to duck or breathe in.
It was a relaxing trip from the off as we glided south towards Purton and Sharpness, where the canal runs close to the Severn. We found out just how close after a pleasant three-course dinner when we moored at Purton to see the incredible Hulks.
It’s a ships’ graveyard with a purpose. In 1909, the canal banks were breached, and thus was hatched a cunning plan to beach abandoned boats and ships, some deliberately laden with concrete or simply run aground and left to nature. Some are now lost to view, but most have still been mapped and commemorated.
You can see some poking partially through the dunes where barely 50 yards separates the 16.5-mile canal, hand-dug for its opening in 1827, from the country’s longest and most violently tidal river. One, the schooner Katherine Ellen, we learned, had been impounded in 1921 for running guns to the IRA.
We got to know more of our fellow guests – aided by Captain’s Cocktails – as we sat in the main saloon, our tables all screened in a Covid-secure way. Our cabin, complete with single bunks, toilet and shower, was downstairs.
Next morning, after a cooked breakfast, we headed back north, stopping at Patch Bridge. Our destination was barely a quarter of a mile away, but our hosts put on a coach for those who, having negotiated the sodden towpath, didn’t fancy the walk to the brilliant Wildlife and Wetland Trust site at Slimbridge, where the stars of the show were the pelicans.
Set up in the 1940s by naturalist Sir Peter Scott, who lived in a cottage on site for six years, the WWT has avocets, cranes, geese, ducks and swans.
Other species, such as peregrine and merlin, are seasonal visitors. The Sloane Observation Tower provides far-reaching views towards the Cotswolds and Forest of Dean.
We had a roast lunch as we meandered back to Gloucester, but first a talk on the work of the local Canal Trust, and how lockdowns have hit their pockets. However, their sterling efforts have continued, preserving waterways and bringing back to life other neglected or forgotten passages.
Swans soar above a lake at Slimbridge Wetland Centre (Image: Getty)
Slimbridge Wetland Centre is home to beautiful flamingos (Image: PR Handout)
It was our first river cruise but it won’t be our last. We liked the pace of the weekend, and the attention to detail of Jay and his team from English Holiday Cruises.
They operate on the Severn between Gloucester and Stourport and on the Gloucester to Sharpness Canal and offer a range of packages with different stop-offs.
They will even organise an extra night in Gloucester to round off your trip, which we did independently, taking in the magnificent Cathedral.
Pilgrims have visited the site since the 600s and latter-day pilgrims include fans of Harry Potter, with scenes having been filmed in the cloisters. It also has the grave of Edward II, who met his violent end at nearby Berkeley Castle.
The city, once the country’s second largest inland port after London, has some wonderful old buildings, such as the restored Robert Raikes House, a timbered pub with an attractive walled garden.
But we gravitated back towards the Quays, which has been beautifully restored and hosts museums dedicated to the Soldiers of Gloucestershire and the National Waterways, as well as the intriguing Mariners’ Chapel.
If you have designs on a relaxing few days’ break, messing about on the river could be for you.
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Diverse, unique and family-friendly, they also provide a safe haven to fill your lungs with fresh air, stretch your legs and meet with loved ones.
Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucestershire
Slimbridge Wetland Centre is home to the world’s largest collection of swans, geese and ducks (Image: Getty )
Slimbridge is one of nine wetland centres across the UK founded by Sir Peter Scott, son of Scott of the Antarctic. Set up in 1946, the 120-acre area in Dursley is world-renowned for waterbirds.
Home to the world’s largest collection of swans, geese and ducks, it is also the only place where you can see all six species of flamingo. Visitors can download the new Wetlands Heroes’ family-friendly app, created by Aardman Studios.
The app encourages guests to explore the full extent of Slimbridge Wetland Centre, particularly the lesser-known areas through fact-finding missions and fun challenges for the whole family. In time for May half term the centre will be opening its new Mission Impossible attraction where you can hand-feed the nene, the world’s rarest goose, go behind the scenes at the duckeries and discover how WWT saves endangered species around the world using all sorts of innovative techniques.
July will see the opening of its new open-air Living Wetland Theatre and Waterscapes aviary. The 380-seat theatre will host free-flying bird demonstrations, a summer science programme, films and talks.
In the aviary, visitors can immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of a UK wetland.
Tickets: Adults from £14.50, children from £8.40, wwt.org.uk
The Welsh Wildlife Centre, Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire
Soak up panoramic views of the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve from the Glasshouse Cafe (Image: Welsh Wildlife )
You may be lucky enough to spy a colourful kingfisher from one of the many bird observation hides or witness otters playing in the Teifi River while enjoying a family picnic at this scenic wildlife centre.
Families also love exploring the nature trails on foot or two wheels, playing in the adventure playground, discovering the willow maze, meeting the resident water buffalo and friendly giant willow badger.
The Explorer Backpacks provide a variety of fun-filled activities. There’s also a geocaching trail.
Relax in the Glasshouse Cafe while soaking up the panoramic views of the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve, and enjoy the sweet surroundings after-hours with a stay at the cosy on-site Oak Tree Cottage, also known as the Cwtch.
River Lee Country Park, Greater London/Hertfordshire/Essex
Much of the site used to be a derelict home to redundant industry, sewage works and gravel pits (Image: River Lee Country Park )
Just over 50 years ago, much of this 10,000-acre site north of the M25 was a derelict home to redundant industry, sewage works, gravel pits, dumps and railway sidings.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority transformed it into a tranquil green space with world-class sporting facilities.
Its impressive new Wildlife Discovery Centre overlooks the Seventy Acres lake. Get a bird’s eye view from the two-tier gallery, or the CCTV in the Discovery Room allows you to zoom right into the buzz of nature. Book free tickets in advance.
There’s also outdoor activities including white-water rafting, mountain biking, tennis, horse riding and golf. Visitors can also use the state-of-the-art gym at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre, meet furry friends at the children’s Animal Adventure Park and enjoy the walking, running and cycling routes.
Lee Valley Caravan Park, Dobbs Weir, opened its luxury lodges last month. Lee Valley Regional Park’s campsites – Lee Valley Campsite in Sewardstone, Lee Valley Almost Wild Campsite in Broxbourne and Lee Valley Camping and Caravan Park, Edmonton – are open from May 17. visit leevalleypark. org.uk
Rye Harbour Discovery Centre, Sussex
Rye Harbour is one of the most biodiverse places in Britain (Image: Stuart Conway / Sussex Wildlife Trust )
A mosaic of saltmarshes, saline lagoons, freshwater gravel pits and reedbeds, the 1,110-acre Rye Harbour reserve is one of the most biodiverse places in Britain. It has 4,200 plant and animal species recorded, including more than 200 rare or endangered birds and mammals as well as a range of historic buildings including Henry VIII’s Camber Castle and the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House.
The new centre will offer an exciting programme of activities, conservation projects and weekend festivals. The centre will also house exhibitions, viewing platforms, a shop and cafe.
Outside will be the new Community Wildlife Garden containing rare and endangered species found on the reserve, amphitheatre-style seating and views over the River Rother.
Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick
Learn about playful marine mammals and giant seabird cities at the Scottish Seabird Centre (Image: James Glossop)
Delve into the diverse marine life of Scotland’s seas and you’ll learn about everything from deep sea corals and kelp forests to playful marine mammals and giant seabird cities.
At the centre’s Discovery Experience, there are all-new exhibits, games as well as the upgraded interactive live cameras on the world’s largest northern gannet colony, the Bass Rock.
You can also soak up the coastal views from the Seabird Cafe, browse the gift shop and get up close to the local wildlife on a range of seasonal boat trips.
Martin Mere Wetland Centre offers bird watching, guided walks, workshops and a canoe safari (Image: Andrew Teebay)
Home to thousands of rare birds, a cheeky family of otters and an all-star cast of pink flamingos and white storks, there are 800 acres of adventures to be had at this family-friendly site.
Go all-out with a day of splashing, dipping, playing, feeding and paddling.
There’s a full programme of activities including bird watching, guided walks, workshops and a canoe safari.Enjoy a snack before heading to the stepping stones or outdoor play area with a zip wire and treehouse.
Tickets: Adults from £13.40, children from £7.18, wwt.org.uk
Pensthorpe Natural Park, Fakenham, Norfolk
Pensthorpe Natural Park offers an immersive day out for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts (Image: Steve Adams)
The former home of BBC’s Springwatch offers a fully immersive day out for families, birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts and garden lovers.
Located along the river Wensum, visitors can explore its 700 acres dotted with woodland walks, nature trails and wetlands and discover its conservation projects of breeding endangered species and habitat restoration.
There are five stunning gardens, including the Millennium Garden by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. You can also meet Pensthorpe’s popular flamingo flock and ducks that will feed from the palm of your hand. Jump aboard the Pensthorpe Explorer truck to discover the secret side of the Wensum Valley. Kids will love the play areas of WildRootz and Hootz House. Plus there are plenty of hands-on activities such as den-building and wildlife spotting to inspire visitors to get closer to nature.
RSPB Minsmere provides a safe haven for birds (Image: Ben Andrew / RSPB)
Get your binoculars at the ready for some of the UK’s rarest wildlife at this scenic coastal nature reserve.
The “Disneyland” of bird reserves, due to its diverse habitats, the reedbeds, lowlands and shingle vegetation provide a safe haven for our feathered friends. Drop into the Wildlife Lookout, choose one of the peaceful walks or head to the coastal lagoons.
Tickets: Adults, £9, children, £5, or free entrance for first child or children under five. rspb.org.uk
Elvis was one of these romantic endeavours, as well.
According to the Elvis History Blog the King and Tuesday had a relationship when she was just 17-years-old.
The pair were working together on the film Wild in the Country, at the time.
Elvis insider Lamar Fike backed up these claims in 1995 when he wrote about the King in his tell-all book, Elvis: Truth, Myth & Beyond: An Intimate Conversation With Lamar Fike, Elvis’ Closest Friend & Confidant.
Within the book, Lamar wrote: “Elvis dated her a little. She had the a*s and legs, and Elvis liked that, and she’d baby-talk with him, but that was about it.”