‘I went on my first ever canal boat holiday – bringing food and a map are key’

For my first holiday on a narrowboat I had visions of relaxing with a drink in hand or catching up with a good book, gliding past peaceful countryside.

But they were swiftly swept away after a lesson on steering and managing locks.

This mini-break would be more like a workout at a scenic gym, sprinting up towpaths to locks, heaving ropes, turning winches and generally putting my muscles to the test over the next two days.

READ MORE: Tips for planning your first narrowboat staycation – from clothes to pub trips

Fortunately I had two enthusiastic little helpers, my children, eager to do their bit, and my husband of course.

And once we had got the hang of it, initial anxieties soon disappeared and we all had great fun.

Our home-from-home was Julie, a four-berth boat, hired from Black Prince Holidays. Stepping on board she was modern and clean, and had everything you could need for a comfy and cosy break.

We travelled from Black Prince’s Stoke Prior base to Worcester, which meant tackling 20 locks each day and roughly seven hours of cruising – perhaps a little ambitious for first-timers on a canal boat with two children in tow. Ideally I would aim for four or five hours cruising time a day.

But narrowboat holidays are a great active family adventure and a fantastic way to reach parts of the country you may not usually visit. Once we left our base the open countryside was quite a surprise and our boys delighted in the wildlife along the waterway, spotting plenty of swans and ducks!

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the brilliant blue plumage of a kingfisher which was a first for me. Darting along in overhanging branches, it was too quick for the rest of my party to witness.

On the other hand, our leisurely pace of travel meant we could fully take in the sights of towns and cities along the way such as Worcester with its beautiful cathedral, viewing places from a unique perspective and with some interesting locks to manoeuvre.

And leaving your car behind, you definitely get the sense of stepping away from a road well-travelled.

My worries about keeping the peace between bickering children in a small space were happily unfounded. There was more than enough to keep us busy and entertained, and with everyone having a sense of purpose, together with perfect teamwork, it was quite simply plain sailing.

On a future trip I would look at travelling with another family or more adults, so we could alternate jobs. While hubby was feeling the chill of the autumn weather at the steering wheel of the boat, I was working up a sweat.

People we met along the way were generally helpful and welcoming, and we picked up useful tips chatting to other boat users at locks and pit stops. A worker from the Canal and River Trust proved to be a real gem.

His wise words to me and my son on safety at the locks and operating them, and tips on steering and handling the boat to my husband, were invaluable.

Although he must meet umpteen parties a day crossing his path, we were struck by his enthusiasm and willingness to impart his knowledge to clueless first-timers.

Our family thoroughly enjoyed the experience and now knowing the ropes we all heartily agreed we would gladly get back on board for another adventure afloat.

Top tips for first-timers

  • Do bring food and provisions or arrange for delivery to the boat depot for your arrival. Depending on the route you take there may not be any shops that are close to the canal.
  • Do watch the canal-boat holiday company’s videos to give you an idea of what to expect.
  • Don’t set yourself too far to travel in one day and make sure you have time to enjoy the scenery and take in the local pubs and sights etc.
  • Do plan your route to take in when you may need water points or find a mooring for the night. Staff from Black Prince Holidays can suggest recommended routes and stops along the way.
  • Don’t get complacent. It’s easy to become a bit blasé once you’ve completed a few locks but that’s when accidents can happen.
  • Do try to go with the flow. Although you may not complete the route you set out to do that day, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Book the holiday

Black Prince operates canal holidays from nine bases across the UK. July and August three-night weekend or four-night midweek short breaks from Stoke Prior, Worcestershire, start from £1,149 for up to five sharing, plus one dog. Diesel extra, around £15 per day. Find out more on black-prince.com

You can also get more information at visitworcestershire.org.


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