A holiday on an English narrowboat

Rainy day outside narrowboatHave you ever thought of pottering about the beautifully scenic canals of England on a narrowboat? We did, and by exchanging WorldMark Credits with RCI we made it possible.

We had been told that canal exchange weeks are eagerly sought after, so we contacted RCI early and made our request as general as possible – a week on any canal in the month of August. We were delighted when we received a phone call within two weeks. We were offered a week on the Trent-Mersey Canal with Canaltime and immediately accepted it.

When we arrived at Sawley Marina, we left our baggage at the office and headed off to Long Eaton to do the necessary shopping but we’d been warned not to take too much food – there are plenty of pubs and villages on the way and good food is not at all hard to find!

Returning to the marina, we were given two hours instruction on the intricacies of operating canal locks, culminating with one-on-one practice on the narrowboat we would have for the week. Then we were off on our own.

the narrowboat

The narrowboat we hired for seven days

I’ll now include a brief description of a narrow boat for those who have never been on one before. They are definitely narrow. Ours was 2.1metres (7 feet) wide by 14.5metres (48 feet) long and weighed 11 tonnes. At the stern, there was a deck with tiller with a horseshoe-shaped bench around the edge, to sit on and watch the world pass slowly by. Then down a few steps to the lounge that seconded as dining room and thirded as a double bedroom if needed. Past that was a fully equipped kitchen with fridge/freezer, stove and plenty of equipment. Next was the bathroom with shower and everything necessary to be completely independent on the water. Last but not least was the bedroom taking up all of the sharp end (excuse the technical term). It had a kingsize bed and lots of bedding in case of cold weather.

With our gear safely stowed and training over, we started our seven days of adventure. The first fun event was the first lock. Luckily it was a double lock and we joined up with a really nice experienced boatsman taking his narrowboat single-handed in the same direction. He was happy to help us and give us the benefit of his knowledge and share the work for a couple of days.

Guiding the narrowboat into a single lock

Guiding the narrowboat into a single lock – quite a tight squeeze!

Again, for those who have not had the pleasure of woman-handling a lock, here’s what Jan had to do when we negotiated an empty lock, sailing upstream. I’d head the boat to the bank and flick the tiller fully over, to swing the stern into the bank. Once near enough, Jan would grab her ‘paddle tool’ and jump ashore, taking the central rope and looping it around a bollard before handing it for me to keep the boat firmly at the bank. She’d then climb up to the lock and open both of the nearest massive gates (some of them weigh 2,500kg each!). I’d steer in, often with only centimetres of space each side. After Jan closed the gates behind me, she’d use the tool to turn the paddles that allow water to rush in under the narrow boat. This was often quite a strain and Jan was soon developing muscles. Once enough water was in, the front paddles were opened and soon the water in the lock was as high as the canal ahead. Now all that was left was for Jan to open the front gates, against the pressure of the water – she soon developed muscles on her muscles!

Towpath on the side of canal

One side of the canal is quite overgrown by the forest but the towpath is cleared and often used to walk the dog, to ride the bike or just to go fishing

At most of the locks we encountered, there were other boats and the job was most often shared. It wasn’t always a huge task and these encounters with other travelers on the canal were very useful, as assistance and information was shared. The most common subject was the best eateries on the way ahead, village markets and places of interest. But the most interesting thing for us was the English countryside. We’d chug along at seven knots passing through the outskirts of a city here, a small village there and lots of farmland and forest everywhere. We’d pass people walking on the canal side used in the eighteenth century by horses pulling the canal barges. Now walkers and cyclists enjoy the towpaths who would invariably call happy greetings to us as we pass. Everyone we met was so happy and helpful. It was a fantastic holiday.

Low bridge

How low some of the bridges are – It’s a good idea to keep looking forward if you’re very tall!

And all this was not at all expensive. We exchanged 10,000 Credits – the equivalent of a week in a two bedroom unit. There was a charge for fuel but it wasn’t a lot. So we could afford this wonderful holiday, thanks to WorldMark and RCI.


2 thoughts on “A holiday on an English narrowboat

  1. When your week was up did you leave the boat that end or did you have to take the boat back to start. Jann

    • Hi Jann and Laurie,
      we travelled 3.5 days in one direction then turned back and returned the boat to the marina. In future we’ll hire a boat for longer because there are lots of canals and many have ‘triangles’ where you can travel three canals to return to where you started. There are also many companies hiring out narrowboats and some have marinas in different places so you can, I believe, take one out from one of them and return it to another.
      We didn’t mind making the journey twice because none of it was boring and we saw things coming back we’d missed going the other way. The main thing, though, was we found it great fun. I hope you try it and enjoy it. But don’t forget, if you have specific needs going through RCI you are better putting your order in early to have more chance of getting what you want.

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