Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ on the river!

IMG_5344Lisamarie Lamb of INSIDEKent and INSIDESussex Magazine recently took a trip with us from our Oxford base. Here’s her trip review:

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river…

And that was how the long weekend began. Driving from Kent to Oxford, the car stuffed full of clothes to suit most (but not all, it turns out) weathers, enough food to feed an army for a fortnight, and excitement fluttering in everyone’s stomachs, it was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary that we heard on the radio just as we – my husband, four year-old daughter, and I – pulled into the boatyard belonging to Anglo Welsh.

It was Proud Mary that we were humming as we got out of the car after two and a half hours, and started wondering which boat amongst the plethora of boats was to be ours for the next four days and three nights.

It’s Proud Mary that hasn’t left my head since. It’s a good thing I like the song.

After unloading the car, we were introduced to our boat, the rather pleasingly (for a Kentish Maid such as myself) named Romney. Romney is a narrowboat that has everything anyone could need for a short break away; a fully stocked kitchen that includes a full sized gas oven, a microwave, sink, kettle (very important), pots, pans, plates, mugs, glasses, and even a tablecloth and napkins. Nothing has been forgotten.

There is also a seating area which turns into a bedroom containing two single beds. During the day, however, a small table can be placed in between the beds/benches to create a dining area. There is a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and excellent shower, and another bed at the rear of the boat, although this one is a double.

We fell in love with Romney there and then.

Learning to drive her was something that was left to my husband, Dean, as I settled Alice into her life jacket and unpacked. He had been very keen to get behind the rudder, and, having tried – and failed – to steer boats in the past (two rather unfortunate and almost dangerous occurrences spring to mind, one in a rowing boat in America, the other in a speedboat in Turkey), I was not. I did like the idea of sitting back and letting the Thames drift by though. The thing with a narrowboat, though, as I’ve since learned, is that no one gets to duck out of the work!

Anglo Welsh’s John who drives the boats came with us for our first foray out onto the water, and we – with his expert guidance – were soon chugging along. He said that he would stay with us until the first lock, at which point he could disembark and walk back home, leaving us to continue our journey. We were planning to head to Oxford and moor up there for the night, but time was ticking on, and the locks – locks! – are only manned from 9am until 6pm. After that you can still go through them, but it’s all self-service. The idea did not appeal, at least not on our first night, so we were keen to keep moving.

The lock loomed up at us, and I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous. I had a job to do now, and that job, although it sounded simple, required a steady hand and nerves of steel. I had to throw (lasso) a mooring rope over a metal post from the front of the boat before we reached the lock gate. Dean had to do the same at the back, whilst also cutting the engine and steering to the bank.

It took a bit of practice.

But we did it.

By the end of the four days, we became experts at locks. We passed through four of them on the way to Oxford, and the same four on the way back to Eynsham, where Anglo Welsh is based. Only once did we have to do it all ourselves; the rest of the time the wonderful lock keepers were there to help us, taking the ropes, giving clear instructions, and chatting as the lock filled or emptied of water.

It was the lovely couple at Godstow Lock who suggested that, once in Oxford, we might like to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. It sounded ideal, especially as Alice has a rather macabre streak for a four year old (I blame the parents) and loves mummies, witches, ghosts, and all manner of ghouls. So Pitt Rivers was out first stop once we reached Oxford, which we did on the second day.

By that time we were rather cocky about our narrowboat skills – it really doesn’t take long to get the hang of it all. We pulled up just before Oxney Lock, where mooring is free for 24 hours, and then just £5 per day after that.

Oxford was a fascinating place, full of interesting things to do but, not having that much time before we needed to head back (bear in mind that, although Oxford is only five miles of so from Eynsham, narrowboats move at around one mile an hour). We visited the Ashmolean, the Natural History Museum of Oxford (dinosaurs!), and the Pitt Rivers (twice), the highlight of which was the witch in the bottle. Alice still talks about it.

After a wonderful time in Oxford, it was time to head back. We somewhat reluctantly said goodbye to our moorings – our home for 36 hours – and headed back. But the day was darkening, and we needed dinner so we stopped earlier than intended. And that may have been the best decision we made all weekend.

We had spotted the ruins of an old building just by the river, and had been keen to investigate, so this was where we moored up, right next to it, on a gentle stretch of the Thames. I’ve made it sound so easy. This is where we had issues – the river may have looked gentle, but the current was strong, and although I had leapt nimbly off the boat to tie us up, the back end started to drift off, leaving me holding a rope attached to a few tons of metal and wood, and Dean desperately trying to get Romney back to the bank without dragging me into the water.

Our desperate shouts alerted a couple – we never did get their names in all our panic – who had already moored a little way upriver, and they ran swiftly to our aid, instructing Dean how to get the boat back where it was meant to be, and showing me how to moor up safely.

It was a tense few minutes, but, once done, and once our thanks had been showered on these wonderful strangers (boat people are incredibly friendly – you will always have help when you need it), we sat back to admire the view. And to do some googling.

The ruins were Godstow Abbey and Nunnery, a once grand place that was now just a shell, albeit a beautifully creepy one. We explored, and we wished we had more time. This is where Lewis Carroll had often taken Alice Liddell and her sisters for picnics, and I wondered what incredible stories he had told them here.

After a superb dinner in the pub that could be seen from the boat – The Trout – we settled down for our last night on Romney.

The next day, as we headed back to Eynsham and Anglo Welsh, we were happy, relaxed, and willing to do it all again.

 

Great Canal Journeys returns to our screens

Great Canal Journeys: Series 2

This Sunday 15 March at 8pm, the second series of Timothy West and Prunella Scales’ popular ‘Great Canal Journeys’ begins on Channel 4.

Last year, to mark their golden wedding anniversary, the self-confessed ‘canal nuts’ decided to let the world in on their secret and were filmed pootling around some of England’s 2,000 miles of waterway for a television series.

It proved to be an entirely charming insight not just into their unexpected hobby, but also their longstanding love affair – so charming, in fact, that they have returned for more.

This time the couple are filmed undertaking four new journeys, the first of them along the Oxford Canal (aboard an Anglo Welsh boat), where they took their very first boating holiday as a family with sons Sam and Joseph nearly 40 years ago.

When recently interviewed about the new series, Pru said to the Daily Mail: “It feels like only yesterday that our two boys were running up and down the towpath opening and shutting locks then at the end of the day flopping exhausted onto their bunks.”

Their elder son, the actor Sam West, also a narrowboat holiday enthusiast, joins them for part of the Oxford Canal journey and they also meet up with the author Philip Pullman along the way.

The second episode (22 March) will see them travel through London by canal, for the third they will be in France (29 March) and for the fourth and final episode, Scotland (5 April).

Sailing on a cloud

Aqueduct

Broadchurch star Matthew Gravelle was at the centre of the biggest TV whodunnit since ‘who shot JR?’. Last summer, the Welsh actor took his wife, Hinterland star Mali Harries, and kids on an Anglo Welsh canal boat holiday, setting off from our Trevor base in North Wales on a true-life family adventure. Here’s his narrowboat holiday review, published in Wales View 2015:

We’re heading for the Llangollen Canal, built as part of a network of waterways to connect the coalfields and limestone quarries of Denbighshire to the Midlands.

Its most notable feature is Thomas Telford’s Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the highest and longest in Britain, 984 feet (300m) in length and soaring 98 feet (40 m) above the River Dee.

We arrive at Trevor Basin to collect our boat, a traditional barge called Brenig, which appears to be painted in British Racing Green (odd, since the speed limit is 4 mph (6.4kph).

The children scramble on and explore, while I get an hour of instruction from the nice man from Anglo Welsh on how to skipper the thing. By the time we push off from our mooring, I know the theory, but actually steering this immense beast – it’s got an old-fashioned tiller, rather than a wheel – takes some getting used to.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the easy bit. Telford thoughtfully built it in an arrow-straight line, and the cast iron walls are only just wide enough to pass through, so steering isn’t an issue. Instead I can take in the exhilarating views as we float serenely in mid-air.

I was enjoying the ride so much I didn’t really think about how it was coming to an end. There are two barges coming in the opposite direction and I seem to have forgotten everything I learnt about steering. I bump into a poor unsuspecting barge owner, causing him to throw his supper into his lap. Oops. Sorry.

Back at our mooring, we feast on Llandegla smoked trout, with broad beans and new potatoes from my dad’s garden. After supper we do old-fashioned family stuff – play cards, draw pictures.

As night falls, the children settle into their cabin and enjoy the best night’s sleep of the trip. It’s a really cosy and comfortable place to sleep, like a stretched caravan, except better insulated, with its own wood-burner.

A new day dawns and this driving lark seems much easier today. It gives us the opportunity to relax and spot nooks and corners that you don’t see from any road.

“It’s like sailing on a cloud,” observes Ela.

 

An adventure on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Stan canal boat1

Liz Taylor reviewed her Anglo Welsh canal boat holiday from our Tardebigge base in Live 24-Seven Magazine, published February 2015:

I recently had the opportunity to go on a canal boat holiday with Anglo Welsh – a life on the ocean waves…Well not really ocean waves, but a water-based holiday that I hadn’t really considered before! I’m normally used to holidaying with my family in Europe throughout the summer months, so an altogether different adventure that embraced some of the UK’s stunning scenery ‘afloat’ seemed an interesting alternative for my family and I, including an inquisitive 10-year-old son!

If I’m honest, I was a little apprehensive about spending a whole five days in a confined space with my family! What if the weather wasn’t on our side? And most of all, the idea of navigating our way through the locks seemed a little challenging, but the Anglo Welsh team soon allayed my fears when we met at the Tardebigge station.

I was taken aback when I first saw the canal boat, very impressive, it was nothing like I imagined. A home on water, a boutique space with fully equipped kitchen, separate living area and two spacious bedrooms, superbly decorated with every amenity you would or could need. My son could hardly contain his excitement when we boarded the Silver Dove, that sense of adventure if offered over boarding a plane and playing by a pool was like a magnet for him!

After thorough instructions on the etiquette of canal boating and how to master the locks, which is a lot easier than you imagine, we set off. The weather was on our side, but I can imagine it would be equally good fun even if it weren’t. We took in the glory of the scenery and the refreshments of so many super local pubs along the route – there’s a whole other offering waterside that I’d never tapped in to. To put the kitchen through its paces and see how a family could cope cooking on board, we decided to eat in on several evenings and found the whole experience a real joy – there’s something to be said for preparing a meal whilst the beautiful scenery outside your window changes constantly.

We were surprised by the clarity of the waters along the journey and the ease at which we were able to just moor up or stop and take in the surroundings. The trip can be as peaceful or as much fun as you want to make it, for my husband and I it somewhat captured that sense of adventure and excitement we had on a trip of any sort as a child – recapturing our youth – but we also noted that there were all sorts of age groups holidaying on canal boats from twenty-somethings to families and retirees.

Our son has already requested we book a canal boat for next summer and after sharing our experience with friends, we’re planning an adults only gastro cruise with copious amounts of wine and laughter on the menu. If you’re enticed to taken in the countryside without the hassle of the roads, I recommend Anglo Welsh, the canal boats are luxurious and well-equipped and the friendly, helpful advice given by the staff really does enable you to relax and enjoy all that the holiday can offer!

Anglo Welsh helps Julia Bradbury explore the Wonder of Britain

The Wonder of BritainJulia Bradbury presents the new prime time ITV series ‘The Wonder of Britain’, beginning Tuesday 6 January.

The five-part series begins with a look at Britain’s beautiful buildings and in the second instalment, which focuses on our industrial story, Julia will be seen cruising along the Llangollen Canal aboard an Anglo Welsh boat.

Rob Lawrence, Managing Director of Anglo Welsh, explains: “We were delighted to be involved in Julia’s exciting new television series which looks at different aspects of what makes Britain so great.

“She took our aptly named Bond Class boat ‘Julia’ across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and amazed us all with her depth of knowledge of the structure and its history.”

The programme airs on Tuesday nights at 9pm, starting on the 6 January.

Getting away from it all in Worcestershire

Copy of Stan canal boat1

Tristan Harris, from the Bromsgrove Standard, took a day trip from our Tardebigge canal boat hire base earlier this year.  Here’s his review:

With the stresses and strains that present themselves in 2014 Britain, it seems a lot of us – me included – are constantly trying to get away from it all when we can.

I have always been an advocate of the camping holiday – the green fields, the time away from the computer and the Internet and the chance to spend some much-needed quality time with the family.

So when I was given the opportunity to take out a narrowboat for the day I jumped at the chance.
Prior to the outing, I didn’t know what to expect, packing a flask, sandwiches and all the other things associated with a communal garden picnic.

But, when you get on the boat you realise that none of that was needed.

The boat had a four-hob gas stove, kettle, microwave, a toilet, even a TV and – for those staying longer – two bedrooms to accommodate a family of four easily, along with a shower.

The staff at Anglo Welsh in Tardebigge could not have been nicer.

After kitting-out the little ones – mine are six-years-old and 22 months – with life jackets, the member we spoke to took me through all I needed to know – from starting, stopping and steering the boat to all the facilities available on the vessel and the map detailing where we could head to.

As we left the marina, he stayed with us for the first part of the journey and then we were on our own – to experience and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the waterways.

To begin with, it all seemed so daunting – I had been told more in 20 minutes about narrowboating than I had in my whole entire life up until then. It seemed a lot to take in. But, as with anything, you don’t really understand what you have been told until you get to put it into practice.

When I got into it, the worries and cares I usually face on a day-to-day basis seemed to drift away so quickly.

As a family of four, we organised it so that whoever was with the two children focused on that and the other person drove the boat and this worked well.

Everyone we met along the way, from fellow boaters and those fishing on the banks, to joggers, cyclists or dog-walkers along the tow-paths, were incredibly friendly and it became apparent there was a kind of brotherhood (or sisterhood) of people who enjoy the waterways.

Things were going smoothly on our journey out and I found different kinds of tranquility. If you were at the back of the boat, you were on your own and even the din of the engine seemed therapeutic after a while. If you were up the front, although there were two children there, you could not even hear the sound of the engine and the silence was quite engulfing.

That was the same as the stretches of water we navigated. Some, which were so green with overhanging bushes and trees, with their feeling of remoteness gave you the feeling you were almost somewhere else – cruising into undiscovered lands.

But others, where there was traffic flowing by the side of you or above, were equally as charming.

That illustrated perfectly what canal boat holidays are all about – giving you the feeling that while others were rushing about their daily lives, you were wallowing away the hours, taking your time to get from A to B and enjoying the process of getting there.

Our chosen stop was the Hopwood Inn where we moored up for a drink whilst the children used up some of their energy on the play area.

As we attempted to turn the boat around to start our journey back, we encountered our first real difficulties. But, we also experienced the true spirit of the waterways.

After two hours cruising, all the advice about turning the narrowboat to face the opposite direction had gone out of my mind.

Then a gentleman from Banbury, who had seen us struggling, talked me through exactly what to do and before I knew it the boat was back on its journey home.

He explained he had been boating for 60 years and it was a case of learning as you went along – a fact which became even more apparent on the way back.

Half an hour later, we ran aground and, despite doing all we had been told – reversing to begin with then going forward, we could not get the boat back into the centre of the canal.

One man – from Hemel Hempstead (I also learnt you get to meet people from all over the country on the waterways) climbed aboard and helped me get the boat out of its predicament. That was done by using a pole to push away from the bank, reversing and then going forward. He also gave me a few more tips (as did the man from Banbury) on navigating the waterways.

After that, and using the advice from the Anglo Welsh staff and my fellow boaters, the trip back was pretty smooth.

One other daunting prospect was the tunnel which was just about wide enough for two boats to pass.
As we entered, there was another boat coming the other way and it did, to be fair, look like there would not be enough room.

But, easing off on the acceleration and with some pretty careful navigation, that obstacle was overcome no problem.

Another highlight of the trip back was that while we were in the tunnel, from the boat behind (which had helped rescue us from our previous predicament) came some loudly played classical music. It reverberated around the tunnel, sounding almost concert-like. I’m not sure if that is a boaters’ tradition or just something that particular boat owner did, but it certainly was a memorable part of the journey.

We managed to get the boat back with a minute or two to spare and as we returned the keys, we felt fully refreshed by our six hours on the waterways.

We had been offered the chance to take the boat out for a few days (but with a temperamental toddler, we felt it safer to just go for the day).

In hindsight, and seeing her reaction – one of adventure and wonderment – we probably would have been fine. From the dogs walking on the tow-paths and the other boats to the ducks, geese, coots and other birds residing in the water, she was kept well-entertained by everything that was going on.

All in all, it was a fantastic day out and, now having done it, and after finding out how family-friendly the waterways are, we should have made a real break of it and gone for longer.

Celebrate Christmas on the canals

Feb - ww_31247 - appleybridge003 (2)

Britain’s canals can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Five of our bases offer winter cruising canal boat hire, giving narrowboat holiday-makers the chance to enjoy cosy evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake-up to frosty towpaths and crisp clean air.

Whether it’s a snug boat for two or a family break for six, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat offers a great getaway. It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base to enjoy new year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Bath, Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Our prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £605 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £840.

Here’s a list of our bases offering winter canal boat holidays:

Travel to Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon offers the chance to cruise to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back. Cosy country pubs to enjoy along the way include the George Inn at Bathampton, once a 12th-century monastery, and the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe, with panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds.

Take a lock free journey to Birmingham…Birmingham is just a five-hour cruise away from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal – with no locks to negotiate. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to the bars, restaurants, shops and museums at Brindley Place and the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres.

Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the Llangollen Canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee. From our base at Trevor, next to the aqueduct, the village of Llangollen is a two-hour cruise to the west and to the east, Ellesmere is a seven-hour journey through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen.

Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…our base at Great Haywood, at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire, offers a variety of routes. On a week’s cruise canal boat holiday-makers can head up the Trent & Mersey Canal to the Caldon Canal, and travel through the beautiful Churnet Valley. Those on a short break can head to the town of Fazeley, via the pretty canal village of Fradley on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Moor up in Stratford upon Avon…it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon from our base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire. Boaters can moor up in Stratford canal basin, a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

Our most frequent floaters!

Bond 6 - Buckland

Last month, as reported in the Wootton Wawen Magazine, Bill and Mavis Reeder and Tia, their fluffy coated Yorkshire terrier, set off from our Wootton Wawen base to enjoy their 61st cruise with Anglo Welsh.

The Reeders have been taking regular canal boat holidays with Anglo Welsh for the last 30 years, with 40 of their trips starting from our base on the Stratford Canal.

Alistair King, who works at our Wootton Wawen base, says: “No one equals that. They have become our most frequent floaters, certainly enough to earn a loyalty discount!”

Our Wootton base attracts tourists from all continents and a few days before the Reeders booked to go out on the 68ft long six-berth Bond Class ‘Buckland’, three other boats hosted 30 musicians from all over the UK meeting up for a stag weekend.

The Reeders, who live in Bristol, have set out from nearly all our bases on week and fortnight long journeys, bringing just enough supplies to get them started.

“We can top up as we travel but prefer eating out at canalside inns, the first night usually at the Navigation,” said Bill, a retired structural engineer, aged 77.

When asked if they had ever considered ocean cruising, Bill replied “We have friends who do it, but I think I would be bored at sea – and Tia would have to go to kennels. On the canals you are in close contact with different communities every mile of the way.”

On the latest trip they planned late starts and early evening mooring, still enough time for a return trip as far as the junction with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Kings Norton.

“On other occasions we’ve been onto the Grand Union and in the opposite direction to Stratford and onto the Avon, and Tia loves it,” said Bill. “We’re familiar with all the locks, so we just relax and let the world go by.

“Yes, we could have bought our own boat with what we have spent, but this way all the maintenance and licensing is done for you and we just turn up to find everything ready for us.”

Britain’s Great Journeys – a cruise along the K&A

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Discover Britain Magazine (1 October 2014) describes a canal boat holiday from Bath to Devizes: distance – 22 miles (and 43 locks); duration – about two days, longer if you stop to look at all the sights:

Our narrowboat holiday begins at the historic city of Bath, where the Kennet & Avon Canal leaves the River Avon Navigation. However, before heading eastwards along the canal, we start with an absolute ‘must’ for anyone visiting the city by water.

Just before the point where the river meets the canal there’s a short dead-end length of the Avon that leads into the heart of the city. Having taken the diversion, we cruise right up to Pulteney Weir, in full view of the city’s famous Pulteney Bridge, Parade Gardens and the Rec, Bath Rugby club’s famous stadium, before turning round and returning to the junction.

Here, a sharp left turn takes us into the bottom lock of the Widcombe Flight and the start of our trip along this superlative stretch of canal.

Although there used to be seven locks in Widcombe, there are now only six. Back in the 1970s when a new road was being built that needed to cross the canal, two of the locks were combined into one new one to make the job easier. The result was the cavernous Bath Deep Lock – one of the deepest on the entire canal system, which raises us almost 20ft.

As the locks lift us up the valley side, there are splendid views across the city.
With the locks safely negotiated, two short tunnels take the canal on through Sydney Gardens: the impressive Georgian Cleveland House which stands directly above the tunnel entrance was once the canal company headquarters.

Then Bath is left behind as we cruise eastwards along the hillside through Bathampton, with an assortment of moored houseboats for company and a couple of swing-bridges to provide some gentle exercise for our crew.

The hills close in and the wooded valley narrows as we enter one of the most attractive parts of the route, through Limpley Stoke and Avoncliffe. Twice, the canal turns and abrupt corner and launches out the river on the find Dundas and Avoncliffe aqueducts, both built in the characteristic local Bath stone.

Avoncliff Aqueduct is accompanied by the Cross Guns canalside pub, but apart from that it’s a quiet, secluded route with little to remind us of the outside world apart from the occasional train passing on the nearby railway line.

The valley opens out again as we arrive at Bradford-on-Avon, an attractive old town and a handy stopping-place for boaters with its shops and pubs.

We also reach the first lock since we left Bath; the wharf area around the lock is popular with local people so we’re assured of an audience as we pass through.

Quiet open countryside characterises the canal as it continues eastwards, skirting the north edge of Trowbridge and passing Hilperton and Staverton villages.

Semington is a pretty village, which was where the Wilts & Berks Canal used to branch north eastwards for Swindon and the River Thames. It closed a century ago, but there’s a campaign to reopen it, so perhaps Semington will one day be an important junction once again.

The two Semington Locks are followed by a flight of five (accompanied by a waterside pub) at Seend – but there are just a hint of what is to come.

By Lower Foxhangers Bridge we reach the first of the 29 locks leading up to Devizes – the second longest flight of locks in the country, and by far the most impressive. They begin gently enough, but after we’ve climbed the first half dozen we catch sight of the main series of 16 locks marching up the hillside at Caen Hill, in close succession with barely a boat’s length between them.#

The final six locks are more spread out, but we breathe a sigh of relief on arriving at Devizes Wharf in the knowledge that it’s another 15 miles before we’ll have to push a lock-gate or wind a paddle again.

This is where we end our journey, tied up at the historic wharf by the canal museum, at the heart of the historic market town of Devizes in Wiltshire.

Nearby Attractions

Bath’s famous sights – the Pump Room, the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey – are within easy walking distance of the canal. And there are other less well-known attractions, such as the Herschel Astronomy Museum, the Jane Austen Centre and Postal Museum.

Just a few miles further east the canal passes Claverton Pumping Station, open to the public and in operation on occasional weekends in summer.

Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts are splendid structures well worth stopping to look at, and on the approach to Bradford on Avon the canal passes the Great Tithe Barn.  Built in the 14th century and one of the best examples in the country, it is part of Barton medieval farm which is open to the public. Bradford is a fine old town on the Avon and its Saxon church is one of England’s best-preserved.

Devizes is an old country market town with many attractions – not least the flight of 29 locks by which the canal arrives in the town. The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust runs a shop and museum on the wharf, and for real ale lovers Wadworth’s Brewery makes its presence felt, with the company’s traditional horse-drawn drays still used.

A narrow escape on the Kennet & Avon

AW Dundas Aqueduct (low res)

Jenny Mark-Bell reviewed her Anglo Welsh canal boat holiday, from our Bradford on Avon base, for Sussex Life Magazine and discovered a ‘genial sense of community’:

It doesn’t take long to adapt to the slow rhythm of a narrow boat, sailing the Kennet & Avon Canal between Bradford and Bath.

 If you’ve always fancied yourself as a sailor but don’t know your port from your starboard, you could do worse than a narrow boat.

These stately craft are so sedate – breaking the four mph threshold is strictly verboten – that there’s plenty of time to practise your nautical knots. And the best thing about this enforced slow motion is that it quickly brings a sense of peace and relaxation all of its own. Lapping water, wildlife and rising with the dawn made our trip a memorable experience.

Our journey along the waterways began at Bradford-on-Avon, a picturesque west Wiltshire town, with its traditional pubs and tea room all aglow with the buttery shade of the local Bath Stone.

We were only eight miles from Bath here, but our progress along the Kennet & Avon Canal would be leisurely, so after collecting the 58’ ‘Carol Ann’ we moored for the night, close to the town’s lock.

The Kennet & Avon Canal crosses the country in its 87-mile route from Reading to Bristol. This long stretch comprises two lengths of river linked by a canal. It was constructed in the late 18th and 19th centuries, later falling into disuse and dereliction when it was superseded by the Great Western Railway.

It is largely thanks to the work of volunteers that the canal has fully reopened, and although it no longer plays a vital role in transporting raw materials, it exerts a strong pull on tourists.

We saw a number of narrow boat novices gliding into the sides with a slow inevitability, and more experienced boat people like Will, Skipper of The Coal Boat, good-naturedly hauling them (okay, us) out. With such a long time to get to know each other – overtaking isn’t really an option – we became quite pally with the sailors we met, and everyone was keen to offer help when somebody ran aground.

While many of the craft were brightly painted with traditional designs, others were sleek and modern.

The first stretch of our trip was from Bradford up to Avoncliff Aqueduct. Despite unseasonably cold weather, and the boat’s natural propensity to act as a sail at windy points, this was uneventful enough. We spotted a moorhen with chicks, and ducklings galore, but sadly none of the apparently common kingfishers.

After unwisely snubbing pubs at Avoncliff and Dundas and putting off our lunch stop until Bathampton – it is impossible to overstate how slowly one travels by canal. We were ravenous.

At Bradford Marina our instructor had told us to allow a good six hours to get to Bath, but we’d clearly gone at a fair clip because at just under four hours we had plenty of time to spare. With the sun shining, Bathampton looked beautiful and the cosy pub was doing a roaring trade.

‘Carol Ann’ was small as canal boats go, but amply fitted out for our needs. There were four berths, a small kitchen and a seating area, as well as a basic bathroom with running water and even a shower. The kitchen was impressive too, with an oven and fridge – everything you could wish for, really, for a short break.

As we neared Bath, the number of festive vessels increased steeply. Birthdays of all ages, and pre-nuptial bacchanals seemed the most common.

For a short trip, it is wise to moor outside of Bath, otherwise you’ll find yourself caught in the knot of locks at the entry to the city. There is a turning place at the Marina of which we were happy to avail ourselves.

The short stretch from Bradford to Bath makes it easy for novices. There is just one lock – mercifully manned the first time we tackled it – and several swing bridges, which didn’t present any problems.

The canal was markedly less busy on Sunday, with fewer day-trippers traversing the water.

After two days, we had adjusted to life on the water. No longer frustrated by walkers on the towpath overtaking us at a brisk walk, we were sorry to leave the peace of the canal – and its genial sense of community.