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A uniquely bonding experience

AW Edstone Aqueduct low res

Lucy Cavendish reviewed her canal boat holiday from our Wootton Wawen base in The Daily Mail:

Narrowboats are bobbing gently. The sun is even shining. In fact, it’s pretty much how the brochures show it, as my family and I — four children, one dog and a male partner — prepare for a week on the Stratford Canal.

I am hoping it will be glamorous in a sort-of a Calista Flockhart-Harrison Ford type of a way. If you remember, a few years ago, the golden couple hired a narrowboat on the Llangollen canal in Shropshire. Ford was quoted as saying he couldn’t wait to return — but there’s been no sighting as yet.

Narrowboats are a relatively cheap way to spend time together — and that’s just what you do. There’ll not be much escape.

In fact, I know it sounds ambitious to stick all of us together in a tiny space. My children are aged from six to 17 and are usually active and noisy. Actually, this could be a disaster.

We turn up at the Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base in Wootton Wawen, just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, laden down with everything we think we need for a week away; bicycles, waterproofs, packs of cards, Monopoly, Cluedo, not a Wii or Xbox in sight. Thank goodness, our 65ft boat, Silver Spirit, has lots of storage.

But how on earth are we going to get this behemoth along the canals of Stratford?

Before we set off, the man from Anglo-Welsh shows us around the boat.

‘Only a television?’ says my teenager. Then we get to the complicated bit, which revolves around a set of tasks to perform at the beginning and end of the day. The boat needs to be put to bed every night and woken up again in the morning — electrics need turning off, water needs pumping back in.

Then, after a quick driving lesson, we are off, heading towards a narrow aqueduct. I’m nervous. But my partner doesn’t turn a hair. He sails over the aqueduct in a perfectly manly way. Maybe we’ll be fine.

First night, we moor up at Wilmcote, a beautiful spot where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, lived. I start to relax. Three of the children leap off the boat and begin kicking a ball around the towpath. My 17-year-old plugs in his iPod. My partner gets the barbecue out. ‘Best way to cook,’ he says. Minutes later, he’s hopping around in agony. ‘I’ve been bitten five times,’ he shouts. It seems we’ve moored next to a wasp nest.

The next day, we rise ridiculously early to tackle the endless locks that lead down to the Stratford-upon-Avon basin. I manage to persuade my 17-year-old to get up with me in order to help.
We chug towards Lock No 1 which we negotiate with aplomb — only a tiny bit of bumping. We carry on through the next five.

By Lock No 6, I’m getting fed up. There’s lots of winding and unwinding involved. Then, just as the smaller three children appear bleary-eyed, we glide out of a narrow opening straight into the Stratford Basin.

It’s an incredible thing to do. One minute we are on a narrow canal, the next we are slap-bang in the centre of Stratford. We’re a cork popped out of a bottle. Then we try to moor up. This is almost impossible in a 65ft boat. We bash in to everyone, rocking a boat selling ice creams back and forth.

The man shouts at us. People on the side of the basin stand and watch. It’s embarrassing, but eventually, we manage it.

Time for a look around Stratford. We see Shakespeare’s grave and inspect the theatre. It feels special to be moored in the middle of such a beautiful, historic town. The children love it, but they soon want to get back on the boat and set off again.

Post-Stratford, we’re in a rhythm and feeling confident. Some days we are lulled into a sense of calm by the river. We spend the mornings drifting down the Avon watching the world go by. We moor up for lunch and have a swim. My daughter gets the nets from the boat and her minnowing jar and the children spend a happy hour or so catching small fish and finding river snails.

Even my eldest son seems to be adjusting. He reads books and watches his siblings swim. Gradually, we all start to slow down and enjoy each other’s company despite being so hugger-mugger.

Disasters do happen. We run aground at Evesham and have to be pushed off the bank by a set of men from the local rugby team; we inadvertently cruise through endless fishing lines which earns us a torrent of abuse; we lose a lock key which flies off and nearly brains our dog. We also end up travelling down a wrong river channel and, instead of finding a lock in front of us, we go down a weir.

By the time we get to Pershore — some 20 hours of sailing time since we set off — we have to turn around and do it all in reverse.

But we all agree it has been a uniquely bonding experience and one we will never forget.

We’re on Coast & Country tonight!

AqueductPresenter Carl Edwards takes a trip across ‘the stream in the sky’ on board an Anglo Welsh boat, in this evening’s ‘Coast & Country’.

Testing his head for heights, Carl is driven over the World Famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal.

The programme follows Carl as he saunters along the canals of Wales from the south to the north of the country.

This week he’s reached the Llangollen Canal where his day begins in a much calmer fashion as he’s treated to a horse drawn boat trip down to the Horseshoe Falls.

Taff the horse, from the Llangollen Horse Drawn Boat Centre, stepped up to pull Carl on the 45-minute boat trip that has been running since 1884 and is now thought to be one of the only four working horse drawn boats in the UK.

In the afternoon he joined Anglo Welsh to cross ‘the stream in the sky’ and said: “It honestly felt as if we were going on a theme park ride. I couldn’t look down for the first few seconds. But once I knew we were safe, it was just a stunning location and a beautiful view”.

Programme director Helen Hyde added: “It was quite a challenge to film the Aqueduct in particular. Something of that size and majesty is always difficult to translate onto the TV screen. I hope we’ve done it justice”.

Catch the programme tonight – Friday August 22nd at 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales.

Hire a canal boat for the day

Ponycysyllte Aqueduct

Hiring a canal boat for the day offers a fantastic day out and is a great way to see what canal boat holidays are like.

Anglo Welsh offers day boat hire at six of its bases, from less than £10 per person. Full tuition is included so if you’re new to canal boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring-up, turning and working the locks.

Day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle so your boating party can enjoy a picnic afloat or head for a waterside pub. Most day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here are some day boat hire trip ideas and prices for 2014:

Tunnel through rural Worcestershire from Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, we suggest you cruise north to Kings Norton Junction.
It’s a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly ‘Hopwood House’ at Alvechurch. There are no locks but there are three short tunnels to pass through.
***Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people

Travel across the ‘Stream in the Sky’ – from our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s just 20 minutes by boat to the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing at over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aquedcut (AKA ‘The Stream in the Sky’) offers a fantastic waterway adventure. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the Dee Valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth!
***Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £110 for up to 10 people

Explore rural Warwickshire from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, you can choose between an easy day cruising to Wilmcote and back (two and a half hours each way), visiting The Masons Arms and Mary Arden’s Farm, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.  country pub (three and a half hours each way).
***Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people

Take a cruise in Bath – our base at Sydney Wharf in the World Heritage City of Bath offers the chance to see one’s of Britain’s most beautiful cities from the water.  Moor up in the City Centre close to the Pulteney Bridge to admire the architecture or head east along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to Bathampton and enjoy lunch at the historic ‘George Inn’, once a 12th century monastery.
***Day boat hire from Bath starts at £120 for up to 10 people

Staffordshire delights - from Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, the recommended day boat cruise is a six-hour journey to the historic market town of Rugeley and back through several locks.  Along the way, enjoy a picnic in the grounds of Lord Lichfield’s beautiful working estate at Shugborough Hall, visit a pub at Rugeley or stop off at the delightful Wolseley Arms at Wolseley Bridge.
***Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people

Saunter along ‘The Shroppie’ – from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union near Crewe, we recommend you cruise south past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge.
With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs en route, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat.
***Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people

Visit a Festival on your narrowboat holiday

There are dozens of exciting waterside festivals taking place across the country each year, many of them offering free entertainment.  What better way to arrive and enjoy the party atmosphere than by canal boat?

Stratford River Festival

We’ve put together our top 10 list of festivals taking place in waterside villages, towns and cities in England and Wales this summer, together with our nearest canal boat hire base.

Long Itchington Beer Festival, 3-6 May…the six pubs of Long Itchington on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire join forces each year to create a fantastic village beer festival.  As well as a big choice of beer, great food and entertainment will be on offer.  Visitors can buy their own special festival glasses to take between the pubs and pick up a beer guide to find out which pubs are selling which beer and when.  Our nearest barge hire base is just a two-hour cruise away on the Grand Union Canal at Stockton.

Bath International Music Festival, 22 May to 2 June…bookings are now open for the 65th Bath International Music Festival.  This year’s progamme includes performances from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Singers, The Danish String Quartet, folk singer Seth Lakeman, Bath Philharmonia, Measha Brueggergosman soprano and accompanied by pianist Justus Zeyen and cabaret opera ‘An Eye for an Eye’.  Our nearest narrowboat rental base is at Bradford on Avon, a seven-hour journey away along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Crick Boat Show & Waterways Festival, 25-27 May…over 200 exhibitors will gather at Crick Marina on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal near to Rugby to celebrate the canals and showcase thousands of inland waterways products and services.  The annual event offers an exciting programme of family entertainment, including boat trips, free traditional children’s fairground rides, live music, children’s activities, arts and crafts stands, a large variety of food and drink stalls, competitions and talks.  Our base at North Kilworth on the Grand Union Leicester Line is just five hours from Crick Marina.

Chester Dragon Boat Festival, 9 June…this annual and very colourful charity event on the River Dee sees over 10 dragon boat teams of up to 16 people battling to become the champions.  Our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal is just seven hours away from Chester.

Bristol Festival of Nature, 15-16 June…the UK’s largest free natural history event celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer at Bristol Harbourside.  The event gives wildlife enthusiasts of all ages the chance to explore the natural world in the heart of the City.  Over 150 organisations, including the BBC Natural History Unit, National Trust and Bristol Zoo Gardens, will be providing interactive activities, live entertainment, hands-on experiences and a market packed with local produce.  Bristol Harbour is an eight hour journey along the River Avon from our canal boat holiday base at Bath.

Stratford River Festival, 6-7 July…this annual event offers free family fun in Stratford-upon-Avon with music, a gathering of boats, craft and food stalls, family zone, charity stalls, illuminated boat parade and spectacular fireworks.  Our nearest canal boat rental base is a six-hour cruise away at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival, 5-14 July…the 29th year of this 10-day jazz extravaganza will see over 180 shows in 50 venues across the city, almost all free to the public.  Birmingham, said to have more canals than Venice, is just five hours away from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Birmingham & Worcester Canal.

Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 9-14 July…tickets are now on sale for the 67th Eisteddfod at Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal.  Thousands of people from around the world will descend on the town to celebrate one of the world’s great musical and culture events, staring on Tuesday 9 July, when Eisteddfod Patron Terry Waite will lead the colourful, traditional procession through the town.  Six days of world-class competitions and concerts will end with a spectacular fireworks display.  Our base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor is just two hours away from Llangollen.

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, 8-10 August…this annual three-day festival of music takes place in the village of Cropredy on the Oxford Canal near Banbury.  The 2013 line-up includes Alice Cooper, 10CC, Levellers, Nik Kershaw, Richard Digance, The Dunwells and Martin Barre’s New Day performing the music of Jethro Tull.  Our nearest narrowboat hire base seven hours away at Oxford.

Stone Food & Drink Festival, 4-6 October…Staffordshire’s biggest celebration of all things gastronomic takes place at the pretty market town of Stone on the Trent & Mersey Canal.  As well as a range of themed food marquees, the festival will host demonstrations by top chefs, evening events and a Farmers’ Market.  Stone is just five hours from our base at Great Haywood on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal.

 

 

 

VISIT ONE OF OUR FREE BOATING EVENTS

On the Water event

As part of the British Marine Federation’s On The Water Weekend, Anglo Welsh is offering people the chance to try canal boating at six of our bases on 28 April 2013.

On The Water offers a series of boating and watersports events across the country that will allow people of all ages and abilities to get on the water and try something new.

From 10am to 4pm on Sunday 28 April, our bases at Trevor, Wootton Wawen, Bunbury, Tardebigge, Oxford and Great Haywood will all be offering free trips or boat handling demos and the chance to look round some of our boats.

Extra children’s entertainment and refreshments will be available at some of our events.  No booking is required.

Trevor

What’s on: hire boats on show, trip boats, boat handling demos, disabled boat to view, bouncy castle, light refreshments, local pub & (birds of pray between 11am – 2.30pm)

Address: Canal Wharf, Trevor, Llangollen LL20 7TX. Tel: 01978 821749.

Email: trevor.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

Bunbury

What’s on: hire boats on show, trip boats, bouncy castle, fire engine, face painting, BBQ/hog roast & craft stalls.

Address: Bunbury Lock, Bunbury, Tarporley, Cheshire CW6 9QB. Tel: 01829 260957

Email: bun.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

Great Haywood

What’s on: hire boats on show, trip boats, boat handling demos, Staffordshire fire service attending, RNLI stall & refreshments.

Address: Mill Lane, Great Haywood, Stafford ST18 0RJ. Tel: 01889 881711.

Email: grh.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

Wootton Wawen

What’s on: hire boats on show, trip boats, raffle & local pub.

Address: Canal Wharf, Wootton Wawen, Henley in Arden, West Midlands B95 6BZ. Tel: 01564 793427.

Email: wwn.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

Tardebigge

What’s on: boat trips, bouncy castle, meet the donkeys

Address: Tardebigge Wharf, Old Wharf, Bromsgrove, Worcester B60 1LR. Tel: 01527 873898

Email: tar.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

Oxford

What’s on: boats to look round, boat trips, refreshments, riverside walks, barn owl/wildlife spotting

Address: Eynsham, Witney, Oxfordshire OX29 4DA. Tel: 01865 882235.

Email: oxf.base@anglowelsh.co.uk

 

Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

Canal scenery

The list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled half a century ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association and published in his book Know Your Waterways.

The scale of these extraordinary structures – which built by the engineering superstars of their day – still amazes visitors today.

We’ve revisited the list and added details of our nearest canal boat hire bases so you can plan a visit to one or more of them on your next canal boat holiday:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct…carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest in Britain.  It was built between 1795 and 1805, uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through.With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth!***Our nearest base is just a 20-minute cruise away at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham.The Anderton Boat Lift…also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres (50ft) from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.Sadly, in 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.***Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire.The Caen Hill Flight…with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810.  By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.

***Our nearest base is a seven-hour cruise away on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire.

The Burnley Embankment…also known as the Straight Mile, the Burnley embankment on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal stretches almost a mile long and is up to 60 feet high in places.

This impressive structure was designed by Robert Whitworth of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company and built between 1795 and 1801.  It carries the canal above Burnley and meant that the engineers did not have to build two sets of locks to cross the Calder Valley.

***Narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Burnley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Bingley Five-Rise Locks…completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.

***Canal boat holiday-makers can travel through Bingley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Standedge Tunnel…at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build, opening in 1811.

Unfortunately, the Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.  Today’s boaters pass through the tunnel with a Canal & River Trust pilot, giving a vivid personal commentary.  There is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.

***Our base at Bunbury is a week’s cruise away from Marsden or Diggle.

Barton Swing Aqueduct…originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening.

But when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct in 1893.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.

***Our base at Bunbury is a three or four day cruise away from the Barton Swing Aqueduct.

 

 

SAILING TO SOCCER

Avid Reading football supporters, Steve Hinton and friends have found a novel way of following their team to away matches – by narrowboat!

Reading supporters cruising from Great Haywood

Seeing that their team were due to play Stoke City, on Saturday 9th February, organiser Steve booked our largest boat, Empire, from our Great Haywood base to cruise to the Britannia Stadium.

Sadly for our enterprising boaters, Reading lost 1-2 to Stoke in a close fought game.

Undaunted, Steve said “There’s always another day and another match. We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and Empire was an excellent floating hotel. And we would like to thank the team at Great Haywood for their help.”

This is not the first time that Mr Hinton has worn his boating boots! Last year Steve and his friends hired a similar boat from our Tardebigge base to cruise to St Andrews to support Reading against Birmingham.

Trip Diary: Three generations under one roof

Stan Cullimore, founder member of the 80’s band The Housemartins, wrote a diary about his trip aboard Drifter with his grandchildren along the Grand Union Canal from our Stockton base…Stan Cullimore's Trip

Day 1 (3 locks, 5 miles)  Rob from Anglo Welsh helped us load up the boat with essentials. Food, beer, guide books, more beer and our new puppy. He told us everything we needed to know and waved us off with a smile. I asked him if I could stay with him for the week. I wasn’t sure how we were going to cope with four adults, two small children and a puppy on board.

As it turns out, the puppy is a natural boat dog. She fell asleep on deck within five minutes. The grandkids were so excited by the thought of actually sleeping onboard a real boat, that they spent nearly the whole of the first day playing on their bunks!

Came to a lock and remembered that all the locks on the Grand Union Canal are big enough for two boats. Hmm. Is it OK to bump into the other boat on the way in? Luckily, the other boat was owned by a very nice couple who took us through the next three locks. We met up with them again when we took the puppy out for an evening stroll. Seem to be a lot of friendly people on the canal.

Highlight – We saw two baby Swallows sitting in a tree. We could have reached out and touched them. Also saw a pair of woodpeckers on the bank and even a little owl which flew over the boat just before dark. Brilliant!

Day 2 (6 locks, 8 miles) – Woke up early and noticed the only sounds I could hear were birds singing and water lapping softly against the boat. Then the grandkids jumped on my bed. So much for peace and quiet!

I opened the curtains and looked out at rolling green hills stretching out forever. Realised I’d just had the best night’s sleep ever. This is the life! The adults had an early morning a cup of tea on the towpath as we watched the youngsters race up and down.

Spent the day getting to grips with steering. It’s actually much easier than I thought it would be. The only hard bit is when the wind blows you into the bank. You just have to relax and let the boat go wherever it wants to. Then you have to use the boat pole to push it back in the right direction again.

Highlight – Everyone we’ve met has been ridiculously friendly. Mind you, the grandkids insist on talking to anyone who’ll listen so perhaps that’s just as well. We bumped (literally) into a bunch of lads who had never been on a canal before. They asked me to show them how to work the locks. It was great to have so many willing helpers. I almost felt like a professional.

Day 3 (7 locks, 10 miles) – The grandkids noticed all the other youngsters on the water today. Young ducks, young swans and whatever young moorhens are called. Had a great time feeding them.

I noticed that each type of bird has its own way of dealing with boats. Ducks come racing towards you, eager for food. Swans pretend to ignore you and then act as if the food has just appeared from out of nowhere. Moorhens run away and hide whenever possible.

That probably explains why there are hundreds of ducklings with each mother duck, a handful of cygnets – with both parents proudly following them around. And only one or two young moorhens at a time. Usually looking lost because they’ve been left on their own by mum.

Highlight – Ian the lockkeeper at the Watford Flight. I’d never been through staircase locks before and it didn’t help that rain began to pour down halfway up the flight. But Ian was brilliant. He got us through in one piece and even refused the offer of a cup of a tea. Apparently he had other boats coming through. Give that man a soggy medal!

Day 4 (0 locks, 14 miles) – Had to turn the boat round today and start heading back to base. Checked the guide book and found a ‘turning round place’. Otherwise known as a winding hole.

When we got there I realised that the boat was very long and the winding hole wasn’t much longer. Hmm. Didn’t do a very good job but luckily no-one was watching.  The main thing is, we are now turned around. If only everything in life was this easy.

Not sure any of us want to go back to base. Life in the slow lane is soooooo appealing. I’ve hardly looked at my phone all week.  Plus, on the boat I get to drink beer in the afternoon.

Highlight – the weather forecast for this week was terrible. But we’ve hardly had a drop of rain fall on us so far. There have been some showers. But when the clouds roll in, we pull up to the bank and have a brew.  The rain passes quick enough and when it has, we get back up on deck and pootle along in glorious sunshine.  Just wish we’d brought more suncream!

Day 5 (7 locks, 5 miles)  Went through Crick Tunnel today. It’s long, dark and not very wide. I told the grandkids to keep an eye out. We might get attacked by bats. No-one saw any.

You can just about get two boats past each other. But it’s a bit of a squeeze. Soon worked out what to do. You aim for the circle of daylight ahead.

It’s quite pleasant chugging along in the dark at the back of the boat. The grandkids spent the time on the front deck shouting out numbers written on the wall. Apparently the tunnel was a million miles long. I think they may have got that bit wrong…

Got caught out by a rain shower in the afternoon. Waterproofs were provided so I put them on. Then the dog and I hid under an umbrella as I steered. Strangely, we both loved it. But I think we looked a bit odd. My daughter got the giggles. She said we were one man and his puppy against the elements!

Highlight – Took the grandkids and the dog out for an early morning walk along the towpath to the local newsagents. On the way back to the boat I saw a large dark shape lollop across the grass in front of me. Then it slid into the reeds and disappeared. I Googled it and I think it was an otter! Never seen a wild otter before. I mentioned it to a nearby boat resident and she nodded. Apparently you see them quite often round those parts. I feel like David Attenborough!

Day 6 (6 locks, 9 miles)  Stopped at Braunston to pick up supplies. It’s a lovely place, full of colourful boats and smiling faces. Looks like it’s been lifted from a 1950’s postcard. My wife and daughter even found a boat selling wool. Which is handy because they’ve both just taken up knitting.

Took the youngsters for a walk through a meadow full of wildflowers. It was pretty much perfect until I suggested we should all take our shoes off. Obviously, we got a bit muddy. My wife told the grandkids that I was a silly grandad which I thought was a bit harsh. Especially when they agreed with her. Luckily there was lots of hot water and clean towels on board. So the day ended well.

Highlight – After a lazy sunny day driving the boat (is that the right word?) through some extremely green and pleasant countryside, we had a fantastic home cooked meal on the front deck. Bacon, eggs and beans. It smelt and tasted gorgeous. As did the beer we washed it down with!

Day 7 (3 locks, 8 miles) Sadly, today was the last day. We decided to give ourselves a break from boating and go for a stroll along the towpath. The grandkids couldn’t resist helping other people work their way through the locks. I think they were just desperate to show off now that they know how to do it!

After sitting in a very pretty pub garden and enjoying a lovely roast dinner, almost as good as the ones I make. We all decided that this has been the perfect family holiday. Three generations (plus a rather mischievious puppy), under one roof and nothing but smiles and laughter.

In fact the only time anyone got in a grump was when the kids were told it was time to go home. Even the puppy looked a bit sad.

Highlight –  Sitting on the back deck with my son-in-law steering and the grandkids lying on the roof. The sun was sparkling on the water as we planned our next trip away. On an Anglo Welsh narrowboat, naturally! In the words of Arnie; “We’ll be back.”

Trip summary

We started at Stockton on The Grand Union then went south to Napton Junction.  We then went north on the Grand Union to the Braunston Turn and then east to Norton Junction.

After that we went north on the Grand Union Leicester Line, then turned past Crick and Yelvertoft.  We retraced our path to the Napton section then went south on the Oxford Canal to Napton itself. 

We turned round and went north back to Napton Junction and then we went north on the Grand Union back to Stockton.

OUR FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS THIS EASTER

Anglo Welsh narrow boat holiday

Easter is a great time of year to take to the water to enjoy the fresh spring air, trees coming into leaf and spring flowers on the towpath.

The whole family can set off on an outdoor adventure together.  Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most of our boats.

Many canalside attractions will be hosting special Easter events, so why not pack up and ship out for some Easter holiday fun afloat.

Here are our top 10 destinations this Easter.  Our prices start at £595 for a short break and £855 for a week on a boat for four.

*See the baby Giant Anteater born at Chester Zoo…Medieval Chester is just seven hours from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Famous for its medieval architecture and city walls, Chester is also home to an award-winning zoo with over 8,000 animals to see, including a rare baby Giant Anteater born in January.  He or she (the tiny youngster’s gender is not yet known) will still be clinging to his mother’s back at Easter so make a date to visit the Zoo and find out how the family is getting on.

*Join the Easter Egg Hunt at Rockingham Castle…although not waterside, this fascinating castle 10 miles outside Market Harborough, offers a great family day out.

Market Harborough is a seven-hour from our base at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.  So once moored up in Market Harborough basin, take a taxi to Rockingham Castle to join in the Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday or Monday.

Take a tour of the castle, which has been continuously occupied by the same family for almost 1000 years.  Check out the magnificent Great Hall, built on the instruction of William the Conqueror in 1086, and complete the Rockingham Eye Spy.  See the vast 400 year old ‘Elephant Hedge’, part of the Castle’s 18 acres of gardens and visit the Castle Gallery, tea rooms and gift shop.

*Visit the home of Cadbury’s Chocolate…Travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our Tardebigge base, stopping off along the way to sample the delights of Cadbury World.

Find out how chocolate is made, the history of Cadbury confectionery, visit the World’s biggest Cadbury Shop and the Cadbury Café and enjoy a host of special events celebrating our most ‘chocolatey’ time of year!

*Climb aboard the SS Great Britain…Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Brunel’s masterpiece the SS Great Britain, is just an eight hour cruise from our base at Sydney Wharf in Bath.

Now acclaimed as one of the UK’s finest visitor attractions, plan a visit the world’s first great ocean liner and find out how the SS Great Britain changed the world.

*Travel across the Stream in the Sky…Just 20 minutes cruise from our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, stands the awesome 38 metres high and 305 metres long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Also known as The Stream in the Sky, this incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat ride of your life!

And the pretty town of Llangollen is just a two hour cruise away, where special Easter events will be running at the Llangollen Steam Railway.

*Visit the Roman Baths…Bath, famous for thousands of years for its warm mineral-rich waters, is a seven-hour cruise along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal from our base at Bradford on Avon.

The beautifully preserved Roman Baths is a place for the whole family to enjoy.  Visitors can see the remains of the ancient Roman temple and bathing complex based around Britain’s only natural hot spring.  There’s a special audio tour for kids and Roman costumed characters about every afternoon.

*See the witch in a bottle at the Pitt Rivers…Oxford City Centre, home to the extraordinary Pitt Rivers Museum, is just three hours away from our River Thames base at Eynsham, near Witney.

The Museum, which has been described as a ‘Noah’s Ark of all the Earth’s artefacts’, displays thousands of handmade objects from a lost cultures across the globe.  Look out for a three-storey high totem pole, a magnificent Tahitian mourner’s costume collected during Captain Cook’s Second Voyage in 1773-74, a case of children’s toys, including a coconut-husk spirit ship for a Siamese child, and the firmly sealed witch in a bottle.

*Walk the battlements at Warwick Castle…said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, Warwick Castle is a seven hour cruise from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.

The castle, which is on a bend of the River Avon, was developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068.  Explore its grand interiors and 64 acres of rolling landscaped gardens, climb its impressive towers and ramparts, watch the ‘Flight of the Eagles’ and ‘Mighty Trebuchet’ firing displays and visit some of the castle’s special attractions, including terrifying Castle Dungeon.

*Follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps…Stratford upon Avon is just a six hour cruise from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire.

Moor up in centrally located moorings on the River Avon and use your canal boat as a base to explore the fascinating historic town of Stratford.  There are five houses to visit with Shakespearian connections, including his Birthplace, the house of his wife (Anne Hathaway) and the childhood home of his mother, Mary Arden.

*Explore the rock-carved houses at Kinver Edge…from our base on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal Great Haywood, Kinver Edge near Stourbridge can be reached on a short break.

Cared for by The National Trust, Kinver’s famous Holy Austin Rock Houses which were inhabited until the 1950’s, give an atmospheric glimpse into a bygone age.  And the woodland sandstone ridge out which the houses are built, offers dramatic views across surrounding counties.

 

 

 

Top 10 Canal Boat Holidays

Ponycysyllte Aqueduct

‘Pontcysyllte Aqueduct’

1.      Float along ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.  With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth!  Take a short break from our base at Trevor, and as well as journeying across the aqueduct, you could visit the picturesque town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains and the beautiful Ellesmere lakes (AKA The Shropshire Lake District), teaming with wildlife.  Prices from Trevor start at £385 for a short break and £595 for a week.

 

Bath Centre

‘World Heritage City of Bath’

2.      Visit the World Heritage City of Bath…Our base at Bradford on Avon is just a seven-hour cruise along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal from Bath City Centre.  Moor up close to Pulteney Bridge (reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence) and use your hire boat as a base to enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture, fantastic shopping and restaurants, a visit to the Thermae Spa or one of the City’s superb museums.  There are 17 to choose from within a square mile, including the newly refurbished Holbourne Museum, Number One Royal Crescent and the Jane Austen Centre.  Prices from Bradford on Avon start at £440 for a short break and £630 for a week.

Brindley Place - Birmingham

‘Brindley Place – Birmingham’

3.      Cruise into the heart of Birmingham…boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water.  City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin with easy access to Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.  In 2013, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery is holding a special exhibition of The Staffordshire Hoard Anglo-Saxon collection and War Horse comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome in the autumn.  Our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is just a five-hour lock-free cruise away from Birmingham City Centre.  Prices from Tardebigge start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

Caen Hill Flight of locks

‘Caen Hill Flight of locks’

4.      Cruise up the incredible Caen Hill Flight…not for the faint-hearted, the Caen Hill Flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways.  Sixteen of the 29 locks in the flight run in a straight line in close succession up the hillside creating a truly awesome vista.  It takes approximately six hours to travel through all 29 locks.  We recommend hiring a boat for a week from our City of Bath base and heading east, reaching the bottom of the flight in approximately 10 hours.  Having negotiated Caen Hill, you can travel on to Pewsey Wharf through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.  Prices from Bath start at £525 for a short break and £745 for a week.

Oxford

‘Oxford’

5.      Discover ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’…the World famous City of Oxford is just a three-hour cruise away from our base on the River Thames near Witney.  Moor close to Hythe Bridge in the city centre and use your canal boat as a base to explore the City.  Just some of the of the exciting things you can do in Oxford include: climbing the 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’; seeing the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum; touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum, with collections from the Neolithic era to the present day; discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College; and stocking-up on goodies in the Covered Market.  Prices from Oxford start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

Warwick Castle

‘Warwick Castle’

6.      Tour the Warwickshire Ring…our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is ideally placed for a tour of the Warwickshire Ring.  This wonderful canal journey can be done in a week.  It covers over 100 miles, 94 locks and takes approximately 48 hours of cruising.  Along the way, boaters enjoy a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travelling sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the pretty canal village of Braunston with plenty of historic pubs; Napton junction with awesome views of the Warwickshire countryside; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle, considered to be Britain’s greatest Medieval experience; Royal Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.  Prices from Stockton start at £525 for short break and £745 for a week.

Stratford Upon Avon

‘Stratford Upon Avon’

7.      Explore the Shakespeare’s Stratford…Stratford upon Avon is a lovely six hour journey along the pretty Stratford Canal from our base at Wootton Wawen near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire.  There are centrally located moorings on the River Avon close to the famous Swan Theatre and the town’s museums, shops, markets and restaurants.  Whether on a week’s holiday or short break, there’s plenty of time to explore Stratford’s quaint side streets, with many buildings still surviving that would have been familiar to Shakespeare.  Prices from Wootton Wawen start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

8.      Travel the Four Counties Ring…our base at Great Haywood on the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals is the perfect base to depart for a tour of the Four Counties Ring.  The journey travels 110 miles, 94 locks and takes 55 hours, so it’s achievable on a week’s holiday.  Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man; Wedgewood Visitor Centre; stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the National Garden Festival site at Stoke-on-Trent with dry-ski centre, cinema and Waterworld; Lord Lichfield’s historic working estate at Shugborough Hall; Churche’s Mansion Elizabethan Mansion House in Nantwich; the waters at Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.  Prices from Great Haywood start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

9.      Potter through the Leicestershire countryside…our base at North Kilworth is on the 20-mile lock free summit of the rural Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.  Holiday-makers on a short break can travel to historic Market Harborough and back via the famous Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside.  The Foxton flight consists of two ‘staircases’ of five locks with a pound (or layby) in the middle.  Once you’ve started if you have to finish, and the lock keeper will tell you to remember “red before white, you’ll be alright” when working the paddles!  There’s also a small Museum alongside the locks giving details of the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once hauled boats up the hillside in two giant bath tub-like structures.  Prices from North Kilworth start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

10.  Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’…from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in the heart of rural Cheshire, the Anderton Boat Lift (AKA ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’) is a peaceful nine-hour cruise away.  This extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two water filled iron caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.  In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Prices from Bunbury start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.