Category Archives: Holiday Diary

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.

 

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!

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.

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.