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.