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…
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.”
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.