Canal boat

My mother-in-law has a canal boat. Way, way back in the day, before my kids were even a twinkle in the eye, my husband and I had a couple of happy holidays on that canal boat. Once on our own and once with friends. And in the summer holidays, we’re going back. This time with kids!

A canal boat holiday is unique. You are completely cut off from the ‘real world’. Your world is the water, the tow path, the trees, the wildlife, the locks, the quirky little canal and farm shops and the canalside pubs. You don’t go into towns. The only people you see are fellow canal users. You may or may not (but most likely may not) get the television to tune in. You get up when it gets light, go to bed when it gets dark. It is relaxing, but at the same time active (those locks are heavy work). And I love it.

You don’t go on a canal boat holiday to get a suntan. Even back in the 90s, before we had constant freak weather, you would usually see every type of weather in one day – hot sun, strong winds, then torrential rain and back again. You change clothes constantly – layers on and layers off again.

There is never time to get bored, even though you’re not doing a lot. You are never far from the next locks. Locks, in case you didn’t know, are the way canals go up (or down) hill. If you’re going up, you need to fill the lock with water, if you’re going down, you need to empty it. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also very easy to get confused. There are four gates to operate – two at each end. It is possible for one person to steer the boat in the lock while another person operates all four of the gates, but in the summer there are usually plenty of willing helpers from the boat behind or the boat in front to muck in. Butthey’d better not muck in if we’re there with the kids and our boat is going through! They want to do it themselves.

If you get bored of travelling on the boat, jump off and walk alongside instead – the boat travels at about the same speed as you do. You might even find an ice cream shop! There is a hidden economy on the canal – lots of farms and disused mills selling ice creams, pints of milk and lock keys (to replace the one you’ve dropped in the canal).

A canal boat isn’t camping – you have a shower, a toilet, a cooker and a fridge. It is a home from home, but on a really small scale. There is plenty of storage cunningly hidden under seats and beds.

But the water from the shower has to come from somewhere and the contents of the toilet have to go somewhere. While travelling, you need to stop at a tap to refill your water tank – and at a pumping station to have your toilet emptied. It’s not as gross as it sounds – you don’t do it and you don’t see what’s coming out.

Old habits from real life die hard. Things like queues for the taps and pumping station, and particularly the locks, can start to stress you out. You want to beat the rush. You don’t want to queue. You start travelling from dawn until dusk, going slightly faster than you should do.

We are heading for Llangollen from Cheshire. We did it in three days last time, with a day off in Llangollen and three days back. In those days, our boat was ‘powered by Boddington’s’ to quote a posh old lady who looked at us disapprovingly as we ‘drove’ far too fast up the canal. My husband and his friend started off with a ‘no drinking before lunch’ rule and by the end of the week the Boddington’s was out at 6am!

So we want to make the same time again, otherwise we will be in a hurry to get back home for work. There will be no Boddington’s this time, so this may make us faster or slower. It’s a beautiful run through some stunning countryside and a terrifying trip over the Pontcysylite Aqueduct, which is very high and very narrow. It was fine back in the day, but I have three little people to worry about now.

I’m incapable of going on holiday withouth worrying and the canal is no exception. The kids all have life-jackets, which they will need to wear all the time they are outside the boat. My other worries are:

  • Rain – a bit is fine and to be expected and we’ve got waterproofs, but the sort of monsoon-like conditions we’ve had recently will be a nightmare. The boat gets positively steamy inside even from people breathing, so add in layers of wet clothing with nowhere to dry them and it will be tropically uncomfortable. It will also force the kids inside and make them bored.
  • Illness – the cramped conditions are not conducive to illness. And if we needed a doctor, and we were in the middle of nowhere and travelling at the speed of a snail? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
  • Claustrophobia/ lack of sleep – I am claustrophobic. We’ve spent two nights on the boat with the kids and I found the double bed claustrophobic, so the second time I tried to sleep in the open on the settees. Neither worked. This is fine for a night, not for a week.
  • Boredom – I won’t get bored, but I have to face facts – the kids might. We need books, colouring and the DS.

I’ll let you know how we get on, but in the meatime, wish me luck!

Canal boat

Author: Sarah Mummy

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17 Comments

  1. Boats are not my favourite mode of transport, but many families have wonderful experiences. What’s the worst that can happen? The sun will shine all week and the view will be amazing 🙂

    If there’s no Boddington’s I hope you have a suitable alternative x.

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  2. Thanks very much. I know, I’m a worrier. What is the worst that can happen? Someone could fall in or someone could be ill. The reality is we will have a great time. The sun might be pushing it, though! Thanks very much for commenting as ever, I really appreciate it! x

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  3. Number 1 sun has been off doing his year 7 camp this week and HATED EVERY MINUTE ! I believe he will never venture into a tent again but this is mainly due to the weather. Lets hope it is sunny and dry for you.

    Can’t wait to start getting the blog / tweets from the boat, should be a fun trip. I also don’t believe the hubby will be off the boddingtons for long !!!!!

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  4. I would love to go on a canal boat holiday but think t’husband would hate it! ALso I think our boys would fall overbaord 🙂 You make it sound such fun though x Thanks for stopping by mine

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  5. No problem, always good to read new blogs! Of course I worry about my kids falling in too, but they are 11, 8 and 6 now so should be old enough to know better! Thanks very much for commenting, I really appreciate it.

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  6. Poor no1 son, Glenn! What a nightmare for him. My kids all like camping, but I don’t!
    Blog will be post holiday, not sure how good internet is on waterways! I will probably even tweet less!

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  7. ah bless you, I’m sure you will have a fab time, but totally relate to the worries. How funny that we should have written very similar posts! I have very fond memories of a canal holiday when i was a kid. I am sure this rain cannot go on forever! Thanks for linking up x

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  8. Think positive and have a wonderful time ~ love the photo ~~ thanks, ^_^ (A Creative Harbor)

    ps ~ am you newest follower ^_^

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  9. We had a canal boat week end last year with our three grandchildren. i loved it. My husband said it was the holiday from hell. We can laugh about it now.

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  10. My gosh that is so cool! I want to do this! I want a canal boat!!!

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  11. Hi, I enjoyed this post you linked in to Claire Justine. It would be great to try a canal boat. I have linked in a post about the artist Klimt. Have a super week.

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  12. Sounds great. I’ve often said I’d like to take a canal boat holiday and now you’ve just convinced me.

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  13. Thanks, everybody! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Particularly pleased I have convinced you to go for it, One Mother’s Notes. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
    Suzanne – you and I are definitely cut from the same cloth!
    Glenda – your poor husband! Our holiday from hell was Italy – somewhere I’d always wanted to go!
    Welcome ArtMuseDog – always great to meet new followers. Pic was me when I was in my 20s (did you guess?!). May be more up to dates ones in not too distant future!
    Really appreciate all your comments, thanks very much. x

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