Six friends, looking for a short break together; what do you do?! Find a cottage or a lodge, go camping? Last year we stayed on a permanently moored boat which was really nice, so we thought we’d up the ante this time and go with a narrow boat, conveniently less than an hour from our home.
Apart from messing about on dinghies and jet-skis, none of us have done any sort of proper boating, but that didn’t seem to phase the boat hire company, so we weren’t overly worried.
Before we went we watched a safety video with basic boating guide and details about how to operate a lock, and on arrival they take you through basic procedures in person for an hour or so, before handing over the keys and letting you get loaded up. The general rule seems to be take it slowly and you shouldn’t get into too much trouble.
The first thing you notice is just how long these boats are! Ours was 66 feet long, which was daunting when looking at exiting the marina at Hilperton, just outside of Trowbridge and 10 miles southeast of Bath. The other, more obvious thing which stands out is how narrow they are (does what it says on the tin!), at little more than a full arm span; it was going to be a cosy few days, especially given the weather on our arrival! After a good solid month of warm dry weather, it obviously decided to chuck it down as we set off on our adventure.
After we’d tentatively managed to work our way out of the marina we started to explore the way the boat responds to novice drivers, and thankfully it’s pretty forgiving! It may have helped that it was raining as there weren’t too many other boats about and we quickly got the hang of the boats lazy ways; meandering along at a slow walking pace and taking about half a minute to respond to steering inputs. That said, you can’t really take your eye off things for more than a few seconds if you’re at the controls, as I found out when talking to someone and found myself heading towards the bank at suddenly alarming speed! Thankfully I managed to rescue it and learned a valuable lesson about looking where you’re going. It wasn’t long before I was soaked through so we pulled over and waited for the rain to pass, which it did almost as soon as we’d stopped!
Our boat had three double beds, two toilet & shower rooms, a kitchen and an internal sitting area, as well as outside seating at front and back. Whilst the six of us were fairly snug in there, we just about had room to prepare meals and sit inside if we needed to. We were lucky though and for the rest of our trip it stayed dry which made for a much more enjoyable trip.
Unlike driving anything with wheels, drink-boating seems to be actively encouraged and apparently it’s par for the course to either stop at every pub along the way, or enjoy a drink whilst on board. That didn’t take too much persuasion to get into and we quickly got into the boating way of life, which is wonderfully relaxed and peaceful.
Although we were only a few miles from home we got a completely different perspective of the Kennet & Avon canal area, and an appreciation of just how stunning our waterways are. Flanked by lush greenery you feel close to wildlife- both common sights like ducks and moorhens, and rarer wildlife like herons and snakes.
From the snapshot we got, the boating community is a friendly and helpful one, which made the experience much easier, especially when it came to our first lock experience, which was all the less stressful for going through with an old hand.
In our two and a half days of travel we covered a grand total of 20 miles; we could literally have crawled it quicker! But covering large distances isn’t the point of canal boating. It’s all about taking your time to enjoy the company of friends or family, and soaking up the gorgeous scenery as it gently passes by. I think it’s fair to say we all finished that trip a lot more relaxed than we started it.
The mechanics and practicalities of it all aren’t that complicated so I’d recommend it to most (you do need to be able to get around well as boats can be awkward spaces). A couple of days on and it still feels like things are moving around a bit, but we’re all hooked and will definitely be back for more! Thanks to the team at ABC Boat Hire (https://www.abcboathire.com) who helped ensure we had a great and safe time, the owners of the Dilly Dally, who helped us through out first lock, and the volunteers of the Canal & River trust (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/) who helped us back through the lock at rush hour!