…Stan Cullimore and his family enjoyed a week’s canal boat holiday from Bath (story published in The Bristol Post’s Weekend magazine, 5 October 2012).
When I booked to go on a narrowboat holiday I expected to see canals and locks and ducks bobbing about in the water. But one thing I did NOT expect to see was a man on the bank jumping up and down, waving his arms and suggesting that we turn round at once before we were swept away by the flood. But that is exactly what happened on day four of our waterways adventure.
It all began so well. We arrived at the Sydney Wharf boatyard on Bathwick Hill, home of Bath Narrowboats after a mere 15 mile drive from our front door. There were six of us; grandparents, parents and toddlers. All ready to enjoy the perfect stay-cation. We were shown around our wonderfully comfy Anglo Welsh narrowboat and the adults were told how to work the lights, the heating and the engine.
Meanwhile the grandkids set off to explore the onboard space. They started at the front and worked backwards. First, they had a great time bouncing on the two leather armchairs and the squidgy sofa (which, incidentally, turned into a very comfortable double bed at night.) Then they discovered the child-sized bath and full-sized shower in the first of the two bathrooms. They shot past the double bed and whooped with joy when they realised that they actually had their very own cabin at the back with two single bunks in it. Not only that, but their cabin also had its very own door, curtains and reading lights.
Honestly, they were so excited we had to send them off with Grandma to the local supermarket to pick up some last minute supplies. Whilst they were gone, the rest of the adults quickly sorted out who was sleeping where, put the kettle on and when everyone was back on board, set off at the regulation speed, which is a gentle walking pace. This pretty much set the tone for the week. We soon discovered that life aboard a canal boat is the perfect escape from stress. Everything melts away; deadlines, worries and the outside world are forgotten as you glide along the cut. Soon the only things that matter are steering the boat, operating the locks and taking in the gorgeous views.
Not only are those views gorgeous by the way, they’re also very familiar to me. I’ve walked and cycled these towpaths many times. But somehow, pootling along with your hand on the tiller of a 60 ft boat gives you an entirely different perspective on the world. I’d forgotten just how close we are to such fantastic countryside. By the time we pulled up outside the George Inn at Bathhampton, I was ready to get all poetic over that first pint of Real Ale.
We spent the next three glorious days gently biffing along the Kennet & Avon Canal, heading towards Devizes. Along the way we eased through Bradford on Avon, going up the lock whilst being closely watched by a crowd of happy onlookers, otherwise known as ‘gongoozlers’ in canal speak, apparently.
The crowds were soon left behind though. We may have been close to home but we were light years away from the hustle and bustle of everyday living. Everyone had a go at steering, working the locks and mooring up. Grandson No. 1 was delighted to discover that he could try out the knot skills he’d learnt at Beavers when tying up the boat.
Thanks to the Waterways Guidebook I took along, I know that we did 18 miles and seven locks, getting as far as Seend before we took one look at the Caen Hill Flight of locks and turned back towards Bath. Along the way we fed the ducks, waved at walkers and made friends with total strangers who were having their own adventures on a boat.
We had arranged earlier to stop at Dundas Wharf by Monkton Combe and change crew. At which point, Daughter No.2 left with her family and Daughter No.1 came aboard with hers. We set off and made it all the way down to the bottom lock in Bath, passing through Bath Deep Lock on the way, apparently the second deepest lock in the country.
I got chatting to the helmsman of the other boat sharing the lock with us. After finding out that Bristol Harbourside was only a few hours away down the River Avon I decided to change my plans. So instead of turning right and chugging into the centre of Bath I turned left and headed off down the river without asking anyone about the weather conditions ahead. Which, with hindsight, was a bit silly of me.
Things were lovely all the way to Saltford. We moored up and strolled to the shops to get supplies. In five minutes we went from the gentle world of the riverbank to the high speed roar of cars and the harsh grind of modern life. We got back to the boat as soon as possible and floated off downstream some more. It was around this time I noticed that the river seemed to be speeding up. Which seemed a trifle odd.
At this point the jumping man I mentioned earlier appeared on the bank. He leapt up and down and explained that a flash flood was on its way. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers! We did the closest thing to a handbrake turn that a narrowboat can do and hotfooted it back up river in the nick of time.
We got most of the way into Bath before we were ready to tie up for the night. Luckily we found the most perfect spot with great views and a supermarket nearby. To make our happiness complete, when we took the grandkids out for a gentle evening stroll we discovered that Victoria Park was only yards away. The kids were in heaven. They decided that what we were doing was even better than having a sleepover whilst camping outside a theme park.
The last day was spent getting back onto the Kennet & Avon Canal and working the locks that take you up through Bath. We met a family with young kids who gladly helped with the lock work. The kids were suitably impressed when the grandkids pointed out their cabin and bunks. The Dad grinned at me and grumbled that I was going to cost him a fortune. The kids would be demanding a narrowboat holiday of their own and he knew how expensive that would be. I happily explained that actually, once you’ve paid for the boat – that’s it. Most family holidays cost a fortune in extra’s and days out. But the boat IS the day out and there are no extra costs, apart from bringing along your own food. I told him – it’s a bloomin bargain.
By the time we got back to the boatyard the next morning at the end of our week’s adventures we were all absolutely thrilled with our close-to-home holiday. The grandkids are already saving up their pocket money so we can go back again. You know what? I might even have to help them out myself!
Drifters 2013 canal boat hire prices from Bath start at £525 for a short break and £745 for a week’s holiday, including fuel.