Take a break from the rat race

…Jo Tynan reviewed a short break Drifters canal boat holiday from Napton for Cambridge News, 1 June 2013.

I’m busy. You’re busy. We are all busy. I am too busy to write this travel review and you are too busy to read it. But read it you must because I have found a holiday where the stresses and strains of modern life are truly left behind. And isn’t that what we are all looking for?

Our brief was to find something that the whole family could enjoy – not easy when we had a 40-year-old man, a pregnant woman, a teenage girl, and a 2-year-old to please. So a narrowboat holiday was clearly the only answer for our family!

We didn’t want to start our vacation with a long car journey – it would have defeated the objective of the holiday – so we chose a route along The North Oxford Canal that started in Napton, Warwickshire, just a short drive west.

We had a quick tutorial from the husband part of the husband-and-wife team that run the marina. My partner Chris listened intently and I pretended to while secretly looking forward to putting the kettle on the gas hob, so that it would whistle chirpily when the water boiled.

And before we knew it, we were off at a dizzying 4mph. Fortunately we all found our canal legs and team spirit quickly on-board Annie, our floating home for four days.

Our daughter Scarlett was in 2-year old heaven – her new home had cupboards she could rifle through and it moved! My stepdaughter Orlanna thought it was as cool as any teenager will ever admit anything is that doesn’t come endorsed by a celebrity, and Chris and I were both very glad to be off work and out of the office in the fresh air for a change.

The route offers a mix of countryside and town which was perfect as we wanted to feel like we got to see a bit of our green and pleasant land from a different perspective, but without being cut off from civilisation. In short, we wanted plenty of pretty pubs to stop off at where we could meander along the tow path for tea.

We headed to picturesque Braunston to moor for the night and we popped up the hill to one of the village pubs for tea. Braunston’s main claim to fame is its canal junction between the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union Canal, which was once a pivotally important part of the national transport system.

Now the marina is full of pleasure boats and the ghost of the Industrial Revolution is all around in the intricate waterways which carried us on our journey. The UK was the first country to create a nationwide canal network which played a vital role in the success of the Industrial Revolution. The roads simply could not cope with the huge amount of heavy produce being produced and the vehicles needed to carry them did not exist, so man-made canals were the answer.

The next morning, after a cup of tea (made in the kettle that whistles merrily on the gas hob) and Coco Pops (nothing says you are on holiday quite like a mini box of chocolate cereal from a Kellogg’s multi-pack) we set off towards Rugby.

We purposely chose a route with a minimal number of locks because we thought life on the waterways was going to be complicated enough without throwing in lots of additional challenges.

But we did have three pairs of single locks to navigate our trusty vessel though at Hillmorton, just before Rugby. Rather than being daunting, the locks were a fun way to break up the journey and there was always a friendly dog walker or fellow narrow-boater around who was happy to shout encouraging instructions to us when rare chinks in our boating bravado were visible to passers-by.

We chugged along happily until we got to Rugby and we took a bus into town to have a potter around.

We did run into difficulties when we could not flush the toilet and we could not understand why. The help that arrived swiftly from the Napton base to investigate quickly figured out the reason – a rogue baby wipe had somehow ended up being flushed which had to be removed. Sadly the culprit was never apprehended.

Then we turned around and headed back the way we had come and meandered back to the canal boat hire base.

The holiday was that simple. A narrow boat holiday is ideal for people like us who fancy the adventurous aspect of camping but don’t fancy forgoing a comfy bed, and it gave the holiday a focus which kept us working together as a team.

A boating trip really does prove that a proper holiday really is about the journey and not the destination as a lot of it is just kicking back and watching the world go by from the slow lane with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Now what are you doing sitting down and reading the paper? Shouldn’t you be doing something or going somewhere?

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