Cheshire ripe for barging in

Christina Pullam reviewed her short break canal boat holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Bunbury, in The People newspaper, 13 October 2013

As the deck scrubber I should never have been left in charge of our canal boat.

When I steered straight into a sandbank it was only Captain Alison’s skills that stopped us being marooned there with the rear of the boat sticking out overnight.

Bearing in mind that sandbanks were one of the things we were warned about on our lesson before setting off from the Anglo Welsh narrowboat holiday base at Bunbury, it wasn’t the greatest start.

But the rest of our time on our four-berth 58ft narrow boat, exploring Cheshire’s 200 miles of waterways was more plain sailing. I just had to remember that you steer right to go left and steer left to go right. And to stop the canal boat you have to put it into reverse.

Most canals and many rivers have a speed limit of 4mph so I couldn’t do that much damage. Could I? The narrowboats don’t have speedometers but why hurry on a holiday like this – even if your boat is called Rushton?

For safety reasons sailing is not allowed after dark but because of my steering we didn’t make it to one of the many canalside pubs in time for dinner. Thankfully we’d bought food at the Bunbury HQ so we didn’t go hungry.

The boat is also equipped with a TV and DVD so we weren’t sitting in the dark in moody silence either. We thought Alison’s daughter Gemma had broken the TV as it wouldn’t work after she’d used it. Eventually we figured out you have to keep the engine on to watch it.

We had some time to make up so at first light we got going again towards Chester. There are quite a few locks to negotiate but they are easy to work out. If you can’t manage, most narrowboaters are friendly and will help. As I was banned from steering it was down to me and Captain Alison’s husband Scott to open the lock gates to get to Chester.

You need to be patient when the sluices open to let water in. When the pressure is equal on both sides of the gate you can open them with ease. But when the narrowboat is in the lock don’t get the front or the back on the sill or you can end up with a tilted flooded boat. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs – and if you follow the simple instructions you can avoid disaster.

As you pootle along the Shropshire Union Canal there’s not much to do but relax and admire the scenery – including lovely Beeston Castle.

This isn’t a holiday for you if you need to be on the go all the time – although there’s nothing stopping you walking beside the boat if you’re feeling energetic.

On reaching Chester on the third day after a great night’s sleep on the boat we saw some of the historic city from the water. You can go under Chester’s Bridge of Sighs. Condemned prisoners once crossed bridge from the jail to receive their last rites at a chapel.

After this you reach the Northgate Steps, a series of locks that take you down to Tower Wharf where we moored. Alison did a perfect 51-point turn to get us in the right direction for the next day.

As a treat for Gemma we took a bus to Chester Zoo, where you can see giraffes, elephants fruit bats and butterflies. I loved the chimpanzees. The attraction has one of the largest and most successful zoo groups of chimps.

In the evening after a quick drink in the Telford Warehouse next to the Tower Wharf we went for a meal in Upstairs at the Grill – a steakhouse with enough choice for the fussy vegetarian of the group (me).

The next day we made our return journey to the Bunbury base and took our time to explore more of the scenery. We watched deer lock horns on the hills near the canal – something we had never seen.

On the final day we were sad to say goodbye to our trusty boat. It really is another way of life and makes a very pleasant change from rushing everywhere on roads.

Gemma said: “We took the train to Chester then we went to Bunbury to get our boat. When we first got there I didn’t think I was going to like it but it was one of the best holidays I’ve had.

“To start off with I wasn’t really enjoying the boat but after a few hours I started to love it. It doesn’t travel fast so we got in to the city centre of Chester on our third day.

“I would love to go on another long boat trip. It’s so much fun.”

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