ON A SLOW BOAT IN OLDE ENGLANDE

How could I make that dream come true?

I’d heard lovely stories of England’s beautiful old system of canals, and longed to explore them. But as a single traveller, I couldn’t find out how I could visit this part of Great Britain.

I could have hired a boat to travel on, but the idea of having to steer and negotiate locks, as well as cooking and cleaning, seemed a little too strenuous.  And you really can’t do that on your own.

However, I found that there is another way of seeing the canal system: where you are looked after in complete comfort, in the style of a luxury guest house.  This most relaxing of canal holidays is to be had on a hotel boat.

The hotel boats travel all around the system of canals and rivers in style, and are admired wherever they go.  Mine consisted of a motor boat towing an unpowered ‘butty’, just as in the days of cargo carrying. The boats have modern comforts and are beautifully decorated with traditional roses and castles, scrubbed ropework and gleaming brasses.

The boats I travelled on may carry up to nine guests at a time, usually for a week’s holiday travelling from one accessible point to another – maybe no more than fifty miles away.

And the holiday was just as relaxing as those images of the canals had led me to believe it could be.

We were met at the train station in Chester, and escorted to the boats. The looked so smart that I approached them with a feeling of pride already.

All meals were provided, including four course dinners and freshly baked cakes. All the food is prepared on board, where possible from local produce.

The young crew were there to look after my every need, and the expert skipper made sure the guests got the most out of the holiday by pointing out items of interest, as well as providing trips to local sights and events en route.

The boats offered single as well as twin or double rooms, some with en suite facilities: so they would also be suitable for singles or couples, and the atmosphere is always warm and friendly on board. Guests ranged in age between 40 and 90, and each one found a different way of relaxing – helping with the locks, watching the wildlife, the scenery and the heritage -and doing it in style.

A typical day started with a morning cup of tea in bed. Over breakfast, the skipper outlined the day ahead, so we were better able to look forward to the sights and highlights.  The journey was flexible enough that any preferences guests had for walking or making a side trip could be discussed and usually accommodated. Since the boats travel at only three or four miles per hour, the movement is totally sedate, in capable and experienced hands.

Mid-morning coffee is served on the move, then we would make a stop for a leisurely lunch.  The boats move off again for the afternoon, maybe travelling over an aqueduct of through a wooded cutting, and to crown it all – tea and cakes are served as you cruise.  The boats ‘tie up’ for the day at perhaps 5 or 6 pm.  There is then time to investigate your mooring spot, which may be some quaint old village, before sitting down to a sumptuous dinner.  After dinner, there may be a local inn to visit, or it’s just enjoyable to sit and talk over the sights of the day.

The fresh air and gently lapping water completes the relaxation and probably prevents any thoughts of late nights. W were all too eager to be up in the morning for the day ahead.

These holidays cost no more than full board in a hotel – which, after all, stays in one place all week.

The boats are all run by their owners as small family businesses, so each guest receives the best personal attention.  All the skippers are experienced boatmen, the hostesses excellent cooks, and the firms well established, so a marvellous holiday is guaranteed.

BACKGROUND

Rivers have been navigable in England since the time of the Vikings, and the Romans built several canals while they were there.  By the nineteenth century, there were over 4000 miles of canals. They linked all the main navigable rivers and allowed speedy movement of goods between industrial centres, enabling the industrial revolution.

Their use diminished with the introduction of railways, and they finally lost their trade to road haulage. Today, the canals and navigable rivers are again something of a secret from most people.  They run for some two thousand miles, mainly through the heart of the countryside, but retain the atmosphere of a time gone by.

There is little commercial traffic now on the canals, but the hotel boats help to keep the tradition alive.

For details of hotel boat holidays, visit their internet site at www.flagships.co.uk, where you can contact any of the companies, who will be glad to discuss your holiday with you.

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