Boating for beginners from Braunston

By Giselle Whiteaker

As soon as we board Selene at Drifters narrowboat hire base in Braunston, Northamptonshire, we fall in love. Despite being true to the name in narrowness, the narrowboat feels surprisingly spacious inside, with room to manoeuvre and clever touches, like a mobile folding table that can be used inside or outside. We find it hard to believe that we are being trusted to navigate the waterways with only a brief skippering lesson.

The first afternoon, we pass through one lock as practice then moor by the bank. We whip up a meal with the provisions we brought from home and have a leisurely evening, taking a stroll along the canal to the Admiral Nelson pub and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Come morning, I stroll down to The Boat Shop to fill in the gaps in our shopping list, picking up breakfast items and postcards of the area. A quick coffee and it is time to set off, with five locks immediately ahead. My boyfriend is stretching his memory to remember all of the steps to get us safely through the lock, but as it turns out, we have a little help. We pair up with another boat for this section, chatting over the decks as the water fills and empties, taking us up and away.

Waving farewell at the end of the section, we settle into a stretch of cruising, taking turns at the tiller as we glide through the greenery. Ducks frolic by the side of the banks and Weeping Willows dangle curtains towards the murky water. The sun does not come out to play, but the gentle chug of the engine, the light rustle of trees in the breeze, and the ripples cascading away from our passage more than make up for overcast skies.

Braunston Tunnel is one of the highlights of this route. It’s a little nerve wracking for novices – imagine coasting through cool, inky-blackness, a small section of wall illuminated by the boat’s light, heading for a small, light circle: the end of the tunnel, some 1.8 miles away. It’s mesmerising and there’s a thrill to reaching the end and popping back out into daylight.

A long stretch follows, where we simply enjoy being on the canal, waving merrily at other boaters as we pass. Canal-goers are an exceptionally friendly bunch.

Reaching the turn off to Leicester, we prepare for Buckby Locks, a flight of seven. There’s a brief wait as several boats queue to go through, but the joy of boating is that no-one is in a hurry. Again, we pair up with another boat, sharing the workload throughout the flight.

At the Bottom Lock, we moor for a celebratory, and very late, lunch. We haven’t decided where we will spend the night, so we scour the map, locating the winding holes, ready for turning back from whence we came tomorrow. We decide on Weedon Bec, a popular spot according to the neat line of boats by the bank. Too slow at decision-making, we continue past the epicentre, finding a quiet spot around a bend where we are the only boat.

We could probably walk along the towpath and find a charming riverside pub, but instead, we take a seat at Selene’s prow as the sun peeks out belatedly from behind a cloud. Glasses of wine in hand, we make a toast to doing it all again tomorrow, in reverse. We watch the ducks on the water, the birds flitting from tree to tree, and just occasionally, someone walking their dog. This is the life.