Mature Times - April 07

Messing about on the ... canal

As we all know the British have a fascination with water, whether its using it, saving it or doing things in or on it - and no, Charlie Dymock, is not solely to blame for this obsession.

So it was, with a degree of trepidation, that a team from Mature Times was sent to explore the pleasures and delights of a boating holiday on one of our network of canals and waterways, courtesy of Anglo Welsh Boating Holidays.

Our starting point was the Monkton Combe boatyard of Anglo Welsh, just outside Bath and located on the Somerset Coal Canal. This was to link us to the Avon & Kennet Canal - which runs from Bristol right through to the River Thames at Reading. For complete novices this was something of a challenge – especially when you see your boat for the first time and you realise just how long it is; in our case, some 61' and 6'10” wide.

Our boat for the weekend was called “Eynesham” and had berths for eight people with surprisingly good facilities - including a powerful shower, flush toilet and impressive central heating as well as a fully equipped galley and living area - including (for those that want it) a TV and DVD player.

Once aboard, and after a quick tour given by our most helpful guide Adam, and a lesson in how to make things work we were away, four adults, two teenagers and two dogs set sail for a long weekend on the water.

Once you have managed to navigate the first half a mile or so of canal without hitting the bank or an oncoming boat, and realised that the boat steers from its middle and not the front, you quickly relax into a gentle pace of life – after all you can only go as fast as the boat: four miles per hour and no more.

You rapidly start to relax and to appreciate the friendliness of fellow boaters: almost everyone acknowledges you and says hello, people slow down to let you pass and even fishermen and passersby on the tow path wave at you as you go past. What is more you soon notice the absence of traffic and loud noises; what you can hear is the gentle sound of your engine and that of the wildlife around you – the singing of the birds in the trees, the squirrels scuttling about in the woods, and the quacking of the ducks on the canal… I swear they were asking to be fed!

You also begin to see things that you wouldn't otherwise, such as the beauty of the countryside around you, a field full of rabbits taking in the warm afternoon sun – although my Jack Russell was not impressed at this point as he couldn't go and chase them - and some of the stunning properties and gardens that abut the canal side.

The pace at which you go is dictated by two things: you and other boats, especially when, for the first time, you reach a lock. What is it about canal boats going through locks, and why do so many people stop and stare whilst it is happening? I suppose it's because they are seeing something from a bygone era, something that certainly would not be invented in today's modern world.

In any event, the canal network is a marvellous feat of engineering and sailing on it is a fascinating thing to do – and watch; and after the first trip has been successfully navigated then the rest becomes so much easier. What's more, people will come up and ask you questions as though you are a seasoned expert!

Having spent some four days on the water it is hard to find a fault. The quality of the boat and accommodation was very good, the pace of life was excellent, the stress busting factor was high, the ability to stop at beautiful waterside pubs was an ongoing temptation. The smell of bacon sandwiches from the galley in the morning was irresistible – and to top it off - four days of glorious sunshine in April was a bonus that made the whole trip even more enjoyable.

This is a holiday that comes highly recommended.

You too can enjoy the benefits of a canal boat holiday and if you want to book with Anglo Welsh, give them a call on 0117 304 1122.