THEY had told me it would
be relaxing. I had visions
of chugging along sundappled
effortlessly on gently rippling
It wasn’t quite like that. It could
have been… but I hadn’t factored
in a few home truths.
Firstly, I’m not great on water– yes, sadly even canals! Secondly,
our dog, it turned out, was even
worse; and thirdly, this was our
This was a holiday that was
going to test our resilience, teamwork
and reef knots.
There was high adventure. At
one point we were shipwrecked,
resulting in a rescue mission by
There were mishaps. We
snapped a barge pole, got wedged
halfway through a three-point
turn and moored in a turning bay
But our kids loved every
moment, every lock, every bridge,
every tunnel. In fact there wasn’t
a dull moment.
Our four days were full-on from
the word go. Within minutes of
leaving the safety of our mooring
at Stoke-on-Trent we were confronted
by our first lock – and it
was a whopper. My stomach
knotted as the water gushed
through the gate paddles, lifting
our boat steadily.
The photo of the flipped boat
that served as a warning during
our pre-voyage briefing kept
flashing into my mind. It was obviously going through my partner’s,
too, as he was taking no
chances of the back end of the
barge becoming caught on the
cill and kept the boat rammed
These locks and canals are an
incredible feat of 18th century
ingenuity. I don’t think there was
a moment that I didn’t wonder at
the fact that every inch we were
travelling was hand-dug.
And I was keen to impress on
my kids the sheer magnitude and
human cost involved!
The Trent & Mersey Canal was
completed in 1777, one of the earliest
inland waterways to be navigable
in Britain, its main purpose
being to link the Potteries
around Stoke-on-Trent with Liverpool.
You get a real sense of industrial
Britain on some stretches
and although not always ‘pretty’ this scenery has its own charm,
especially to anyone interested
The winding or paddle gear is
itself a wonderful oily, greasy
two fingers to our squeaky-clean
21st century existence. We spent
our trip smeared in oil, though
strangely none of our fellow boaters
seemed to have this problem!
Our 12-year-old son was sharing
the lock duty with me. Both
our children were intrigued by
the winding gear, with its grimy
cogs, and I could sense their satisfaction
at seeing their efforts
lift the boat.
Whereas I found the locks a bit
of a drag after a while, they welcomed
each one with renewed
enthusiasm – which was good as
there were quite a few.
They thrived on the physical
exertion whereas I could feel my
arm muscles coming out of semiretirement.
(If you’re pre-holiday
routine includes a manicure,
don’t bother. I returned home
with a full set of blisters!).
There came a point on our trip
when the penny finally dropped.
You literally have to go with the
flow. Once you’ve accepted thisyou can start to relax. Nothing is
achieved on a barge holiday in a
And once I stopped faffing about
how long it would take to reach
the next lock, I started to take in
the scenery. Life looks different
from the water.
Cattle, birds, even the urban
areas have a strange appeal.
Sadly, our dog preferred to be on
dry land rather than admiring it
from a boat. After a couple of
successful leaps to shore which
saw us hurtling after him on the
towpath, we had to keep his lead
We travelled from Stoke to
Stone on course for Great Haywood
where we planned to turn
for our return voyage. There are
canal-side pubs on the way. We
stopped off in Stone where we
spent an afternoon exploring
this pretty town before enjoying
a pub meal.
Mooring is something of an art
but after a few bumps and
scrapes we honed our skills. One
thing you can be sure of is plenty
of advice from fellow boaters,
especially those who recognise
you as ‘newbies’. Many were boat owners who
literally tested the water with
barge holidays like ours before
We became aware of a waterways
community, where people
either lived all-year round on
their boats or spent the best part
of the year touring across the
And like all communities, they
had their own set of rules, ones
that are passed on by word of
mouth. There is plenty of community
spirit so you’ll never be
struggling on your own for long – something we were very grateful
The appeal of narrowboat holidays
is obvious and I can see
how it can become addictive.
Certainly, we came away with
plenty of memories and stories
to tell, not least mooring up in
the dark opposite a graveyard.
The date? Hallowe’en, of course!
the boat was well equipped with a
modern kitchen and living area.
Although a television was
provided, we chose not to use
it. The shower-room and toilet
were compact, as you would
expect, but impressed me
nonetheless and were certainly
adequate for our needs.
Bedrooms were partitioned off
during the night for privacy
and the beds were comfortable.
Parking was free.