Miranda Krestovnikoff, TV presenter and president of the RSPB, describes her recent Drifters canal boat holiday on the Mon & Brec Canal in South Wales:
It’s been several years since we’ve ventured out on the canals. On our last trip, a few years back, we chose to go in late October as it was half term. My long lasting memory was how cold it was. This year we hit the July heatwave and were thankful of the shade of the woodland we floated through, as the sun was so hot. It couldn’t have been more different!
We spent five days on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, travelling from Goytre Wharf to Talybont-on-Usk and back – a most scenic and tranquil route through breath-taking scenery, made even more beautiful by the fact that many parts of the canal are elevated and the views are just spectacular.
Arriving Monday lunchtime, we all boarded in a rush. Kids eager to grab the best bed, me trying to figure out where to put all our stuff and the dog clearly very unhappy. She’s not a water dog, although she had been on a few boats before. Tail between her legs, she looked at me – very put out.
Keen to get going, we cast off. I had forgotten how slowly it all went.
“Chugging” is the only speed you can really go at. You just accept that it is going to take ages to get from A to B. So you can’t fight it, you just need to let the canal take over and breathe….
Nothing could be done fast and most things had to be left to chance – which is calming and frustrating all at once. I’m a planner so I like to have my days and trips mapped out. Here there is only one option – to go forward until you get to where you want to stop….
Once we had woken up the next morning, everything seemed different. We had left our busy lives behind and entered the “canal zone” – ready to take in the scenery, the wildlife, peace and tranquillity that you can only get from being a long way for roads and cities.
Even the dog had stopped pacing backwards and forwards and whining, as she had done on the first day. She stopped looking longingly at the towpath, looking for an opportunity to jump off and was happily sleeping with the kids at the bow as they sat whittling hazel twigs.
I sat at the back with my husband, drinking tea and just watching everything floating by. Rustles in the reeds could have been a water vole or even otter, but were more often than not a lost duckling, separated from mum by this 48 foot barge gliding through its home. Sorry!
Life was still and calm. The kids were occupied and we could watch the wildlife. Moving so slowly, you don’t really disturb it. Herons merely glanced at us from their perches as we slid by underneath them. Kingfishers darted past – a flash of colour and then they were gone. At night we moored up in the woods, listening to the tawny owls hunting with their new fledglings, bats flew past as we took the dog out for a last walk before bed and all was so utterly still. It was perfect.
I loved the people that we met, too. Obviously similar types to us – walkers, cyclists, kayakers, paddle boarders and people just enjoying life on the water. Conversations at lochs resulted in the exchange of information about local pubs, interesting walks and how best to try and turn this big beast of a barge around when we got halfway! People were quiet and considerate at night and I slept so well from a combination of fresh air, good food and peace.
It was the ultimate getaway. We returned our narrowboat recharged and relaxed. The children had learnt about lochs, and helming a huge boat, whittled more hazel sticks than I care to imagine and played a lot of cards. We didn’t use the TV or the WiFi (although they were available). We just enjoyed being a family, together. Even the dog didn’t even want to leave. Now… when can we book up next…?