The October Half Term break gave our little family – Mum, Dad, 12-year old son and Patch the Fox Terrier – the chance to spend the weekend away in the Warwickshire countryside.
We picked up our beautiful boat for up to six people, ‘Isabella’, from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton. This hire boat yard is on the Grand Union Canal near Leamington Spa. Drifters’ operators Kate Boats and Anglo Welsh both hire canal boats out of Stockton.
We were sent a video in advance giving us information about how to operate the boat: https://www.kateboats.co.uk/sendout-video/
On the day we were given a handover in person and the opportunity to be taken through a lock. We’ve been boating before. So after going through the safety and operation procedures on board, we set off down the Grand Union Canal towards Napton.
Lock sharing at Calcutt Locks
Everyone had a go at steering during the two miles of cruising through the countryside before we reached our first lock. Another hire boat joined us in the locks, so we shared the work between our two crews. Our lock companions were seasoned boaters and were heading off for a two week break around the Warwickshire Ring.
Dinner at the Kings Head
Soon after the locks, we reached Napton Junction, where the Grand Union Canal merges with the Oxford Canal. Here we moored up for the night just as dusk was approaching. We walked along the towpath and into the village of Napton to enjoy dinner at the Kings Head pub. We enjoyed pizza, a burger and a sizzling Thai chicken dish, followed by cheesecake and chocolate pudding.
We’d brought a torch to help us find our way back to our boat in the dark. There’s no WiFi on board Isabella and the mobile phone signal in rural Warwickshire comes and goes. While that’s alarming for a 12-year old, for us parents it was a great escape and a good excuse to play card games and chat instead.
A visit to the canal village of Braunston
The next morning we cruised on to the pretty canal village of Braunston in the heart of the canal network. The journey was lock free and took us about two hours. The wind was quite strong, especially in the more open stretches of the canal. But we managed to keep the boat going in the right direction! We passed fields with cows and sheep, and we saw lots of swans, ducks, moorhens and coots on the water.
At the junction where the main line of the Grand Union Canal meets the Oxford Canal, we turned right towards London. A left turn would have taken us towards Rugby on the North Oxford Canal.
We turned the boat around at the entrance to Braunston Marina and then moored up for a coffee at the Gongoozler’s rest café boat. We also topped up our boat with water from the water point close to the Marina entrance.
Then we set off on foot to explore the village of Braunston, including the High Street at the top of the hill. Here there’s a village shop, pub and fish & chip shop. Then we walked back down to the canal to have lunch at the Admiral Nelson pub, next to Lock 3. This was perfect for gongoozling, the canal term for watching people and boats go through locks. The food and service were excellent, with some great vegetarian choices, and well as burgers.
The return journey
As we only had two nights afloat, we cruised back the way we came and moored up north of Calcutt Locks. The wind was strong, but the sun was shining and we went through the locks with another boat again.
We returned the boat to the boat yard the next morning and headed home feeling revitalised from all the fresh countryside air. We have some lovely memories of the sights and sounds of canal environment and a family adventure afloat.