Sue Hall packed a book to read for her lazy weekend on the canal, but found there was too much to do and see to open even the first page
We picked up Jim at Kate’s on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late June.
Kate Boats in Warwick, that is.
Jim, you see, is all of 58ft long, sleeps six and soon became an old friend.
He’s a narrowboat.
Before we set about circumnavigating the Grand Union Canal we had a comprehensive tour of our five-star boat, its safety features and the rules of the waterways.
Rich, from Kate Boats, then took the helm and showed us the ropes (quite literally), the steering, and how to successfully operate a lock, before turning the boat around and leaving us in charge.
Not forgetting to leave us a small list of daily tasks which included filling the tank with water (though even with four of us having a shower each day we didn’t need to fill up often), checking the oil, water and grease, and making sure nothing had got caught in the rudder.
Jim comes fully equipped with a full-sized oven, fridge, microwave, flushable toilet, very efficient shower, two TVs and was very clean and comfortable for our party of two adults and two 16-year-old boys.
Having only four of us on a six-berth boat meant that the twin-bedded room at the back of the boat could always be left as a bedroom, and not cleared away each day to be a living area.
The double bed was fixed, too, so it meant that we permanently had a lounge area at the front of the boat where we could relax or very simply put up a small table or two.
And although the TV signal was intermittent and couldn’t be relied upon, bringing an xbox to set up with the TV in the boys’ room was an excellent idea, keeping them busy when they weren’t steering the boat, managing the locks and helping other holidaymakers with their boats, too.
Having grabbed a few basics from the supermarket, we untied the ropes and headed off down the Grand Union Canal towards Leamington Spa.
Our journey took us through some beautiful scenery, past some delightful pubs and introduced us to a wide range of narrowboat enthusiasts.
Some, like us, were renting a boat for a weekend; others were spending a week; some six months on and six months off their own vessel; some lived exclusively on the canal.
Our first night was spent moored alongside the Two Boats and the Cuttle Inn at Long Itchington. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to try their evening meals, but both pubs looked well equipped to refuel tourists, with tables on the canal bank, food menus and free wi-fi.
Many boaters were sharing their experiences with the family pet – it was not unusual to see a dog or two standing at the bow as the boat glided into the lock, and occasionally we’d see the odd cat sunning itself on the roof.
The leisurely life seemed to suit them, too.
Then there was the canal’s own wildlife. Several ducks greeted us each morning when we opened the windows – just checking in case we had some leftover bread! Moorhens and swans often paraded their young, too.
Having a separate bedroom at the back of the boat for teenagers Mat and Luke was ideal. It meant we could open up the boat and start cruising well before they woke up.
We meandered through Leamington and then spotted The Blue Lias, a beautiful flower-clad pub just nestled on the river bank. This definitely necessitated a stop before tackling the Stockton Flight – a staircase of eight locks.
Tackling the locks was done with enthusiasm. One person steered Jim, one tied the rope to steady the boat in the lock, and two sorted filling and emptying the water. With several other boats around we often shared a lock and therefore shared responsibilities.
If there are only two of you onboard you need to bear in mind that you need to be quite agile, and have a reasonable amount of strength to turn the lock keys. This is where having two teenagers proved its worth. Anticipating the locks ahead and checking whether there were boats queueing up, or indeed waiting for us, was a challenge that the boys relished.
Mooring up at night was simple as long as you avoided parking too near a lock. Make sure you tie the boat tightly though.
They do tend to move if a boat cruises closely by – as we discovered.
Our second night was spent moored up in Braunston, just next to the Marina (worth a visit), and opposite yet another pub, where we enjoyed an evening meal.
As Monday dawned, we started our return trip. We knew we had several hours before arriving at our first lock, so we left the boys sleeping.
Don’t get the idea that this is all about tradition and looking to the past, by the way. We used the Canal app on our smartphone to see the route ahead. It uses GPS and was very useful, warning of bridges and locks.
Our four-day trip saw us navigate from Warwick to Braunston and back. We had travelled through 46 locks, enjoyed some great pub food and been amazed at the scenery and the way of life narrowboat owners enjoy.
It’s an experience we’d love to repeat. Wonder if Jim would like to come on holiday with us again soon...
Sue Hall travelled as a guest of Kate Boats, which is based at The Boatyard, Nelson Lane, Warwick, CV34 5JB and at Stockton Top Marina, Rugby Road, Stockton, CV47 8HN. Call 01926 492968 or click www.kateboats.co.uk
Short breaks and week-long holidays plus are available on the fleet of more than 20 narrowboats. Sue picked up Jim at Warwick and the cost of her short break (Saturday to Tuesday) at the end of June, was £790.
Top tip: If you pick up your boat at Warwick there’s a Tesco just 10 minutes into the journey, right on the canal bank. Moor up and pop in for supplies. If you’re on a short break you won’t find many, if any, other opportunities to pick up basics.