I am incredibly lucky to have a Dad who is a bit of a boat fanatic. After he retired, he finally treated himself to his very own and since then, I have been on more than one canal boat holiday with my parents.
My very first and most notable canal boat holiday was when my parents moved house in 2016. To coincide with the house move, the boat also had to be moved, from Droitwich to Nantwich. It took 8 days and 84 miles of gentle chugging along 5 canals and a river, across 4 counties, through 81 locks, 17 small aqueducts and 6 tunnels; come rain or shine (thanks for the stats Dad).
It was during this time in particular, that I learned some valuable lessons and I am exceedingly grateful for the experience. So grateful in fact, I believe that it is an experience everyone should consider, if given the chance. Here are 10 reasons to go on a canal boat holiday:
It encourages you to slow down
With a speed limit of 4mph, walkers will be overtaking you on the towpath. At first, I found this speed quite tedious. After all, aren’t we generally encouraged to live life in the fast lane? We think fast, work fast, sleep fast and eat fast food.
So with that being said, cruising along on a narrowboat sure can take a physical and mental adjustment to begin with. But after a while, the sensation of time slowing down begins to feel quite agreeable; almost meditative. Worries begin to melt away, your mind begins to declutter and you experience a rare phenomenon known as ‘relaxation’.
It teaches you to live more simply
Life on a canal boat holiday is simple. Your only real goal is to get from A to B, and you’re in no real hurry. The clothes you wear, your hygiene routine and the food you eat all become more practical and less time consuming. It’s a nice break from the usual stresses and pressures of everyday life.
It helps you appreciate your home comforts
Over my week-long canal boat holiday, I had to make do without the use of a hairdryer, certain electrical kitchen appliances, such as a toaster, and even a real bed. There is no constant water supply or regular sewage system, so everyday tasks have to be treated with mindfulness and patience.
You get to see your world from a different perspective
Chugging along the canal, you may see areas which you have lived in, or passed through a million times from a completely different perspective. It’s like stepping into somebody else’s shoes. For instance, the canal may take you along the back of peoples houses, where secret gardens come to life. You may also pass by entire floating communities, otherwise hidden from the outside world.
You meet some genuinely nice people
There is a real sense of community on the canal. Most people are incredibly friendly and will greet you with a nod and a warm smile as you pass. Some folks even want to make conversation with you and go out of their way to help you, which can come as a bit of a shock to those used to the anonymity of urban living!
Not a day will pass by without you seeing something unusual
For instance, you’ll find that there’s usually something odd floating in the canal. For me, it was a deer. I also just so happened to witness a cow taking a dip! If it’s not wildlife encounters, you may also come across little shops along the towpath selling nicknacks, home grown veggies and other produce. They usually have an honesty box where you can pop your money.
It’s a good way of getting some much needed ‘green’ exercise
Green exercise refers to physical activity done in a more natural environment, opposed to say, the gym. It’s reported to boost your mood, self-esteem and impact positively on your mental health. And when does exercise come into the equation on a canal boat holiday you may ask?
Well let me tell you, working the locks is no walk in the park and requires some physical strength and endurance. In Audlem, Cheshire for instance, you’ll come across 15 in a row. Each lock can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes to complete – you do the math!
You will marvel at the rural beauty
Rolling fields, scatterings of old farms and quaint cottages, sleepy old towns and villages, dense, dank woodland, canal reeds lightly swaying in the breeze… ahhhhh.
You might get a glimpse of some rare wildlife
I saw my very first kingfishers along the canal, as well as a mink, which I mistook for an otter (you can only imagine my disappointment). Just beware of swans, they come knocking at your window expectantly and don’t take no for an answer!
And finally, because how many people can actually say that they have been on a canal boat holiday?
Over the week I spent cruising across England, I only saw a handful of people from my generation. It’s not really something we do, is it? Well, I can confirm that it is definitely something to squeeze onto your bucket list. Try it, be different, I dare you.
If you are feeling inspired, check out The Canal & River Trust for heaps of information, including day hire and boating holidays.