Something I have wanted to do for the longest time was to experience canal boat holidays. They’ve always looked like the most relaxing way to travel and I just adore rivers and canals. As the August Bank Holiday approached we were keen to enjoy a last summer adventure and decided to rent a long-boat. Summer days drifting along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bath to Bradford on Avon, spending nights cosy on board and days gently making our way through the waterways.
We set off from Bath, jumping on board for a quick lesson in how to steer the boat and take care of it and a wander along the canal to see how the locks worked.
We loaded up our belongings and as late afternoon set in we headed off, tentatively moving along the canal, watching the beautiful Georgian architecture of Bath fade in the shimmering sun. We were off on the first of our canal boat holidays.
The children immediately loved it, bounding through the boat to ask if they could have another snack before racing back up to the front to watch the ducks and swans nudge out of our way.
We found the steering tricky. Canal boats work in a counter-intuitive way, you steer right to go left and vice versa and with an eight berth boat stretching out in front of us it wasn’t always easy to navigate the narrow canals with boats moored and others coming towards us.
The swing bridges concerned me too but actually were easy to operate and I quite enjoyed my jumps off the boat to run up and push the bridge open, waving to the children on our boat below as it sailed through before closing it up and jumping back on board again.
By the time the late summer sun was starting to fade we were exhausted though and ready to moor up for a night on the canal. We hadn’t travelled very far, we thought we would have been much further along in our journey but we soon learnt that canal boats cannot, should not, be rushed.
It felt lovely mooring up on the side of the bank, hammering in pegs to tie up our boat, sitting alongside long term boat residents on this quiet bit of the Kennet and Avon canal. We cooked up pasta in our lovely little kitchen and listened to the gentle sounds of the river as we played card games afterwards and headed off to bed.
The canal is at its most beautiful in the quiet of the morning. Cyclists whirring amiably past, joggers smiling greetings and the sounds of the wildlife waking up accompanied us. This is what boating holidays should be all about
We set off on another beautifully sunny morning, still unused to quite how slow canal boats travel and with tense arms steering as accurately as we could.
We travelled over Dundas aqueduct with its wonderful countryside views and further up the waterways past more swing bridges. We loved the boating community who like us had hired boats and were trying to learn the ropes and we would smile and nod in understanding at each other as we passed. Some of the local residents seemed a little put out with the daytrippers and holiday makers travelling too fast and swerving too recklessly and we did offer up a number of apologies.
People were helpful though and once we got to Bradford on Avon, swerving awkwardly to one side and then the other, finding ourselves suddenly, accidentally mooring, our two boating neighbours helped pull us in and rope us up and share their boating tips.
As it turned out it was the perfect place to stop and the children raced around in the playground next to us before we all wandered out for ice creams and a stroll through beautiful Bradford on Avon.
We walked up the canal and found The Boat House, a sweet pub overlooking more canal boats where we stopped for Sunday lunch and to catch our breath.
We enjoyed it here, relaxing while the children played in their grounds, eating well and watching the sun set.
As the light was fading we weaved our way back along the waterways to our boat. This was my favourite time out by the canals, watching others set up barbecues on the banks, lights coming on, greetings shared, wine bottles popped, kettles boiled.
I also loved this stretch of canal the best, it felt like a real community here, friendly and welcoming.
In the morning we tackled the Bradford On Avon lock which we had been dreading. We shouldn’t have worried though, so many hands came to help us steer in, to turn the lock to allow the water to fill and for our boat to rise up. The children thought this was a wonderful experience and wanted to do more. We were relieved we made it through without any trauma.
It was our final day on the water though and it was our finest. The sun shone on the brightest, warmest Bank Holiday Monday and we, finally having cracked the steering, confidently sailed the boat on.
The children sat inside, icing and decorating cup cakes for us all to enjoy and we sat in the sunshine really appreciating how beautiful these criss-crossing routes of the UK are. Canals are largely hidden from the hustle and bustle of day to day life but they are a beautiful, peaceful escape. Forced to travel slowly and carefully you just want to look around and appreciate how amazing this enigmatic part of the UK is.
The children loved it too, spending lazy days reading and playing games. It was clear that boating holidays are the perfect way to unplug.
From the two youngest reading together to the oldest who was suddenly loving the book he’d brought, we all found time to slow down.
On our final stop at a beautiful canalside pub, cold drinks all round, we reminisced on our few summer days drifting along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bath to Bradford on Avon. It certainly wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be and in hindsight I think it would be a wonderful activity to team up with another family to appreciate, but I’m so pleased we did it and got the hang of it in the end. There’s something very special about time on the waterways.
Find out more about Drifters who hire out narrowboats here.
We were guests of Drifters on our trip along the Kennet & Avon canal for the purposes of this review but all opinions are our own.