Time out on the waterways: Narrowboat adventure on Grand Union Canal

If you are looking to experience a slower pace of life and enjoy the sights of our wonderful waterways, then a canal holiday is the way to do it.

National World reporter Catalina Constantin got a real taste of life on the water with a mini-break on the Northamptonshire canal ahead of Britain's biggest inland waterways festival – the Crick Boat Show (May 25-27).

We immersed ourselves in the beauty of nature. Travelling on a canal boat allowed us to enjoy life at our speed as the county’s areas rolled by.

Our five-day trip started last Monday (April 29) at Gayton Marina, where ABC Boat Hire gave us an ‘initiation’ to life on a narrowboat.

Paul Knappett, Gayton Marina technician, said: “Out of the whole of ABC Leisure Group, which I think has about 18 marines at the moment, I think this is physically the biggest out of all of them. I think we've got somewhere approaching 130 boats in there.”

Paul started working at Gayton Marina eight years ago, three months after initially retiring. He started as a part-time cleaner before becoming a technician, and he loves it.

Paul gave us the rundown on everything we needed to know for our journey, from mooring at night to handling the boat.

Our floating residence for the week was the "shiny and new" Kentish Plover, a 58-foot narrowboat that was constructed at the ABC Leisure Group headquarters in Alvechurch, Worcestershire.

After a rundown of thorough instructions and safety precautions, we boarded our boat around 5pm and started our journey along the Grand Union Canal.

As two novices, we cruised past Bugbrooke towards Stowe Hill Marina, where we moored up near the Narrow Boat Pub and Restaurant in Weedon. There, we enjoyed a cosy evening filled with fish and pasta prepared by the owner and executive chef, Jules, with cocktails and beer served by her brother.

We returned to the boat and set an alarm, determined to make the most of our next couple of days, before returning to Gayton Marina at 9am on Friday (May 3).

It soon became apparent to us that canal boating can be simultaneously very relaxing and stressful, with other boats to avoid and tight, blind turns to master.

It is all part of the adventure, and although you should always keep your wits about you whilst at the tiller, steering quickly becomes second nature.

On the first morning, we made it to Weedon, where we had the chance to do a little exploring on foot. There we also filled the water tank. An important yet easy job, like the other daily tasks we had to fulfil.

Tucked away in the middle of Weedon, we wandered around the Weedon Depot, a hub for retail, cafes, and local businesses with a rather impressive collection of imposing Grade II-listed buildings.

After stowing the ropes, we made our way to the Whilton Locks, a set of seven locks located near Daventry.

We approached the first lock with too much confidence and determination. But do not worry; you will repeat this process many times on your journey up and down the canal.

The 18th-century technology was not easy to manage at first, but you do not need to be an expert to take a boat out on the canal.

Life on a narrowboat has always appealed, but I had no idea how incredibly sociable it can be. People stop and chat with you; you work together and exchange tips and entertaining stories.

We gained a great deal of knowledge about the locks – do not mind the leaky lock gates; all you need to do is follow the steps to successfully make it out of the locks.

Hopefully, you will not struggle with performance anxiety, as people love to check out other boaters passing by, and you never know when you might need their assistance.

Locks are going up and downhill, and the first series of locks took us uphill into the village of Long Buckby.

Without the assistance of the kind people in the area, we would not have been able to cross the first locks.

All of these locks are double-width locks, meaning they will take two boats side by side. We were very fortunate to have two locals, Kerry and her husband, together with their eight-year-old dog Charlie, accompany us on our adventure for the first set of locks.

Using the windlass to crank up the paddle gear, you watch the water rush in or out of the lock. Only after the lock reaches the same level as the canal do you open the gate and steer your boat into the slender passageway.

While some claim that wearing gloves helps, I disagree, especially when it comes to windlasses. I used all of my strength to force the lock gates open, although at times it felt like they would never budge.

Everything you open must be closed once it is behind you; is the “golden rule,” of navigating locks as Paul called it.

It’s a real sense of accomplishment to get on the other side of the lock.

We went slow and steady for the first two days – about the same speed that it takes to walk the towpaths that run alongside the canal.

Kerry shared with us a lovely location to moor that night, and after we said our goodbyes, we made our way to Norton Junction and moored shortly after. We were exhausted.

This trip was made as part of this newspaper’s latest campaign to raise awareness and show you some of the lesser-known and family-friendly destinations in Northamptonshire.

Hidden Gems offers a platform to people across the county, from a variety of sectors, who want to share what they have to offer and encourage visitors to support the community.

If any businesses or venues would like to get involved with this campaign, email [email protected].

Related topics: