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Hands on the tiller

17 January 2014

By Vic Van Den Bergh

IF YOU ever want to discover how to combine time away from parish life and the greatest amount of envy with the least amount of energy expended, then narrowboats win every time.

Even half a day on our narrowboat provides enough relaxation to compensate for the demands of the most testing funerals or PCC meetings. Once we arrive at the boat, we're away, and the joy of steering a boat through even the most industrial of landscapes leaves us feeling chilled and content.

Chugging along at three miles an hour soon takes you far away - to somewhere that is no more than half an hour's drive away. On our holiday last year, we stayed in Gas Street canal basin, in Birmingham; what would have taken 30 minutes by car took us 54 minutes by boat, and we all wished it had been longer.

Standing on the back with a tiller in one hand and a (mandatory) real ale in the other, I find much to commend inland waterways. There are the "Rings", where start and finish coincide, and, unlike an "out and return" trip, you don't have to retrace steps. So the whole journey stays fresh, and the sights are always new.

There are locks to be encountered and beaten. These, with the walking between them, can make a fair demand on one's energy, especially when encountering the flights (groups of locks close together). But there is always a pub or a town where you can reward yourself and the crew for a good day's boating.

Many people assume that boating has to be a bit spartan, but once they've taken a look inside a narrowboat, they soon change their minds. Galleys are just like kitchens at home, and the living area and bedrooms are usually well equipped and comfortably fitted out.

One question that people ask is: "Aren't you limited in where you can go?" Well, you need water, but, once you are at the boat, the holiday begins; you can go wherever you want. For instance, we have been through the centre of London, and up through the rivers Lee and Stort; along the Thames, and to Oxford, Chester, Peterborough, and over the Llangollen Canal's Pontcysyllte aqueduct - and that still leaves the Welsh, Northern, and Southern waterways to be considered.

If you like the idea of hiring a boat (daily, weekly, or for a weekend), www.canaljunction.com is a good place to begin. Clicking on the "Canal Holidays" tab will make available many of the hire companies across the waterways. The canaljunction website will also take you to many other interesting and helpful pages; so it is well worth a visit. A six-berth boat will cost about £1100 a week to hire during high season, dropping to £800 in the low.

There are Christian narrowboaters, too; if you would like fellow-ship while afloat, visit www.boaterschristianfellowship.org.uk.

So, if you would like a holiday home and touring caravan in one, why not give boating a try? A couple of useful books are Canal and River Cruising, by Sheila Davenport (John Wiley & Sons, 1990), and thefun One Man and a Narrowboat,by Steve Haywood (Summersdale, 2009).

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