WHAT’S THE SCOOP? Be honest – if you haven’t already been on a canal boat holiday, you’ve always quite fancied the idea. There’s something about the slow pace of life that really appeals, especially in these modern times when it’s a real struggle to switch off and relax.
England has more than 2,000 miles of waterways to explore but you don’t have to be an expert sailor to enjoy them. Wyvern Shipping Company – based on the Grand Union Canal in Leighton Buzzard, Beds – has been helping holidaymakers cast off for the past 50 years and whether you’re travelling alone or as part of a large group, they will show you how to become an expert skipper in no time.
With no previous sailing experience and two guys over 6ft in our party – Nick and our friend Chris – we didn’t want to start too small or bite off more than we could chew. However, our bright blue boat Marigold – a 42-footer – was ideal for three people and a dog. Yes, she was cosy and yes, she was snug but when you’re booking a narrowboat, the clue is really in the name!
During our weekend break, we travelled from Leighton Buzzard to Stoke Bruerne (via Milton Keynes) which, in hindsight, was a bit ambitious for us first-timers. During the trip, which took approximately nine hours each way, we navigated lots of locks (practice makes perfect) and sipped champagne as we sailed but our final day felt a little fraught as we had to retrace our steps to get back to base – and when you’re limited to 4mph, there’s no such thing as rushing.
ARE MUDDY PAWS WELCOME? Many of the 35 boats in the Wyvern fleet are dog-friendly and they are clearly shown on the website. No provisions are made for pets so you’ll need to take your own beds, towels, treats and so on – but what else would you expect?AND WHEN I’M DOG TIRED? Marigold has been classified as a four-star boat and had all the mod cons we needed for a weekend away. The galley kitchen was tiny but well-equipped and the living area – or “saloon” – had a dining table, (temperamental) flatscreen TV and radio. You could pay extra for wifi but we’d heard it was notoriously unreliable so decided against it. Besides, we hadn’t booked a canal boating break so spend the weekend scrolling through Facebook. There were two single beds at the back that could be combined to make a double and the lounge sofa also folded out into a bed, with doors and partitioned areas helping to maintain privacy. The bathroom was a bit of an eye-opener, with a fresh water toilet that flushed into a holding tank and teeny-tiny shower – but it was actually more powerful than our one at home so I can’t really complain!HOW ARE THE SCOOBY SNACKS? The boats are self-catering but stocking up with supplies is no problem – there’s a Tesco near the Wyvern HQ and plenty of cubby-holes to store food and drink. The kitchen isn’t really set up to cook three-course feasts so instead, make the most of the many canalside pubs. We particularly liked The Globe Inn in Linslade and The Boat Inn in Stoke Bruerne, which did delicious evening meals and sold charity dog biscuits. The Three Locks in Stoke Hammond is well worth a visit, too – all of these pubs are dog-friendly and allow pets in the bar area at least.
ANY FOUR-LEGGED FRIENDS TO PLAY WITH? Arrrr, there are seadogs aplenty! Lots of boaters travel with at least one four-legged friend and most of them are keen to burn off a bit of energy when you inevitably meet on the towpath.WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Life on the canal is great for spontaneous strolling. If you’re getting a bit restless or just want to stretch your legs, you can hop off whenever you like. Inevitably, some parts of the canal are more picturesque than others but when you’re chugging through the countryside at a nice, slow pace, you will have plenty of time to decide if you like the look of somewhere or not. We sailed past glorious open fields, country parks, housing estates and built-up areas so got a real taste of everything the area has to offer. It was certainly a lot greener than I’d imagined – and that’s no bad thing.
WHAT ERNIE LOVED: Hopping on and off the boat for walks, watching the world go by
WHAT I LOVED: The relaxed pace of life, chatting to other boaters, the canalside pubs
GET ON THE DOG AND BONE: Short breaks on a canal boat sleeping two to four people start from £435, while the minimum cost for a week is £690. For short breaks, there is a £20 charge for dogs, rising to £30 for longer stays. Up to two dogs can be accommodated onboard at any one time, with the second pet getting a discount. The all-inclusive prices cover your diesel, gas and damage insurance so there will be no nasty extras to pay. Boats sleeping six to eight people cost considerably more but all the pricing can be found online. For more information or to book, click here or call 01525 372355.