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 but you don’t have to be an expert sailor to enjoy them. Wyvern Shipping Company – on the Grand Union Canal in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire – has been helping holidaymakers cast off for 50 years. Whether you’re travelling alone or as part of a group, they will show you how to become an expert skipper in no time.
With no previous sailing experience and two guys over 6ft – Nick and our friend Chris – we didn’t want to 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 sailed from Leighton Buzzard to Stoke Bruerne which, in hindsight, was a bit ambitious for us first-timers. It took approximately nine hours each way and the final day felt a little fraught. 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.
How dog-friendly is the Wyvern Shipping Company?
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, however, so you’ll need to take your own beds, towels, treats and so on.
Tell me more about canal boating with the Wyvern Shipping Company
We travelled on Marigold – a four-star boat that had all the mod cons we needed for a weekend away. The galley kitchen was small but well-equipped and the living area – or “saloon” – had a dining table, (temperamental) 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 to spend the weekend scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.
Two single beds at the back could be combined to make a double and the sofa also folded out into a bed. Doors and partitioned areas helped to maintain privacy, but the bathroom was a bit of an eye-opener. There was a freshwater toilet that flushed into a holding tank and a tiny shower – but it was actually more powerful than our one at home so I can’t complain!
The boats are self-catering but stocking up with supplies is no problem. There’s a big 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 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.
Lots of canal boaters have at least one pet and many of them are keen to burn off some energy when you inevitably meet on the towpath.
Where are the best dog walks along the Grand Union Canal?
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. Naturally, some parts of the canal are more picturesque than others. But when you’re slowly chugging through the countryside, there’s plenty of time to decide if you like the look of somewhere.
We sailed past open fields, country parks and housing estates 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 about canal boating
Hopping on and off the boat for walks, watching the world go by
What I loved about canal boating
The relaxed pace of life, chatting to other boaters, the canalside pubs
How to book with Wyvern Shipping Company
Short breaks on a boat sleeping two to four 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.