Narrowboating on Kennet & Avon Canal

Trip Start Apr 16, 2004
Trip End Aug 31, 2008

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Monday, March 24, 2008

21 March 2008 - Friday
Mom has been in the UK for just under a week and one of the requests on coming over was to book a weekend away on a narrowboat. There are so many canals and options across the UK, but the location picked was to start off at Staverton on the Kennet & Avon canal. This apparently is one of the canals with the least locks en-route. A big drawing card when initially the trip was only booked for two people - my mom and I. Also, the feedback we'd received from some people having done this route before was really great. Thus a 4-berth (couldn't get 2-berth) narrowboat, Elaine, was booked. Later on Peter and his mom agreed to join us for the trip and the additional two bed thus proved a bonus.

Upon doing some research on getting there, we discovered that it was going to cost 35 each for a train ticket to Trowbridge (thus for 4 people it would be 140, excluding the taxi from the train station) and only 76 for car hire for the whole easter weekend, thus we chose the latter. It's quite ridiculous when your public transport costs you the world when they're trying to keep us off the roads in the first place. A bit of a blessing though as hiring our own car was far more convenient than a train or bus would've been.

Peter, myself, my mom, and Peter's mom left London at about 10am in our nice blue little Ford Fiesta to ensure we had enough time to get to Hilperton Marine and also to leave some time to do some shopping for the weekend. We stopped off at a small pub at about 13:00 for a bit of a lunch before even thinking of doing any shopping. The Old Bear pub in Staverton did wonders to fill the gaps, and we then headed off towards Trowbridge to stock up on our weekends groceries. Staverton and Hilperton didn't offer us too much in choice but we did find a Lidl to grap a few things. I've never shopped there before and doubt I'll do so again.

Anyways, after arriving at the Hilperton Marine at about 15:00 we watched a quick 10 minute video describing what to expect on the boat etc. Then Peter demonstrated as to how the canal locks work with a mini lock model. Phil then gave us a quick technical run through of the boat before we set off towards Bath. For a country so tight and stringent on health and safety, it was quite refreshing and probably a bit scary as to how fast and easily they handed the boat over to us to head off under our own control. Guess Peter must've looked like he knew what was going on...

Our boat, Elaine, was equipped with three rooms. The most rear room was a bedroom with a double bed, small cupboard and a sink. The middle room a bathroom with a sink, shower and toilet. And the front largest room, a kitchen/lounge with a gas oven, sink, cupboards, and couches which doubled up into either two single or one double bed. Thus, quite a cozy little home for the next three days. The one place I don't think too many people enjoyed was the loo. It was too high for your feet to touch the floor, thus really uncomfortable to sit in that position, or alternatively you could put your feet up on a higher ledge which invariably meant your knees were almost wrapped around your ears. Neither of these positions too comfortable, but again I don't think boat was designed for comfort. Thankfully, most of the canal side pubs provided toilet facilities for emergency stops.

The boat was also equipped with internal heating which was to be our saving grace for the coldest UK Easter Weekend in 25 years.

We were informed of a couple of canal rules, the main one being that the maximum speed on the narrowboats is 4mph, which is just about slower than the average walkers speed, but at least it gives you more than enough time to enjoy the passing views. This was quite a restriction for Peter who's used to seeing everything pass by him in a bit more of a haze when on his motorbike.

Anyways, after passing a few bridges we encountered our first lock outside of Bradford-Upon-Avon. This we navigated without too much hassle or effort as our boat was joined by another family's boat in the lock. Their family were more than willing to take on the manual tasks as this was still quite a novelty. Little did they know that they were going to be greeted with a freezing downpour of rain and hail!!! Everyone was soaked to the skin by the time the bottom gate was opened up to let the boats pass through.

We decided to moor just below the lock for the evening making it easy for us to move on down the canal whenever we wanted to the next morning. Also very easy access to the little local pubs. Though this was the beginning of spring and usually one would expect somewhat warmer weather, this night was not to be one of those (and neither was any other of the weekend), but where we thought we'd be fine with the heating, it decided to switch off and remain off for the rest of the evening. Thus with every available layer of clothing, blankets and duvet we spent the evening as snuggled as possible to retain the little body heat we were giving off.

22 March 2008 - Saturday
My mom, being a farmer's wife, rose at 6am to start off the day. When we finally managed to open our eyelids we decided to join her out for a walk to the town center. The wind was cutting through us like ice, and before making it too far, the plan was aborted and we headed on back to have a good English breakfast beside a fireplace at a pub on the canal.

Once we again warmed up, we again headed towards Bradford-Upon-Avon's town center to find some thermals. Bradford, though beautiful, can't particularly flatter itself by describing its vast variety of shops, thus long-john-less we headed on back to the boat to start our next stretch towards Bath.

We crossed two aquaducts across the railways, opened and passed 2 swing bridges, and went under about 15 different bridges before reaching finally reaching Bath. Along the way we also endured rain, hail, sunshine, wind, snow and every other thing the weather could throw at us. We did however have one long break allowing us to miss the worst of the wind and snow before moving on.

The scenery along the canals is really quite beautiful. The little houses and gardens are so tidy and full of character. Every narrowboat is unique with names ranging from 'The Black Pig' to the 'Crinkly Starfish'. Roofs were adorned with bicycles, herbs, chimneys, wind generators, cats, ducks, dogs, self-made ornaments from all available materials. You really didn't run out of anything to draw your attention. Also, it was quite refreshing leaving London and being greeted by so many friendly and helpful faces. Everyone was keen to talk and share a story. Everyone greeted you with a smile or a bump into your boat. And everyone was happy to help out wherever they could. The only person we encountered that didn't portray that spirit was an old man at the top of the Bath locks who proceeded to shake his head in a very disapproving manner when we created a small wake behind our boat. But he did seem like the type of person who would've disapproved anyone that was a tourist on the canal.

On arriving at Bath we again were faced with the prospect of dealing with a few locks. Not one, or two, but 6 of them (Bath Top Lock, Pulteney Gardens Lock, Horseshoe Bridge Lock, Wash House Lock, Bath Deep Lock and Bath Bottom Lock) before reaching the bottom and mooring on the River Avon in view of Bath's Pulteney Bridge. The moving from the top of the canal through the locks onto the River Avon must've taken about an hour or more. Quite a work out too winding all the sluices up and down. Not that we could complain on the basis that we were doing well eating hot cross buns and all. Again, the wind was ice and encouraged us headed into town to continue our search of thermals - this time with success!!!

As most of the shops were closed or closing at about 6pm, we didn't saunter around too long, but headed back to the boat to spend the evening drinking wine and playing cards. The heating did manage to stay on during the evening and as we slept with the maximum number of layers on, most of us did tend to overheat for a while before shedding a few clothes and blankets.

23 March 2008 - Sunday
Early next morning we decided to trek back up the 6 locks before mooring and heading into Bath for a bit of exploration. This would mean that most of the shops should be open by the time we'd finished and also gave everyone a chance to shower without wasting too much time. One person would shower, one would drive the boat, and the other two would man the locks. This was a wise move yet again as it meant that when we got back from our mornings strolling through Bath, we'd be ready to head on back towards Bradford.

Walking down towards Bath we were greeted by church bells ringing through the town and a bit of rain too. Being Easter however, the shops took a while before opening up and it took a fair bit of searching before finally stumbling upon Cafe Rouge for another good breakfast. The queues for the Roman Baths were unbelievably long and thus Lyndsay decided not to take them on, the rest of us having visited the baths before.

The ride back was relatively easy. Not too many changes in the weather and not too long to get back to Bradford. Though all along the canal you're greeted by swans, mallard ducks and some coots, this time round one of the female mallards was cheeky enough to board our moving boat and ask for some food. Obviously she was rewarded for her efforts, but I learnt on more than one occassion that despite the fact that the boat moved at such a slow pace, you really had to keep your eyes in the direction we're heading or we would find ourself grounded or heading straight into the canal walls. I did this twice while watching Peter feed the ducks. My mom managed to do this once, though without any excuse of a distraction. We also found ourself grounded about twice when we were forced to squeeze through a narrow part of the canal when passed from the front by a boat where some others were already moored. Not to worry though, the boat never did develop a hole, and we safely and warmly remained sleeping in our normal beds and not floating bunks.

24 March 2008 - Monday
It was stipulated that our boat should be back at the Marine by 9am sharp or else we'd incur a charge for being late as the boat would not necessarily then be ready for the next group to board that day.

Again, an early morning rise before heading through the Bradford Upon Avon lock. The rest of the short distance to the Staverton Marina was quite easy again allowing for everyone to take a quick shower before having to clear off our luggage and vacate the boat.

By 9am we were in our little Ford and heading back to London. We stopped along the way in Newbury for a quick breakfast, though this took a lot of searching as the shops seemed reluctant to open up so early on Easter Monday.

We arrived in London by 11am, greeted with some more snow!!!
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p_rundell on

Narrowboating to Bath.
That was a lovely account of your holiday to the West Country. I have sailed that 'cut' many times in an 8 birth narrowboat with my children, travelling to Bath and then continuing up to Bristol. Peter and Phil are a nice pair of chaps and are always happy to help you - they would have got your shopping if you had asked them to.
This year we are going to Nottinghamshire on a 6 birth boat. Our party is starting to thin out as the children leave home and go on more exotic holidays.
Thankyou for sharing your adventure.

vermaakjeanne on

Re: Narrowboating to Bath.
Glad you enjoyed the read. Despite the erratic Spring weather this trip was a really great experience, and given another chance would definitely be doing it again. By the sounds of it, you're a regular on the canals. Hope you enjoy your time up in Nottinghamshire.

- Jeanne

Linda on

Thanks for sharing your trip. My husband and I are taking our two children to the UK next July and will hire a canal boat from Bath Canal Boat Company in Bathampton. Because we have such limited time and such limited funds I am doing a lot of planning and research. Your blog helped tremendously. Many thanks.

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