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Narrowboat Holidays on the Grand Union Canal


In June 2015 we took a narrowboat holiday on the Grand Union Canal in a boat hired from Wyvern Shipping. Here's our trip report - we hope you find it useful if you're planning a similar holiday.

Quenton, Emily and I had been interested in narrowboat holidays in the UK for a while, so when we decided to actually go for it, I was despatched to the Internet to find our perfect canal boat holiday!

Pearl
Pearl

Choosing a Narrowboat Route and Hire Company

At first the options available are overwhelming - Which canal? Which area of the country? Which route? Which hire company?

It's worth spending a while getting to know the different canals and routes available as I spent a long time trying to choose a hire company before I'd even chosen a route or canal!

When comparing prices, it's worth bearing in mind that some companies have an all-inclusive pricing policy and others charge for fuel and collision damage waiver etc. on top of the hire price - so if you find a really cheap canal boat hire offer, check what is included in the price!

Lock
Lock

We decided that we wanted to travel to the southern half of the UK in search of warmer weather, so we were interested in exploring the canals from Birmingham southwards.

The thought of navigating a canal boat through the centre of Birmingham was rather daunting, and the "Warwickshire Ring" route seemed to involve a lot of travelling for one week (though some hire companies did reckon you could do it in a week), so we looked even further south.

In hindsight we were wise not to attempt the Warwickshire Ring in a week, as it would have taken us much longer than that (or we would have been cruising all of the time and not done any sight-seeing or relaxing by the tow-path).

Boats At Wyvern Boatyard
Boats At Wyvern Boatyard

I found a route recommended for beginners on the Wyvern Shipping website: Starting at the Wyvern base in Linslade (near Leighton Buzzard), travelling down the Grand Union Canal to Braunston and back.

It doesn't have too many locks, and has lots of interesting features - 27 locks, 2 aqueducts, 2 long tunnels (including the 3rd longest on the system, the Blisworth Tunnel) - each of which you'll do twice, and the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne. The distance is not too bad- 92 miles there and back, a reasonable distance to travel in a week on a narrowboat!

So we booked a 56 foot narrow boat for the week with Wyvern.

Pearl
Pearl

Heather from Wyvern emailed us a very complete set of joining instructions including:

  • Check list of essential items to bring
  • Instructions on how to get to the boatyard
  • Location of the nearest supermarket (5 minutes from the boatyard)
  • Joining details - when to pick up the boat, when to return it, deposit etc.
  • A pdf of The Boater's Handbook from the Canal and River Trust, with link to a very useful accompanying video.  The video is about 25 minutes long and is a great introduction for first time canal boaters.

Our boat was called "Pearl", and would sleep 6 people maximum. As there were only three of us that would give us plenty of space and meant we wouldn't have to put up and take down the double bed in the seating area at the front each night.

Packing and Guidebooks

As we were narrowboat newbies, we were unsure of what to take on a canal boat holiday! We noticed the advice from Wyvern was to only use soft bags (or use suitcases and leave them in your car), so we only used soft bags.

The details of the essentials we packed (and what we shouldn't have bothered to pack!) can be found in our What to Take on a Canal Boat Holiday article.

We bought two canal guides for the trip - The Pearson's Canal Companion to The Oxford & Grand Union Upper Thames Canals, and Grand Union, Oxford & the South East No. 1 by Collins Nicholson Waterways Guides.

I preferred the Pearson's Canal Companion, as its maps are much clearer (they are diagrammatic and not as cluttered as the OS maps in the Nicholson guide) and the symbols are larger, which meant I could refer to it without having to find my reading glasses as we were going along! There is also more detail about the history of the canal in the Canal Companion, with a few enjoyable wry comments here and there.

Rope Coil
Rope Coil

I found a useful website called CanalPlanAC which allows you to plan your canal journey in minute detail - where to stop each night, distances between locks and bridges and where the turning places (winding holes) and facilities are.

We put our proposed route into this website (Linslade - Braunston - Linslade) and it seemed very reasonable, with an average cruising time of about 6 hours per full day - 39 hours and 35 minutes of cruising (including locks) for the full trip.

Day 1 (Tue) - Picking up the Boat

Finally the big exciting day had arrived - we were going to pick up our boat at 13:30!

Wyvern Shipping Co Ltd Office
Wyvern Shipping Co Ltd Office

We timed our journey to Leighton Buzzard so that we arrived an hour early, at the supermarket near to the boatyard - allowing us time to buy food for the trip and some sandwiches for lunch.

We were greeted at the boatyard by Heather and James, and quickly completed all the formalities (paperwork, picking up WiFi router etc.)

Inside from the Rear
Inside from the Rear

We weren't sure how much we would use the WiFi, as you are limited to 500 MB for the week, and there is no way of telling if you have reached the limit.

We were keen not to incur extra charges when we got back, so we thought we would mostly use our phones.

Seating Area
Seating Area

Whilst loading the boat we could park our car right on the waterside next to Pearl - which was fortunate as our car was very full!

Inside from Front
Inside from Front

We spent the next half hour installing our belongings on the boat. The number of cupboards was a pleasant surprise, so we easily fitted everything in - including everything a 12 year old thought she would need on a boat for a week, and a guitar in a hard case!

First impressions of Pearl:

She seemed very long, of course! (we soon got used to that!).

The inside was very clean and tidy with two sitting areas (front and back), two loos, a shower, kitchen area with cooker, toaster, fridge and microwave,  a comfy double bed area in the middle, and two single beds in the sitting area at the back.

There were internal doors along the boat allowing you to create "rooms" to give some privacy at night.

Training

Once we had finished loading we were given our training from Kevin, which was very thorough and professional. He showed us how everything on the boat worked (from the cooker and the flushing loos to the engine and electrical inverter).

He explained about the basic mechanical checks we needed to do each morning and how to grease the stern gland each evening, and how to clear the propeller, if necessary.

Then it was time to depart - gulp! Kevin accompanied us to the first lock, about 10 minutes north of Linslade, so that he could teach us how to control and moor the boat.

Kevin Teaching Us To Open Locks
Kevin Teaching Us To Open Locks

Quenton's initial thoughts on driving a canal boat:

"It's a bit daunting at first - mainly because the front is nearly 60 feet from where you're standing!  The tiller takes a little getting used to - you sometimes find yourself steering the wrong way for a couple of seconds - usually when you're trying to avoid something!  Thankfully, you're never going very fast, so there's plenty of time to get things sorted out and pointing in the right direction."

Kevin helped us to do the first lock, and once we were confident with that and with basic boat handling, he left us to continue our journey.

The canal was lovely and quiet that evening - we only passed a couple of moving boats in the next 3 hours of cruising!

Quite soon after Kevin left us we successfully negotiated our first set of locks on our own. These were the Soulbury Three Locks, which were slightly complicated in that you had to open the lock gates in the right order, or risk flooding the canalside pub!

Wyvern, who seemed to have thought of everything, had left an instruction card in the boat for these particular locks, so we knew what to do!

Emily Opening The Lock Paddles
Emily Opening The Lock Paddles

Emily was enjoying the lock experience, but we realised that she would need to build her muscles quickly if she was to achieve her goal of opening all of the locks on the trip!

After passing through the single lock at Stoke Hammond (easy after the Soulbury Three Locks!) we moored for the night in a lovely rural spot just before bridge 102.

Moor Anywhere!

You can moor pretty much anywhere on the tow path side of the canal (within reason), so you can just pick your own overnight mooring spot!

Wildlife We Spotted
Kingfisher
Mallard (and ducklings)
Mandarin Duck
Swan (and cygnets)
Moorhen (and chicks)
Squirrel
Stoat
Tern
Red Kite
Buzzard
Green Woodpecker
Canada Goose

This is one of the features that I like about a canal boat holiday - if you find somewhere particularly attractive, you can just moor up (on the towpath side) - you don't pre-book spaces or have to moor close to lots of other boats!

Once we'd tied the boat securely we went for a walk along the towpath and were amazed by the amount of wildlife we saw - ducks, swans, a heron and even a kingfisher!

Our new found duck and swan friends followed us back to the boat (probably because Emily had some bread we had bought specially!).

Wyvern had provided a list of all the canal side pubs and restaurants - they had even negotiated discounts for their customers at most of these establishments.

We decided just to have a relaxing meal on our boat for the first night.

After the meal we were enchanted to look out of the window to see the swans had brought their fluffy cygnets along to be fed!!

Swan Swimming Alongside Boat
Swan Swimming Alongside Boat

We were slightly behind the schedule we had planned on the CanalPlanAC website, but we were not concerned as we'd been taking it easy on the first day, getting used to the boat.

Day 2 (Wed) - Stoke Hammond to Yardley Gobion

It was lovely to wake up on the boat out in the middle of the country, with not a soul around.

After a leisurely breakfast we got underway - enjoying the sensation of cruising gently along the peaceful canal at our own speed. We were quickly getting used to a slower pace of life!

At the first lock of the day we were helped by some friendly locals, and I got some steering and mooring practise in on the way.

Pearl
Pearl

Steering and Mooring Practise

Unfortunately I managed to beach the boat on a muddy section whilst practising mooring, but it wasn't too bad! We managed to push ourselves clear with the pole and were soon back in the clearer water.

The key thing is not to panic - you can always get out of a sticky situation without too much drama!

Geese and Goslings
Geese and Goslings

I have to confess to a slight moment of panic when I first passed another boat coming in the opposite direction - I pushed the tiller the wrong way, and headed towards the other boat rather than away from it!

Quenton soon sorted me out, and I didn't make that mistake again! The skipper from the other boat said "Remember, drive on the right, like in the States!"

I quickly settled back down to steering correctly and I even let Quenton have a go now and again!

Emily had a short (closely supervised) go and soon got the hang of it! She loved being in charge of such a huge boat!

Today we passed through Milton Keynes, which made it a day of contrasts: the modern houses of Milton Keynes beside the old canal-side bridges and locks. Despite being in the middle of a modern city it was very peaceful and quiet.

We decided to fill the boat with water at Peartree Bridge - we needed fresh water on the boat for drinking and cooking, for the shower and for flushing the loos, so we didn't want to run out!

Filling Up With Water at Peartree Bridge
Filling Up With Water at Peartree Bridge

The boat's water hose adapter didn't fit well on to the adapter on this water point, so lots of water escaped onto the ground, and it took a long time to fill the tank.

Water points we used later in the journey had a much better fit between the adapters (and so the boat tank filed faster), so we learned that the length of time taken to fill the boat's water tank can vary a lot.

Our First Playpark

For lunch we moored near a play park to entertain Emily - it wasn't the best that Milton Keynes has to offer (we found that one on the last day!), but Emily was pleased to have a special stop for her!

After lunch we realised that we were still behind the CanalPlanAC schedule, so we tried to increase our cruising speed a little. Some sections of the canal have lots of moored boats, so we couldn't go faster than tick-over past them, but we made slightly faster progress in the clearer sections.

There were only two locks today, but we did enjoy the two aqueducts - especially the Iron Trunk aqueduct where we crossed over the River Ouse. There was a lovely view down to the river.

This section of the canal seemed to be teeming with wildlife, especially the swans and their fluffy cygnets, who were always on the look-out for food from the boats!

Swan and Cygnets Swimming Alongside Boat
Swan and Cygnets Swimming Alongside Boat

We stopped for the evening near to Yardley Gobion - and watched a heron catching his dinner in the canal as we moored up!

Yardley Gobion

Heron on the Canal Bank
Heron on the Canal Bank

We remembered Yardley Gobion (from a visit many years ago) as a lovely small village, and we weren't disappointed. Just a short (half mile) walk across the fields, and we were in the centre of the village with its picturesque thatched cottages.

We ate at the Coffee Pot Tavern - a lovely old pub with garden and playpark. As we arrived there was a display of Morris Dancers (women rather than the traditional men!) which was really interesting - we couldn't have arranged it better!

During the meal the musicians with the Morris Dancers played and sang inside the pub, which was really enjoyable!

We ate our meal (delicious traditional pub fayre) in the garden, and quickly transferred to the summerhouse when the heavens opened!

After a damp stroll back to the boat, we found the airing cupboard came into its own, drying out our trainers! The boat was lovely and cosy, so we quickly settled down for another great nights sleep.

We were still a little behind schedule, so we decided to make an earlier start on Thursday!

Day 3 (Thu) - Yardley Gobion via Stoke Bruerne to Nether Heyford

Once again it was wonderful to wake in the countryside floating on water, with the birds chirruping enthusiastically!

The weather was a bit grey at first, but it soon brightened as the day progressed.

Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum
Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum

Today was one of the highlights of our trip - a visit to Stoke Bruerne and the Canal Museum, followed by traversing the Blisworth Tunnel.

We had intended to spend only two or three hours at Stoke Bruerne (including lunch) but we ended up staying closer to 5 hours!! This played havoc with our schedule of course!

Between Yardley Gobion and Stoke Bruerne there is a relaxing section of cruising through the Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire countryside, punctuated by the 7 Stoke Locks!

Luckily there were volunteers there to help us with the locks, so it wasn't quite as daunting as it sounds!

One of the volunteers gave us a great tip. He said if we wanted to visit Stoke Bruerne it would be best to moor up between the 5th and 6th locks, as if it was busy in Stoke Bruerne there might not be anywhere to moor, and we would have to continue through the 2 mile long Blisworth Tunnel without stopping at Stoke Bruerne at all!

Stoke Bruerne Village
Stoke Bruerne Village

Stoke Bruerne and the Canal Museum

We moored before the last two Stoke Locks as advised, and walked the short way into Stoke Bruerne. What a beautiful village! There are two canal-side pubs, the Canal Museum, restaurants and cafes, the top lock, and a couple of gift shops!

We bought some sandwiches and just sat on the canal-side watching all the activity - people and boats coming and going.

Top Lock at Stoke Bruerne
Top Lock at Stoke Bruerne


We then decided to walk further down the canal to the entrance to the Blisworth Tunnel so we could see what we would have to face later in the afternoon!

We later found out that there is a guided audio tour available when you buy your tickets for the Canal Museum, which takes you down the canal side to the Blisworth Tunnel, so it's best to buy your museum tickets before you walk to the tunnel entrance!
Narrowboat Reconstruction in Canal Museum
Narrowboat Reconstruction in Canal Museum


Returning back to village centre, we toured the Canal Museum, which was very interesting - lots about the history of the canals, and the Grand Union canal in particular.

Canalware in Canal Museum
Canalware in Canal Museum

Castles and Roses in the Canal Museum
Castles and Roses in the Canal Museum

There was a quiz book for kids which Emily enjoyed, and an opportunity for kids to dress up as canal boatees, which she was very keen on!

There were lots of examples of beautifully painted canal-ware, along with the history of the traditional patterns (Castles and Roses) used to decorate the working canal boats.

There was a great display about the building of the Blisworth Tunnel which was fascinating as we were due to go through this mammoth tunnel later!

After the museum, we wandered slowly back to boat (via the ice cream and gift shops!) and set off for our intrepid journey through the Blisworth Tunnel.

The Blisworth Tunnel

The advice was to wear life preservers and waterproof clothing whilst travelling through the tunnel, so all three of us put on our coats and life jackets. It was very spooky in the tunnel!

The tunnel seemed plenty wide enough for our boat when we were the only boat, but as soon as we saw the lights of another boat coming the other way, the tunnel suddenly felt vey narrow!

Entering The Blisworth Tunnel
Entering The Blisworth Tunnel

There was actually plenty of room to pass, as long as both boats kept wll over to their right. A useful tip we got at a lock from an experienced helmsman: When steering through a tunnel, look down the right hand side of your own boat rather than at the oncoming boat - that will help you avoid any collisions!

In places, there's a risk of getting wet due to the water dripping from the ceiling and through the ventilation shafts, so we had a big golf umbrella at the ready to keep the skipper dry!

It took us just over an hour to go through the Blisworth Tunnel, so we had a great sense of achievement when we got through to the daylight again!! It was an exciting, eerie and enjoyable experience!

Blisworth Mill
Blisworth Mill

It was getting quite late once we'd been through the tunnel, so I cooked dinner in the boat (on the move!) whilst Quenton carried on with the driving.

Reckless

Emily has found a new sport - canal boat spotting - she made a huge list of all the canal boat names she spotted on the holiday! She was particularly excited by one boat that we spotted today: "Reckless", the boat which was restored by Guy Martin in the TV series "The Boat That Guy Built".

When we moored up for the night just past Nether Heyford, we watched an episode of The Boat That Guy Built (on DVD) with our meal - that was the first time the TV had been switched on!

Realising we were quite a bit behind schedule, and there were a lot of locks in tomorrow's itinerary, we wondered about cutting the trip short (in distance) by turning round before we got to Braunston, our scheduled half way point. We thought we'd sleep on it and see how we felt in the morning!

Day 4 (Fri) Nether Heyford via Braunston to Welton Wharf

This was the day where we were due to turn around and head back to the Wyvern Shipping Boatyard (the boat had to be back at 9:00am on Tuesday).

The question was where to turn? Originally we had planned to go all the way to Braunston, turning just past Braunston to start our journey back. From Nether Heyford that meant we would need to pass through 7 locks at Buckby, the Braunston tunnel and 6 locks at Braunston - quite a lot of hard work, especially if we were to start on the return journey and re-do the 6 Braunston locks on the way back before the end of the day!

Braunston Lock
Braunston Lock

The alternative was to turn earlier, after the 7 Buckby locks, as that was the only convenient winding hole (turning place), but that would mean missing out the Braunston Tunnel and not seeing Braunston village!

After our good night's sleep we were once more full of energy, so we decided to go stick with our original plan and go all the way to Braunston!

At first there was a lock-free stretch of canal between Nether Heyford and the Buckby Locks - a relaxing time where the canal wound its way through the lovely countryside, following the contours of the River Nene.

Once we reached the 7 Buckby Locks we knew the hard work of the day had begun! We shared the locks with another boat (called "Yvonne") which made the opening and closing of the lock gates easier, as we shared the work with their crew. However, it made my job of steering a little harder - trying not to bump into Yvonne every time we entered or left a lock (I soon got the hang of it though).

In The Buckby Locks
In The Buckby Locks

We stopped for lunch at a gorgeous rural spot just before Welton Wharf, with far-reaching views over the trees and fields of the surrounding countryside.

The Braunston Tunnel

Fortified by lunch we tackled the Braunston Tunnel - 1,000 feet shorter than the Blisworth Tunnel, but it still took a while to pass through. It was not as straight as the Blisworth Tunnel, so this made steering a little trickier.

After the excitement of the Braunston Tunnel (which was thankfully not as wet with drips as the Blisworth Tunnel), we soon came upon the 6 Braunston Locks. We again shared the locks with another boat - it was fun sharing locks as you got a chance to talk to other boaters (some with hire boats and some who owned their own boats).

Braunston Marina
Braunston Marina

At the Braunston top lock, we realised we had almost reached the turning point of our journey. We moored just before the Braunston Marina and went for a walk along the tow-path to evaluate our turning options, and to visit Braunston village.

Braunston
Braunston

The CanalPlanAC route recommended turning in the Braunston Junction (where 3 different canals meet!) but we feared that it might be a bit busy, with boats coming from all directions! So we took a look at the entrance to the Braunston Marina (with an attractive white iron-work bridge) and decided that we would turn there instead.

Braunston Bridge
Braunston Bridge

First though we went for a stroll into Braunston, re-stocked our food supplies in the village shop and had a short wander down the main street, which had lots of picturesque old houses, a village pub, a converted windmill (now a private house) and an impressive church.

Braunston Windmill
Braunston Windmill

The Turning Point

Returning to the boat, we managed the turn in the Marina entrance without too much drama. Then we were on our way home!

We considered mooring in Braunston for the night but that would make us seriously behind our schedule for reaching Wyvern Shipping by Tuesday morning.

So we continued back through the Braunston Locks again (on our own this time), with a slight hold-up whilst we helped an elderly lady who had fallen by the lock at the Lord Nelson pub. We lent her blankets to keep her warm until the ambulance arrived.

Then we carried on back through the Braunston Tunnel (less daunting now we knew what to expect), and finally moored up about a mile further on - back at the same beautiful spot near Welton Wharf that we had lunched at earlier in the day!

Lunch and Dinner Spot near Welton Wharf
Lunch and Dinner Spot near Welton Wharf

That was a truly exhausting day, but we had a great sense of achievement having reached Braunston as we had planned.

Day 5 (Sat) - Welton Wharf to Gayton

Feeling a bit tired after yesterday's exertions, we decided to have a slightly later start. Quenton went for a run along the towpath whilst Emily and I relaxed in the boat!

Quenton came back into the boat describing how he had narrowly avoided a very embarrassing situation:- He ran for a couple of miles or so along the towpath, and then turned round and ran back to the boat. He thought he was back at the boat and was about to leap on board and head straight for hte shower when he noticed that the boat's name was not Pearl!

It was another identical Wyvern Shipping boat, but it was not ours!! It could have been very awkward if the name had not been next to the front door! Tip from Quenton: always check the boat name before getting on to the boat!

This was our only rainy day of the whole holiday, so we donned waterproofs and prepared for a busy day's cruising.

Pearl Cruising
Pearl Cruising

We started with the 7 Buckby locks - the bricks around the locks were slippery with the rain, so we decided to only open one of the two gates in each lock when we weren't sharing with another boat. This halved the effort required (only one gate to open and shut) and meant less walking across wet lock gates.

All of the Buckby locks seemed to be against us, so it took ages to get through them all, but we stuck at it and finally got there!

We decided to stop for lunch quite soon after the locks - not a particularly scenic spot as we were between the motorway and the railway, but our timing was perfect, as the heavens opened and we were treated to a real downpour whilst we were cozily tucked up in the boat having lunch!

Whilst sitting in the boat, we noticed a slight back and forwards movement, but weren't worried as we could still see the grass verge up against the saloon window. We should have checked - after lunch we found that the mooring peg at the back of the boat had come loose, and was the back was floating free whilst the front (where we were sitting) was still tight against the bank!!

No harm done, as there was no traffic, so we hadn't caused any inconvenience! Just a lesson to check the moorings if the boat moves more than expected!

After lunch the rain was sporadic, and we made good progress all afternoon, past Weedon Bec (stopping for water at Stowe Hill), Nether Heyford, and Bugbrooke.

Swan at Sunset
Swan at Sunset

By evening the weather had cleared into a gorgeous sunset! We moored at a beautiful countryside spot just before Gayton Junction, opposite a field of horses. Swans, ducks and a solitary goose came over to the boat to be fed, Quenton played his guitar, and Emily made a surprise special dinner! A perfect end to another excellent day.

Field of Horses and Sunset
Field of Horses and Sunset

For the first time on the trip we were ahead of schedule (only by 15 minutes!).

Day 6 (Sun) - Gayton to New Bradwell

We awoke in the gorgeous countryside near to Gayton with the sun shining brightly!

As it was Sunday, and Father's Day, and sunny, we expected the canal to be much busier than before. It was busier, but not to the point of making progress difficult, and everyone was just as good humoured and friendly as before, so it wasn't a problem.

After quite a bit of cruising we arrived back at the Blisworth Tunnel - we met two boats coming the other way at separate points in the tunnel but that did not worry us - we were getting to be old hands at tunnel navigation!

There was a very strange illusion when travelling through the tunnel towards the light at the other end - it felt as if you were travelling uphill towards the exit! This happened in both tunnels and was a very strange feeling!

When we reached Stoke Bruerne on the other side of the tunnel, we said to ourselves that we would not stay long, as we'd already spent a half day there on the way up! However, Stoke Bruerne wove its magic, and we stayed longer than planned of course!

Stoke Bruerne Re-visited

Stoke Bruerne Blacksmith
Stoke Bruerne Blacksmith

We moored up between the Blisworth Tunnel and the village, and called in at the blacksmith's forge at the mouth of the tunnel (it had been closed on our way up).

This was really interesting and entertaining - Emily was captivated by the blacksmith's grisly tales of how, in days gone by, a blacksmith was also the village dentist!

Next we wandered into the village to post our postcards and generally soak up the atmosphere. I think Stoke Bruerne was my favourite village of the week!

The village was pretty busy with day trippers, but they had plenty of ice cream for everyone!

This time we walked up into the village away from the canal and had a look at the picturesque church - a large building for such a small village, so I guess it looked after the surrounding villages too!

Stoke Bruerne Church
Stoke Bruerne Church

When it was time to leave, we took the boat back through the Stoke Bruerne locks once more. There was a certain amount of pressure involved in this as there was quite an audience in the village, so we were glad we'd had plenty of lock experience by now!

The third lock was a little tricky for Quenton (who was steering) as a crosswind had sprung up and pushed our boat  towards an oncoming boat that had just left the next lock. We hadn't realised what an effect a cross-wind could have on a 16 tonne narrowboat, but thankfully no harm was done.

We pushed on through the lovely countryside of Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire once again, past the villages of Yardley Gobion and Cosgrove (with its lock and beautiful stone bridge).

Cosgrove Bridge
Cosgrove Bridge

We crossed the Iron Trunk Aqueduct near Cosgrove with its wonderful view of the River Ouse, and cruised past Wolverton with its mix of derelict factories and posh new flats.

The New Bradwell viaduct was a very interesting experience - crossing over a big dual carriageway in a canal boat!

We decided to moor for the evening by the New Bradwell windmill (and one of the famous Milton Keynes playparks!!).

New Bradwell Windmill at Sunset
New Bradwell Windmill at Sunset

After tying the boat up, we had a look at the outside of the windmill (it is just about visible from the canal, easy to walk to and is open on some Sundays and Bank Holidays). It was too late for the playpark - that would have to wait until the morning.

We were now well ahead of our CanalPlanAC schedule, as it had told us to stop in Wolverton. We wanted to be ahead, as we really didn't want to do much travelling before 9am on Tuesday morning!

The mooring near the Bradwell Windmill was challenging, as the sides of the canal were very muddy and silted up - we kept getting stuck and having to use the pole to get free, but we managed to get tied up eventually.

It was a very peaceful mooring considering we were in the centre of Milton Keynes!!

Day 7 (Mon) - New Bradwell to The Globe Inn

This was the last full day on the boat, and tinged with sadness at the thought we would have to give Pearl back the following day.

The plan for today was to reach the Globe Inn (near to the Wyvern Shipping boatyard) in time to freshen up on the boat and have a meal at the Inn.

Whilst Quenton went for a run on the towpath, I went with Emily to test the playpark, (which was pretty good). We were both entranced by the presence of some tiny moorhen chicks and ducks!

Cutest Duckling!
Cutest Duckling!

We decided to keep cruising through Milton Keynes and Fenny Stratford, so that we could get to the Globe Inn moorings in good time for dinner.

However, as we passed under bridge number 78, we spotted a particularly interesting looking playpark (which even had a zip wire). We realised Emily would never forgive us if we didn't stop, so we moored up and let her test it out. She declared that it was the best playpark in Milton Keynes, with lots of interesting and different things to play on!

Once we had persuaded Emily back onto the boat, we kept cruising all the way to The Globe, through Fenny Lock and the three Soulbury Locks. There were volunteers on hand to help with the Soulbury Three, so that made things a bit easier.

We met other Wyvern Shipping boaters coming the other way in these locks - some of whom were going through their first set of locks. This was amusing, as just a week ago we were in the same situation, but we now felt like seasoned boaters!

Back to Old Linslade

Finally we reached our destination, The Globe Inn at Old Linslade. Again it was a challenge to moor due to silting at the sides, but we eventually found a suitable place.

The Globe Inn
The Globe Inn

We decided to moor away from the pub rather than just outside it (to give us a bit of privacy later in the evening).

Emily and I had tidied the boat and packed most of our clothes into our bags in the afternoon whilst Quenton was steering, just leaving the hoovering for Quenton to do whilst Emily and I had showers once we had moored!

Walking to the pub along the towpath we saw an amusing sight - a swan and cygnets tapping on the window of a boat which seemed unoccupied (they knew better!). The owner opened his curtains and window, and fed them cornflakes from a box he seemed to have ready for the occasion - obviously a well-rehearsed scene!

We were in ample time for a delicious dinner at The Globe Inn, for which we were given a 10% discount with the Wyvern discount card.

Day 8 (Tue) - Returning the Boat

All three of us were very sad to think that we had to give Pearl back by 9am as we'd had such a great week on her.

We cruised slowly back to Wyvern Shipping, passing through our very last lock, and moored at about 8:55. As soon as we had taken all of our bags off, the boat was taken away to be cleaned and prepared for the next guests. It was a good job we weren't late!

We should have allowed more time to take everything off the boat - we thought we were prepared, but it took us ages to get everything off!

We reported back to James and Heather, and told them all about our amazing holiday. We even bought some canal boat souvenirs from the mini shop!

Emily achieved her target of winding the paddles and / or opening the gates on every single lock we passed through - she is very proud of that!

This was our first narrowboat holiday and it is unlikely to be our last! We all had a fantastic time - it was a really relaxing holiday, and we felt very refreshed and happy.

Amazing Sunset
Amazing Sunset

A narrowboat holiday offers a complete change of pace. With a maximum speed of 4mph, it’s easy to relax and enjoy a new perspective on the English countryside as it drifts slowly past.

We'd recommend an out-and-back route like the one we chose for first time canal boaters – as you don’t have to stick to your original schedule – you can take more time to soak up the sights, and turn back whenever you want.

Although we’ve talked about our schedule quite a lot – it was never a problem – as you could just add an extra hour’s cruising on to the end of the day if necessary.

Canal boating needs just the right amount of concentration and physical effort, so that you’re thoroughly relaxed while doing it, and pleasantly tired by the end of each day.

Based on our experience, we’d also recommend both this section of the Grand Union Canal, and Wyvern Shipping – the former for its meandering path through beautiful scenery, and the latter for their superbly prepared craft, and a friendly and helpful team who seemed to have thought of everything.

To find out more about hiring a narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal, contact Wyvern Shipping:

http://www.canalholidays.co.uk/home

 

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