It’s 50 years since the 1968 Transport Act officially recognised Britain’s canals as a leisure resource and canal boat holidays have become increasingly popular ever since.
To celebrate, we (my husband, 10-year son and three-year-old Fox Terrier) booked a weekend away aboard Kate Boats’ brand new luxury narrowboat ‘Harry Hudson’, setting off from their canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Warwick.
On arrival at the busy boat yard on Friday afternoon we were welcomed by Colin from the Kate Boats team and given a tour of our boat which would become our floating home for the next three days.
Facilities on board
The 70ft ‘Harry Hudson’ has accommodation for up to six people, with two double cabins (one of which can also be set up as two singles), each with an en-suite toilet and shower room. The spacious lounge can also be made up as either twin singles or a large double.
The boat’s galley has a full sized gas cooker, fridge, microwave, as well as the all the cooking equipment you need, cutlery, plates, bowls, etc.
There’s also a TV with a DVD player, and a radio with a CD player, plus plenty of three-pin sockets throughout the boat, and a USB charging point – though we were advised to just use these sockets when the boat’s engine is running so as not to deplete the battery.
The boat also has central heating, with radiators in the cabins and lounge and heated towel rails in the bathrooms.
After running through the boat’s features and the simple steps we needed to take to manage it, Colin helped us to cast off. We’ve been on a narrowboat holiday before so we didn’t need help this time, but tuition is provided as part of all Kate Boats holiday packages.
We decided to head east to the village of Long Itchington on our three-night break, which travelling there and back would involve cruising at total of 18 miles and passing through 24 locks.
Our target for that first evening was to moor above Welsh Road Lock – six miles and four locks away.
The journey, which took around two-and-a-half hours, transported us through the outskirts of Warwick and then Leamington Spa, where we enjoyed watching the world go by and seeing lots of ducks with their ducklings, swimming alongside the boat.
By the time we reached the first lock, the canal had become much more rural, with fields full of spring lambs and colourful oil seed rape crops stretching away into the distance.
Reaching the first lock
We shared the first lock with a couple on a private boat who were on a month’s holiday cruising the canals. They helped us open and close the lock gates and wind the paddles. We were on our own for the next three locks, but we were lucky to find all the locks set in our favour as someone had just passed down them heading in the opposite direction.
Our son Archie, loved getting involved in every aspect of boating – from steering the boat and working the locks, to planning our stops and doing the boat checks. It’s great to enjoy doing something outdoors and adventurous as a family – well away from the PlayStation!
That evening, after making sure the boat was securely moored at both ends, we walked back along the towpath a short way to a bridge which connected us on to the Centenary Way footpath. We continued for about a mile through beautiful open countryside to the tiny hill top village of Ufton, where we enjoyed a lovely meal at the White Hart pub.
A good night’s sleep
After a good night’s sleep in our cosy cabins, we carried out some quick boat maintenance checks (including checking the oil), then put the engine on to warm up the water for our showers. Refuelled on eggs and bacon, we set off for our next destination – the pretty village of Long Itchington.
For this leg of the journey (which took around two hours), we travelled a further three miles, passing through four more locks, including the staircase Bascote Locks 14 and 15. Here two locks share a gate in the middle – a new experience for us, but while the massive central gate looks daunting, it all operates in the same way.
Once we’d passed alongside the village of Long Itchington, and gone through two more locks, we turned the boat just above Shop Lock number 12 and topped up with water. It took quite a few forwards and backwards manoeuvres to turn our 70ft boat!
Then we went back through the last two locks (Shop Lock and Itchington Bottom Lock) to moor up after Bickley’s Bridge 26, on the edge of the village.
Mooring at Long Itchington
Once moored, we had plenty of time to explore Long Itchington and decide which of the six pubs we would dine in that night. We chose the popular and newly refurbished Duck on the Pond next to the village green, where our dog Patchey was allowed to stay with us in the casual dining area.
The return journey
On our third day we travelled all the way back to just below Radford Bottom Lock, stopping off for an ice cream at the lock cottage at Welsh Road Lock. The journey covered four miles and ten locks and took us around four hours. On our last night afloat, we cooked supper on board, played cards and watched some TV.
The next morning, we chugged gently back to the boat yard to return ‘Harry Hudson’ by 9.30am, checking how many ducklings each Mummy duck had with her and discussing where we might go on our next canal boat holiday.