Our canal boat is a sort of weekend country cottage – except that you can wake up to a different view outside the window every morning. When Tim and I were younger, we used to explore the whole network of waterways – up as far as Ripon, in North Yorkshire – the farthest north in England and Wales you can go by narrowboat.
Out first experience of a canal holiday was being lent a boat on the Oxford Canal in the beautiful summer of 1976. I remember mooring for one evening near King’s Sutton, watching the sun go down and just listening to the water trickling through the gate of the nearby lock. Our two boys, having spent the day working the locks and swing bridges, had collapsed with happy exhaustion. Bliss.
For some years we kept our own boat at Newbury on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Various locks on this canal were offered for ‘adoption’ by patrons, and we picked the delightfully wooded Copse Lock, just where the River Kennet joins the canal for a time. A lovely spot.
When you’ve travelled the length of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, what an exciting moment it is to come out from under the final road bridge and find yourself staring at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre! Our son Sam lived on our boat for two seasons in Stratford. It was a nice life: play Hamlet, fall into the Dirty Duck, fall into your boat — and try not to fall out!
Journeying north once, we left the tomato-soup-coloured waters of the Potteries, and instead of following our intended main route to Manchester, we thought we’d have a look at the narrower Macclesfield Canal. I’m so glad we did. The area south of Congleton, where the canal is carried on a high embankment, offers views of some of the most beautiful countryside available anywhere on the system.
Going even further north, I have to mention the nine-mile-long Crinian Canal in Argyll and Bute, slicing across the Kintyre peninsula to provide a shortcut from Loch Fyne to the Atlantic. We didn’t do it in our own boat, of course — at 4mph it would have taken us about a year — but in the venerable “puffer” steamship Vic 32, aboard which we have taken blissful holidays. Tim is a steam freak — he was in his element!
Great Canal Journeys returns to Channel 4 on Sunday 25th October at 8pm