Canal Boat Holidays – Why we enjoy them so much!

When my dad was a child, his parents moved him from Kent to Lancashire. Both of my grandparents had grown up in Kent (although my granddad was born in Canada) yet for some reason, they moved all the way to Lancashire. My dad said that grandad opened a business doing maintenance on the trucks that were building the M6 motorway and that’s why they moved. When I started researching my family tree, I was shocked to see that my great-grandfather, the dad my grandad never knew, had actually been born and raised in Lancashire, until he emigrated to Canada when he was 16. I always wonder if my granddad knew that when he moved up there.

Living in Lancashire meant that my dad was raised on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, as was my mum who was a Lancashire lass born and raised! Yet my dad had always been fascinated by boats and sailing. I blame his uncle’s influence as my great uncle, my granddad’s brother, was in the Merchant Navy and even after spending 88 days lost at sea followed by 4 years in a prisoner of war camp, he still insisted on returning home by boat!

with my brother and my parents on dad's sailing yacht

Our first voyage on the sailing yacht my dad built

When I was a baby, much to my mum’s disapproval, my dad bought himself a kit boat. An engineer, just like his dad before him, he decided to build himself a yacht. I don’t mean a model yacht that you could take to the local duck pond, he bought himself an actual sailing yacht that could sleep 4 people! It took him 4 years and almost cost him his eyesight, but eventually, he launched it on Lake Windermere in the Lake District. As you can tell from the picture, even 4 years later, dad was still in the dog house for buying and building his yacht!

 

We lived alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal, just a short walk from Gannow tunnel for the first 6 years of my life. In fact, most of my memories revolve around the canal and I would often walk the towpath with my parents or older brother. I even went ice skating on the canal when it froze over one year, which my parents have only just found out about as I went with my older brother and his older friend. In fact, one of the things that confused me the most as a child was Gannow tunnel, I thought it was a bridge because the road went over the canal at the mouth of the tunnel but I could never understand why I couldn’t find the other side of the canal!

When I was 6 we moved to Wales. We moved away from the canal to a seaside town where dad could moor his yacht.

Then one day dad announced he was selling his yacht to buy a canal boat! This has always made me laugh when we lived by the canal, he built a yacht and now we live by the sea he buys a canal boat!

with my parents and brother on our first canal boat

Our first canal boat holiday

Our first canal holiday was when I was 15 and we did the Four Counties Ring, the following year we did the Cheshire Ring. Then my dad realised his lifelong dream and bought himself a share in a canal boat named Sunseeker.

Sadly, a few years ago they sold Sunseeker but they regret it now and are looking at buying another share in a boat and I must admit I’m tempted to as well.

Having shares in a boat means that we have been on lots and lots of canal holidays over the years (yet we have never done the Leeds and Liverpool canal).

But why do we love Canal holidays so much

1yr old Reese enjoying her first canal boat holiday

There’s something so peaceful and tranquil about being on a canal boat and puttering along at 4mph. It’s such a slow and relaxing pace of life and then, just as you start to get bored, a set of locks come along to get your heart pumping! There’s so much to see and enjoy as you travel along hidden parts of the British countryside or industrial towns. Things that you wouldn’t see any other way. You pass little market villages, bustling towns or even through sprawling cities, each with something new to see or do. Not to mention all the pubs dotting along the canal towpath! In fact, you’re never far from a pub!

You’d think the children would find it boring, especially mine who get bored on train journeys, but they don’t! There’s so much to see and spot and plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs. Even the locks are great fun as we always race each other, or if we have several locks close together we split up and do a lock each!

Helping with the locks

Canal boat holidays are great fun for learning the history of our amazing country and the industrial age, to learn about nature and wildlife, to learn new skills and problem-solving and to get plenty of exercises. There are also plenty of stops along the way including museums and wildlife areas.

Canal boat holidays are also great for dogs! We’ve taken a few over the years, from Loui our first ever dog, Megan, Bess, my parent’s current dog and even our Gwen came with us when we did the Cheshire Ring, even though she was a tiny puppy and hadn’t had all her injections which meant she had to be carried everywhere and kept pooping in grandad’s shoes! I remember when we went on the canal with Megan, she was so funny as she would wait till dogs passed her before barking at them, even though she was in the middle of the canal! The first week she wouldn’t get off the boat if she could see any water between the boat and the bank, the second week she was jumping across, even if the boat was almost in the middle of the channel!

Baby Reese enjoying the ride on the canal boat with her grandparents

Dogs love the freedom and the exercise that it brings and the long walks between locks. One year I remember that Megan was so tired from running between the boat and me and my brother on separate locks, that when dad went to take her for her nighttime walk she was so tired she couldn’t move. By the following morning, she was raring to go again!

Our Favourite Canal

Travelling over Chirk Aquaduct with the Viaduct alongside

So far, our favourite canal has to be the Llangollen canal in Wales, which isn’t that far away from our home. It was also our last ever holiday on Sunseeker four years ago.

We spent two glorious summer weeks on the canal and it was a wonderful hot summer. Although at times it did get to be a bit hot and felt like we were sleeping in a tin can!

The Llangollen has some amazing sites to see along the way, you have the fantastic Chirk Aqueduct and Viaduct, which on any other canal system would be a lot more famous than it is. There’s also Chirk tunnel which the girls and I actually walked through with no torch! Not to mention the fantastic, World Heritage Site, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. In fact, the first time we went over this aqueduct, hubby walked as he was too scared to go over on the boat!

Traveling over the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct

At Llangollen, there’s the Llangollen railway running along the old Barmouth-Ruabon which runs a steam train as far as Corwen. Sadly, the line to Barmouth was closed due to Beeching’s Axe in the 1950s. This railway is quite close to our hearts, not only would this line, if it was still in use, have taken us home, but hubby’s dad was a train driver on the line and drove the last train along it and appeared in Railway Walks with Julia Bradbury shortly before he passed away.

Then you have the horse-drawn boats which take you up to the Horseshoe Falls and the start of the Llangollen canal. In fact, it was because of these falls and the canal carrying water to mid and south Cheshire that kept this canal open, when so many other canals fell into disuse and neglect.

Kayaking on the Montgomery Canal

We also took a detour along the Montgomery Canal which is slowly being restored and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as designated a Special Area of Conservation for its aquatic plants.

Because the Monty (as the Montgomery canal is affectionately called) is a quiet and tranquil canal with few boats enjoying the beauty and splendour, we even had a go at kayaking with the children who also had great fun splashing and almost swimming in the canal.

Splashing in the Montgomery Canal

We did have one slight mishap on the way off the Monty. Because it was such a hot summer, the canal was shallower than usual and when we were waiting our turn to go up the manned locks, we became a little stuck on the bottom, but after a few boats had come down the locks and added some extra water to the canal to raise the water level, we were soon on our way!

The Worst Canal – The Cheshire Ring

Anderton Boat lift, an elevator for boats

Two years ago was our last canal holiday. After spending many years trying to cram as many of us as we could onto small Sunseeker which only slept 6 at a push and we were now 9 if you included my parents (and when it comes to the canal, you must include my parents! No one likes to see a pensioner sulk!) we decided to hire a narrowboat big enough for all of us.

 

Sadly, this turned out to be the holiday from hell. Yet, even as bad as this holiday was, it didn’t put us off canals.

Anderton Boat Lift, an elevator for boats

We… ok I…. decided we should do the Cheshire Ring. I like doing ring routes as it means there’s something new to see each day and you don’t have to go back on yourself. I also had fond memories of doing the Cheshire Ring as a teenager with my family.

For the most part, the canal was ok and I really enjoyed having a ride on the Anderton Boat Lift as that had been derelict the last time we had passed and has now been restored to its former glory!

Over the Barton Swing Bridge

We took a slight detour along the Bridgewater Canal and over the Barton Swing bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal, as well as visiting Trafford Centre where Ryan and I escaped one evening to watch a movie, as well as visiting Legoland Discovery and the Sealife Centre with the children.

It was as we entered Manchester that things took a turn for the worst. We spent two nights there so we could spend some time in Manchester, but I think we were all glad to leave. The children were under strict instructions to stay inside the boat whilst we did the locks and as soon as I could I scrubbed myself clean in the shower.

Over the Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Bridge

It was disgusting, especially as we passed through a night-club area. There was human faeces, dirty pants, used syringes and condoms everywhere, not to mention the rubbish! We even had a lock in the basement of some building, amongst their foundations which I had found cool on my first visit, but this time I couldn’t wait to get through, especially with the CCTV signs warning about people shagging!

Then, when we thought we were through the worst, we had to spend several hours trying to get a sofa out of a lock so we could get through! Hubby did enjoy seeing Old Trafford, the home of his favourite football team, Manchester United and almost went to watch a match but tickets had sold out!

Marple Aqueduct and Viaduct

Finally, we left the filth and squealer of Manchester behind and entered the beautiful countryside once more. One highlight was Marple Aqueduct and Viaduct and Marple locks. Marple Locks are a flight of 16 locks over a distance of about a mile and raising the canal 209 feet and believe me, we were bushed afterwards and glad to finally stop at the top!

The entrance to the Harcastle Tunnel

We also took a detour through the Harecastle Tunnel to visit Eturia Festival Park at Stoke-on-Trent. We’ve stopped here before and the children were looking forward to visiting Waterworld swimming pool, but sadly it was closed the day we were there.

Finally, we began our journey home, which meant travelling along Heartbreak Hill, a lengthy lock flight, so called because the locks are close enough for the lock crew to stay on the towpath, rather than getting back on board… but far enough apart to make serious inroads on your shoe leather. A total of 26 locks spaced over 7 miles.  and took us all day to travel!

I would do some route of this route again, but if we did, I would definitely avoid Manchester!

The Future

The children have started asking when are we going on the canal boat again, as they love it. I have a lovely picture of Rhian when she was a toddler with a huge grin on her face because of the enjoyment of being on the boat. For several months after we came back, she would go into the bedroom at my parents to get her lifejacket saying “Boat. Do locks. Go now!”

Rhian’s pure enjoyment of being on a canal boat

As it is my parents Golden Wedding Anniversary next year, around the same time as my birthday, Ryan turning 16 and Becky turning 14, we are hoping to spend one week during the Easter holidays on a canal boat holiday.

However, we have decided to make one small change and this time we are going to hire a wide-beam boat, which will give us some extra space, and are considering doing the Leeds and Liverpool canal for the first time! Although, I’m also tempted by Scotland and the Falkirk Wheel.

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