8 Reasons why you shouldn't go on a canal boat cruise
The Kennet and Avon Canal - Southern England
Have you dreamed of going on a tranquil canal boat cruise? Home will be where you moor it for the night, a floating hotel room, between sightseeing the countryside. When you return, laze on a deck, sipping Pimms or a British beer, while drifting down the canal to the next spot, admiring the green pastures and historic buildings. Sounds like plain sailing, right?
Here’s 8 reasons why you shouldn’t go on a canal boat cruise
If you are a light sleeper and don’t like living in confined quarters with other people. There’s very little privacy on board. So if you can’t sleep when someone snores next to you, don’t go…or get earplugs.
If you are not keen on physical labour. Nope, this is not a pleasure cruise – well, part of it is. It might be sedate and at a slow pace from time to time, but everyone has to do their bit, unless you have a crew that is willing to do all of it for you. You might even develop biceps like Popeye.
If you detest lots of walking. You will be running from port to starboard, hopping on and off the boat. I’ll admit the width of the boat is only about 2 meters, but the length can vary and at times you can run circles around the locks. When you moor your boat and want to sightsee, what then?
If you have a gammy back and it objects to twists and turns (or a narrow bunk bed). If you have any back issues, this could end up in disaster, as winding the locks is awkward and opening the lock gates quite strenuous. Your back will twist in various directions.
If you’re a klutz and not observant there is a distinct possibility you could have an accident with objects such as a windlass. These things happen constantly, no matter how long you've been boating. If you let go of the windlass whilst winding and raising the paddle it can slip and so can the ratchet.
If you are not sure footed. There is a strong possibility you could fall into the canal. Have you seen the colour of that water? Ugh! Definitely not sparkling water. No thank you.
If you suffer from hyperosmia. After a few days the holding tank for the sewage can get an unpleasant whiff. It will be necessary to pump out the bilges from time to time. (If none of you knew what hyperosmia meant, don’t worry, neither did I!)
If you are prone to overreact to potential crime scenes. Thieves on the towpath? It’s possible, but is it probable?
We were dying to go on a canal boat cruise for ages and when Karen and Clive invited us to do a two-week canal cruise with them we jumped at the chance. They had done canal trips numerous times so it was old hat to them.
Our boat, Andromeda, a constellation class 12 berth, 21 meters long and just over 2 meters wide was handed over to us. We were given a briefing about the boat by one of the staff members of Anglo Welsh and what to do in the canals, then promptly ushered from the marina into the canal by him. Between you and me, I think he didn’t trust us to manoeuvre such a long boat in the confines of the boatyard. I didn’t blame him.
We collected our boat at Bradford on Avon and our plan was to go north west to Bristol. I wouldn’t suggest going further than Bristol, because you could eventually end up in the sea. Even though we had one of the longest canal boats, it would look like a bath toy in the big wide ocean. Turning around, we would cruise past Bradford on Avon towards Caen Hill Locks at Devizes and we would see how far we would get before we needed to turn around again and return the boat to Bradford on Avon wharf.
What to see at Bradford on Avon
The first afternoon we only needed to go through one lock before we moored for the night close to the centre of Bradford on Avon. This looked like it was going to be an easy like Sunday morning cruise.
We explored parts of the town while we found a place to stock up on supplies and find a restaurant to have dinner.
We were lucky to be able to peer into the icon of the town, a small Chapel on the bridge. that was changed into a small prison in the 17th century.
Seeing that there were only four of us on this huge boat, we thought we’d give Karen and Clive some privacy. Their bed was one of the double bunks near the back of the boat while we chose two single bunks near the front. The other double bunk is right next to theirs with only a thin wall between the two.
It took a while to get into the right position on the narrow bunks, without getting a cold wall against your back.
The following morning, we floated a short distance down the canal and moored near the Tithe barn. It belonged to the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey, in the times of Henry VIII and was built in the 14th century.
Avoncliff & Claverton
The leisurely pace that we moved at was quite pleasant while going over two aqueducts, one at Avoncliff and the other at Claverton. It wasn’t always laid back though, while we traversed narrow sharp bends or watched for approaching boats. I am still astounded by the engineering of the channels of water from high on the hills to low in the valley with their locks.
We stopped to have lunch at a pub near Claverton, but the pub was at the top of the hill and we were at the bottom, so we continued to Bath.
Bath – Somerset - England
At Bath we amused ourselves with the Bizarre Bath tour, a corny but hilarious skit to learn about its history.
During the tour Paul’s back was giving him grief. Before we’d left for our trip his back had been niggling but it was controllable. At Avoncliff and Claverton he’d helped with some of the locks and we suspected he did more harm than good (to his back, that is, and not the locks!) He managed to walk back to the boat and spent another night on the narrow bunks, not so comfortable.
The following morning, Monday, we explored some of Bath but knew we would return when the rest of our family and friends joined us. Hubby hobbled along in bearable pain.
We moved a short distance along the canal and had to go through 6 locks close to each other where we would leave the canal and go down to the river Avon. Paul steered the boat as it would do the least harm to his back while the rest of us ran the gauntlet around the locks.
We moored the boat not far down the river and walked to The Hop Pole pub for dinner. On the way we saw a notice board with a telephone number for a physiotherapist and joked that Paul could go there if his back didn’t improve.
It turned out that we needed the phone number as Paul collapsed on the floor with excruciating pain the following morning. We made an appointment for later in the afternoon.
The physiotherapist was convinced Paul had injured a disc in his spine. He didn’t think it was necessary to see a doctor or cut our holiday short (which we thought might happen). He also said he couldn’t perform miracles while prodding, poking and stretching Paul’s back.
He gave him stretching exercises to do and advised him not to keep still in one spot for too long and keep moving around. With the medication that we’d brought from home, we could continue our journey.
We walked back to the boat at a leisurely pace, stopping for supplies at Sainsbury’s.
On the boat Paul and I thought it best to move to the other double bunk. A better bed was more important than extra privacy on the other side of the boat. I think that night (and all the others) the four of us snored in unison.
Strike one – Paul’s back issues.
By now we’d spent more time in Bath than we wanted to because we would be returning after we’d fetched Dale, Susan and Jill in Bristol. We needed to get to Bristol but were concerned because it would be a long day, covering a fair distance on the canal and going through a few locks. We took the plunge and forged ahead.
We stopped for lunch at The Old Lock & Weir Ale and Cider house at Hanham lock. A peaceful setting, overlooking the river. Inside there were photographs of floods a few years ago, halfway up the buildings. I was mighty glad we didn’t have that to deal with. One drama was enough.
While winding one of the paddles open on the next lock I wasn’t concentrating. I underestimated the force of the mechanism and the windlass slipped out of my hand. It bashed me on my jaw. I continued winding while my jaw throbbed and I was wondering if my teeth or bones were cracked. I was so lucky and got away with just a bit of swelling and a huge bruise.
Strike two – The windlass hitting my jaw.
On our way to Bristol between waiting our turn at the locks, we stopped momentarily next to a canal boat moored to the side, to wait for another boat coming towards us from the lock. Karen and I were at the front of the boat watching it pass and making sure that it didn’t get too close to us. Paul and Clive were at the back of the boat steering and watching the back.
Above the sound of the motors we heard a scream. Paul gesticulated frantically and shouted, ‘Clive’s fallen off the boat!’ Paul had to keep steering the boat and apart from that, he couldn’t do anything because of his back.
Clive was hanging backwards over the boat next to ours, his hair just about skimming the murky canal water. With just his legs hooking onto the ledge of the boat, his left hand held on to a rope on the side and his right hand tried to grasp the boat.
Karen and I ran on the narrow ledge of our boat to get to him and hauled him back up by his t-shirt and belt, the only places we could get a grip. Thankfully he hadn’t fallen into the canal but was hanging on for dear life after he had slipped on the narrow ledge of the boat next to ours.
Strike 3 - Clive nearly fell into the canal.
Disasters happen in threes, don’t they? Hope that was done and dusted.
As we arrived at Bristol our long boat that looked massive in the canals suddenly looked like a miniature amongst the bigger boats. It is also quite difficult to manoeuvre a boat with limited steering and hardly any reverse thrust. Eventually we found a spot and tied it onto the jetty.
Later that evening Dale arrived and we celebrated the family reunion with a great curry dinner.
What stood out for us while exploring Bristol was how relaxed people seemed. Even so, after the laid-back pace of the canals, it seemed quite busy for us.
The following day, Thursday, while waiting for Sue and Jill to arrive we did laundry at a Laundromat. Another great reunion with lifelong friends. We walked around Millenium square and then left Bristol to head back to Hanham lock where we moored for the night and had dinner at the same pub where we ate lunch the day before.
Back to Bath
Thankfully although still in some pain, Paul’s back was improving. We both think the physiotherapist had indeed performed a miracle.
While we chugged up the river, Susan and Dale helped with the locks and Jill ducked inside like a jack in the box, to avoid being sprayed by water in the deeper locks, but also not wanting to miss out on all the fun.
We couldn’t get over the various boats on the canals. All shapes and sizes, some trading or offering services such as hairdressing, beauticians, sweet shops and artists. Others had very strange and peculiar set-ups.
Not a canal long boat, but we were fascinated by a Seahopper folder being unfolded and put together - a dinky little boat. I think it is only meant for very calm and flat waters. Can’t imagine it on our coast with its huge waves.
At Bath we took a Red Bus City tour. It is a beautiful town and we listened to a recorded tour guide telling us about its history. Afterwards we found we could do the Skyline tour on the outskirts of Bath as well with the same ticket. This time we had a live commentator.
Trying to get out of Bath, however, was mission impossible because of a huge rugby match and it being open day at the university. There were traffic jams everywhere.
Eventually when we were out of the main section of town our bus went up a hill and got stuck behind three other Red busses. They couldn’t move forwards or backwards.
We took on a few of their passengers and turned into a side road next to us and could continue with the tour. We found the detour interesting with a lovely view of Bath.
Naturally while in Bath you have to see the old Roman Baths. Once again an interesting part of history.
Bath is a vibrant city, with a mix of ancient history and contemporary culture. It is a hot spot for tourists but its golden stone holds its own in the beautiful Georgian architecture.
After a brief visit from Jill and Sue we bid them farewell.
On Monday, we continued to Avoncliff, near one of the aqueducts. The last few days Karen had been wheezing, coughing and struggling to breathe. Eventually it was decided that she couldn’t carry on like that.
So guess what?
Back to Bath.
It seemed our destiny was to stay near there. They however caught a taxi to see the doctor and we stayed with the boat. Dale also bid us farewell.
Paul and I explored the area at Avoncliff. We had lunch at a delightful quaint pub, Cross Guns, next to the aqueduct. After lunch we walked up the hill to Wisley and back to the canal.
When we got back to the boat, we walked to the other side of the aqueduct to see if it was worth mooring on there for the night because we were next to a cill and couldn’t get close to the edge of the towpath. We had to use the gangplank to get on and off the boat, which can be tricky at times.
On the way we met up with Karen and Clive who were back from the doctor. She was prescribed an antibiotic and asthma medication because she had a chest infection.
We decided to stay at our mooring spot but the boat lilted quite a bit during the night due to the level of the water in the canal and the cill. Half of my mattress was hanging off the edge of the bunk and it felt as if I was going to slide onto the floor. One of the downsides of being on a canal boat.
Strike four – Karen’s chest infection.
Thankfully that was the last of our bad luck.
Bradford on Avon
We passed through Bradford on Avon and only stopped to stock up with food at Sainsbury’s. Being on the boat for two weeks with limited fridge and freezer space meant we had to replenish our supplies regularly.
The next part of the canal had four swing bridges. Three of the bridges were wide enough for a vehicle and weighed tons while one was a pedestrian bridge. Who needs a gym workout? You’ll get enough physical exercise while canal boating!
Seend Cleeve had a lovely pub where we went for dinner. It wasn’t as quirky as the previous pub, but the food was delicious. Maybe we were just working up a good appetite every day.
The following day we had to go through numerous locks and swing bridges. At some of the locks we assisted a man that was on his own. He was very grateful and offered to help us later but we declined because there were enough of us. Generally it is quite jovial along the canals, chatting with other boaters or walkers on the tow path. A lot of banter goes on, as well as exchanging tips or advice along the way.
Caen Hill Locks - The mother of all locks
We had reached the bottom of Caen Hill where there is a two-mile-long flight of 29 locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Rowde and Devizes in Wiltshire, England.
Was it worth going up the locks? We thought about it and chickened out. Only if you’re planning to go further up the canal would I suggest you go through the locks. It can take between five and six hours and after a few locks it could get quite monotonous. Some people say it’s a rite of passage. Hmm, not so sure. There are enough other locks to go through.
We moored near the bottom of the Devizes locks and walked up instead.
If we had gone with the boat it would have taken the entire morning. Because we were limited with time we would have turned around and spent the afternoon to do it all in reverse. We had a better option, we walked up, stopping halfway for tea and scones and then continued into Devizes.
One of the places we stopped at was the market. Pity I couldn’t really buy much of the foods. It would have been a waste on us as we only had a day left on the boat. They were selling biltong, a South African treat of dried, cured meat. We were horrified at the price of GBP 5 for 100 grams. We usually pay around 1 GBP for the same amount at home. Rip off, I tell you!
That night we moored opposite The Barge Inn at Seend Cleeve and had dinner at the Brewery pub. Another delicious meal.
We were warned by other boaters that the canal water level was low and there was a possibility that we could run aground.
During the night we were lilting once again. The canal had dropped considerably and it felt much like the night at Avoncliff when we were balancing on the cill.
We were woken by footsteps crunching on the gravel towpath and thought people were walking back to their boats. Soon after that we heard some footsteps and saw a torch light shining through the windows. The boat pitched and it sounded like someone was rummaging in one of the outside lockers on the boat.
Let me fill you in. A true South African is always alert, even when he’s sleeping, listening with one ear for burglars. Dear hubby of mine, no sign of a gammy back, leapt out of bed in his sleepy state, shouting “Someone’s stealing our stuff!”
After numerous attempts he yanked the hatch open and wanted to give chase but the thief with his torch beam was far down the path. Paul looked in the locker and saw the windlass was missing. He was extremely irritated and was ready to run barefoot down the rough stone path and rebuke the thief. I had a huge job trying to calm him down and reminded him that he had an injured back and he was unarmed.
As he huffed the ‘thief’ turned around and walked towards us. It was Clive. He had taken the windlass to check the locks because of the water level. He had sneaked out the front of the boat not to disturb us. We had a good chuckle afterwards.
We woke to the water level still being very low on our last full day of our canal trip but managed to go down two locks and get to deeper water. That night we moored near the boatyard at Bradford on Avon and had dinner at the Boathouse Pub – where we started our canal trip. We had to hand our boat back by 9am the next morning. We’d come full circle.
Would 8 reasons why you shouldn’t go on a canal boat cruise stop you from going?