If you are looking for that vacation with a difference, why not consider hiring a narrow boat for a week or two and hitting the British canal routes? With a stunning network of intricate canal paths, all looked after and cared for by the superb workers of the British Waterways, this is most certainly a trip with a difference.
A few years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference in Birmingham, England. A few yards from the sizeable convention arena I was due to be appearing at, stood Birmingham Gas Street Station, the heart of the Birmingham Canal Navigation. For those of you who are unaware of the location, Birmingham is home to a staggering 100 miles of canal routes – with many who sail these courses even claiming the number is on a par with Venice!
While this is perhaps the hub of this canal route attracting a vast number of tourists per day, I had heard that the Birmingham canal route took in some of the most rural waterway routes and many were off the beaten track. Just my type of vacation, I finished my scheduled talk and headed to the main junction to pick up my vibrantly colored narrow boat, or as the British like to call it, a barge. I then traversed the locks to move away from the hustle and bustle of Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city, and within a couple of hours, it felt as though I was in another world.
Experiencing a Different Kind of Holiday
When you first take a narrowboat vacation in the UK, you aren’t just left to get on with it on your first day. Far from it. The helpful and friendly operators who organize these types of holidays will take you through a morning of training and then guide you out to a training section of the canal way before you are unleashed on your own!
I have taken a narrow boating vacation before so I could skip this process this time, but it is always offered to you alongside mandatory safety instructions should you ever need to fall back on them during your trip. In fact, if you book in ample time before collecting your dedicated narrowboat, you are sent a link to an information pack which has a 40-minute video detailing everything you will need to know during your trip, so you arrive fully prepped before even boarding!
Only when you are comfortable and feel ready to navigate the waters on your own, do you sign off to confirm you are all systems go, yet if you would like further help, guidance or training you can request the services of an attendant with you for a part way of your trip.
Life on Board a Narrowboat
What always makes this type of vacation stand out is not only the beautiful routes, which many people drive over or around without even knowing of their existence but the superior quality of the boats themselves. My choice was a thoroughly modern 44-foot-long narrowboat with all the amenities you would expect from a newly renovated apartment!
With a very quiet diesel engine, there was a sizeable stern deck with ample space to stand outside and admire the scenery taking some of the views in, sat on a typically British deckchair at many of the stops! Having chosen such a large boat, there was also a small seating arrangement of the front of the boat which I liked to sit out on each evening and watch dusk fall while parking perfectly in between the sway of the many weeping willows around me. Many a night I spent witnessing pheasants going about their evening across the tremendous breathtaking pastures of the many UK farming counties, all from the comfort of my home upon the water!
What tends to put most people off with a narrow boat is the living arrangements. Yet, each boat I have hired has offered better and more comfortable living space than most luxurious hotel rooms. My choice came complete with heating, two adequality size bedrooms, a fully fitted kitchen which included an oven and fridge, as well as a full-sized shower room. And yes, there was also a proper toilet which flushed very well!
A Narrow Boat Vacation Can Be Enjoyed by Everyone
This trip, I was on my own and consequently sailing through the UK canal paths on my own. While I do like to do this time and time again, just to disconnect and completely switch off, I have taken a similar trip to this with a larger group of friends before. I can, therefore, say that if you are a larger group or even a family with younger children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting types of vacations you may ever experience.