Take the slow lane narrow-boating in Oxfordshire with your family


It’s the one holiday I’ve always wanted to try – narrow boating. 

But as it came closer, I started to worry. After months of lockdown, was it really such a great idea to spend even more time together in an even tinier space?

The answer was a resounding yes. Though being a first-time narrow boater is not for the faint-hearted! There is a lot to take on board (no pun intended) before you can sail off in your  boat – in our case a 58ft-long vessel called Caroline Mary.

We hired her through Drifters Waterway Holidays, and setting off from Kate Boats at Stockton in Warwickshire, lovely Dave showed us the ropes, including how to steer, reverse, moor up and check for weeds in the engine.

He also explained about locks – which raise and lower boats between water levels on canals and rivers – and travelled with us to the first one to make sure we knew what to do. 

Then we were off! My husband Alistair took charge, steering down Grand Union Canal towards the South Oxford Canal. Meanwhile, me, our nine-year-olds Riley and Harris and sprocker-spaniel Daisy explored our boat. 

It had one bedroom, plus a saloon-style table and chairs that converted into a double bed, a fully equipped kitchen, a bathroom with a shower and a living room complete with a TV and DVD player. 

It wasn’t long before we met our first challenge, Calcutt Locks – three locks one after the other. But the lovely thing about canal boating is the community – everyone is so friendly and helpful.

A family with more experience than us made sure we emerged unscathed, and we meandered through beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, arriving at the tranquil village of Napton three hours later.

Here we popped to centuries-old The Folly pub and listened to live music as we ate burgers and chips, £13, in the sun, while sipping a well-earned beer (Follyatnapton.co.uk).

It was lovely to wake up the next day to water lapping at the boat. We cooked a hearty fry-up then set off for the village of Fenny Compton, six hours away.

With nine locks to navigate, the kids got busy jumping off to lend a hand. We’d worked up an appetite by the time we sat down at The Merrie Lion in Fenny Compton for scampi and chips, £12.50 (Merrielion.co.uk).

Needless to say, we slept well, before our return to base the next day. 

It may not have been the most relaxing break, but it was fun for all of us, including Daisy who, after one cold dip chasing a duck, decided it was best to watch from the boat!

And the whole family will always remember the lovely boaters we met along the way. 

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