Looking for a unique adventure in England? Want to try something a bit out of your comfort zone? Narrowboating is the vacation for you.
A narrowboat or narrow boat is a long, slim boat designed to navigate the canals of England. There are companies that rent out these floating RVs for vacationers and locals seeking a break from their daily urban life.
Narrow boats, according to Wikipedia, “refers to the original working boats built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for carrying goods down the narrow canals.” The channels, locks and bridge holes may only be seven feet wide, hence the long, slim shape of the boat.
A narrowboat vacation may not be on the “top ten” list of things to do when visiting the UK, but it should be. It’s a slower lifestyle that takes you through the English countryside and connects you with unique, kind people.
If this appeals to you, I want to share five things I wish I had known before getting on the boat.
1) The Amount of Planning and Preparation
My husband and I researched the canals we would be drifting down and the towns we would pass through. We researched what to do in the towns and the hot spot attractions.
However, there was a bit of planning we overlooked. Due to the nature of the experience, there are times you may moor in isolated areas without a grocery store within walking distance. Theres’ even a chance that the best place to moor for the evening is alongside a farm field. Making sure you have water for cooking and toilets for the next few days takes a bit of planning and forethought. Consult the waterway maps for water boxes and mooring sites. I also recommend looking up cities to see if there is a grocery store within walking distance of public moorings so that you can have enough food items on hand to have breakfast with the cows.
2) Locks Take Longer Than You Think
We used an app to chart out our course from March to Ely each day. By our request, we were only to “boat” three to four hours a day.
The app mentioned locks but it did not take into account the amount of time it takes to flood and empty the chamber.
Locks take time to navigate and there may be a que of waiting boats. Plan for at least an hour (if not two) for EACH lock. Also, some of the locks have lockmasters that help you navigate the lock safely. Check the locks you plan to use and contact the lockmaster ahead of time for ideal time or suggested crossing time frame (such as Salter’s Lode/Denver Sluice).
3) Wash Your Hands.
The employees of Fox Narrowboats told us to wash our hands. Repeatedly. However, I think there were moments when I may have been a bit slack in the “touch a rope, wash your hands” rule. This came back to bite me in a HUGE way. I spent about eight hours within running distance of the onboard toilet. This “micro organism cleanse” cleaned me out and limited my consumption of steak and ale pies for days afterward. Wash your hands. Repeatedly.
4) It is Easier Than You Think
Fox Narrowboats, the company we rented our narrow boat from, went from bow to stern of the boat with us. They explained how the stove works, how to lock the boat and took us out for a test drive so we understood the steering. We left on our adventure feeling confident, but we also had their 24 hour emergency cell phone number. If anything happened, an engineer was a phone call away. Knowing how easy it is ahead of time would have saved me some anxious nights!
5) Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone is Empowering
From working through locks to navigating tidal canals to river sickness in a foreign city, the two of us found ourselves daily outside our comfort zone. We were given several opportunities to stretch our abilities, swallow our feel and say, “We will figure it out.” At the end of each day, we high-fived each other and said “Way to go, Team Sachtjen.” Our steps outside of the comfort zone empowered us to take more. It gave us a chance to push through fear and find the gems of life on the other side.
The most popular question we were asked about our trip is whether or not we would do it again. Sure, there was anxiety. Yeah, I spent half a day the sickest I have ever been. However, this is still one of the coolest vacations I have ever taken. Both the hubster and I would do it again. In a heartbeat.
We are even considering a narrow boat trip through Scotland, where they have a rotating boat lift (like a giant ferris wheel) called the Falkirk Wheel.
I absolutely recommend it. Start planning it now!