My ‘bucket list’ included a holiday on a narrowboat, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it for a week, and when I’d looked in the past, a week was very expensive, so a chat with a neighbour whilst out walking made me look again. She’d been on a boat for a long weekend, on the Lancaster canal – setting off from Tewitfield Lock – just above Carnforth. Handy for us in Cumbria, and better still, she told us the Lancaster canal doesn’t have any locks on it! So it was a great way to introduce us to the world of narrow boats.
I did some research, and found a small one-boat operator out of Tewitfield marina, with the narrowboat Bluebell. After many questions, patiently answered by e-mail – we picked up our boat on the August Bank Holiday weekend, following the instructions from our host Kyle as to what to bring with us (soft bags, no suitcases, waterproofs!). We were met by Pete, who showed us all around the boat and very patiently gave us instructions in how to drive Bluebell. He manoeuvred Bluebell out of the marina (first panic over!), then stayed with us for a mile whilst we got the hang of steering the boat (not as easy as you think – the rudder is very sensitive and you have to pay close attention). Once he was confident in our abilities – he hopped off and left us to it!
The canal was quite narrow in places, meandering rather like a river, and very scenic. We saw lots of birds, including Kingfishers and Swans with 9 Cygnets. We were disappointed not to see Otters. The scenery was lovely, lots of green fields, trees and lovely views over the countryside. It was nice travelling more slowly than people were walking beside the canal! Everyone was very friendly, saying hello and waving. Meeting other boats was a bit of a worry at first, don’t go too close to the side in case you ground, but my hubby got the hang of it.
We spent our first night beside the Canal Turn pub in Carnforth. We explored Carnforth, including visiting the Station and the exhibition based on Brief Encounter. We enjoyed a couple of drinks in the pub, then settled down in front of the wood burning stove in the boat with wine and dinner. The bed was elevated and cosy. The boat had one bed and the sofa could convert into two beds – but I’d only suggest using the sofa for one or two children, 4 adults might be a push in the space. The boat was well equipped with a cosy kitchen, bathroom including shower (we used the shower blocks). The owner even left us a nice bottle of wine and a packet of biscuits.
We were moored close to the British Waterways Showers/Toilets/Waste disposal which is accessed by a special key. You can get rid of your rubbish, empty your chemical loo and re-fill with water here, as well as using toilets and showers.
The next day involved negotiating a swing bridge with no trouble. We enjoyed some stunning views across to the Cumbrian Fells and Morecambe Bay. We stopped at Hest Bank for lunch at the Hest Bank Inn, and an explore of the village, and then we headed towards Lancaster, crossing over the Lune Viaduct, an amazing piece of construction carrying the canal over the River Lune. Coming into Lancaster was interesting, seeing the old industrial heritage. We came across the Water Witch pub with moorings outside – and a huge turning basin which was a bonus, so we moored up, went for a few drinks and explored Lancaster. We stayed overnight on this mooring.
The next day was raining, so we headed back up to Tewitfield Marina, stopping a few times for a bit of exploring. We spent the night at Tewitfield, dining in the pub there, before handing the boat over the next morning.
We enjoyed our three days on the boat, and would definitely do a canal trip again, maybe braving locks this time! You need to be fairly nimble on a canal boat – you need to step over the side of the boat to tie up and be able to push the boat away from the side – so it’s not a holiday for anyone with mobility difficulties. But it’s a lovely relaxing way to spend the countryside and we enjoyed the cosy boat.