Back in April, an intrepid band of explorers set out to charter a barge and navigate the untamed wilds of Britain's canals. It was very similar to the voyage up the Congo undertaken in 'Heart of Darkness' but much more genteel. We are, or course, equally as hardcore.
We picked up our trusty floating home for the week, named Kingfisher, and following a quick driving lesson and a lock tutorial, we were sent on our merry way with instructions to be back in time at the end of the week. Simple.
I had never been on a canal boat before, but was looking forward to a week of calm waterways, solid friend time, merry locking and just relaxing and watching the world go by. And that's pretty much what we all got, only I loved it more than I ever would have thought.
First of all, driving is easy and enjoyable. You can sit on the back of the boat, enjoy the scenery, wave at passer's by and other boats and have your crew bring you cups of tea to while away the hours. It's peaceful and lovely and you can glide along at pottering pace without a care in the world.
Inside the barge also turned out to be much roomier than I had imagined, and much less rough and ready. Hot showers, for instance. Adorable bedrooms with impressively fitted storage, a full-on kitchen and lounge area to hang in, or outdoor seating at the front of the barge if the weather's nice. Everything we could possible have needed was on board.
I soon learned, however, that half the charm of canal boating lies in vaulting onto the bank to go and operate the locks. In these circumstances, driving is less fun than hauling along to the nearest lock and going hell for leather with your windlass. There was a real sense of achievement in throwing your bodyweight into levering open the heavy wooden gates, and it was surprisingly social.
We met lots of other boaters at locks and we would always be happy to team up and work them together, sharing boat anecdotes and swapping holiday stories as we manually shimmied our barges up and down watery hills. My favourite bit was probably the flight of seven we managed, just in terms of sheer accomplishment and the satisfaction of shifting the locks like a well-oiled machine. That's teamwork, baby.
I did have to institute a mutiny, however. One so-called friend had made us all badges to wear for the trip. A lovely thought, you might imagine. His badge said 'Captain', and he doled out First Mate and Cabin Boy to two other crew members. And what did that leave me?
Mutiny was swift and successful. Safe to say that by the end of the week, my hoody proudly bore two badges, reading 'Captain Parrot'.
Pieces of Eight.
It was just so nice to get away from everything and really relax. I appreciate 'Nice' sounds like a very bland word, but there was time for Man Time (see above, putting the world to rights), reading time, musing-aloud-about-the-future time, cooking time, board games time, walking the tow-path time, cider time, tea time and photography time.
Also running along the roof time, but I enjoyed very much but which is technically not allowed. But the blossom was out, we struck lucky with the weather and the week just kept on rolling by. There's always something you can do, but often not a lot you have to do which is a perfect balance really.
We crossed a couple of aqueducts which gave us some lovely views and definitely made me want to experience travelling over some of the larger, more well-known varieties where you're high in the air with the countryside spread below. We also navigated through a hugely long tunnel, the inside of which was pitch black and exciting, and exactly wide enough for two boats to pass and no more.
Each evening we moored up and enjoyed our little floating home. It was lovely to natter the day away, take on a board game or two, or venture to the nearest pub for some delicious pub fare. Necessary when you've relaxed that hard.
Going on a canal boat was one of the things of my list of Life Goals (you can find it here) but it's safe to say that this is one I really want to repeat. I can understand why people want to go again and again as it's utterly charming and wonderful. Pure, carefree enjoyment from start to finish with a lovely bunch of friends and daily life left well and truly behind. I can't wait to go again!
P.S. Note to self: next time take more snacks. Driving time is snack time.