As the newest member of the Waterways Holidays team, my first 6 months with the company fast approaching, I decided to take my family on our first ever narrowboat holiday to celebrate my mother’s 70th Birthday.
We were collecting “Marilyn” from Uplands Marina at Northwich on the August bank holiday and were looking forward to a new experience and an exciting trip ahead. We arrived at the marina which is close to the Anderton Boat Lift and found Marilyn moored up at the bottom of a flight of steps. Tom and Alan were there to meet us. They showed us to the boat where we could offload our luggage before parking our cars in a more secure location.
Marilyn was a new boat for 2017 and has a reverse layout. This makes it a bit more sociable because the saloon and kitchen are at the rear of the narrowboat. This also works well for the helmsperson if they require drinks and refreshments handed to them during the day. The narrowboat is decorated to a high standard with a light, airy feel and follows the theme of Marilyn Monroe. My niece was highly excited and was keen to get underway as soon as we got onboard. I explained that we would need to have a boat ‘handover’ first and then receive instruction on the handling of the boat, so off she went to pick her bed and unpack her belongings.
Tom spent around an hour going through the facilities of the boat. Explaining how to steer with the tiller and how to operate the engine. Once we had all agreed that we understood how the water, heating, gas, bathroom facilities and engine all worked Tom handed us over to Alan who very kindly offered to manoeuvre the boat out of the marina for us. We were grateful for this as there were quite a few boats and a low bridge to negotiate, so it was a little daunting for complete novices.
My partner Steven was next to Alan as we headed out and was listening intently to his instructions and advice. After around 10-15 minutes Alan asked who would like to have a go at steering and Steven nominated himself. Learning that the narrowboat can take a while to react to the movement of the tiller, he started to get the hang of things and Alan felt confident to hop off and let us get underway on our own. By this time it was around 3pm but the sun was still splitting the sky that and it made our first afternoon cruising along very relaxing indeed. After 4 hours we came to our first lock of the day, Middlewich Big Lock. It was getting close to 7pm but we were keen to experience a lock before mooring up for the evening.
Another family, also new to boating, were just going up in the lock as we were approaching so I went to see if I could help. The family waited and assisted us through the lock safely. The community spirit on the waterways is very impressive. I was also happy to receive assistance because the lock was right next a pub. There were lots of people sitting outside on the sunny bank holiday evening, relaxing and watching the world go by.
Once through the lock we decided to find a nice mooring spot. Conveniently, we found somewhere at the back of the Newton Brewery Inn with a footpath that led into the beer garden of the pub. However, we decided to eat on board that evening as we had taken plenty of supplies with us. The kitchen facilities were all brand new and it was lovely to relax in the tranquillity of our floating home.
We woke bright and early on our 2nd day to start my mother’s birthday celebrations. With a target in mind of getting to Nantwich, we anticipated around 6-7 hours cruising ahead of us. The waterways were reasonably busy and there were lots of boats heading through the locks in both directions. Some very helpful Canal and River Trust volunteers operated the rest of the locks at Middlewich to try and keep the boats moving through them efficiently.
My niece had decided to assist with the lock gates that morning and was proving to be a great help. Shortly after the Middlewich locks we turned right onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal leaving the Trent and Mersey Canal behind. Another lock was quickly upon us and we merrily got into the swing of things. Locks are perhaps the most exciting part of boating for children and my niece described going through them as “magical”.
Our journey became more tranquil as we cruised along through peaceful and rural countryside. Steven was quite comfortable at the helm as the rest of the family were enjoying taking in the ambience and celebrating Mum’s birthday. We passed through Church Minshull. You can moor up between bridge 14 and 15 and take a walk into the quaint little village. However we decided to continue cruising and have lunch on board the narrowboat. We passed Venetian Marina which has a water point, a café, a shop and even shower facilities. (The shower facilities are only available for people actually staying in the marina).
By late afternoon we were approaching Barbridge Junction which connects to the main Shropshire Union Canal. This certainly sharpened the skills of the helmsman as he slowly navigated through moored narrowboats on both sides of the canal. We realised that there weren’t many mooring spots left here so we continued to the other side of the bridge where we found some nice quiet 48 hour moorings (you do need to be careful here as there are some private business moorings that should be avoided). As it was approaching early evening we decided to start the birthday celebrations before dinner. It was a short walk over bridge No.100 to the Olde Barbridge Inn where we had dinner that evening.
After a relaxed morning we decided to turn around and retrace our steps. We felt it might be a bit of a rush to get to Nantwich then back. En route, we decided to stop off at the Aqueduct Marina to fill Marilyn up with water. By this time our helmsman had earned a well-deserved lunch break as he manoeuvred Marilyn around to moor up alongside other boats in the marina. They have a lovely little café there and we decided to sit outside and relax, soaking up the sun.
We then continued on our way along the canal until there was a rain shower. We decided to moor up and have a tea break. Just after Stanthorne Lock we moored up for the evening along the towpath, where there was just one other narrowboat. Other than dog walkers and joggers it was a very secluded, peaceful spot. We decided to chill out with some movies and board games, ready to do the Middlewich Locks the next morning.
We started our final day of cruising feeling more like experienced boaters rather than novices. We were just beginning to get into the swing of things when it was time to return the boat. The lock volunteers recognised us on our return leg and were interested to see if we had enjoyed ourselves. We passed through central Middlewich. We moored up before Middlewich Big Lock to pick up a few supplies and have some lunch. On departing Middlewich we had a nice relaxing 4 hour cruise back towards our Marina. That evening we bypassed Uplands Marina and headed up towards the Anderton Boat Lift instead. Turning at the winding hole there and mooring up just a few minutes’ walk from the lift itself (also a short distance from Uplands Marina).
I called around 8.30am on our final day to see if we could get assistance getting Marilyn back into the marina. Alan kindly came to meet us around 15 minutes later, steering the boat for us. After disembarking we thanked Alan for all of his help. Then we packed our belongings into the car and headed to the Anderton Boat Lift for a better look around.
This Victorian piece of engineering connects the River Weaver and Trent and Mersey Canal by lowering / lifting boats on a mechanised lift rather than using a series of locks. It was of great interest to me, having been on the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland which is the only ‘rotating’ boat lift in the UK. There is a fantastic visitor centre and café at Anderton, so the first stop was a very reasonably-priced breakfast. We then spent some time looking at information boards and watched a day trip boat going up the boat lift. This is certainly worth a visit and is especially good for families.
Our first family narrowboat experience was something we all thoroughly enjoyed and I know it certainly won’t be my last. We are now looking forward to planning our next trip. With so many canals to choose from it may take some time to reach a decision!