Travel: Narrowboating in Cheshire (and beyond)

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We’re on holiday and doing about 4mph through the outskirts of Manchester. It’s swelteringly hot, the kids have nothing to do and we’re not entirely sure where we’re going. In any normal circumstances, this should be a recipe for disaster but as we approach the M56 near Anderton, things could not be better.

You see, we’re not in a car. We’re on a narrowboat, which means while we can sense stressed-out motorists crawling by bumper-to-bumper on the congested trunk road overhead, we’re about as far from it as you could be.

In a just a few short moments, the pent-up animal growl of near stationary vehicles is replaced by bird song and the gentle, almost peaceful, rumble of our own engine.

On either side are fields, one yellow as spun gold, stems of unharvested corn swaying gently in the light summer breeze and on the opposite bank, sloping off toward a shimmering light blue ribbon of water snaking its way along the valley bottom, a tangle of hedgerows march down between fields of emerald, olive and chartreuse.

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In fact, even as I write this review, I’m struggling to think of anything more relaxing than gently steering your narrowboat through genuinely beautiful stretches of English countryside. It’s idyllic. It’s verging on Shakespearean.

I’m struggling to think of anything more relaxing than gently steering your narrowboat through genuinely beautiful stretches of English countryside. It’s idyllic. It’s verging on Shakespearean.

Neil Hudson gets the narrowboat bug

We hired our 40ft narrowboat from Anderton Marina on the Monday for four nights. After watching an obligatory safety video which shows you a few dos and don’ts associated with narrowboating, such as how to navigate a lock and what to do when you encounter a tunnel, we were taken through the various procedures associated with the boat. Like how to start it, how to stop it, where to fill it up with water and what to do if it breaks down (god forbid).

After that and being shown where the lifejackets were, we were pretty much off.

Pulling out of the marina was, perhaps, the scariest moment of all. It’s not everyday you take control of a vehicle whose front end is more than the length of a double-decker bus away and given your main method of controlling this is the rudder paddle, it takes a bit of getting used to. Luckily, it’s something you can pick up in just a few hundred yards and as the boat only travels at about 4mph anyway, so long as you keep an eye on where the nose is headed, the just falls into line.

The Trent and Mersey Canal at Anderton is close to the River Weaver and, indeed, is linked to it via the three-storey tall Victorian boat lift, which is still in use today and is one of those feats of engineering from bygone times one can only marvel at. We were heading toward the town of Lymm, which was to be our turning point but within just a few hours, we decided to pull up and have something to eat.

There are thousands, of miles of canals criss-crossing the UK and part of the joy of cruising along them is you can stop pretty much anywhere. Our first pitstop, we found a nice spot between two fields in the middle of nowhere, steered the front of the boat toward the shore, hammered in a couple of poles and tied up.

The other thing a narrowboat holiday does for you is really open your eyes to the wondrous beauty we have in this country. This hidden network of tranquil waterways is an undervalued asset and even when they venture near the urban sprawl, they remain resolutely part of the countryside, wreathed as they are in aged hedges and unkempt grass verges. It’s almost a land that time forgot, which makes rediscovering them all the more rewarding.

FACTFILE

GENERAL INFO: Drifters Waterway Holidays offers over 580 boats from 45 locations and has a range of options in 2016, with over 2,000 miles of waterways to explore

FACILITIES: Fridge freezer, microwave, TV, shower, bedding

TRAVEL GUIDE: Anderton to Lymm and back will take about four days at a leisurely pace

PRIcES: Hire prices start at £395 for a short break, £625 for a week

WEBSITE: www.drifters.co.uk

CALL: 0844 984 0322

Days Out: National Emergency Services Museum - Sheffield