Me and the Old Man have wanted to do a canal holiday for ages, and now that Ruby is a little older and will actually listen to rules and instructions (generally!), we thought the time was right.
I asked on Facebook if anybody had done one recently with kids and what they'd recommend. Unequivocally, the answer came back "not recently but we remember going on boating holidays as kids and they were the BEST holidays EVER". So many people had such happy recollections, and I was even more determined that this is what we should do - a holiday to make childhood memories.
Hoseasons have barge holidays all over the country, and we found a trip which was only about an hour's drive from home.
We unloaded the car straight onto the boat, quickly stowing away all our bags; loading up the fridge freezer with meals I'd prepared at home; popping a few bottles straight into the wine cooler and then we got cracking on learning the ropes. The boatyard owners expertly took us through all the necessary procedures, showed us where everything was and gave us a quick lesson in steering the boat and how to moor up.
It was a little nerve-wracking to be left in charge of a 65ft boat, but the Old Man seemed quietly confident and quickly settled into his role as Captain (with a little help from his First Mate).
We had tried to pre-plan our route, but it quickly became apparent that the whole point of this type of holiday is not about where you are going, but about the journey. In a sense, it doesn't really matter where you end up, and it was easier to simply go with the flow and not worry about reaching a 'destination'.
Life nowadays is one great rush. Dashing from appointment to appointment. Tearing down the motorway at 70 mph. Dashing to do the school run and get home in time for swimming lessons... There's just no time to notice our surroundings anymore. Apart from the impact of the weather on our daily lives, we are all probably a bit guilty of losing touch with the seasons and the natural world.
Cruising along on the water at 2 or 3 miles per hour is the total antithesis to our hectic modern life. It gives a whole new perspective on our world. Those green blurs that whizz by the car window are actually trees, bursting into life with spring buds. And in those trees are finches and sparrows, feasting on bugs and insects or busying themselves making nests for their new arrivals. Those hedgerows that obscure your view to the fields beyond, are teeming with activity that you just wouldn't normally notice. Sounds silly? Well when was the last time you actually stopped to look?
We had time to notice the daffodil buds tight and ready to burst open. The clumps of snowdrops with heads bobbing in the breeze. We passed slowly the fields of cattle; sheep and horses. We fed moorhens, coots, swans and ducks from the boat as we ambled along.
At each bend and turn in the canal, there was something new to see. Each bridge different, and features to notice in every one.
There was time to spot the subtle yarn-bombing that someone had troubled themselves to do at the locks. Little crocheted coloured hearts tied to the handles along our journey.
On the first night, as dusk fell, we pulled up to the bank and it felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere. It was perfect. We watched the sun go down, and for the first time in ages allowed ourselves time to look at the beautiful sunset.
Snuggling down for the evening, we gathered round the table to enjoy dinner together. Later, we went up to the stern to see the stars. The sky was crystal clear and we were able to point out constellations to Ruby that we rarely ever see at home.
The boat was equipped with TV and video so we settled in to watch Fantastic Mr Fox with a bowl of popcorn, before retiring for the night.
The next morning, it quickly became clear to us just how cold it had been. The water was frozen all around us. But it was stunningly beautiful. Sitting up at the front, wrapped up against the cold, with a hot cup of coffee and a cake, I felt the first proper rays of sunshine of the year beating down on my face. There was nowhere else I'd have rather been right then at that moment.
We absolutely loved our trip. The calmer pace of life. The gentle footprint it left. We became much more mindful of our resources, given that they were limited. We stopped wasting water and power. We reduced the amount of rubbish we produced. We learnt to slow down and appreciate our surroundings, and the world around us. I only hope these lessons can continue at home.
We holidayed in Golden Days at Clifton Cruisers, based in Rugby. The boat sleeps up to 6 and costs from £925 per week inclusive of fuel and bedding or from £655 for a short break (prices may be subject to alteration). We received a press discount of approximately 20%. Golden Days facilities include underfloor heating; fully equipped galley kitchen with gas cooker; fridge-freezer; microwave and wine chiller; 2 TVs with integrated DVD players, 2 bathrooms with body-jet showers.
Clifton Wharf has a charming and snug cafe called Bridge 66. With log burning stoves and a model train track mounted high up in the rafters, it's quirky, homely style makes it well worth a visit. They sell incredible cakes and a wide range of specialist teas and coffees, together with handmade gifts and souvenirs. There is also a spa treatment room on site offering massage and beauty therapies.
Disclosure: All views and opinions are my own. We paid for the holiday, but were grateful to receive a press discount as mentioned.