Saturday 23rd May – Friday 29th May 2015.
We set off for The Peter Le Marchant Trust base in Loughborough mid-morning, part excited anticipation and part trepidation. I myself had not been on a Narrowboat holiday for over 24 Years and the rest of the family had only been on a day boat once before. How would we fair? Would I be able to master steering and navigating Melody along the canals and rivers, through locks and the narrow bridges and would the crew master operating the locks.
Arriving at the base around 10:30 it was a hive of activity. One of the Wide Beam boats was still loading for a day trip and should have departed at 10:00 but was delayed as some of the party on the trip were running late.
We were greeted by Barrie, one of the volunteers. The first thing to do was load all our gear onto Melody. After loading all the gear on, Barrie showed us around, went through the inventory and told us how to operate the shower, toilets, heating etc. We then ran through the daily checks, stern gland grease screw, weed hatch, oil and water levels. With all the pre-trip instructions complete it was time to start our journey.
Barrie was coming with us for a short while to instruct on handling Melody and train the crew members how to operate the locks. With the engine started we cast off, but we were facing the wrong way. In my naivety I expected the experienced skipper to take control and perform the manoeuvre but how wrong was I! Under Barrie’s guidance and experience I turned Melody on her Bow with only about 6” to spare at the stern, it was at this point I actually realised how long Melody looked, at 65’ long she spanned the width of the canal.
We headed North along the Soar navigation on the outskirts of Loughborough and I quickly become accustomed to handling the craft. It was not long before we reached the first lock. We were in luck! Another boat had already prepared (filled) the lock and had just entered the lock chamber. I nervously manoeuvred Melody alongside the other boat and under the expert guidance of Barrie, the lock was slowly emptied and then the gates opened so that both boats could exit together.
With the crews back on board we proceeded to the next lock just a few hundred meters away. We pulled up before the lock to drop off the crews so that they could prepare the lock. Once done, we entered the lock one by one and the gates were closed before the lock could be emptied. As the gates opened we bid farewell to Barrie and our journey of exploration would begin.
As this was our first day we had planned to go as far as Trent Lock to moor for the evening and as it happened we accompanied the couple in the other narrow boat all the way there. That said however this part of our journey was not without incident! On approaching one lock I managed to ground Melody on a silt bank this would be the only time today, but not the only time during the holiday.
We arrived at a very busy Trent Lock with almost all the moorings taken. Expertly I managed to place the rear 2/3rds of Melody on the floating pontoon and later after another craft left, moved fully alongside. This would b
e our first evening stop and a nice alfresco family meal enjoyed at The Steamboat.
Prior to taking Melody out we had looked at the route options, initially using CanalPlanAC on the internet then later using one of the Collins guides. We then transposed the distances and number of locks onto a spreadsheet to give us an estimation of our journey time.
We ended up opting for the route that would take us up the Soar Navigation and onto the Trent and Mersey Canal with the option of taking in part of the Coventry Canal. However, as it transpired we didn’t attempt the Coventry Canal section and turned at Fradley Junction, covering 127km and 53 Locks. That’s the beauty of spending time on the British Waterways you can relax and take things at your own pace just so long as you have planned your route and not pushed the boundaries of your available time.
We had planned that each evening stop we were within walking distance of a local pub where we could have a meal. However, on one glorious evening we decided that we would just moor up at a remote location on the Tow Path and have a barbecue – Awesome!!
It is not just about the solitude and relaxation that a Waterways break can give, it’s about seeing the countryside around you, the wildlife (we even had a hitch hiking duck!), the history of Great British engineering, meeting other people and sharing a camaraderie that is all but lost in our modern day hectic lifestyles. Last but not least a family bonding time where you can all be together relaxed and away from the stresses of everyday life.
Now the question on everyone’s lips! Would we do it again? Most defiantly YES, which is why we have booked to go again in 2016.