WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE .. I'd definitely come back and do it all again … MAGGIE SEED
WE set off in great excitement, the Magnificent Seven - a crew of three teenagers, plus two girls aged 12 and 10, and two mothers. Because there were seven of us we required the biggest barge in the fleet - ours measured 70 feet from pointy end to keel, and as the actual canals are barely 20 feet wide in places, we had to pay attention to our route, to ensure that we could find a turning place (or "hole"), and so not overtax the endurance of our keelsman and crew. Our chief keelsman as it happened, was not one of the responsible adults on board, but in fact 16-year-old Andrew, who turned out to be the only one who could completely understand the workings of the rudder (you have to push it the opposite way to where you want to go - in fact, aim for what you are trying to avoid) and, as he was the only one who didn't lose his head in a steering emergency, he was at the helm for most of our journeys. On his first few short absences we would invariably run aground, in which case he would have to , spend a good few minutes "pushing us off" with the, long pole we found on the top of the barge. It could even have been put there for that purpose, along with a mop. Barging is an ideal holiday for people of average agility of all ages. For older children and teenagers it is ideal, while for adults and especially active retired people the holiday is a real back-to-basics treat, like caravanning in the 50s in absolutely the nicest possible way. We couldn't help noticing the many stylish seniors with pots of flowers and washing hanging up on very smart and shiny barges - clearly for the independent minded there could well be soulmates to be found afloat.
The canal system of Britain is full of engineering marvels and many can be examined and put into action at close range. The Ivy Lift Bridge, for example, involved lowering road barriers and putting a key in a lock to set some mysterious mechanism into action. Such fun to stop all the road traffic! The main advantages of such a holiday are the absolute escape from everyday life - there was nothing to do that remotely resembled our daily routine - and the absolute a necessity of teamwork. on how to handle Poppy, our appointed vessel. I supposed that the barge would have a sort of "cruise control" system of driving where we would just meander along the canal, perhaps sipping the odd glass of chilled white wine and enjoying the lunchtime sunshine. Phil made it all seem pretty easy and elected that I should stay onboard when negotiating the locks. On a glorious autumn day, descending the staircase lock and witnessing the lock opening to reveal the willow-lined canal bank bathed in sunshine was simply awesome. I could hardly wait to be left to my own devices when Phil left. This was a piece of cake . .. Then Phil hopped off at the nearest junction and reality set in – this was hard work! There were staircase locks, locks that went down the way ("descending") and locks to move up the way ("ascending"). Stop the barge beyond the "cil", that's the technical term for the edge, and you risk running aground. Open the gates too soon and the whole vessel could be flooded. In certain respects, this wasn't the lazy, chilled-out holiday that I'd envisaged. Then there was the whole water issue. Our 100 gallon water tank needed to be filled regularly from waterpoints along the canal so our route had to be planned bearing this in mind – and on one memorable occasion we ran dry of water, toilet roll and wine simultaneously. A passing engineering factory gallantly came to our aid on the first two counts, filling our tank and raising our slumped morale. We certainly made sure our route was meticulously planned for the rest of the week to avoid further drought situations! Yet somehow the necessity to concentrate so fully on the basics of survival was relaxing in itself. There was something essentially fulfilling about spending long, fresh air-fuelled days on the river and learning how to manage this massive vessel. There was the camaraderie of eating together in the little galley, each taking our turn to produce something hot and tasty, and the cosiness of our late night card games, fuelled with competitive spirit.
And last thing at night, when Poppy was safely secured, lying in my bunk, lulled by the rhythmic movements of the water, all my usual everyday stresses and strains seemed far removed. I'd be sorry to leave my houseboat home of the last week and, despite all the challenges, I'd definitely come back and do it all again …
Andrew (Age 16) "The barging holiday was an amazing experience. Navigating our floating home around beautiful countryside and colourful urban scenes, being able to appreciate the tranquillity of nature and the people of the waterways is something I will never forget."
Jennifer (Age 12) "It was brill! The best way to have fun was by playing cards and naming the horses in the fields."
Elizabeth (Age 14) "There's nothing to beat roughing it like a celebrity! Don't pack hair straighteners - you won't need them. The Foxley Inn was great. When the woman offered to wash our clothes, I cried inside."
Edward (Age 15) "I didn't know I was meant to tie the boat to the mooring, so when we floated away is wasn’t my fault …
Aex (Age 11) “I thought it was fun at the locks. We had to go to bed early as w were tired out!”