WHEN it was first suggested I get on a narrow boat on a dirty canal in Wales, I thought someone had taken leave of his senses.
This, I reasoned, was grounds for divorce. But in truth it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable breaks that I have ever had.
The brochure had promised complete training to help us cope with steering a 62-foot long boat from the back - similar to manoeuvring a vehicle three-quarters the length of Hampden Park from the goalmouth.
We sailed from Chirk Marina, just over the Welsh border. As I went below deck to begin essential unpacking - putting the Chablis in the fridge - the pilot jumped on board to steer us out of the entrance to the marina.
Less than three minutes later, I heard a yelp of panic coming from up above and raced upstairs just in time to see our instructor disappearing into the distance on the bank as my husband Nick, white-knuckled, attempted to steer the boat under our first bridge.
As our holiday was taken in the autumn, the light was fading fast. This highlighted the absolutely best thing about canal boat cruising - you simply choose a spot to stop, hammer in some pegs and tie up.
Electricity on a boat charges while you are motoring, so if you leave the heating on too long at night you wake up in the morning with a flat battery. To conserve energy it is essential that you switch everything off at night before bedding down.
The only drawback is that in the autumn it can get decidedly chilly at night, so you may wake in the wee small hours with icicles dripping off your nose or, in our case, our four-year-old Niamh's frozen feet welded to your back. Slipping a hot water bottle in your luggage is definitely recommended. We had wondered how we would rouse ourselves in the morning, but the early morning icicle alert ensured we were up, dressed and sailing by 8am.
And it was definitely the best way to cruise, munching on a hot breakfast with the sun glistening on the water.
We were extremely lucky with the weather, landing as we did in the middle of an Indian summer and the jumpers were quickly discarded during the day in favour of shorts and t-shirts. The gentle lapping of the water on the side of the boat as it travelled at no more than three miles-an-hour seemed to lend itself to good wine and beer.
And although the sun had not even crossed the yardarm, the first bottle was uncorked at the time most people are enjoying a mid-morning snack. Day after glorious day followed with a slow meander up the canal, stopping off at quaint market towns like Ellesmere and the bigger shopping towns like Whitchurch.
Pubs and farm shops are dotted along the banks between towns to allow you to stock up on essentials, or enjoy a stroll away from the water. Midway through the break our friends Cara and Milan joined us and they quickly adapted to the on board sailing/sipping regime.
Now whether it was an over-indulgence or a lack of sea legs, when dancing commenced on the roof, we cannot be sure. But somehow one of our number -I refuse to say who - slipped and ended up in the thoroughly mucky and murky waters beneath.
But the good thing about canals is that they are rarely more than three feet deep and once you have got over the shock of a mouthful of dirty water, you can wade quickly to the side and jump back on board. If you are on the Chirk route, you must not miss crossing the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct - a 120-foot high structure which bridges the Dee Valley.
It is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time and, with a sheer drop on either side, it certainty hones your steering skills.
While the crew all shied away from steering at the start of the break, they were all clamouring to get a hold of the controls by the end. And even leaping off the boat to wind up the points and open bridges had its own attraction as this delightful holiday wended to its end. This year, for the first time, Black Prince have added a Scottish route to their brochure which may tempt locals who have so far shied away from hol- idays on canal boats.
The Forth and Clyde Canal, which joins the Union Canal via the Falkirk Wheel, allows longboaters to travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh at a much more leisurely pace than the M8. And I, for one, will be booking up soon in full expectation of another memorable holiday on the water.