I love how our memory works. I love that a smell or sound can immediately transport you back to a specific moment in time. It was a conscious decision that I kept the same album playing on loop a few weeks ago when we joined my parents for the day on their canal boat holiday. I wanted to have an easy way to transport myself back to it, and I’m so glad I did. There’s one particular song that makes me feel quite emotional (in a good way!) about our day, and how seeing my family work together made me feel…

Holly on the front of a canal boat

My parents are no strangers to the canal, having been on at least two previous canal boat holidays that I know of. Over the Easter holidays, they booked an almost-too-good-to-be-true deal they saw and seized the opportunity to spend a week exploring the Grand Union Canal, and then (much to my delight) invited us to join them on the Bank Holiday Monday.

Jim standing at the front of the canal boat, mooring up

The Grand Union Canal

The Grand Union canal is the 137 mile stretch of mainline canal from London to Birmingham, with arms that lead to Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton. We joined my parents for a 10 mile section from Weedon Bec to Braunston near Daventry, Northamptonshire: a really exciting section of the route with two flights of locks to master and a huge tunnel that’s almost 2km long!

The Grand Union Canal, our first lock.
The 2km long canal tunnel at Braunston.

Cruising Along

Canal life, by very nature, is gentle, slow paced and relaxed. Cruising along at more or less walking pace gives you time to take in the scenery, brush off the every day tendencies to rush everywhere, and just soak in the atmosphere. It allows time to say hello to fellow boaters, wave to those walking alongside and chat to just about anyone who fancies a natter. It appeals to me on so many levels.

The front of the canal boat out of focus, looking at the route ahead.

Uncharacteristically, Pickle was a bit lethargic all day. I thought he’d be wanting to run alongside the boat, and I was worried about reining him in from wanting to jump into the water… but he was happy to stay inside, playing on his tablet a little bit and having some long dozes in the warm Spring air. When he wasn’t doing either of those, he wanted to be right by my side: so I spent a large proportion of the day cuddling him, meaning I didn’t get to help with as many of the locks as I’d have liked.

Pickle with Nanny Pol, feeling a little bit under the weather
Happy Pickle with a face smoothered in hot chocolate

The Fitness Family

We all got a bit excited when it came to doing the locks. It’s lovely to cruise along at a steady pace, but I’m always impressed by the master of engineering that allows boats to travel up and downhill. Inevitably, we’d end up running to the next lock, earning us the ‘Fitness Family’ nickname from some fellow holidaymakers on a boat travelling along the same route.

Nanny Pol using her strength to help moor the canal boat

The process involved one of us (or a few!) running ahead canalside to see what the state of play was for the approaching lock. If someone was already coming through in the other direction or there was a queue of boats wanting to use the lock ahead of us, it meant mooring up whilst we waited. Occasionally, we were able to head straight into the lock.

Approaching a lock on the Grand Union Canal

Most of the locks we encountered (in fact, I think all of them) were wide enough to fit two boats in which was handy. Once the boat was safely inside the lock chamber, the gate behind is closed, and the paddles in front are opened up to allow water to flow in or out (depending on whether the boat is going up or downhill).

Holly opening the paddles on a lock on the Grand Union Canal
I did slightly regret wearing my new Marks & Spencer jeans as the weather was so warm! Jumping on and off the boat definitely calls for trousers rather than a skirt or dress though.

By allowing the water to flow in or out, the level of water inside the chamber begins to match the water in the direction of travel, allowing the gates to be opened.

Pushing the lock open
The lock beginning to open, ready for us to move forwards.

The Family that Boats Together

I grew up in a very loud household. There were four of us siblings, all fairly close in age, and there was always some kind of argument erupting or chores that hadn’t been completed. Shouting was the main form of communication and boy did we communicate a lot. I say that, not as a negative, but just as a fact. We all get along, just in a very noisy fashion. The general hubbub of large family life means you sometimes need to raise your voice to be heard. With two of us siblings now in homes of our own, you’d think the general busyness may have subsided, but with two foster brothers in place and a guide dog puppy in training, the Grandpark and Nanny Pol residence is as bustling as ever.

Happy Nanny Pol on the boat

Life on the boat brought out a different side to everyone. It was calm. It was peaceful. It was pretty quiet! There wasn’t a great deal of shouting (with the exception of a ‘I’M NOT A MIND-READER!’ early on in the day when the attempt at our first lock raised the stress levels a little bit), and it was absolutely beautiful to see everyone working together and playing to their strengths.

Grandpark doing an excellent job of steering the boat
My foster brother walking across the lock.

I saw everyone respect each other in a new light, I saw strength, I saw pride. I admired each of them, for different reasons, and I may have shed a happy tear or two as I cuddled Pickle and watched my family work together in harmony, as a unit.

Jim and Pickle having fun sitting at the front of the canal boat

It’s All About the Journey

I’ve always been a process over product kind of girl. During my theatre studies throughout school and University, there’s a reason I always favoured the more community focused and applied theatre modules. It’s because I value the lessons learned through shared experience. I love what it teaches us about ourselves. I am all about the journey. And that’s exactly what a boating holiday is like too. It’s not about covering huge distances, it’s not about going anywhere super exciting or racing to the finish… it’s about working together, it’s about the people you meet and the conversations exchanged over a flight of locks, it’s about slowing down and appreciating everything we’re usually too busy being fast-paced to notice.

Relaxing on the canal boat

A Day was Too Short

I’d have happily spent all week on the boat, if I could. Doing a proper canal boat holiday is now very high up on my wish list. If I could request the same gorgeous weather we were blessed with on this trip too, that would be the cherry on an already very tasty cake. There’s some family mummerings about maybe trying to plan a group holiday next summer (we have a couple of milestone birthdays to celebrate) and I really hope we do!

Approaching a lock on the Grand Union Canal

Although I may regret it if we actually do, I really would love to do the flight of 21 locks at Hatton. It’s not far from where we live, and as we held our wedding reception in Hatton, it’d make for a lovely anniversary treat one year, I think! 21 locks in a row sounds like quite a challenge, but I’m sure with a pub lunch or dinner to see us through, we’d be up for it.

Canalside shop

I loved the community along the canal: there was a canalside shop we visited to buy a much needed ice cream that sold lots of trinkets and treats, there was a group of volunteers manning one of the locks, and the other holiday makers we met along the route.

Beautiful view of the canal boat

The Day’s Soundtrack

So, if you’re wondering what album it was that we listened to on repeat ALL DAY LONG, it was Steve Tilston’s Truth to Tell. This particular song below is the one I most associate with the day, and just hearing the first couple of bars puts such a big smile on my face.

Happy Holly having a lovely day on the canal boat

The Details

My parents booked the holiday through their membership with Diamond Resorts, setting off from Gayton Marina on Easter Sunday. Over the course of the week, they did a there and back route. There are several canal boat holiday providers in the area, offering a variety of options in terms of berth, length of trip and routes. Definitely something I’ll be researching more in the future to plan a holiday of our own.

Cheers! A gin and tonic to celebrate a lovely day after a day of canal boating
Celebrating a lovely day with a Gin & Tonic at The Boat House pub.

In summary, cheers to time well spent with family! Cheers to working together. And cheers to the days that make us feel content, complete and like we have all our priorities right.

A rainbow lens flare on a photo of a canal lock on the Grand Union Canal