I think everyone should go on a narrowboat holiday at least once. If it’s not on your bucket list, I think you’re missing a trick. There is something so seductive, so sweet and so downright superb about life on a long thin boat, travelling at walking speed.
It’s hard to explain; far better to experience it for yourself. You get onboard, slip your moorings and chug off at a snails pace, heading for adventures and pleasures unknown. As you might have guessed, I’m a fan. A big fan. Hardly surprising really, as taking narrowboat holidays on the canals ticks a lot of boxes.
Luckily, I’m also a big fan of trying out new things and new ideas, so when a holiday company that rents out widebeam boats popped up on my radar, I was in. Like a kid in a sweetshop…with pocket money to spare.
The company is called Silsden Boats and they are based, naturally enough, in the small town of Silsden in Yorkshire. Just north of Leeds, close to Bradford.
Getting there meant a car journey of several hours, which was a pleasure in and of itself. When we arrived and set eyes on Bob’s Drum, our big, broad boat for the week, it was love at first sight. After a short briefing and being shown around onboard, we were off.
The thing with canal holidays is that nearly all of them take place on narrowboats. That is, a long, thin boat, anything from 37ft to 72 ft long. But only ever 6ft 10 in wide.
This may sound a trifle weird, spending a week in a long narrow tube, but in my experience, with over 30 weeks afloat under my belt, it is a complete and utter joy.
Over the years, I have loved each and every single day in a narrowboat. It’s like being in a long, thin, rather posh campervan. Gliding from one picturesque waterside pitch to another.
A Widebeam Boat
You might think that spending a week in a widebeam boat is not much different. But you would be wrong. For a start, there is the width. A widebeam is roughly twice the width of a narrowboat.
So a feeling of wide open spaces follows you round the entire boat, all the way from the front deck to the rear steering zone. Imagine if your living room suddenly doubled in size. How would that make you feel? Well, that’s what it’s like being onboard a widebeam, baby!
Our particular beauty, Bobs Drum, had all the lovely bits you could possibly need for a joyous life afloat. A couple of cosy bedrooms, complete with ensuite facilities, plus a very comfy sofa bed in the living room.
There was a wide open kitchen with more than enough room to prepare your favourite tasty treats. We had steak night, curry night and lasagne during our week away. The living room, complete with wood burner and enormous picture windows, is built for relaxation, contentment and long, lazy lie-ins.
At the front and back of the boat, there are spaces for sitting, chilling, drinking and driving. Though not whilst tipsy, for obvious reasons. These boats weigh over twenty tonnes, after all.
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
As you might expect, this wide canal starts at Leeds and winds its way, for over 130 miles, to Liverpool. The section we were on is something called a ‘contour canal’. It twists and turns around the hillside, following a single contour.
The bad news is it takes longer to get to where you’re going because you go all round the houses. The good news is there are far fewer locks than usual.
Since there aren’t many locks on that stretch of canal, it has loads of swing bridges instead. These are exactly what it says on the tin: bridges over the canal that you swing out of the way when you want to pass by.
Some of them are electrified, some of them are not. Some stop the traffic, some do not. Either way, they are a bit of a bonus, letting you get up close and personal with the landscape and interact with other people out and about on the towpath. Very nice.
After picking up the boat, we pootled along for a few hours before finding ourselves in the heart of Skipton. A bustling and rather attractive market town, with a castle at one end of the high street and the canal at the other.
We spent the night moored up in a quiet corner, having a couple of pints in one of the pubs at the waters edge, before heading up the high street where we popped into the Cock and Bottle for a tasty supper of burgers and chips.
The rest of the week passed like a smooth dream. Each day a happy, lazy round of eating, drinking and snoozing. In between times we mooched along the canal, opening bridges and chatting to passersby.
When you’re living life at 3 mph, something inside turns your body clock to maximum chill out mode. If there is a more relaxing and peaceful way to pass the time in this green and pleasant land, I’ve yet to find it.
There and Back Again
After 3 and a bit days of plodding along at walking speed, we found a winding hole (place where you turn your boat round) next to the village of Gargrave. So we turned our boat around and went into town, where we found a snug and friendly little cafe, The Dalesman.
After a round of teacakes and coffee, we returned to the boat and pootled back the way we came, all the way back to the Silsden. Very nice it was too.
Whether you’ve tried narrowboat holidays, or not, I can thoroughly recommend the widebeam experience with Silsden Boats. It is simply superb. There again, I am biased. I just love life on the canals; it’s definitely one of my fave happy places. Who knows…might be one of yours, too.
You may also like: