Slow travel on the Basingstoke Canal

Being stuck in a confined space with your family, in a waterway named after the town of Basingstoke, with a mediocre weather forecast isn’t everyone’s idea of a good day out. Nevertheless, my extended family agreed to my suggestion of hiring a day boat on the Basingstoke Canal to celebrate my mum’s birthday. Despite a mishap with our rudder and a crayfish net, I couldn’t recommend this enforced family time more highly.

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“Juniper” day boat hired from Galleon Marine.

We hired our narrow boat, Juniper, from Galleon Marine in the Hampshire village of Odiham near Basingstoke. From tea bags to toilet paper, the boat was really well equipped with everything you might need for a day messing about on the canal. There was even an umbrella holder on the tiller to shelter the captain should the weather become inclement.

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In these days of rushing around by plane, train, car or even on foot, trying to cram as much into a day as possible, there’s something quite liberating about being forced to travel at a speed no faster than a moderate walking pace. On a narrow boat, you have the opportunity to really concentrate on your surroundings: the intense shades of green, the contrast of the trees against the sky and that magical fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher as it darts across the water.

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The children (aged 6, 4 and 3) seemed just as captivated by the experience as the adults which was lucky as I hadn’t thought to bring anything more diverting than a pirate hat for my 3 year old.

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We paid for 5 hours of boat hire which allowed us time to travel as far as the Barley Mow bridge near the village of Dogmersfield (a whopping 3 miles), have a picnic and then return back to base. If you only have 3 hours to spare, in the other direction is the ruin of 13th century King John’s Castle (also known as Odiham castle), the perfect place for children to channel their inner warrior.

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St John’s Castle, near Odiham

Steering a narrow boat along a canal is pretty straight forward once you’ve had a quick lesson; your maximum speed should be no more than 4mph. There are no breaks, instead you put the boat into reverse. A canal is generally much narrower and shallower than a river, if you fall in you simply stand up rather than try to swim.

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The Basingstoke Canal is a popular waterway for all manner of boats.

Canals were built to transport goods during the Industrial Revolution and the narrow boats were drawn by horse prior to motorised transport hence the “towpath”. The Basingstoke Canal was completed in 1794 and carried timber and coal to London, the canal is linked to the River Thames via the River Wey.

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Stacey’s Bridge, built c1792, near Winchfield, Hampshire

Today, there is a network of some 2,200 miles of canals and rivers in the UK so if you have plenty of time (think months) you could feasibly travel by boat from Basingstoke in the south of England to Kendal in the north. If you only have a few days or a week to spare, the Telegraph has some good suggestions for this slower paced style of holidaying.

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Country Kids

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27 thoughts on “Slow travel on the Basingstoke Canal

  1. I’ve wanted to do a canal trip for a while, but wasn’t sure of the logistics or how we would manage. This makes it sound just lovely and something I must look into! Your photos are lovely. #CountryKids

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  2. Looks like a lovely way to enjoy time with your family. Sometimes it is hard to find the time to slow down and just enjoy your surroundings and each other. Your pics are beautiful. #CountryKids

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  3. What stunning photographs! I like the idea of a day on the boat – I’m not sure I could do much longer in a confined space with my extended family. I didn’t realise you could book a narrow boat for such a short time period – definitely looking that up for next summer. Thanks for the idea! #countrykids

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  4. I love the idea of just floating along, ever so slowly. And I’m reassured to read that the canals are mostly shallow enough to stand up in. The fear of a child falling in is what might put me off this sort of holiday – but it sounds as though they’d be just fine.

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  5. You’ve opened my eyes! I’ve been to Odiham many times and didn’t know that this was possible. What a fantastic thing to do I’d love to do this for a day. Thanks so much for sharing this great experience. It’s a lovely way to try out canal boating without committing to a whole week or weekend on board. #Countrykids

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  6. Narrowboating is such a lovely way to travel – it is very leisurely but it is a wonderful way of taking in your surroundings. I’ve never been on the Basingstoke Canal though and the ruins of Odiham Castle look like an interesting place to visit. Looks like you had a wonderful day out on the canal 🙂 #countrykids

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    1. Ahh, that’s so lovely to hear. I also used to walk along it a lot as a kid, I grew up in Fleet. It really is incredibly beautiful and serene, hope you get to go back there one day.

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  7. I love the sound of this. We live in Norfolk and have the Broads on our doorstep. I’ve often thought about renting a day boat but was worried I would be the only one who enjoyed it. You’ve convinced me otherwise with this post. It looks like a lovely, gentle way to spend a day with those you love. #WanderlustKids

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  8. What a wonderful idea for a family day out! We’ve gone down the Kennet & Avon canal near Bath quite a few times but always in a motorboat. A narrow boat like this would be even more fun. Thanks for inspiring me on #FarawayFiles

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  9. What beautiful photos! It sounds like a lovely day out, and a nice change from zooming along, as you pointed out. Especially for the kids! I often feel sorry for kids growing up in today’s fast-paced world where you spend so much time staring at screens, so it must have been a real treat for them to float along the river and enjoy the great outdoors 🙂

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  10. I’ve always wanted to have a break on a narrow boat and explore a canal but never got the chance. I like the idea of the slow pace of things compared to our normally busy lives. I didn’t know you could hire them for a day though! Thanks for linking up to #wanderlustkids

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