Slow travel on the Basingstoke Canal

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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38 Comments

  1. 10/01/2017 / 12:39 pm

    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

  2. 10/01/2017 / 12:45 pm

    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

  3. 10/01/2017 / 5:02 pm

    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

  4. pigeonpairandme
    10/02/2017 / 12:42 pm

    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.

  5. 10/03/2017 / 2:25 pm

    This is amazing, we would love this. What a fabulous way to spend the day! #countrykids

  6. 10/03/2017 / 3:08 pm

    Oh I do love escaping the hustle and bustle and escaping to the countryside. I think my two would have to be older and wiser to enjoy this mind.#CountryKids

  7. Wherejogoes
    10/04/2017 / 10:44 am

    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

    • 10/04/2017 / 9:09 pm

      The boating company we used was really great. I’d highly recommend them and the boat was modern and comfortable. Definitely give it a try!

  8. 10/04/2017 / 1:56 pm

    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 ๐Ÿ™‚ #countrykids

  9. 10/04/2017 / 7:00 pm

    Oh wow, I got all emotional reading this. I spent so much of my childhood walking along this canal with my bug hunting Dad. So many happy memories came flooding back looking at your photos. Somewhere I haven’t been for nearly 40 years! #CountryKids

    • 10/04/2017 / 9:06 pm

      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.

  10. 10/04/2017 / 10:58 pm

    Awesome, I’ve always wanted to go on a canal boat. Didn’t really think about hiring one. This looks lovely! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚ #BloggerClubUK

  11. Esther
    10/05/2017 / 8:07 am

    Wow, that looks like fun. Those colours, how dreamy!
    #FarawayFiles

  12. 10/05/2017 / 8:18 am

    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

    • 10/05/2017 / 8:29 am

      Yes, it took me slightly by surprise how we all just sat gazing at the view for so long!

  13. 10/05/2017 / 8:27 am

    I’ve never done a cabal trip – you may have persuaded me #farawayfiles

  14. 10/05/2017 / 10:50 am

    Hi, what a lovely way to spend your mums birthday. It’s a pretty part of the country with lots to offer. I want to hire a canal boat to experience it in a different way now #bloggerclubuk

  15. 10/05/2017 / 11:56 am

    What a unique birthday adventure for your mom! I’d love to do something like this! #FarawayFiles

  16. Clare Thomson
    10/05/2017 / 7:50 pm

    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

  17. 10/06/2017 / 8:40 am

    Such a fun day out. My kids love waving at the narrow boats from the shore but they would love to be the boaters. Especially with a pirate hat! Are you tempted to do a longer trip now? Thanks for joining us on #FarawayFiles

    • 10/06/2017 / 9:08 am

      I’d love to take the kids on a longer trip, staying on a boat would be so much fun!

  18. 10/09/2017 / 8:51 am

    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 ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 10/09/2017 / 8:57 am

      Yes, it’s important for all of us to slow down sometimes!

  19. 10/10/2017 / 3:26 pm

    This is something I’d like to try out:)

  20. 10/19/2017 / 12:45 pm

    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

    • 10/19/2017 / 1:08 pm

      Yes, day trips are a great idea if you just want to test the water, so to speak!

  21. Anisa
    10/27/2017 / 7:38 pm

    I really want to do one of these canal boats. I am thinking of doing it in the Norfolk Broads. Glad to hear you enjoyed your boat time. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • 10/28/2017 / 8:37 am

      The Norfolk Broads is lovely, very peaceful and relaxing. And if you had more time, the north Norfolk coast is great too, amazing beaches if the weather is good!

  22. Toimas
    10/28/2017 / 7:59 am

    I’ve been on canals in Netherlands and south France, but I didn’t know about the canals in England. It looks absolutely astonishing. Was it a day trip enough? I always was on canals for few days. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • 10/28/2017 / 8:39 am

      A day trip was definitely enough for our group of 6 adults and 3 kids but Iโ€™d love to do a longer trip with just my immediate family. One day is a lovely way to enjoy extended family time, a nice alternative to going out to lunch in a restaurant for example!

  23. 10/29/2017 / 2:49 am

    I’ve always like the idea of the romance of the narrow boats but thought not knowing how to steer let alone drive one would be an issue. You have now put my mind at ease.

    • 10/29/2017 / 8:21 am

      Definitely not a problem, you just need to keep a look out for other boats!

  24. 10/31/2017 / 5:46 pm

    A canal cruise seems like such a relaxing way to travel! I knew they went slow, but didn’t know it was that slow! Still, why hurry with pretty countryside to admire! This trip sounds great; we’ll have to look into it! Thanks for sharing with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • 10/31/2017 / 5:49 pm

      It seemed incredibly slow when we started but itโ€™s amazing how quickly you get used to it!

  25. 11/29/2017 / 8:53 am

    Slow travel is good and we need it once in a while so that we can relax, observe and enjoy the surroundings. Glad that your kids had fun as much as the adults ๐Ÿ™‚ Love your pics!

    • 11/29/2017 / 10:44 am

      Thanks! Itโ€™s a brilliant trip for a multi generation day out. Weโ€™ll definitely do something similar next year I hope!

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