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We Rented a Narrowboat in Central England | VIDEO

We went on a really fun 3-day adventure with our kids, by renting a narrowboat in England. We enjoyed relaxing on the Grand Union Canal, and our kids even learned how to open and close the canal locks. Here’s the highlights of our UK narrowboat experience!

Our family went on a month-long trip to Europe in fall 2022. Renting a narrowboat was just one of our adventures!

renting a narrowboat Wallace family

First of all, what is a narrowboat exactly? This water craft is a boat designed specifically to navigate the narrow canals in the United Kingdom. The narrowboat we rented was 67 feet long. It’s also steered by the pilot from the stern, or the rear of the boat. Andy learned how to navigate the narrowboat fairly quickly. He successfully maintained a good distance from the sides of the canal and other boats, as he steered down the canal.

Grand Union Canal narrowboat lock central England

Narrowboat exiting a lock on the Grand Union Canal in England.

Opening and Closing the Locks

The most challenging experience of renting a narrowboat was learning how to open and close the locks along the canal. We learned how to use a windlass to crank open the paddles of a lock and then close them. The kids learned how to open and close the heavy wooden gates of the locks by leaning steadily and pulling on the gate handle. Sometimes we went through several locks one after another, as the canal climbed in elevation.

Navigating a narrowboat through a canal lock in England

Kids helping a narrowboat canal lock

Kids opening and closing the locks on the Grand Union Canal.

Opening lock Grand Union Canal

England canal lock Grand Union Canal

Navigating a narrowboat down the canal is a very relaxing experience. Nothing generally happens very quickly. However, when we arrived at a lock, we needed to be ready with a windlass in hand to open the gates.

Stone bridge canal in England

Beautiful Stone Bridges & English Countryside

I especially loved how many stone bridges we went under along the Grand Union Canal. We often saw swans and ducks gliding along next to our boat. Best of all, our kids each had a chance to help Andy steer the long narrowboat. Looking from the rear of the boat gives the pilot a unique view of what’s ahead on the canal.

Renting a narrowboat in England

Narrowboat and stone bridge in England

Numbered stone bridges track the progress a narrowboat makes down the Grand Union Canal.

Swans in a canal in England

Graceful swans and picturesque fields along the canal offer many interesting views.

Sunflower in a field in England

English countryside central England

I especially love this view of beautiful English countryside.

Narrowboat at side of the canal in England

Anchoring the Narrowboat

At the end of each day, when it began to get dark, Andy pulled over to the side of the canal and tied up for the night. He anchored the boat using a combination of hooks and ropes. Since the canal has no current of its own, the narrowboat was in little danger of floating away.

We often walked to a nearby pub to get a bite for dinner. On different nights we tried fish and chips, lasagna, gammon steak, and pub fries. Different cheeses, olives and bread with sauces are popular appetizers in the UK, and we tried some of those as well.

Weekend on a Narrowboat

Overall, our weekend on a narrowboat was very interesting and relaxing. We saw lots of beautiful countryside and sheep drifting by. We had peaceful meals on the boat, and nearby at a canal-side pub.

Staying on a narrowboat with kids

Andy stocked our narrowboat fridge with an assortment of snacks and easy lunch items. Our favorite foods include salt and vinegar chips, olives, cheese, crackers, salad, and charcuterie meats.

Chips, olives, cheese and snack foods

Narrowboat Bunk Room

Our kids had cozy sleeping spaces in the narrowboat bunk beds. They also brought their own blankets for a warm extra layer.

Narrowboat bunk beds

We had an exciting yet peaceful time navigating the narrowboat through the canal locks. While Andy steered the boat, the kids and I filled different roles in opening the lock gates and paddles.

Narrowboat canal locks with kids

Challenges and Adventures

Andy’s most impressive achievement was steering our 67-foot long narrowboat from the rear, through this dark tunnel that was more than a mile long!

Narrowboat tunnel Grand Union Canal

What do you think? Would you like to try spending a weekend, or a full week on a narrowboat? Evidently, in England a renting a narrowboat is equivalent to taking an RV out on a glamping trip. Our time staying on a narrowboat definitely felt like comfortably camping along the canal.

Steering a narrowboat from the rear

Each morning we woke up to the beautiful sight of the peaceful canal. We saw many ducks and swans swimming in the water. One morning, the kids and I even picked blackberries along the canal bank.

Beautiful view canal narrowboat

Like an RV, we had to stop by the water station to fill up the narrowboat water tank. A fresh water refill allowed us to get water from the bathroom and kitchen sinks, and use the two toilets and onboard shower.

Filling up narrowboat water tank

We had a great time spending the weekend in a narrowboat. Life on a narrowboat was very easy, even with kids along for the ride. We brought snacks, drinks, a few table games, and extra blankets for staying cozy. We also met many friendly people who waved along the way. Ultimately, renting a narrowboat was a very memorable activity for our family, during our month-long trip to the UK.

Life with kids on a narrowboat in England


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