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!
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.
Video: Narrowboat Adventure in England
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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.
Kids opening and closing the locks on the 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.
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.
Numbered stone bridges track the progress a narrowboat makes down the Grand Union Canal.
Graceful swans and picturesque fields along the canal offer many interesting views.
I especially love this view of beautiful English countryside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hi, I’m Katie! I live with my husband and 3 kids in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I love Jesus, coffee, creative projects, taking photos and traveling. I’ve previously worked as a web designer, journalist and barista. I hope you enjoy our creative projects and family adventures!