Messing about on the river

What better way to spend an English summer (or at least a small part of it…) than messing about on the glorious river/canal networks that we are lucky enough to have in this country? We decided to explore the beautiful Basingstoke canal network for a weekend of camping on the water – yes you guessed it Narrowboat living.

Location: Basingstoke, UK

Famous for: 32 miles of some of the most beautiful canal stretches in the country. Designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Rich Wildlife, 25 species of Dragonfly and protected bats.

When to go: Spring, through summer to Autumn – essentially when the weather is warm enough for comfort.

Narrowboat hire: We used a company called Galleon Marine, based in Odiham, although there are many you can choose from. Galleon Maine has a range of boats, sleeping  from 2, up to 8 people, and are found in a particularly quiet and picturesque spot on the canal, giving you access to some wonderful scenery and nature, whilst also taking you past some good pubs where you can stop and eat if cooking on board isn’t your thing. You can check out the Galleon Marine website here > 

Cost: Again this will vary depending on the company you use, but you should be anticipating somewhere between £900 and £1,500 for a two night break for up to 8 people in peak times. Your fuel and gas will be included in this. Smaller capacity boats will be cheaper and the price may reflect the facilities in some cases. It’s not a budget trip, but it can be quite economical for adult groups.

What to see: Apart from the stunning surroundings, there is a plethera of wildlife to spot, you just have to keep your eyes open, but to be honest even the worst nature spotter in the world will see something of note here – you simply can’t miss it. On our 2 day trip we saw: Kingfishers, almost constantly. Buzzards, kestrels, Red Kites, Grass snakes, Water rats (not to be confused with sewer rats) water voles, pike, trout, tench and carp, there were alsoo Woodpeckers, finches and simply too many small birds to list. We also saw a vast number of huge, beautiful dragonflies, of various kinds, some so big you could be forgiven for confusing them as small birds. There are also a number of walks, and sites along the canals. Specifically on our route, we were able to visit a ruined 12 century castle built by King John, about 100 yds from the canal
bank where we moored up and the largest known bat roost in Britain (Greywell tunnel), housing upwards of 12,000 bats of all native species – yet another SSSI. You can’t enter the tunnel, but a short walk from the last mooring point (10 mins walk or so) will take ou along a beautifully clear stretch of unused canal to the closed tunnel entrance, where you can find further information on the bats and, although we weren’t able to wait until dusk, we assume that being here at dusk would enable you to see bats emerging from the tunnel.

What to take: Ok, it pays to be prepared on this trip, as you won’t find any sort of convenience store just off the canal, and the boats can be fairly basic. We only have the Galleon Marine boat as an example, so we will use that as a basic guide: Most importantly, make sure you take plenty of good mossie repellent, as you are on the water, and cover up in the evenings – especially if you are prone to being supper for critters! The following is a guide list:

• Insect repellent.
• Hand towels and bath towels.
• Toiletreis, unless your boat hire company specify the supply of these.
• Sunglasses, even on a cool day, the reflections on the water can be troublesome.
• Binoculars – if you are remotely interested in getting a good look at the bird life, these are a must.
• Camera – some great photo opportunities.
• Basic food and drinks as there are no areas to easily stock up on route.
• A sense of humour – the boats are narrow (clue’s in the name and space is limited).
• Patience – nothing moves fast here and the slower you go, the more you will notice.
• Warm clothes – when the sun sets it can get chilly outside (and inside).
• Waterproofs, essential as to drive and steer you will need to be outside in the elements.
• secure, grippy shoes. Slip on flip flops are not ideal as they are prone to slipping off and have little or no grip – strapped sandals are better.
• If your boat, like ours is not equipped with working sockets for charging your devices (phone etc), then you might want to take an ‘in-car’ charger as this may well be the only option available (check with your hirer first).

What to expect: Well you can expect a sedate pace and a relaxing journey. The number of other boats you will meet on the water really depends on the time of year, but be prepared to have to make some interesting manoeuvres to get past each other.

You will see lots of wildlife, but the slower and quieter you go and the more alert you are then logically, the more you will see. No need for absolute silence, but screaming and shouting won’t do much good.

Expect basic accommodation and if you are fussy, check out the boats in person before you go. At the end of the day, this is glamping, but it’s not 5 star glamping. Some of the photos you see on websites may be misleading, so make sure you are happy with the facilities and the space you have as you may want to upgrade to a larger boat. Our boat was lovely, but a little tired and could do with some TLC to make it more comfortable, but the facilities worked. One spot of advice would be to take notes when you get ‘shown the ropes’ or even record the instruction on your phone.

This really is a ‘get away from it all’ break and if you are a nature lover, it’s a bucket list ‘must do’. We had a great time, we laughed (thankfully we didn’t cry) and we relaxed, which is worth it’s weight in gold. All of us were relieved to go home to a good bed and a proper shower, but it was a great experience.