A warm summer’s afternoon. Lunch in town then something I had been wanting to do for ages but have never quite got around to doing – taking a boat trip on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Boat trips take place from April through to September, floating on Saturdays and Sundays at 12 noon and 2pm, and on weekdays every Thursday at 2.30pm. You can pre-book tickets in person at the Visitor Information Centre at the Town Hall in Market Place, or call them on 01635 30267 to book by phone. You can even pop in and book up to half an hour before the boat is due to set sail, or take a chance down at the canal (at the Wharf, by the Tea Room on the Canal) and see if there is space. (The boat takes a maximum of 29 passengers, so best to book if you want to guarantee a space on a specific day).
The boat itself is called the Jubilee, built in – you’ve guessed it, the Queen’s Jubilee year. But which one? You’ll find out when you go on the trip! The Jubilee is a lovely, traditional narrowboat. On the fine day I went on it the sides were open to the elements and the gentle movement of fresh air was most welcome. But on cooler or wet days, there are zip-up plastic windows to keep you enclosed and dry, so you can see out without getting wet.
I arrived well ahead of sailing time (you are asked to arrive 15 minutes beforehand) and the crew – all of them volunteers – were already busy getting everything ready. However, there was a very warm welcome and the plank was immediately put down so that I could climb aboard and enjoy the view from the water until we set off. There was much banter between crew and passengers, making for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Bang on time, and following the essential safety messages from Boat Master Trevor, we were off, with Chris at the helm. Now it was time to sit back and relax… pure indulgence at a wonderfully slower pace of life than most of us are used to these days.
Trevor gave us lots of fascinating facts about the boat, the canal and what we were seeing from our vantage point. Did you know, for example, that the bridge at Northbrook Street is the oldest on the waterway? And that’s all I’m telling you!
Trevor’s wife Jill was on hand to serve liquid refreshments of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties as the mood takes you, and also chipped in to answer questions. For anyone who has never been through a lock before, this is a great experience. Luckily the passengers don’t have to lend a hand as we had husband and wife team Julian and Sarah there to do all the hard work.
The gentle round trip takes around an hour and a quarter, and the half-way turning point is near Northcroft Leisure Centre. Apparently it would take four hours to get as far as Kintbury … which you can do if you choose to charter the Jubilee for a private function, which I think would be great fun.
The Jubilee also lays on special trips for children during some school holidays: Pirate trips in August (AAAR!); Halloween Trips in October (WOOOOH!); and Santa Trips in December (HO HO HO!). (See the website for more details about the boat and trips, and the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust in general: www1.katrust.org.uk).
Despite the leisurely pace of the trip, it went by all too soon (and don’t worry, there is a loo on board!) and everyone aboard had clearly had a wonderful time. And then, of course, there is the delightful Tea Room on the Canal for a cream tea once you disembark – a perfect ending.
With the joy of having a waterway running through Newbury I am not quite sure why it has taken me so long to get around to doing the Jubilee trip, so if you haven’t either… well, what are you waiting for? It’s the perfect way to while away a summer afternoon…