The Magpie Anthology

Messing About on the River

If someone had said to me that the best way to decompress would be to get on a narrowboat with one husband and two friends I’d have laughed – how boring that sounds, how very pedestrian, how cramped, how crap. But, this was not the case in June when we went messing about on the Oxford Canal on a 66 foot narrowboat…

We picked our boat up at Lower Heyford, a pretty little village not far from Bicester and after an hour long induction (none of us having ever narrow boated before) we were off. I say off, but puttering might be a better description because you can’t go anywhere fast as we discovered. In fact, you can walk more quickly that the boat goes and as the towpaths are always right alongside you can hop on and off and do just that – I managed 25 miles across the couple of days that we were away.

It was slightly stressy on afternoon one as we had booked a table at the Jolly Boatman at Thrupp without realising that it would take us the best part of four hours to get there and we didn’t know the form on mooring up and things like that. But all was well, our Tesco delivery had met us and we had wine and nibbles to sustain and we finally got there a bit later than anticipated and found a mooring five minutes from the pub.

The next couple of days were spent pottering down to Oxford and then pottering back again through the ten or so locks and swing bridges that you have to get though to get there and then the same back. We became experts at windlass swinging, hopping on and off the boat although, I did draw the line at driving the thing as we had Captain Iain who did a fabulous job especially when we found ourselves having to turn around in Oxford to come back!

The pros? Fresh air, exercise and a hugely slower pace of life. Very little WiFi and just a little speaker for company made for much chatting, tea drinking and crisp eating and we did mange through jiggery pokery to get the telly working for an England match (with the aid of some chairs piled on the roof to get the aerial high enough). We wildlife spotted, peered into other barges as we passed and saw some wonderful riverside homes with beautiful gardens on the outskirts of Oxford. The cons? A whiffy loo which we were told on our return we could have clingfilmed (!) and uncomfortable beds which did nothing for my knackered shoulders but we survived and wished we’d booked another couple of days. I came home feeling calm and decompressed after a difficult few months and had had enough thought time to make some long overdue decisions.

And the cost – we rented a six berth boat (to have an escape bedroom) which cost around £1200 for three nights. A holiday or break that I’d highly recommend – but make sure you really like your friends as it’s a tight fit!

OXFORDSHIRE NARROWBOATS

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