Monday, May 27, 2024

Make a splash with a relaxing break & explore 4,000 miles of canals in UK

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CRUISING down Grand Union Canal with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair (well, as much as it can be when you’re travelling at four miles an hour), I see why boating holidays are a thing.

And we’re spoiled here in the UK, with more than 4,000 miles of canals and rivers to explore. 

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The Union Wharf canal basin in Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Grand Union is the UK’s longest canal, spanning a whopping 137 miles between London and Birmingham

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Grand Union is the UK’s longest canal, spanning a whopping 137 miles between London and Birmingham

Grand Union is the UK’s longest canal, spanning a whopping 137 miles between London and Birmingham, and that’s without counting its Leicester arm.

Just a few hours earlier, my boyfriend Andy and I had picked up our beautiful boat, Marbled White, from the marina in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, ready for a romantic long weekend on the water.

Stylish steer

Cosy yet spacious, our new lodgings are lovely. There’s a rain shower, statement marble sink, rustic wooden doors, antique mirrors and faux-fur throws.

A king-size bed nestled in the bow, wine fridge, TV and pretty radiators all add to the luxe vibes. Plus, there’s an induction hob and oven in the kitchen.

The boat has a king-size bed nestled in the bow

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The boat has a king-size bed nestled in the bow

We’ve watched a video online in preparation and now we’re given a crash course on how to work the boat IRL, before setting sail.

We pass some spectacular houses, then head into a landscape of woodland and fields.

Mooring up two hours later, just outside the village of Foxton, we hot-foot it to The Black Horse, where Friday is pizza and burger night, and enjoy a Thai fish burger, £8, and Hawaiian pizza, £9, washed down with a pint of Doombar, £4.85 (Theblackhorsefoxton.co.uk). 

The next morning, it’s time to tackle Grade-II-listed Foxton Locks – AKA the longest set of staircase locks in the UK.

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It takes around five minutes for each of the 10 gates, though angels – AKA volunteer lock keepers – kindly help us through. 

Andy stays on the boat to steer, as I’m put to work opening and closing each lock, which is certainly the more physical task.

Come summer, there can be queues but with cute cafes and pretty walks to pass the time, it’s not a bad place to idle.

Be sure to stop at the small but fascinating Canal Museum, too. Adult entry costs £4 per person (Foxtoncanalmuseum.org).

I live off-grid in a canal boat… it only costs me £120 a month and fuel is FREE for six months – but it’s not perfect

Three beers!

We spend the rest of the afternoon cruising on towards Welford and have one more lock to get through – this time unmanned. But we’re pros by this point and sail through easily.

With a large garden right by the water’s edge, The Wharf Inn is a welcome sight and has a huge selection of beers, including Bishops Farewell and Midsummer Meadow, so Andy is in heaven.

Marbled White is fully equipped with a rain shower, statement marble sink, rustic wooden doors, antique mirrors and faux-fur throws

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Marbled White is fully equipped with a rain shower, statement marble sink, rustic wooden doors, antique mirrors and faux-fur throws

They also serve excellent jumbo fish finger sandwiches, £6.50, and delicious home-made chilli with nachos, £12.95 (Wharfinnwelford.co.uk).

Our last day sees us heading back to Market Harborough, experiencing the joy of Foxton Locks in the pouring rain.

Six hours later, we finally spy the marina, moor up and grab well-deserved gourmet cheeseburgers and fries, £16, alongside celebratory pints of Neck Oil, £6.10, at buzzy The Waterfront (Waterfrontharborough.co.uk).

Water weekend! 

The Sun's Abby McHale on the water

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The Sun’s Abby McHale on the water

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