Europe at 4 miles per hour
Canal Boats

I have always liked the idea of a cozy “moving house.”  And speed is not our thing.  That’s why we have a motorhome, and that’s why we’ve made three canal boat trips:  a week each in England, Wales, and France.  Yes, I understand that this is not as exciting as a bareboat charter in the Caribbean, but it’s our style and we love it.

Click for a video of our 2010 Canal Boat trip in France.

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and The Netherlands have the largest network of canals.  I find the English canals the most interesting, as they have a rich history back 200 years, when they were heavily used prior to the advent of railroads.   Now they are used mostly for recreation, and there are dozens of boat rental companies up and down the canals.

Typical Day on the Oxford Canal in 1989

I would wake up to a cool rainy morning at daybreak.  (After all, it IS soggy England.)  I would be as quiet as possible as I dress in rain gear and go I outside to cast off the two ropes we used to tie up to the shore, and pull up the stakes I had driven in the banks the previous evening.

On the 55 foot “Wildcat” near Oxford, England, in 1988 with our friends Jim and Nancy Ryan, & Andrew.

I’m at the helm of our rented 72 foot boat as we cross an aqua-duct in Wales with our friends the Orcutts and our kids in 1990.

I start the diesel engine and move the boat out into the 25 foot wide canal in the misting rain.  About fifteen minutes later Kay would open the door into the rear cockpit and hand me my hot morning coffee.  I enjoy the solitude in fellowship with cows in the fields.  A few minutes later I would tie up on the shore again and join everyone for a leisurely breakfast.

The rain stopped so Kay and Nancy decide to walk along the boat path for while.  Jim takes the tiller and Andrew and I sit up on top and watch the world.  In a few minutes we reach our first lock of the day.   Going through the lock is about a 10 minute process.  Kay and Nancy are already on the ground, so they handle the duties of closing the two doors after Jim motored into the lock.  Then the girls turn the wheels which allow the lock to fill up, raising our boat to the next level.  They open the upper doors, hop on board, and off we go again, about 10 feet higher than we were.

The Oxford Canal has more locks than most, as the ground has more hills.  We average about 10 locks a day.  At 11 we stop at a small village grocery store next to a lock to buy some food for lunch.  Andrew just holds the rope to the boat for a few minutes to keep it from floating away during this short stop.

At noon we stop to eat lunch at the little table in the galley.  Because we are tied up near another village, the guys walk down a few streets while the ladies stay on board.

We meet other boats, maybe one every 20-30 minutes.  There are always some cheerful greetings.  While I have navigation duties at the stern everyone else sits up at the front, except at the locks everyone pitches in.  Kay calls me “My Hun the Tiller.”

After four or five more locks in the afternoon we found a small town that advertises a pub, so decide to eat dinner there.  The town has provided a small concrete mooring spot, big enough for 4 or 5 boats, and we grab the last spot.   We enjoy some pre-dinner wine on board and then walk a block to the pub.  After dinner we decide that sleeping at the town dock might be too noisy, and motor on about a mile to a place next to wheat field which looks peaceful and quiet.   Moving on the canal is illegal after dark, but we beat the darkness by plenty of time, as this is northern Europe with long summer days.

This 55 foot long (and 7 foot wide) boat has three double beds and two heads (toilets), so Andrew has his own “room.”  The reason the boats are all 7 feet wide is that the locks are just a few inches wider than 7 feet.

Every day is different, but this is typical.   England at 4 MPH is not for everyone, but we liked it enough to do it with other friends two years later, and again in France 20 years after that.  In France most locks have a lock tender during the summer to make things go more quickly, but we always help, just for the exercise and to meet some French people.