Travel with kids: The south Oxfordshire canal at 5mph

Fancy spending time afloat this summer? Thought so. Your timing is spot-on. Sales of super-yachts to British buyers have jumped this year, and demand for chartering boats in the South of France and Caribbean is also booming. A week might cost you GBP 250,000 for a top-of-the-range craft sleeping 12, but you are guaranteed to be rubbing shoulders with celebrity aficionados like Lewis Hamilton and Simon Cowell. And, as each yacht comes with its own crew, you won’t need to lift a finger as you laze in the on-board spa and sip chilled champagne on deck. What could be better… or more unlikely? Oxfordshire

But wait..! It is possible to combine the excitement of the high seas with pure relaxation right here at home, at a fraction of the price. And all without a team of bronzed hunks in sailor suits pressing you to try their cocktail of the day or nibble on chef’s sashimi log. How can this be achieved? The answer, my friends, is 64 foot long, four foot wide and moves at 5 mph. It’s narrow, it’s a boat and it lives in Warwickshire.
If you are considering a short break or a week together, hiring a narrowboat is perfect. You too can thrill to the experience of boarding one’s own private vessel, deciding who’ll have which cabin, and embarking on a voyage of discovery.

Britain has an unrivalled network of picturesque waterways; our family had a superb four days exploring the south Oxfordshire canal on the good ship Voyager. We loaded her up with food, drink and dog at Napton Junction in Warwickshire (handily close to M1, M6 and M40), and pottered south towards Cropredy. Beside us some of England’s finest agricultural land slipped past at riverbank height, affording us and our souls a newer, calmer perspective on life.

Swans, sheep, cattle and the occasional yak were all eyeballed at the gentlest of speeds. It took most of one day just to circle Napton hill. We had time to chat, read, walk the dog along the towpath and simply think. Our holiday unfolded at its own sweet pace and we felt all the better for it.

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The fundamentals are easy. We booked online with Napton Narrowboats for one October half-term, when the rates fall and there are fewer other boats out. At the marina we received instruction on how to start, steer and operate our Explorer 6, and a member of staff accompanied us to our first lock to coach us on this most important of new skills. Thereafter, we simply relaxed into the home comforts on board – eight berths (with bedding), hot water, central heating, modern kitchen and bathrooms, and the blessed wifi – while revelling in our very pretty surroundings. OK, so our steering wobbled a bit to begin with, but one can’t exactly get lost.

Building of the Oxford canal started in the late 1700s, and the south Oxfordshire section survived 19th century attempts to straighten out the nation’s waterways. Our route meandered beautifully along the natural contours of the landscape, and we happily ticked off each of the red brick bridges linking field to field as we quietly chugged beneath them. Over our four day trip, the children (11, 9 and 8 yrs) became masters of operating the locks without mishap. Each lunchtime and evening, we’d select a piece of bank, tie up, and either kick back on board or stroll to a nearby pub. Simple, uncomplicated living.

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As the trip ended, we were chilled-out, bursting with fresh air and proud of our independent spirit. Yes, the dog fell in once, but otherwise we all had a brilliant time. As for celebrities, didn’t Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart once hire a narrow boat in North Wales? You see – it’s glamorous too.

This article was written by Edward Rose of Family Traveller magazine exclusively for London Mums magazine. For more family-friendly travel ideas, please visit

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