Camping or canal boat holiday?

canal boat holiday

Decisions you need to make in middle-age: Is a canal boat holiday a more comfortable alternative to camping ?

I used to camp. In the end I stopped as my bladder gave out. I couldn’t face the lonely night trek to the toilet block with damp shoes, the cold, and the sonorous snoring coming from other tents. Also, I couldn’t face the unzipping: sleeping bag, compartment (it was a posh tent), outside door. My family weren’t best pleased as they liked the great outdoors, as long as there was a wifi signal. They could also go for hours without unscheduled toilet visits. Bloody camels.

In the end they persuaded me a canal boat was a good compromise. Outside and adventurous, and yet warm and with home comforts such as a toilet, shower and bed, plus no zips.

I duly signed up to one canal boat company. I wasn’t wholly convinced, but part of me thought I should for the kids sake. Much as I wanted a nice hotel bedroom, I also needed to pretend I was still young and energetic, especially as I was unemployed.

The boat was booked, a 12 berth to be shared between two families of four. Two bathrooms, a kitchen and radiators. A cruise on the canals of Birmingham. What could be better? I was convinced it had to be better than being in a tent.

Sleeping together

Actually, what they don’t tell you is that a canal boat is a bit like a floating tent. The walls are no thicker than canvas, it’s still chilly at night and there’s not much you don’t share with your travelling companions. Snoring can be heard from one end to the other. As I walked to the kitchen in the morning I could see the various sleep poses of the others on the boat. No need for dressing up here.

Despite sleeping 12, the beds had to me made up each night. The kitchen lounge area transformed into a double bed which meant if someone wanted to go to sleep, everyone else had to go to bed. The alternative was one person lying trying to sleep while others lounged across the bed chatting. In any other world it could have been a precursor to wife-swapping, but in the limited space there was no rocking of boats going on.

Driving the monster

In the morning first up wakes everyone else up. The engine needs to be on for heat, so you battle past the snorers to then wake them with the engine noise. And then there’s the driving. Several times I was stood alone outside on the back if the 70 foot monster while others lounged inside enjoying the warmth I was promised.

The kids at least enjoyed doing the locks. Well they did until someone told us we were draining the entire canal by not shutting the gates properly.

The final straw for me was running out of water. I inadvertently sailed past the water point. Of course when you do that there’s no going back. I couldn’t turn the 70 foot boat around in a 30 foot wide canal as my wife suggested. So for our last morning as we cruised to the next water point, the toilets weren’t flushed, the dirty crockery grew into a pile, and the kids could for the first time in their lives moan about not being able to clean their teeth.

And the canal boat answer is…

My advice is this. Look for pubs. Drink in the pub until closing and then crash out and hope someone else wakes you turning the engine on and driving. I won’t be camping again, but I’ll also be looking more closely at camp-a-like activities. Spa hotel anyone?

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