canal boat lock oxfordshire

Couples who narrowboat together, stay together! Am I right? OK, so maybe I’m biased, but I think canal boating is the perfect way to spend quality time with your Valentine. Over the years many celebrity couples have been spotted out cruising together on the English canals. Who have you seen on the waterways?

1, 2, 3

In no particular order the first three couples on our list are Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, Kiera Knightly and Rupert Friend, and David Suchet (Poirot) and his wife Sheila. The media reported that they have all enjoyed boating on the British waterways. David and Sheila actually spent six years living on a 53-foot narrowboat, ‘Prima Donna’ which they found in Stratford-upon-Avon. Pirates of the Caribbean actress Keira Knightley rented a canal boat in London in 2010 and was seen walking the towpath with her actor partner.

So I asked on Facebook, what other celebrity couples have been seen boating together?


Bernard Booth commented that he saw Tim and Pru, and Harrison Ford and Calistoga Flockhart on the Llangollen canal. Of course, many others have spotted famous narrowboaters Tim and Pru around and about. Fawlty Towers actress Prunella Scales, and her husband actor Timothy West have been boating for decades, and starred in their own charming TV travel series, Great Canal Journeys.


Harry Potter actor Timothy Spall and his wife Shane were keen canal boaters for several years, and have been seen on the Grand Union canal. Spall later swapped his narrowboat for a seaworthy barge.


James Spencer was moored at Fox Narrowboats until last June when he moved his boat back onto the canals. He said he often used to see Timothy Spall, Roberta Taylor and her husband Peter Guinness when they had narrowboats moored near to his at Whilton Marina. He also met Tim and Pru at Braunston historic boat rally and has photos of them relaxing. “We did make it on to a TV programme about holidays when TV crew were filming at Braunston bottom lock and filmed us locking. Roberta and Peter Guinness boat was called ‘A Waste of Time.’ I did ask why, and apparently it was a play they had appeared in.”


It’s not a canal boat, but Russell Brand and his wife Laura shipped their wedding guests down the River Thames on a paddle steamer. Their wedding was at Remenham Church near their home in Henley-on-Thames, and wedding guests included Noel Gallagher, Jonathan Ross and David Baddiel.


In 2021 Sir Rod Stewart bought a narrowboat for his wife Penny’s 50th birthday. Speaking on Loose Women, Penny said it had always been her dream to have a canal boat and renovate it. She likes the idea of a slower lifestyle.


For couples with kids a narrowboat holiday is a great idea. Coleen and Wayne Rooney think so anyway. They took their four boys for a trip along the Shropshire Union Canal last year.


But Peter Green won the most famous celebrity couple afloat when he commented on Facebook, “I had the Queen and Prince Philip on my boat! Slight cheat as it was on the Thames. Diamond jubilee taking them to a garden party near Henley. Also had the Queen solo in 2009 and the Princess Royal in 2018. My boat is ‘Alaska’, built in 1883.”

Could you and your partner be the next glamourous couple to cruise the waterways? Check out availability for this year’s narrowboat holiday now!

Fox Boats director, Paula Syred told me, “Strictly come Dancing’s Neil Jones and Rick Wakeman and his wife, have been day hire customers of ours.”

So if you want to holiday like a celebrity, Fox Narrowboats is a great choice! Read: How to Holiday Like a Celebrity Without it Costing a Fortune

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Image credit: Deposit Photos

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houghton mill wiki cc cmglee

What are you like at sticking to New Year’s resolutions? Does goal setting make you feel disheartened? Does the thought of optimistic pledges and promises just make you groan?

#houghtonmill #wickenfen #strethamengine #fenswildlife #nenevalleyrailway

A more cheerful way to start the year is by creating a ‘bucket list’ of fun things to do.

A bucket list is traditionally a list of things to do before you kick the proverbial bucket, but after enduring two years of coronavirus restrictions, we thought that now is a good time to plan a few things to look forward to. Here are our best suggestions for fun things you can do while narrowboating in the Fens.

Learn to work a lock and steer a boat. Locks are easy to operate and at Fox Narrowboats we have qualified instructors that will give you full training during the boat handover. If you’re wondering if it’s difficult to learn the ropes read: What’s it Like to Actually Steer a Narrowboat?

Visit ‘Mother’, a thatched structure at Wicken Fen by Studio Morison. The nature reserve here is a favourite with our customers. This art installation is inspired by the restorative qualities of the beautiful fen landscape as described in Richard Mabey’s book ‘Nature Cure’. It is a sculptural structure, and also a pavilion, that you can sit inside, and contemplate nature. Read: How to Get Top Author’s ‘Nature Cure’ on a Narrowboat Holiday

Visit Houghton Mill, a National Trust property on the River Great Ouse. Centred on an island on the Great Ouse at Houghton, stands Houghton Mill a large timber-built watermill with operational machinery. The Mill is open to the public at weekends, and flour is still milled and sold to visitors.

Visit Stretham Engine, five miles south of Ely on the Old West River. It is the sole surviving operational steam engine in the Black Fen. It was installed in 1831, replacing four wind pumps. The engine has limited opening times in the summer months. This steam-powered pumping station was used to drain the Fens in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Spot wildlife, like the great crested grebe and the occasional kingfisher. On a riverside walk, or in our local nature reserves, you may see dragonflies, damselflies, otters or water voles. Read: 3 Ways to See More Fenland Wildlife

Try punting on ‘The Backs’ in Cambridge. The River Cam navigation for powered craft ends at Jesus Green Lock, but above the lock Scudamore’s offer a wide range of tour and self-hire punting options. Punting is a traditional Cambridge pastime; see famous landmarks like the Bridge of Sighs, while floating down the river. Read: Three Amazing Things to Do in Cambridge

The Nene Valley Railway can be visited from the Environment Agency moorings at Wansford Station. From here you can take a trip aboard a heritage steam or diesel train. This can be planned as part of a narrowboat cruise towards Peterborough. Read: The Canal Boat Holiday That Train Enthusiasts Will Love.

Treat yourself to a meal at a riverside pub. The Swan on the River at Littleport may be recognised as the finishing point for the 2021 Oxford Cambridge boat race. Read: Three Waterside Pubs to Visit.

Cruise over an aqueduct. Mullicourt aqueduct carries Well Creek over the Middle Level main drain.

Take a photo of St Ives Bridge; a 15th century bridge crossing the River Great Ouse in St Ives. It is one of only four bridges in England to incorporate a chapel. Other photo opportunities on the waterways include wide skies at sunsets and sunrise with silhouettes of wind farms against the horizon.

And finally, moor up in the middle of nowhere, such as a quiet mooring at Benwick on the Middle Level navigation, (this village is a hidden gem). Read: Six Stunning Moorings on the Middle Level.

Plan Ahead

The New Year can often put us in the mood for planning ahead, so why not give yourself something to look forward to and organise this year’s narrowboat holiday? Booking in advance can mean better availability, and with Fox Narrowboats you’re more likely to get the boat of your choice. It’s also easier to get time off work on your intended dates if you plan well ahead.

What’s on your narrowboating New Year’s Bucket List? Let us know on Facebook.

You may also like: How to Cruise Your Way into Fitness this New Year

No time to plan your holiday right now? We get that. Instead, subscribe to our blog in the right sidebar; look for ‘Follow Blog’. We’ll send you two articles a month full of narrowboat holiday ideas in the Fens. (We don’t send spam or salesy type stuff – just interesting articles about boats and waterways!)

Image credit: Houghton Mill by Cmglee, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


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Peterborough cathedral night

Traditionally Christmas is a time for carols and choirs, candle-lit services, holly and ivy, decorated trees, and children’s nativity plays. So it’s a popular time to visit your local church, or even a cathedral if you live near to one. We are lucky enough to be based between two stunning and historically significant cathedrals.

Peterborough Cathedral

This Christmas Peterborough Cathedral is offering concerts, with choirs and brass, carol services, a candlelight tour, a Christingle Service, and a theatre production of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as well as the usual Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.

Peterborough Cathedral was rebuilt in the 12th century, and like Durham and Ely Cathedrals it has remained largely intact. It is the burial place of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

To get to Peterborough by narrowboat from our Fox Narrowboats hire base is a 12 hour return trip, which is ideal for a short break. On the approach to Peterborough the cathedral can be clearly seen across the flat fields that lead to Stanground Lock. There are visitor moorings on the River Nene along the length of a park which are convenient for the city centre. (Read more about this cruise: March to Ferry Meadows Country Park.)

If you visit Peterborough on your narrowboat holiday next year you can check out what events are on at the cathedral while you are in the area by looking at the website: Peterborough Cathedral

Alternatively, turning left from our marina you will shortly come to the Fenland market town of March where you will find free visitor boating moorings on either side of the town bridge. March to Ely is about 18 cruising hours return trip. (Read more about this cruise: March to Ely narrowboat holiday.)

Ely Cathedral

This cathedral is known as the ‘ship of the Fens’ because it is visible from miles away as you approach it. This Advent and Christmas Ely Cathedral is offering Christmas services and concerts with the Cathedral Choir, and various family-themed activities. There is also seasonal shopping in the cathedral shops, homemade festive food in the Almonry, guided tower tours up the Octagon Tower or West Tower, and a spectacular 30ft Christmas tree.

But you don’t have to visit at Christmas to enjoy a cathedral tour, including access to the unique Octagon Tower and the Monastic Buildings around the cathedral grounds. While you are there you can also visit the Stained Glass Museum. Also in Ely you can see Oliver Cromwell’s House, which is now a museum, the Ely Museum at the Old Gaol, and the antiques centre close to the river. There’s so much to see here it’s worth stopping overnight. If you’re visiting Ely by narrowboat the city centre is just a short walk away from the moorings, up a steep hill.

If you visit Ely on your narrowboat holiday next year check out what events are on at the cathedral while you are in the area by looking at the website:  Ely Cathedral


Although Cambridge is famous for being a university city, it does not actually have its own cathedral. However, there are plenty of historic churches to appreciate when you visit. Cambridge falls within the Diocese of Ely (Church of England) and is associated with Ely Cathedral. Many of the churches in the city are affiliated with university colleges, having strong historical connections. All Saints’ Church is a beautiful Victorian Grade-II listed structure. Our Lady and the English Martyrs has late 19th century, neo-Gothic architecture, a tall spire, wonderful stained-glass windows and many historic elements. Great St Mary’s Church is near the Visitor Information Centre on Peas Hill, and dates from the late-15th century. Discover the 18th-century galleries and a tall bell tower, which can be climbed to see panoramic views of the city centre. There are many more noteworthy churches and colleges to wander around during your visit to Cambridge, and the journey there by narrowboat is beautiful.

From Ely to Cambridge is about five hours cruise each way. Read more about this narrowboat cruise: Ely to Cambridge.

Christmas in England is a chance to appreciate Gothic churches, choirs, and bustling markets in ancient towns. However, you could also include all of these joys on your narrowboat holiday next year. Check here to see what holiday dates are available.

You may also like: Four Churches to Visit When it’s not Even Christmas

PS: A festive gift for you! Click ‘Blog’ (top right) and look for ‘Follow Blog’ in the right sidebar to get the latest helpful holiday tips for next year. (We never share or sell email addresses, we’ll only be sending you our local, insider knowledge, every two weeks.)

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ely cathedral visited by great canal journeys

Gyles and Sheila are back on our screens, and in case you missed it you can catch up with their Great Canal Journey to Cambridge and the Fens by watching episode one of series 13 on All 4.

Actor Sheila Hancock and author and presenter Gyles Brandreth took over presenting the show in November 2020. (Read TVs Great Canal Journeys Has Two New Skippers). They were narrowboat novices at that point, but have since taken to cruising and steering canal boats with heart-warming humour and enthusiasm.

At the beginning of series 13 they started their journey in the town of March, where Fox narrowboats are based, and travelled along the old course of the River Nene to visit Emneth, then south down the Great Ouse to Ely Cathedral, and finished their trip in Cambridge, learning about the poet, Rupert Brook.

Early on in the journey Sheila was seriously impressed by the Fenland scenery; she loved the spaciousness of the panorama, “It’s all sky!” They learned that the sea level is still rising in the Fens, so it is inevitable that large areas, previously reclaimed from the sea, will eventually be underwater once more.

There were some pretty views of the village of Upwell before they arrived at Emneth to visit the vicarage. This was once home to Reverend Wilburt Audrey, author of the much-loved Thomas the Tank Engine books. The Reverend died in 1997 but Gyles and Sheila were invited in to chat to his daughter about the inspiration for the popular books.

Back on the River Ouse Gyles and Sheila were stunned by the view of Ely Cathedral across the Fens as they approached Ely. Ely was once an island, before the draining of the Fens, and the cathedral dates back to the 11th century. The inside of the cathedral is huge, and gloriously impressive. The programme showed the unique octagon lantern tower before a segment where Ely Cathedral Boy Choristers practiced their medieval Plain Song. The cathedral was built on the site of a monastery, founded by Etheldreda, a local Anglo Saxon princess. This episode explains that it may have taken one hundred years to build the current version of the cathedral.

Back on their canal boat, inspired by their visit to the cathedral, Gyles and Sheila had a thoughtful conversation about faith, god and their own mortality. It was fun to watch their affectionate friendship as Sheila teased Gyles about his fashion sense, and his habit of name-dropping celebrities’ names.

South of Ely the two friends met an artist and tried landscape painting. Although they both lacked confidence in their abilities they had a go anyway. In Cambridge Kings College “oozes history” said Gyles. It’s alumni include Rupert Brook, who in 1914 wrote the patriotic poem ‘The Soldier’. Gyles and Sheila checked out previous hand written drafts of the famous poem. Then they had cucumber sandwiches and tea at the vicarage, discussing the poet, who had tragically died aged only 27.

Finally Gyles and Sheila ended their trip by drinking Pimms in the sunshine, in an ancient meadow moored on the River Cam.

A cruise from March to Ely takes nine hours, and then Ely to Cambridge is about five hours cruise. Of course you can travel at your own leisurely pace and stop somewhere overnight along the way.

If you want to take your own great canal journey next year check availability now. We have some great holiday deals to enjoy. And you can order sandwiches and other treats to be waiting on board for you from Glam Grazing.

You may also like: How to Experience Some Great Canal Journeys from Your Own Home

If you enjoy reading about the Fenland waterways sign up for updates from this blog. (We never share or sell email addresses – your details are safe with us.) Just look for ‘Follow Blog’ in the sidebar on the right and we’ll send you stories, tips and advice about narrowboating around the Fens.

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Are you a fan of TV’s Great Canal Journeys?

Have you enjoyed watching Kevin Shelley’s Travels by Narrowboat?

Are you an arm-chair narrowboater?

Then you’ll love BBC Four’s Canal Boat Diaries.

This series follows Robbie Cumming as he embarks on a 300-mile journey across the Midlands and northern England in his narrowboat. It’s a soothing video diary of one man and his boat, soaking up the scenery and visiting canal side towns and villages along the way. If you don’t have a boat yourself it’s the perfect way to sit back, relax and enjoy the narrowboat lifestyle, from home.

Robbie has previously done bar work, graphic design and illustration while travelling on his boat ‘Naughty Lass’. He says, “It’s my home, work space and transport, rolled into one.”

In the first episode Robbie says, “This program is all about showing you the real side of boating.” For example he has been living aboard without a fridge, and so he meets up with a marine electrician who helps him to install a 12 volt fridge on board. Later he is shown pumping out his sewage tank. But these moments of showing the gritty “real side” of boating are far outnumbered by the stunning, sunshiney scenery viewed as sweeping, stunning aerial shots.

At the beginning of the episode he tackles a tunnel in Staffordshire which is so low that he has to remove everything from the canal boat roof, and crouch down while steering it through! As he travels, filming the local scenery, locks and waterways, he shares canal facts and history. For example, he explains that snake bridges are ingeniously designed so that a horse can cross the canal without the line snagging. (Before engines came along all canal boats were horse drawn.) In Staffordshire he travelled some narrow canals with single locks, and really narrow tunnels, but his goal is to eventually explore all of the canals and navigable rivers in the UK.

He visits a still-working Victorian Pottery that looks like the set of Peaky Blinders, and travels the Harecastle Tunnel, which takes 40 minutes and is dubbed the ‘Scarecastle Tunnel’. The throbbing engine echoes loudly in the darkness, but originally there was a towpath for the horses passing through this tunnel. This programme shows what little random adventures one can have while exploring England by narrowboat. Robbie discovers ancient canal-side mile markers that look like gravestones, he pays his respects at Ian Curtis’s grave, (lead singer of Joy Division), meets the locals in village pubs, explores Macclesfield, and rises to the challenge of cooking on board with whatever he can find, having not seen a shop for a while.

It’s a pleasure to watch the spectacular scenery and sunshine, drifting past aqueducts, coloured narrowboats and green fields, all accompanied by relaxing music, and a likeable, easy-going presenter. Robbie thinks the Peak Forest Canal in Derbyshire has to be one of the most scenic waterways.

So could he ever go back to living on land?

“I don’t think so… This is my lifestyle now. I’ve had to adapt to it. I think I’d miss it if I gave it up.”

Is this the most relaxing programme on TV right now? Ease into your sofa, lose yourself in the landscape and see for yourself.

Watch Canal Boat Diaries on BBC iPlayer. Or catch up with Robbie on his YouTube channel.

You can also help to fund Robbie’s travels around the canal system and increase the quality of his narrowboat ‘voyagelogs’ by supporting him on Patreon. He now makes around two videos a month, each one taking over 20 hours to make filming, researching, editing, voice overs and writing and recording his own music. The Canal Boat Diaries are not only his passion but thanks to the viewers, are now his source of income.

Ready for your own canal adventure? Try booking a daytrip or a narrowboat holiday now. Check availability here.

Hey! Are you new here? Click ‘Blog’ (top right) and look for ‘Follow Blog’ in the right sidebar to receive more insider knowledge about canals and narrowboating. (We never share or sell email addresses, we’ll only be sending you our local, insider knowledge, every two weeks.)

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Does modern life stress you out?

Ever wanted to sell your possessions and live on a boat?

Would you enjoy the narrowboat lifestyle?

grand union canal narrowboats

In 2017 Kevin Shelly quit his ‘bricks and mortar’ lifestyle, bought a canal boat, and set out to explore 2,500 miles of the UK’s inland waterways. He began to document his lifestyle change with videos that became increasingly popular. There are now six seasons to watch (40 episodes) with a seventh series on the way.

So began an amazing journey, not just around the canal network but also within Kevin. Episode by episode narrowboat life transformed him from an exhausted man, to someone well-rested and contented. There’s something very soothing about watching Kevin narrate his gentle travels; letting the viewer absorb the feeling of travelling slowly through nature. Viewers relax as Kevin enjoys the simple pleasures in life, such as a canal-side pub, or the odd bacon and egg sandwich. The series portrays the laid-back spirit of discovering new places by boat, while Kevin learns about narrowboat life. If you’re new to narrowboating it’s a chance to get the feel of what it’s like. If you’ve been boating before it’s an enjoyable way to imagine yourself back on the water.

On Kevin’s Maiden Voyage in episode one he travels along the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union Canal, and more recently in season six he re-visited Northamptonshire’s waterways by ascending the Foxton flight, of 10 locks again. This reminded him of the very beginning of his adventure when he first bought his narrowboat, ‘Aslan’. Our narrowboat hire base is ‘next door’ to Northamptonshire in nearby Cambridgeshire.

The Grand Union Canal stretches 137 miles from London to Birmingham, and the Northampton Arm branches off to the east at Gayton Junction. Here there are 17 narrow locks as the canal descends to join the navigable River Nene. Cruising in this direction a narrowboat would eventually pass through Wadenhoe, Oundle, Fotheringhay, and Peterborough; all of which can be easily visited by hiring a boat from Fox Narrowboats. (See Fox route 4 Peterborough to Fotheringhay.) The River Nene is one of the quieter UK rivers, and a great place for a relaxing boating or fishing trip.

What’s different about Travels by Narrowboat is Kevin’s dry sense of humour. He is unpretentious and sometimes quirky, when musing about whatever and whoever he encounters along the way. This programme shows us, at a gentle pace, the parts of England that only canal users get to see; the old bridges and canal locks, ancient villages, and natural wildlife. Kevin Shelley is the antidote to our shiny celebrity culture. If you want to watch an ordinary man follow his dream, work a lock, make a curry or repair an engine this is the down to earth TV show you are looking for.

If you’d like to float down a canal with Kevin and enjoy the sights and sounds of England by narrowboat you can watch Travels by Narrowboat on Amazon Video or on Vimeo on Demand.

Travels by Narrowboat blog

If you want to take your own travels by narrowboat this year check availability now. We have some great holiday deals to enjoy this summer.

To be notified with new holiday information as it changes, sign up for updates from this blog. (We never share or sell email addresses – your details are safe with us.) Just look for ‘Follow Blog’ in the sidebar on the right and we’ll send you stories, tips and advice about narrowboating around the Fens in 2021.

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Alarmy MTDCKJ licence 10 Nov 2020
Alarmy MTDCKJ licence 10 nov 2020

Alarmy MTDCKJ licence 10 Nov 2020

Do you dream of going on great canal journeys?

Are you stuck at home when you’d rather be boating?

Fancy living vicariously through the travels of others?

You may like to check out Channel 4’s new series of Great Canal Journeys.

After ten series of navigating the canals, lakes and river of the world, Prunella Scales and Timothy West’s televised canal journeys have sadly come to an end. Best known for playing Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, Pru’s struggle with Alzheimer’s became a poignant aspect of the programme, and has now forced the couple to stop filming. The beloved actors have a lifetime of canal boating experience behind them, and their passion for it made them the ideal presenters of this show.

However, Channel 4 has opted to continue the series with two new presenters, actor Sheila Hancock and author and presenter Gyles Brandreth. They’re not a couple, but they are friends who have previously appeared alongside each other on Celebrity Gogglebox. The charm of the original travel programme really lay in watching Tim and Pru’s wonderful marriage on screen, so I thought that changing the remit to two travelling friends might change the mood somewhat. To ease the transition Timothy West joined Gyles and Sheila in the first episode, which aired on 8th November 2020.

“I don’t even know stern from aft!” says Gyles. The friends confess they know nothing about canal boating, but that Tim and Pru have told them anyone can do it. “We are throwing ourselves in at the deep end, and hoping we float!” says Gyles.

The episode begins with Tim welcoming them onto a day-boat at Broxbourne on the River Lee, for a bit of basic training in steering, operating a lock and mooring up. Then their first real journey beings at Pangbourne on the Thames, where they board a 70 foot wide beam. They investigate the bathroom and there is a comedy moment as Gyles accidentally pulls a handle off the toilet, showing viewers that anyone new to boating can make mistakes! During the episode they cruise towards London through Henley, Cliveden and Royal Windsor, and invite a historian on board to chat about the history of the Thames.

“The waterways teaches history that can’t be found in books. They show us how to go with the flow,” says Sheila. (If you like history you can visit Cambridge Universities, Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell’s House on a Fox Boats holiday.)

Then Sheila, 87, joins a women’s rowing team, proving that it’s never too late to try something new. Gyles also is a likeable character. He jokes about doing a Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio impression, while standing on the bow as they enter London by boat.

I had my reservations about this show going forward without the loveable Tim and Pru, but actually it has the same life-affirming vibe, showing us that getting out on the water can make you feel alive! Although Tim and Pru had 40 years of boating experience to share with the viewers, these two are demonstrating that anyone can give boating a go, and learn new skills. Is it still heart-warming and funny? Absolutely. Are there stunning aerial views of waterways, and intriguing glimpses into life afloat? Of course.

If it’s some time since you’ve been boating, this new version of Great Canal Journeys will inspire you to get back out on the water. At Fox Narrowboats you can ease yourself in gently with day boat hire, or take a week’s long break on a comfortable holiday boat. We are now taking bookings for next year.

If you missed the first episode of Great Canal Journeys you can watch it on demand on All 4, Channel 4’s streaming service. (To watch Channel 4 on demand you simply have to sign up with an email address and view on your TV, tablet or computer.)

You may also like:

How to Experience Some Great Canal Journeys from Your Own Home

Cruise Like Tim and Pru from Great Canal Journeys: How to Reconnect With the Ones You Love

How to Holiday Like a Celebrity Without it Costing a Fortune

Keep in Touch: Subscribe on the right to receive more stories of British canal journeys, by email. (We never share or sell email addresses, we’ll only be sending you our local, insider knowledge, every two weeks.)

Photo: Licenced stock photo Alarmy MTDCKJ 10 Nov 2020 OY48986454

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Image: St Wendreda’s Church short walk from our Marina
(credit below)

The idyllic ancient architecture, candlelight, holly and ivy, and special services such as carols, advent, christingles and nativities make this a wonderful time of year to visit a church.

However, official statistics from the Church of England* suggest that Christmas is now the only time that British families go to church. While festive services remain ever popular, Sunday congregations are seeing a steady decline in attendance. If you’re planning a canal boat holiday on the East Anglian waterways we would hate for you to miss out on the stunning churches that we have on our doorstep.

Here are four churches you won’t want to miss on your canal boat holiday next year.

St Wendreda’s Church

Before you set off from Foxboats marina in March, check out St Wendreda’s Church which is just a short walk away. This beautiful church is the oldest in our town and is known for its magnificent double-hammer beam roof with 120 carved angels; it is regarded as one of the best of its kind. John Betjeman described the church as “worth cycling 40 miles in a head wind to see.” (If you want to try this you are welcome to bring your bicycles on a narrowboat holiday!)

St Peter’s Church

As you cruise through the Middle Levels you will come to the village of Upwell on the Well Creek; one of the most picturesque villages on the Fenland waterways. St Peter’s Church originating in the 13th century, is well worth a visit because of the unusual tower. Inside there are 25 carved oak angels in the roof looking down into two Victorian galleries.

Ely Cathedral

If your holiday plans are taking you along the River Ouse then you must visit Ely’s skyline-dominating cathedral. Its origins have been traced back to AD 673 and it has a historical connection to William the Conqueror. The cathedral is known as the ‘ship of the Fens’ because of its dominant position in the landscape, visible from miles away. Its most notable feature is the central octagonal tower, with a lantern above.

The gothic architectural design is stunning and you can also take a tour, around the Stained Glass Museum, which has a fascinating collection of rescued stained glass windows stretching back 1,300 years.

Ely has good moorings, and there is plenty more to see in this charming, ancient town so it’s worth stopping overnight.

Kings College Chapel

If you have time on your holiday, do continue from Ely along the River Cam to Cambridge where there are many churches and chapels to visit, as well as the impressive university colleges. Don’t miss St Peter’s Chapel, the smallest church in Cambridge dating back to the 12th century. St Mary the Great is known as the university church and all distances in Cambridge are measured from its location. And finally, King’s College Chapel is a true masterpiece of English craftsmanship.

Not Just for Christmas

So, while it may be that more people will watch the Queen’s speech this year, than go to a Christmas church service, remember that churches aren’t just for Christmas. They are a wonderfully preserved part of our heritage, with stories to tell and incredible craftsmanship to behold. Make sure to include some churches into your holiday plans with Fox Narrowboats next year.

For more surprising stories of things you didn’t know about the Fens and Cambridgeshire subscribe to our blog in the right sidebar; look for ‘Follow Blog’. (We don’t send spam or salesy type stuff – just surprisingly interesting articles about our local waterways!)

*The Telegraph 28th October 2016.

Image Wiki Commons
By David Iliff (User:Diliff) – Commons file St Wendreda’s Church Ceiling, March, Cambridgeshire, UK – Diliff.jpg, CC BY 3.0,

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Who was the last Englishman to stand up to the French?

Which annual religious festival held in Ely leant its name to a word meaning “showy but cheap and of poor quality”?

Who were the Littleport rioters and what did they do that was so bad that five of them were executed?

I subscribe to the theory “that the past is a foreign country”. I’m not that old, but when I was young I lived through times that we now look back on as being of great change. However to me at the time change was invisible – its was ‘same old – same old’. The Prime Minister was always either Ted Heath or Harold Wilson, and I was too young to realise that the 1960s were ‘swinging’. We all know that Fenland used to be very different. A marshy and difficult land with no proper roads and only a few tracks that were impassible in Winter. Often the only way to get around was on stilts or by water. In winter there were dehabiliting freeze-ups. The Fen Ague was a malaria like illness which did for local boy ‘made good’ – Oliver Cromwell. After the great freezes, came great floods. The struggle for existence was the battle against the elements.

In our modern sanitised society with proper roads and successful water management, the past can appear to have disappeared. But scratch the surface – and its echoes are often still to be heard !

One of the best means of rediscovering that past is through literature. There are three books which I particularly treasure and which vividly evoke a Fenland past.

These are Hereward the Wake: Last of the English. This was published in 1866  by the Rev Charles Kingsley (also known for writing the Water Babies). It tells of events in 1071/2 when the Anglo Saxon leader Hereward led resistance against the conquering Normans (1066 and all that) from his base in Ely. It popularised Hereward and elevated him into a Robin Hood type hero. There are varying accounts of Hereward’s life and struggles. I recently read one by an eminent historian denigrating Charles Kingsley’s as being hugely inaccurate. Somewhat in disgust I put aside this anaesthetised version and returned to Kingsley’s rip-roaring, dramatic and exciting version of this gripping tale!

Aldreth Mooring Fens Peter Scott

Aldreth GOBA Mooring Fens Sunset

It is difficult to imagine both life, and the pre-drainage landscape nearly 1,000 years ago. But Kingsley brilliantly paints a picture. Hereward refused to swear allegiance to the invading King William (a.k.a. ‘William the bastard!). He brilliantly defeated William’s troops at the river crossing on the Old West River near Aldreth as they marched on Ely from Cambridge. There is a remote GOBA mooring near this spot and a farm bridge now crosses the river. We’ve enjoyed mooring here several times, and I can report that we haven’t (yet) been troubled by the ghosts of the long slain Normans.

Aldreth Bridge River Ouse

Aldreth Bridge River Ouse

Hereward was later betrayed to William by the monks of Ely. There is a strong suggestion that Hereward’s successes relied heavily on the support and advice of his first wife Torfrida. However he was persuaded to divorce her and instead marry Alftruda, who in modern terms could be described as ‘more celebrity’. Under her influence he wimped out and lost his fire, eventually submitting and swearing allegiance to William the Conqueror.



Walking down Ely High Street I recently noticed a pupil of King’s School Ely wearing a sweat shirt emblazoned “Torfrida”. On inquiry I learned that one of the school’s houses is called Torfrida. I was delighted to learn that the ‘real brains behind Hereward’ had been so commemorated. (one of the other school houses is called Etheldreda – another name with major resonance in Ely !)

Another historical novel which vividly conjures up ‘lost Fenland’ is Cheap Jack Zita, published in 1893 by Sabine Baring-Gould. The period after major wars is often one of great social change. Returning soldiers often cause unemployment, grain shortages and inflation. This was evidenced more recently by the great changes which swept Britain after WWll (leading to the surprise election of a reforming Labour Government and the establishment of the National Health Service). This novel is a wholly fictional account based on actual events. It starts outside the great Galilee porch on Ely Cathedral. The death in 879 of Ethelreda, founder of Ely Cathedral was commemorated annually by holding a fair, St Etheldreda’s Fair, which became commonly known as St Audrey’s Fair. Cheap and flashy goods were often sold at the fair, leading to ‘St Audrey’ becoming abbreviated to the word ‘tawdry’. A ‘cheap jack’ was a seller of cheap inferior goods, typically a hawker at a fair or market. Zita was the eponymous daughter of a cheap jack. This is another fast moving and exciting tale which details the landscape and hardships of the area (particularly along the River Lark). It culminates in May 1816 with an account of the actual the march from Littleport to Ely of angry and frustrated rioters. The riot was halted by soldiers and during the following assizes in Ely 23 men and one women were condemned, and five hanged. Plaques commemorate their terrible fate. In Ely, near the Cathedral, and a stone plaque was installed on the west side of St Mary’s Church which ends “May their awful Fate be a warning to others” The other convicts were transported to Australia.

Gallillee Porch Ely Cathedral cannon

Cannon at the Gallillee Porch Ely Cathedral

The expression ‘the queens of crime’ refers not to female villains, but to the four authors Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Dorothy L Sayers (June 1893 – December 1957) grew up in first in Bluntisham, and later in Christchurch where her father was rector. The family seat of her aristocratic fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey’s was Denver. Wimsey helped defend his brother, the 16th Duke of Denver, when he became the chief murder suspect in Sayers’ novel ‘Clouds of Witnesses’ in which he was tried by his peers, before the full House of Lords. Her choice of the name ‘Denver’ for the fictional Dukedom reveals her Fenland roots.

Bluntisham church near st ives fens waterways

Bluntisham church near st ives fens waterways

Her 1934 mystery the award winning ‘The Nine Tailors’ is set in the fictional fenland village of Fenchurch St. Paul. The end of the book includes a vivid description of a massive flood, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sayers must herself have witnessed similar flooding while growing up in the fens. It is rumoured that several characters in the book share names with graves in Bluntisham churchyard.

Wisbech Upwell Tramway historic photo

Wisbech Upwell Tramway historic photo

Deserving an honourable mention in our Fenland Literature ‘hall of fame’ is the Rev. Wilbert Awdry (June 1911 – March 1997) creator of Thomas the Tank Engine. The Rev Awdry served as Minister in the South Cambridgeshire villages of Elsworth with Knapwell, Bourn and in Emneth (Norfolk). He was a fan of Wisbech and Upwell tramway, and in his book Toby the Tram Engine, Toby, and the coach Henrietta are based on stock used on the line.

the steam tram wisbech old photo

the steam tram wisbech old photo

The last book which, through its powerful and sometimes almost poetic prose, draws us back into a more recent past is Tom’s Midnight Garden (first published 1958) by Philippa Pearce. This story for children slips between a present in the 1950s and a late Victorian past in the 1880s – 1890s. It memorably includes a description of skating from Ely to Great Shelford (near Cambridge) along the frozen rivers Ouse and Cam during the ‘mini ice age’ which permitted the great frost fairs held on the river Thames, and described by Dickens.

Tom's Midnight Garden Book Cover

Tom’s Midnight Garden book cover

The late Mike Rowse, several times Mayor of Ely, and dedicated local historian, once related to me that Philippa Pearce (the author) once visited Ely Cathedral and read the skating passage from the pulpit. He described it as a moving and unforgettable experience.

I have been a devotee of skating since reading the book as a child. Outdoor skating is an unique experience and it is of great regret to me that warmer winters appear to have largely relegated it to the past!

Cheap Jack Zita, published in 1893 by Sabine Baring-Gould, Tom’s Midnight Garden, written by Philips Pearce in 1958

Blog by C Howes

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cruising on fox narrowboat fens river

Ah, the quieter waterways of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, where narrowboats glide gracefully along wide picturesque rivers, under big skies, offering a unique way to explore the county’s hidden gems. Whether you’re a seasoned skipper or a first-time boater, mastering the art of narrowboat etiquette will ensure a smooth and enjoyable cruise. From sharing the space, to respecting the environment, there are a few written and unwritten rules that ensure harmony on the water. Here at Fox Narrowboats we have qualified instructors that will give you full training during the boat handover, but in the meantime these tips and insights will help you to navigate the Fenland waterways with confidence and courtesy. So, grab a windlass, mind your manners, and let’s embark on a voyage of discovery!

  1. Share the Space: When passing other canal boats in the Fens, slow down, smile, nod and wave, and keep your distance. Stay on the right side of the waterway unless there’s a sign saying otherwise.
  2. Beep the Horn: In narrow stretches of the waterways, especially around blind corners, and at bridges, you can give a brief toot on your horn as a precaution, alerting any approaching boats from the opposite direction. Despite the slower pace, narrowboats can still get into accidents if you’re not careful. If you need to do an “emergency stop” it takes ages – as if in slow motion! Put the engine into reverse if you need to stop suddenly.
  3. Easy Does It: Keep your speed down to under four miles per hour; more like walking pace. It’s enjoyable to travel slowly and take in the sights, but it’s also expected, as it causes less disturbance to other users of the waterways. Travelling too fast produces a breaking wash that can disturb moored boats and birds’ nests, and wear away the riverbank. It’s good etiquette to pass moored boats at tickover.
  4. Teamwork at Locks: When you arrive at a lock, offer a hand to anyone already using it. Wait your turn, be patient, and make sure you leave the lock ready for the next boaters. This means wind down the paddles and close the gates behind you, unless you can see another boat approaching: Then you can leave the gates open for them to easily enter the lock. Locks can be a social place where you get to chat to other boaters and find out where they’ve been and where they’re headed. If the lock is wide enough for two boats, it’s good etiquette to save water by sharing the lock with another boat that is going in the same direction as you. Wasting water can lead to low water levels, which may even ground boats.

Don’t moor overnight on the bollards at a lock; these are just for those waiting to use the lock. Use the mooring pins provided with the boat, or a designated visitor mooring. You don’t need to learn any fancy mooring knots, we’ll teach you an easy one!

  1. Keep It Quiet: Keep the tunes and your voices down low, especially after dark. Remember, sound travels over water, so keep things peaceful for everyone nearby. Some boats are homes and families could be sleeping. The waterways are known for their serenity!
  2. Trash Talk: Put your domestic rubbish in the designated bins at the proper canal-side disposal points. You shouldn’t need to empty the toilet tank, this will be done at our boatyard, or you can use a facility with an appropriate sewage disposal point, and never into the canal or river. Using recycling facilities helps the environment. If you leave bags of food waste on deck overnight the local wildlife may think you are offering them a free buffet!

These six canal etiquette tips can keep you and your crew safe and stop you from making some simple mistakes on your first narrowboat holiday. But before you arrive at our marina, you could also check out these basic boating tips on our blog. Do You Make These Three Boating Mistakes?

Feeling ready to take the plunge? Choose the boat that suits the size of your crew here: Fox holiday fleet.

Don’t miss more articles about what to see and do when narrowboating in the Fens: Sign up to follow this blog in the sidebar on the right.

Ferry Meadows sitting on narrowboat

Ferry Meadows sitting on narrowboat

Question – Where along the river Nene can visiting family combine a boat trip with a steam train outing ?

Question – Which future King of England was born in 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle on the River Nene ? – Clue – His body was identified 527 years after his death under a Leicester ca-park.

Question – Which Queen was executed in 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle on the River Nene ? One summer morning in 2023 I was looking for a mooring in the lovely riverside City of Ely. There were no available spaces, but there was a Fox hire boat moored. Generally hire boats don’t stop in any one place for too long, and often leave by midmorning.

I ‘hovered’ close to the boat and gently inquired if they might be moving on before too long, and if they would mind me mooring alongside until they left – when I could take over the spot they had vacated.

They were lovely, friendly, people, and readily agreed. I asked them if they were enjoying their narrowboat holiday. They replied that they were “loving it”, at which point they recognised my boat from the cover of the river guide ‘Great Ouse and its tributaries’. “How did you wangle getting your Fox boat on the cover ?” they asked. “By writing the guide !” I replied.

They made me a cup of coffee and I regaled them with a few of those anecdotes which didn’t quite make it into the guide.  Just before they set off, they explained “this has been our first narrowboat holiday and we’ve definitely got the bug”. They asked “We’ve got the whole Country to choose from, where would you recommend we go next year?”

I didn’t even need to think before I replied “Go West ! When you leave Fox’s marina turn right toward the River Nene not left towards the River Great Ouse (like you did this year). The River Nene is one of the loveliest navigable rivers in all England !”

During my life I have lived in two towns (Bedford and St Neots), and one City (Ely), all on the Great Ouse, but I must sing the praises of the River Nene. On a cautionary note I must also warn you that “Nene’ is pronounced “Neen” downstream of Thrapston, and “Nen” upstream of Thrapston. As the farthest you are likely to get on a week’s hire is Oundle (leaving yourself sufficient time to get back to the hire base), or at the very most Thrapston, we can settle on calling the river ‘Neen’.

Leaving Fox’s marina you will travel first through the Middle Level towards Peterborough. On the Middle Level you could spend your first night afloat on the new visitor moorings in Ramsey.

Alternatively many boaters choose to use the new rural moorings on Whittlesey Dyke at either Burnthouse Bridge or Angle Corner ( The popular third option is go through Ashline Lock and moor at the back of the Manor Leisure Centre in Whittlesey. The rural moorings will require you to cook on board, whereas both Ramsey and Whittlesey moorings offer a range of ‘eat out’ opportunities, restaurant or takeaway.

You need to book yourself in advance through Stanground Lock with the lock keeper, Tina,  on 07824 600470 (this is the only non ‘do-it-yourself’ lock you will encounter on your trip).

Stanground is approximately 6 hours from Ramsey,  3 hours from the Burnthouse rural mooring, 21/2 from the Angle Corner rural mooring, and 1 1/4 from the Manor Leisure Centre in Whittlesey. Lock Warning !  In the mid 17th Century a campaign was launched to make the River Nene navigable between Peterborough and Northampton. It was anticipated that 33 locks would be required to bypass the water mills. By the 18th Century, when the work was undertaken, 38 locks were required ! But don’t worry there are only 11 locks between Peterborough and Oundle. With a willing and helpful crew these shouldn’t be too much bother. And remember – locking is a vital part of the ‘narrowboat experience’!

Stanground Lock

Stanground Lock

Shortly after you have passed through Stanground lock you will find yourself in the historic cathedral city of Peterborough. There are ample moorings on Peterborough Embankment but these can get a bit noisy in the evening. There is a floating Chinese restaurant called the Grain Barge moored on the embankment. My wife and I often dine there on their ‘eat as much as you can for a fixed price’ menu when returning to home waters after visiting the canals.

Peterborough Town Bridge 1909

Peterborough Town Bridge 1909

Often we choose to travel out of Peterborough for another 1 1/4  hours and moor instead at the lovely Ferry Meadows Park. These peaceful floating moorings are on a lake and you quite often get a good sunset, followed by a spectacular sunrise the next mooring. There is (car) parking at Ferry Meadows Park, and before now we’ve rendezvoused there with family. They’ve joined us on board for a pleasant river trip upstream as far as Wansford Station, where they’ve disembarked and caught a steam train on the Nene Valley Railway back to their car. A perfect family outing !

wansford station

Go West young man !

As you travel upstream you will pass through Water Newton Lock. The adjoining former mill has been converted into desirable apartments (though I don’t know if I’d make it right through the night with the ever present sound of running water without regular nocturnal visits to the ‘smallest room’). The scene just above the lock is as idyllic a river view as you could ever find. Have your cameras at the ready !

Wansford Station b

Wansford Station b


water newton


Water Newton b

Water Newton b

The old bridge at Wansford carries the old Great North road (a.k.a. the A1) past the Haycock Inn dates from 1600 and is a scheduled ancient monument. The Haycock Inn is named from the story of an unfortunate traveller who, wary of sleeping in any Inn because of plague, spent the night in a hayrick. The river rose in the night and the traveller woke to find himself floating down the Nene. Disorientated, he asked someone on the riverbank where he was, and upon hearing the reply “Wansford”, asked, “Wansford in England?”. The name stuck, and Wansford is officially described as “in England”. The local Inns are now on the whole believed to be plague free !

Above Wansford you come to floating moorings from which you can access Wansford Station

(actually in Sibson). This is the headquarters of the Nene Valley Railway. An absolute must to visit ! The home of Thomas the Tank Engine and a host of historic steam engines, you can ride to as far as Peterborough enjoying a line that has, over the years,  been used for filming, amongst many others, Secret Army, a Queen rock video, Middlemarch, Goldeneye, and Murder on the Orient Express.

Elton Mill chris howes

Next to Elton Lock stands a glorious abandoned mill (grade ll listed). There are moorings immediately above the lock. I’ve twice walked into the village and dined outside The Crown ph under a great spreading Horse Chestnut tree, where I’ve enjoyed as good a pub meal as ever I happen chanced upon!

Soon the English Perpendicular style octagonal tower of the great St Mary’s church of Fotheringhay appears on the horizon. St Mary’s has strong connections to the Yorkist cause in the Wars of the Roses.  The Dukes of York had a family mausoleum in the church.  Richard III was born at Fotheringhay Castle (demolished 1630) and Mary Queen of Scotts was executed there in 1587. There are private visitor moorings here. They are not expensive (£5/overnight) and the farmer collects your money shortly after you arrive. The village pub, The Falcon, is well spoken of for its food. Although (for some  inexplicable reason) I’ve not checked out the pub, I regularly moor at Fotheringhay.

Fotheringhay church chris howes

Ashton Lock is near the village of Ashton which is a privately owned village, long associated with the Rothschild family. This private ownership is evidenced by all the front doors of the houses being painted the same colour. Ashton was the home every October of that important sporting competition – the National Conker Championship – until they moved 4 miles to Southwick near Oundle. There is a large colony of Red Kite around here, and I’ve witnessed 5 or 6 in one go, apparently following me up the river.

red kite colony

ashton lock chris howes

Oundle is a market town with a population of around 6,000, constructed in soft Northamptonshire Stone. Sadly Oundle appears to ‘turn its back’ on the river. But it’s worth crossing the adjoining flood meadow and visiting. There are often slightly fierce looking cattle grazing in the meadow, and I choose to cross it at the other end from them.

Lilford bridge chris howes

You will soon need to think about turning your bows downstream and returning the boat. If you’ve got sufficient time, the bridge at Lilford is as pretty a bridge as you’ll find anywhere.

It was said of the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers  “Fred was great, but don’t forget that Ginger did everything he did, backwards …. and in high heels !” Now you’ve got to Fotheringey, or Oundle or wherever the time left on your boat hire requires you to turn back and retrace your steps – just remember that the “Nene is just as beautiful backwards” (particularly if you’re wearing high heels ?). And like we do, you can always treat yourself to a Chinese meal on the way home, on the Grain Barge in Peterborough. Don’t forget to book yourself back through Stanground Lock.

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hire narrowboat mothers day cambridge

Why not make Mothering Sunday extra special this year by suggesting that her favourite family members get together for a memorable daytrip to March, in Cambridgeshire?

Mothers’ Day and Mothering Sunday are actually two separate things, although they are held on the same day in England. Mothering Sunday is traditionally the fourth Sunday in lent, when parishioners return to their ‘mother’ church. Mothers’ Day first started in the 1950’s, as a way to say thank you for all of the things that mothers do. Planning a family day out boating on Cambridgeshire’s peaceful inland waterways could be a lovely way to say ‘thank you’ this Mothers’ Day (10th March 2024).

Hire a Narrowboat

If your family are new to canal boating, our experienced instructors will show you how to steer the boat, moor up and work the locks. Our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery, a hob, a fridge and a sink in the galley area, so you can make snacks and hot drinks on board, or bring a picnic. There is also a toilet, dinette, and a seating area. We can arrange to have groceries, or an afternoon tea waiting for you on board. Alternatively, you can stop at a waterside pub for refreshments, or visit a fish and chip shop for dinner.

narrow boat hire cambridge fox

Our annual boating season begins in April, so you can book a day trip in advance and surprise your mum with the news on Mothers’ Day. Boating appeals to all ages and is a great way to bring the family together.

Read: The Top 3 Mothers Day Ideas For The Narrowboat Mum

Day boats ‘March Adventurer’ and ‘March Explorer’ can carry up to ten people each.  Prices start from £260 and include fuel and insurance.

Find out more about our day boat hire.

Read All About It

Alternatively, if your mum, wife, or gran is a woman who enjoys narrowboating, or dreams of getting afloat, then you may also consider getting her a book revealing the pro’s and cons of parenting on board. When my children were young we lived on board a narrowboat, so I loved seeking out stories about mothers on canal boats; both biographical and fictional.

Read: Five Surprising Mothers Day Gifts for the Narrowboat Mum

Pushing the Boat Out

But perhaps you’re looking for more than a book, flowers or chocolates as a gift? Maybe you are looking for that elusive family holiday; the one that can please all of the people all of the time? Relaxing, yet adventurous, a change from everyday life, without the modern day hassle of traffic and airports? We’ve got the perfect family holiday for you. Enjoy the scenic countryside and quality time together, explore new places and learn to steer a boat and work a lock.

Read: Why Narrowboating is the Perfect Family Holiday

It’s more than a Mothers’ Day gift, but if you have been planning a multi-generational holiday this year, then boating has something for everyone. Fox Narrowboats in Cambridgeshire is a short distance from London, ideally located for everyone to get together. After all, what better day than Mothers’ Day to get together and appreciate one another’s company, and plan special treats for the year ahead?

Hey! Are you new here? Subscribe on the right to receive more secrets of the undiscovered Fenland waterways, by email. (We never share or sell email addresses, we’ll only be sending you our local, insider knowledge, every two weeks.)

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valentines boat hire cambridgeshire

Save 10% on 2024 day hires

Quiet rural moorings and historic waterside pubs make narrowboat day hire the perfect romantic getaway. Fox Boats offer day boat hire near Ely and Cambridge for up to ten people, on the March Adventurer or the March Explorer. This gives couples the chance to escape on board their own private canal boat, or take family and friends along to celebrate an engagement, anniversary or another important relationship milestone. You can even bring your dog! There is plenty of seating both inside and outside the boat, and a see-through cover at the front protects passengers from any occasional rain showers.

If you hire a boat for the day you can enjoy a peaceful cruise along the east Anglian waterways, getting close to nature under the wide Fenland skies. Look out for kingfishers beside the river, and animals grazing in the fields while you’re getting away from the fast pace of modern life.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, or even planning a marriage proposal, we can arrange delicious food platters to be available on board, from Grazing by Gem. Choose from a traditional afternoon tea, a gentleman’s afternoon tea or a selection of graze boxes.

On board the narrowboat you will find the galley equipped with a hob, fridge and sink, so that you can enjoy snacks and hot drinks while you travel. There is a convenient Tesco and other shops in March, before you set off. There is a dinette and seating area inside the boat. There is also a toilet on board.

Romantic Destinations

Cruising east through the town of March you can pass the windfarm and visit the picturesque villages of Upwell and Outwell. Church Bridge moorings are a great place to stay for a lunch for two. There are also idyllic moorings at Outwell Basin, which is convenient for The Crown (pub) and The Crown Lodge Hotel. Treat your partner to an afternoon tea here, or an intimate meal in the award-winning restaurant.

Church Bridge moorings

Alternatively, travelling west towards Peterborough, past Floods Ferry Marina Park you can reach Ashline Lock and Whittlesey; an ancient market town with an interesting maze of streets. Whittlesey offers limited moorings at the back of a leisure centre and only a short walk from the historic market place. There are two beautiful churches to visit, and a range of restaurants and takeaways.

Our day boats are really popular at weekends so book early if that’s your preferred time to get away. But they are also available on weekdays. If this is your first time narrowboating we will show you the basics. We’re a friendly family-run business, so you can ask us any questions you like, before you set off.

So, create special memories together with the one you love and take lots of happy-couple photos on a day out on a narrowboat this year.

We are spreading the love for Valentine’s Day. From now until 16th February 2024 you can save 10% off our 2024 day hires.

For more surprising and unusual tips and ideas for days out in Cambridgeshire, enter your email address in the box in the right side bar (‘Follow blog’) and we’ll send you articles direct to your inbox. (We never share or sell email addresses; this is just to send you our latest blog posts.)

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At the end of Monk's Lode

I next visited the Middle Level again during August 1984. I set off from my mooring at the Fish and Duck marina at the junction of the River Cam and Old West River and headed for Denver where there were cruisers waiting to go through the lock.

Approaching Denverl ock Aug 1984

Approaching Denver lock where several cruisers are waiting – cc John Revell

This was my first time entering Salters Lode lock from the tidal Ouse and I was grateful to receive good advice from the Denver lock keeper about how to do this on an in-coming tide.

converted mill Nordelph

A fine converted mill at Nordelph. This has been extended but remains very distinct. John Revell


Nordelph Chequers pub closed pic 2005

The familiar view as you approach the centre of Nordelph. The Chequers pub on the right closed in 2005.

The journey along Well Creek was uneventful though I recall being intrigued by a simple swing bridge across the river to a small cottage near Nordelph. I learnt later that this belonged to Gladys Dack and her name lives on with the Gladys Dack mooring constructed by the Well Creek Trust on the opposite side of the river. The cottage is now derelict having been badly damaged by a gas explosion which fortunately did not injure Miss Dack.

Glady Dacks cottage simple swing bridge john revell

Glady Dack’s cottage and simple swing bridge. The house was badly damaged by a gas explosion and is now derelict.

After Well Creek and Marmont Priory lock we headed down Pophams Eau and moored near the junction of the Sixteen Foot and Forty Foot rivers. The following day we attempted to reach Horseways lock but gave up when we discovered there was nowhere to turn at the lock. We had to reverse to the junction with the Forty Foot which was something I have done many times since. On one occasion in 2010 this was part of a campaign cruise undertaken by the local branch of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) which was broadcast on BBC Look East. Alastair Chambers, then Chairman of the Peterborough Borough Branch of the IWA, spoke to the camera while I just had to do the reversing.

I failed to boat the full length of the Forty Foot when I visited the Middle Level in April 1984 {see part 1} and it was a relief to get under the very low Ramsey Hollow bridge without mishap or injuring myself this time. Note that this bridge has since been raised by the Royal Engineers partly with funds raised by the local IWA at events held at Bill Fen marina [courtesy of John and Lynne Shotbolt].

Ramsey basin

Ramsey basin. Gang plank for access to town but nowhere to turn a 48′ boat round.

That evening was spent at the George Inn at Ramsey Forty Foot where we again added our name to the boater’s log book kept behind the bar before continuing the next day to Ramsey town. My notes record that this was easy boating with a good mooring at the end but nowhere to turn a 48‘ boat like mine.

We explored the town, ate fish and chips and visited the Jolly Sailor, a pub which has changed very little since then and which I last visited in September 2023.

My notes from 1984 state “Jolly Sailor. 6/10. Choice of rooms. Landlord ex RAF. Lots of brasses and locals. Beer by (Watney) Manns.

The moorings at Ramsey deteriorated over the years but have now been completely rebuilt to a high standard. There are also recently built houses on both sides. A turning point has also been provided and I have seen a 60’ narrow-boat turn there.

Lodes End lock helpers

Plenty of help and onlookers at Lodes End lock

There was no turning point in 1984 so the following morning we therefore had to reverse all the way which took 90 mins. We then went through Lodes End lock and headed for Yaxley. Unfortunately, and not for the only time, we could not get under Exhibition Bridge which was too low to get under so we proceeded to Monk’s Lode where we moored overnight at the end of navigation.

Monks Lode

At the end of Monk’s Lode

Our view that this was a very quiet spot was confirmed by a conversation the next day with a local man. He said that the only boats he saw these days were weed boats but this was a shame as he was looking for a wife (presumably to drift past and into his arms). This conversation took place in August when some waterways elsewhere would have been very busy. I reversed a short way and turned near an old pumping station. Monks Lode remains entirely unspoilt but the turning point is overgrown so reversing is needed for most boats.

After another quiet day we paid our second visit to C & T Fox boat yard. My notes say

“Helpful and business like. Diesel £1.20 a gallon. Mooring £6.62 per week”

We also visited the Horse and Jockey pub which was a short distance from the boatyard but has since been demolished before spending the evening in the Red Hart at Three Holes (an Elgoods pub which is also now closed).

Outwell approach

Approaching Outwell before the church. A familiar scene still today.

We made our way to Salters Lode the next day, stopping for fish and chips at J R Stott Outwell (still there) and a drink at the Red Lion at Outwell (a splendid looking building on the busy main road, still there but no longer a pub – the prominent Bullards brewery sign  remains) and the Chequers at Nordelph (another closed pub).

before Outwell basin former wisbech canal junction

Just before Outwell basin and the former junction with the Wisbech canal.

We had chosen to return via the tidal Hundred Foot (New Bedford). We went through Salters Lode at low water and waited outside for the big spring tide to arrive. We set off with the tide and reached the Riverside Inn at Earith by lunchtime. I have used this tidal route many times since then all without difficulty.


All Photos Copyright John Revell

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Want to save money on your narrowboat holiday? Looking to book a romantic mini-break? Considering living on a narrowboat? Last year on our blog we covered all of these topics, and we launched a new interactive waterways map, and suggested some good tips for family narrowboat holidays. Here are some of the highlights from another adventurous year of exploring the Fenland waterways.

We are assuming that your Christmas decorations have now been taken down and the festive food has all been eaten. So before the January blues set in, try making some fun plans for the year ahead. The third Monday in January is known as Blue Monday; the most depressing day of the year. While there is no science to back up the claim that this day is the worst, it has become a day for promoting mental health awareness and self-care.

Read: Three Foxy Mood-Boosting Tips for This Winter

In February it can be difficult to avoid romance, as the shops offer Valentines cards, gifts, flowers and chocolates for your loved one. But those who enjoy canal boating will know that there is no better way to spend quality time with your partner than a peaceful cruise on the waterways. Find out why a narrowboat holiday is such an original and quirky idea to celebrate important relationship milestones.

Read: 5 Reasons Why Canal Boats are the Most Romantic Holiday

Fox narrowboat holiday hire

Credit: Fox Narrowboats

narrowboat on fens


It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many UK canal boats are liveaboards. The diverse inland boating community includes middle-aged divorcees, retired couples, young professionals, people on low incomes, and canal heritage enthusiasts. Some people like the alternative lifestyle, others hope it may be a cheaper lifestyle. Weigh up the extra chores, boat maintenance and finances, against freedom, adventure, independence and living close to nature.

Read: The Pro’s and Cons of Living on a Canal Boat


If you have ever wondered…Where’s the nearest pub? Is there a shop near here? And where can I moor? Our new interactive waterways map was launched last summer, and it has all the answers. It shows where you are on the navigation and what useful things you might find nearby. It also includes images, icons and highlights so that you can always find what you want, when you want it.

Read: Fascinating New Interactive Waterways Map for Narrowboaters


If you’re a parent you may be wondering how to prepare for a narrowboat journey, what to bring and whether the kids can steer the boat. A Fox Narrowboat trip is much more than a holiday; it’s an opportunity to create lifelong memories with your family.

Read: Four Things Every Parent Should Know About Narrowboat Holidays


At Christmas time special services are broadcast on TV from English cathedrals. So in December we took the opportunity to feature two impressive cathedrals which can be visited by narrowboat on a Foxboats holiday. More than just spectacular places of worship they offer a rich history, architecture, markets, talks, concerts, exhibitions, tours, dining and shopping.

Read: Two Stunning Cathedrals to Visit on a Canal Boat Holiday

If you enjoyed reading ‘The Six Best Things We Learned About Narrowboating Last Year’, look for ‘Follow Blog’ in the sidebar on the right and enter your email address. We’ll send you occasional stories, tips and advice about narrowboating around the Fens. (We never share or sell email addresses – your details are safe with us.)

If you want to beat the winter blues and book a canal holiday in 2024 check availability now.

You may also like: Why January is the Best Time to Book Your Hire Boat Holiday

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Bunbury Staircase locks

19 May 1984. Journey start Bunbury Staircase locks cc John Revell


John Revell 1984 Bunbury Shropshire Union Canal

CC John Revell Northampton River Nene 23 May 1984.


I bought my first narrow boat in 1984 after many years of hiring boats. My trip began at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union on 19 May 1984 and I reached Northampton after 5 long, hard days passing through the centre of Birmingham including Gas Street basin (which was yet to be developed). Another long day on the Nene followed, starting at the Britannia Inn just below Northampton and finishing in time for drinks in the Chequered Skipper at Ashton where a live band was playing. As John Gagg had written in one of his canal guides there were torrents of water coming over the top gates at some of the locks. None of the locks had been electrified at the time and these included Ditchford radial arm lock which involved 148 turns of a hand wheel, once to lower the heavy bottom gate and once to open.  Years later I still find it surprising that none of the endless notices on Ditchford lock state that it is the only surviving radial arm lock on the Nene.

John Revell Lilford lock Nene 24 May 1984

Lilford lock on the Nene on 24 May 1984. The manual wheel fitted on the guillotine is just visible

Two days later I reached Stanground lock where to my relief I found that my 48 foot boat would just fit into Stanground lock (which at 49 foot was the shortest lock I had encountered on my travels and which was the reason I had bought a 48 foot boat in the first place). This was my first meeting with Mr Rootham (I never knew his Christian name was Alan, let alone called him that for years) and then to Ashline lock where the resident lock keeper suddenly appeared and furiously wound paddle gear of a type which I had never seen before.

Bevills Leam pumping station Pondersbridge May 1984 john revell

Bevill’s Leam pumping station near Pondersbridge on 26 May 1984 – cc John Revell

From there we headed for Pondersbridge. Although I had read that this was a dead end it still came as a shock to find Bevill’s Leam pumping station right across the river and no lock to go beyond so we turned round and headed for Turves where we had been told there was a pub. The Three Horseshoes did not disappoint. There was again live music in the saloon and a games area in the public bar with table football and darts.The friendly locals were amazed to learn that we were on a long boating trip from somewhere near Chester to somewhere near Ely and happened to be dropping into their pub in Turves on the way.

May 1984 Lodes End Lock John Revell

28 May 1984 Lodes End Lock opened in 1984. Very wet day! enclosure was built later.


Plaque Lodes End Lock 1984

Plaque Lodes End Lock 1984

There was heavy rain the next day and we set off late to find the pub at Chainbridge on the 20 Foot river which no longer existed so we continued to March and the boatyard of CT and P Fox Boatbuilders where I met Charlie Fox for the first time –  I recall he sold me some stern grease in a recycled treacle tin.

We finished up that evening at Benwick. Some of the houses in the main street and many of the gravestones had clearly been badly affected by subsistence but the Five Alls pub was memorable and full. There was a live and loud organ playing in the main bar and a deafening juke box for younger people at the rear.

The following day we went to Woodwalton Fen (Great Raveley Drain) in the rain and finished that evening in the George Inn at Ramsey Forty Foot where we signed the boater’s log book kept behind the bar and warmed up by the fire. I mention in passing that Joe Bugner, former world heavyweight boxing champion, lived in the big house opposite the George around that time.

The next day was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I damaged a finger badly when I caught it under the very low Ramsey Hollow bridge soon after leaving the George. A kind motorist took me to Manea train station where I eventually caught a train to Ely and walked into Ely military hospital and received welcome and prompt treatment. Meanwhile my friends (remember this was our first visit to the Middle Level)  boated along the Forty Foot river, the Sixteen Foot river and Well Creek  through Salters Lode and met up with me suitably bandaged at what was then called the Black Horse at Littleport at 9.30 pm. Remember there were no mobile phones then and red phone boxes were infrequent. Often they were already being used or there was a queue outside or they were simply not working. You also needed plenty of loose change to use them. You could not simply ring for an ambulance or a taxi from the boat let alone remain in contact with my friends but we all somehow managed to meet up at the Black Horse at Littleport late that evening.

After a brief spell at the Fish and Duck marina I was fortunate to move my boat to Fox’s marina where I was able to explore the Middle Level further over the next couple of years. I then returned in 1996 where I have been ever since both in my first boat and the second Olive Emily which Fox’s built for me in 2002. I will write more about this later.

John Revell
8 Oct 2023

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Each January, the town of Whittlesey comes alive with the sound of folk music and the dancing steps of a Straw Bear. A man dressed head to foot in a straw costume parades through the streets attended by musicians and folk dancers from around the UK.

straw bear festival whittlesey cambridgeshire

straw bear festival whittlesey cambridgeshire picture: shutterstock licenced

This weekend event, now known as the Straw Bear Festival, follows a nineteenth century tradition celebrating Plough Monday as the start of the agricultural year. Agricultural labourers dressed one of their own in a costume of straw, saved for the purpose from the previous harvest. They went from house to house begging for money after the “Bear” had entertained householders with a dance. The takings were shared amongst the labourers and most of the money was spent in the Whittlesey public houses of which there were many. The farmworkers often blacked their faces with soot in the hope of not being recognised as their entertainment became more and more rowdy. In fact, the event was finally banned by the local constabulary as it was seen as an opportunity for cadging and drunkenness.

In 1980, the tradition was revived by the Whittlesey Society and local folk enthusiasts. The event is held on the weekend nearest to Plough Monday which is itself always celebrated on the Monday after Epiphany. As well as the parade with over 250 invited musicians and dance sides, there are storytellers and a ceilidh style concert. On Sunday, known as Plough Sunday, a church service is held where a plough is taken into the church to be blessed. The event finishes when the costume of straw “The Bear” is set alight and burnt.

In 2024 the Straw Bear Fenstival will be held from 12-14 January You can visit the stawbear festival from the Whittlesey moorings.

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narrowboat holiday boats fox 2023

narrowboat holiday boats fox 2023

Sounds unlikely, right? After all, the British weather is unpredictable, and maybe you’re not that confident when it comes to boat handling. So surely a week on a UK canal boat is not going to tick all of your boxes?

Or is it?

After living on a narrowboat for 13 years I can suggest what to wear, what to bring and how fast to travel to make sure that you have an absolutely amazing time. You don’t even need to know anything about canals or boats to make this your best holiday ever.

Dress Code

Take some comfortable clothes and shoes for your day-to-day boating. You may be working the locks, banging in mooring pegs, pulling ropes, holding the tiller or preparing snacks. Space is limited on board so don’t bring too much luggage, but you can of course bring some nicer clothes for those trips “ashore” to go shopping or visit a restaurant. Take clothing for all weathers, and a torch for finding your way down the towpath in the dark.  (Tunnels and bridges can sometimes drip water on to you when you’re steering!)

The Galley

You can bring some basic food supplies with you, but you can also go to the supermarket when you arrive in March, or have a full grocery shop delivered to your boat. There will also be opportunities for shopping along the way as you travel. There is no freezer on board, but our boats come with fully equipped galleys; crockery, cutlery, oven, hob, microwave and fridge.

galley fox narrowboat kitchen stove sink

galley fox narrowboat

Keeping Cosy

When I lived aboard, people would sometimes ask me if it was cold in winter, and whether living aboard was a bit like camping? But nothing could be further from the truth: Modern narrowboats are extremely comfortable. Fox Narrowboats are supplied with gas or diesel central heating, fresh bed linen and cosy duvets.

Slow Down

If you’re new to narrowboating you may be surprised at how long the journey takes. While the speed limit is officially four miles per hour, you are likely to travel much slower than that. Locks will slow you down, and you are expected to reduce your speed to “tickover” when you pass moored boats. You can plan your route using the guidebook provided with the hire boat, or our online interactive map.. This will help you choose your planned destination of the end of the day; it can be convenient to moor close to a pub. A spell of rain, or a particularly interesting tourist attraction can also slow down your schedule. So embrace the slower pace of life and begin to enjoy the moment: When planning the distance you can travel, less is more. Don’t spend all day at the tiller; instead make time for exploring the villages and towns that you come across.

fox narrowboats flower donation riverside

fox narrowboats flower donation riverside

Choose Your Crew Wisely

Are you OK about sharing a small space with your nearest and dearest? You may like to assign roles to one another; for example, steerer, lock operator, cook and maker-of-hot-drinks! Be prepared to moor up and take a break if some of the crew need it. Make sure everyone is listening when you get the handover talk from our Fox Narrowboats staff. Perhaps someone will be in charge of working out distances and mooring locations, factoring in water points and shopping stops. Older children can also get involved with being part of the crew.

Even Celebrities Are Doing It!

Boaters on the CanalWorld discussion forums have spotted Matthew Corbett, Toyah Wilcox, Timothy Spall, Nicholas Cage, David Suchet, Heston Blumenthal, Brian Blessed, Camilla Parker Bowles and Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees messing about in boats.

Read:  How to Holiday Like a Celebrity Without it Costing a Fortune

It may be hard to believe, but if you get these few things right, you really can have the best holiday ever. Pack the right clothes and bring some basic food supplies, choose a crew that you love, and take the journey nice and slow. We’ll show you how to handle the boat, and provide all mod cons and creature comforts to make you feel at home. Choose your hire boat now and start getting excited about your next narrowboat adventure on the uncrowded Fenland waterways in 2024.

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