Our First Narrow Boat Adventure

Carol and her partner Kev took their first narrowboat holiday with us in 2018.  Carol has recently had the article published in her local boat club magazine and has kindly agreed to us reproducing it here.

Carol negotiating a low bridge

Its only been a few years that Kev and I have been boating and are thoroughly enjoying the experience and being part of the club.

We both talked about having a holiday on a Narrow Boat and so, this year (2018) we decided to take the plunge. We wanted to go somewhere where there were very few locks so we could just enjoy the boating experience. We opted to go to the Cambridge fens for a 4-night stay on a 47ft boat starting from March and Foxes Marina. There was a choice of routes we could take so we opted for a route to Ely which took us through 3 locks, 2 of them were Guillotine locks and manned and one which was manned part time. This also took us on a short tidal stretch of the River Ouse. So, after a brief run through of the handling of the boat we took ownership of our vessel. We headed left out of the Marina towards the town of March, then onto the first lock,  Marmont Priory lock where we were greeted by a very sprightly 82 year old part time lock keeper who was pre warned of our arrival so had started to fill the lock for us. After a few brief minutes and great a conversation with him we were in and out in no time heading towards our first night stop over. We headed towards the small beautiful villages of Upwell and Outwell navigating through what the locals call ‘The Pipe’ or ‘the gutter’ because it is a very narrow gulley of water and low bridges which passes through the villages.

We found our first overnight stop just on the edge of Outwell.

Our Boat was a 2013 build with all the mod cons and extremely warm and cosy and may I say, incredibly easy to handle, even for us novices.

After a great night’s sleep, we had a 7am start to make the tide. It was 3c outside so we wrapped up warm and with the calm water of the ‘pipe’ we

sunrise across the Fens.

headed towards Salters Lode and the first of our Guillotine locks for the tidal stretch. With the sun breaking and the mist rising over the water it was sheer magical and despite the cold, wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

After going through some more low bridges (even Kev had to bend down) and a small aqueduct we arrived at the lock to be greeted by more fellow narrow boaters and the lock keeper who was on the side of slightly eccentric and so was his dog who would never tire of having the ball thrown for him. Everyone seems so friendly and have a ‘laid back’ attitude in this environment, nothing matters… time, speed…life in general.

After explaining to the lock keeper it was our first time on this type of boat he assured us that everything would be fine.  He talked us through the procedure and before we knew it, it was our turn. Kev at the helm took us into the lock. We waited for the waters to level and then we were out. A full turn back against the tide we headed back up the river at 7 knots to the next guillotine lock of Denver Sluice. We arrived no problem and straight into the lock and out the other side into the non-tidal side of Ouse….and relax.

We chugged down the river at 4knots and taking in the wonderful peaceful surroundings. We headed for a lunch stop at Brandon creek and ‘The Ship Inn’ we looked at branching off onto the ‘Little River Ouse’ but decided to carry on for Ely. After a few miles downriver we came to a long straight which we both decided instead of busting to get to Ely, we’d turn round and head back at a more leisurely pace to our overnight stop at Littleport.

tidal river Great Ouse at Denver

The next day we took a slow pace back towards Denver sluice for an overnight stay ready to catch the tide back. We had another boat who came along side which had 2 gentlemen who was easily in their late 70’s early 80’s. Where we asked where they were heading, they shrugged their shoulders and said ‘wherever’.  We decide there and then if we turn left, right or go straight on……speaking to these people and others they have such a wealth of knowledge which we have took away with us.

We decided to have a few drinks in the Jenyns Arms before turning in for the night.

The next morning was a beautiful clear and warm day. We were greeted with the aroma of the ‘old boys’ breakfast of a full fry up…plus the added attraction of a seal entertaining us. We thought the seal was waiting with us to go through the lock but we were told he is happy to stay where he was but got upset if anyone was moored on ‘his pontoon’ which is where we were…..Eventually the tide was right and we were able to head

back out onto the tidal side. Kev again at the helm went with the tide towards Salters Lode Lock. The Lock keeper was keeping a close eye on our

Salters Lode lock

arrival and then with a tight left hand turn, and full throttle, Kev expertly maneuvered the boat back into the lock. The lock keeper still stood looking with his arms folded shouted ‘’I’ll give you 8 out of 10 as you’ve used a little burst of reverse to correct yourself’’ which we didn’t. We imagined he would stand there with score cards as people came back into the lock!!!!!!

We made our way back towards March town for our last night retracing our journey back through Marmont Priory lock and ‘The pipe’. Sitting at the front of the boat having lunch on a barmy hot Sept day traveling back was the perfect end to a perfect boating holiday. We had our last night at March town with fish and chips before an early start back to the Marina.

arrival back at the marina

It was a quiet journey back passing through the back of March both contemplating our short time on the boat. Both sad to be giving it back but both had an amazing time and experience.

We turned into the Marina and straight into the mooring……as we moored the guy said, “you’ve done this before haven’t you????”  No I replied.

“Well he did that perfectly he replied”

“I know” I said with a smile…. “but don’t tell him” lol

If you fancy a break on a narrow boat but not sure….go for it…..you will not be disappointed….if you don’t fancy doing many locks… go to the Fens, Some of it is quite open and exposed as its rivers you are on and not canals but it is very quiet and very few locks. The people are incredibly friendly and look after their environment. They don’t like people who are loud or speed. They want people who respect their lands and waterways and we are defiantly going back….in fact we have already booked for next year…same place and with a brand new boat…still being made…but for longer…

Check availability for spring: SPECIAL OFFERS.

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, two or three times a month.)


Tags: , , ,