There are lots of places you might have considered for your 2021 staycation – a country or seaside cottage, perhaps, or a large country house to share with extended family once restrictions are truly lifted?
It might be an Airbnb rental in a city that takes your fancy, or a plush hotel with a kitchen garden where you choose to spend that first magical and long-awaited weekend or week away from home.
But for some the lure of a narrowboat, slowly motoring through the heart of the country on ancient waterways, will appeal, and if you’re one of the people who has booked or is thinking of booking a week’s trip along one of England’s many canals, you’re probably wondering what you need to take with you.
Narrowboats conjure up romantic images of rooftop planters full of geraniums and pansies, colourful paintwork and unusual names; the sound of engines chugging, and voices raised as a boat approaches a lock or town.
There’s a magic to living on board – something nostalgic, even. If you’re taking the kids, there’s a real element of adventure, too!
But along with the Instagram-friendly paintwork and lockside pubs, narrowboat life – even for just a week, and in the summer – demands certain equipment.
To make it easier our sister site 2Chill has shared some tips to what you need to pack to make your week a success:
All the clothes
OK, maybe not ALL, but a wide range. You’ll be thinking shorts and T-shirt, and they’re a good starter for 10, but a good jumper and waterproof coat are essentials for when the weather turns, or the temperature drops at night.
On that note, good socks (especially for when you’re in bed) and warm sleepwear are a must. Remember, even in August you’re close to the waterline and that can make temperatures drop when you’re sleeping.
Longer trousers are a good idea too for colder days or evenings.
Another thing to consider is that buying loads of new things for your holiday is futile, as it’s highly likely you’ll get covered in oil or mud.
So don’t be raiding the designer outdoorwear stores before your trip. To save some pennies, you could even look in a charity shop for items you don’t have. Old T-shirts are a good idea, especially for the kids.
Consider also some gardening gloves – these are useful for when you’re going through locks and need to pull at levers. Shoes with a good grip are advisable, along with a good pair of sunglasses and a hat for the super-sunny days.
Kitchen and cleaning items
Most rental narrowboats will come with a well-equipped kitchen but, just as you might with a cottage rental, it’s good to take some of your own things to make sure you have what you need.
Extra tea towels are a must, as are washing-up sponges and some eco-friendly cleaning products (these are friendlier on the waterways).
Waste in the toilets is stored in on-board tanks, whereas water from the bathroom and kitchen basins goes straight into the canal, so products need to be as chemical-free as possible.
It’s also worth remembering to not run the taps too much because water comes from an on-board tank which will need refilling if it runs low (refill points are along the canal and at marinas).
Hand-towels are a good idea, and air freshener is a must-take – those on-board loos can get a little… whiffy by the end of the week and can only be emptied at the marina. One thing to note is you cannot put wipes down the loos, they’ll need to go in the bin.
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Talking of whiffy, while there will be showers on board (known as ‘heads’ on a boat), you will probably find it’s not quite the same as the power shower you have at home, or even that rain shower on the beach break you took in 2019.
Packing a good deodorant, make-up wipes and even baby wipes is a good idea for freshening up, as is perfume (not too strong though, remember you’re in close quarters).
Some hand-wash is a winner, too, for laundering anything that gets very dirty (or plastic bags so you can bag up anything that’s got too mucky).
Much like a caravan, a narrowboat will have kitchen storage and facilities, and it’s fun to make the most of that and bring things to eat and drink that you love.
You might have to make toast under the grill and use a hob-based kettle as there won’t be the voltage for a regular toaster and kettle, but that’s easy enough.
Your favourite jam or spread is a must, plus anything essential, allergy-wise. There might be a shop at the marina where the boat journey begins, but they won’t necessarily have gluten-free bread, for example.
Another must-pack is the right tea bags and coffee.
There’ll be a fridge, so you can bring some prosecco or your tipple of choice that needs chilling (check with the rental company if there’s a freezer ice-box).
Keeping beers in a cool-bag on deck is a good back-up option, so make sure you pack your food into one. If you like a fry-up, get the ingredients before you board to be sure they’re the quality you like, and stock up on snacks, which are a must-have on a boating holiday: bags of crisps and nuts, as well as fruit for energy through the day as those locks can be quite demanding on the muscles.
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Bedtime is a particular area to consider when it comes to bringing your home comforts. We’ve already covered that it’ll be cold on the water, but this is no time for those fancy linen PJs or a silk nightie.
There will be bedding provided (or you’ll be told to bring it) but you could consider your own pillow if you want to be sure it’s one you like – and even an extra blanket if you think you’ll want to snuggle up underneath one to sleep.
Ear plugs aren’t an essential unless you’re a very light sleeper – canal life tends to be quite quiet, even in high season. But you could pack some just in case there’s a party boat near you (fear not, the rules of the canal dictate people can’t make loads of noise all night).
Bed socks are fab even in summer, especially for when you want to tiptoe to the galley to make an early morning cuppa to enjoy on deck.
If all this is making narrowboat life sound rather like camping on a boat, fear not. The inside will be decked out with mod cons such as power sockets (sorry, you won’t be able to use items like hair straighteners though, because of the higher voltage. Best bring a hairbrush and hairbands, too!).
It’s possible you’ll have a TV (and often DVD facility) or a radio. But bringing your own radio or portable speaker is a good plan for when the sun’s setting and you’re having a G&T on deck.
A battery pack and cable to charge your phone is a good idea, too, although be warned, you may well not get much phone reception on a canal!
Once the sun goes down and you’ve had dinner you might want to play a game – bring travel Scrabble or a pack of cards. Uno is a great one for boat nights.
As you cruise, one person will be steering and another might be walking along the bank (you can usually walk faster than a boat travels!). But others might want to relax below deck, so bring books, magazines, and even a hobby like painting to while away the lazy hours.
OK, so this isn’t one you can actually take in your bag, but it’s worth noting that you’re likely to want a few pub meals while on your narrowboat holiday – there are so many on the banks of the canal, but in high season, they can get booked up.
Plan ahead and if there’s one that’s a deal-breaker where you just have to have lunch or dinner, call ahead and make a reservation for the night you want.
That way, you can cruise along knowing the table is waiting for you. If you’re not sure of the pubs you might pass, ask the marina where you’re renting the boat from because they’ll know the canal like the back of their hand.
Another one you can’t buy online or in the shops… narrowboat life is slooooooow.
There’s no rushing around (well, except when you come to an open lock ready for action, perhaps!), and you’ll need to accept that you might lose phone signal or only cover a few miles in one day while on board.
It’s quite mindful to be on a narrowboat, and as you begin to relax you’ll start to spot nature around you, different sights and sounds, the names of other boats and the slowing of your own breath and mind, too.
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