Great holiday homes don’t have to be confined to bricks and mortar. In fact, a growing number of people are seeking out more unusual living spaces to spend their well-earned breaks hence the rising popularity of canal boat holidays.
At Panda Sanctuaries, we’re passionate about top quality self-catering property of all sorts, be it on land, on wheels or on water.
As such, to add to our range of stylish rental apartments and cottages in Bath, we’ve sponsored a beautiful new canal barge which has been designed and built by our good friends at Anglo Welsh, specialists in canal boat holidays.
A few weeks ago, we took the narrowboat Lily for her first test cruise from her base in Trevor, north Wales. Here is our write up of a magical weekend:
As Kenneth Grahame so aptly put it in his much loved tale The Wind in the Willows: “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – quite so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Every type of boat has its advantage, yachts for adventure, speed boats for excitement, fishing boats for, well, fishing, but for utter relaxation, narrowboats have the upper hand.
There can be few things as enjoyable as slowing your life to a languid two miles an hour and floating your way through some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside on our historic waterways.
Canals and the boats that populate them have a ye olde world appeal hard to replicate elsewhere, conjuring visions of a romantic bucolic past, of a green and pleasant land. When people jump aboard a narrowboat they do so to escape the rush and bustle of techno-reliant contemporary life and enter a bygone era where things moved at a more stately pace.
This is why Anglo Welsh’s new ‘Heritage class’ boat Lily, designed in keeping with the narrowboats of the past, from her traditional livery and round portholes to the wooden and brass interior details, is such a joy to behold. The four-berth vessel perfectly combines historic design with contemporary comfort. We hope to work with Anglo Welsh to develop the Heritage fleet in coming years.
We took Lily for her maiden voyage from the canal boat company’s base in Trevor, north Wales, for a weekend jaunt up and down the Llangollen canal in late February. We were blessed with the sort of crisp clear winter weather, bright sunshine casting long shadows on the golden hills, that inspires even the most unobservant to pull out their cameras in a longing to capture the views for eternity.
It was blisteringly cold – for unbeknownst to us the Beast from the East was lurking and ready to pounce – but breathtakingly beautiful.
It would be difficult for Trevor and the Llangollen canal to seem anything other than picturesque, even on a grey gloomy day. The narrow waterway, completed in 1805, carries you over the awe-inspiring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 126-ft above the River Dee, with sweeping views along the river valley. The Grade I* listed aqueduct achieved World Heritage status in 2009.
Built to connect Llangollen in Denbighshire, North Wales, with Hurleston, South Cheshire, the canal straddles England and Wales. With just a couple of days cruising ahead of us, we headed first in the direction of England, across the precipitous aqueduct, through two long dark tunnels and along the quiet wooded hillsides, before mooring up for the night near the village of Halton and going in search of a pub. After a dinner of unpretentious satisfactory stodge, we stumbled back in the darkness to our berths and slept the kind of sleep that only comes from having been outside all day.
The following day we returned across the border, past Trevor and on towards Llangollen. There can be few routes as verdantly stunning as the canal between Trevor and Llangollen. You snake your way along the Dee valley, high above the sparkling river, bordered by green soft pastures which give way to dramatic hills, wooded and craggy.
While February may mean sunbathing and barbeques are out, it has the benefit of being incredibly quiet. The Llangollen canal is a narrow waterway with many stretches where passing other boats is not possible, but we had the luxury of the canal to ourselves for several miles and so were able to drift serenely to Llangollen basin without incident or drama.
It may be different in mid-summer when hoards of tourists descend from the nearby cities of Manchester and Liverpool, but out of season Llangollen is another relic of the past. Clustered in its secretive valley, the town is built on the banks of the Dee where it widens to create an expansive river of small rocky islands and dramatic rapids, spanned by the medieval Dee bridge built in 1345.
Its old mills clinging to the riverbank and stone and whitewashed buildings overlooked by the remains of Crow Castle (Castell Dinas Bran) sitting high on an isolated hilltop above the town, give it a mystical air. For the hungry traveller, the town also offers a wide range of cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops to refuel and restock.
As darkness fell giving way to a bitterly cold February night, the town’s bustling streets were quickly deserted and became eerily quiet as people returned to the comfort of their sofas. We returned to the comfort of Lily and her glowing warm fire for the evening.
Despite her old-fashioned appearance, Lily offers her crew every modern amenity from highly efficient central heating, which was definitely put to the test that weekend, to good warm showers, a fully equipped galley, TV and WiFi meaning you can be completely self-sufficient afloat.
After another delicious nights’ sleep, we chugged our way back to Trevor in a state of well rested contentment, ready to return to reality and the responsibilities that we had blissfully forgotten the moment we jumped aboard Lily.
Most people would agree that by the end of February, everyone in the UK feels a little lacklustre. This short trip blew away those creeping winter blues and left us all feeling refreshed and ready for Spring.