Barge Hire: Review of Boutique Narrowboats

 

We had booked to stay on the Lesley Ann months ago and as this was our first ever barge holiday, I was super keen to be prepared. After months of watching Sharon and Aaran from boutique narrowboats build this holiday rental from scratch, I was keen to make sure we didn’t destroy it. I’m not saying we’re a destructive bunch – oh no, I’m a stickler for rules, so there was no tom-foolery around when I was Captain. But I was also very aware that we’d never been left to our own devices to drive a boat before. And barges don’t look that easy to drive!

We had read all the booklets, watched the instruction videos and roughly planned our route (I use the term ‘we’ loosely as I merely dictated to the others to do this on my behalf), but I wasn’t quite sure if that was enough to keep us safe. We packed our food reserves and loaded up a few spare blankets (the weather had started to take a turn and we weren’t sure how cold it would be on the water) before heading off for a weekend away.

All this time, on the run up to our stay with boutique narrowboats, I had thought only of the great adventure ahead. Excited for this magical trip we were about to embark on and what a serious challenge awaited us in Leicestershire.

I never once thought that this could be… relaxing?

Let’s kick this off from the beginning shall we? Batten down the hatches, get yourself a cuppa and let me talk you through our mini-break. First things first, let me introduce you to…

 

The Lesley Ann

What can I say, the Lesley Ann was exactly what it said on the tin. Or in this case, the website. Every single item listed, was there. And yet we were still in utter shock and awe when we arrived. Unfortunately, we arrived quite late in the evening, thanks to a hold up on the M6. But owners Sharon and Aaran were accommodating and as it was too late to venture out that evening, moored us up in a quiet spot for the night. Poor Aaran even came back out the next morning to talk us through the barge driving, saving us from having to learn in the dark.

 

 

Nothing could have prepared us for this luxury barge, as no matter how many times you see or hear how advanced it is, it’s still surprising to see it in action.

Coming from Manchester, we have plenty of canals and barges. They all have a similar look, a similar style, all very traditional and showcasing that old worldly charm. From the off, you’ll notice Lesley Ann does not look like any of the others. Even the exterior colour coating screams boutique chic; a matte, light grey with well-placed plants and gold kingfisher accessory on the stern. They kept enough of the traditional elements to give it a character, but have definitely added their own twist – in the best possible way.

 

 

The interiors? Well think Scandi-minimalism, comfortable cosy shades of grey, white and blue. A mixture of materials and textures with a fantastic lighting plan to suit – full, side and ambient lighting has been incorporated into each of the rooms, with dimmer switches in some areas too.

There’s a tv, it doesn’t have great signal but it’s a smart tv so we were able to cast our own shows and programs onto it. Aaran has even hooked up a Bose speaker that works with the tv or stand alone, if you just want some music to keep you company.

The kitchen has everything you would need to make a decent meal. We enjoyed two dinners and two cooked breakfasts on the barge – we got stuck in from the first night making special Casa Amatller hot chocolate from Barcelona for us all to enjoy whilst cosying up to watch a movie before going our separate ways for the night. Things just got better after that, we made egg tower breakfast baps, noodles, fishfinger and chip-butties… we even splashed out on a shakshuka Turkish breakfast on the Sunday. I can even confirm that the smoke alarm works. As I had an unfortunate incident with toast (it could only happen to me).

 

 

The bathroom actually has a shower that is probably better than some hotels we’ve stayed in, with a handheld and rain shower option. Sharon even has eco-toiletries and essentials stowed away for anyone who needs them. The towels were gorgeous, hammam-style cloths; these were definitely nicer than what we usually get in hotels! They brought back memories of our last holiday, we saw these towels everywhere in Turkey (we even brought some home).

 

 

Although there were four of us enjoying barge life, the Lesley Ann comfortably sleeps just the two. The sofa is a futon – but it’s not the biggest. Luckily there are plenty of places to stay around Foxton and Market Harborough, and all very close by to the canal routes.

The Lesley Ann does have a wonderful bedroom, a full barge width bed with individual sidelights and of course the window looking out to the front. There’s a wardrobe, spare blankets, beautiful mirror and side table, it’s a perfect size. Very romantic!! It rained quite heavily on the Saturday night but we were snug and warm, the sounds of rain were quite soothing.

 

 

Weekend on a canal

I’d been looking around at routes before we went, but due to time constraints settled on a loose plan of going from our starting point: Debdale Marina across to Market Harborough. And then back to Debdale. There were so many things I was unsure of… how do we know where to stop? How do we turn around? How will we know where we’re going?

It’s funny, maybe Aaran went through it all and we soaked it in as second nature, or maybe the serenity of the barge stopped us all from panicking and we just went with the flow. Bottom line, I needn’t have worried, everything kind of fell into place. The map Sharon had left us was clear – and so useful.

 

 

During our break we experienced:

Swing bridge
This was one of my favourite bits. So a swing bridge is where you park the barge up, get out, stop road traffic and then use all your might to swing the road-bridge section round to allow the barge to sail through (made me feel like I was part of the avengers. Sad but true).

Mooring up
We moored and cast-off (not sure that’s the right phrase??) a number of times and so it became second nature… even though we did drop the rope a few times. But don’t worry, there’s always a way to fix it. Everything Aaron showed and taught us came in handy, we had just the right amount of information to not feel overloaded but enough to keep the boat secure and safe.

Topping up our water reserves
Towards the end of our trip, we realised our water reserve was running low. The process to top up our barge water reserves, was easy and pretty straightforward – everything was explained clearly either in the map or the guidebook we had been left. All the equipment was easy to find and there was no point that made us gasp or panic about dealing with the unknown.

 

 

 

Few of our top tips

  • If you’re no good at map reading fear not! Google maps is excellent at helping navigate the canal routes, surprisingly spot on.
  • Although I keep talking about the calm ‘barge life’ – there were still moments where we did panic. Ok where I panicked. I may have gone a bit Mrs Bouquet on my Richard when he drove, trying to fire un-necessary advice that could have resulted in me being thrown in the canal by my ship mates.

 

 

  • If you do find yourself in the canal in the worst-case scenario, don’t worry, it’s not actually too deep, in most parts – but the boat has a lifebelt on hand and emergency stop buttons too which you should always be aware of.
  • The Foxton Locks Inn pub on a Sunday was not a great shout – it was absolutely full of people, we were apparently lucky to get in without a reservation but having a Sunday buffet meant a lot of the food we had was cold and not great…
  • The lunch we enjoyed at Aldwinckles café in Market Harborough however, was delightful. And they understood how to perfectly balance cheese, beans and tuna mayo on my jacket potato.

 

 

  • Watch out for wildlife! Aaran told us we’d see some fab birds on the way and we really did. There were a number of herons – couldn’t get over how incredible they look when they fly but my favourite had to be the sighting of baby ducklings that popped out every so often from under the shrubs as we passed the long reeds.
  • Wear clothes you’re not precious about. At the end of the day you’re out in the great outdoors.
  • Sliders or slip-ons are great in/out boat shoes. When you’re back and forth from inside and out it’s handy not to have to do up laces every time. (Definitely sliders, as opposed to flip-flops so you can keep your socks on!)
  • If you do want to experience Foxton Locks, it takes 45 minutes to go through one way – and unless you’re travelling elsewhere, you need to factor in the 45 minutes back. To go through, you need to book in a slot with the lock keeper who you’ll find helping people through. On the day we wanted to give it a try there was a two hour plus wait! We decided to give it a miss and chose to go for a walk up and watch others instead – which is just as fascinating!!

 

 

  • Don’t worry about getting it wrong! One thing we found was that a lot of people on the water driving boats were in fact tourists. It was comforting to know we weren’t the only ones trying to figure things out and there were very few awkward collision moments.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT forget to sit back and just soak in that view. Every last bit…

 

 

Final thoughts

As I sat, in the cosy nook at the front of the narrowboat, thinking about what I was going to write, after a day of sailing… I wasn’t quite sure ‘adventure’ was the right word to use.

As much as this was a new and eventful experience, did it live up to my dreams of an adventure?

No, this wasn’t at all what I envisioned.

Adventures are for hard work. Out of breath moments. Feeling the burn and tiring yourself out.

I’ve decided the perfect way to describe this weekend was that it was a journey.

A peaceful journey through the Great British countryside, with a completely new view of Leicestershire.

The whole time we were away we had no concept of timing, we had well and truly adapted to the smooth, calm ‘barge life’ where minutes glided seamlessly into hours.

It had been a wonderful opportunity for the four of us to just wind down, I don’t remember us even talking too much, we spent a lot of time just sitting contently. Content in each other’s company. Content in our beautiful surroundings. Content in enjoying an activity that dates back to the 18th century.

 

 

As a blogger, I spent the whole time thinking if I ever needed a place to get away and get my writing back on track, this was one hundred percent the place to do it. It’s the perfect abode to get creative because the peace I found on this barge was like nowhere else. There were moments where if you stopped and really fine tuned to your surroundings… there was no noise at all. Can you imagine that? It was fantastic and quite liberating. To have no sound pollution… well that was really special.

 

 

My only regret that weekend?

Yes, through all the scenic pictures and the tales of fun I have to be truthful and say I did come away with a regret.

 

It’s one that still hurts me.

 

But most probably delights the rest of my party.

 

Gosh, it pains me even to type it…

 

I didn’t discover the ukulele instruction book until the last day.

 

(It’s on the wardrobe shelf in the bedroom).

(You’re welcome).

 

 

Have you ever stayed on a barge? Is there anywhere else in the UK you’d recommend as a perfect barge holiday location?

 

*** Huge thanks to Boutique Narrowboats owners Sharon and Aaran for inviting us to spend a weekend on the Lesley Ann. Of course all opinions, photography and tips are from my Fab Four team and I. No images have been edited on this post – what you see is exactly what you get! And if it wasn’t clear from above, we had a fabulous time. ***

 

Author: Sus

Head Chick at Jet Set Chick
Keen interest in art and design, discovering new cultures and learning from my experiences. Oh and cats. I love anything to do with cats.

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