Perching next to the tiller, hot cup of tea in hand, Kingfishers flash past and Herons observe us sternly from the bank. The beautiful Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire countryside rolls out either side of us: church spires, tractors at work and a plethora of canal side pubs with sunny beer gardens. This truly is the best of British, enjoyed at a relaxed pace.
Taking a scenic narrowboat holiday has been on our bucket list for years, so we were thrilled to be invited on board Kings Landing by Stoke Hammond based Epic Boating Company. We spent 4 days exploring the Grand Union Canal, navigating not only the curves of the waterway and over 100 bridges, but multiple locks and the famous 3km long Blisworth Tunnel. With a top speed of 4mph, life is slower on the canal, but never dull. If you've followed our antics with our van conversion Osprey, you'll know how much we enjoy a long road trip, and scenic slow travel is all part of the adventure.
Speaking of van life, this luxurious boat made Osprey seem very basic!! Kings Landing is like a floating holiday cottage with all mod cons and every comfort in mind. 60ft long and newly built this year, the master bedroom with full size double bed boasts USB charging points, a vanity table with straighteners and hairdryer and an adjoining bathroom complete with power shower straight out of a plush country hotel.
We were equally impressed with the kitchen: four ring gas hob, an oven, microwave, fridge with freezer compartment and every pot, pan and utensil you could wish for - again like a self catered holiday cottage, we could cook full meals (bolognese pasta bake anyone?) which felt like a massive upgrade from Osprey's little camping stove! So as not to blast the narrowboat's electrics, the kettle is a stove top model that whistles when it's ready which was so charming, and there's even a portable BBQ and picnic chairs for sitting out on the tow path!
Inside our floating holiday cottage
The sitting area is cosy, with a flat screen television (BBC iPlayer, Netflix, ITV player etc are all included) and wifi router - we brought our Nintendo Switch and played Mario Kart one evening, and another night we binged The Crown.
Kings Landing can sleep 7 - the sofa pulls out into another double bed, and a bunk bed in the central hallway is a small double with a single bunk on top. This would make the most gorgeous family holiday! There is a bench at the very front of the boat where you can sit and enjoy the view. From here the engine noises are much fainter than next to the tiller and all you can here are the soft splashes of water against the bow and banks and the surrounding birdsong. Bliss. We had our breakfast on this bench each morning enjoying the views before casting off, and it's also a lovely spot for an evening glass of wine.
The bench of dreams!
We had absolutely no previous experience with operating a narrowboat, or any boat at all, but the Epic Boat Company take you through everything you need to know before setting you loose onto the canal. There is a lock right beside the company's HQ where you are walked through exactly what to do with lots of safety tips: don't let the windlass smack you on the arm, avoiding the cill (a stone shelf in a lock that the end of your boat can snag on if you drift too far backwards) and opening the lower paddles first when filling the lock so you don't flood the boat. Some very scary photos of the upended boats belonging to people who didn't pay attention will certainly make you remember all of this!
We were shown how to moor up (all equipment is supplied on board), how to turn in a winding hole (with a 60ft boat, this is the only way you can do a three point turn in a narrowboat!!) and what to do if you run aground - not as scary as it sounds, we did it 3 times on our trip and were able to get ourselves out easily.
If this sounds like a lot of information to take in, don't worry. Onboard Kings Landing is an amazing bumper pack with maps, how to guides (so you can double check how to operate a lock or tie off the narrowboat if you suddenly panic and your mind goes blank) and recommended local attractions. Usefully, all bridges are numbered so you can follow exactly where you are on the route, see where the guest mooring and pubs are and calculate how long each section of your journey will take.
After a short driving lesson, we were on our way! Top tip - you need to react MUCH sooner in all manoeuvres when steering a narrowboat. Much like when we first bought Osprey and realised that heavy vans take longer to stop, narrowboats take a really long time to respond. However soon you think you need to start braking or turning, do it three times as soon.
We had a brilliant time cruising along the Grand Union Canal, stopping in pretty Cosgrove and Stoke Bruerne, mastering the Stoke Locks (7 in a row!!) and a trip highlight, the Blisworth Tunnel. Narrowboating is absolutely lovely - the gentle pace is unbelievably relaxing and forces you to slow down, be in the present and enjoy being surrounded by nature. Working the locks as a team, having a bacon sarnie while watching swans, chatting to fellow boaters (just like van-lifers, the narrowboat community are a fab bunch) and mooring up and walking to a canal side pub for a pint and a game of Uno were all brilliant experiences that made this mini narrowboat really special.
One thing we really liked about narrowboating was that unlike in Osprey, you don't need to pull over in order to prepare lunch or put the kettle on! One person could nip into the kitchen and make a cup of tea or a sandwich and bring it out to the driver while the boat kept moving. Brilliant!
Pubs we'd recommend on the Grand Union Canal:
The Navigation, Cosgrove - a gastropub with an amazing menu for a treat dinner. We actually went here 7 years ago on a very early date, so it was lovely to revisit!
The Boat Inn, Stoke Bruerne - gorgeous canal views in a historic pub where you can toast your victory after mastering the 7 locks staircase!
The Blackhorse, Great Linford - a sunny beer garden with mooring right outside.
The Barleymow, Cosgrove - cosy and welcoming, you can reach this pub by walking through a historic horse tunnel under the canal itself! Plus they sold us some cheese for our pasta bake which was very much appreciated...
Kings Landing is an amazing narrowboat. People all the way along the canal were admiring it and asking questions - not only are the facilities inside really top notch, but with all the beautiful Game of Thrones artwork on the outside we attracted a lot of smiles. We were so impressed with not only the lay out of the narrowboat, but also all the little details that had been thought of: for example, all cleaning products, washing up liquid, shampoo and shower gel were provided and they were all eco friendly brands. After all, everything ends up in the canal!
Unlike their competitors, the Epic Boating Company include all towels and bedding, plus they don't add any additional mileage charges or costs for pumping out the loo. This means you can enjoy your luxury narrow boating experience while saving a few pennies. We know from researching camper vans abroad how these extra costs can suddenly add an unexpected chunk of expense to your trip!
Booking Kings Landing
If you'd like to book your own jaunt up the Grand Union Canal (we headed north, but the southern route also looks really fun!), head over to the Epic Boating Company website to check availability. They're also on Instagram and if you really fall in love with narrowboating and would like your own floating home, they even build and sell narrowboats!
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Disclosure - we were invited aboard Kings Landing for a free trip on the Grand Union Canal, but we were not paid to post and as always, all opinions are our own!