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‘Barging Round Britain’ with canal lover John Sergeant

Narrowboat enthusiasts and John Sergeant fans alike will soon be celebrating as the man who shimmied his way into the nation’s hearts on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ returns to our screens in April with a new series of ‘Barging Round Britain’. And as anyone who watched the first series will testify, Sergeant moves rather more gracefully on waterways than he ever did on the ballroom floor!

“Canal boating is a classic holiday,” says the former political correspondent, who traces the fascinating history of canals, meeting lock builders and families living on houseboats, and witnessing stunning architectural feats. “The British canal network is romantic and quite mysterious. You don’t know where these things are going and then you suddenly come across a tunnel that can go on for a mile – it’s pretty incredible.”

In his most spectacular journey in series one Sergeant cruised over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a thin bridge of water that carries the Llangollen Canal 126 feet over the River Dee in north-east Wales. “Going over the Aqueduct was a highlight. Amazing!” Sergeant recalls. Completed in 1805, this skinny passage is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain, and took ten years to build. “It’s like a pencil,” he continues. “You look at it and you think, ‘This isn’t going to work,’ because there are no rails or anything. It’s magic.”

‘Barging Round Britain’ isn’t Sergeant’s first go at being a helmsman, but the joys of dawn on a narrowboat are new territory. “I’m overnighting at least once on every trip,” he says, remembering a scene where he appears in his dressing gown on an empty canal. “There’s something amazing about waking up to complete silence. In one place there was nothing – nothing that way and nothing the other way. Just total peace and calm.”

“I’m very interested in history and there are moments when you get a real feel for the past on a narrowboat. It’s astonishing to have the canals still there and be able to use them. There’s no real equivalent. If all the steam trains were still working and you could go by steam all over Britain then that would be. But we can actually do that with canals. OK, they’re not horse-drawn, but the sensation and sights are exactly the same as when they were built. That is really something.”

Why not hire a narrowboat from Anglo Welsh’s base at Trevor on the Llangollen canal and follow John Sergeant’s “amazing journey” over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct? Our team of friendly canal holiday experts are available to take your booking. Please call us on 0117 304 1122.

Series two of ‘Barging Round Britain’ is on ITV from April 22. The first series is now available on DVD and the accompanying book, ‘Barging Round Britain: Exploring the History of our Nation’s Canals and Waterways’ has recently been published in paperback.

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Behind the scenes at Anglo Welsh. The family that plays together stays together.

Listening carefully to our loyal customers tells us that people keep coming back to Anglo Welsh because of our fantastic range of narrowboats located at convenient bases on the most picturesque waterways in England and Wales. It also tells us that people value our customer service very highly. In particular, they appreciate the unwavering passion of our canal-loving team.

“People really appreciate being greeted by a familiar smiling face when they hire a boat,” says Carl Cowlishaw, Anglo Welsh’s Operations Manager, “and we do have an uncommonly large number of long-serving staff at our bases. There must be something in the water at Anglo Welsh – excuse the pun – but once people join us, they never want to leave!”

Carl himself soon qualifies for a gold watch, despite still being a youthful 42. “I am now in my 28th year on the canals,” he says, almost wistfully. “I first started working at Anglo Welsh in Great Haywood as a Saturday lad when I was 14. The plan was to earn enough money to catch the bus to Woolworths in Stafford and buy the latest chart singles. If memory serves me right, one of them was ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ by Kylie Minogue!”

“My musical taste has changed a bit since then,” he continues, “but my love of narrowboats and the sheer pleasure of being around canals hasn’t, and I think that applies to many Anglo Welsh stalwarts. Yes, we take our work seriously, but being around boats and on the canals also gives us enormous pleasure. They say ‘the family that plays together stays together’ and that definitely applies to the enjoyment you get as part of the Anglo Welsh family.”

Carl has been Operations Manager at Anglo Welsh since 2005, but before that he’d occupied just about every role going: apprentice, engineer, boat painter, hire fleet manager, base manager. Much to his chagrin, he now spends as much time on the road as on the water. “I visit all ten Anglo Welsh bases at least once a month and also spend time at our Bristol head office where bookings and customer enquiries are handled. But it’s not all admin, I get to monitor the winter maintenance and our boatbuilding programme, and I still try to get out on one of our boats at least once a week.”

So how has the narrowboat sector changed in Carl’s three decades at Anglo Welsh? “People definitely expect a lot more these days,” he says. “To give you one example, we’ve installed wi-fi on the entire Anglo Welsh fleet for 2016. But in 40 years as a leading hire boat operator some things have hardly changed at all. People still come to us because they value the UK’s waterway heritage and enjoy the gentle pace of canal holidays. And they appreciate Anglo Welsh because we offer a large choice of boats and locations but still maintain the personal touch people expect from a great holiday. Early bookings are at a record-breaking high this year, so we’re busy preparing the fleet for an exciting summer season. And hopefully, our customers are looking forward to renewing acquaintances with some familiar faces!”

Our team of experienced and friendly canal holiday experts are available to take your booking.

Please call us 0117 304 1122

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No Experience? No Problem! Narrowboat holidays for novices.

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle, and the same applies to canal boats. Once you’ve learned how to manoeuvre a narrowboat – and with help from Anglo Welsh’s experienced instructors, learning is a surprisingly straightforward procedure – you’ll never forget how. But be warned, once you’ve experienced a magical journey at the helm of a canal boat you’ll be hooked for life!

Over the last 40 years Anglo Welsh has taught more people to handle a narrowboat than you can shake a canal rope at, and we still love welcoming excited first-timers to Britain’s growing family of canal enthusiasts. In fact, one of the attractions of waterway holidays is that anyone can hire a canal boat with no licence or prior training**.

“If you’re 18 or over and willing to learn, we’d love to teach you,” says seasoned Anglo Welsh instructor Rod Bright, a popular figure on the canal boat scene who has been showing narrowboat novices the tricks of the trade for three decades. “We get people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities coming to us as beginners, but believe me, they all get the same thrill when they first take control of the tiller.”

So how does ‘day one’ on an Anglo Welsh narrowboat work? “First of all, we sit down over a cuppa and talk about which routes are most suitable for beginners,” says Rod. “Then we board the hire boat and show people where everything is: from the tiller, controls and engine to the heating and fuse boxes. Next we focus on safety procedures and canal etiquette. No Anglo Welsh instructor ever leaves a customer alone on a narrowboat without being 100% sure they’re capable of handling things on the canal without any risks.”

Next comes the practical instruction. “We set off along the canal and demonstrate how to steer the narrowboat, how to line up for bridges and navigate locks, and how to tie ropes for mooring,” explains Rod. “You move the tiller left to go right and right to go left which can throw people! When that’s all sunk in, we’ll set the boat up in a nice straight line and hand over the tiller. Once we can see the hirer feels confident and is in control we’ll wave them off on their first solo adventure.”

“Some people are off and running after 45 minutes’ instruction, others take longer; the key thing is we never rush people. And one advantage nowadays is that people often do advance research online which helps them to grasps things more quickly. Common sense and care is the main thing we impress on our customers; narrowboats may trundle along the canal at 4mph, but we’re talking 18-ton vessels, so some caution is required. Things happen more slowly on the water, but unlike driving a car you need to think ahead. Luckily, most canal boats are steered using a tiller at the rear of the boat. That may sound strange but it means that you can see ahead and also see what your boat is doing!”

“It is 30 years since I first steered a friend’s narrowboat and I’ve been hooked on the canal life ever since,” concludes Rod, who is now based at Anglo Welsh’s Wootton Wawen base near Stratford-upon-Avon. “It’s such an exhilarating way of spending your free time it gives me real pleasure helping people discover how easy it is to get started.”

 

Our team of helpful canal holiday experts are available to take your booking – whether it’s your hundredth time on a narrowboat or your very first go!
Please call us 0117 304 1122

**The Hirer must be aged 18 years or older. There must be two able-bodied people aged 18 years or over to take responsibility of the boat and crew at all times. Whenever the boat is driven by a person aged under 18, they must be under close supervision of a competent person aged 18 years or older.

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Great Canal Journeys: a Narrowboat Love Affair

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, if you love canals – and the Anglo Welsh team is guilty as charged – you have to love Channel 4’s ‘Great Canal Journeys’, now back on our screens for a third series.

Husband and wife team Timothy West and Prunella Scales are self-confessed ‘canal nuts’, and despite their advancing years (he’s 81, she’s 83) and Prunella’s fragile health, they have no intention of hanging up their canal ropes. Married for 53 years, the thespian couple have created a lifetime of memories on stage and screen (who can forget Scales’ arch portrayal of Sybil in ‘Fawlty Towers’?), but away from acting they have lived a very different life exploring the stunning waterways of Britain by canal boat.

Each episode of ‘Great Canal Journeys’ reveals the rich and diverse history and culture of canal life, explores the beautiful scenery of Britain’s landscapes and wildlife, while giving Timothy and Prunella the chance to recreate some of their most treasured family moments. It proves to be a charming insight, not just into their lifelong passion for narrowboats, but also their half-century love affair, a relationship laced with poignancy now that Prunella suffers from Alzheimer’s.

One of the first ever journeys featured on ‘Great Canal Journeys’ was a trip on an Anglo Welsh narrowboat along the Oxford canal where the couple took their first boating holiday as a family with sons Sam (actor Samuel West) and Joseph more than 40 years ago. Another memorable canal trip took Prunella and Timothy back to their honeymoon destination, Llangollen in North Wales, now Anglo Welsh’s largest base.

Cruising along by narrowboat, the couple have also revisited the picturesque Kennet and Avon canal in the West Country, which they helped saved from closure a quarter of a century ago. In the current series, they travel from Birmingham to Braunston, Northamptonshire for a festival of canal boats and to unveil a plaque to a late friend and canal campaigner.

Last year it was revealed that Scales’ Alzheimer’s means she can barely remember any of her 53-year marriage to West, but as her still doting husband explains, “Pru doesn’t remember things very well, but you don’t need to remember things on the canal because you can enjoy things as you see them, so it’s perfect for her really.”

“Do I know where we’re going or why we’re going there?” asks Prunella at one stage. “Well, sometimes I do, but sometimes I just want to watch the countryside float by.” Relaxing on a narrowboat, cruising along a canal, watching the world go by … ‘Great Canal Journeys’ shows that canal holidays are a heartwarming way to spend time with your nearest and dearest, whether you’re young newlyweds or lovebirds in your dotage.

Our team of helpful and friendly canal holiday experts are available to take your booking.
Please call us 0117 304 1122

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Be Inspired

We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations

City Breaks
Rural retreats
Popular places

So why choose Anglo Welsh?

More than 55 years providing unique canal boat holidays.
Modern & spacious narrowboat holiday fleet – from 2 to 12 berths.
Wide choice of narrowboat hire locations and canal.
Canal boat holiday routes for novices & experienced boaters.
Flexible holiday booking, no hidden costs.
Family friendly holidays, pets also welcome.

Anglo Welsh. So much more than narrowboats

...but don't just take our word for it

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