We were delighted to be featured in the recently published book 'Family Adventures: How to adventure with babies and children' by author Bex Band. Bex and the family took a holiday on our boat Falcon and in the below extract she discusses her stay on the Mon & Brec.

children on a beacon park boats narrowboat

We’d lost our biggest champion. Cooper, my nephew (age six), had been bragging for weeks to anyone who would listen that he was being taken on a cruise. In reality, we were hiring a canal boat for a mid-week break in Wales for the October half term. We’d stuck with the word ‘cruise’ for now, though, happy that one of the three kids we were taking was so enthused by our adventure plans, even if not entirely accurate.

Cooper's enthusiasm had plummeted with just an hour to go before we reached Llangatock, where we’d be collecting our boat from Brecon Park Boats (www.beaconparkboats.com). His constant ‘are we there yet’ enquiries had been replaced by ‘I want to go home’.

‘You don’t want to go on the cruise? It’ll be really cool! You get to steer the boat! You’re going to be a pirate!’ I desperately tried to get some of his earlier enthusiasm back.

‘No,’ he replied flatly. 

The journey began to unravel. Dulcie, my niece aged eight, kept declaring she was hungry, despite devouring three bowls of porridge and a slice of toast just an hour ago. Rivi, aged two, was angrily demanding her dummy.

‘But you’ve got a dummy in your mouth’

‘Other dummy!’ she cried back at me.

When we arrived at Brecon Park Boats, the fleet of neatly painted green boats was lined up, and the car park was a flurry of activity with holidaymakers unloading their cars and snapping pictures. We had a warm welcome and were given a large trolley to fill and load our luggage before heading down to the pontoon to find our boat.

Cooper had now switched from asking every five minutes to go home to running between the boat and our car, screaming, ‘I think that massive boat is ours!!’ (‘Ok, great - but stay away from the water,’) Dulcie asked if she could go to the boat shop opposite the pontoon (‘yes - but don’t touch anything, and we aren’t buying anything!’), and Rivi was running and jumping in circles making monkey sounds. She had no idea why the excitement levels of the older kids had suddenly rocketed, but that wasn’t going to stop her. (‘Just hold my hand please Rivi and watch for cars!’).

I think I preferred the grumpy demands. This was the part of the trip I’d been most stressed about. Before setting off, we had to unload all our stuff onto the boat, watch an instructional video on how to use the boat, get the kids fitted out with life vests and then have a short ‘driving lesson’. We’d been warned it would take at least an hour, and as neither Gil nor I had driven a canal boat before, we were anxious to make sure we learnt everything we needed to.

We had a plan, however. We got the kids on board and seated in the salon (practically blindfolding them on the way, so we didn’t trigger the ‘which bed is mine’ debate); Gil whipped out his laptop and started playing a film. I threw a handful of snacks at them and was grateful when one of the staff members gave each a carton of juice.

Gil went about watching the introduction video while I unpacked our mountain of luggage. As instructed, we’d used soft bags (mostly supermarket ‘bags for life’) as storage on the boat was limited to small awkward spaces. It was the first time I could take the boat properly. It was stunning. The owner of Brecon Park Boats said the Orient Express had inspired the design of Falcon, our boat, and I could see the influence immediately with the wooden finish, brass fixtures, and quaint lamps fixed to the corridor side of beds.

At the back of the boat was the tiller (for steering), and on one side, four steps (watch your head!) to take you into the belly of the boat. On the left was a long corridor (I had to stoop slightly while walking down it, although it was perfectly spacious for the kids). Three double beds were permanently set up on the right-hand side, one after the other. They came with bedding and were already set up. Between the beds were two bathrooms (with a sink, flushing toilet and shower - hot water heated by the onboard heater or engine) and two narrow wardrobes for storage; the doors also opened to create a partition between the beds for privacy.

At the front of the boat was a fully equipped kitchen and, on the other side of the ‘galley’ two padded seating areas facing each other - in between, you could make a table appear magically or could even turn the area into a fourth bed if needed. Beyond that, two doors open to a small outdoor space.

Throughout the boat, many windows were pouring in natural light. There were also a lot of buttons everywhere. Remote control blinds, lights, heaters, important-looking engine buttons, and even to make a hidden TV appear in the seating area (I’m already dreading the hundred times I’m going to have to say ‘don’t press the buttons!’). 

I feel excited about spending the next few days self-contained on this boat. This was awesome; I’ve always dreamed of living on a boat. 

Before long, we were having our very-fast driving lesson and the instructor was hoping off our boat onto the shore before waving us off. We’re on our own! The boat was relatively easy to drive, chugging along at around two to two and a half miles per hour, using the big tiller at the back to steer. Still, we both feel anxious that we’ve been left alone so quickly. Surely there’s more to learn? What if we crash the thing?

By now, the situation in the galley was critical - the kids were hungry, and we were past dinner time. It was also starting to get dark. Gil took over driving while I sprinted between teary kids, cooking dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen (easy meal - pizza and salad) and helping Gil on deck as he steered us into the first mooring spot he could find. We double/triple-checked we’ve tied the boat tight enough.

I’d imagined cosying up on the first night, enjoying some of the complimentary sport and chocolate left out for our arrival, but that didn’t happen. We feed the gang and get them clean (enough) and ready for bed. The older two share the bed at the back, with us in the middle and Rivi in the bed closest to the galley so we can hear her in the evening if she wakes. I realise a bed guard would have been helpful, but instead, we fashioned a bumper using pillows and rolled-up towels. She’s happy enough in her snug. Not long after, I’m ready to hit the sack myself. The last few hours had been pretty full on, and I was questioning if bringing three children to a confined space on the water was such a great idea…

children being read a story in bed in a beacon park boat narrowboat

Reminding ourselves - it’s enough!

The ocean, diving and marine life are passions that Gil and I share. While Rivi is far too young to be introduced to diving (you’ve got to be at least ten years old), it’s important for us that she grows up knowing water. While pools are great for confidence and swimming skills, it doesn’t compare to natural water. In these spaces, be it a lake, a river or the beach, I’m often at my happiest and can feel an instant connection to nature.

Despite our love of the water and that we are both Divemasters and hold sailing qualifications, being on the water with children made us nervous. We don’t do regular paddling sports, so put canoeing, kayaking or SUPing out of the equation for now, which is how we settled on a canal boat adventure.

There are over 2,100 miles of canal networks in the UK (rivers are the work of nature while canals are artificial, built to carry goods by boat), now mainly used for pleasure and recreation. Other than fleeting memories of watching Rosie and Jim, I knew very little about canal boating, so I was surprised to find many hire boat companies available. Most of them allowed children to join and actively promoted their trips as the perfect family adventure.

In terms of safety, it seemed ideal. The boat was steady and slow, and the water still and calm. Except for locks, of course - devices used to help raise or lower boats. Getting through a lock can take ten to twenty minutes, more if there’s a queue, and some stretches on canals had hundreds of them to navigate. But not on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, where we would be cruising. We were instantly attracted to the fact that there were very few locks.

Our initial plan had been to take a route that required us to go through five locks (any way you take is there and back, so that would have been ten locks in total over the trip); there are only a few places along the canal where you can turn the boat, so once you’ve committed to a route, we would have had no choice but to get through them all. On the first day, though, I asked Gil if we could re-think our plan to do any locks. I could see he was disappointed, and I was a bit as well, but he agreed with my logic. It takes a minimum of two people to manoeuvre the boat through the locks. The older kids might have been OK to get involved with the task but doing it with a toddler also thrown in was going to be stressful.

So plan B it was. A medium-paced no-lock route there and back. That plan lasted until the first evening when we swiftly dropped to plan C….let’s do the shortest route possible. When adventuring with kids, there’s no greater lesson than realising less is more!

children sitting down to eat in a beacon park boats narrowboat

Life on board

I was pleased when I woke up on day one feeling considerably more relaxed than the night before. It had been a restful night's sleep; to our surprise, all three children had slept without disruption. I enjoyed the snug feeling of being in our cosy bed, knowing we were on the water tucked by the quiet and dark canal side.

I was at the tiller starting on day one. Doing the shortest route, we had about five hours of driving a day, allowing time to moor over lunch and give us all a break and time for Gil and me actually to see each other. With just two adults on board, it meant we were always switched on. One would be driving the boat, and the other would be tending to the children and sorting meals. My captain experience lasted about an hour before I called for Gil and asked if he wanted to take over. Steering was not my forte. I’d already bumped the sides twice (our driving instructor told us hitting the side was ok but not other boats), and each time a canal boat appeared heading our way, my stress levels would rise as I pictured myself causing a crash and sinking us both. Thankfully Gil enjoyed the task much more than I did and was able to work out how to keep the boat straight. That suited me just fine; I was happy to potter about in the kitchen and with the kids.

It didn’t take long to slot into a routine on the canal. We’d set off early while I made breakfast for everyone. After tidying up, the children were free to play with their toys. They’d each brought a bag of toys and crafts. We’d then get them all outside (lifejackets on), either helping Gil with steering or just walking on the canal side, keeping up with the boat. Dulcie was tasked with reporting the number on each bridge we passed and then working out where we were on the map. Cooper was a self-appointed fisherman. He spent many an hour sat at the front of the boat with his long stick ‘fishing’.

‘I caught a fish, I caught a fish!!’ he yelled with so much excitement one afternoon that I was worried he’d topple over and fall in. He’d come across a dead floating fish. Dragging that poor fish along in the water provided him and his sister with another hour of entertainment (I refused to let him bring it into the boat, to their great disappointment).

Each day we’d have to fill up our water tank at one of the water points. This was a chance for everyone to have a proper runaround, and I’d keep the children busy by playing 10 Seconds. And I’d succumb to putting on a film each afternoon for an hour. I hated using screens when escaping them was one of the biggest reasons we went on adventures, but preparing dinner and mooring the boat with grouchy children was enough to tip even the most patient of carers over the edge.

I loved the pace of life on the boat. Pootling along at a gentle place in a tunnel of nature, there was always wildlife to spot and friendly dog walkers to chat with as they passed by. On day one, we were all dressed by mid-morning. We didn’t even bother getting out of our pyjamas by the last day. We’d throw our coats and wellies over the top when going outside. When the children went to bed (surprisingly tired at the end of each day despite the slow pace), Gil and I would cosy up in the salon with a drink, fantasising about living on a boat one day.

Our break on Falcon had been an excellent little family adventure. A lazy, relaxing break suitable for all ages. We said our goodbyes to Falcon and piled into the cars with bruised heads (Gil was the only one who managed to go the whole time without bumping his head even once); some great family memories and lots of promises to return to canal boating one day.

man on a narrowboat waving to children

Our top tips for a canal boat holiday

  • When choosing a canal boat holiday as a family, pay attention to the route options available, especially regarding the number of locks you need to pass. Caen Hill Locks and its 29 back-to-back locks may sound fun on paper, but it would probably be exhausting if trying to boat through it with young children!
  • Pack all your items in soft bags to make them easier to store on the boat. Take plenty of food with you. Some routes have cafes and pubs you can eat at, so make a food plan in advance. Get each child to pack a bag of toys and crafts.
  • We both felt our adventure would have been more enjoyable if we’d had another adult or shared the experience with another family. The spare pair of adult hands would have made all the difference with splitting steering, cooking and kid-watching duties, leaving more time for sitting and soaking up the views.
  • If taking a toddler or baby, I’d suggest packing a sling. When mooring, filling up water tanks or helping with complex steering manoeuvres, you can safely throw them on your back and still have your hands free to carry out tasks.
  • Try and engage your children in boating by giving them tasks. This could be keeping track of navigation and noting the numbers on the bridge you pass, helping with steering, assisting with mooring the boat and tying the ropes or attaching the hose for filling the tank.
  • Set rules from the start. The most important one is not going on deck without telling an adult and always wearing a life vest when outside. We also laid down rules to help keep the boat organised; shoes and coats had a place, and toys needed to be put away after use. A small space like the boat gets messy very quickly if everyone isn’t helping to keep it tidy.
  • Get your children into the habit of waving to passers-by. It’s a friendly game which they all loved that led to many interesting chats with strangers.

mother with her child in a sling sorting out mooring ropes on a beacon park boats narrowboat

Choose your boat

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Beacon Park Boats featured in 'Family Adventures: How to adventure with babies and children'

Beacon Park Boats featured in 'Family Adventures: How to adventure with babies and children'

Read an extract from author Bex Band's book featuring Beacon Park Boats' Falcon.