Ian Waller and his family enjoy a leisurely canal cruise from Bathampton to Bath
There’s always something new to learn about Bath, it’s just that sometimes it needs a fresh angle to see things from. Take this morning, for example – my wife, youngest son and I had booked our places on a family canal cruise aboard the Bath Water Bus and within no time we were finding facts out about Bath that we never knew before.
The Bath Water Bus offers a great leisurely family activity, with cruises running all day from Bathampton and Bath aboard the Sir John Knill, a totally electric vessel that takes up to 12 people, including room for a couple of wheelchairs. We opted to join the cruise in Bathampton to make the most of the free parking available at The George pub, as well as the chance of a post cruise family lunch. You can also start the cruise in Bath, from Bathwick Hill or Pulteney Road.
Our captain for the day was owner Sam Nessling, who started the trip with a quick tour of the boat – which includes a toilet – and a safety briefing. Then we were off, cruising along at a sedate walking pace and taking in the beautiful scenery of the canal that is so often missed by even regular visitors to Bath.
With the electric motor making almost no noise at all, it gives you a chance to really enjoy the comfy seats to relax and take in the gorgeous scenery and pretty impressive canalside properties along the way. As Sam passed on facts about the surroundings and tales from his own boating experiences, he expertly guided us around the canal boats that offer homes along the bank and those chugging slowly past full of holiday makers.
While we were simply after a leisurely family trip, the boat is available as a great venue for children’s parties, private hire and even stag and hen dos – Sam will even order in the Prosecco and beer if required. We were happy to make do with the sunshine and regular waves from passing walkers and other boaters – they’re clearly a friendly community along the canal.
The first of our local lessons came with the carved stone face peering out at us from one of the bridges along the canal. This, explained Sam, is Sabrina, Spirit of the Seven Seas, and a sign that if we continued on and on in this direction, we would eventually make it to the ocean – although that might take a while longer than we had.
On the return route, it turns out that we’d see a similar face, this time of Old Father Thames, letting us know that the waterway would eventually lead us up to the famous river.
A little further into Bath at a bridge near Sydney Gardens, you can make out various shapes such as triangles and stars carved into the stones. These, it turns out, were made by the stone smiths employed to build the bridges, as a way of showing how many stones they had made each day, and to work out how much they should be paid.
It also turns out that you can see the marks on the bridges made by the rope fastened to horses to pull the barges in the days before engines were fitted – now there’s one for the next pub quiz…
After around an hour we had reached the turning point – or winding hole – at the lock at Bathwick, to start our gentle journey back to Bathampton. Sam explained that it’s often around this point that families will bring out the picnics that they’ve brought along for the journey, offering a most unforgettable location for a family lunch. As we pootled along, it was lovely to see a family of swans paddle past, as well as goats and sheep on the canal side. Sam added that it’s not unusual to spot herons as well – now that would have been a treat.
By the time we’d made it back to Bathampton, we’d already pretty much planned another trip in the near future, along with granddad in his wheelchair and a few other friends. There was just time to say thanks to Sam before a quick packet crisps and a round of drinks at The George.
A family cruise for up to 12 people on the Bath Water Bus costs from £110 for one hour, to £190 for two hours and £290 for three hours.