England: A Pirate Pub Crawl Aboard a Canal Boat

A Canal Boat Pub Crawl across England

By Charlotte Turner

The crew of the Good Ship Windemere
The crew of the Good Ship Windemere

“Canal-boat for ten near Rugby, Easter weekend, 2 spaces free, you up for it?” read the text message from my friend sometime in mid-February.

Silly question, really. A pub crawl, sailing, (well, motoring,) for my supper? This adventure simply sounded too good to miss.

Wannabe Pirates

A Londoner born and bred, my first challenge was to find a road map that covered the rest of England. You know, that part outside London that other English people live in.

Arriving at Grantham Bridge Boat Services, Hillmorton, after a slow but steady car journey up the M1 [highway] through bank holiday traffic, we loaded up our trusty ship with food, water, and enough alcohol to keep ten wannabe pirates merrily afloat for a long weekend.

The motoring instructor confidently told us that the book we had so diligently purchased, detailing all the locks, bridges, water refueling stations and most importantly, pubs, en route, was not necessary, but it became increasingly clear that they had overestimated the capabilities of our inexperienced crew.

Grantham Boat Services, Hillmorton
Grantham Boat Services, Hillmorton

We were given brief training on opening the locks and how to actually steer, and stop, the boat, and we were off.

Nautical Costumes

Apart from our crew’s complete inexperience when it came to navigating the open seas, (ok, the canals of Warwickshire), I had other reasons to be slightly nervous.

Our captain, a close friend from university days, had stated in her invitation, “Full nautical costumes are encouraged at all time when on board ship. Feeble excuses not accepted!”

I was worried that my friend’s famous sense of adventure that promised to make the trip so much fun was in danger of making me look ever so slightly insane in public, and I am not a huge fan of public humiliation.

Despite my misgivings, I diligently donned a bandana and eye patch as we set sail, aiming for the nearest pub.

An Easter weekend blizzard
An Easter weekend blizzard

First stop for refueling, (us, not the boat), was The Mill House, Braunston, a bland looking pub without the log fire that we had set our hearts on, but, crucially, the only option in sight.

Too hungry to bother donning full pirate gear on the very first night, we headed in, eager to warm up and get a decent bit of pub grub.

Unfortunately, the food and service didn’t live up to the pub’s early promise, with some of the food taking over an hour to arrive, several starters arriving before the main courses and a distinct lack of atmosphere.

An Easter Blizzard

Navigating the locks in a blizzard
Navigating the locks in a blizzard

The next day, we headed off in search of something better and, this time, an assortment of mustached pirates and one sailor in full military dress disembarked into an unwelcome Easter blizzard.

The Bridge at Napton,’ turned out to be a much more interesting option, with a log fire, couches and ‘Baileys cups,’ a drink that I had never come across before where the liquor is served in an edible chocolate cup. I had obviously missed out and there was no stopping me.

It became clear throughout as our adventure wore on that the book did indeed contain some fairly useful snippets of information, such as the largest, and in fact, only turning circle for several miles was right outside ‘The Bridge at Napton.’

As we were on a tight time schedule, we didn’t want to end up miles away from our original destination and be forced to reverse much of the way back to base.

Attempting a three-point turn of a sixty-five-foot boat in a seventy-five-foot turning circle, in full view of the pub, was entertaining enough and involved all 10 pairs of hands on deck, lots of shouting and rope-pulling, and several giant leaps by crew from ship to shore.

Somewhere More Better

Pirates in the pub
Pirates in the pub

That evening, we made it, with the help of some rather potent homemade punch, back to the village of Braunston. This time we vowed to venture further into town in search of somewhere more better, in any way, than our ill-fated first visit.

‘The Old Plough’ was a short walk up the hill from the canal but well worth the effort, if just for the table skittles in the main bar.

It was on the last leg of our journey back to Hillmorton on Sunday evening, ready to give the boat back Monday morning at nine am, that I felt reassured that I was not, in fact, insane. At least, not this time.

Up on deck, straining my ears, I was sure that I could hear in the distance, “Ahoy there, mateys, har de har har.”

A Pirate Conga Line

Approaching from the opposite direction, another boat had seen our pirate flag flying rather pathetically at half mast. To my delight, it wasn’t only us; there was another group of adults dressed as pirates.

Mooring up, we finished our weekend with a celebratory conga line down the boat and toasted the general madness of our respective weekends.

We compared the number of minor crashes we had had over the last few days, the amount we had all had to drink, and the number of other narrow boaters that we had managed to upset.

I was more than a little pleased to learn it wasn’t only us who had been shouted at and enjoyed a few kamikaze moments.

Who would have known such enjoyment could be found so cheaply only two hours up the M1?

Charlotte Turner
Charlotte Baird is a part-time travel writer and primary school teacher from London. She has previously taught in China and traveled throughout Asia.

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