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Family canal boating adventures on The Charente – France

by TRAVEL talk

After enjoying our canal boating trip on the Canal du Nivernais in France last year we decided to take our crew and explore the Charente area of France. We took our trip with Le Boat who are a leading provider of boating holidays on Europe and Canada’s beautiful inland waterways

Our crew member and good friend Fran Wilkie gives you her take on this great family holiday experience.

Excited doesn’t describe the 5 of us arriving in Jarnac and giddily heading for the Le Boat reception. A lovely girl called Laura checked us in, she was efficient and quick and gave us a comprehensive hand over of manuals for the workings of the boat, waterway maps and places of interest, mooring info, technical support and of course on-board cruising information.

The Le Boat base in Jarnac

The Le Boat Base in Jarnac

Our boat

We were led off to be introduced to our lovely lady for the week, The Royal Mystique, who provided ample room for our group of 4 adults and 1 teenage boy.

She featured a full heating system, a 17-inch LCD flat-screen TV/DVD player, a media centre with USB connectivity and I would think a much-needed air conditioning system for summer sailing.

On the upper deck, we had a huge sundeck with table, cushioned seating and sun canopy. Perfect for Alfresco dining. As we were blessed with very good weather for October we were able to enjoy this space to its full. Mooring up and having lunch on the upper deck and spent most of the sailing time on this level enabling us to take in the landscape whilst enjoying the lovely fresh air. Plenty of outdoor space for us all to share. Including Jim who spent most of the week fishing from the upper deck! An inside steering station provided excellent visibility too which was only used on our last day when the cooler climate hit and rain forced us all indoors!

Inside, the salon had comfortable seating and plenty of room for family dining/games in the evenings. The large settee converted to a double bed which was comfortably used by Jim.

The fully fitted galley kitchen comprised of a small oven, stove, microwave, large electric refrigerator, ample storage space, and high-quality equipment and utensils.

The forward cabin had a large double bed and an en-suite bathroom with an electric flush toilet, sink, and shower.

The exceptionally spacious (rear) stateroom had two single beds that can combine to make a double bed, with en-suite bathroom with shower, electric flush toilet, and the sink was luxurious. All bedrooms were stockpiled with ample towels and linen for all of us. 

The Royal Mystique moored at Bourg Charente

The Royal Mystique moored at Bourg Charente 

Assign a ships boss

It is very important to assign a ships boss who will make the boat handling decisions and will be at home at the helm and in charge of giving clear and concise instructions to his crew.

It is probably worth noting at this point that you don’t need any kind of formal training or licence to hire the boat. It is very easy and really just common sense.

We took it in turns with different duties giving everyone a chance to get a real feel for canal boating and as the locks were plentiful we all certainly got a chance. Preparing ourselves for each lock and each job assigned from first off the boat to catch the rope, to the lock opening “duos” and of course the driver’s role important for the control of the boat whilst water was let in and out of the locks. It is vital to have a team spirit on board and after a couple of days, we found our feet and realised our best roles and had our “Lock” team working well together. There were, of course, many special moments to soak up the sailing in between locks, coffee breaks and simply enjoying messing about on the water.

For children/teenagers spending the week on a canal boat is an exciting hands-on adventure, escaping the digital era and just winding down to the restricted cruising limit of just 8kph.

Our crew working like a well oiled clock

Our crew working like a well oiled clock

First night aboard

By the time we had stocked the cupboards and fridge and got familiar with the workings of the boat, it was nearing 7 pm so we decided that a shorter trip downstream to the nearest available mooring at Bourg Charente just a few kilometres downriver. Settled for the evening we enjoyed our first meal aboard ship, we were all starving and it tasted delicious.

We enjoyed some drinks, discussed the next day’s plans, checked the maps and after the days travelling we were all ready for an early night. The cabins were ever so comfy and perhaps the fresh air of the surrounding countryside and the gentle movement on the water lulled us all soundly to sleep. The very nice 16-year-old Lagavulin Single Malt that Kenny has smuggled aboard helped too!

All the essentials for a successful trip

All the essentials for a successful trip

Day 2 – Bourg Charente – Jarnac – Châteauneuf-Sur-Charente

After breakfast, we headed back towards Jarnac retracing our steps, upstream.  We passed through 6 locks in total today.

On some of the other canal’s in France, the locks are manned but on the Charente River, it is all DIY. It is not difficult, again a bit of common sense and practise. When you are tackling lock gates that have been in place for many years you can definitely feel the upper arms working and building up muscle, great exercise for all, and the kids love it.

The scenery was just beautiful as we cruised gently by trees, habitation, fields, streams emptying into the Charente, small islands, moorings, boats, people walking, people in boats, people joining us in locks.

A changing landscape, a changing mood, from the trials of everyday life that we left only a few hours ago – to a state of relaxation and peace in nature that is so very real, and is already starting to feel like the norm.

We arrived in Angoulême at about 6 pm and turned our roles from ship’s crew to ships cook and we all enjoyed a fabulous meal. Another relaxed evening in the company of good friends and good French wine. We are all relaxed and enjoying life.  What’s not to like about this boating lark?

Plenty of time for the crew to relax

Plenty of time for the crew to relax

Day 3 – Châteauneuf-sur-Charente – Angoulême

After refilling our on-board water tank from the free hook-up services ‘tower’, we were ready to set off.  Morning sailing at this time of year can be a little chilly but after the 1st lock, fleeces and hoodies were flung off.

It’s been a full day with few ‘lazy’ spells just watching the world go by. The water is amazingly clear and mostly quite shallow.  We saw sandbanks, weed growth blooming and other sub-aqua features as we passed along. In terms of wildlife … some lock cats, cormorants, majestic herons taking flight, many ducks, swans, geese, buzzards and lots of fish jumping.

We arrived and moored up in Angouleme and the boys went off to explore the town which was perched on a steep hill.

Stunning lock keepers house

Beautiful lock keepers house

simply stunning scenery

Simply stunning scenery

Day 4 – Angoulême – Châteauneuf-sur-Charente

Today we set about retracing our steps downstream back to Châteauneuf-sur-Charente.

On the way, we ate lunch alfresco in the sun. We found a quiet mooring site and it was just perfect.  Especially for Jim, who fished to his heart’s delight in an absolutely beautiful spot.  Scrummy lunch of buffet-style food, French pates & cheeses, delicious fresh baguette and the obligatory glass of rose!

At 6 pm arriving at our destination, we were pleased with this mooring of free electricity & water. Our private mooring space was an easy walk to a little bar and a Carrefour mini supermarket.

We had another wonderful evening of good food, laughs, general fun and good humour.

Tea and biscuits on the top deck

Tea and biscuits on the top deck

 Day 5 – Châteauneuf-sur-Charente – Cognac

There was little trouble with the locks today and the exercise is doing us all the world of good.  They are all deep and wide, and the lock gates are extremely tall and thick and weigh a great deal.  Quite different from the canal locks in the UK.  The mechanism is good though if a little stiff sometimes.

Arriving at teatime in Cognac the boys again went discovering and were very impressed with both the atmosphere and the architecture they’d seen.  We’ll be moored here for 2 nights so will have a full day of exploring tomorrow.

A trip to the Martell Cognac Distillery with guided tour and tasting has been arranged for tomorrow afternoon, so we’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted with the town before lunch.

It’s just been so convenient and so wonderfully relaxing to moor up in the middle of nowhere, knock something tasty up and relax in the sun and enjoy some real chill time.

The after tour Cognac tasting

The after tour Cognac tasting

Chilling with a glass of rose

Chilling with a glass of rose

Day 6 – Moored at Cognac

Well, it turns out that a 21-year-old English guy named Martell had the foresight to settle here in Cognac and instigate the business that has grown into the present-day phenomenon that is Martell in 2019.  He married a girl whose father had experience in growing, pressing and distilling the right kind of grapes to make brandy/cognac and the rest – as they say – is history. Only brandy produced in the Cognac region can officially be marketed and sold as Cognac. Much in the same way that only the Champagne area of France can officially and legally describe their products as Champagne.

The tour was all interesting stuff, but tasting the end product was even better!

Day 7 – Cognac – Jarnac

We spent our last cruising day heading back to the Le Boat base in Jarnac. The weather had finally realised that it was October!  Misty and a little gloomy most of the day and much colder than before.  Jeans, layers on top and a cosy jacket that stayed on all day were absolute necessities. No complaints though, we felt the weather gods had looked after us all week.

Jim busied himself with his fishing … as per normal.  He fishes at every available moment and he loves it.  Good on him!

Handing back our home for the week

We were all a little sad to be handing back our beautiful boat to its rightful owners but the now very tight crew busied themselves with cleaning duties. Leave it as you found it, spotless, the boat easily passed the hand back inspection.

Tears as we drove away.  Not just me, but Jim too.  I held his big warm teenage hand and gave him a squeeze.  We’d both had a ball and would miss the boat and the fun and each other … of course it was the fishing Jim would miss the most! 😉

I love the water – I love the boat – I love nature – I love my friends … this trip has been wonderful.


Read our article about canal boat holidays on the Canal Du Nivernaise

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Le Boats HQ in Jarnac

1 Comment

  1. larry

    Looks like a great time! This is something I’d seriously consider with my family. Out of curiosity, roughly how much did this cost your crew?


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About The Author

Smalltalk Magazine

Since 2005 Smalltalk Magazine is a printed A4 information magazine aimed at parents, distributed throughout the Yorkshire region. Printed 6 times a year it is distributed free to over 300 parent-friendly locations in the area. Full of useful and informative articles about family life.