On our last night with the Wandering Duck crowd, Maarja and I were sat outside the White Lion in Disley after an exhilarating team effort that had put us in at third place in the pub quiz.
Glancing at each other, we knew that we were both thinking the same thing from the huge smiles on our faces.
“What an amazing group of people!”
All aboard the Wandering Duck!
It’s not an exageration to say that I have spent 90% of my 24 years in England south of London.
And I was quite content with this. I mean… the North is dodgy right?
But as I listened to Mark’s description of his canal boat tour company on our first meeting last year I found myself wanting desperately to experience the hidden waterways of the North!
Combining cosy hostel bunk beds and community atmosphere with incredible home-cooked food, I knew the Wandering Duck would be a winner. And it really was!
P.s… to my fellow Southerners – you don’t need your passport to visit the North. But make sure to take your camera!!
Experience the UK’s first floating hostel
Wandering on to the Wandering Duck, I really didn’t know what to expect except bunk beds, as this canal boat is home to the UK’s very first floating hostel!
Obviously, due to the wandering nature of the canal-boat, booking just one night on the floating hostel is pretty tricky. I also wouldn’t try to kill two birds with one stone and combine accommodation and transport through Manchester. You won’t get very far.
So how is the Wandering Duck like a hostel? Or rather… why is the Wandering Duck so much more than a hostel?
Well. Let me tell you…
I choose to stay in hostels and sleep in mixed dorms because I enjoy the social atmosphere of making new friends and learning about lives that are different to mine.
Well as you can see from the photo above of the sleeping cabin above, the seven of us on this trip definitely bonded!
But what else? Well not only does the Wandering Duck give you a bed. You also get:
- breakfast, lunch and dinner (homemade and included in the price – with dessert and ice-cream!)
- an infinite number of free walking tours when you go exploring off the canal path with Mark or Ruth
- instruction on working the locks along the canal
- lessons in steering the 69ft boat(!)
- explanations on the history of landmarks passed during the trip
- free access to Ruth’s WORLD FAMOUS BROWNIES! – I should have a photo of these but I was too busy eating them so here is Ruth’s homemade sticky toffee pudding instead…
Pass the windlass…
I’m off on a canal boat adventure!
The name of the tour I took was the Canal Boat Adventure… and it really was an adventure! Beginning in the industrial and metropolitan centre of Manchester, the Canal Boat Adventure tour passes through the urban underbelly in a cruise towards the edge of the beautiful Peak District National Park.
First stop? All aboard the Wandering Duck at Castlefield Basin! Less than a ten-minute walk from Deansgate station, the basin is super easy to find (hint – look for water) and you’ll find lunch ready and waiting for you!
The fact that Mark and Ruth greet their new guests with a sit down lunch around which we all got to know each other really helped add to the family vibe that developed throughout the next four days. I really came to look forward to the meals on the Wandering Duck – and not just because the physical activity had me as hungry as a horse!
So how physical does it get on board the duck? Well, to really comprehend the extent of the activity then you’ll just have to watch the upcoming vlog of our trip! But Mark and Ruth also run the calmer Canal Boat Escape which requires less winding of the windlass!
The reason that the tour I took was called the Adventure tour is because there is a far greater number of locks involved. And by locks I don’t mean the small little padlocks we put on our hostel lockers.
I’m talking about these bad boys…
These locks are the gates that control the water level in the canals and essentially act as a staircase to help the canal boat rise up with the landscape. It sounds complicated but Mark and Ruth do such an excellent job at explaining how everything works that it takes no time at all to get in to the swing of things.
Especially when you get to practice on nine locks on the very first day! No wonder lunch was so fulfilling!
By the end of the day, everyone is working like a well-oiled team. We know what to do, in what order, and easily slip in to a system of helping each other out. It’s team-building at it’s best and so if you’re not bonding in the confined space of the narrow-boat then working the locks will do it.
(or why my cheeks hurt so much from smiling)
1. The canals
Being a Southern Fairy who has grown up surrounded by seaside towns, getting my first sight of Manchester from the canal network that helped to build it’s thriving industrial history was the perfect introduction to my first Northern adventure.
Long before trains were used to transport coal and textiles across the country, Manchester’s industrial development depended almost entirely on the canal network, which shows just how influential the canals were in Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
2. The kettle
I’ve already mentioned the beautiful opportunity for guest bonding that naturally took place at meal times. Another time that I think really brought everyone together was when the kettle whistled… time for coffee and brownies!
Just imagine the scene. Your arms are aching slightly from pushing open the lock gates, you’ve got a little chill from the small rain shower that caught you halfway up the staircase of locks, and then Ruth or Mark pop their head out of the top of the boat calling those two special words…
3. The Only Fools & Horses canal boat…
I am a HUGE fan of Only Fools & Horses (thanks Dad) and after making this very clear from various references throughout the tour Ruth did possibly the one thing that could be better than her skills at making brownies.
She moored up next to the Trotters Independent canal boat! What a legend.
4. The people
The Wandering Duck is not your typical hostel or river cruise, and so the people you meet will not be your typical travellers.
For reasons I can’t comprehend the canal network does not attract enough young travellers (this needs to change because it’s awesome!), and so many of the guests are fellow working Brits looking to explore the country, or foreigners on sabbatical seeking a different immersion experience.
But despite our differences in age, nationality, profession and agenda, saying goodbye to the eight people I had spent every waking moment with for the past four days was an affair full of smiles and tight hugs, tinged with sadness.
5. Mark & Ruth… of course!
What can I say here except that the hosts of the Wandering Duck are FANTASTIC! In my opinion, if any two people can introduce more young, independent backpackers to the canal network then Mark and Ruth can do it!
It helps of course that they are independent backpackers themselves, and they also spent a year managing a hostel in New Zealand so their abilities to make everyone feel welcome and at home on the Wandering Duck are out of this world.
I am definitely a new canal trip fan, but I have to say I’m not sure I’d have as much fun without these guys. So if I didn’t make it clear… they rock so go on an adventure with them!
Highlights – a photo essay
I wish I could share every part of the trip with you. I promise there will be more content soon on some of our little day-tours in the countryside and keep an eye out for the upcoming vlog!
Until then here is a photo essay to illustrate just how much beauty surrounded this trip (all photos on the Sony a5000 – hover for captions and click for gallery).
The Wandering Duck multi-day tours begin from £145 per person – but before you gasp remember my promise to you that I would never suggest you spend your hard-earned travel fund on experiences that aren’t worth it or on experiences that I wouldn’t pay for myself.
And this is definitely worth the money – in fact I’m hoping to take my mum soon! In my opinion, both my mother and the Wandering Duck are worth the money.
I would like to thank Mark and Ruth of the Wandering Duck for helping me to share their floating hostel with you, but as always all opinions are honest and my own.
Lots of love,