The Small, But Charming Pleasures of Hotel Barge Cruising
You know, as soon as you board the barge after what has been a long journey by road or rail, that you are in a different world. You discover that there is room for your bags, that the beds are pretty comfortable and that you will not have to pack and unpack for a whole week or two. There is a small, almost imperceptible movement of the barge on the water. It is not as if you are in a seaport on a small sailing boat, but all the same …
You settle yourself in the small cabin, investigate the barge – the salon, the deck, if on a small barge the galley where you find the chef who has has and garlic hanging up his pots and pans. You have otherwise been given something on your arrival to keep you going until dinner is served on board. A frisson. What will the other passengers be like? You soon find out. After an evening of some conviviality you will sleep well. It is dark – often very dark and you may hear owls or other night birds, ducks picking algae off the hull of the boat or the distant sound of water falling through a weir.
In the morning the countryside surrounds you, summer birdsong or the sun glowing through autumnal mist. Coffee and warm croissants from the galley; the bustle of casting off after breakfast; the casual murmur of the engine. A gray heron looks up as we approach, then takes off, its great wings taking it quickly up, slender legs tucked in behind as it soars beyond the barge. It will land with an elegant flutter just ahead of us, only to repeat the process until, tired of our steady approach it swoops over us back to its original stand. You are always close to the banks of the canal, close enough and slow enough to see in their season creamy meadowsweet, the dusky blue fruit of the blackthorn, wild roses. Take a walk on the towpath and you can find tiny brilliant plants; speedwell, campion, scarlet pimpernel. Or you can ride a bike between the locks, where small children gather to marvel.
You will be taken to places of interest, some magnificent and memorable, during your cruise, but when you return these quiet pleasures insinuate into your life on board and, no less than the grand palaces and cathedrals, will remain in your memory for long years afterwards.