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Alice the Airedale Terrier was looking forward to her first canal holiday along the Oxford canal with her owners Julie and Glenn. Here is Alice's story of the trip.

Alice and Julie

My name is Alice, an Airedale terrier aged one and a quarter years. Back in the summer my owners, Julie and Glenn, booked a narrow boat holiday; of course, nobody consulted me. At first, I wasn’t too keen, although Airedales were bred in Yorkshire for catching rats on the riverbanks, I'm not too fond of water. a paddle is fine.

On a Saturday in August we travelled to Napton Marina, Warwickshire, I saw my dog food being loaded into the car, I knew I wouldn’t go hungry. The rain was pouring when we arrived, I took this to be a bad omen. Nobody likes the smell of wet dog especially in confined spaces; even Julie puts me in the conservatory when I’ve been in the garden pond looking for water snails.

After checking in, sounds like we were flying somewhere, the safety advice given, we boarded our boat. I was impressed by the furnishings, my eyes lit up seeing the king sized bed. Julie said the galley had everything she needed to rustle up a hearty meal. Glenn was happy with the layout and technical things like engine size and being able to access the propeller shaft easily. After some instruction, the engine throbbed into life; the noise scared me. The Airedale is the king of the terriers, so I tried not to look worried, didn’t want to be left behind. Glenn insisted Julie learnt how to stop the boat, we supposed this was in case he fell overboard, wouldn’t have the excuse to leave him behind.

The chosen route was down the Oxford Canal, one of the oldest and prettiest on the British waterway system. With only a week's holiday, the plan was to head south, turning around late on Tuesday. It always looks different travelling back in a different direction. At the first lock, a chap was waiting to give Julie some instructions on how to work them. I could tell by the look on her face she was confused. Some people can impart knowledge they have, others can’t, and this chap was the latter. Anyway, Julie is not stupid, and after a couple of locks worked out which paddles to lift, so we got into the rhythm of the waterways.

Glenn and Alice

Despite the rain, on this first afternoon, I began to have fun. When we arrived at a lock I ran ahead with Julie; everyone was friendly, helping to push the lock gates open. Lots of other dogs were having boating holidays too, it was fun meeting them and having a game. The first night we moored up with no other canal boat in the vicinity. I liked the peace and quiet, if we had wanted company, moorings are available near villages and pubs.

The next day the weather was warm with no rain forecast. We made good progress arriving at the Wharf Inn at lunchtime. I wandered on the towpath while Glenn and Julie moored up. It was here, while pulling a rope, Julie lifted her arm, bringing it down on a wasp in her armpit. Inevitably, it stung. I was surprised the little fuss she made. On the day before our holiday I was stung on the foot in the garden and went into shock. I don't remember being carried to the car, followed by a mad dash to the vets. By the time we got there I had recovered, hopping out the car as if nothing had happened. I could tell they weren’t impressed. The whole holiday would have been in jeopardy if I was ill but the insurance would have covered it. Wasps were a nuisance though; I tried to catch as many as I could. Trying to live in harmony with wildlife is difficult for a dog with my hunting instincts - not that I've ever caught anything.

The noise of the engine didn’t bother me now as I was getting used to life afloat, then disaster struck. Being a young agile dog, I could leap from boat to the bank easily but what I didn’t take into account was the wet deck. Approaching a lock, getting ready to jump, my back feet slipped and I fell into the water like a stone. Fortunately, Julie made sure I had a well fitting harness plus a life jacket which was too hot in summer and very cumbersome. Before I surfaced I felt her hand hauling me out, depositing me on terra firma. Glenn doesn’t know how she managed it, one arm, lifting twenty-five kilos of wet dog. He says she can carry her own bags of cement now.

I haven't mentioned the sleeping arrangements. As you know, I had designs on their bed, until I was told it was against company policy. I thought I was in with a chance while they were asleep, only to find a booby trap in place. Knowing clanging metal upsets me they put the grill pan balanced on a stool at the entrance to the bedroom. Don’t you hate clever humans?

Alice on the rear deck

On Monday we arrived at Cropredy, where during the weekend, a folk festival had taken place in fields beside the canal. Consequently, the amount of boat traffic increased in this area. It wasn’t a problem though and I found it interesting to see how other dogs lived. Some barked at me, which I didn't like. It was good fun to trot along the towpath with Julie, the speed of the boat the same as a brisk walk and this way I could keep an eye on both of them. The town of Banbury hove into view and Julie decided retail therapy was needed. There were plenty of places to moor here, right up in the town if you were lucky. Leaving the boat for the town centre we found ourselves in an alleyway. Here, I nearly met my nemesis. A large Rottweiler crossbred dog, roaming on its own and very intimidating, tried to mount me. The beast wouldn’t leave me alone. Julie very bravely pulled it off shouting to Glenn to pick me up so again I felt myself lifted bodily into the air. The indignity! He took me into the town square, hiding in a shop until it had gone. Hope my friends at the dog training club don’t hear about this. The town had a plethora of eating places, a supermarket easy walking distance from the canal where we stocked up with supplies.

Moored up

This part of the canal does have some pubs but not so many as other waterways and you could be disappointed if this is essential for your holiday. After a hard day watching the world go by, having picnics on the canal bank Julie and Glenn would relax with a shower or bath. There was plenty of hot water and the large water tank on board only needed replenishing every alternate day. I didn’t use much. Numerous water taps lined the route so this was not a problem. Occasionally the evenings were chilly but the boat’s central heating kept us cosy while watching the television or DVD’s. It was fun watching them manoeuvring the aerial every evening to get a picture, with the ever changing position of the boat. There was a lot of shouting. "Yes. No. That’s it. No, you’ve lost it!"

We turned around at Lower Heyford, stopping here for a walk around this pretty village. It was pouring again, this time torrential. Glenn kitted himself out in the waterproofs provided, while Julie and I made ourselves snug down below with the chocolate biscuit supplies. We both dozed fitfully, while Glenn battled the elements to get us back to Napton. There are not too many locks on this part of the canal and are mainly in two flights, Napton and Claydon which enables you to recover your strength between them. There are two deep locks, twelve feet in depth, twice the normal so I wasn’t allowed to roam around these in case I fell in the swirling water, instead, staying on the boat with Glenn, helping him to steer. I was expected to help with the locks. I don’t think many other dogs assisted their owners as lots of people took my photograph and I felt like a celebrity.

Alice

The Warwickshire Ring is accessible from Napton and the circumnavigation can be done in a week, but we didn’t want to be tied to time. Our pace was set so we arrived back at Napton locks on Friday afternoon, went through the flight, then cruise north of the marina where we stayed the last night. As it takes three hours to complete the flight, we didn’t want to get up too early on the Saturday morning, risking any delays in the locks, to bring the boat back on time. I heard Glenn say this wasn’t a cheap holiday, although we did go in high season. There were mutterings about the cost of a holiday in the sun being cheaper. Who wants to get sunburnt on a beach? You can do that in England, if you are lucky, on a lovely, comfortable narrow boat. This holiday was perfect; we all would like to go again. I know they would take me as my owners remain, as usual, just where I want them, under my paw.

"Alice's Holiday" was first published in the August 2011 edition of Canals Rivers + Boats.