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Gerry Mulvaney Samples a long weekend break on the Shropshire Union Canal aboard a luxury hire boat from Napton Narrowboats at their Autherley Junction Base

Narrowboat Elizabeth

Being over six feet tall has brought its advantages over the years. I got into pubs earlier than most, and saw X-rated films well before my eighteenth birthday. It was useful when I was playing football and apparently women like tall men, which I can vouch, as I've had my fair share. But it has not been all good news. I had to pay full fare on buses, even when I was still at school and my parents used to complain about the cost of clothes when I was growing up. Now I choose to keep short what little hair I have left; the top of my head looks like a moon crater, where it has had regular contact with low beams, door jambs and most of all, the sliding rear hatch at the stern of our narrow boat Aurora. So you will appreciate that for me, the confines of a narrow boat hold some challenges, not the least of which is getting to sleep in a standard sized canal boat bed.

The distinctive navy and cream livery Cruising the Shopshire Union Canal

Elizabeth, on the other hand seemed built with me in mind. She is part of the fleet of Elite class narrow boats, operating from Napton Narrow boats hire base at Autherley Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal. The three nights I spent on Elizabeth in May, were the best nights sleep I have ever had on a narrow boat, courtesy of Howard Davies's cleverly designed king sized beds. Yes that’s right, not just one but two 6ft 3in x 5ft fully sprung king sized beds, which form four of the six to eight berths on this boat.

Howard has arranged for one third of the beds, which run the full width of the cabin, to fold up into the cabin wall to provide access during the day. The mattress is similarly split, with two thirds of the bed remaining made up during the day. The result is bliss for large people like me, with the added benefit for Mrs. M of not being squashed against the wall by a restless husband during the night. According to Howard, the two berth Elite fleet are apparently very popular with young couples, for reasons I will leave to your imagination.

At 64 feet Elizabeth is not the largest of the fleet, there is a 70 foot version, but for two or three couples she makes a very spacious boat. The space is obvious from the outside, with seating for four at the cruiser stern and another four or five seats in the bow. Stepping down into the boat from the stern, you enter a twin/double cabin, with plenty of storage space for coats and clothes. Also in this cabin is the Alde Comfort LPG boiler, powered by four gas bottles under the cruiser stern seats, which provides constant hot water and central heating when moored up. There are two modern electronic fresh water macerator toilets with separate holding tanks, one with a wash basin and the other with a full bath and shower, providing separate en-suite facilities for the two king sized bedrooms. There is space enough in the bathroom even for me to reach all my nooks and crannies while showering, without turning the bathroom into a swamp.

One of the King Size beds
The comfortable saloon

Elizabeth's kitchen has all the mod cons you would expect. A gas cooker is complimented by a microwave, coffee percolator and toaster running off the inverter and a 12 volt fridge, with a small ice box capable of maintaining a steady flow of G & T’s. The granite style worktop and stainless steel double sink complete the modern look.

Stepping from the kitchen into the living area, the first impression is one of a bright and airy space, with large picture windows on both sides. Again with two or three couples there is plenty of room to socialise on the bench seating complimented by stand alone chairs and stools around the fold away table. Elizabeth boasts a digital TV and DVD and is equipped with a very tall pole which managed to find a perfect signal for Coronation Street even in the depths of Shropshire. For those with iPods and other electronic paraphernalia, the TV has enough input and output sockets to turn it into veritable home entertainment centre. There is also a generous provision of 13 amp sockets throughout the boat and on our short trip these were fully tested with two ladies hairdryers and curling tongs without protest from the inverter.

On the move Elizabeth is powered by a Beta Marine diesel engine and gearbox, with plenty of power in reserve. There are twin alternators charging the household batteries and a separate starter battery and a simple Beta Marine control panel within easy reach of the Skipper on the stern. Gauges for the waste tanks are located here along with the fuse box for the 12 and 240 volt circuits, meaning everything technical is easy to hand. She handled well in windy conditions on the Shropshire Union in May and apart from a fairly strong side force from the prop in reverse, it was difficult to find fault with the propulsion system.

Elizabeth is in for a busy summer and is booked out by hirers for most weeks in the season. If you come across her or any of the other boats in Naptons' Elite Edwardian Fleet at Autherley or Napton you will be able to recognise their distinctive navy and cream livery, but probably the easiest way to identify them will be to look at the smug faces of the crew who enjoyed a good eight hours of sleep the previous night, or in the case of the two berth versions, other forms of nocturnal activity, courtesy of Howard Davies's clever bedroom design.

The well-equipped Galley

Fact File

Elizabeth is one of seven of the Napton Narrowboats Edwardian Elite Fleet operated by Proprietors Howard and Ann Davies’s from their base at Autherley Junction, near Wolverhampton. Napton Narrowboats also operate from their head office at Napton Marina Near Southam in Warwicks. Weekly hire prices for Elizabeth range from £995 to £1,850, exclusive of fuel and insurance.

More information on Elizabeth and the other boats available for hire from Napton Narrowboats is available from: Napton Narrowboats, Napton Marina, Stockton, Southam CV47 8HX.
Tel: 01926 813644. enquiries@napton-marina.co.uk
www.napton-marina.co.uk

"Sweet Dreams" was first published in the August 2011 edition of Canals Rivers + Boats.