Hello again Phileas Phans! It’s Willow here, fresh back from my first ever holiday – not bad considering I’m only five months old. And not just any holiday either – I’ve been cruising the British Waterways in a dog-friendly narrow boat on the Llangollen Canal. Forget a stupid Ship’s Cat – Willow the Ship’s Dog is in town.
I didn’t know what a boat was at first, when Hannah, her brother Matt, her parents and me arrived at Maestermyn and Welsh Lady Narrowboats in Shropshire.
There was a lot of talk about how we were going to be in a boat called Catrina, a two berth narrow boat (berths are like bedrooms to us land-lubbers apparently.) But, when we arrived we were upgraded to the Queen Victoria – a bigger boat with an extra berth. So Hannah and me had a double bed instead of a single – result.
(I’m sure we were upgraded because, as soon as the boat owners saw me they knew that, as a Coton de Tulear, which is the Royal Dog of Madagascar, I should be upgraded, and that only a royal boat would be suitable.)
Anyway, when I first went into our boat, I thought it was just another house – a long and narrow one.
It had a kitchen and a shower room and a comfy seat that I picked out straight away.
I knew we were near water though. I’ve walked by canals before, and there was definitely the unmistakable whiff of duck.
Then, suddenly, there was a very loud roar, a bit like our car makes, and the house was rocking!
I was a bit alarmed by this turn of events but luckily I’m a brave little dog and didn’t panic. Then Hannah took me out onto the front of the boat and – pull my tail –our holiday home was floating down the canal! So now I knew what a boat was – a house that moves on water.
Well, this was just super-doggy-duper! I stood with my paws on the side of the boat as we passed fields and trees and even DUCKS swam in front of my nose. All the while I could catch the tantalizing smells wafting from the bank – it was like a walk in fast-forward, with loads more smells and new places to see every second.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw lots of bigger and dirtier versions of me in a field – apparently these are sheep! On closer inspection I decided they definitely weren’t as pretty as me, but they smelt interesting.
We passed people walking on the towpath, and they all smiled and waved at me, looking so cute like a fluffy ship’s figurehead. Sometimes it was frustrating though, because no matter how much I wagged my tail I couldn’t reach those people on the bank, and I just knew they would give me a huge fuss and a biscuit if I could get to them!
We passed dogs too. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw me cruising past. Sometimes they tried to keep level with me by running along the towpath, barking. But they were no match for Willow the Water-Pup, Coton-of-the-Canal, as I was chauffeured past on my very own Royal Barge.
I liked this boating lark – until I suffered a terrible ordeal. Hannah tried to make me wear a life jacket! A life jacket I tell you! What a joke – you’ve never seen anything so hideous in your life. It was luminous orange and padded and there was no way a dog as cute as me would be seen dead in something so ugly so I put my paw very firmly down.
When Hannah tried to take me for a walk on the towpath wearing it, I refused to budge and didn’t move a muscle. That was the end of the life jacket.
Anyway, as if I needed a life jacket – I had no intention of jumping in that filthy canal water, and even if I had fallen in, I can swim – I’m a dog! AND hundreds of years ago my ancestors jumped from pirate ships and swam ashore to the island of Madagascar I’ll have you know.
Fashion crisis averted, within a few hours I was practically sailing the narrow boat on my own. I was even helping out with the funny contraptions called locks, which make the boat disappear down or rise up like magic! (It’s best to stay on the lead for these though, as apparently it’s very dangerous if you fall in one.)
Life on a canal is such fun. Some of the best things about it are the walks! Every time I stepped ashore a whole new walk awaited me, with exciting smells and places to see. Canal towpaths are great for walking. I was allowed off the lead loads so could run and play – just watch out for bikes. Oh and games of fetch are a little difficult if your owner doesn’t have a good aim, unless you don’t mind losing your ball forever into the depths of the canal!
There were also lots of countrysidey smells, more sheep and rabbits – and joy-of-joys, the delicacy that is fox poo. I tried to chase a squirrel once but I lost it when it climbed a tree.
We passed pretty houses and bridges and lovely little villages, where you can moor up and explore. We visited loads of good places. The first night we moored the boat near a village Chirk, which smelt of that forbidden treat – chocolate. Then someone told me why – there’s a Cadbury factory nearby! Chirk is just inside Wales so I was crossing borders now!
We ate in a dog-friendly pub called the Bridge Inn, just a short walk from the canal. I was only allowed in the tiled bar area and there wasn’t a lot of room, but Hannah says the food was nice and I met a friendly Jack Russell!
It was fun staying on the boat overnight, though it’s pitch black on the towpath – no problem for my keen eyesight but make sure you tell your humans to carry a torch.
And just to warn any scaredy-dogs out there, the boat occasionally rocks as you walk around inside, and bangs against the side of the canal, which shocked me at first but I soon got used to it.
The Chirk Tunnel was a bit spooky, mind, when we went through it on the boat. Not that I was scared – I was only hiding my face in Hannah’s coat to protect my fur from the drips!
We also visited Llangollen – a popular tourist town, with lots of shops and places to eat. I didn’t test them out myself but the Chain Bridge Hotel and the Sun Trevor pub are both dog-friendly. There are even some horse-drawn boats on the canal here – I made sure to bark at all the horses just to show them I’m boss. After all, us dogs don’t have to pull the boats – we ride in them like the VIP passengers we are.
Another night we ate at the Telford Inn at Trevor. I never did manage to figure out who Trevor was but he certainly knows how to make a welcoming doggy pub: I was given water and lots of fuss, and could lie in front of the open fire while my humans tucked into some lovely food.
We went to another town called Ellesmere, but I’m sad to report that this was NOT a very dog-friendly town! We walked round and asked in all the pubs, but there was nowhere for the humans to eat that would let me in – the cheek of it! So in the end we picked up a Chinese takeaway and we headed back to the boat. The one redeeming feature of Ellesmere is that nearby are seven lovely lakes, or meres, which make it one of the prettiest parts of the canal. These formed 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, when the great glaciers melted – I’m not just a pretty face you know! There are some great walks on the towpath where you’re walking with the canal on one side of you and a mere on the other – I definitely advised Hannah against trying to throw the ball for me here!
Also not to be missed on the Llangollen Canal are the two aqueducts – one at Chirk as you cross from England into Wales, and the other at Pontcysyllte. The views are amazing, and it’s hard to believe that you’re in a boat on a canal aqueduct that’s seventy feet up in the air over the river far below. Now I know what it’s like to be a bird!
Eventually we had to turn back though, and on the final night we ate at a fascinating pub called the Jack Mytton in Whittington, not too far from our boatyard and right on the edge of the canal. It was lovely inside, with lots of interesting things on the walls, though I wasn’t too keen on the carving of a bear outside.
The bear was forgotten though when I spotted a jar of dog biscuits on the bar! The landlord was very friendly and the food award-winning. They even have a pub dog which apparently looks like me but HUGE – can you imagine?! I would have loved to meet him but he obviously hadn’t heard about the royal visit and was out and about.
The next morning we returned the boat to the boatyard and headed home. I was sad that my boating adventure had to end. I’d loved all the exciting towpath walks; visiting a different place each time we stopped, and, most of all, riding at the front of the boat like a princess watching the world go by. I was worn out and slept all the way home, dreaming of boats and ducks and averted fashion disasters. When we pulled up outside our house, I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends that little Willow of Tickhill was now Willow of the Waterways!
- Maestermyn and Welsh Lady Cruisers, Ellesmere Road, Whittington, Shropshire, SY11 4NU Tel: 01691 662424; www.maestermyn.co.uk (Dogs are allowed in all their boats, but there is an additional charge.)
- Bridge Inn, Chirk Bank, Wrexham, LL14 5BU Tel: 01691 773213
- The Chain Bridge Hotel, Llangollen, LL20 8BS Tel: 01978 860215; www.chainbridgehotel.com
- The Sun Trevor, Sun Bank, Llangollen, LL20 8EG Tel: 01978 860651; www.suntrevor.co.uk
- The Telford Inn, Station Road, Trevor, LL20 7TT Tel: 01978 820469
- The Jack Mytton Inn, Hindford, Whittington, Oswestry, SY11 4NL Tel: 01691 679861; www.jack-mytton.co.uk
- (The Jack Mytton is awarded the Phileas Dogg Paw Print of Approval by Willow.)
Another Great Offer from Wightlink Ferries, Exclusive to Phileas Dogg Readers
For stays booked in May, dogs can stay for free (usually charged at £20 per dog) at Nettlecombe Farm in Whitwell on the Isle of Wight. One of Wightlink’s Green Getaway properties, Nettlecombe is a working-farm which offers a choice of canine-friendly self-catering accommodation in converted stables, barns and cottages set amidst the rolling south Wight countryside. To book with Nettlecombe Farm: 01983 730 783 firstname.lastname@example.org. To qualify for this offer, ferry travel must be booked with Wightlink and the code ‘Wightlink – Phileas Dogg’ must be quoted to Nettlecombe Farm at the time of booking. Proof of Wightlink ferry travel (i.e. copy of booking confirmation) is required.