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Head to the canals for a truly unique cruise this year

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Plump geese emerge from the shelter of the reeds to join the enthusiastic gabble as the 65ft wide-beam craft is made ready to cast off from Caversham for our three-day cruise to Abingdon.

Surveying the scene it’s no wonder countless authors, from Charles Dickens to Jerome K Jerome, have been inspired to use the Thames as a backdrop for their work.

This mighty river begins its course in the Cotswolds and travels more than 200 miles through some of the country’s most picturesque towns before its stately progress through the heart of the capital and out to sea.

Our hosts aboard Kailani are owners Gordon Horry and Dorenda Wrigley, who gave up the hustle and bustle of land-based careers five years ago to pursue their passion for boating.

Between April and October, Kailani cruises southern England’s waterways navigating four canals and three rivers. She covers 1,250 miles from Birmingham to London, out to Ware in Hertfordshire, along the navigable Thames to Lechlade in Gloucestershire and from Reading to Bristol.

UK canals

GETTY- Exploring the beautiful canals of the UK makes for a unique cruise

As we step aboard we are greeted with a glass of bubbly and an appetiser of grapes wrapped in dates and coated with goat’s cheese. Delicious. There is no messing about on the river for Dorenda and Gordon. With effortless ease, and plenty of humour, they cater for their guests’ every need.

Kailani has been tastefully fitted to carry four passengers in style and comfort. Guest cabins, one double and one twin, have en suite facilities, hotel quality linen in neutral shades and a light oak finish to their furnishings which gives them a welcoming airy feel.

Space has been used to the best advantage, from the compact galley in which Dorenda produces her mouthwatering feasts, to the attractive art deco saloon which converts in an instant to a stylish dining area.

The first part of our journey takes us upstream to Mapledurham along riverbanks dotted with stunning properties and beautifully manicured gardens which spill down to the water’s edge. Afternoon tea of freshly baked scones, jam and cream is served on the bow deck in glorious sunshine as the world glides effortlessly by.

We pass the boathouse of Pangbourne Nautical College where the river is busy with scullers. Author Kenneth Grahame lived in the village and everywhere one sees the sights that are reflected in his glorious Wind In The Willows. Here are the watermills, the quaint boathouses and the swaying reeds that were brought to life in the adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Mr Toad.

We take turns to help the welcoming lockkeepers who give us a cheery wave and passing pleasantries. The hidden power of the Thames is apparent as the sluices open and thousands of gallons of water flood into the narrow, steep-sided lock raising the Kailani regally on a flurry of white foam before gently delivering her to the river above for the onward journey.

We berth at Mapledurham and enjoy a stroll along the riverbank carpeted in wild flowers, before returning to freshen up before a dinner of asparagus in herb butter wrapped in filo, followed by chicken stuffed with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, wrapped in prosciutto ham and served with a selection of seasonal vegetables.

This extravaganza for the taste buds is accompanied by wine and culminates with Eton mess and a selection of cheeses. The fresh air of the English countryside builds the appetite and Dorenda’s menus, packed with flavour and texture, are a welcome repast.

After a restful night lulled to sleep by the waters caressing Kailani’s hull, we head towards Benson Lock, breaking our journey at Goring where the stone walls that surround the late George Michael’s home are lined with tributes from adoring fans. The ancient parish church is said to house England’s oldest bell, which is believed to date back to 1290.

Canal lock

GETTY- Canal locks reveal the power of water and the Thames

It is here that the river excels in beauty and spectacle as we pass through the Goring Gap in the Chiltern Hills.

Sweeping vistas are dotted with glimpses of country homes, mature trees and churches. The ancient market town of Wallingford, packed with quirky shops and home to weekly farmer’s and country markets, appears around the bend with its unusual pierced church spire standing proud above the tree line.

Agatha Christie, who is buried at nearby Cholsey, lived and worked in Wallingford and more recently the town featured as Causton in ITV’s Midsomer Murders.

The final day sees us heading towards Abingdon. Below Dorchester we pass the confluence of the Thames with the River Thame where, from this point, the river romantically is known as the Isis. We navigate Day’s Lock and with the thunder of white water still ringing in our ears we pass the bridge made famous by the world-renowned Pooh Sticks competition.

Our river watch checklist has taken in red kites riding silently on the thermals above us, buzzards soaring and sweeping as they hunt for prey, stately and seemingly immovable herons, their feet anchored on the river bed.

But today, as a flash of vibrant blue breaks from the cover of overhanging bushes we add the elusive kingfisher to our tally, swooping low above the water and gone in a heartbeat.

After three days of eagerly looking towards the distant horizon at each bend in the river, so as not to miss a single delight of the Thames, I come to my own understanding of Kailani, the Hawaiian word for “where the sky meets the water”.

As we step ashore for the last time, a pair of swans and their cygnets glide by downstream to continue their enjoyment of the glories of the river. Their distant calls sound like laughter. They know they have the best of it amid the gently flowing waters of this magnificent river.

GETTING THERE

Hotel Boat Kailani (07447 051558/hotel boatkailani.com) offers three nights from £580 (two sharing), full board. Twin cabin, £550. England tourism: visitengland.com

Courtesy: express.co.uk

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