Hello! Please introduce yourself:

My name is Steve Langley and I’m the operations manager for Sally Narrowboats at Bradford on Avon Marina.

Steve Langley Sally Narrowboats

Tell us a little more about what you do on the Great West Way:

We run a fleet of 19 holiday hire narrowboats and four day boats here at Bradford on Avon Marina on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire.  They are all self-drive, but you don’t need a license to steer a canal boat and we provide tuition as part of our holiday and day boat hire.

What do you love most about your job?

Seeing people returning from their holiday relaxed with smiling faces and hearing kids say “that was the best holiday ever”. Typically, people arrive by car, rushed and stressed by their hectic lives. But travelling by boat at less than four miles per hour really forces people to slow down, relax and enjoy a gentler pace of life.

What’s a typical day like for you?

No two days are the same.  I could be doing anything from talking to people who are thinking about hiring a canal boat and have stopped by the marina to find out more, to managing bookings for boat maintenance work in our dry dock.

Sally Narrowboats

Do you work with a wider team? If so, tell us a bit about them:

Working on the waterways is a lifestyle career and it takes quite a lot of hands to keep a fleet of boats this size ship-shape. Many of our 12-strong team live on boats, or have been involved in canals one way or another for years. We have boat maintenance engineers, people who provide the boat steering tuition and boat handover, as well as our bookings and office support team, and our housekeeper who manages our agency cleaners and laundry service.

What do you find inspiring day-to-day? What keeps the enthusiasm going?

Working in a beautiful environment and being by the water is very special.  There are everyday simple pleasures the canal brings, including a connection to nature, because the canal is full of life – from ducks and swans on the water to big fish like carp and pike living in the water.

Any interesting or funny anecdotes related to your role or your experiences with visitors that you can share?

I never thought I’d spend so much time talking about toilet roll! We ask people not to bring their own loo roll unless it’s absolutely the cheapest possible, because otherwise it blocks up the toilets on our boats.

What does slow travel mean to you?

It means being more in the moment, taking time to absorb your surroundings and enjoy the simpler things in life, like feeding the ducks and being part of a community.

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?

It brings very different businesses and attractions together to share experiences and best practice. I’ve enjoyed meeting people working at high profile destinations such as Longleat Safari Park and Lacock Abbey, as well as the smaller businesses, like bike hire and cafes. 

Do you have any insider tips or advice for travelers who want to experience the touring route ‘like a local’?

Talk to people. Whether it’s locals or other visitors, you’ll get some great tips on things to see and do, places to eat, etc

Describe your perfect adventure on the Great West Way:

A weekend boating to Bath. It takes around four hours to cruise to Sydney Gardens on the edge of Bath. You can moor up there and walk into the city centre in around 15 minutes, so your canal boat becomes a floating hotel.

What’s your favourite thing to eat or drink along the touring route (can be a meal, a local delicacy or a favourite tipple)? Any cafes, restaurants or pubs you can recommend?

The Barge Inn on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Seend is really popular, especially in the summer months as it has a fantastic canalside garden where you can watch the world go by.

Are you a city, town or country person?

I love living in Bradford on Avon so I’m definitely a town person.  It has everything you need – great independent shops and markets, cafes, pubs and even the Wiltshire Music Hall with good gigs. It also has the river and the canal and so much history relating to the water, going back to medieval times.

Tithe Barn Bradford on Avon

If you could choose one must-visit attraction along the Great West Way, what would it be and why?

Definitely Historic England’s 14th century Tithe Barn.  It’s like stepping back in time and it’s surrounded by lovely riverside paths and footpaths to explore.

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret, lesser-visited spots you’d like to recommend?

I recommend coming here to Bradford on Avon Marina. You can park up and walk onto the canal to explore it by foot. Or you can hire a boat for the day and either cruise through Bradford on Avon and the Bath Valley to Avoncliff Aqueduct and the Cross Guns pub.  Or head east through the Wiltshire countryside to Semington, passing the Kings Arms pub at Hilperton along the way. And there’s a choice of places to eat and drink here. We have Noah’s Pantry café and the Boathouse Café here at the marina, as well as the Widbrook Grange Hotel just down the road.

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