Anjodi, cruising along the Canal du Midi, painting by Stanley Rose


Welcome to the October edition of the Lock-keeper, our 40th edition and still going strong!

As we come towards the end of another year, we begin reflecting on the past months, the happiness of new additions to the fleet and sad moments as we say "au revoir" to two of our old friends, Rosa and Meanderer.

The year ahead looks very exciting with more new relationships on the horizon, boosting our portfolio to nine countries and re-introducing Bordeaux back into our repertoire. More of that in future editions of The Lock-keeper.

This month's edition has plenty of variety, starting with a trip along the Shannon on the Shannon Princess II with Graham Howe from South Africa who cruised with us earlier this year. We lift the lid on how to take the stress out of family holidays, compare the beautiful Italianate gardens of the Loire and Thames valley and give you the results of last month's Burgundy wine book competition. A new trilogy of festive season articles begins with an article on Hogmanay.

In this edition, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the gracious lady of the Thames, the 11 passenger Actief, with a special cruise discount offer for 2007 and a competition to win a cruise for two on board Actief in 2007.

With all this to look forward to, why not sit back with a relaxing drink, put your feet up for a few minutes and read the GoBarging Lock-keeper news!

I look forward to hearing from you, and seeing you at our website, where you can find out all about GoBarging and keep up to date with the latest news as it breaks....

best regards,

Derek Banks, Chairman

Derek Banks - Chairman and Barge skipper

in this issue:

Barging through Ireland

Happy Birthday Actief

Film Cruise

Wine Book Winners

Actief cruise competition

Scottish Traditions

Chateaux and Stately Homes

Family Cruises

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Barging through Ireland on the Shannon Princess Shannon Princess, Barging in Ireland
by Graham Howe, Upfront and Travel magazine

I went barging through Ireland, looking for the free-spirited barge gypsies led by Johnny Depp in "Chocolat". At a riverside village near Limerick, I found my Shannon Princess, a sleek river queen with twin decks, a cream base, risqué rouge lines, bright flower boxes and roses in her bow. From the moment I saw her moored at the quayside in County Tipperary and was lulled asleep on our first night by the gentle slap of waves on her ironsides, I fell under the spell of the barge and the river.

The Shannon Princess is a friendly family affair. We were warmly welcomed aboard by the owner family - skipper Ruairi (Rory) Gibbons, his wife, Olivia (a true barge romance - he advertised for a chef and found a wife), their young son and his aunt Marina. They live on the Shannon every summer, taking passengers from all over the world on an idyllic six-day cruise between Lough Derg and Lough Ree through the heart of Ireland. The barge moors at a different village every evening with guided excursions to nearby monasteries, heritage sites and historic towns like Galway.

"We run the only hotel barge in Ireland - and this is the first trip of our fourth season" said the skipper who flies the Jolly Roger pirate flag on the river every summer. "Some guests book the whole barge for special occasions (with five double cabins, they accommodate up to ten passengers). The actress Sandra Bullock brought three generations of her family on board. When her mother, a famous opera star, sang Danny Boy in a village pub, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. We've had many celebrity guests from American senators to film stars."

Birr Castle, IrelandThe cruise is a cultural, ecological and culinary journey through the heart of Ireland - with themed trips for golfers who get to tee-off from the top deck at one of the riverside golf courses. The barge has its own guide who takes guests on intimate excursions to off the beaten track heritage sites - like the sixth-century burial site of Celtic kings at Clonmacnois, Birr Castle (site of the world's oldest giant telescope and a renowned science centre) and haunted Leap Castle (owned by Sean Ryan, a renowned Irish penny-whistle player).

You're part of the family for a week with warm, genuine hospitality. Olivia Gibbons, the talented chef who trained at the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, treats passengers to a culinary tour de force of new Irish cuisine, showcasing organic fare and regional specialties from breads to seafood, lamb, duck, cheese and charcuterie. She sources the finest fare from market producers along the way, served with fine porcelain and Irish crystal on crisp white linen. (The cruise is inclusive of all excursions, meals, wines and spirits.) An occasional lunch at a village pub along the way and a platter of oysters in Galway add to the experience.

The river came before the road - and almost every village and town lies on the water. We journeyed through the past on the longest inland waterway in all of Ireland and Britain. The Vikings, the Normans, Cromwell, the Dutch, French and all the invading kings over the centuries invaded Ireland by water, sailing their fleets up the rivers to conquer the coastal and inland settlements. Until the nineteenth century, all goods were transported along a network of canals and rivers from north to south, west to east. Guinness used to operate a fleet of barges to deliver all of its stout by water.

Barging through Ireland on the Shannon Princess continued Shannon Princess, Barging in Ireland
by Graham Howe, Upfront and Travel magazine

A barge is a magical way to explore Ireland. Old travellers know the journey is not so much about where you're going but about how you get there. We moored every night near remote two (never one), three or four pub villages. On a post-prandial stroll to the nearest pub on the shore every day, I often stumbled across a live "session". Spilling onto the street, music filled the air with lively fiddle, guitar, bodhran and penny-whistle. I joined in the "craic" - the sharing of good music, good company and good spirits. At Athlone, one of the overnight moorings, we dropped into Sean's Bar, which claims to be "the oldest pub in Ireland" though I've heard that blarney before.

We passed at a serene pace through a landscape shaped by Celtic mythology. On my on-shore walks curiosity (and the odd hangover) led me to sites like the "Headache Well" and "Eye Well" at the village of Terryglass (meaning the land of two streams). The Shannon is named after Sinann, the grand-daughter of Lear, a great sea-king. According to legend, she drowned after violating Connla's mystical well of knowledge - a strictly male preserve in those days - causing the water to rise up violently, bursting its banks and creating the great river called the Shannon today.

Overlooking Lough Derg, IrelandThis mighty river runs through the heart of Ireland. The poet Edmund Spenser writes in "The Faerie Queen" of "the spacious Shannon spreading like a sea". Consulting the navigation charts on the barge, I traced the 344-kilometre long waterway with its 258 kilometres of navigable waterway from its source in the Shannon Pot via the 39-km long Lough Derg, Lough Ree (29km) and Lough Allen (11) - all the way to the sea at Limerick - a 15 000 square catchment area that represents one-fifth of Ireland.

The crew chatted to third-generation lock-keepers and harbour-masters along the way - the rivermen who operate the swing bridges, locks and quays. Rows of fishermen cast a line from the reeds, checked eel-traps, waved us on our way - and probably cursed our wake. We moored near the sixth-century church of Killaloe, near Cromwell's castle at Banagher, at an old monastery maze at Mountshannon, and opposite the Norman castle of the Jacobite town of Athlone which fell to a bombardment of 12 000 cannonballs by the artillery of William of Orange in 1690.

We travelled some 200 kilometres along the river - under centuries-old arched bridges and through Victorian locks. The Shannon changed from day to day. The landscape varied from the wide-open sea of the inland lakes dotted with ancient islands to narrow river channels, from the meelick (the low reed-lined marshes) to the callows (the low-lying river meadows), and from the burnished peat bogs to the forested eskers (ice-age ridges which run across Ireland). The Shannon is a twitcher's heaven, from the swans, swallows and herons to the wagtails, wigeons and warblers.

"Have you noticed how red and brackish the water is?" asked Marina, the cabin steward, "They call Lough Derg the lake of the bloody eye." Looking out at Scariff Bay, she related the loch lore of the king of Connacht who lost an eye to a bard and washed his face in the water, turning the lake bloody red. Others will tell you the peat bogs on the riverbanks dye the water a brackish red - but that's the art of blarney.

When it comes to navigating the waters of the Shannon - a maze of waterways ranging from two to 44 metres deep with ancient stone buoys and channel markers - you should watch the swans. According to an old wives tale, a swan never feeds in water deeper than its neck. The moral of the story is never stray near feeding swans.

Visit the Shannon Princess or contact us about a River Shannon Barge cruise here.

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Happy Birthday Actief! Actief on the river Thames, England

Here's a question for you.....

What do Sir Lawrence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Fay Wray and Gene Autry all have in common with our luxury hotel barge Actief..?

Stars of the Silver Screen sharing a birthday with Actief...

The answer is.....they were all born in 1907, the same year that Actief was built as a working cargo vessel in Holland.

It's incredible to think that during the last hundred years Actief has plied her trade through war and peace, through thousands of breakthrough inventions from powered flight, to modern computer technology and so much in between, and yet she has only had one major life changing event of her own. After almost 70 years of life as a cargo vessel she was converted to a luxury hotel barge.

Although refurbished and updated regularly since then, her raison-d'etre is still the same: to serenely cruise the fabulously unspoilt upper waters of the Royal river Thames in England and ensure you have the most restful, enjoyable vacation of a lifetime.

Some 1907 inventions:

  • The Rolls Royce Silver Ghost
  • The electric washing machine
  • The electric Hoover
  • Bakelite
  • Colour photography
  • The Radio amplifier
  • The helicopter


To celebrate Actief's 100th anniversary in 2007, we are offering a special discount of $500 / £270 per person off Actief's 2007 cruise prices on condition that your deposit is received before 31st December 2006. The discounts apply to all passengers wishing to travel on Actief in 2007, whether booking as an individual or chartering the entire vessel.

So why not come and cruise with us in 2007 and help us celebrate Actief's 100th birthday..? Enjoy a sedate sail on board this grand old lady of the Thames - a trip we're sure you won't forget!   Contact us about Actief.

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Film Cruise! The Medieval walled city of Carcassonne, part of the French Odyssey on Anjodi

Rick Stein French Odyssey on AnjodiOver the past couple of years we have been very popular with film crews. Firstly, we were delighted to host Rick Stein and the TV crew of Denham Productions who came on board Anjodi and Rosa to film for the 9 week series "French Odyssey", and later on we enjoyed the company of Nell Nelson and the crew from Tern TV on board Scottish Highlander to do some filming for ITV's 8 part series "The Woman Who Ate Scotland".

Nell Nelson - The Woman Who Ate ScotlandBarges are becoming more and more a base of choice for film crews. Our slow-moving friends can provide crew and actor lodging; exciting and highly photogenic film sets, and can even supply catering, all from one source. Very few other companies can provide such varied services.

As far as we know, we are the only barge company with experience in servicing the film industry and with barges in eight countries, we hope we will be able to provide viewing audiences with many more insights into life on the waterways of Europe.

September Competition winner

Burgundy and Its WinesFor our September Lockkeeper competition we offered two copies of Burgundy and Its Wines by Nicholas Faith.

An irresistible portrait of Burgundy's culture, history, landscape and wines. Burgundy, France's historic wine region, is a unique mix of old towns and vineyards, of great wines, and of thousands of individualistic wine-makers, brokers and merchants. Burgundy and Its Wines takes the reader on a journey where the temptation to linger is irresistible - from the gentle slopes of the Cote d'Or to the treasures of Dijon. The journey concludes with a directory of practical advice and information, including the best merchants and producers.
We announce our Burgundy Wine competition winners here.

October CompetitionActief luxury barge cruises on the Royal river Thames, England

To help us celebrate the forthcoming 100th Birthday of Actief, our October competition features Actief, cruising the Royal river Thames, England. You can win a cruise for two in a twin Stateroom onboard Actief in 2007 cruise by answering some easy multiple choice questions. Enter our Actief Cruise Competition here.   back to top

Scottish TraditionsThe Scottish Highlander

The shops and streets in Europe are already reminding us that Christmas is on the horizon - some have even put up their Christmas lights and trees, and are even playing carols!

"Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?" is an ever more popular phrase.!

Although it's still around 8 weeks off, Captain Dan of our Scottish barge - the Scottish Highlander, is already geared up for Christmas and Hogmanay. The barge looks beautiful and is available to charter for Christmas and New Year breaks.

Here is the first of a trilogy of articles on Scottish Christmas and New Year traditions. We'll start with Hogmanay.

The origins of Hogmanay stretch back to the pagan practice of sun and fire worship in mid Winter.

For centuries fire ceremonies, such as torchlight processions, bonfires, fireworks and fireball swinging have played an important part in the Hogmanay celebrations, and fire has always been one of those positive symbols of hope and enlightenment.

When the Romans invaded Britain, this was assimilated into their Winter festival "Saturnalia" and when the Vikings arrived, their Yule celebrations became the twelve days of Christmas. Those traditions have been passed through the generations and become engrained in the celebrations of current times.

There is no certainty as to the precise origins of "Hogmanay". It may have come from the Gaelic "oge maiden" meaning "New Morning" or perhaps from the Anglo Saxon "Haleg Monath" meaning "Holy Month". Others say it comes from the Norman French word "hoguinane" meaning "gift at New Year" or the Flemish "hoog min dag" meaning "high love day". Whatever the true origins are, the ideas of love, friendship and a new beginning shine through, and modern-day celebrations certainly bring these positive feelings to the fore.

Celebrations on 31st December start in the late afternoon with a tipple or two with friends and family, music, some dancing, maybe a fancy dress party and lots of fun and jollity, reaching their peak at midnight, with the clock chiming and the bagpipes playing. The revels continue with everyone exchanging kisses, holding hands and singing "Auld Lang Syne", the world famous song by Rabbie Burns. As to when the celebrations finish - that's anyone's guess!

Next month: "First Footing"

Contact us here for more information on our Scottish Highlander Winter cruises     back to top

Chateaux and Stately Homes Chateau Villnadry, river Loire, France

Whilst working on our 2007 brochure, we received some wonderful images of the Chateau de Villandry from the owner, Monsieur Henri Carvallos, and they inspired us to delve a little more into the subject of chateaux and stately homes, which provide additional glamour on many of our cruises.

Villandry is one of the Loire valley's most stunning Renaissance chateaux, completed around 1536 by a Finance Minister under Francois 1st, Jean le Breton, who had previously spent a lot of time as a French ambassador in Italy. Whilst carrying out his ambassadorial duties, he found plenty of time to study the Italian Renaissance art of gardening (he wasn't stupid!) and it was this knowledge that he brought back to France and applied to the gardens at Villandry.

The chateau was extended over the passage of time and the interior remodelled during the 18th century but it is incredible to discover that such a treasure was threatened with demolition in 1906. Miraculously it was saved by the current owner's great grandfather, Dr Joachim Carvallo, who gave up a brilliant scientific career to buy and restore the chateau and gardens to their original Renaissance appearance.

The lovely thing about the Villandry gardens is that there is always something going on there and visitors are encouraged to participate in open and educational days - big kids and little kids love getting their hands dirty!

There are different themed areas in the gardens. Of course, being in France they've got to have a Love Garden! Here, the plantings are in the shape of hearts, fans, daggers and swords symbolising the different types of love (tender, passionate, fickle, tragic.) with dramatic infill colours.

The music garden focuses in on musical instruments, the water garden is more open with lawns, ponds and fountains, and the vegetable garden is laid out in chequer-board style where giant purple cabbages sneer over box hedges at carrots and leeks. It's an inspiration for all gardeners.

Passengers on board our Nymphea barge are in for a real treat when visiting this beautiful gem-stone of a glorious Loire valley chateau.

Visit for more on Chateau Villandry.

Chateaux and Stately Homes continued Cliveden House, on the Royal river Thames, England

For those who would like a contrasting Italianate experience, you need to jump forward a couple of centuries in time and cross the English Channel to visit the landscape gardens at Cliveden House on the river Thames.

Cliveden is a magnificent sight for all who cruise on board Actief or Magna Carta.

Although it has origins dating back to 1666, its present day appearance originates from 1850 and is attributed to Sir Charles Barry (of Houses of Parliament fame) who designed it in Palladian style.

The house came into the hands of the Astor family when it was bought by the millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1893. Becoming a wedding present to his son and daughter-in-law in 1906, his house became a centre for the rich and famous with its guest book listing politicians and presidents (Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt) to actors and writers (Charlie Chaplin, Henry James and Rudyard Kipling).

Lady Astor's political career (she became the first ever woman MP in the House of Commons) and her personal charisma were legendary and she was certainly the hostess with the most-est, although perhaps Mr Profumo rued the day he came there for a party in 1961!

The house is surrounded by superb gardens, which are open to the public and visitable from Actief, which has exclusive permission to moor at Cliveden. A beautiful rose garden incorporates a mixture of old and new roses whose scent is so bewitching in the summer. The water garden introduces a whole new theme with its Japanese pagoda, azaleas, rhododendrons, cherry trees and a pond in which golden carp bask in bliss.

Many a sculpture and statue ornament the gardens. One of the most photographed is the Fountain of Love (there's that old devil called Love again!) comprising a giant shell frolicked upon by cupids. More statues can be seen in the Italianate Long Garden, with its profusion of scents, shapes and colours. Here we find characters from the Commedia dell'Arte - Beatrice, Pantaleone, Arlechino and Columbina - which the 1st Viscount Astor had brought to England from a house in Padua.

The formal half a mile long French-style parterre crowning the chalk cliffs offers a superb view down onto the Thames and woodland paths, follies (such as the Octagon Temple and Blenheim Pavillion) and charming riverside walks all make for a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.   back to top

Family Cruises With Children Family cruises on Anjodi in Provence, Southern France

Today's hectic lifestyle allows little time for families to spend precious quality time together. Grandparents, parents and children rarely get an opportunity to experience group leisure time. Go Barging family cruise charters provide the chance to share an experience that will be talked about for years (and generations) to come. Barges are also the perfect place to celebrate birthdays, graduations and anniversaries.

Planning a holiday with children can be a bit of a challenge. Making sure the hotel rooms are together, the meals are suitable, and the excursions are fun for all the family are just a few of the components which, if badly planned, can ruin a holiday.

The glory of chartering a barge for your family holiday is that the whole thing is tailored specifically to you, and the fact that your hotel base is moving offers so much more versatility. Gone are the days of packing and unpacking several times during the week, and gone is the worry of having to fit in with a predetermined hotel timetable. This is your show!

A variety of activities can be arranged for all age groups, both aboard and ashore. Older children may enjoy cultural excursions with their parents such as chateaux, museum and vineyard visits, and local markets. Younger children may prefer treasure hunts, climbing, playing on the beach, fishing or a visit to a theme park.

The whole family can choose a simple cycle ride or a walk along the tow-path, or try something which requires a little more exertion like horse-riding, tennis, sailing, windsurfing, paragliding or water-skiing. On-board entertainment includes board games, videos and charades. And after all that activity, it's possible to relax in the barge Jacuzzi!

Full catering takes a great weight off any parent's shoulders and the on-board chef is able to provide a combination of menus that will satisfy all, at times to suit the family. The captain, hostesses and deckhands are also at hand to help the smooth-running of the holiday and can even baby-sit if required. We can even provide car seats, highchairs, pushchairs, carrycots and safety jackets, should it be felt necessary.

Visit our Family Barge Cruises here, or contact us today for more information.

That's about it for this 40th edition of the Lockkeeper, and hopefully the above articles have whet your appetite for that well-earned luxury cruise..! Please visit barge cruises and have a look around, or follow the individual links above.

If you have any suggestions, feedback or barging stories to tell us, then please e-mail us. We'll be glad to hear from you and share your inputs in the lock-keeper.

Why not email this edition on to a friend, and let them share the fun. New subscribers can sign-up here, and are very welcome. More people are joining every day, so let's keep building a great Barging community..!

The next edition of the lock-keeper will be out in November 2006, so we'll see you then.

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